If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve got an internet connection and an interest in video games so you most likely have heard of the ongoing firestorm surrounding independent game developer Zoe Quinn. If not, let’s recap. Ms. Quinn created a text adventure game called Depression Quest with the intention of putting an interactive story simulating the worldview and experiences of a person suffering from mental health issues into the world.
It’s a great idea, but the quality of the game isn’t the issue. It’s the tactics Quinn has allegedly employed to promote her game. Late last year, she pulled from feminist lighting rod Anita Sarkeesian’s playbook and began a campaign against a male-centric internet gamer stronghold which led to the usual overwhelming troll backlash which led to the expected feedback loop of controversy and victimization. Things were said, posts were deleted, allegations were made, yadda yadda yadda. Business as usual. Welcome to the internet.
Fast forward to present day and Quinn’s ex-boyfriend starts a blog chronicling evidence that she cheated on him with several game journalists (the now-fabled “five guys”) in order to publicize Depression Quest. The internet officially loses its collective shit. While I personally would discourage people being unfaithful to their significant others, I’ve got to ask you something: would you bat an eye over a male who was accused of sleeping with female journalists? And how do you suppose the male gaming community would react to a spurned ex-girlfriend tearfully shaming this hypothetical man with an obsessively comprehensive blog?
To further muddy the waters, Quinn has been accused of using her ill-gotten clout in the industry to embark on a campaign of suppression towards all sites that publish pieces critical of her. Now, I don’t know if you or her know how this here internet works, but I do know that you can’t stop the proliferation of controversy once it begins. The attempted censorship of the net has only served to intensify criticism and bring much more attention to something that was never really worthy of it in the first place.
An up-and -comer in the industry used every means at their disposal to succeed, including sex and manipulation of social media? Call the ethics police! No aspiring businessperson has ever had such a breach of morality! THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!! No friends, I was joking. It’s really not. In fact, if you swap the star player’s gender, you don’t even have a story of interest. No great justice to be doled out here, folks. Just people being people.
So while I may personally disagree with Zoe Quinn’s conduct and handling of the issue, I really can’t pretend that all this nonsense spreading across message boards far and wide is worth our time. Even the time I took me to write this. I understand that there are people on the internet who get their kicks by trying to upset people with rape threats and other childishness and have nothing better to do than dox people and harass them by phone and email for any reason they can think of, but enough is enough.
While former Miss Troll-Me U.S.A. Anita Sarkeesian may have been a media parasite feeding on the gaming community by preying on peoples’ political insecurities without putting anything of value back into the community to change the tropes she so loathes, Quinn’s saga began by creating a game to fill a perceived gap. She’s not some outsider profiting off of us by tearing us down. She’s one of ours. As a woman in the industry, making games according to her own vision and publicizing them is the correct thing to do. Any shithead with a keyboard or webcam can criticize, but the only thing really worth doing when you feel everybody is doing it wrong is to get off your ass and do it right. She put up, and as such we’ve no right to tell her to shut up.
There’s a quantifiable and widespread discrepancy in gender representation in the gaming industry. One might argue that the male domination is due to men doing the most with the often generous portions they’re given to succeed. It’s an industry that a lot of people want to get into right now and if you want to stand out, you’ve got to work it.
It’s a bit disturbing that so many people on the internet expend the time and energy they do throwing virtual stones over petty things as often as they do. Are we the video game development ethics special forces now, sniffing out sexual misconduct in the industry wherever we find it (in a female)? Or are we just a bunch a bunch of bandwagon-hopping misanthropes whose insecurity is so out of our control that we resort to blatant sexism or self-victimization while disguising it as justice to make ourselves feel important? We can do better.
