[This is a somewhat sarcastic and lengthy post about something that could only exist in our 21th-century society. It’s about Internet drama, e-celebrities, collective hysteria, moral panics, useless journalists, video game culture, ideological groupthink, Streisand Effect, contemporary myth-making, and pathological confabulation. I’ve tried to give a bit of context and background, but you’ll understand it better if you already know about the whole mess. If you don’t, it may seem a bit incomprehensible or the humor may fly over your head. Read at your own risk.]
A) THE BOOK, SYSTEMIC MISOGYNY, AND THE UNITED NATIONS.
One of the last books I’ve read is The State of Play (published October 20, 2015,) a collection of articles written by the biggest names of -as one of the, describes it- “a new generation of independent video game designers [who] have begun to explore how games can be used for social and political activism and commentary. Topics such as sexism, race, politics, and class injustice are today being grappled with to an extent that has previously been absent from the form.”
The book deals with very important issues, like unwanted gifts and romantic advances in World of Warcraft,
“Truth be told, it’s misleading to call what he was giving gifts. They were inducements, buttons being pressed on the vending machine of my womanhood in hopes that romantic affection would follow.”
Katherine Cross in “You humanity is in another castle: Terror dreams and the harassment of women.”
the freedom a transgender will feel only after the apocalypse:
“For marginalized people, though -and this is me speaking as a white transwoman- the post-apocalypse offers a setting where the social institutions that commit systemic violence against us no longer exist. In the wastelands of the future, no one will ask to see a passport that has my birth name on it, or that lists my gender as M.
In the lawless future, I’ll walk the wasteland unafraid that some cop will stop me on suspicion that I’m hooking because I’m a trans woman in a skirt.”
Anna Anthropy in “Love, Twine, and The End of The World.”
or the lack of realistic hair for black characters in video games:
“[Talking about his hair] After the picking out, patting down, and shaping are done, I always think to myself, Goddamn, I love being black.’
Video games have yet to deliver the same feeling to me.“
Milo YiannopoulosEvan Narcisse, in “The Natural: The parameters of Afro.”
That is certainly fascinating and I can’t imagine why these people aren’t more famous, but there is a very curious chapter, written by Zoë Quin, that got my attention (besides, she IS famous.) The chapter is titled “A game I had to make.” Although the whole book was published by the end of 2015, that chapter deals with events that happened between 2013 and March 2014. Some of you may know her for being the catalyst of what later became #Gamergate, but I won’t talk about that here because she doesn’t mention it.
Still, because it was such an important event (for people who follow these things, anyway,) I’ll comment it a little. Now, there is a lot that could be said about GG, but the most obvious consequence was that, at last, those filthy nerds got their comeuppance. Sure, “gamers” and assorted freaks had always been the butt of all jokes, but after the “Quinnspiracy” thing, among certain progressive circles, labeling them as the worst scum of the Earth became a virtue. For example, the website salon.com is fighting the good fight and has its priorities straight.
To various degrees, that explanation (well, without the pedo thing) has been followed, embraced, and repeated by Forbes, The Huffington Post, International Business Times, The Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Phys.org, directly mentioned by Canada’s Primer Minister Justin Trudeau, PBS, LA Times, New York Times at least twice, and The Guardian. Then, of course, are the many articles written by totally spontaneous game
bloggers journalists, like the 10 or so articles on the very same day, August 28, 2014, proclaiming the “death of gamers” and the End of History.
This is a prototypical example of how an article covering this issue should begin:
As threats of violence and sexual harassment aimed at women in the gaming community have escalated, so too has the mainstream attention — and for good reason. Internet trolls have increasingly turned to online movements like “gamergate” as a tool to organize massive smear campaigns that target women or critics of sexist, racist and homophobic aspects of gaming culture.
secular version of a satanic panic perfectly reasonable media response arose from, among other things, Zoë Quins’ ordeals, and her story has been essential and necessary for this shift in public discourse. After all, she is one of the most famous victims of on-line harassment and a postergirl for the evils of the gaming community. She even went to the United Nations! Now she is writing a book about the whole things and perhaps a movie about it –starring Scarlett Johanson– will be made.
