Saturday, August 30, 2014

A perfect storm (In a teacup). Why we should care about the so-called Quinnspiracy - By Melissa Devlin

Quinnspiracy: Fear-Mongering, Controversy And Why Indie Gaming Is Not Ready To Be Taken Seriously

     What an utter mess. Is Zoe Quinn a maligned angel or the root of dirty games to get ahead? What do we know? What is conjecture? What does it mean?

     First the low down for those who have never heard her name before. Zoe Quinn is an indie game developer who has been under fire lately and managed to find herself stuck in the middle of an argument about misogyny, transparency in journalism, media favoritism, victimization, hypocrisy, questions of conflict of interest, opinion wars, and social justice gone awry. For all this you would think she had done something spectacular. The truth is a little more convoluted, what little of it we actually know.

     I picked up this story when an indie developer friend of mine got burnt out on twitter discussing complaints of corruption in games journalism, he sent me to this link. Then this one. And this. And this. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like looking, I’m going to sum up and then break it down right here.

     The basics:

     Zoe Quinn created a game called depression quest. It didn’t get much attention at first and almost didn’t make it on steam. But then she alleged harassment from wizardchan - a message board dedicated to adult male virgins. The story was picked up, attention was drawn, more people checked out her game and it became popular.

     Had people from Wizardchan harassed her? According to most wizardchan users, no. One or two guys posted something negative about her but not directly to her. She said she had some pretty nasty calls by someone claiming to be from the board, a lot of wizardchan users think it was a troll from another board trying to cause a flame war.

     So the allegations flew. Zoe is a liar just using the female getting harassed card to get ahead. There is no proof. No screenshots, nothing traceable. I’ve had some pretty scary harassment handed down in person and I have to admit, it does sound a little minor. Scratch one mark in the Zoe is a devil category? Not yet. Let me lay down an alternative.

     Zoe, being a public figure, got some negative attention she accused Wizardchan for, but it might not have been them. That got her name out. People who weren’t paying attention to her game before looked into it for the first time. Those people actually LIKED her game and did not just support it in order to punish male virgins. It’s a numbers thing, more press, more people talking, bigger reach. Did she pull the victim card? We can’t know. But we might have an idea by the end of this post.

     Fast forward to recent events:

     Zoe Quinn used a claim of copyright infringement to take down the youtube video by an ex spelling out his complaints about their relationship. That’s mark one in the "probably shouldn’t have done that" category as it got picked up as a sign that she was trying to suppress the story. And suppression is a theme that comes up a lot. Was she doing that? Or did she not like an ex talking shit about her and just used a nit-picky point? We can’t know. It just wasn’t a smooth move.

     But, and this is going to be important later, she’s not a politician. So damage control isn’t in her training.

     What did the ex (Eron) have to say? Well in a long litany of complaints she cheated on him with five different guys. Two he keeps anonymous, three he names, one of which is her married boss, another of which is a Kotaku writer.

     Okay. I can hear you say, “Sucks to be him, but so what?”

     Not much really. Not that we know. The good press on depression quest happened before the sexy stuff (by a month) But what the imagination has wrought since has gotten a little unreal. So lets backtrack.

     Zoe was approached by a contest trying to promote women in gaming. The proceeds from the game are to go to charity, the creator gets an 8% royalty. (If only writers earned so much). Creator being a loose term as the person just have to develop the idea, the actual nitty gritty code and much of the interactive design would be done for them. Zoe wasn’t cool with it. But instead of just a “I want to get paid for my work but thanks for thinking of me” she called the whole thing oppressive. And according to the contest organizers (Fine Young Capitalists) she used trash talking the concept as a way to promote her own game jam. AND got them doxxed.

     (Doxxing is posting private contact information so other people will harass the shit out of them.)

     Wow ultra not cool. So Fine Young Capitalists tried to go to the media. And received crickets, no one would pick up the story. Why?

     Well the accusation is because Zoe slept with a writer and is good friends with a Reddit admin who suppressed the story and oh yeah lots of game journalists support Zoe through patreon. Oh my god conflict of interest. Well not really.

     First of all, the sex would have to be the most amazing addictive thing ever to be the reason no one picked up the story. And support through Patreon does not equate an investment where you gain anything much out of the success of your chosen creators. Zoe doing well is a warm fuzzy not a stock dividend. This is all a really big, red herring.

     But a story was squashed. There were shitty tactics used. It’s just not about five guys. While youtube vloggers were comparing Zoe to rapists (I’m serious), and complaining about integrity in games journalism, 4chan got in on the action. Oh yeah, shit just got real.

     First, their political group is a lot more cool than I expected. They rose to the rescue of Fine Young Capitalists, backed the indigogo and created a character for the game. Vivian James is a normal girl with a grumpy demeanor and iconic look. They got so much backing they got to pick the charity the contest would go to and chose (in 4chan humour style) chemo buthurt for prostate cancer. Wow, social justice is making headway.

