Zoe Quinn and the Real Problem with Games Journalism

It’s become almost obligatory by this point to write something serious about the Zoe Quinn débacle. For our part, we did cover the initial story in a podcast recorded last Monday, but it failed to address serious issues owing to the fact that those bags of shit were then still hurtling unbroken towards the fan.

Part of the problem with talking about this previously that was emotions ran so high that practically anything written on these pages was liable to result in screaming incoherence from one party or the other. The best type of articles piss off both sides but if that’s going to happen, slightly cooler heads may have to prevail. This is written in the hope that they have.

A lot has happened since then, but also very little has happened. Tumblr feminists continue to yell at beardy men with My Little Pony avatars. The world continues to turn. In fact, it’s a sign of how little real gaming news there’s been that this shitstorm in a teacup became a big story.

For what it’s worth, I’ll declare my allegiances early. I do not believe, based on the facts of which I am aware, that Zoe Quinn deserves anywhere like this kind of treatment – terrible abuse, accounts hacked, etc. While the alleged attempt to have a fundraiser shut down because of cynical and unscrupulous donation tendencies on the part of 4chan were misguided, and handing her enemies more ammunition, it did not warrant a backlash of this scale. To compare with a scaled-up story from a year ago, George Zimmerman walked free from shooting an unarmed minor and received nothing like this level of treatment.

But what doesn’t matter is which side I’m on. What matters is that half the people who started reading this article have now switched away on the basis of my position. It is a serious problem in this debate that people (and I have to say, it seems largely people on the anti-Quinn side) are unwilling to cool down and look at these things from a sensible perspective.

Zoe Quinn first came to public attention as developer of Depression Quest.

Zoe Quinn first came to public attention as developer of Depression Quest.

The central plank of their criticism is that Ms. Quinn’s alleged actions (and it must be stressed these are still only allegations) caused harm to games journalism by allegedly eliciting more positive review scores for her game Depression Quest. The problem is, there appears to be no evidence of particularly positive reviews emanating from the reviewer in question or the site in question.

In point of fact, it is not particularly relevant what her actions were or if they had any effect. Games journalism has long been known for its intractable patronage, nepotism and the whip-cracking role of publishers – which is exactly why Kotaku had little respectability left anyway. This is far from the worst example (the worst example being the Gamespot reviews of Kane and Lynch which were essentially blackmailed out of the writers). Even if that wasn’t the case, and this was all true and the dirtiest move in gaming journalism ever, what would it matter? One game (free, it must be said) would have received slightly better press on a website few people read for more than clickbaity features anyway. The world would still exist tomorrow, and millions would have no cause to care.

The problem is not so much what Zoe Quinn did as what she represents in the eyes of thousands of people. You should know by now what I mean. The “uniform” they perceive – interest in feminism, blue hair, piercings, woman working in game development – flags up a warning in their heads that tells them instinctively that she is not to be trusted, and is to be destroyed. It raises the spectre, always casting bigger shadows than it bears physical form, of the mythical “SJW”.

The other side for their part sees neckbeards in fedoras and MLP shirts shouting at her and immediately lumps in with them all voices seeking genuine answers to pertinent questions. And at that point there is no further room for maneuvre. The two great machines locked in eternal combat have risen once more – and gaming is all the worse for it. They believe that each is out to destroy the other utterly, which leads to endless defence, scripted “evidence” from both sides and an utter disinterest in what either one has to say.

What’s so utterly pathetic, so sad about all this is that it will change not a single mind. When the horn blared, people took to their keyboards and began hammering out their pre-prepared positions with little thought about the issue at all. I feel as though there would have been less of an issue if Zoe Quinn had walked into Kotaku’s offices with a big sack full of dollars and demanded a glowing review.

There are serious problems with games journalism but what people do with their genitals isn't one.

There are serious problems with games journalism but what people do with their genitals isn’t one.

There are people doing serious harm to games journalism. They are EA, Activision, Microsoft and Square Enix. They are not Zoe Quinn. Instead of attacking her, there are much more productive things you can do. You can back crowdfunded, advertising-free sites and commentators through Patreon or Kickstarter, and help them provide some welcome objectivity and depth. You can stop buying games which have been alleged to have turned journalists crooked. If you are invulnerable to bias, you can become a journalist yourself – it’s easy now that any monkey with a blog can do it. And you can read some of the brilliant games writers who already are out there making a mark.

But please don’t judge people pre-emptively. Please talk rather than shouting. Sit down with someone who holds an opposite view to you and chat rationally through it. Maybe the ability to live with others holding positions you don’t is one more alien to the USA where much of this is taking place, but it’s a useful skill to learn. Games journalism has legitimate threats against it – but a blue-haired indie developer is not one of them.

