The gaming industry is at a crossroads, with clearly defined heroes on one side nefarious shadowy villains on the other. Yet another scandal has riven the community, sending shockwaves felt throughout the industry.
Unlike many scandals in the past, key gaming publications have remained almost silent on this conflict due to its controversial and sensitive nature.
This new battle, dubbed “Quinngate”, has indie devs, journalists and gamers themselves brawling it out across social networks and forums across the internet. So far what little reporting on the scandal has been decidedly one-sided. No one is looking at the other side to see why gamers are up-in-arms, and why they want to strike out.
To investigate this one must venture past the hate-filled streets where “white knights” and “sexist cis misogynists” are embattled in a tireless war; to see how this all started, one must look at the whole picture from a gamer’s perspective, and trace the events –past and present– that led to the conflict.Then: Compromised Integrity and the Rise of the Doritos King
Games journalism has, like its cousin hardware journalism, been largely influenced by the parties that this fourth estate is trying to cover. Big-name publishers have been known to offer incentives and bribes to journos affiliated with big-name publications.
This a well-known part of the industry, but it is sapping away credibility and causes gamers to question the ethics of the media outlets and their coverage.
This question of credibility came to a head two years ago when a Eurogamer writer named Robert Florence tackled the subject in a controversial article. The opinion piece analyzed and dissembled the code of ethics that surrounds games journalism, voicing key concerns that are still cited by the gaming movement today.
Erik Kain, a journalist well-respected by the gaming community for his candor and sharp wit, articulated the incident in an article on Forbes:
“…The fact of the matter is, articles like Florence’s and the fallout of that article do point to a widespread, deeply entrenched problem facing the gaming press and its lack of a uniform ethical code that often serves or at least appears to serve game publishers first and consumers second.”
Florence, who singled out journalists by name, was consequently met with a libel suit and eventually left the publication. Even though Florence is gone, his words continue resonate with a timeless truth that’s ultimately helped shape the viewpoint of corruption in games journalism.
Now: The Rigors of Gaming
Robert Florence and Erik Kain have been key influences in the “grassroots gaming movement” that calls for change, truth and integrity in gaming coverage. But the times have been met with little change, and our next-gen era is permeated with even more worrisome trends.
Now gamers are being persecuted on a whole new level thanks to tactics both new and old: “bullshots” (Aliens: Colonial Marines, Watch Dogs on PC), extortion-esque tactics that milk gamers’ wallets (season passes, content hidden behind paywalls, expensive collector’s editions), and now being pressured to adhere to a code of moral ethics.
These trends have become an offensive part of the industry, and gamers feel neglected as consumers and pushed around as readers.
Not only are they being assaulted on the financial front due to a portion of AAA-games being locked behind paywalls, they’re now being objectified by a moral crusade that laments certain behavior as insufferable.
Online-only games and DRM restrictions have become big weights on gaming as well, leading to the community lashing out in near unanimous disdain.
All of these things add very real pressure on the industry’s key constituency, who feel as if the soul of gaming itself is eroding and falling into a state of perpetual commercialism. And worse, it appears there’s nothing to be done about it.
Along Came Zoe Quinn
The Zoe Quinn scandal (aka Quinngate) is an unfortunate climax to industry pressures that have been building for quite some time. Quinn is an indie dev who’s best known for making Depression Quest, a free game that seamlessly articulates the rigors of living with depression.
The tirade kicked off earlier this week when her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, made a lengthy post that aired her dirty laundry by alleging sexual infidelity with multiple partners. The allegations listed Nathan Grayson, a journalist for Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun, as one of her partners, along with a myriad of others.
The implications of a games developer (indie or otherwise) getting involved with a journalist were the cause of backlash, and were seen as a glaring sign of that games journalism (and possibly the industry) is lacking a moral code.
After the news hit, gamers took to Reddit, 4chan and Twitter to discuss what happened and voice their feelings. A torrent of harassment and vitriolic chaos soon followed, leading quickly to Quinn’s Reddit account apparently being hacked.
Shortly after Quinn’s account was compromised, Reddit posts on the subject started getting censored and pulled. Thousands of comments were redacted as users systematically had their collective voices and their freedom to challenge, comment and criticize taken away.
It wasn’t just the offensive comments that were removed, though; they were all wiped clean.
Reddit mod el_chupacupcake later clarified that it was Reddit’s policy to “remove all offending content and report users up to Admin for ToS violations“. But further reports indicate that the mod may have been biased and was “trying to cover his own back and stem the flow of hate caused by the amount of censorship”.
