(Warning: Many of the sources I link contain strong language and some include less-than tactful approaches to presenting information.)
Unfortunate is likely too easy of a word to use in describing how the gaming industry functions at the moment, gaming journalism included. I only chose unfortunate because great members of the gaming industry, journalists too, do exist. They are out there, yet most are far from being the most popular. The biggest names are those that seem to breed and continue a level of corruption and dishonesty that it is truly unfortunate that those at the top completely dwarf the good bits scattered throughout the gaming world.
So who is Zoe Quinn and why does she matter?
What Zoe Quinn does or is involved in is kind of hard to describe. She did develop a game, Depression Quest, that is only a game in its most basic form. it is a choose your own adventure game that is text-based. It is not a great game by any means, but it does a reasonable job of approaching the issue of depression. She is working on some games now, so it may be fair to call her a game developer. Maybe.
But she is also involved in various communities in different ways, being an activist for some groups and discussing others. She is very opinionated and lets her opinion be known, so that is also a part of who she is. That is important to know as people with strong and often voiced opinions can easily be targeted by groups on the internet as someone to hate. We should all avoid that now – especially considering nobody really knows the whole truth behind the multitude of issues surrounding Zoe.
So why does she matter? Well Zoe Quinn is being accused of some very serious actions. Those include: using sexual favors with various game journalists to receive good press coverage and good criticism (warning: strong language and content), using DMCA requests on Youtube to remove any videos critical of her or her work, as well as cheating a group (warning: strong language) performing a game jam out of their money and defaming them. There are more, but these are the major accusations that have any sort of possible credibility. These are also the accusations that relate directly to the gaming industry and are not solely about her character.
To get this out of the way first: This is not an attack on Zoe, nor is it an evaluation of her character. If the accusations are true, then of course Zoe is a terrible person, but what is far more alarming, and relevant, is the way she may or may not have manipulated various figures and functions of the gaming industry to further her own goals. And just how willingly many in the industry not only allowed this to happen, but participated in it. Zoe just so happens to be the individual that shed a lot of light on the issue. She IS NOT the issue here.
It goes even further than that, however. Since the accusations about Zoe have come to light recently, a fairly widespread abuse of censorship has been going on. Many sites, Reddit first and foremost, have been removing and deleting any kind of post or information that even remotely discusses the recent events with Zoe. It is only now, after a decent amount of time has passed, that some posts are remaining. Couple that with the fact that some mods of major subreddits have been in contact with Zoe recently. Reddit is a more visible example of something that may be going on in various other communities as well.
Sites, like Reddit, claim that they are doing this to prevent a doxxing (revealing personal information) of Zoe Quinn and personal attacks against her. That is definitely something that should be prevented and in no way am I saying that doxxing of any kind should be taking place. Posts that are related to that should, without a doubt, be removed.
However, there are obvious attempts at removing information that is particular to discussion of the recent events, as seen here (screenshot of what it looked like originally to the right). Obviously, this is not okay. Censorship for the purpose of removing opinions is not something any kind of community should be participating in. As long as there is not any attempt to reveal personal information, people can unfortunately be as malicious as they want in voicing their opinion.
UPDATE: I would just like to note that this article was posted to Reddit, in a few different subreddits. In each the post was not removed or deleted, but made completely invisible. You could not find any post through the search function, nor could you find it by looking through multiple pages on the various subreddits. No explanation was given for this reason, until I asked the moderators of one subreddit. Their response was that they didn’t want discussion of this topic to derail the entire subreddit, or as they put it “stir shit up.”
Arguing against a poor use of censorship is not necessarily a difficult thing to do, as a vast majority of people will agree that it is a terrible thing. I only include it to show that it is happening, but I am going to step away from it for now.
One of the accusations against Zoe is that she used sexual favors for her own benefit. Objectivity and independence are two of the most important things to any kind of medium that discusses gaming. Some sites have actually declined to review some games due to a relationship they have with a developer. However, not all sites or journalists have that level of integrity.
In the past there have been many suspect reviews or articles in and around gaming journalism, leading to questions of objectivity, but Zoe’s case is more high profile due to the nature that she may or may not have chosen to remove that objectivity. Regardless of the nature, it is absolutely deplorable that any journalist would even entertain the idea that they would trade any kind of favor or benefit to in turn give great press to a game, person, or development team.
Is this something that absolutely happens? Maybe. Here is a great article that looks into that question. Basically, at best, game journalists cozy up far too much with the industry for any hope to have anywhere near 100% objectivity.
The case of Zoe is not the issue, but more evidence towards a corruption of the industry and in the grand scheme of things not all that different from a journalist being featured as an NPC in a game, which then leads to blatant praise for said game, intentionally or unintentionally. Whether they traded favors (NPC for good review) is irrelevant, considering the bias that will exist.
There is obviously a lot more going on here, a lot of which is difficult to ascertain any truth, but what was mentioned here are the key points that relate directly to the gaming industry. Zoe is accused of much more that is unrelated. I also didn’t go into things such as the Youtube DMCA policy, as that is truly tragic and should be left for another time. The fact of the matter is, it is almost impossible for us to ever know if Zoe actually put in DMCA notices, as the policy behind them is so bad that it is relatively easy to fake an identity to put up a DMCA request in someone else’s name.
Assuming that even a little bit of the accusations against Zoe are true, I have a hard time blaming her 100%. She took advantage of multiple systems that function poorly to further her own goals. From manipulating willing gaming journalists to exploiting the Youtube DMCA policy, she only did what she thought was best for her. If she did it at all.
Whether she did these things or not is irrelevant. The fact that we can even think it possible something like this could have happened is the real issue. The corruption, and terrible execution of systems like Youtube’s policies, allowed for this to even possibly happen. That is what needs to change.
People that are willing to cheat the system will always exist. Zoe Quinn just happened to be the person that was caught in a rather dramatic fashion. We need to change the system to make it more difficult to manipulate. Even that is probably not enough as long as those that are part of the industry, which includes journalists, refuse to follow even general morals.
The Forbes article linked earlier nails it: game journalism is far too reliant on the industry to ever hope for objectivity. The industry holds too much of the power in what can and can’t be published, and they can greatly effect a news organization if they want to. Zoe Quinn is just a small example of one person causing a lot of mayhem, imagine if a massive multi-million dollar company decided to manipulate the system. That is what is the real issue here.