Her story has been extensively covered by more or less the same big names, although The Guardian has been especially prolific, and The Boston Magazine described it as “the most vicious online backlash against feminism in a generation.” Zoe’s own article on Cracked.com has been viewed more than 1.600.000 times. We are dealing, therefore, with a cultural icon.
The beginning of the story that precipitated many of those events is explained by the very own heroine, Zoë Quinn, in “I game I had to make.” Think about it as a prequel, if you wish. It’s not how she became famous outside the little world on indie games/video games, but inside that world. And like in the Star Wars prequels (which are the best SW movies, of course,) you’ll see many common themes repeating because “it’s like poetry, it rhymes.”
Written by Zoë Quinn (not her real name,) the chapter (“A game I had to make“) is written in the second-person singular, like this:
“You don’t know how to handle this many people knowing you exist, much less caring about your work.
You inadvertently become a beacon for the cause of depression.”
(She is talking about her game, Depression Quest)
The chapter begins with this:
“It’s 2:00 p.m on a Saturday, the middle of the workday, and you’re sitting on a curb coughing and crying so hard you’re not sure which tears are from what.”
She describes herself (well, “you”) as the victim of untold misfortunes: depression, with “near-crippling social anxiety,” poverty, and as someone who has lived on the streets at least once:
“[…] you have no savings or family support and would prefer it to being on the streets again”
She compares herself with the protagonist of her game:
“To create distance, you have given the protagonist every advantage in life you wish you might have had -a job, a loving family, a supportive and understanding partner, pills that work, and a therapist who could be effective- while in reality you have none of these”
I’m sure her family would happily confirm that part. In any event, she also mentions how she lost her job because she was denied a day off to get her pneumonia taken care of.
“You half wish that you’d stayed at your job and just let the pneumonia get worse because at least you’d know you have somewhere to live next month.”
The game for which she is famous (a “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of game) is named Depression Quest, and it’s an attempt to simulate depression using a text-based interactive fiction. The “game” is
crude simple and short concise, but it’s perfectly well designed and its reactivity is without peer in the games industry. For example, in one scene I opened my heart to my girlfriend, about my depression and all those problems:
“I don’t know how you could possibly love me.”
She rolls over and wraps her arms around your neck, settling her head on top of yours. “You don’t need to. Just know that I do.”
Isn’t that beautiful? And then, the next week, after not seeing her for a few days:
“So…” She starts. She breaks eye contact and takes a deep breath, which spikes your anxiety. “Things with us have felt kind of… weird lately. It’s like you’ve been really distant, and I’m not sure how to take it.”
“I guess I just want to make sure you still wanna do this. Us, I mean.”She notices you gripping the couch. “I mean, I know you have… difficulties, with your situation I mean… I just…” She looks at your face, seemingly searching. “I don’t know how much has to do with it, or if it has to do with me, or…”
And because, according to the game, I’m severely depressed, and depression is like black magic, I can’t choose shit, so the only two options I can choose end up with my character breaking with her girlfriend even though last week she had said she loved me. It’s just like in real life, well, like mine, at the very least.
The game, which can be finished in 20 minutes, uses a “pay what you want” model, but you can play it for free, of course. Its goal is not to earn money, but to raise awareness of
its designer depression. The main message of the game is that mental health is like a black hole, and if you make a few bad choices (like not owning a cat, or not going out with your friends,) you’ll get worse and then you will cross an event horizon, a point of no return, and no matter what you try after that, your life will be shit, your loved ones will abandon you, and then the game ends. As a psychologist who has pondered a lot about such issues, I can’t possibly imagine a better message for all the depressed people out there. Just for that brilliant game, she deserves each and every one of the 3200$ she receives from her Patreon account every month for doing… something, tweeting about her cat, mostly.
In The State of Play, when explaining why she created a game like that, she defines depression in this Borg-like manner:
“You started out together on a mission to create a piece of media that would exist as an alternative to the false depictions of the illness you both live with. Since you see depression as a system with certain rules that you have to operate within and push against, translating that into a game mechanic made sense as a way to try to communicate your experience.”
[my own emphasis]
Now, you may be thinking that no one who describes depression like that knows what she is talking about, but you’d be terribly wrong. She talks like that because her own depression left her so scarred, that she has become an anhedonic husk of her previous sunny personality. Now there are only systems and rules to push against.
