The Untouchables of the Video Game Industry

I’m scared guys.

The Zoe Quinn story broke last week and divided the gaming industry quite effectively. The majority of developers, journalists and industry personalities supported Quinn and chastised the toxic public; while a large portion of gamers see her actions as an offence to the industry that she represents for better or worse.

First I want to say; I don’t support the public disclosure of everyone’s indiscretions. Your life should not be an open book for the world to read. That said, we would be idiots to ignore a situation like this because it’s part of someone’s private life. Donald Sterling made racist comments in private, he was fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from the NBA for life. Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair and was nearly impeached. It does not matter where information comes from, you cannot un ring that bell. We can’t give you a pass on abhorrent behaviour because we technically should not have found out about it.

I’m not here to write a scathing indictment of Quinn’s affairs, better writers than I have already done that. I’m here to talk about what this controversy has revealed about the industry we love.

I’m scared.

Not of the Feminist Gaming Illuminati as one media critic put it, but of what we are doing to certain figures in the industry.

Major personalities in the gaming industry; Totilo, Sessler, Phil Fish and others have been vocal in their support of Zoe Quinn. Thats fine, and expected in a controversial event such as this one. Whats missing is the other side of the discussion.

Quinn abused the Youtube DMCA to get a video critical of her pulled. The only gaming news outlet that covered the Quinn story impartially (a site called GamesNosh) reported their host wanted the story pulled and shortly after the site began displaying a 403 error. It was also reported that Quinn sexually harassed someone at a recent wedding, a claim summarily and tactlessly dismissed by Phil Fish. Finally a redditor; SillySlader reported that when Zoe found an issue with a project designed to promote women in games development she marshalled her troops to destroy it.

(Sidebar, this project has been revived and is thriving. Donate here)

Any coverage by significant gaming media outlets has been universally sympathetic of Zoe Quinn. All the dissenting opinions have been limited to user comments on sites like Reddit; a large portion of which were censored by moderators or personalities with an interest in supporting Quinn.

In my last post I spoke about body armour that angry gamers built for Anita Sarkeesian. This is the evolution of that idea. We have created an environment of untouchables; personalities that will not be criticized regardless of their actions.

This frightens me.

Anita Sarkeesian was the first example, and frankly her case would be preferable to what we’re currently experiencing. Her videos are bad, nowhere near worth 20,000 dollars each, she steals content and she admitted in 2012 that she does not like video games; she is in fact using them selfishly. None of that matters, we can make all the youtube videos and blog posts we want but Anita is untouchable. It is suicide for a gaming journalist, developer or publisher to oppose her so whatever we do or say, we’re not going to make a dent.

The Quinn situation is worse. She achieved an unprecedented level of immunity to criticism. Quinn is so ingrained in this industry that her supporters, friends, coworkers etc. actively and for a time effectively censored any negative mention of her to protect her image as “one of gaming’s only strong voices for equality” (Her words). Coverups of this scale are not seen outside government administrations, but an indie game developer somehow made it happen.

Her army of censors were ultimately not successful, but if you believe that anything besides Zoe Quinn’s ego has been damaged, you are dreaming. A large portion of the gaming public hate her, but the people who matter still love all things Quinn. Game devs, games journalists, trade shows and panels all support Zoe. Whether they are true believers in her as a person or they know they can make money by pandering to her crowd is irrelevant, she is not losing support from them.

To Conclude

We should be worried about how this is playing out. This is the only case I can think of where the major players in an industry have decided that certain people are above criticism. Whatever reason you want to give that the industry has not turned on these two personalities; harassment, under-representation of women, or genuine universal praise for Sarkeesian and Quinn. The fact of the matter is that gaming is an industry where it has been decided that some people are above reproach.

Doesn’t that scare you?

It scares me.