Cronyism, lies and censorship: What Zoe Quinn and gender ideologues bring to gaming (part 1)

Note: Part 2 of this series is now here. –Eds
This article is also available in Romanian.

On the 16th of August, a programmer named Eron Gjoni sat down and wrote a blog accusing his ex-girlfriend of adultery, not realizing that his actions were to be the spark of an internet wildfire. In the span of several days, the implications of his ex-girlfriend’s relationships, emerging evidence of unscrupulous financing between feminist journalists and video game developers, as well as the efforts of numerous websites to bury these issues from public sight, have served to bring up damning evidence of the corruption that now permeates the games industry.

The blog in question offered evidence that Eron Gjoni’s ex-girlfriend, the aspiring game developer and feminist activist Zoe Quinn, had cheated on him with five different men who are well-known in the game industry. One of these men, Nathan Grayson, is a journalist who gave her game publicity; another one of these men, Joshua Boggs, is a leading developer who gave her a job, allegedly after he and Zoe Quinn had sex. Sparked by this scandal, evidence has since emerged that other journalists such as Patricia Hernandez have been in close relations with developers for whom they  wrote positive reviews and even whom they financially supported.

What’s more disturbing is that as the story of these conflicts of interest went viral, the moderators and admins of various gaming websites including GameSpot, IGN, RockPaperShotgun, Escapist Magazine and NeoGAF, as well as the forums on Reddit and allegedly 4chan, went into damage control mode, deleting posts and banning users who spoke up about Zoe Quinn. On one gaming forum of the website Reddit alone, Quinn contacted one moderator who then promptly deleted as many as 25,000 posts on the topic. The webhosts of GamesNosh, the first gaming website to write about Zoe Quinn’s cronyism, demanded that the website remove the article, while one well-respected game developer who expressed concern about cronyism in the industry overall was subjected to a number of insults as a result. The first article in a gaming journalism website discussing this issue had to be taken down because the site’s webhost demanded it, and the first YouTube video about the issue was temporarily taken down after a false copyright infringement claim. In spite of this, the second YouTube video to be released gained more than 400,000 views within two days of going online (currently at 650,000) and a few independent gaming magazines such as Gaming Headlines and The Talking Ship began to write on the story.

In the midst of the controversy, it emerged that prominent game journalists were financing Zoe Quinn, a game developer whose work they were also meant to be critiquing. These very same game journalists closed ranks in the wake of a scandal and spoke in defense of Quinn, arguing that her sexual liaisons with a man who reviewed her work and, allegedly, a man who employed her were not relevant for the industry’s reputation but merely private matters. Revelations quickly emerged, however, that some of these journalists were giving Quinn a monthly stipend via a funding website called Patreon, even though these journalists themselves are responsible for writing objective, impartial reviews of her work. Most of the people who defended Quinn, as well as the moderators who silenced her critics, had one thing in common: they were feminist “social justice warriors”, people who were part of the same ideological clique and used journalism as a means to indoctrinate.

This is a story of collusion, duplicity and ideological whitewashing. A story about the people who have been aiming, for the last several years, to inject a toxic blend of male-shaming and propaganda into the world of computer games. The Zoe Quinn scandal and the censorship that followed is only the froth at the top of the poison vat, and this series intends to reveal the whole history of the feminist scams, purges and acts of censorship that have become all too commonplace in the game journalism industry. In part 1, we look at the incidents surrounding Zoe Quinn specifically; expect more names and more events to surface in later instalments.

For now, to give a bit of background, consider that several of the major online game magazines have openly stated their intent to push a “social justice” policy that places feminism at the forefront. The editor-in-chief of the website Kotaku, owned by avowedly pro-feminist Gawker Media, has written articles in support for Anita’s Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs Women in Videogames” video series. Escapist Magazine portrayed her as a damsel in distress against (to quote its own words) a “Misogynist Horde”. Another website, RockPaperShotgun, has dedicated editorials on “sexism” in video games, in which, with one article stating that “RockPaperShotgun will never back down on the subject of sexism and misogyny” (emphasis theirs). GameOn magazine recently stated that “readers who feel threatened by equality [are] no longer welcome”, stating “if you really think feminism, or women, are destroying games, […] please leave this website” (again, emphasis theirs). These articles and others point to a pervasive culture of feminism in the game journalism industry.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the issue at hand. Zoe Quinn, who has participated at a few game jams and made a few short, amateur video games in the process, submitted a game called Depression Quest in late 2013 on Steam Greenlight, a service through which users can vote to make games available on the highly popular Steam online games shop. This usually requires a lot of marketing and a reasonably good game. Nevertheless, according to most of those who played Depression Quest, this was not a good game by any means. In some sense, it was not a game at all, but rather, a choose-your-own-adventure novel that would have been better off posted on a website than sent to Steam. Indeed, under normal circumstances, this game would not have been approved on Greenlight, and sure enough, it wasn’t accepted on its first submission. As the game wasn’t up to standards, what it needed to win was a lot of positive publicity unrelated to the contents of the game itself. What it needed was a semblance of victimhood.

