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Zoe Quinn and the Unfortunate State of the Gaming Industry

Zoe Quinn and the Unfortunate State of the Gaming Industry

(Warning: Many of the sources I link contain strong language and some include less-than tactful approaches to presenting information.)

Second article on the subject here. Third here.

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.

A supposed DMCA request by Zoe Quinn. The user has since reuploaded it.

A supposed DMCA request by Zoe Quinn. The user has since reuploaded the video. It is still up.

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.

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About Andrew Otton

Writing, movies, and games are the main passions of my life. Gaming has been the biggest part for most of my life. I have a B.A. in History and hope to be a published author someday (novels). For now, I spend a lot of time trying to look at the gaming industry critically. Feel free to reach out to me at anytime to have a discussion.
  • this is dumb

    Hey Andrew, Thanks for writing this piece. It’s still too early and the dust hasn’t settled yet but the more people who see the truth of the issue the better. This is not a witch hunt on Zoe Quinn but exposing corruption in the gaming journalism world, the journalists who aided her in furthering promote her “game” are just as responsible as she is. I’ll be returning to TechRaptor in the future.

    • http://techraptor.net/author/aotton/ Andrew Otton

      Hey thanks for that. It was pretty clear the direction most of the internet was going to take at the beginning of this whole mess and I just wanted at least some place where 1: it was not being censored and 2: where there was no attack against Zoe Quinn.

  • potatoes

    Terrific article. This is some of the fairest coverage of the events I’ve seen yet. It remains speculative and focuses on the larger issues at hand, rather than on Zoe herself. The censorship actually goes beyond the mere suppression of information and discussion; there are many people who are trying to change the narrative of the story itself. It’s not about gaming journalism corruption nor their low ethical standards, they’re trying to spin the incident to be about misogyny and slut shaming. Granted, It is truly tragic that she did suffer harassment (although it remains to be seen whether she intentionally brought it upon herself or not to paint herself as a victim), but that is simply not the larger issue at hand. It’s unfortunate, but I feel that is the way major gaming news sites will try to portray the event and deflect attention away from the real issues.

    • http://techraptor.net/author/aotton/ Andrew Otton

      Exactly what I wanted to avoid. Too many big name sites and communities are treating the events like a tabloid would, which is especially disgraceful considering those communities are gaming related. Who Zoe is doesn’t matter – what matters is how she may or may not have manipulated the system. The system which allows itself to be manipulated in such ways.

      As of now, it is nothing but clickbait and disgusting misogyny that the internet can easily devolve into. It’s easier to attack a person than it is an idea.

  • potatoes

    Terrific article. This is some of the fairest coverage of the events I’ve seen yet. It remains speculative and focuses on the larger issues at hand, rather than on Zoe herself. The censorship actually goes beyond the mere suppression of information and discussion; there are many people who are trying to change the narrative of the story itself. It’s not about gaming journalism corruption nor their low ethical standards, they’re trying to spin the incident to be about misogyny and slut shaming. Granted, It is truly tragic that she did suffer harassment (although it remains to be seen whether she intentionally brought it upon herself or not to paint herself as a victim), but that is simply not the larger issue at hand. It’s unfortunate, but I feel that is the way major gaming news sites will try to portray the event and deflect attention away from the real issues.

  • C G Saturation

    Hi. Thanks for mentioning the Game Jam bit. Most sites are completely ignoring that.

    However, I must say I somewhat disagree with how you don’t blame her 100% for taking advantage of the system. Yes, the system is broken. Yes, the system needs to be fixed.

    But part of the issue here is that she selfishly took advantage of the system intentionally, at everyone else’s expense, to further her own personal goals. It’s not entirely her fault in the big picture, but it’s still 100% her fault for being morally bankrupt. Neither myself or any of my friends would do any of the things she did. Those actions should not be defendable.

    As an exemplary public figure, Quinn has betrayed the morals she preaches to others and proven herself a hypocrite. I don’t think she is deserving of the public spotlight. Her continued martyrdom only tells people it’s okay to game the system and ruin other people’s lives, as long as you yourself benefit.

    Also, let’s please not forget the allegations that she framed and directed internet hate towards innocent groups, as well as used strongarm tactics to bully Indie devs into agreeing with and supporting her. I am particularly concerned about these.

    I feel that those allegations are far more serious. As a game dev myself, I am concerned that she, her politics and her blind supporters are making game dev much more difficult.

    • http://techraptor.net/author/aotton/ Andrew Otton

      Maybe I was too lax in, well not clearing her from all blame, but ignoring that. Obviously, she is part of the issue and she is likely someone that others should not follow.

      With that said, I focused solely on what her supposed actions meant to the gaming industry as a whole. I was not going to go into her character for a variety of reasons. For one, who she is and what she does is not necessarily relevant to analyzing what her alleged actions have impacted. What you’re getting it would be an entirely different article. I wanted to side step the discussion of her character completely as that can quickly devolve into something else. And while, yes, I will agree that there is an alarming amount of evidence that points towards her poor character, I would say that a great majority has evidence that is flimsy at best. Evidence that is put together, or possibly fabricated, to make her look bad. I am not defending or saying that she is good and should shoulder no blame, but that evaluating her, as a person, and her actions is both incredibly difficult and something a ton of other sites and communities are doing already.

