In an earlier post on Masculinities 101, I detailed the emergence of a specific masculine identity emerging in and around videogame culture. This masculinist gamer contingent is reflexively hostile towards criticism, and in recent years has been making headlines detailing their attempts to harass and silence women in the wider videogame community. Somewhere in the middle of that list was Zoe Quinn, indie game developer, critic, and cyborg. Quinn, along with co-writer Patrick Lindsey and musician Isaac Shankler, is the developer of Depression Quest, an interactive fiction game exploring the experience of depression. After a year of availability on the web, Quinn was beset by an online harassment campaign when she brought the game to the Steam service, an online digital distribution platform for PC games. Recently, newfound attacks on Quinn have snowballed into a “scandal” known as GamerGate.
These events are still developing, but here’s a rough chronology of what’s happened so far:
- When the dust cleared and Quinn was still standing, her detractors produced a graphic detailing what they called the “Quinnspiracy,” arguing Quinn had allegedly faked her harassment to gain publicity for herself and her (free) game. Finding it hilarious, Quinn eagerly distributed the graphic and adopted the term for her own use.
- Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni posted a long, meandering screed named The Zoe Post, accusing Quinn of having been emotionally abusive and repeatedly unfaithful during their relationship. Gjoni also implied that Quinn had traded sexual favors for positive coverage of her (again, free) game. Attacks on Quinn recurred, and intensified, including attacks on industry professionals who had been publicly supportive of Quinn. These attacks were widely believed to be associated with /v/, the videogames section of the message board website 4chan; defenders of /v/ rejected these claims, claiming that Quinn (and her supporters) had faked the attacks for publicity.
- Quinn issued a statement that she would not comment on her private life. The gaming press mostly ignored the story, except to agree that private lives were not news, and that the journalist Quinn was specifically accused of manipulating had never reviewed her game. When the harassment persisted, a number of high-profile games writers posted editorials critical of the harassment, and the masculinist wing of the gamer subculture that was trying so hard to keep Quinn and women like her out. These came to be known, collectively, as the “gamers are dead” posts.
- The argument inexplicably made its way to conservative actor Adam Baldwin, who boosted the signal. Baldwin is believed to be the first to use the hashtag #GamerGate, which would be widely adopted as the name of the controversy.
- Quinn’s opponents introduced the hashtag #NotYourShield, ostensibly to address criticisms that the controversy was fundamentally driven by white male gamers hostile towards change. To subvert those critics, apparent minorities posted the tag #NotYourShield, arguing that GamerGate opponents (i.e. game journalists in general) were using false accusations of misogyny and racism to conceal corruption. It was met with skepticism by everyone who had been paying attention this past summer, when 4chan trolls mounted Operation Lollipop, a campaign to use “sockpuppeting” to impersonate feminists and women of color in order to delegitimize their work. Many of the #NotYourShield posts came from new accounts bearing the telltale marks of sockpuppets.
- Ongoing harassment pushed Quinn out of her home. Facing harassment for being supportive of Quinn and/or critical of GamerGate, a number of prominent women in the gaming press–Jenn Frank, Mattie Brice, and Lana Polansky–announced their resignation from the field.
- Quinn revealed that she has been quietly observing and recording 4chan discussions on Internet Relay Chat, demonstrating what her supporters had already assumed: The ostensibly grass-roots “movement” against her had been centrally planned by 4chan for the purpose of driving feminists and other activists (pejoratively known as “social justice warriors,” or SJWs) out of the gaming industry.
The arguing continues, of course, and will likely continue to ebb and flow for some time–a protester who associated himself with GamerGate fled the recent XOXO Festival under threat of arrest* –and it might be some time before we know whether law enforcement will have anything to say about the events of the last few weeks. Lacking the clarity of hindsight, there are useful observations to be made on what we do know.
In the second part of this post, I discuss the semantic issues raised by the “gamers are dead” posts, the various arguments being made about ethics in games journalism, and just what this all has to do with our culture’s concepts of masculinity.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the ‘protestor’ had been arrested at the festival, when in fact he fled after police had been called.