C) FAKE NERD GIRLS AND THE FORGOTTEN SCREENCAPS OF DOOM.
Before she became famous for being harassed, Zoë Quinn was already a developer of short and simple text-based video games who, well, was already being harassed. In fact, according to her own words, she has been receiving death and rapes threats since she was a “little girl.”
Before Depression Quest, however, the first game-related threats she has ever mentioned seem to be the ones she received for making this on-line questionary: Fake Nerd Girl Detector.
My first and only playthrough lasted 5 seconds. I was asked “Does she [your imaginary waifu] play video games?” I answered “No” because that’s actually true, and I received this virtual kick in my misogynistic nuts:
“Then why are you even taking this test? Besides you can be a nerd about other things anyway so maybe you should just stop being judgemental eh? Maybe she’d even start to play games if you introduced them to her and don’t act like a dick about it!”
Well, that escalated quickly, but I’m sure I deserved it. Then I was sent to the end screen, where I was admonished by this wise advice:
“Please don’t drive people away from our medium. There’s room here for everyone, and try not to be too judgmental about how other people enjoy things.”
Clearly, the future of entertainment is here.
Her crusade for the betterment of mankind was going swiftly but, however, she started receiving the first (that we know of) batch of rape threats. That was November 1, 2012, even before hardly anyone knew who she was, but she already knew something dark was looming over the horizon (“gators gonna gate”…)
Setting a precedence for future harassment campaigns, Miss Quinn casually forgot to screencap or copy at least one of those rape threats she was receiving, although she mentions them a lot of times. A few months passed, and her new game, Depression Quest, was almost ready.
Depression Quest was released on the best day of the year for depressed people, Valentine’s Day, 2013. Then she quickly posted the game on Steam Greenlight (the biggest on-line video game platform,) but something horrible happened: Even more threats.
Again, she forgot to screencap them, although it would have been an easy thing to do. The last time I checked, threatening e-mails in your inbox are easy to prove:
A concerned citizen asked the dreaded question:
She did not answer, probably thinking this individual was trying to victim-blame her. But then things got worse, as she explains in “A game I had to make,” because she even received a handwritten letter:
“Then you had a message sent to your house. A handwritten note was delivered to your mailbox, talking about what they wanted to do to your body against your will. There was something chillingly personal about seeing it handwritten out like that […]”
Now, you may think that would be the perfect proof of harassment, perhaps not enough to demonize all gamers and write articles about why they are worse than pedophiles, but hey, at least it would prove there is one freak out there (and there are certainly many.) After all, this is how popular game commentator TotalBiscuit described part of her on-line existence:
“Over the past year we have received death threats in the triple figures and that’s just by email. Not a day goes by when someone isn’t trying to attack us for something, in fact the harassment seems to have increased since the cancer diagnosis, though that could be a correlation fallacy.”
There are certainly many freaks out there, but no, you misunderstand, asking for proof is harassment and victim blaming since you deny the validity of the victim’s experiences. Also, denying the validity of generalizing from those threats to the whole population or community is also harassment.
For example, on November 23, 2013, she said she had written something (she didn’t link to it) about feminism and how she had received a lot of threats, including “stuff” to “my physical location.” Obviously, asking her to take a picture of that stuff or to call the police would only compound her pain, so it should not be done. Besides, “fuck the police.”
Anyway, the Steam Greenlight process continued, but sadly their game wasn’t really liked, and it did not pass the Steam Greenlight voting process, a factual proof of harassment and cyberviolence if I’ve ever seen one. So they pulled it off Greenlight. “Their”, “they”? Why, yes, the game was developed by, at least, three people (and it shows.) Oddly enough, Quinn forgets to mention the name of anyone else in “A game I had to make.” An innocent mistake, I’m sure.
Don’t you ever forget it, this is the price of being a woman on the Internet: threats, “emailed, incredibly detailed rape threats,” and more shit. Sure, she forgot again to screencap those things, or to post a censored version of the incredibly detailed rape threat, but who needs proof anyway.
It’s not like anyone has ever lied about those things, exaggerated them, or misinterpreted things, right?
Also, don’t forget, those rape threats of murder are capitalism’s fault.