The blanket censoring of voices across different mediums earned even more ire from the community, leading to an even greater conflict.
Popular streamer TotalBiscuit also caught flak for discussing his take on the Zoe Quinn scandal. The piece, which revealed the YouTuber’s opinions on the matter, was instantly attacked by indie dev Phil Fish — one of Quinn’s key colleagues and supporters.
Fish, developer of indie hit Fez, has been known to deliver rant-style Tweets, and has recently left Twitter after apparently being doxxed.
The infiltration was a direct response to Fish defending Quinn during the controversy, accompanied with the following message:
“Hello everyone, I am the head mod over at /V/ and leader of 4chan.org and Anonymous.
“This public execution of Polytron and Phil Fish is retaliation for his attempted coverup of five guys burger and fries.
“Let this be a warning to all SJW game devs out there, we are coming for you.
“The hack of Zoe Quinn has already taken place as of a few days ago and I have targeted more SJW indie devs today.
“My next target is Phil Fish. Karma’s a bitch ain’t it Phil?
“We are /V/
“We do not forgive
GameNosh, a publication that covered the exchange between TotalBiscuit and Fish, faced similar censorship and opposition as their site host wanted them remove the article completely.
Host wants us to remove the article. Seeing if we can find a workaround to satisfy them.
— GamesNosh (@GamesNosh) August 19, 2014
This mass redaction and censoring of commentary from the community was seen as a massive retaliation that goes against the free spirit of the press itself. If anything, the forced silence in turn reinforced the perception of corruption of the industry while also revealing glaring hypocrisy in the process.
It appears that the publications want gamers to forget about the situation, and want it to go away.
The scandal has affected a lot of people, including Quinn, Phil Fish (who’s personal and corporate info went public), Eron Gjoni, Nathan Grayson as well almost the entire gaming community who saw these actions as a big sleight to the industry.
But the attack apparently wasn’t about Quinn, or her private life: it was about holding developers, journalists and publications accountable for their actions–mainly the looked-over fraternization of a journalist and an indie dev, as well as the ethical pressures from counterculture activism.
Cultural Pressures From Gaming Publications
Mainstream journalism has a reign on all of the info gamers will see. It’s a sort of monopoly; they’ll get the exclusive scoops, the interviews, and often a lot of the content first. In a way they control and set the precedent for games journalism.
Big publications have the clout, and as such they also have most eyes on them, and are responsible for delivering the information to the public. These publications, who have such an inherent large standing in the community, are in turn upheld to higher standards.
When journos — both new and old — use their influence to try to tell gamers something is “right” or “wrong” because they (and their overwhelming populace of fans) say so, it can severely compromise their integrity in the eyes of their readers.
When that same coverage bleeds over on cultural topics, naturally it’ll be met with cultural responses: disagreement, hatred, and skirmishes that can quickly fuel a war of sorts. It’s to be expected when writing on a controversial topic.
When these topics are met with criticism and outright raw hate, a cyclic sense of moral authority is perpetuated. If controversial topics such as sexism in video games is challenged even in a non-hostile way, it’s in turn met with hostility–and it’s this very sort of moral arrogance that is irking gamers.
Furthermore, the gaming movement sees controversial topics as a means of sensationalism to earn clicks rather than to reveal a troubling cultural trend. This perception largely has to do with the way that the content is conducted and portrayed.
Gamers feel like they aren’t being respected or represented anymore. Many feel that big publications have turned their backs along with key members of the industry in favor of the “SJW (Social Justice Warrior)” cause.
It’s taken on a sort political scope from the gaming community’s point of view, where politicians take part in certain causes to maintain a certain positive image.
Large sects–including 4chan.org’s /v/ and gamers on N4G–feel like they’re being pressured to reconcile with wrongs that a portion of gamers have committed.
“I think it’s sad that people are so blind that they’re desperately trying to shrug off the current Zoe Quinn controversy rather than stopping to think about how it’s just part of a very large issue plaguing the industry as a whole, in that the vast majority of media coverage on games is in no way impartial.”
These people, most of which who want to discuss games (and the industry) in a critical, meaningful way, are being lumped into a big classification–they’re ironically being objectified as a result of what some gamers choose to do and say.
Instead of trying to understand or clarify why gamers are feeling this way, they are dismissed outright for “toxic” beliefs.