     Then Fine Young Capitalists got shit for accepting money from 4chan. Because you know, feminism is a clique and you can’t accept a sign of progress like fucking 4chan doing something good. But that’s not all 4chan did. The users started digging around found that yeah, there really were some conflicts of interest with other indie game developers and reporters who were close friends or partners giving them favorable press.

     Hey, this is a real thing.

     But that tiny nugget of truth has been buried under the weight of the so called Quinspiracy. I seriously sat through the following argument:. Zoe said cheating on a partner and then sleeping with that partner is like having non consensual sex. She did that, hey she’s a rapist. People talked about the rape accusations of the maker of Cards Against Humanity. Why won’t they go into the private life of Zoe Quinn?

     Guys, Zoe Quinn is a hypocrite, not a rapist. Just because she made an extreme statement about affairs doesn’t actually mean anyone else has to pay attention to that bullshit or hold her up to those standards. Rape is a serious allegation. Consent is clearly defined. What she said was stupid. What she did was pretty awful. But not actually a fucking crime.

     And this is the garbage the “transparency in journalism” argument has gotten buried under. There is an actual touch of a real story and it is getting lost in the interesting but not really relevant sex life of one women who seems to be neither an angel, nor a devil, but human capable of doing good things and bad things.

     Back to politics. The argument has been brought up a few times that “Can you imagine if this was a politician who did this?” (Actually yes) But then I watched a video about Phil Fish. And then it all made sense. The point of the video was that internet fame makes celebrities out of ordinary people who may or may not really be ready for the public eye. Most of them don't have agents. They don’t have spin doctors. And apart from the occasional crowd funding project, they don’t have backing. Zoe Quinn became famous, and what people want from famous people is perfection. Sorry reality doesn’t work that way.

     There is a proposed protest at PAX this weekend about corruption in games journalism. It’s been hijacked by people who are mad about Zoe’s sex life. It’s been grabbed by actual misogynists who think that its a bad thing that reporters reflect on women in games. The true idea is getting buried like tea party extremists burning the republican party to the ground. (Says the liberal). Its really hard to tell if there is a legitimate argument going on because everything I read is tangent city.

     Zoe Quinn is easy to vilify and equally easy to defend. Lines are being drawn in the sand over her, “hey we just want reporters to recuse themselves if they know the person” is getting tagged as terrorism (I shit you not) just as much as “Hey Anita Sarkeesian here are some seriously creepy threats.” Baby, bathwater, out it goes. There is a war growing. And the loser is reason and logic.

     So back to my supposition. Do I think Zoe was harassed by someone, maybe not from wizardchan, but someone? Do I think she has the political acumen to play victim just to get ahead? Do I think she would be that shitty? Personal opinion. She’s made some seriously bad PR moves. I don’t think she’s that savvy. I’m willing to accept she got some creepy stuff, went public and it snowballed.

     But she’s just a woman. Let me rephrase that. She’s just a person. Not perfect, not glorious, she’s done some things that were liked, and some things that weren't. You know, pretty average.

     Why was the Fine Young Capitalists story suppressed? Favoritism? The narrative? I don’t know. But it wasn't smart. All it did was breed conspiracy theory. Should Zoe have claimed their campaign was oppressive? Probably not. Should others have just fallen in line with her, as is claimed? Yeah not really. Is everything Zoe has ever done a lie because she did some questionable things? NO. Is she above reproach because she’s a woman? NO. Does she really deserve to be in the middle of all this? NO. Is this really about her? Can you guess?

     What is this about then? Good question.

     Like all famous people she has become an icon, a representative whether she really asked for it or even deserves it. She is being built as a strawman by the “video game fans are just misogynist jerks” team just as much as the “fuck video game journalism for everything I disagree with” group. Anyone with an opinion in the middle is left out in the cold.

     Why should we care? Because my friends, this is what progress looks like. We’ve gotten to a point where there is a messy convoluted backlash that mixes true problems with crazy conjecture. On the surface it’s a bit silly. But my history loving partner pointed out that so was the shooting of Franz Ferdinand and look how that turned out. This mess, this chaos, this argument. It needs to be had. I just feel sorry for Zoe with her private life on display as part of the arena. Don’t get me wrong. I think cheating is wrong. And she seems pretty careless with words. But at the end of the day she’s just someone caught up in something so much bigger than her. This isn't about her. This is about us.

Did you enjoy this article? Follow us on Facebook to get more great content! We have a weekly podcast you can find on our main site. Also follow us on Twitter and Tumblr!


  1. Thank you for sharing a neutral opinion, its getting very difficult to find one.
    This incident is very interesting, with both parties throwing everything that they think is wrong with videogames.
    I wonder if it will evolve into a mass revolt from gamers against the current inflated industry or if the role of women will be finally fully accepted by the "nerds". Perhaps both. Anyway it should be fascinating to watch.

  2. Thanks for the neutral piece. The only discussion being done is when you talk with neutral people, when I try to discuss with anti-gamergaters its always "Refute everything! Misogynist! Block!"

    Just ridiculous.