Quinn’s first attempt at publishing Depression Quest on Steam didn’t end well, and this is how she describes it on “A game I had to make.“
“Greenlight requires that small independent games be voted on by their community, leaving curation in the hands of a community known to shout racial slurs over voice chat and to use the word rape as a shorthand for nearly everything.”
Steam may have more than eight million concurrent users at any moment, but hey, now you know what you all really are, a community that easily gets really aggresive and death/rape threat-y.
“Shortly after posting the game you started receiving dozens of sexually explicit messages, detailed plans of how they were going to come to your house and rape or murder you, and other things of that nature. Given that you’ve been online since you were a little girl, this was nothing new to you and merely made you tired.”
(that’s a shitty childhood if I’ve ever seen one.)
She may have been receiving “detailed rape plans” since she was in preschool, but that did not faze her and, on December 2013,
they she tried again.
And…things wen’t down quickly AGAIN.
For an instant, Zoe had a terrible, heretical thought, what if all those threats came from the same person, her own personal obnoxious sociopath? Nah. She is a woman on a mission, and that means the people that
mock harass her are legion, a perfect cross-sectional representation of our misogynist Internet culture and, probably, capitalism. It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable to make sweeping generalizations about the whole community.
She also had to deal with horrible stuff, like reading comments of people who didn’t like her game and the random retarded commenter. Fret not, because she had a brilliant idea: disable all comments. But then, of course, Wizardchan happened.
[Note: Wizardchan is an anonymous internet imageboard for lonely and -keep that in mind- depressed virgins. I’m not saying that as an insult; that’s what they are and how they describe themselves. As one would expect, the imageboard is populated by people with real crippling social anxieties, hikikomori-like personalities, depression, physical disabilities, suicidal tendencies, etc. It’s not a very popular or crowded place, and they want to be left alone.]
In her own words:
“A few days ago, you received and anonymous email from a fan telling you that they loved Depression Quest and had to give you a warning. An Internet forum dedicated to depressed virgins had found out about your existence and they were pissed. The email told you to look out for phone calls and other things in the coming days, since these people were looking for you and were out for blood. Ignoring their warning, you google around and find the subculture in question and their threads about you. […] You screengrab some of the worst stuff.”
…until they star calling your phone a few days later.”
Note how those misogynists hated her just because she “existed.” What was that “worst stuff”? Oh, my, it was horrible, soul-crunching harassment. Zoë herself tweeted it. Pure horror:
Clearly, that’s so horrible it’s enough to send you directly to the United Nations.
Now, you be thinking that because the first post is from December 6, that the second one is from December 9 (the “worst stuff”), that she was warned by an “anonymous” fan who predicted exactly what would happen, that there is no indication anyone there posted her phone number, and that in two occasions someone was urging virgins with social anxiety into talking to a woman, well, you may be thinking that someone was trolling and wanted to start a flame war. Well, I can only say you have a great imagination!
Some misguided fool from the imageboard asked her to stop
Then, someone intervened to shut him up and put him in his place, because all depressed people are equal, but some are more equal than others.
A misguided sense of old-fashioned, pre-Internet justice may tell you that the guy is correct, that harassment should be a direct threat to another person, not just insulting someone in a forgotten corner of the Internet, and -therefore- that no one had “told her” anything since she wasn’t there in the first place, but… well, you are wrong. If somewhere, someone, no matter who, how, or why, says something ugly about you, that’s harassment, against you, against your gender, and even your race if you have one of those things.
Remember all those articles in The Guardian, Forbes, New York Times, etc? Her fame can first be traced to this event and to another one that happened later (the Gamergate thing, which is like this but x20 and with even more Internet drama.) Yes, one
guy individual of undefined gender, an anonymous individual who called her a cunt (and that women are sluts) on an anonymous imageboard for depressed virgins that nobody visits anyway. Has anyone ever been oppressed to such an extent? I think not.
It should be noted that Zoë knew, around December 8, that said Wizardchan thread existed but that it had already died, but then someone told her she was going to stir thing up a bit, to “mock their stupidity” (could she be the fabled “succubus infiltrator?” mentioned there? Possibly) Zoë, being a paladin of the depressed, laughed.