In fact, no one cares about Zoe Quinn, her game or her personal life. The reason people are interested in this here (on gaming discussion sites like N4G) is because it furthers the case on corruption of gaming journalism and because some indies and journalists are acting like a mob to censor and/or ridicule the discussion itself.
Games journalism today is accompanied by a sort of perceived moral crusade that taps into Twitter’s “echo chamber” effect to tell people (gamers, in this case) how to think and feel.
Journos are now waving a banner and using their influence to actively spread a cause they believe in, which is perceived as unprofessional. Morality in gaming is an important topic for the cultural side of games coverage, and it should be explored in an unbiased, professional manner.
Many journalists objectively report on video games culture only to deliver biased messages on Twitter. This is alienating many gamers–a game journalists core constituency–and serves as a glaring hypocrisy in our industry.
The general perception seems to be this: if members of the gaming industry can’t account for their own actions, who are they to push upon their own moral code onto the public?
When games journo Jeff Gerstmann delivered an honest review back in 2007, GameSpot –who had then acquired the gaming outlet Giant Bomb—fired him as a result of Eidos threatening to pull ad revenue due to the review’s low score.
Gerstmann was held accountable for his actions, much to the disdain of the gaming world — as was Eurogamer’s Robert Florence.
Even corporate giants are held accountable for their mistakes. Sony shelled out $15 million in damages over the PlayStation Network breach in 2011 that compromised the personal and financial info of millions of subscribers. Gearbox was also called out for false advertising, and had to pay out $1.25 million in a class action lawsuit for Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Now in the current scandal, only one side is being accused of wrongdoings–the gamers who support the movement.
Phil Fish was forcibly held accountable by hackers for his role in the tirade, leading to his private company information being made public across Twitter.
Further harassment on Quinn has been well-documented, but what about the wrongs done to the other side that led to this rebellion?
“Fans, FANS! being insulted by the largest mainstream Video Game “Journalism” website for not accepting being lied to by developers? Check. Firing editors / Journalists who dare to rate a game legitimately, rather than kowtowing to advertiser revenue? Check.
“The rampant conflict of interest between developers and “Journalists,” the ‘impartial reviews’ replaced with ‘advertising,’ and the subsequent firing, degradation and industry wide condemnation of someone who dared criticise a female. That is a BIG check.”
The only difference is that everyone seems to be looking the other way out of deference to understanding the rebellion and why it’s happening. It appears that most people want to agree with the majority out of fear of their likeness being compromised, and journalists don’t want to tackle the sensitive subject.
Gamers are frustrated, feel betrayed and without a voice. People listen to Quinn, to journalists, and to extremist groups like Feminist Frequency but gamers are often ignored outright if they disagree with the majority’s viewpoint of right and wrong, regardless of their reasons.
Bribery and nepotism is seen as a seedy practice, and the Quinn situation appears to be a catalyst for a means of change. The instrument of change — offensive harassment and invasion of privacy — was an ill-conceived venture, not only because it adds credence of one side being in the right, but it added more fuel to the fire.
The conflict was, apparently, an act to initiate a revolution to change the industry and dispel the corruption. But it quickly escalated past that, and both sides are suffering the casualties of a very real, brutal battle.
No One Can Win: The Necessary Resolution
Fighting fire with fire makes a giant flaming inferno that threatens to engulf us all, and if we don’t take care to put out the flames, we’ll all be burned.
It takes two sides to fight. There are other ways to fight than being offensive. There are ways to attack someone with tactical advantage, which doesn’t always mean brute force. The image of victimized indie devs is strong and meaningful, and when a war is presented in a certain way a la “propaganda”, it’s easy to choose who to fight for.
The worst thing is that both sides are pulling everyone into it. We’re gamers; most of us simply want to enjoy our games without being wrangled into an argument of morality.
Much of the community doesn’t want to fight in a petty, offensive battle with indie devs–gamers cherish indies, they’re the ones who bought them, played them, and supported the developers with Kickstarter dollars.
Nothing good is to come of this. A truce needs to be held; we’re better than this, as gamers, journalists and activists. Activism is more about blindly fighting for a cause, especially if the people you are fighting are other gamers who are responsible for much of the industry’s profits. And being a cynical gamer isn’t about circumventing personal data and publishing it online.
Change needs to be made, but these roads only lead to more corruption. Ignoring this problem and hoping it’ll just go away on its own won’t work.
Both sides need to acknowledge there’s a problem, and actively work towards a goal or the war will rage on.
And as we all know, war never changes.