Journalists under fire in Zoe Quinn GamerGate Debate
I am going to clarify something up front: I am not, in any way shape, form or fashion, attempting to claim that my interpretation of the GamerGate scandal is accurate. I believe it is, but I have been very frequently outraged throughout the last several months, and I have some very strong opinions.
It would be dishonest of me to insist that my version is the only one you need to hear. I encourage you to go online and do some research for yourself, but please take everything you read with a grain of salt, for reasons I discuss in depth below. Find articles that represent the issue from both sides, and do not be deceived by the fact that the vast majority of press fundamentally disagrees with me. If you do some honest research and still come to the conclusion that I am wrong, I accept that, and I appreciate that you at least took the time to get properly informed.
For the uninitiated, here is a very brief summary of events: GamerGate is a major gaming journalism scandal that began in August of this year. An indie game developer who goes by the pen name Zoe Quinn developed and released a game called “Depression Quest” earlier this year, and following Robin Williams’ death on Aug. 11, Quinn began aggressively marketing it. Shortly thereafter, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, published a series of blog posts revealing that she had slept with several prominent members of the gaming journalism media (if you are interested,) Google “The Zoe Post,” and you should be able to find the blog; it is a brutal and fascinating read).
Over the following weeks a series of serious accusations against Quinn came to light.
The most controversial of which is that she may have slept with several gaming journalists in exchange for positive coverage for herself and for “Depression Quest.” Since then, she has actively attempted to stifle and suppress criticism and has been extremely successful at it. Several indie developers have come forward alleging that Quinn put pressure on them and their peers to refrain from publicly criticizing her, lest careers be in jeopardy. She used a friendship with a Reddit moderator to have thousands of posts that were critical of her deleted. Any chance to mobilize an intelligent response to Quinn was hindered from the beginning because many of the most popular gaming forums and messaging boards enforced a strict zero tolerance policy in talking about Quinn, banning users on first offenses.
To be clear, for most of Quinn’s detractors, including myself, this began as an issue about ethical journalism. Even if the allegations that Quinn slept with journalists in exchange for good press are false, we do know with a great amount of certainty that she did sleep with them. Which raises the question: Can a journalist sleep with someone prominent in the industry they cover, and maintain objective neutrality?
For Quinn’s detractors, even asking the question is silly. Of course not. The indie development community and the gaming journalism community have been growing close, and the vast majority of the original criticism for Quinn stemmed from the fact that when this story came out, it was the first time a very clear ethical line had been publicly crossed in the gaming journalism industry.
Since this story initially broke however, the issue has evolved dramatically. Much of the outrage from Quinn’s detractors now stems from our own portrayal in the media, while Quinn never received so much as a slap on the wrist from the industry, and in many circles, has even been venerated as a hero of feminism.
That is the first thing I really want to focus on here. Quinn has done an excellent job of using her various contacts to spin the story in such a way that anyone critical of Quinn is depicted as a misogynist. The vast majority of mainstream gaming media websites have supported Quinn’s interpretation of the events, and the result is that news media across the country has now adapted the same stance. I believe that for many of these media outlets, it is simply a matter of ignorance. If most of the coverage is so one-sided, that must be the correct view, right?
This is of course, the exact opposite of responsible journalism, but it is slightly more forgivable than knowing there is another side (which may even be the factually accurate one), and intentionally and maliciously ignoring it because it is not popular, or even worse, because they are in bed with Quinn, which is something of which some media outlets are almost certainly guilty.
This has largely manifested itself in a depiction of gamers (or at least of gamers who harbor negative opinions of Quinn) as neck-bearded misogynistic women haters, and to be fair, it is an easy stereotype to perpetuate. These views have unfortunately been greatly strengthened by a very small, but vocal minority of Quinn’s detractors who have “doxed” her; that is, intentional spreading of her personal information, such as phone number, address, etc. Additionally, people in this same camp have suggested she should kill herself, be killed or be raped. To be absolutely clear about this, that is detestable, disgusting and completely unacceptable. Even worse than mere suggestions, there have been threats. Nobody should be forced to cope with such circumstances regardless of his or her transgressions, and I will not for a moment defend anyone who even thinks of doing such a thing. It is abhorrent by any definition of the word.
The issue though, is that news coverage of the threats and doxing has been entirely one sided. Quinn’s supporters have repeatedly threatened and doxed her detractors, including prominent gamer, TotalBiscuit, and she has never once called them off. There are even claims that journalists and bloggers who have stood up against Quinn have received unprotected syringes in packages in the mail.
Yet, the average article covering GamerGate, even from mainstream media outlets, doesn’t discuss it at all, instead focusing exclusively on harassment that Quinn, prominent feminist Anita Sarkeesian (who some may remember spoke at Shippensburg last year), and their supporters have received. The horrible actions of Quinn’s supporters that she comes just shy of condoning are almost completely ignored, and in some cases, the reactions to them are even mocked.
It should also be pointed out that some of the death threats received by Sarkeesian and Quinn that have been supposedly reported to the authorities are unverifiable. In a handful of cases, there is simply no police report to back up the claim that a threat ever occurred or that the authorities were contacted. This is more than a little suspicious. Further, even if every single claim of a death threat was verifiable (and I cannot emphasize enough that this is not the case), law enforcement agencies generally advise avoiding publicizing death threats, as it ultimately gives the scumbags who issue them what they want: a reaction. Yet, Quinn and Sarkeesian continue to widely publicize the threats they receive (and again, sometimes death threats they evidently didn’t receive) because it strengthens their own platform and makes their opposition look bad. The fact that they received death threats is horrifying and unconscionable, but using them to push an agenda, specifically against the suggestions of law enforcement, is not the proper response.
The reason this became an issue about sexism is because a handful of third-wave feminists decided it should be. Sexism isn’t a gamer problem, it’s a human problem. People screaming obscenities or acting belligerent towards women in games like Call of Duty does not have to reflect on the gaming community as a whole, which is largely respectful of all people and huge proponents of equality. Women like Sarkeesian point at studies that show women make up a higher percentage of gamers than men, and insist that the number of female protagonists in games is too low. What they’re ignoring is that these studies, without exception (to my knowledge), include playing casual games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga as making someone a “gamer”.
Thus, when Sarkeesian points to these studies, she is being dishonest, because the vast majority of people playing AAA video games on $400 consoles are male. Is the number of female gamers on the rise? Yes, and it’s incredibly exciting to see more diversity. Should there be more games with female protagonists? Sure, though it should be pointed out that the number of female protagonists in video games is much higher than Sarkeesian would lead you to believe, because for some reason, she wants the public at large to believe there’s a larger problem than there actually is.
To conclude, I don’t hate women. I believe all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, what have you, should have the same advantages in life that I have as a straight, white male. What I do hate is the perpetuation of myths and the misrepresentation of a side because it’s good press. Stephen Colbert, one of my favorite comedians of all time, made a joke in a segment Wednesday night, implying that the notion that GamerGate started because of a concern for ethical journalism was laughable, and that’s incredibly disappointing. Sexism in gaming is absolutely an issue, but it’s also an issue that has been getting better, and will continue to get better. GamerGate isn’t the woman-hating movement that Quinn, Sarkeesian, or Kotaku would have you believe. It’s a complicated issue with a lot of moving parts, and the depiction of Quinn as a saint, a martyr even, is abjectly false, and it needs to stop.