Quinnquisition! Zoe Quinn and the Internet Hate Machine

Well, I’ve kicked a hornet’s nest once before, what will it matter if I kick one more? For what it’s worth, I’m going to try to just separate fact from allegation, and provide a little bit of commentary at the end. I might update this as new information comes to light. For me personally I’m not picking a side in this internet fight.

Overview

Here’s the basics of the situation as I see them, mostly facts with a little bit of analysis. Note that I link heavily to Know Your Meme because I doubt they’ll take down content, and some of this exists only as screencaps.

  • Zoe Quinn is an indie game developer who created a text-based game called Depression Quest, which is also available on Steam.
  • Quinn was dating a guy called Eron Gjoni, who on the 16th of August released a post stating that Quinn cheated on him with five prolific males. Gjoni details this over several posts but the TL;DR post is the most concise.
  • Gjoni alleges that she had relations with Nathan Grayson (writer for Kotaku and previous writer for Rock, Paper, Shotgun), Robin Arnott, Joshua Boggs (her boss), and two others whose names have been censored. The allegation is that Quinn did this to garner positive reviews or publicity for her game.
  • Gjoni also accuses Quinn of having double standards when it comes to morals, and his portrayal of Quinn is that of a ‘social justice warrior’ who wouldn’t stick to her principles when it suited her.
  • A post on Reddit alleges that Quinn fabricated evidence of harassment and misogyny from Wizardchan, a 4chan-style image board for adult male virgins. The linked images further go on to suggest that the probable instigator was someone from the CWCki forums (the CWCki is dedicated to chronicling the life of Christian Western Chandler, and the less said about that, the better). The post further alleges that Quinn did this to garner sympathy, and therefore publicity for her game.
  • The incident is mentioned on Twitter, in Youtube videos, on Tumblr, and plenty of other places. Some of these are taken down via DMCA copyright claims (allegedly from Quinn herself, issued to those who used footage from Depression Quest). Many threads, articles, and so on are removed, sometimes for no apparent reason. Most of these are critical of Quinn.
  • Total Biscuit weighs in, and is promptly attacked for doing so. TB is actually not against Quinn but is against any abuse of the DMCA takedown system to remove criticism of a game.
  • Games Nosh wrote an article about it, which was subsequently removed at the insistence of their host. N4G also wrote an article about it which was also removed, although it used the sensationalist headline “Kotaku Staff Reported to Exchange Positive Game Coverage for Sex” (which isn’t verified).
  • Kotaku responds, states that “[our team] finds no compelling evidence that any of [the allegations are] true.” It states that Nathan Grayson only wrote one article regarding Quinn for Kotaku, and were professional acquaintances at the time. Grayson and Quinn then started a romantic relationship. Grayson never reviewed Depression Quest.
  • The Fine Young Capitalists were working on their own female-centric game development event. A Reddit user called SillySladar alleges that Quinn intentionally sabotaged that event since it opposed her own, called Rebel Game Jam. The allegations include leaking personal information (doxxing) the user who posted the thread. The Fine Young Capitalists recorded an audio update regarding this event, which claimed people rallying against it (including Quinn) misunderstood the event.
  • Quinn released her own statement on Tumblr. She refuses to comment much on the allegations (although she does call her ex-boyfriend “malicious” in the post) but rather condemns anyone who posted photos of her, sent her threats or hurtful comments, or leaked the personal information of anyone related to her. She also states that nobody can argue about ethics when they’re on the same side as those invading her privacy. She also implies that this has nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with misogyny in gaming.
  • Oh, Phil Fish said a bunch of stuff. Are you surprised?
  • Doubts have been raised about the alleged hacking of Polytron, Phil Fish’s indie outfit. It’s alleged that part of the hosting service, Cloudflare, requires two-factor authentication, making it unlikely that an attack occurred. Note however that Cloudflare might just be a caching service and thus not the original point of attack.
  • It’s also alleged that Quinn set up fake attacks from 4chan, and based on a few posts of tweets showing a delete button (suggesting she supplied the screencaps on her own) it seems like she was attempting to provoke a reaction. These images suggest that Quinn posted images of her tweets in an attempt to provoke people into attacking her.
  • On the 24th of August, a Reddit moderator had a conversation detailing removals taking place. A message purported to be by Quinn was released too. Notably, when these images were hosted on imgur, they were promptly deleted. It alleges that Quinn sent the message to a number of Reddit moderators across several gaming subredits. The mod stated that Admins decided it would be best to just remove anything about Quinn, but the mods disagreed. They were also allegedly approached by her ex-boyfriend, but did not engage with him. The unnamed mod also states that a particular mod was deleting anything regarding Phil Fish and allegations the hack on Polytron was an inside job.
  • Also on the 24th of August, The Fine Young Capitalists had their IndieGoGo campaign for their own game jam deleted. TFYC state that someone guessed their 8 character password and deleted the campaign. Seriously, guys? In any event, Quinn’s detractors have decided this was done in some sort of support of Quinn, given that she was against the project. So far, there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case – plenty of others hated the project for ridiculous reasons too. It’s worth noting though that many donations were given to this project in protest of Quinn. This is supposedly a screencap of the campaign before it was shut down.
  • Someone who is looking to defend Quinn allegedly released the personal information of a bunch of people against Quinn.
  • On the 26th of August, GamerHeadlines posted an article detailing a Reddit post showing that Patricia Hernandez (of Kotaku) and Ben Kuchera (of Polygon) failed to disclose personal relationships with people they’d reported on. The Kotaku Editor-in-Chief, in the wake of the Quinn Incident (Quinncident?), made a statement that anyone who was reporting on someone that they were close to in any way should recuse themselves. Based on Hernandez’s social media activity, she is close friends with Anna Anthropy, and apparently lived with her. Anna Anthropy is an indie game developer, and Hernandez has written articles about her or mentioning her in the past. Hernandez did not disclose her relationship with Anna Anthropy in any of the 4 articles listed. Kuchera’s accusations are far more serious – he is listed as a patron of Quinn on Patreon since the 6th of January 2014. Kuchera wrote an article for Polygon about Quinn on the 19th of March, 2014. Polygon’s code of ethics states that a writer must not cover any ‘company’ in which they have a financial investment, unless they specifically disclose it on their profile page. So far as I can see, this isn’t disclosed anywhere. As such, Kuchera has clearly violated Polygon’s code of ethics, if Quinn is considered a ‘company’ for the purposes of that section.

