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.
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 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.