Ethics and success rarely share the same bed (hence my own perma-loser status) but until women can get on more equal footing with men in the industry, it’s fairly indefensible to take a female developer to task over her personal life. As long as she keeps attempting to push forward games as an art form, she can have sex with all of the men for all I care. Every. Last. Man. Out of all possible timelines, there’s no alternate universe where Zoe Quinn’s sex life is my business. Or yours. Unless, of course, you happen to be the boyfriend who kicked off this shitshow, and if you are I appreciate and understand the pain of being deceived by a loved one, but this ain’t the way to deal with it, man.
All right, he’s not all that bad, but as far as corruption in the industry goes: come on, guys. Please don’t tell me you’ve ever in your adult life believed that the media was some pristine purveyor of truth, transparency, and honesty looking out for your best interests rather than manipulating you for their own profits. And if you do believe that, I hate to be the one to tell you, but it ain’t so, kid. It never has been nor will be.
The video game industry is no different. It exists to make money off of you and me first and foremost, and it does so by playing off of our interests and perceptions. And there’s nothing we can do about it other than ignore it. We love playing video games and will pay money to do so. This makes us targets for people who want that money we are willing to do what it takes to get it. And so long as we are willing to pay for something they can provide, they’ll get our money. This is business.
Now along comes the digital generation; free information and an unlimited capacity to say whatever the hell you want to whoever you want with the entire world as an audience whether you know what the hell you’re talking about or not. Word gets out that large companies are disingenuous in their dealings with their customers and the media. Disillusionment sets in, but we don’t stop playing. We can’t. Time to burn off some youthful aggression instead.
Can we take down the very companies who provide us with the things we love? Not so much. By now, we should all know that professional reviews and coverage are largely built on a pay-to-play model, but since bringing down massive sites like IGN and Kotaku isn’t really doable either, people have set their sites on something smaller. Say, a single person who was unlucky enough to get caught in the act of exploiting the system and exposed.
So does Zoe’s supposed “Quinnspiracy” of using industry contacts gained through nefarious means to suppress the hate campaign against her make her the victim, or the villain? Like with most things in life, the answer is likely a bit of both. Did she cross lines of ethics to publicize her game and screw over somebody who cared for her in the process? I don’t believe that’s in argument, so yeah, assuming it’s all true, she done goofed. But ironically, the very people who criticize her for playing the victim in the past have gone and made her the real thing with this futile tantrum of a smear campaign and the misogyny that it represents, and in doing so have taken the focus away from the issue of industry corruption.
If any or all of us were subjected to this kind scrutiny over everything we’ve done wrong in our lives, I don’t think too many of us are coming off smelling of roses. The shit-slinging is accomplishing nothing but making the gaming community look like naive, hateful children lashing out at whatever they can find because the world’s not fair. So let’s just step back, take a deep breath, and find something better to do where we can burn off all that excess energy and have a good time doing it. Rather than obsessing about the particulars of how they get publicized, I might suggest actually playing some video games instead and judging them based on how much we enjoy them. Just a thought.
Nepotism and media manipulation in game journalism isn’t going away any more than spawn-camping in first person shooters or corner-trapping in fighting games are. They’re all just unfortunate symptoms of human nature. So let’s do ourselves a favor and spend more time doing things to make ourselves happy and less time trying to make everyone else unhappy. Spreading misery amongst your own community is just shooting yourself in the foot.
And if you still feel the need to do something to show Zoe Quinn and her posse that you don’t approve of her brand of publicity without looking like a douche, do something positive and give some love to The Fine Young Capitalists, who are an equalist organization hosting an indie game jam for which they’ve accepted concepts for video games from female applicants with the proceeds split between the winner and charity in an attempt to induce more participation from women in an industry where only 2% of games are designed by them.
They claim Quinn has undercut them in an attempt to divert attention (and donations) towards her own similar-yet- unspecified jam and their site was suspiciously hacked when the anti-Quinn movement began donating to them. So rather than focusing on sex lives and industry corruption and social justice gone wild, how about channeling that indignation into something constructive instead and possibly helping someone get their game made in spite of said corruption? It beats raging across the internet about the unfairness of it all and accomplishing nothing.