On August 16th, 2014, a man named Eron Gjoni made a detailed post with plenty of proof stating that his ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn, a somewhat influential games industry worker responsible for 2013’s well-reviewed “Depression Quest”, had cheated on him with no less than five guys, all the while trying to uphold herself as a paragon of virtue. Of these five, several were people within the video game industry, including her boss and one journalist. While the journalist in question hasn’t ever reviewed her game or otherwise given her any sort of special treatment to anyone’s current knowledge, a massive shitstorm followed which raised questions about corruption within the games industry.
At first, much of the ire was centered around Zoe herself. Zoe’s position as a social justice activist in the community meant that this was blood in the water for the waiting sharks of the less tasteful aspects of the internet. She began to receive massive amounts of negative attention, and in response feminists decried many of these attacks as misogyny, pointing out that none of this attention was being focused on any of the men in this situation, including Eron (who should probably have gotten criticism for his poor handling of the situation) and the men who Zoe had relations with (some of whom should clearly have known better and/or were in positions that made such a relationship equally a mistake from their point as well). Of course, whenever anyone on the internet speaks about misogyny or feminism, the topic quickly gets overrun with trolls screaming “SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR” over and over again, as if this were any kind of real debate about the situation.
During the fallout, a group known as The Fine Young Capitalists stepped forward to air their own grievances with Zoe. TFYC had attempted to create a gaming event for women which Zoe had essentially shut down due to issues she had with its methodology. Immediately, the nastier parts of the internet, having no real interest in TFYC, decided to fund it as a way to both perform PR for themselves and to get back at Zoe. Naturally, as the situation developed they ended up forcing themselves upon TFYC, using the weight of their collective donations to get a character of their own creation into whatever game the event would create. The character they created was supposed to be a female everyman named Vivian James (a play on “vidjagames”) who was directly designed to be apathetic and uninterested in social justice topics, once again getting back at Zoe. (The irony of the need to create a silent and unchallenging homunculus to unite behind doesn’t escape me.)
As the situation grew more heated, many forums began to censor discussion of the topic and deleted numerous threads about it. Code words such as “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” were invented to discuss the topic without risk of censorship. Meanwhile, gaming journalism generally refused to cover the situation, and mainstream journalism found the whole situation confusing and generally pointless.
In response to this, it seems, the #GamerGate hashtag was begun. The premise of it was that this reveal was akin to the watergate of games, and that it was time to strike back against a corrupt gaming journalism industry which no longer serves the common gamer. Unfortunately, this seemed like one large misdirection, as the Zoe “Quinnspiracy” was the only topic they actually seemed interested in debating. Ostensibly they cared about other instances of corruption, yet when presented with them they made no effort to follow. Once again, the spotlight continued to rest on Zoe.
In response to social justice activists and feminists within the game industry, the #NotYourShield hashtag began, typically in concert with the #GamerGate hashtag. This hashtag was intended to represent minorities who felt that social justice activism did not adequately represent them, claiming that they had no interest in it and just wanted to continue playing games, and that they felt that this topic was a fair one and not at all related to misogyny/bigotry. However, as the situation developed, a curious fact began to stand out: that many of these “minority” twitter users were burner accounts recently created simply to partake of that hashtag. Later, a screencap from 4chan was revealed to be the inspiration for the hashtag: 4chan users had created the hashtag in order to pose as minorities and further their own agenda.
For some time, the debate raged. Many seemed to think that this was genuinely a debate about ethics in the gaming journalism industry, despite the fact that 99% of all discussion was centered around Zoe herself. In an evident PR move, burner accounts could reliably be counted on to jump on the hashtag anytime it was used and obscure legitimate dialogue by polluting the conversation with anti-Zoe propaganda.
Quinn herself just released, a couple days ago, a rather large series of tweets in which she revealed that she had been lurking on 4chan raid boards and IRC channels for nearly three weeks. During that time she had gathered numerous pieces of evidence that implied that the #GamerGate hashtag had also been invented by a select group of 4channers and other anti-feminist types with the express intention of harassing Zoe, my favorite of which includes the line “don’t tell me you actually buy the corruption in journalism thing”. While it’s certain that after the creation of the movement, numerous other innocent and well-intentioned people were swept up into it, the damage was done. Now that she had evidence of it, a crack appeared in the armor of Zoe’s harassers.
I’m going to try to refrain from making statements that are too definitive in how I feel about the situation. When I first read the Zoe Post (Eron’s initial post) I was certainly anti-Zoe. I don’t think that anyone is innocent in the situation and I feel that blame should be shared equally. Eron, Zoe, and the guys she had relations with in the video game industry are all to blame to some extent, and that blame should be apportioned properly. Unfortunately, Zoe has become a lightning rod for the more vicious sharks of the internet, and the chances that this situation will resolve itself well are lessening by the second. As more and more of the blame becomes apportioned to her, it becomes clearer and clearer that she’s becoming the victim in this situation, and as a result I have come to support her more than I initially did. Eron himself has also made efforts to distance himself from her harassers, though at the same time he has done numerous things to provide them fuel. The others involved in the situation have remained essentially silent.
The whole time it has been relatively clear (to me, at least, and to some others that I follow) that the situation was engineered. When I made a tweet about it this morning, I was set on by no less than five burner accounts within a couple minutes, one of which I attempted to reason with. The guy on the other end, when pressed for evidence as to how he wasn’t participating in a campaign of harassment, stopped replying. No one I know who plays video games in real life gives a shit about this (none of them were even aware of it until I told them about it) - they just want to keep playing video games. And that’s where the movement falls apart - they claim to support the “common gamer” who just wants to play games without having feminist agenda forced down their throats, yet this is just another agenda being forced down people’s throats.
This whole debate also underscores how petty we, as a community, can be. Zoe’s infidelities are deplorable but nowhere near the sort of corruption that we see in… virtually every other industry, the mainstream media being no better. Fighting so viciously over our tiny little corner of the room just makes us all look worse - it makes it easier for everyone else to mock us for getting so worked up over something so little. The gaming industry is pretty shitty in a lot of ways, yet no one is concerned about real expose pieces which have been ongoing for years. Sure, we could maybe get some little degree of justice by fighting over this situation so violently - or maybe we could save our time and effort for something that actually matters.
The situation makes “gamers” as a collective look like people who define the entirety of their being by playing games - when most of us aren’t. We have relationships, jobs, and other things in our lives that we appreciate just as much if not more than gaming. We play games because we enjoy them, but they’re hardly the only thing that we do. So when we do stuff like this, it only makes us look like bigger neckbeards by making it seem like this is all we care about. We constantly have the option to be a truly wonderful counterculture which delivers something better than the mainstream, yet we ruin it with stuff like this.
I will reiterate that I have tried to be very neutral on this topic throughout. However, the messier it gets the more clearly I feel the need to stand against online harassment. The opposition generally claims that feminists such as Zoe can marshal a lynch mob of social justice warriors to defend them at all times, but it’s pretty clear who the lynch mob in this situation is. The more this resembles a witch hunt, the less I can condone it. It stinks of misogyny and prejudice and underhanded tactics designed to obscure legitimate dialogue, and I cannot in good conscience fail to criticize it.
We’re better than this.