It probably would not surprise anyone to hear that one of the biggest stories in the video gaming industry right now involves men not knowing how to properly treat women.
But what exactly that entails will almost certainly stun you.
In 2013, a video game developer named Zoe Quinn released a choose-your-own-adventure-type game called Depression Quest, in which you play a main character living with depression. Quinn was inspired by her own experiences struggling with the disease, and many critics praised the game both for its depiction and its style.
Gamers, however, were less kind. And in an ideal world, even a normal world, that would have been fine. It’s clearly not a game made for everyone, and everyone’s got a right to their own opinion.
But today being today, some of these gamers were not content to say they did not like the game, and decided instead to not only belittle Ms. Quinn as a person, but to harass her, so much so that she withdrew the game from circulation.
Over a year later, in August of this year, Quinn released the game again on a different online game service.
At about the same time, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend posted on his blog that Quinn had cheated on him with a journalist from a gaming magazine that gave her game a positive review.
Now, as it turns out, that journalist told his bosses about their relationship, and consequently he was not involved in the review of her game in any way.
Still, the accusation brought up an important ongoing issue in the gaming community, namely that its journalists are in many cases far too cozy with its developers. For a multi-billion dollar industry that has begun to dwarf even Hollywood’s revenues, this was an important moment. Online conversation about journalistic ethics in the gaming industry began in articles, blog posts and tweets under the title “GamerGate”.
But again, today being today, some online commenters focused bizarrely intense rage at Ms. Quinn. In the month after the game’s release, she received threats of rape and murder; people called her father and called her a whore, hacked her computer accounts and sent naked photos of her to colleagues. Her contact information, including her address, was posted online repeatedly (an action known as “doxxing”). Ms. Quinn actually began staying with friends because she was afraid of being tracked to her home.
Those who have since stood up to defend Ms. Quinn and call out the gaming community for these shocking abuses, many of them women, have themselves become the targets of the same harassment. Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian even cancelled a talk she was to give at Utah State University after receiving a threat that if she spoke there would be a massacre on campus.
On Wednesday actress and content creator Felicia Day, who is sort of the sweet big sister of the entire nerd/geek/gaming community, made her own thoughts known. As to why she had said nothing so far, she admitted “I was terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets.” Indeed, having been stalked before she said she was afraid of being doxxed just for writing the words “GamerGate.”
And her fears proved correct. No sooner did she post her blog than hackers released her contact information.
Now, no one is saying—or should be—that the actions of a few clearly awful people say anything about the entire community of people who develop or play video games today. Indeed, many many creators have spoken out against what’s transpired.
Still, the very fact that women—starting with a woman brave enough to not only publicly acknowledge that she has struggled with depression, but to try and help others understand it through a video game—have come under this kind of abuse begs for our communal self-reflection.
Because perhaps this isn’t a story about the video game subculture, any more than the NFL story was just about Roger Goodell (who, notably, remains the President of the NFL despite his egregious failures).
Perhaps the largely hate-filled comment sections of most blogs and many tweets are offering us a glimpse into our collective id, and a rage and fear bubbling beneath the surface of our society that on some level we seem willing to accept or enable.
It’s scary to think that. It may even sound crazy.
But just ask Zoe Quinn, or Felicia Day, or any of the literally millions of women living in the United States in the 21st century who continue to face these kinds of terrifying threats. It is crazy. But it’s real.