Her rightful indignation to the whole event can be seen here. She got more than 2300 RTs that day for those answers and, finally, Depression Quest was accepted on Steam. But I’m sure there is no relation between both events. Clearly, people were already playing the game for its intrinsic quality, riveting choice & consequence elements, and deep knowledge of depression. After all, the game had already been played by a million players before all that fiasco, as she has repeatedly stated. Many times. Imagine all the players the game must have now on Steam, like 10 million or more! Uh… 442 all-time peak, 4 concurrent players on average? Eh… well… uh, ok.
What about those disgusting virgins? Well, as everyone knows, depressed virgins are also known as “pant-shitting babies.” Nevertheless, Zoë Quinn is magnanimous and thought about offering them a batch of
their her game with her “warmest regards.” “That idiot,” of course, attacked again.
And look at these pathetic attempts at hiding their horrible harassing nature.
But how did she know they were the culprits, that they were the ones who called her four days after the whole post had died? Well, it was one anonymous message on their anonymous imageboard, right? Obviously, they are filthy harassers. But wait, there’s more, she even knows from where they got her personal info to call her phone and make ugly noises while at it.
“Earlies in the day, when checking Twitter, you saw yet another scandal over a woman in game development having the audacity to do something. In particular, there was a conversation in which someone said the controversy had nothing to do with her gender.”
She doesn’t mention it (like she doesn’t mention a single specific date or the name of another human being in the whole text) but she is talking about Dina Abou Karam, a woman who got a job as community manager and designer for the game Mighty Nº9 after she applied out of boredom, had never played the original game, and applied because her boyfriend/best friends worked there. Surely, anyone who reads the previous sentence will no doubt realize that any criticism towards her had to be about her gender and nothing else. Zoë believed the same, which is why she spoke out about the harassment women (i.e., she) receive.
Sure, she was receiving rape threats, people masturbated while calling her phone, and she could not use the phone because “of the harassment and rape threats that would blow it up if you turned it on,” including “another stranger [that] calls and yells as many rape threats through the phone as he can before you hang up” but, you see, she still “laughed at it” and dismissed its importance.
It was only when she saw people criticizing Dina About Karam for being a designer of something she wasn’t even interested in that she realized it was time to act.
So, in any event, how did she know from where they got the information to harass her? Well, isn’t it obvious? The Boston Marathon Bombing, duh.
“But this time, they found your personal information. You made it semipublic while living in Boston during the Boston Marathon bombing because you coordinated a blood drive and efforts to shelter people displaced by the bombs. You knew the risks when putting your information out there, but it still seemed like the right thing to do.”
“She is lying!” you may be screaming. Nope, she is telling the truth, she did uh… well, she tweeted about donating blood.
I mean, that’s the same, right? Coordinating a blood drive with the Red Cross or tweeting about blood donations, what’s the difference? I mean, if gamers are like terrorists, who am I to say she can’t say she coordinated blood drives? Sure, she was saying that people should come with her and then she left that for the next day and, that next day, the first blood anyone saw was she asking her followers which color she should dye her hair, blood red or lilac purple (blood red won,) but… that’s like absolutely the same thing. Anyone who has ever tweeted about donating blood, if it makes them fell good about themselves, should be allowed to say that they coordinate blood drives and that they know people later harassed them because of that. Besides, she is an expert on blood donations:
She did, indeed, gave one phone number in a public tweet that day, and offered her home, which is a noble thing to do. Yes, it may not exactly be “Coordinating efforts to shelter people,” which sounds like something an official from FEMA would do, but, come on… everybody exaggerates in their resumes, right? “Call me if you need a place to stay” vs. “I coordinate efforts to shelter people.” What’s the difference, anyway?
“So, how does she know the
alleged harassment came precisely from the information someone got from what she tweeted or did that day? After all, if she had already received threatening e-mails, threatening letters, stuff to her address and more nonsense for years, if she is a social butterfly and who knows how many people have her phone number, and when she screencapped wizardchan it did not show any doxxing, how can she blame those depressed virgins and the Marathon Bombing of what happened eight months later? What kind of psychic powers does she have to know all that stuff?”
You may be asking all those questions and many more… and I may very well answer them. Some day.
However, I can assure you, that her story is perfectly coherent, and that those journalists who covered it months later for a very similar event (remember, it’s like poetry, it rhymes all the time,) did an excellent job at fact-checking the information she gave them. Surely, the mainstream media would never fall for a moral panic.