When you have cherry-picking, militant feminists with an agenda in one corner and reactionary, misogynistic trolls in the other… we all lose. However, the BIG problem is the attitude of gaming journalists.
What’s frustrating about GamerGate? Gaming journalists seem to be maintaining absolute silence about the matter. When they DO break that silence, their reports are completely at odds with pretty much everything everyone else is saying.
This is Vivian. We’ll explain her later.
For people who don’t play video games, this whole thing will seem like a massive waste of time. However, the fact is that video games have become a staple of pop culture and discussions like this one could wind up having repercussions on several growing industries. More importantly, it is revealing some very disturbing implications about gaming journalism as a whole.
Here’s a quick rundown if you want to know some of the basics.
(Fair warning: Most of the links below will probably contain foul language.)
For the uninitiated, here’s what’s going on… and hold on to your hats because it’s confusing:
To start off, “#GamerGate” is actually about two separate events/people that reflect the core complaint that is fueling this debate.
The first is the ever-frustrating Anita Sarkeesian:
Anita is a self-proclaimed media critic/video game expert and founder of the video blog “Feminist Frequency.” She has been the subject of a harassment scandal after a new crowd-funding project of hers met with sour reception and she began receiving a flood of hate mail, ranging from creepy to downright threatening.
I say she is frustrating for two reasons:
First, although some articles gush about her “well sourced” projects, the truth is that she is a textbook example of someone who has perfected the craft of cherry-picking extreme examples of an incredibly broad industry and dismissed legitimate criticism of herself by declaring that any counter-arguments merely prove her point.
Yes, she HAS been the victim of a great deal of harassment for her vlogs… harassment that she has aggrandized to any listening media outlet.
She is frustrating because she has started an accusatory, barely justifiable crusade with lousy, flippant arguments and sensationalized the resulting online backlash for personal promotion.
The second reason I find her frustrating?
Because I’m PRETTY FREAKING SURE WE DID THIS EXACT SAME THING WITH HER TWO YEARS AGO WHEN HER LAST CROWD-FUNDED PROJECT WAS ANNOUNCED.
Seriously. The EXACT same thing.
The SECOND and more intrinsic figure in this mess is Zoe Quinn:
Zoe Quinn is an indie-game designer famous for creating… um… well… just one game really: “Depression Quest.”
Which was only finally released this past August.
I honestly have no idea how/why she is a public figure now.
After a long “battle” to get it published with Steam’s Greenlight service, she released it early August… followed shortly by her ex posting a tell-all expose of her alleged numerous affairs with multiple members of the gaming journalism community.
Then allegations arose on Reddit that Quinn was responsible for torpedoing a project by The Fine Young Capitalists (TFYC) with accusations of exploitation and sexism… because she didn’t like it and wanted to run a similar project of her own:
The claims that Quinn was sleeping her way to prominence and using social strong-arm tactics to attack projects she opposed started a veritable firestorm online, with people on Reddit, Twitter, and in forums on websites like The Escapist all drawing lines in the sand and taking sides.
Quinn has loudly and repeatedly claimed that she has been the victim of relentless, torrential waves of harassment and verbal abuse from the “false claims” made by her ex-boyfriend and TFYC. She claimed that she was the victim of doxing, that she was receiving obscene phone calls, and that several of her online accounts were hacked or DDoS attacked.
Zoe Quinn’s “Quinnspiracy” has been the primary catalyst for the bizarre “#GamerGate,” and it appears that Sarkeesian has just been using the scandal to put herself back into the spotlight as well.
So what’s the problem?
Well, there’s two. One for each side:
The gaming community has expressed extreme dissatisfaction with Zoe Quinn and figures like her. They accuse them of being everything that is wrong with the gaming industry: corruption in journalism, corruption among developers and publishers, and “activists” using misguided social outrage to force outcomes of their own choosing. They see Quinn specifically as an unscrupulous, exploitative character who is using feminism and “social justice” to shield attempts at personal gain.
Quinn, Sarkeesian, and their sycophants in the blogosphere fire back by holding up the reams of inappropriate threats they’ve received for trying to uncover or overcome misogyny in the gaming world. They claim any legitimate opinion has long ago been undermined by the sheer lewdness and volume of harassment directed at them. They accuse gamers of being inherently misogynistic dinosaurs.
Sides were taken, and to the concerned, you’re either FOR or AGAINST Quinn.
Or you can be part of Jim Sterling’s weirdly aggressive neutrality towards the whole thing.
So who’s at fault?
Well… everybody, really.
To begin at the beginning, Anita Sarkeesian needs to stop sensationalizing push-back to her poorly constructed lectures, especially when she spends most of her time accusing the entire industry and anyone who participates in it of misogyny. I refuse to link any of her content directly (you can see one of the videos in that Washington Post article earlier), because they can literally all be summed up as the following:
Carefully cherry-picked clip show to demonstrate point -> “All women depicted in games are either hookers or dead or both.” -> More carefully cherry-picked clip show -> “Video games fuel misogyny.” -> Clip show -> “My data is flawlessly compiled from innumerable video games…. but yes, most of these clips are from Grand Theft Auto or Bioshock.”