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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I’m also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.

19 comments

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  1. TheCryoScales . 26 August, 2014 at 12:09 Reply

    “The central plank of their criticism is that Ms. Quinn’s alleged actions (and it must be stressed these are still only allegations) caused harm to games journalism by allegedly eliciting more positive review scores for her game Depression Quest. The problem is, there appears to be no evidence of particularly positive reviews emanating from the reviewer in question or the site in question.”

    First off the biggest issue people have is over a conflict of interest. Journalists are supposed to recluse themselves if they have personal relationships with the people they are writing about.

    Zoe not only had sexual relations with men who wrote about her, but she went to Las Vegas with numerous ones. All of this is based solely off information she put out on twitter. It’s hardly “alleged” when there’s mountains of evidence.

    It doesn’t even matter if she had sex with them or if they gave her “good scores” or not. The fact of the matter is they still advertised her game instead of other more deserving titles simply because of their personal relationship. At that point these men aren’t journalists, they’re advertisers. People are sick and tired of this with games media, the benefit of online media was supposed to be transparency.

  2. Good thanks 26 August, 2014 at 12:03 Reply

    “There are people doing serious harm to games journalism. They are EA, Activision, Microsoft and Square Enix. They are not Zoe Quinn.”

    This logic really doesn’t withstand challenge. That’s like a police officer saying “Why should I care about the man who robbed your house? There’s someone out there who robbed a bank”.

    • Robin Wilde 26 August, 2014 at 12:08 Reply

      Well I did think about this when writing it – so I should probably clarify my position. In my view, it’s right to tackle smaller instances of corruption etc. where they occur (although as I said, I’ve seen no hard evidence of journalistic integrity being broken in this case, merely hearsay).

      However, you can’t deny that the pervasive patronage of the big publishers gives credibility to unscrupulous journalism the industry over. If the big boys are doing it, who cares if the little guys do?

      My view of your analogy is this: The policeman ought to care about the man who robbed your house, but your house is more likely to be robbed if you live in a neighbourhood in which people can get away with robbing banks. Stop the big crimes, and the little ones stand out further and are easier to identify and stop.

      • Good thanks 26 August, 2014 at 12:14 Reply

        It’s funny you mention that. There’s a reason why very few people actually trust IGN and that’s because it’s believed by many that they receive bribes from publishers like EA, and yes, it’s not uncommon for a stink to be kicked up about that.

        I’d like to think that if home burglaries were stomped out at their source, there would be less people moving onto bigger crimes like bank robberies (A metaphor for anybody thinking about moving from Kotaku to IGN)

        Whatever the case may be, this needs to be addressed, regardless of which end of the scale people start on.

      • Ogy Tas 26 August, 2014 at 13:05 Reply

        people seem to be more invested in this because indie game is held up as some pure bastion of gaming credibility

        people always like to say they support independent developers, that they don’t trust the big developers anymore, they like seeing the indies as the good guys with good games and good policies

        big developers are nameless, faceless multi-million dollar projects that will never answer your criticisms, or if they do, they run it through 3 different PR guys first

        indie developers have a name, they have a face, they’re unfiltered and if they turn out to be harming the credibility of the indie scene people will demand their balls nailed to a wall

        there’s nothing anyone can do about the big guys, but people seem to believe that if the indie scene is rid of toxic elements like Fish, Quinn and their ilk, they can continue to say “I support indie developers” in good conscience

        that’s how I read it anyhow

  3. J.D. 26 August, 2014 at 11:13 Reply

    https://www.tumblr.com/blog/j-k-degoya/activity

    Take a look at this blog, before you make the claim that “feminists support her!” and “misogynists hate her!” Everyone seems to know that 48% of gamers are women, but whenever you discuss our dissent, you classify us all as men. You equate “maleness” with “gamerness”. That is the message you sell, to distance yourselves from the consumers you’re supposed to serve and align yourselves with the publishers who fill your pockets.

    Truth is, many feminists do not support what the men in control of Kotaku are doing to Quinn. But no one is framing the argument that way, so ultimately the men in power will get away with everything they’ve done.

    Worse yet, they’ll re-brand their sexual economy and patriarchal self-interest as “feminism” and everyone will believe them.

    • Robin Wilde 26 August, 2014 at 11:19 Reply

      Unfortunately I can’t read that (no Tumblr account) but it’s a perspective I haven’t heard much about over the last week, and it’s good to hear all views.

      I think it’s a shame you make accusations of distance from consumers and alignment with publishers though, as it is a generalisation which often does not hold true. Certainly I have never made a penny from games journalism and very much enjoy talking to a game’s audience – I’m part of it myself.