So it is that after submitting her game once again, Zoe Quinn reportedly claimed that she had been harassed by members of a forum called WizardChan and had received abusive phone calls from them. She never gave more details, apart from pointing to one thread on WizardChan in which an anonymous poster  tried to goad the forum regulars into criticizing Depression Quest. In that thread, rather than follow along, the forum regulars asked the anonymous poster to leave (“succubus infiltrator pls go”, in one member’s own terms) because they perceived the poster to be baiting them into trolling. All of this is reported in WizardChan’s version of the events.

There is no known evidence that the alleged phone calls came from WizardChan or any evidence that there were any phone calls to begin with. Moreover, given the obscure nature of WizardChan and the fact that threads older than a few days are automatically removed, it would have been all but impossible for Zoe Quinn to know about that particular forum thread unless she herself had written it; a single thread with no more than 10 replies in some desolate corner of the internet is very unlikely to be found by chance.

Understanding what WizardChan is about will show Zoe Quinn’s claims to be highly improbable if not utterly false. WizardChan is a site for men who are experiencing actual depression. Specifically, it is for middle-aged virgin men (“wizards”, as they refer to themselves) who are experiencing depression and who discuss such topics as wretchedness, meaninglessness and suicide. They repeatedly state their desire to isolate themselves from the “normies”, i.e. all people who are happier than they are. In some sense, they are like The Forgotten Ones from the computer game Oblivion, who have retreated into a dark, damp place and groan contemptfully at everyone who comes in to try to show them the light. WizardChan is by no means a website like the infamous 4chan, where online trolls tend to fraternize. Most of the members of WizardChan come there to withdraw from the world, and simply do not have enough motivation in their day-to-day lives to engage in online trolling.

Nevertheless, feminist game journalist Carly Smith picked up Zoe Quinn’s story of alleged harassment and wrote an article on it at Escapist Magazine, portraying her as a victim of misogyny in a profoundly sexist game industry. Feminist game journalist Christ Priestman also wrote his own article about the issue (which includes a screenshot of the people who called out the one anonymous poster on WizardChan for being a troll-baiter) on the website indiestatik. As a result of these stories, Zoe Quinn finally gained the public sympathy needed to place her game on Steam, while WizardChan received a bout of online mockery from her supporters.

Shortly before the articles in her support were published, Quinn had begun a relationship with Eron Gjoni, a programmer who also enjoyed making videogames. Eron recounts that throughout their relationship, Quinn cheated on him with at least five men, one of whom had a girlfriend at the time and one of whom was married.

Nathan Grayson, one of these men, was a game journalist who featured her work in one of his articles on the website Rock Paper Shotgun, claiming that it stood out among 50 new games released on Steam (two other games earned a passing mention and the others were simply lumped on an alphabetical list). Likewise, Joshua Boggs, who allegedly cheated on his wife with her, recruited her into his game studio. Grayson’s employer, Stephen Totilo, all but confirmed Grayson’s affair with Quinn, although he disputed any conflict of interest in Grayson’s work by stating that they had not begun their relationship at the time his article on her was written.

All of this is documented in a chatlog that Eron Gjoni has posted online, in which he allegedly convinced Zoe Quinn to admit her affairs. As further evidence, Gjoni filmed himself, at his computer, browsing through the log on Facebook, so there is every reason to believe that the log is genuine. Likewise, Zoe Quinn implied that at least one of the affairs did occur when a woman declared that her boyfriend had cheated on her with Quinn.

Gjoni’s threepart chatlog also gives us a picture of this woman’s personality. Understanding this picture will give a new and important perspective on the censorship that followed the blog post, because it really is at the heart of everything that the censorship seeks to protect.

