August 21, 2014


There are two things I have an enormous amount of love for: movies and video games. I’ve loved both ever since I was a little kid. I grew up watching horror movies and Godzilla movies, playing Atari and Nintendo games. Some of my friends shared my love of video games but most didn’t. Some of my friends liked horror movies but most were not even allowed to watch them. Growing up, I had very few people to talk to about all the new things I was seeing and new games I was playing. I felt a little bit isolated. I wasn’t interested in sports or playing in the street. I wasn’t interested in girls or going to school dances. I wanted to watch movies and play video games. I chose two of the most solitary activities imaginable at the time and my social life suffered as a result.

Around the time Super Mario Bros. 2 came out, I made two wonderful discoveries in a B. Dalton bookstore at the local mall: Fangoria and Nintendo Power. I was in heaven. I held in my hands two magazines that contained all this wonderful information about my life’s true loves. I was suddenly privy to inside information on films in production, games that were coming out in a few months and the opinions of people who seemed to share my interests. In those early days of my life, those magazines were my “communities”. They were the validation of my interest in horror films and video games. That day, I became a true magazine fanatic. But after awhile I noticed something odd. I was reading all this positive shit about certain films but when I finally saw them, they were absolute garbage. I was making lists of games to rent at Funcoland on the glowing recommendations of magazine reviewers. Many were huge disappointments. I had my first exposure to the dangers of “hype”.

Then a wonderful thing called the internet happened. I can remember the joys of first loading up AIM and venturing into a chat room. I was suddenly surrounded by people whose tastes and interests matched my own. I was no longer without a real community. It was finally here. It had finally arrived. My early years on the internet were some of the best years I’ve ever had sitting in front of a Windows 95 computer at one in the morning. Since then, the community I loved discovering has become something I would rather not be a part of. And this leads me to the topic of the day: Zoe Quinn and the internet shit storm surrounding her.

Perhaps you don’t know who Zoe Quinn is. Quinn is an independent game developer. I first became aware of her existence through an Indie Statik article back in December of 2013. Quinn had gone through the process of Steam Greenlight in an attempt to get her game, an artsy visual novel-esque message game called Depression Quest, onto the Steam store. This brought about a flood of hate from entitled male gamers who, for no discernible reason, felt like Quinn had no business developing a game. Alongside the usual “cunt” and “bitch” comments were sexual assault threats. Not quite believing what I was seeing, I investigated the matter myself and quickly learned that not only was Quinn the target of this type of angry male rhetoric but many other female developers and gamers were being routinely harassed too. My eyes were completely opened.

But I noticed a different trend popping up as well. I began to see, in staggeringly large quantity, claims that Quinn and women like her were not really victims of harassment and abuse. They were merely over-emotional, thin-skinned whiners who cannot handle *ahem* criticism. They were not victims. They were “playing victims”.  These kinds of comments were always found sandwiched between dozens of “cunt/bitch/whore/slut” comments and declarations about how much better these women would feel after a good rape, a fact that CONFIRMED their harassment and abuse, the total opposite of what you would expect to find if all of these hateful comments were merely figments of their imagination. There was clearly something wrong here.

Just the other day, Quinn entered the gaming consciousness again, this time in a much more convoluted form.  An ex-boyfriend of hers began posting on his blog all about Quinn’s sexual history, including her trysts with several game journalists. Allegedly, she had sex with these men in an attempt to gain exposure and good reviews. When several Youtubers decided to cover this, some had their channels hit with DMCA and copyright claims, all of which stemmed, again allegedly, from Quinn herself. Reddit threads about the newly christened “Zoegate” were being locked left and right, and those left open had their comments sections turned into mod-deleted comment graveyards. And again, as is always the trend, male gamers took to their computers to shout obscenities into the virtual ether.

When I started Films That Witness Madness back in 2009, I didn’t expect the reception I received. What I expected was a few dozen readers and a handful of emails. What I got far exceeded that. My readership was nothing to sneeze at and the amount of emails I received was sizeable. By late 2010, I began receiving communications from DVD releasing companies. They asked if I wanted to give their new releases a look for review purposes. Naturally, I said yes (protip: want free shit? Start a website). I began to receive dozens of screeners a month. I reviewed the ones I found interesting and passed on the rest. I was honest and often merciless in my reviews. Turns out, that wasn’t what was expected of me. 

No, by accepting their screeners, I was obligated to give them a review. Not only that, I was supposed to give them a GOOD review, a sign of gratitude for their generosity. This didn’t sit well with me at all. Not only did I make it clear that I would not be able to review everything they planned on sending, I made it clear that I a) did not review DVDs, just films and b) if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to lie about it. Just like that, the screeners stopped coming in (protip addendum: oh yeah, that free shit will only come a rollin’ in if you’re OK with being dishonest).  There’s a reason I distrust DVD review sites, especially those who only seem to review DVDs released by one or two companies. That lure of getting free stuff for the cost of a few white lies is strong, but if you care anything about your own integrity and the integrity of your work, you’ll write “return to sender” on that box of screeners and stick it back in the post.

What does that have to do with Zoe Quinn and the state of gaming journalism? 