      I made the point that someone like her, if she did those things, will always come along and try to cheat the system. While we should definitely discourage that, and she does deserve some blame surely, the complete one-sided nature of the whole affair is untruthful. She was not some innocent bystander, but neither was she the sole reason that something like this was allowed to occur.

      Really I avoided it for 2 reasons. 1: Anything I would say about her would be speculation. It’s hard to evaluate someone’s character when everything that is submitted as evidence is done in a haze of uncertainty – whether she placed it there while doing something anonymously or not. And 2: It would have been incredibly easy for something like that to derail the entire article/discussion. The arguments about the industry, if they would even exist in an article like that, would just be drowned out by everything else.

      Until we know more, and have absolute hard evidence, evaluating her for any kind of benefit for the gaming community will be impossible. Right now it is just two sides throwing malicious words at one another.

    • amphigouri

      The problem with bringing to light Ms Quinn’s failings is that we’ll end up with Sarkeesian 2.0: Bigger and Badder edition.

      In the current age of so-called “Social Justice”, especially on the internet, any attack on Ms Quinn, her character, her practices, –however justified– will be perceived by the SJ crowd not as an attack on Quinn qua individual moral agent, but as an attack on Quinn qua woman, because that is how identity politics work.

      I think it’s sad that we live in a world where this is what some people think “equality” is, where it becomes okay to do morally and ethically questionable things, to lie, cheat, manipulate, to hurt innocents and, worse, to hurt people who are intending to achieve the very things you proclaim yourself to be working toward, all because one is a part of a supposedly oppressed class or group (ignoring, of course, that one is successful and has some minor fame, at least within a given community). But I digress.

      I think the thing that all of us who have been posting in these comment threads or on forums or wherever this issue has been talked about need to keep in mind is that Zoe Quinn is a battle, but the war is much larger. A minor war, I’ll grant, but what’s happening within the game industry is… maybe not horrible, but certainly bad. This corruption hurts the consumer and, I suppose, it hurts those small developers who aren’t willing to game the system (or can’t because they’re white, male, &c.). If we focus on Ms Quinn, then the battle will be over and the war, arguably, lose. The story will become about Ms Quinn and the real world cares more about the harassment and abuse of a woman, however real, over whether or not the play-pretend journalists are sleeping around, accepting bribes, or doing whatever else. In the eyes of the non-gaming community, the only notable bad thing Ms Quinn has done is (or would be) the whole Fine Young Capitalists thing. And even that would be drowned out under the cries of female solidarity.

      I’m sure most of us have been aware of this whole corruption thing for a while, though likely not Ms Quinn’s role in it. There’s the Forbes article mentioned above, two articles over at the RPG Codex, other articles on other small gaming sites, the loltaku tumblr. But whenever we have raised these criticisms, we’ve been dismissed, by writers and the commentariat alike. We’re crazy, we’re fringe, we’re haters (we’re misogynists). But now, with this, I think a lot of people are being forced to realize what’s actually been happening for years, or they’re becoming more willing to acknowledge their own issues with gaming journalism, and for that I am glad.

      We’ll never bring everyone out of the cave, but if we can get enough people out here, into the light, then maybe the situation in gaming — in its journalism, in its industry, in its community — will improve. Whilst an article attacking Ms Quinn, revealing her faults as a game developer, as a voice of and rolemodel for women, and as an individual would no doubt provide us a cathartic release, I am willing to do without that so long as articles like this one exist, articles which will no doubt help, rather than hinder, the cause.

      Thank you, Mr Otton, for such a well-written article.

      (And apologies to all for a long-winded, indulgent rant. ^^;; I need to stop doing thing.)

      • http://techraptor.net/author/aotton/ Andrew Otton

        Comments like this make me have some hope that there are realistic people around. There are quite a few here, as I’m happy to see.

        This is encouraging both as evidence of good in the community as well as personally encouraging to me.

        Thanks again.

  • scrumpmonkey

    More light in the darkness. A good piece. Keep up the good work. You are embarrassing the big gamin outlets.

  • Wrathful

    Cheers for the article. I can’t believe Social Justice Warriors still thinks it’s about Zoe’s sex life. What makes me mad the most is that she basically bullied the site for depressed people and she has galls to make a game about depression. I hope she gets what’s coming to her.

  • TheCynicalReaper

    Thank you

  • Theswweet

    I think the worst part of all of this has got to be the clique that has been brought to light. It should not be ok that a group of indie developers and gaming journalists can decide about what can and cannot get covered.

    Regardless of anything else that has happened, I still haven’t seen an explanation for this; and it doesn’t seem like one will be coming. As someone that has aspirations to become an indie dev, the connotations of such group and their agendas are troubling, to say the very least.

  • Johnny O

    Zoe Quinn is a liar who’s being protected by the industry. When conversations on 4chan gets shut down, you know you have a story.