I just saved you like, a half hour. Thank me later.
DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME: I am NOT condoning any sort of harassment or threatening behavior as a response to a disagreement.
Sarkeesian HAS been forced to suffer unending harassment from internet troglodytes who feel threatened by her posturing… too threatened to recognize her pretty shaky logic and instead opting to threaten her life.
This doesn’t help the discussion at ALL.
The worst part? As the aforementioned Jim Sterling stated in his entertainingly profane manner: The huge flame wars around Sarkeesian did not silence her, but in fact did the opposite, catapulting her from nearly unknown status to success. They call it the “Streisand Effect.”
By hitching her car to the media train of “GamerGate,” she’s getting it to happen again. If you dislike what she has to say… don’t go flaming her on Twitter, because you’re only proving her right AND giving her fame fodder.
The kicker? Sarkeesian has a totally valid complaint, and there is plenty of support for that complaint; a complaint that really needs to be addressed:
Women ARE being under-represented or poorly represented in video games.
According to The Daily Dot, women are overtaking men as the primary gaming demographic.
So why are there so few strong female characters? So few positive female figures or writing?
Many have surmised this is because there are so few female developers getting mainstream recognition.
The Fine Young Capitalists recognized this, and planned a “Game Jam” that would allow female indie devs to get a free pitch with concept art put together for the top contestants; a contest that was/is actually based on solid business understanding. It’s literally, exactly the kind of solution needed for the problem.
And Zoe Quinn, by all accounts, took issue with it, because it didn’t fit her idea of what a feminist game jam should look like… and because it was competing with a similar idea SHE had.
So she shut it down.
The above, if you have twenty minutes, is one of the main brains behind TFYC, explaining what happened and the resulting fallout.
However the project was saved last minute by…. freaking 4chan.
Yes. Tumblr’s ideological opposites actually rescued a feminist game developer program just to try and stick it to the social justice advocates that blindly opposed it on Quinn’s recommendation.
I’m not kidding.
They not only financed it out of their own pockets, but they provided content and concept art, most notably providing a potential main character named “Vivian James.”
4chan saved the project out of spite.
(And they’re STILL doing more good that Quinn, who’s “Rebel Jam” project, meant to replace TFYC, has no start date, no location, no information, no ANYTHING besides a website splash page with a donation link that leads to Quinn’s PERSONAL PayPal account.)
Oh, and apparently Adam Baldwin is involved too. No I’m still not kidding.
While I grudgingly respect Anita Sarkeesian trying to bring attention to an actual problem she is concerned about, I have no such respect for Quinn.
Every account points to Quinn being a fairly exploitative person who has somehow managed to launch herself into the limelight without actually having done anything of major consequence. Especially since there is some pretty good evidence that a lot of the supposed “attacks” on her accounts are a hoax, most likely perpetuated by herself AND good evidence that she is actively filing copyright claims against anyone’s videos that negatively critique her or her games.
Yes. I am well aware that there is no directly “pro-Quinn” reviews that were produced as a result of her relationships but the threads connect a LOT of people in gaming journalism in a very intimate way; it’s indicative of a bigger problem.
Oddly enough, the Know Your Meme page on the Quinnspiracy probably has the most complete and well-organized collection of evidence against Quinn.
I find the evidence against her a lot more compelling than the evidence for her.
I’m also inclined to believe claims that she has been exaggerating claims of online attacks to try and “Streisand Effect” herself and her game, because honestly….
“Depression Quest” just isn’t a very good game.
I made the crack about her being famous for exactly one game… but it’s true.
And that game isn’t really that great.
In fact, it’s pretty terrible game.
To call it a “game” per se? Even it’s own splash-page bills it as an “interactive non-fiction,” and I still think that’s rather liberal.
Honestly, I’ve seen flash games made by hobbyists that are better than “Depression Quest.” Nor am I alone. If the user reviews on Steam are any indication, the ONLY people who like “Depression Quest” are its creators and a scant few indie critics who have bothered to play the thing… mostly because it’s received spotlight time from the constant controversy surrounding Quinn. Especially since the harassment of game developers is not only not new, but also not limited by gender.
Some people have said that people need to spend less time focusing on Quinn and more time objectively looking at the game… and nearly everyone who has agrees that it’s terrible. Several user reviews say it also paints an incredibly inaccurate picture of chronic depression.
Multiple people have also pointed out that the rewards and accolades it has received are from fairly small organizations with members that know Quinn personally or intimately.
But the problem isn’t that Zoe Quinn has managed to exploit a system to force her sub-par creation into an undeserved lime-light… the problem is bigger.
The Problem is Media Silence.
