Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, I will alert my readers to the fact that all links in this post have been filtered through donotlink. These people don’t need any more attention or web traffic, and because this post is really about integrity and accountability, I want my readers to actually follow the links.
This is not a post about Zoe Quinn and Eron Gjoni.
If you have been following the recent news in game dev circles, the story has been circulating around recently, as Mr. Gjoni published his eight-part (with foreword and afterword) account of his relationship with Miss Quinn, a prominent game developer and social activist, known as “The Zoe Post”. The account alleges that Ms. Quinn had multiple affairs with people in the games industry while in a relationship with Mr. Gjoni, and not only lied openly to him about having those affairs, but caused him panic attacks, tried to convince him to doubt his own understanding of events, and behaved in a manner that can be defined as “domestic abuse”.
But, as I said, this is not a post about Zoe Quinn and Eron Gjoni. Or at least, it isn’t just a post about them.
Because the problem is not just Zoe Quinn and the controversy that sprang up around Mr. Gjoni’s posts. The problem is much larger and much thornier than just an ex-boyfriend alleging that his ex-girlfriend and her friends in the industry are the worst kind of sleaze. The problem is that these people have responded to the issue in an inappropriate and childish manner, with insults and derailing tactics and victim-blaming. The problem is that what Ms. Quinn and her dalliances have done is not the first issue of people being corrupt in the games industry, and it probably won’t be the last. The problem is that instead of using this opportunity to ask serious questions, the matter has been seized upon by trolls and the antifeminist elements of the community as some kind of justification for the harassment they continue to perpetuate upon various developers and people in the games industry. While what Ms. Quinn (and indeed those people implicated in the initial document) supposedly did was several shades of wrong, the offenses detailed are little more than a symptom in an overall condition, and that is what we should focus on.
But I should start at the beginning.
On August 16 of this year, as previously mentioned, a blog entitled “The Zoe Post” written by coder and software designer Eron Gjoni drew the attention of the public. The post details the entire relationship of Mr. Gjoni and Ms. Quinn, from their initial meeting and date in December, all the way to the final moments of their relationship, when he finally walked away from her about a month ago. The Zoe Post paints a fairly damning picture of Ms. Quinn, including incidents where she tries to keep Mr. Gjoni from going public during the initial cheating and baldfacedly engages in behavior she herself condemns (point four on the bullet list).
While all the media has to go on these allegations is the proof Mr. Gjoni provided and the corroborating evidence of disclosure from Kotaku regarding Nathan Grayson, the writer of theirs named in the account, the fact that there is any proof at all lends some weight to the claims. It is important to get out front and say that nowhere in his journal entry did Mr. Gjoni ever allege that Ms. Quinn traded sexual favors for a better position in the games industry. In fact, he argues against it quite vehemently, saying “The only flaw in Zoe’s narrative design abilities is that she never stops doing it.”
In the wake of these allegations, further allegations emerged, most prominently from the camp of a site known as The Fine Young Capitalists, who have alleged (I refuse to confirm something for which I have only a little proof) that Quinn posted personal information of theirs online and started a twitter campaign against them. Further still, she started her own game jam, RebelJam, but doesn’t seem to have any information about the jam.
And, instead of engaging in a frank and open discussion of what this means and more investigation into said claims, instead the internet decided the best thing to do would be to draw battle lines and go into panic mode. Reddit and 4chan began deleting threads dealing with the controversy in an attempt to keep the situation from blowing up the wrong way. The Escapist similarly locked up threads on the controversy, finally relenting and allowing the users a masterpost on things. Tumblr entries were deleted, people closed down their twitter accounts, and Youtubers known for their controversial viewpoints started making videos on their channels. A youtuber by the name of MundaneMatt was DMCAed (had a takedown notice filed on grounds of copyrighted material) by someone claiming to be Zoe Quinn. In an effort to be more of a voice of reason about the mess, fellow YouTuber and games journalist TotalBiscuit commented on the affair, only to be harrassed by indie game devs.
Adding to this, anyone who tried to talk about the ethicality of the situation was met with accusations that they were “anti-feminist”, that they were part of a “sexist crusade”, and that they were entertaining the screed of a “jilted ex” (ibid). Those who did talk about it and posted their best guess as to what was going on were told it was “none of their business” and “a personal matter”. Others said that discussing the situation was the province of “vile bigots”. For the readers who have followed those links, these are all people who are established journalists, treated as credible and trustworthy sources. This will become important later.
