Yesterday, around a dozen of NeoGAF’s moderators—more than half, according to two sources—quit their posts there, and the website has been down for over half a day following a string of threads in which users requested bans, flooded the forums with angry posts, and declared that they were quitting.
The mass exodus was spurred by a Facebook post last Tuesday by film director Ima Leupp. The post, a part of the millions-strong #MeToo phenomenon that has women speaking out about personal instances of sexual harassment, described a trip Leupp says she took with NeoGAF owner Tyler “Evilore” Malka two years ago. Although she originally did not name Malka, she later posted in the comments of her thread that interested parties should “google Evilore.” She said that while she and Malka, who was her friend, were drinking together in a New Orleans hotel room in April 2015, she became very sick. Then, she says, Malka came up behind her in the shower without her consent. She says she told him to get the hell out.
She wrote: “I was throwing up and decided to hop in the shower to feel better. I was surprised when he got into the shower, fully naked behind me. I had a boyfriend at the time and didn’t think I had given him any reason to believe I wanted this. I didn’t cheat.” The post was screencapped and has been shared widely over the past few days.
NeoGAF, a large gaming forum that has been populated by game developers, media, and executives, has had significant influence in the video game industry since its founding in 2004. Although the site has been criticised in the past for, among other things, its users’ tendencies to have kneejerk reactions to gaming news, it has been a source of news and feedback for countless enthusiasts and professionals in gaming. As its sole owner and operator, Malka has a fair amount of influence over a community that is read across the entire world of video games.
In a phone conversation with Kotaku, Leupp said that even after the alleged shower incident, she’d continued her friendship and even had a brief physical relationship with Malka until they had a falling out at E3 2015. She said that, prior to the alleged shower incident “I had no reason not to trust him. He had been introducing me to people and helping me network for my film company,” she told me. “I feel gross from having ever been in contact with this person.”
Before NeoGAF went down last night, posters made motions to leave the site en masse. Dozens of threads and comments cropped up asking for mods to ban users, thereby deleting their accounts—a traditional way to say bye to NeoGAF. Angry threads like “Fuck this place. Permaban me” and “I’m done with NeoGAF and you should be too” cropped up. A darkly humorous satire of the typical NeoGAF post, “Nintendo Direct focusing on Respecting Women announced,” made the rounds. At the same time, users noticed that moderators began vanishing from the staff page.
On Saturday, an anonymous NeoGAF account called ModBot said that a statement was forthcoming, but as of Sunday afternoon, that statement has not appeared. Malka has not yet responded to Kotaku requests for comment on Saturday and Sunday.
Leupp’s post added to growing dissent among the NeoGAF community about an apparent disconnect between Malka’s progressive internet presence and his statements and behaviour around issues of sexual misconduct. The forum’s politics are coloured by Malka’s support of progressive topics such as the Paris Agreement and gay marriage. He has donated thousands to organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union. Malka is also vocally anti-GamerGate and has expressed support for its female victims.
In contrast to those professed views, Kotaku has spoken with long-time members who say they were recently banned for making what they saw as progressive arguments. One said they were banned for arguing that now-deceased Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner is not a feminist icon, while another said they were moderated for supporting the #BelieveWomen movement, which promotes trusting women who say they have been harassed. The bans provoked dissent among the community about whether those seemingly unilateral decisions are warranted or okay.
In one thread, a NeoGAF poster uploaded screencaps of another woman’s #MeToo post, involving allegations about a film journalist. Malka asked, “No evidence at all? No corroborating testimony? No behavioural red flags?,” adding, “So far this is nothing like other recent industry scandals.” Later, after receiving pushback from posters who found his initial comment callous, Malka described posters’ immediate support of the #MeToo post as “witch hunts,” adding that it will take time for the allegations’ veracity to be proven. Several vocal critics of Malka’s approach say they were banned. One of Malka’s posts responding to a ban read, “Fuck off, dipshit. That enough toxic masculinity for you? I was moderating my platform, not going to bat for Dr. Neckbeard.”
Sarah, who asked that Kotaku use a fake name, has posted on NeoGAF since 2010 because she thought it was a comfortable place for women to discuss games on the internet. Of recent events, she said, “When all the guys started getting banned for defending women speaking up, I realised this has been a problem for a long time. The girls on GAF are leaving, not talking anymore. It seems like Tyler is shutting down talk of misogyny or sexism and stuff like that in a harsh way.”
One incident that has recirculated in the wake of these allegations is a 2012 post in which Malka described how, at a party in Spain, he grabbed a woman’s butt after buying her a drink:
“At one point in a bar a girl who didn’t speak any English came up to me and started flirting heavily, then went straight into asking me to buy her a drink... I laughed because drinks here were all of two Euros, but consented and then grabbed her ass hard to show that I wasn’t being taken advantage of, and she thought better of treating me as a mark and left without taking her drink.”
In his defence, Malka later commented, “I don’t endorse getting overly physical with complete strangers without any implication of consent,” but added, “This was a very specific situation that went down. We’re all smashed, hard, at this million person party where normalcy is thrown at the window.”
As of the publication of this article, NeoGAF is down, and its future remains hazy. One long-time mod told me that the mods had considered walking out several times in the past, but “we felt like sticking it out to keep the good parts of the community together.” But, the mod said, a direct accusation of sexual misconduct gave them a “moral compunction to trust the victim’s account and disassociate myself.”
Frequent posters have taken to Twitter and other forums to lament the website. Gaming personality Shinobo602, a long-time NeoGAF poster, said, “NeoGAF’s owner & some bad apples aside, it was part of my online life for a decade. Wouldn’t have met so many wonderful people otherwise.” Halo franchise development director Frank O’Connor said that “Neogaf is a great reminder of how fragile a conversation is. I hope it’s not true - but for the alleged victims not the alleged perpetrators. Lots of good people posted there and apparently a couple of bad ones.” Over Discord, a few former community members are organising to create replacements.