The information in the chatlog portrays Zoe Quinn as someone who expresses strong moral convictions that her actions reliably contravene. For instance, she went on twitter to state that having sex with one’s romantic partner after committing adultery against them is equivalent to rape, as the partner would never give consent to having sex with his adulterer. Nevertheless, the chatlog presents her as someone who was content to “rape” her lover multiple times in this manner. Furthermore, in private, she told Eron Gjoni that it takes a single lie to ruin a committed relationship, even though, according to the chatlog, she lied to him on multiple occasions about multiple counts of adultery, and invented new lies when her old lies were exposed. Further along the chatlog, Zoe Quinn is shown asking Gjoni to break ties with one of his female friends in order to prove that he would never cheat on her, yet Eron Gjoni also claims that she kept a picture of herself and one of her alleged paramours, Robin Arnott, on her laptop’s background screen for three months. Finally, the blog shows her claiming to Gjoni that she disliked the cliquish high-school politics of the game development scene, yet also shows her engaging in plenty of backstabbing politics.

This is a woman who, according to the chatlog, likes to be better at things than men are so she can mock them in front of their “stupid and boring friends” when they try to impress her with their own skills.

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The chatlog portrays her to be a woman who cheats on her lover on a whim, who engages in reckless activities such as unprotected sex with multiple partners and drinking excessively, and who performs suicidal gestures to keep her from being (rightly) abandoned by her cheated-on lover. These are characteristic traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, a well-documented psychiatric disorder and part of the infamous Cluster B Disorders that abusive individuals usually possess. People with this disorder feed on creating drama around them and ruining the lives of their family members, while projecting a persona of helplessness and vulnerability on all those who fail to look beyond it. There are even support groups online dedicated to helping the people who were raised by or married to these dysfunctional individuals.

Eron Gjoni’s threepart chatlog is in fact an excellent resource for psychiatry students investigating the disorder, as it shows exactly how a stereotypical person with Borderline Personality Disorder reacts when confronted with the risk of abandonment. Indeed, in a moment of self-awareness near the end of the first part of the chatlog, as her jaded lover considers abandoning her, it seems that, if the chatlog is indeed genuine, Zoe Quinn pretty much admits to suffering from the disorder herself, stating that she has become the same as her own abusive mother:

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In her own words, she “thought she was better at policing the darkness left in her by being raised by a fucking pathological lying borderline monster”, but “became the fucking monsters she grew up being fucking abused by”. If the chatlog is genuine, then it gets to the heart of who Zoe Quinn is and what it is that her fellow feminists are defending.

According to the chatlog, shortly after making this admission, in a bid to pull Gjoni back into the relationship, Zoe Quinn claimed that she was contemplating suicide and that she needed someone to “watch her”, to ensure that she wouldn’t kill herself. This is classic Borderline behavior; psychiatrists refer to it as “suicidal gestures” or “parasuicide”. Gjoni’s blog goes on to allege further manipulation and other forms of psychological abuse by Zoe Quinn, all of which reflects a deeply abusive person.

It is critical to understand this. If the chatlog posted by Eron Gjoni is genuine, it implies that she is an abuser, a monster. It implies that her feminist cronies, who have been taking her side and shamelessly censoring the story of her corruption, who have even allegedly threatened to ruin people’s career prospects if they spoke about Zoe Quinn, are protecting a monster.

Even without taking the chatlog into account, it could be argued that her cronies are monstrous themselves, as the level of their censorship in the wake of this scandal is staggering. To begin with, a woman going by the name of kc-vidya-rants wrote on her personal Tumblr page about the incident on the 17th of August, but her page has since been taken down. The first YouTube video discussing Eron Gjoni’s blog post was likewise taken down, but was reuploaded on the 19th of August. Two articles about it were up on the same day, on the gaming websites GamesNosh and N4G, but both were promptly taken down as well. Indeed, the entire website GamesNosh was temporarily taken down by its own webhost for fear of reprisal from the “social justice” crowd. Zoe Quinn even went so far as to contact the Internet Archive, a non-profit project for storing the whole contents of the internet, and got them to remove the article from the archive itself.