From the other side of the debate, Zoe Quinn has been harrassed and slut-shamed by those using the Zoe Post as justification. She has been hacked, and information (as this is an article about ethics it would be wrong to speculate on the record what information) has been disseminated through Twitter and Tumblr. Furthermore, infamous developer Phil Fish, who had posted a few nonsensical twitter tirades on the subject and called those involved “ball-less manboobs” (excellent name for a punk band) before cancelling projects no one knew about, had his site hacked and filled with viruses by the same group that hacked Quinn, a group of hackers calling themselves “4chan/V/”. I should mention it doesn’t matter who hacked Zoe Quinn and Phil Fish, what matters is that the hacking and harassment should not have taken place. Not once, not ever. Hacking and harassment are not legitimate forms of discussion, they are the methods of deeply flawed people who only help the other side of the argument.
And that, at the time of writing this, is the current state of play. There have been conspiracy theories about the events that are all over the place, and especially over imgur, but the important thing to remember is that a lot of the information being bandied about is more or less unverifiable, and some of it is actually wrong and will damage arguments if repeated.
However, some good has come of the whole affair, and it is important to realize that. For example, Kotaku has decided in the wake of the (false) allegations that one of their journalists exchanged sexual favors for positive review coverage to be completely transparent and actually engage positively with the audience on the site. The allegations that Nathan Grayson traded sex for positive coverage have been proven completely false (and they weren’t ever true to begin with, that’s on you, internet), and it has recently come to light that he behaved admirably from a professional standpoint.
Similarly, the Escapist has had an open discussion amongst all its users and writers in a single forum thread, instead of just shutting threads down. In discussing the scandal, there has been more honest and open discussion about the place of personal relationships in game journalism than there was in the past.
But guys…just recognizing it because it’s happening now is not enough. The problem with this is that as quickly as they’re brought up, most people forget about them. Most people think these problems are solved. That, as we have seen from the Zoe Quinn scandal, as we have seen from the two articles linked in the previous paragraph, as we have seen from the outcry in the wake of the scandal, is simply not the case. Look at those two links up there. One of them’s from 2012. The other’s from 2007. Here’s an article from last year detailing the moral quandary one journalist had with the very thing at the heart of this week’s matter.
What makes today’s controversy especially insidious is that there have been people met with very real harassment from the very people who claim to be anti-harassment. Worse, that person in the link also alleges that people have also attacked people over their personal politics, such as Doug TenNapel (who is Christian and conservative, none of which should affect the opinion of him as an artist and a game developer). None of this should be happening. There are people who are trying to make this about misogyny, it isn’t. There are people trying to make this about Zoe Quinn, it isn’t. There are people trying to make this about how Eron Gjoni is a terrible person. It isn’t. This is about a group of people who believe that they can behave however they wish, and because no one’s proven them wrong, they feel justified in that belief.
And ironically, the usual suspects people turn to for nasty behavior are actually behaving pretty well. 4chan is said to have donated over ten thousand dollars to The Fine Young Capitalists for their project, and even got them to make a video on a prominent woman in gaming. They also created a multidimensional female character for the projects. Reddit broke the story on The Fine Young Capitalists mentioned above. If anything, reading the comments thread on any of the numerous articles and videos about the controversy shows people more concerned with the veracity of the claims people are making than any interest harassing the participants, and in some cases, the journalists are having an open discussion with them.
So what have we learned from all this? Well, we’ve learned that we need to hold people in the games industry a little more accountable. We learned that abuse and harassment– no matter who the target– are wrong. We’ve learned that behind all these handles and words and everything else, people are just that: people, capable of both the very best and very worst behavior.
Which leaves us here. That link is a post by the man who, for lack of a better word, started the whole mess. It sums up the events pretty succinctly and answers concerns. But even with that post, the job isn’t over. As the public, as other journalists, we have a duty to hold each other and those in these positions accountable. In the end, despite all the static, despite all the harassment, despite all the people calling everyone out as sexist and racist, the conspiracy theories both with and without proof, in the end people did good. Not necessarily well, but good. The rest I leave to the people who followed this story, and to my readers.
If we keep this up, if we don’t let this get buried, if we keep fact-checking and holding people responsible, something better may happen. Things may get higher quality. If we demand that people are better, then we may stop being surprised when people are better than we think
I don’t know about any of you, but I think that’s something worth working for.