On several occasions I have written passionately in support of women in games. Be that in development, streaming, journalism or any other facet of our varied and wonderful industry. And I continue to enjoy seeing females thriving via a pastime that, in my childhood, was a gentleman’s club. Having said that, I’m not the ‘white knight’ that I have been accused of being in the past and I certainly don’t think that feminism in games is all sunshine and rainbows. Maybe I’m flogging the proverbial dead horse right now, but I’m about to weigh in on an issue that exploded over three weeks ago, which in games industry time is approximately the Palaeolithic era. The main reason for this being that when a girl in the games industry does something controversial, it is practically impossible to sift through the vast swathes of bullshit flying around to get to the actual truth at the heart of the matter. Now that the aforementioned bullshit has settled in a nice little pile somewhere around 4chan’s front door, I feel it is time to analyse what really happened here.
I am, of course, referring to the Zoe Quinn scandal. Quinn, previously best known as an enthusiast for digital body modification and as the designer of choose-your-own-adventure game ‘Depression Quest’ exploded into the public eye when her boyfriend blogged about his reasons for breaking up with her. In it, he summarised the values she allegedly claimed to hold with passion and gusto, detailing his first few dates with her as they discussed her disgust for pathological liars, her discomfort at being manipulated in the past, the injustice of being ostracized and the immorality of infidelity within a relationship. He then goes on to detail all of the ways in which she blatantly ignored all of those values. When I say ‘detail’, I really mean detail. This is an investigation conducted with the efficiency of a hard-boiled private investigator; it even contains annotated chat logs. You can read the whole thing here, although I recommend you wait until the weekend, as it makes some novels seem like pamphlets.
Of course this could all be lies. For all we know this could be an intricately and incredibly well orchestrated attack on an innocent lady by a bitter ex-lover, but that isn’t what matters. What matters is what happened next and the way the industry and the internet responded to it.
Many people began to piece together the fact that a lot of the men who Quinn allegedly slept with were the very people who were supposed to be objectively reviewing her work. These so called journalists were also paying her a monthly tip via patreon.com. The order of events beginning with clandestinely giving someone money, then having that someone sleep with you, then reviewing their work, does not look good on the impartiality scale, then the shit really hit the fan. Those of us who were watching could only look on in horror as a giant wave of censorship spread in a targeted campaign against anyone who spoke out against this.
IGN, Gamespot, RockPaperShotgun, The Escapist; nowhere was safe from the dark eye of cronyism. Even the amazing repository of opinions and information that is Reddit committed itself to the cause, (why Reddit, I loved you!) Just look at this thread on the subject, in which one redditor describes it as ‘like staring at corpses on a battlefield.’
The first YouTube video discussing the issue was taken down due to a copyright infringement claim, allegedly made by Quinn herself (although this is unproven) because it showed a single screenshot from Depression Quest without the creator’s permission.
The first article written on the matter at ‘GamesNosh’ was also taken down at the behest of the server hosting company.
Looking back on all of this now, it’s hard not to see it as a series of knee-jerk reactions as websites desperately scrambled together a hasty defence, deleting comments and banning users, in the hopes of not being branded a condoner of misogyny. The result of this was the mass censorship of people’s opinions and criticisms towards an increasingly insular industry and we ended up with yet another games journalism crisis of confidence. ‘Who watches the watchmen?’ More like ‘who criticises the critics?’ In this case, nobody does unless they want to get their account banned.
What this all boils down to is that, as cynical Brit ‘TotalBiscuit’ pointed out in his blog, “the Streisand effect is real.” If you try to suppress something, chances are you’ll end up drawing more attention to it and that is exactly what has happened here. In the end, this whole affair has only served to convince myself and many other developers/writers/gamers that the journalistic side of the games industry is rotten to the core, with vain, egocentric ‘artists’ regularly abusing DMCA policies to censor negative comments about their work and overpaid critics and developers wining and dining (and allegedly fucking) one another higher up the food chain.
This is where the feminism angle comes into play. For quite some time now, feminism and misogyny have been the topics of choice for many games journalists who want to seem progressive and edgy. I don’t deny that it is certainly an issue and the industry needs to do a lot of growing up, but there is always money to be made from someone else’s misery and with a little imagination, the targeting of female developers for verbal abuse is no different.
Quinn’s ‘Depression Quest’ game failed its original attempt to get greenlit on Steam. However, riding on a wave of publicity it shot its way to the top of the tables on its second attempt and is now readily available via the World’s largest distributor of PC games. What was this publicity? Well this is where the plot thickens.
Enter WizardChan. You can be forgiven for not knowing what WizardChan is, as a little-known forum for disenfranchised nerds to share whatever it is they’re currently getting upset about, it doesn’t exactly place itself at the forefront of telecommunications. Its status as a forum for the socially awkward and isolated extremities of an already heavily male-dominated community made it the perfect stage for a drama about a daring female developer who publishes her game, despite the efforts of a horde of angry virgins. And that is exactly what unfolded there, following this post.
“She is the one responsible. Of course a woman could never relate to anyone here. She would never be with a truly depressed person.”
The post goes on to suggest that users harass Quinn by calling her up and trying to ruin her chances of success with her game. Shortly after this post, Quinn herself started claiming that members of the WizardChan board were harassing her over the phone, calling her up, threatening her and even masturbating over the phone while she listened on in fear. The publicity was enough to see her game through greenlight and provided the perfect excuse to heavily censor and moderate any negative reviews of her game, despite her apparent views on the subject of censorship. The whole ridiculous saga has been documented here.
But who really made that post? Here are some things to consider when determining this.
- WizardChan is an almost totally unknown forum in the obscure recesses of the internet.
- The post had about ten replies, most of which were condemning the original poster.
- Posts on WizardChan are deleted after a few days
From these three undeniable facts, we can conclude that Zoe Quinn’s knowledge of the existence of this post can only come from either an almost statistically impossible chance find, whilst trudging through the boards of a forum for lonely, middle-aged men, or that Zoe Quinn posted this suggestion and then proceeded to make false claims of harassment, in a cynical attempt to use the real struggling and suffering of other female developers and journalists to further her own career.
Unfortunately, we will almost certainly never know what truly happened here. We have no evidence to go by and in truth; it is entirely possible that some poor, misunderstood woman called Zoe has had her life ruined by a series of blatant lies and misinterpreted actions. But in an attempt to be objective (and it is crucially important that we always strive to be objective in matters such as these) we can only go by what we know to be the facts and these are the facts.
Zoe Quinn’s success was largely attributable to controversy surrounding harassment of which no evidence has ever been provided.
Someone who we know was intimate with her and knew her very well has claimed (and provided evidence to support his claim) that she slept with the very people whose job it was to inform us of whether or not her product was worthy of our time and money.
When these two things were brought to light, there was a clear and very deliberate attempt to censor them.
You, as a reader, can now draw your own conclusion. Because in the end, that is what this whole article has been all about. You and I have the right to the truth so that we may make up our own minds and in an industry such as this, where so much money is so often handed out in exchange for publicity and hype, the truth becomes a commodity that we can’t afford to lose.