The last two weeks have been, for gamers, ugly. Anita Sarkeesian needs no introduction, but there was also the Zoe Quinn scandal, wherein a woman’s ex aired their (likely fabricated) dirty laundry and the gamers who hated her jumped all over it. It was a vast, ugly, and often misogynistic attack, and an embarrassment to gaming.
And gamers have come to a grand conclusion about this. Namely, that it’s someone else’s fault. Welcome to #GamerGate.
Back up: Who’s Zoe Quinn?
A game developer, best known for the indie game Depression Quest. Which in turn, is best known for the gaming press liking it a lot more than actual gamers, some of whom feel that the game only got the reviews it did because Quinn claimed to have been harassed, which would never happen, because gamers have never, in the history of the internet, acted like utter douchebags in large groups.
Recently, she’s been in the press because, as we noted, her ex-boyfriend has accused her of trading sexual favors for positive reviews. This immediately exploded on the Internet, because gamers have literally nothing else to worry about than the sex life of a developer whose game they didn’t like.
So how did this become a trending hashtag?
Essentially, the reaction to the accusations against Quinn got ugly pretty fast, especially on 4Chan and Tumblr. In turn, there were a lot of thinkpieces about gamers being awful and how this is a watershed moment in gaming. Which, to be fair, were pretty awful in of themselves, rife with the kind of dumb faux identity politics gamers have been so prone to lately. We’re consumers, not an oppressed minority.
As a gamer of twenty-five years, I can assure you that gamers are entitled whiny crybabies, especially when they’re being called mean names. So #GamerGate was born, about how the gaming press was incompetent and rife with ethical problems, and how it was blaming the poor innocent gamer and just making up all this awful stuff about them.
Is the gaming press incompetent and rife with ethical problems?
There are certainly concerns. The problem, though, is that they’re trying to apply this argument to the hubbub around Quinn in an effort to pretend that the behavior of gamers is the fault of the press, and that her harrassment is nothing more than a grand conspiracy to promote her game.
Well, could that have happened?
No, not at all. You can pick apart the alleged motives here pretty quickly. The first question you ask in situations like this is “Who profits?” So, if there really is an agreement to promote Depression Quest despite it being terrible… why does it exist?
It’s not money; the game runs on a pay-what-you-want model and is free on Steam. Quinn gets nothing, financially, out of this scenario, whether she drops thousands on advertising or thousands on bribes.
Could she have used sex to get good reviews? Quinn would then have to have boned a lot of critics, not just in the gaming press, but in the mainstream press as well, and across the world to boot. Again, this seems to be a lot of work for little return.
Fame? If she’s got the piles of money and charisma she’d need to make dozens of game journalists risk their careers, why not just go on a reality show? Or write a book? Or make a movie? Why a simple little text game? Nobody looks at indie game development and thinks “That’s my ticket to stardom!”
So why are you covering it? Why did the gaming press, which you are a part of, cover the harassment at all?
Because, to be honest, until gamers started whining about their fee-fees, it wasn’t a story.
Let me break out why I didn’t cover this until a hashtag went trending. Even with the awards and the prestige, not a lot of people know who Zoe Quinn is or have played Depression Quest, and even fewer care about her private life. The most salacious claim, that she slept with a gaming journalist for a good review, was quickly disproven.
But even with that claim intact, it was still too inside-baseball. My story was “Some lady you don’t care about, who made some game you didn’t play, allegedly boned some dude you don’t know, for a good review you didn’t read.” Hell, I wouldn’t read that.
Now, take the response to the allegations against Quinn. That’s highly visible, far more than Quinn herself. It’s got a hashtag. It’s got lots of arguing about it. The very gamers whining about how the press treat them have, like magic, made themselves into the story. And so far, this has happened twice.
So the story isn’t about the horrible rancid misogyny Quinn faced?
Nope, that’s still the story, and it’s not limited to Quinn. It’s just that gamers feel the gaming press should only tell them what they want to hear. Which, weirdly, is usually that a group of gamers have decided to band together and be a big ol’ bunch of jerks to each other. Gamers are strange creatures.
Why was Quinn’s vagina even an issue anyway?
Ah. Much becomes clear. Hey, I forgot to ask, is Depression Quest any good?
Not a fan, actually. I felt what it was trying to do was noble but that it didn’t work in the execution. So you know what I did about it? I just didn’t play it anymore. Perhaps next time, gamers so angry about a free game could try that strategy instead.