      I think your message is based on the assumption that Quinn A) was coerced into performing sexual favours and B) that it was in return for positive press. As I say in my article, we have no evidence that either of those things is true.

      As far as I’m concerned, women ought to have sexual autonomy and not being supportive of that is a branch of feminism I’ve never quite understood. Perhaps it’s better that people more acquainted with the arguments talk those specifics out.

      • J.D. 26 August, 2014 at 11:37 Reply

        I don’t think it was coercion.

        The journalists at Kotaku directly sponsored many of her games. They weren’t journalists, they were both the producers and marketers of these games. They became her “bosses” in an industry that has circumvented the necessity of creating standards for how you treat employees. Imagine if EA renamed itself a “game journalism site”, and renamed all its employees as “independent game devs” and resumed business as usual. When it was time to publish a game, “Electronic Arts’ up-to-the-minute reporting!” would remind you that their latest project was–yet again–a 10/10.

        In this indie scene, there are still mostly men at the top, who use the regular systems of cronyism to reach their positions. But there are no safeguards to protect women from the bosses who would monetize and economize their sexuality, instead of their valuing them for their skills. Ultimately, Zoe was ranked “highly valuable” in this purely sexual economy and maybe she doesn’t mind being this situation. What about her coworkers?

        Anyway, there’s no sense in having the discussion. Zoe et al have wiped clean the pages of reddit and even the lawless frontier of 4chan, to hide information. Whistleblowing on journalists is a great catch-22; people demand proof, but no one trusts the proof that doesn’t come from “trustworthy journalists”–e.g., the very people who need called out. Information vanishes into the void, or is deemed as unsuitable. You’re brave for putting this up; I hope we can all stave off Gawker media’s insatiable censor-lust for another day.

        • Robin Wilde 26 August, 2014 at 11:41 Reply

          It’s all that among other things that makes this whole situation an intractable mess. I’m not a fan of censorship generally and in this case there are bits of it going on on all sides. It’s thoroughly unpleasant.

          I don’t think it’s brave to write what I think though – at least it shouldn’t be considered that way. After all I’ve got nothing anyone can take away – hence no reason to be afraid.

          • Ogy Tas 26 August, 2014 at 11:57 Reply

            where have you seen censorship against Zoe Quinn, out of curiosity?

            people seem eager to catalog everything she says to share it far and wide

            • Robin Wilde 26 August, 2014 at 12:04 Reply

              It’s an interesting form because it’s not trying to delete her from the internet but the intention seems to be to intimidate her into silence. Imagine if everything you said and did was recorded and rebroadcast, and resulted in people being really quite unpleasant. Eventually, you’d stop talking.

              People are all human and all flawed. Sometimes they act hypocritically or make big mistakes – we all do. One of the things I don’t like about the internet is that it removes the luxury of forgetting. Although I’m confident this will cease being news in the next few weeks and we’ll move on, it’s still all there and catalogued. I have a “there but for the grace of God go I” reaction to it.

              • J.D. 26 August, 2014 at 12:14 Reply

                She really should’ve issued a single, well-worded, honest apology about her actions and the state of her industry as soon as things went down. Then, she shoulda ducked out for a while and cooled off.

                Her damage control was as circuitous as the many lies she told, contacting 4chan janitors and the admin of r/gaming, and showing doxxes of herself with little corroborating evidence. A lot of work for little avail, which cemented the fact that she was dishonest in the eyes of the gaming community.

                • Robin Wilde 26 August, 2014 at 12:17 Reply

                  Yes I do think her reaction could have been handled better. But that’s the thing – being a figure of widespread online hate must be a crazy position to find oneself in and it’s very difficult for anyone to know how they’d react until it happens. I certainly wouldn’t rule out doing something unwise.

                • Ogy Tas 26 August, 2014 at 12:28 Reply

                  the thing about being in the SJW movement is you’re never allowed to apologize for anything, ever

                  if you admit fault your followers might abandon you, but if you continue to ram heads they’ll throw money at your patreon and champion you on high as their savior

                  apologizing for absolutely anything is seen as a weakness, and no one likes seeing their ‘team’ weak

                  she would rather rewrite history (as seen below in the image I uploaded) than admit she smeared a charity

                  • Robin Wilde 26 August, 2014 at 12:31 Reply

                    I’d be careful applying that just to the online (i.e. ineffective) social justice movement. I’ve found it to be true of some individuals within every cause or subculture. It’s an irritating inherent aspect of humanity that we often find it hard to admit when we’ve done wrong.

          • TheCryoScales . 26 August, 2014 at 12:14 Reply

            The only person who has censored anyone in this debacle has been Zoe Quinn

            She filed a false DMCA against Mundane Matt for posting a video detailing the scandal and later removed it after it gained significantly more attention.

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