Conflict of Interest? Probably not.

Let’s have a look at the first allegation – that Quinn had sexual relations with others to increase publicity of Depression Quest. There’s nothing to suggest any of this is true. Nathan Grayson, for example, did not write a review of Depression Quest and does not appear to have encouraged anybody else to do so. Outside of that, nobody can say for certain if Quinn’s actions had any impact on Depression Quest (at least prior to this media storm). That said, we do not know about anything that may have gone on behind the curtain. It’s probably inappropriate to have relations with journalists (and your boss, for that matter) and appears highly unprofessional, or at least highly questionable. It’s definitely suspicious, and something that should be declared. But Grayson’s the only journalist (that I know of, at least) involved with Quinn, and none of his articles on Kotaku said much about Depression Quest prior to  his relationship with Quinn. There’s nothing concrete to suggest that Quinn’s relationships benefited her. As such, this remains an unfounded accusation. Are her actions questionable? For sure. In any other industry, you’d have people asking some pretty serious questions to establish any conflict of interest. But since the indie game sector is decades away from any sort of professionalism, it’s probably not even relevant.

Regarding Grayson: This image gets posted as ‘proof’ that Quinn and Grayson were in a relationship on the 22nd of March, 2014. If that were true, then Grayson’s comment to Kotaku that he was not in a relationship with Quinn on the 31st of March 2014 would be called into question. However all this proves is that Grayson knew Quinn before 22/03/14, and this isn’t newsworthy.

Damage control takedowns? Unsure.

Another major problem here is that a lot of information is outright missing, often due to demands for it to be taken down. In the case of private photos of Quinn being leaked, then she’s damn-well entitled to having those removed. But in terms of articles criticising Quinn, or her game? Provided that criticism isn’t hateful in nature, it should be permitted to stand. I’ll get into why a little later. Abusing the DMCA takedown system to censor your critics is a scary abuse of the system, and poses all sorts of uncomfortable scenarios open for abuse by any developer. Don’t like their review of your game, and they’re using a few seconds of footage? Submit a DMCA claim! Even little sites like mine could come under threat from that (hence why I’m not using any images of Depression Quest in this article). There’s also the attempt to turn this into a misogynist issue and enlisting the help of anyone sympathetic to that cause to rally against any analysis of Quinn’s actions or the behaviour alleged by those questioning her. Neither side is claiming any moral high ground here.

Interfering with TFYC? Unsure, but worth checking out.

One of the more serious accusations is that Quinn sabotaged The Fine Young Capitalists’ game jam. We know that Quinn didn’t like it but much beyond that we still don’t know what, if any, involvement she had in attacking it. That’s something worth serious investigation. If true, it’s pretty damaging to Quinn’s reputation.

Jealous, scorned ex-boyfriend not cleared either.

The actions of the ex-boyfriend, clearly done with the intent of harming Quinn, are not excused. His accusations are pretty serious, but don’t appear to have much merit. His leaking of private photos of Quinn has no justification. And yet his push to punish Quinn poses some uncomfortable truths of its own, which again we’ll get into at the end.

Personal profile damage is done.

