In the Wake of an Ugly, Sexist Gaming Scandal, Some Ground Rules for Young Male Gamers

Decoding the tech world.
Aug. 27 2014 3:14 PM

Letter to a Young Male Gamer

Some ground rules to keep in mind in the wake of an ugly, sexist scandal.

Courtesy of Zoe Quinn
Depression Quest.

Courtesy of Zoe Quinn

There are a lot of jerks on the Internet. I know you aren’t one of them. I write to give you some credit, some advice, and some hope.

David Auerbach David Auerbach

David Auerbach is a writer and software engineer based in New York. His website is http://davidauerba.ch.

I write to you about the ongoing gaming scandal that’s inflamed the Internet concerning game designer Zoe Quinn and gaming journalism. To recap: The mess started when an angry ex-boyfriend of Quinn’s posted a dirty-laundry double load of drama-laden chats with her that, he claimed, made her out to be a manipulative liar and a shameless self-promoter. One of his most contentious (and unproven) accusations: that she slept with a gaming journalist at Kotaku who helped secure favorable coverage and publicity for her game Depression Quest. The allegation roiled a youthful (I won’t say immature, but many of your brethren are in their teens) gaming community that already had a volatile relationship with an increasingly commercialized and clickbait-driven gaming press.

Such massive flame wars and trolling resulted that Reddit gaming mods aren’t even allowing the Quinn scandal to be discussed right now, mass-deleting hundreds of posts. Twitter exploded (of course), there’s a 300-page thread on Escapist’s gaming forum, and the discussion board–slash–“asshole of the Internet” 4chan.org is bubbling over with rage and conspiracy theories. Perennially high-strung game designer Phil Fish defended Quinn; in response, his own site got hacked—exposing his personal data down to his Social Security number—and he left the industry again. After game critic John Bain, aka TotalBiscuit, asked everyone to calm down, he was branded a misogynist and shouted down. The entire situation is a dismal feedback loop of rage and abuse, where the harassment gets Quinn and her game more media coverage, and the harassers take that as evidence that they were right all along—something that’s already happened to Quinn several times over the past year.

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But I’m assuming that you, young gamer, are one of the reasonable ones who feel they can’t be heard above this colossal noise. I imagine you’re frustrated that you’re getting lumped in with abusive trolls, teenage ragers, men’s rights activists, pickup artists, Elliot Rodger, and worse.

So let me start by giving some credit to gamers where credit is due. Supporting the Women Making Video Games for Charity project on crowdfunding site Indiegogo—that was a great idea. When I hear that 4chan gamers raised $13,000 for the project, I thought, “Fantastic!” Some people will say that male gamers are just doing it out of spite, that the only reason you’re donating to women in gaming is because the organizers of the campaign don’t like Zoe Quinn either (they allege she sabotaged their project). Let them think that. It’s a good cause, and doing the right thing for the wrong reason is still doing the right thing. If you’re morally generous, and if you actually end up pulling more women into gaming, this issue will lose its teeth. For the unexpected jaw drop of seeing 4chan donate major cash to a women-in-gaming fundraiser, I commend you.

But I do have a request for you: Stop publicly criticizing Quinn. Go after the men. Criticize the games themselves. But leave the women alone, even if you think they merit criticism.

I know it’s unfair for me to ask this of you, young gamer. A fair number of people—not you!—are doing a lot worse than criticizing. Those adolescents (or arrested adolescents) are trolling Quinn, harassing and threatening her, hacking her accounts, even calling her home and circulating nude pictures of her. But they’re not going to listen to reason (some eventually might, after they graduate from high school), and you might. I actually think, perhaps optimistically, there are a lot more of you than of them, and the world needs to hear more of your voices.

I realize that you don’t have a problem with women per se. Think of Kim Swift, the awesome game designer who was project lead for the legendary Portal, or think of Halo engine programmer Corrinne Yu. You realize, I know, that your life would be better with more women like them in gaming. Swift herself has written about how rough women have it in the industry, so keep in mind that targeting Quinn will drive away the next Kim Swift. That’s not a trade you want to make. Publicity and cronyism are ephemeral. Good games are forever.

You are pissed off, I realize. You are a young man who loves video games and hates their increasing corruption by money and hype, the gaming press tainted by what Forbes journalist Erik Kain calls “the lack of a uniform ethical code.” You see the gaming press as a shallow, superficial in crowd made up of those who have ascended to their positions not by merit but by connections, schmoozing, and social skills. There’s probably something to that. Nepotism rules the world, and you understandably feel completely invisible next to those journos. Kotaku is owned by Gawker Media, a company whose history reads like an episode of Gossip Girl. You look at Kotaku, which employs exactly one female reporter and one female editor, and then you see them promote Zoe Quinn’s game seemingly because she knows people at Kotaku and may have even slept with them, and you feel indignant because they’re tokenizing women—and not just any women, but their in-crowd friends. And when you call them out on their cliquishness, they get sanctimonious about it? Kotaku getting sanctimonious, when they call game developers “clueless” and shove exploitative ecchi anime in your face (or the one with underage toothbrush incest and sexual harassment of 12-year-olds)? That’s pretty rich, I’ll give you that.

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