After a respected game reviewer, who goes by the moniker TotalBiscuit, wrote about the incident in a long twitter post on the very same day, two more threads appeared on the Reddit website, one being in the forum Gaming and the other one in the forum PCgaming. The Gaming and Pcgaming threads instantly rose to prominence, the first of them gaining an extraordinary 25,000 comments; however, according to one screenshot, Zoe Quinn quickly contacted one of the Gaming forum’s moderators, El_Chupacupcake, and had him delete the vast majority of the comments. Scrolling through the heavily censored thread reveals long stretches of deleted comments, which is so unusual for the forum that another thread was created by a confused user asking for information about the event, and received a total of 2,700 comments. The creator of the original Gaming thread was banned, as were many others who posted comments in that thread. When users asked other moderators to stop El_Chupacupcake, one of them was reportedly told to “fuck off” by another moderator, Gaget.

It emerged that the admins of Reddit, who oversee the entire website, have condoned the censorship and have even engaged in censorship of their own, deleting a forum that sprang up for the sake of discussing the incident.

Similar censorship occurred in the Pcgaming forum, although some of the moderators there had the sense to restore the deleted comments. At least two PCGaming moderators, Gaget and CSFFlame, took part in the censorship, the latter making the false statement that most of the deleted posts had been deleted by the users themselves.

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The forums of the popular gaming websites GameSpot, IGN, Escapist Magazine, RockPaperShotgun and NeoGAF locked threads related to the incident and banned the users who commented on them. One user on the NeoGAF forums, Anthony Filipas was informed that his reason for being banned was “We prefer not to let terrible posters participate on this forum”. He had neither engaged in nor been accused of any wrongdoing, but was banned nevertheless, suggesting that the only wrongdoing here was on the moderators’ part.
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One Reddit user, ReverseSolipsist, went ahead to say that he had previously been bullied for attempting to speak up about Zoe Quinn, receiving threats to his career if he made any negative comments about her.

On the 20th of August, Greg Tito, the editor in chief of Escapist Magazine, further called Zoe Quinn’s detractors “deluded conspiracy theorists” on his own forum, proudly admitted that he had no evidence for Zoe’s claims of harassment yet still ran a story condemning WizardChan, and vocally praised the concept of “social justice” to which Zoe Quinn’s cronies adhered, even as El_Chupacupcake was busy deleting most of the 25,000 comments in the Gaming thread and even while Greg Tito’s own moderators were permanently banning users, writing “User was banned for: Zoe Quinn and the surrounding controversy” as their only justification.

In spite of the censorship, however, articles discussing the incident have emerged on the websites Gaming Headlines, The Talking Ship, Ruthless Reviews, TechRaptor and NicheGamer, as well as the popular website knowyourmeme. The first YouTube video discussing Zoe Quinn, which had been removed from YouTube after a false copyright claim on it, has since been reuploaded without incident. Several more videos were since released on various channels. This includes two videos on InternetAristocrat’s channel that have had a combined total of more than a million views, each of the videos having a ratio of roughly 30 upvotes for each downvote. This is a story that is clearly important to many people, and almost everyone is supporting those who are bringing the evidence forward. This story is shaping itself, as it stands, as a clash between the game journalists that have risen to positions of influence in the last decade and the gaming public that frowns on their corruption.

The game journalists in question have nevertheless been very vocal in public. Zoe Quinn herself has referred to her detractors as “semen stained keyboard warriors”. One of Zoe Quinn’s cronies, Patrick Lindsey, informed a few of her other cronies on twitter that Zoe Quinn wants them to maintain “radio silence” on the topic. Chris Thursten, Deputy editor of PC Gamer, tweeted “Just saw one of those misogynistic game journo conspiracy theory YouTube videos that fourteen year old boys like to make nowadays.” Award-winning game developer Phil Fish went further and attempted to ridicule TotalBiscuit for his twitter post by saying “totalbiscuit is a gross nerd.”; “on top of being a YOUTUBER eeeewwww” and “grosssssss” on his own twitter page. Other comments of his towards Zoe Quinn’s critics included “absolutely pathetic, ball-less manboobs.”.

Importantly, Phil Fish also made the allegation that members of the forum “/v/” on the website 4chan, which is notorious for its crude language and nasty online pranks, had hacked into the website of his gaming studio Polytron, its twitter account and Zoe Quinn’s own tumblr account. In response to the allegations, 4chan moderators immediately contacted the FBI, who reportedly informed them that the host of Polytron’s website, CloudFlare, requires two-factor authentication to log on from an untrusted computer. This means that, without access to his computer or mobile, no hacker could have broken into the website, yet Phil Fish made no report of either his computer or his mobile being stolen. Another issue that stood out is that, during the alleged hacking, a 1.5 gigabyte archive containing records of Polytron’s game development acitvities and private contracts with other companies was uploaded onto the website, which would not have been possible in the short time it took for him to tweet about the alleged hacking. Moreover, it would have been far more convenient for any hacker to simply place the archive on an external site and link to it. This and other inconsistencies in the purported hacking have been described by members of 4chan themselves. Remarkably, Phil Fish did not contact his local police department, the FBI or any other authorities to deal with the hackers.

Following this incident with his website, Phil Fish announced he would give up on game development and sell his company. In response, the websites DailyDot, IGN, GameSpot and NewGamerNation have penned articles condemning 4chan for the alleged hacking. It is noteworthy that only DailyDot used the word “alleged”, even though no investigation has taken place and no evidence exists that the website had actually been hacked, as opposed to having been altered by Phil Fish himself.

Zoe Quinn also claimed that members of 4chan had hacked her personal webpage on Tumblr. At the time of the alleged hacking, the last post on her Tumblr page showed the words “HACKED BY 4CHAN.ORG/V/” and featured what appeared to be some of her personal information. This included what was supposedly her mobile phone number, but is in fact a landline number in Honolulu, Hawaii. Zoe Quinn lives in Boston, Massachussets, at the very opposite end of America, and has apparently never gone to Hawaii, which raises the question as to how her alleged hackers could have made such a gross error if they were indeed capable of hacking her Tumblr account. Moreover, like Phil Fish, Zoe Quinn did not report any hacking to the authorities. These inconsistencies expose the possibility that the hacking never took place, and that Zoe Quinn had simply claimed she had been hacked in order to gain public sympathy.

As the censorship and the claims of hacking arose, so did new evidence that Zoe Quinn was being financed by game journalists via the funding website Patreon. This is a serious conflict of interest that stands at the heart of the controversy: as a game developer, her work is meant to be reviewed impartially by game journalists, yet these very same journalists are the ones giving her money. In part 2, it will become clear that they are all pursuing a political agenda, which is why the journalists are giving money to a developer whose work they will later favorably review, and not the other way around. The journalists in question include Ben Kuchera and Philip Kollar, two editors at the gaming website Polygon; Kirk Hamilton, an editor at the gaming website Kotaku; and Jeremy Parish, editor-in-chief at Gamespite. Another notable funder of Zoe Quinn is Akira Thompson, one of the organizers of the game festival IndieCade. This is relevant given that Zoe Quinn was given a slot to showcase Depression Quest at IndieCade’s Night Games event in 2013.

Again regarding funding, Zoe Quinn claims to be organizing a feminist game development event called Rebel Jam. As of the 23rd of August, this event was not receiving donations into any account of its own, but into Quinn’s personal account on Patreon, making it impossible to distinguish which payments are being made for Rebel Jam and which are being made for Zoe Quinn herself. Because of this, and because she has so far given no schedule and made no arrangements to start Rebel Jam, it is reasonable to ask whether the money was ever intended to reach the event at all.

To summarize, a feminist game developer pushed her game into the spotlight by making dubious claims of harassment that were never investigated. Her former lover later accused her of exchanging sex for positive reviews and a career boost in the process of cheating on him with at least five men. Owing to her connections in the game journalism industry, including people who explicitly finance her, she shut down most discourse regarding this story on major websites and got these websites to print articles in her favor despite the protests of the vast majority of gamers themselves. Those game journalists who did not conform were threatened into silence. Yet by mobilizing her fellow game journalists against anyone who wished to expose her corruption, Zoe Quinn inadvertently revealed their corruption as well.

So why is all this happening? Why are all these game journalists silencing dissent on Zoe Quinn’s behalf? In part 2 of the series, I will look into the political affilitations of her cronies and show evidence that much of game journalism today is dominated by feminist cliques, by fraudulent “social justice warriors” who have transformed what was once an enjoyable pursuit into an ideological minefield. We will explore these people’s goals, their utter contempt for integrity and the false victim narrative in which they guise themselves. We will examine their connections and their modus operandi. These are the people who want to turn gaming into a part of their propaganda machine; it is our duty to ensure, armed with the knowledge of their actions and identities, that this will never happen.

Note: For Part 2 click here.


 

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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