Quinn’s personal life has been exposed as being at odds with most of the moral beliefs she claimed to hold. The apparent hypocrisy is pretty damaging to someone who probably belongs in the Social Justice Warrior camp (for lack of a better term). If the allegations of fabricating evidence or attacking Rebel Jam turn out to be true, then it’s further demonstrating that Quinn’s a pretty horrible person. But again, we don’t really know that much about it, and Quinn being a horrible person doesn’t mean much in gaming. Look at Phil Fish.

The uncomfortable truth: We’re all to blame.

At the end of this, we can only say that we don’t know whether or not Quinn’s actions had any sort of impact on her career or her game’s performance. We don’t know. All that we can say is that there’s been a massive storm of hatred and controversy, mixed with social justice issues (whether rightly or wrongly), to create an internet fight that’ll go down in history. Sitting on the sidelines here, all I can think is that the trial by social media is all too common today, and it never really ends well. And yet we’re all ready to indulge in it whenever it suits our own personal agenda. The Social Justice Warriors claiming that Quinn shouldn’t be questioned on the basis of mere allegations, and that she shouldn’t be criticised or otherwise attacked for private affairs, were probably silent (or leading the charge) when Josh Mattingly, who admitted he was depressed and an alcoholic, made inappropriate comments towards a female game developer in a private Facebook conversation. Or how Max Temkin, who was recently accused of rape occurring some years previously, was dragged through a trial by social media, and was recently brought up again suggesting that he wasn’t sorry. I’ll remind you this was a simple allegation, with zero details.

I don’t know why we’re surprised that people are launching an attack on Quinn over the accusations leveled at her. Is a trial by social media inappropriate? Damn right it is. Nothing excuses the threats and memes being directed at Quinn. No doubt she’s suffering under the burning glare of the Internet Hate Machine. But damn it, people are ready to completely forget that we attack people on mere allegation all the time, and will gleefully take part in a ‘he-said-she-said’ war of words. We’ll conveniently forget that we get caught up in all of this provided we have a good casus belli. The SJWs crying out in horror for the attacks on Quinn might want to remember when they wanted to believe Temkin was guilty of something, either rape or not doing enough to stop rape.

The point is that we’ll happily include things like allegations, or tone, or what was not said, or what was implied, provided it suits our own world view. Both the people looking to hate Quinn and those looking to defend her are guilty of the exact same thing, no matter how many times they scream that it’s different, it was a different situation, they’re not comparable! That’s the real thing worth analysing in this Quinnspiracy. There’s not much else worth noting here, it’s a mountain out of a molehill. You can bet most people aren’t interested in journalistic integrity, just like most people weren’t interested in whether Temkin was guilty or not. It’s a chance to destroy someone with some sort of pretext for doing so, some way to justify it, to claim the moral high ground. Except there isn’t – we’re all standing knee-deep in the dead, and we’re all covered in blood. Yeah, even me. If we were prepared to attack someone else over an accusation back then, we shouldn’t act surprised when people do it this time. The trial by social media doesn’t have to conform to logic, and attempting to apply method or reason to it is ridiculous. When the hate machine turns on us, perhaps we have only ourselves to blame.

 

My own person opinion on Quinn

From a personal perspective, I probably wouldn’t like Zoe Quinn if I met her, particularly if the allegations her boyfriend levels at her as a person are true. She probably wouldn’t like me either. None of that is relevant to the accusations of compromising journalistic integrity… but I also don’t think that actually happened. I don’t think it’s professional to do what she did, and I don’t think that people claiming there was no professional relationship are making a valid point (association is ultimately enough in my opinion), and in the case of the activity between her and her boss, there definitely was a professional relationship there. But I don’t think any of that really matters all that much. I find the allegations that Quinn fabricated hatred against herself for sympathy, and the allegation that she interfered with a game jam, far more interesting and worthy of investigation. Outside of that? Nothing really to see here.

 

Changelogs:

  • 23/08/14 17:17 – Modified the claims regarding TFYC and Quinn damaging their event. Originally this article stated TFYC’s project was called Rebel Jam. This is incorrect – rather, Rebel Game Jam is Quinn’s project..
  • 23/08/14 2309 – Here’s a great article from GamerHeadlines that also takes an unbaised, from the sidelines approach to the entire thing. Also added some information about suspected hackings, and clarified an image about Nathan Grayson.
  • 24/08/14 1050 – More fixes because I’m an idiot and left in stuff about Rebel Game Jam belonging to TFYC. Also added information about a Reddit Mod’s alleged confession.
  • 24/08/14 2100 – Added information about TFYC’s IndieGoGo project getting canned, and someone doxxing Quinn detractors.
  • 26/08/14 1051 – Added a GamerHeadlines article with accusations that two high-profile writers are guilty of failing to disclose a conflict of interest, in contravention of their respective sites’ policies.
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