There is an overwhelming outcry from different communities about this issue; communities that normally want nothing to do with one another. That alone should merit online journalism coverage.
But it hasn’t.
While Quinn’s defenders have been hoisting her up as the champion underdog putting those hateful neckbeards in their place…
…And her detractors painting Quinn as the figurehead for literally everything that is wrong with game development…
… Gaming journalists have apparently decided the root of the scandal isn’t worth talking about; trying to ignore the whole thing.
Any attempts to actually discuss the issue have been shouted down rather quickly, with entire forum threads being taken down and deleted for even mentioning Quinn. Even the entire gaming subreddit has placed a moratorium on conversations about Quinn… a move that seemed rather suspicious when it was discovered that the moderator had been corresponding privately with Quinn.
The mandate was clear: Do not talk about Quinn.
Quinn has laughed it off, referring to the incident as a “kerfuffle,” and mocking conspiracy theorists for thinking that she has power over news outlets. In spite of the allegations that she has had intimate relationships with numerous members of the journalism community, she’s right.
She’s not an omnipotent god of media.
That’s because the problem isn’t REALLY about her. The problem is about the implications that objectivity in online journalism is just as dead as it is in print and TV journalism, and “journalists” don’t want to talk about that.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I like to obsessively link articles that relate to my points, something that I have not been able to here… BECAUSE NO ONLINE MEDIA OUTLET WANTS TO TALK ABOUT A HUGE, ONLINE SCANDAL.
FINALLY, over TWO WEEKS after this scandal hits the fan, with outraged members of multiple online communities seeing mounting evidence that gaming journalists and developers are literally in bed with one another… the news outlets give the event the barest minimum of coverage…
By simply crying “misogyny” as they wring their hands over the deplorable state of gaming.
Pretty much every single article that actual mentions “GamerGate” has said the exact same thing: “Shame on you for picking on a defenseless girl, you evil woman-haters! Gamer culture is dead!”
This is what put me on to the whole scandal in the first place: an article by David Auerbach on Slate.com that boldly commands gamers to “stop criticizing Quinn… Leave women alone, even if you think they merit criticism.” That raises all sorts of red flags with me, and should with any other actual feminist, because that’s not feminism. That’s “Special Pleading,” and Special Pleading is counter-intuitive to core roots of feminism.
Even though they have broken their strict radio silence, they are as adamantly opposed to discussing it as they ever were, disabling comment sections, releasing extremely derisive tweets, and even starting their OWN hashtag: “#DescribeAGamerIn4Words.” Participants were meant to come up with mocking titles for gamers and those “faceless internet trolls,” but it hasn’t worked exactly like they wanted, because people are seeing the irony in launching a smear campaign against people accused of launching a smear campaign.
But perhaps the most pithy of all:
However, that doesn’t seem to matter to game journalists. They have been called out for covering up a systemic issue of corrupt behavior and decidedly nonobjective journalism… and their first response is to ridicule and condemn their PRIMARY READING DEMOGRAPHIC. How can they possibly think this will end well? They are being collectively confronted for behaving terribly, and their reaction is to immediately point the finger of blame at their readers.
Literally everyone from Kotaku to Uproxx has totally ignored the valid complaint that gamers are bringing to the table, instead slamming their primary audience as a collective cesspool of ignorant hate-mongers; slamming them with such lock-step uniformity that it’s frightening.
Online and gaming journalism is hell-bent on painting the supporters of #GamerGate as misogynistic, ignorant crybabies who don’t want to share their toys… even though things like overwhelming support behind TFYC shows that it couldn’t be further from the truth.
It doesn’t matter. The overblown ego of gaming journalism has been threatened by their inquisitive readers, leading gamers to throw off their trust in those media outlets they used to follow religiously. One of the few pro-gamer gaming websites left, GamesNosh, has a good write-up of the fiasco, including an apt quote by YouTuber Boogie2988:
So it all boils down to this hand-dandy little timeline:
Gamers accuse Zoe Quinn of exploiting an already corrupt system to push a terrible game. Zoe Quinn accuses gamers of sexism and misogyny; claims harassment. Gamers claim she is falsifying information, and turn their attention towards gaming journalism as a whole. Gaming journalism, awkwardly silent about the whole thing, finally leaps into action… by demonizing their primary demographic. All gamers accused of being misogynists. Anita Sarkeesian shows up to tell everyone “I told you so.”
Possibly the best, the BEST description of this whole affair comes from the aptly titled “Gamergate: Everyone hates each other and I’m tired” on CinemaBlend. Essentially, they demonstrate that this entire brouhaha is a the culmination of a long-foreseen break-up between gaming culture, gaming industry, and gaming journalism, none of whom get along anymore.
Will they ever get back together? Probably not as long as mainstream gaming journalists doggedly accuse anyone who disagrees with them or their gaming picks as intransigent, sexist bigots.
Louis Petolicchio lives and writes in Central Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter.