“Who the fuck is this Zoe Quinn? What is it that she has supposedly done and why the hell should I even care?”
That’s what one of my friends asked me yesterday on FaceBook. Where to start? How could I explain without making my friend get as depressed as I already was? Should I send her a link to the Reddit page where literally hundreds of people were discussing the private life of this games developer? Where they raked through all the information they could find about her, constructing complex, increasingly insane conspiracy theories about how the whole games industry is built upon sexual favours in return for high review scores? I bet that would make my friend laugh. A lot.
Would I then have to show how ridiculously easy it was to disprove most of these theories, or at least point to the paucity of evidence? Should I try to parse all the information I could from the developers spurned lover, who had posted about how terrible a person she was? Surely at this point all I’d be doing is trying to figure out the details of someones messy break up, and worst of all it would be someone I didn’t know, had never met, and knew almost nothing about.
The biggest question of all though was how to explain all of this without filling my friend with the deep, existential dread about human nature that I was feeling. A nihilistic acceptance that people are terrible, destroying is easier than creating, and nothing good will ever last because human nature is fundamentally awful.
If you’re a woman and you make games, write about games or play games, there’s a good chance you might be attacked by a swarming mob who will judge you, then try to put your personal details online and ruin your life. It’s probably a very small risk, but it’s a very real one. It can happen to men too, but it seems to affect women more often.
That’s what happened to Zoe Quinn.
Depression Quest isn’t my favourite game, but I think it’s great that it exists, and I’m glad Zoe Quinn made it. You can try it here:
And it didn’t end there. I’m not the biggest fan of Phil Fish, but from the sounds of things the online abuse he receives has effectively forced him off the internet. He seems abrasive, but the attacks on him have been vindictive and organised, carried out by a small cadre of committed, angry men who targeted him because of his Tweets supporting Zoe Quinn and other fellow developers.
I don’t want to go into the details of all the events here. The facts that you need to know are that Zoe Quinn’s received terrible abuse as thousands of people got involved in her personal relationships and posted about them online. Following that, it seems that Phil Fish was attacked by one group or another, with potentially devastating results to his personal life.
Suffice it to say that no matter what you thought about the whole debate, morale is now very low amongst the three groups: the games press, the commenters who clearly don’t trust the games press, and indie games developers.
As a member of the first group, this has given me a lot to think about. If the games press are so reviled, we have to look at that. Why aren’t we trusted? Do we need to be more transparent? More detached from developers? Closer to our community? Or is it symptomatic of a general distrust everyone feels towards all institutions and organisations? Is it the perception that we aren’t doing enough to protect the readers from the insidious tendrils of advertising creeping into our editorial content?
As it stands, many press outlets don’t want to give all this hate the oxygen of publicity. But this means that when people give in to their natural curiosity, they’re likely to come across some paranoid nutters Youtube video highlighting a conspiracy that includes chemtrails, the Illuminati and the faked moon landings. And red arrows drawn all over social media feeds. So many red lines…..
Those with any interest in the truth, or at least an interest in evidence and a belief in “innocence until proven guilty” will quickly find that the loudest voices are the angriest and also the most visible. Natural curiosity is going to lead the curious to think that “there’s no smoke without fire”, or at least that the truth lies somewhere between the unanimous support from the indie game community and the accusations made by angry 4chan and Reddit commenters.
And of course that’s damaging. Those with an agenda or with bitterness or hate – those dual weilding their axe to grind and their sharpened blade’s will sway and influence – for want of a better phrase – normal, decent people.
So what can you actually do if you’re not happy with how things are right now? If you feel bad because this whole event has been so unpleasant? If you want to support someone who has been attacked? If you just want to feel better about games today?
Or even if you believe games journalism is crooked and you think there’s a real problem with publishers and advertisers and the press. Because there is. I have to tell you, you’re not wrong to be wary of what we write. There are serious problems in the games media. There are conflicts of interest. They’re not the tin-foil hat conspiracies that people talk about on discussion boards though; they’re more complex, more insidious, and in some ways worse. They’re not about sex for review scores (it’s genuinely hilarious that people think that way). The corruption comes from preferential access, not payola. But that’s a topic for another day.
So what do we do? All of us? How can we make this big mess positive, and look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow and be better people?
Well we talk about great games and great games developers. We tell everyone about them. The Twitter hashtag #welovegamedevs has been a huge success. Started by @keefstuart, it’s a chance for you to share games you love. To force out the awful with the awesome.
And if you think reviewers are all corrupt, well now’s your chance to show them how it’s done. Write about your favourite games. Tell people why they should play. Explain at length why we were wrong to give games bad scores.
The barriers to entry for writers DO NOT EXIST. You can write about games anywhere. An “aspiring writer” is nothing. It’s shit. If you’re a writer, you write. If games writing really is all bad, go and show the “pro’s” how it’s done.
I’d love to hear about great games. I’d love to look at Twitter and feel better about people, not worse. I’d love to see new writers come along and inspire the old guard to work harder. To be better.
Come and help us. Dilute the hate.