It’s an open secret in the film business that set access is sold off for favorable press. Ain’t It Cool News became Ain’t It Cool News precisely for this reason. Access Hollywood and shows like it are not in the business of transparency and honest journalism. They trade their hype for set access. The gaming journalism scene is no different. Whether or not Zoe Quinn used her sexual history as a set of “ins” is of secondary concern to the fact that this kind of thing happens all the time. When news broke that Machinima, one of the larger Youtube gaming content networks around, agreed to positive press for the Xbox One in exchange for undisclosed sponsorship money, people were rightfully pissed but no one was really all that surprised. When Jeff Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot for his negative review of Kane & Lynch, people were rightfully pissed but no one was really all that surprised. Eidos had been paying Gamespot quite a bit of money to hype up the title. Gerstmann, unlike the paid shills of Machinima, placed his integrity first and Gamespot, their eyes on the money, kicked him to the curb. All of this happened, but what really sets these examples of “gaming the system” apart from Quinn is the vitriol of the reactions.

Despite protestations, Machinima and their partners didn’t lose very many subscribers. Gamespot took a small hit to its already bad reputation but they survived relatively unscathed. Quinn however is now the subject of personal attacks, threats and endless scrutiny, all because of allegations made by an ex-boyfriend who is such a small, shallow, self-important asshole that he could not help but air his dirty laundry in public. Oddly enough, try as I might, I could not find a single review or piece of publicity written by any of Quinn’s supposed sexual partners. There is no evidence that she gained any significant exposure through her bedroom activities. So without evidence of any kind of gain in exposure, what possible other reason could there be to condemn her behavior? 

IGN is a well-known shill for the big gaming companies. When someone says “IGN was clearly paid for this”, people just shrug. Same goes for Kotaku. Same goes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Same goes for Youtube personalities. No one seems to care. Why is this different? Why is all the vitriol aimed at Quinn and not at all the others? Why is this discussion not totally about how easy it is to pay for positive coverage?

Because the criminal in this story is Zoe Quinn. And male gamers hate Zoe Quinn. That’s enough of a reason to condemn her, with or without evidence of wrongdoing.

The last time I saw such a public flogging, the target was Phil Fish, the arrogant, talented, socially retarded developer of Fez. When Phil Fish opens his mouth, people ram their fists down it. It doesn’t matter what Fish says. If it comes from him, it’s poison. Fish was not the first person to say that Let Players should pony up some dough to developers. He was just the one to get internet raped for it. He wasn’t the first developer to insult PC gaming. He was just the one to get beaten up for it on Steam. The reason Fish gets the hate he does is because he doesn’t play by the rules we decided media personalities should play by. If someone curses out a celebrity and the celebrity fires back, it’s never the ordinary person who is forced to issue an apology. It’s always the celebrity. Phil Fish was battered from every angle by assholes for as long as Fez was in development. He had every single right to fight back. But because of that, he became something we didn’t want. He became the mirror image of our own bad etiquette. 

Same goes for Quinn in a way. Because she represents something male gamers don’t like (outspoken, female game developer), she is being crucified at the expense of having a real conversation about a real problem. Because none of them fucking care about the real problem. If they did, they would not be flooding Reddit with comments like these:

They would be flooding the inboxes of every single gaming news outlet with protestations against the kind of behavior we all know goes on behind the scenes. 

But Quinn is such an easy target. Like Anita Sarkessian, Quinn had the audacity to come walking into a traditionally male only scene and make herself at home. And it says a lot about the average male gamer that someone like Sarkessian can make some Youtube videos about video games and suddenly become the fucking antichrist as a result of it. It says a lot about the maturity level of male gamers that Sarkessian’s criticisms were taken as personal insults. It says a lot about the intelligence and social acumen of male gamers when Feminism is treated like Nazism. The typical stereotype of the male gamer is that of a sexually frustrated, anti-social, self important nerd. The male gaming community is proving that stereotype to be true every single second of the day. 

You have to be blind or dumb to not see the disproportionate amount of criticism and abuse dished out to female gamers and developers over male gamers and developers. And IT IS ABUSE. I’ve seen too many people writing off rape threats against female gamers and developers as “trolling”. By labeling this behavior “trolling”, all you do is write this kind of behavior off. Don’t do that. Do not passively enable it. Because if you do, you’re not much better than the “trolls” themselves. No one should be ridiculed and threatened over something as fucking trivial as a video game. 

Make no doubt about this statement: this has more to do with Zoe Quinn than game journalism integrity. We live in a society where female porn actresses are considered sluts while male porn actors are considered heroes. We live, whether you believe it or not, in a society where “male” is the privileged gender. If this were any other developer other than Quinn, not a single person would raise more than half an eyebrow. We wouldn’t have 4chan witch hunts, we wouldn’t have hateful, disgusting comments all over Reddit and we wouldn’t have people tracking down softcore nude photo shoots the man did in the past and then emailing them to his friends and family. Quinn is a woman in a field full of men and she is being crucified for it while everyone else gets to walk away with clean hands, just like the disgusting pricks online who have finally driven me to decide that I no longer want to be associated with them. If this is what is to be expected of the gaming community, I'm out.

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