Quinnspiracy: Fear-Mongering, Controversy And Why Indie Gaming Is Not Ready To Be Taken Seriously
It has been a tumultuous few weeks in the gaming sphere; last week there was bad blood between console gamers surrounding the announcement of Tomb Raider’s sequel as an Xbox One exclusive, and this week saw the scandal — and it really is just that — surrounding Zoe Quinn that resulted in one of YouTube’s most beloved gaming personalities becoming a target of the indie gaming world. Aren’t you all so sick and tired of this by now?
The Zoe Quinn saga is one that I initially stayed out of, mostly just because I had a lot going on in my life this week and I couldn’t really get a chance to sit down and read up about it. I saw some tweets, and actually read TotalBiscuit’s initial Twitlonger post about the topic, and finally last night I got a chance to see what all the fuss was about. I have to say, immediately after reading it I felt ashamed to have ever called myself a gamer.
There is vitriol in this industry right now.
I don’t know whether it’s because nothing is really coming out at the moment and so without that old panem et circenses we’re basically turning on each other, but a lot of animosity seems to be coming to the surface and erupting like volcanoes all over the gaming industry. It’s upsetting for those of us who see just how frivolous and unnecessary a lot of it is. But hey, we’re here to talk about that ostentatious title, so let’s get to it.
If you need a quick rundown on the Zoe Quinn saga, and you’re too lazy to read the article linked above, basically what happened is that Zoe — who worked on a game called Depression Quest — was accused by her ex-boyfriend of trading sexual favours for favourable coverage of her game, with industry journalists. This story then blew up all over the internet until Zoe posted a blog post explaining things but not addressing the claims. From there, things spiralled far out of control and the end-result seems to be something of a war between indie gaming and games journalism, as detailed in the article linked above — seriously just read it.
Now there are a few aspects of this story that must be discussed if we are to get a full picture. I’m going to throw in my own thoughts on the matter since, after all, that’s why I’m typing this thing up in the first place.
Let’s first talk about the actual claims made. Now I don’t care if you’re a Social Justice Warrior or a Mens Rights Activist or any-fucking-thing else. These are some serious claims that feed into a whole other aspect of gaming. The idea of developers and publishers being ‘buddy-buddy’ with journalists is not a new one, and it’s certainly a very contentious topic for obvious reasons: It brings objectivity into question.
Locally we have distributors who are quite close to some sites, and in the past accusations of favourable coverage have been thrown around. Not many people would throw around actual names but it’s typically known more or less, who tends to favour who. Personally, I don’t see our local sites as journalistic but rather as gaming portals of a sort; we exist to localise international news and to provide some cool locally-relevant opinions of our own. In this way, I don’t think the whole ‘journalistic integrity’ is as much of a concept here but I will still argue that it’s necessary until I’m blue in the face.
When he was still here with us, Alessandro and I actually got into quite a massive email fight about my belief that a games journalist who moves into a PR position at any company involved in the games industry is a complete sell-out. It really is one of the most heated topics of gaming; I mean we all remember the likes of Doritosgate.
All of this said, there is a level of necessity to covering games. For example, we might get review copies for free but they’re for the purposes of review, which means we are doing a job with them. Likewise a lot of other things that some consider to be ‘benefits’ of writing about games. Nobody begrudges Jeremy Clarkson for driving his supercars in Top Gear, but he does. I think the fine line here comes in showing that stuff off. Journalists, stop being complete
cunts douchebags and showing off the free stuff you get; it’s not part of your job to do that.
But I digress. The point here is that when we talk about the relationships between developers and journalists, shit gets really awkward. And it is my opinion that an angry ex fed off this sort of awkwardness and created what effectively amounts to fear-mongering, a controversial scandal with the sole purpose of causing permanent professional harm to Zoe Quinn and her reputation. She could quite easily have come out and defended herself and ended all of this, either accepting responsibility if the claims were true or denying them vehemently, but I think that the choice she made in the end was the correct one; she doesn’t need to defend diddly squat.
It might not put the controversy to bed but it’s the right call if you ask me. This is the equivalent of conspiracy theory and she is in no way accountable to us as either the gaming industry, or the gaming community. We have no right to force her to defend claims made against her unless there is compelling evidence to substantiate those claims and in the absence of such, we should be siding with her, or just not picking a side and leaving it be. The problem is that, as I said, this is a contentious topic. And it’s very easy to immediately get angry and jump on the bandwagon of hating that chick with the piercings who makes games because she’s obviously fucking every journalist to get that great review.
Depression Quest might well just be a great game, and as someone who has seen how depression can ruin lives I would also provide coverage for it. What if Zoe Quinn just created a really great game that deserved the coverage it got? But you see, it’s just easier for the gaming community — and the internet as a whole — to hate on someone because of their own insecurities regarding this industry. And I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Not at all. I’ve had testimony from at least one person who says that there are women entering this industry and hoping that their good looks will take them further than their skills can.
But as much as the sexism debate is rife in the industry right now, it doesn’t necessarily lend credence to every possible case. So my thoughts on Zoe’s alleged sexual favours? Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, I lean towards the latter because I just cannot take an ex’s account of things seriously, and he certainly did himself no favours in his manner of execution. This played out exactly like a witch hunt, and so I’m forced to treat it as such.
Poor TotalBiscuit… Here we must come to the second aspect of this story, and it’s related to the indie world’s alienation of YouTube. As previously explained, TotalBiscuit initially commented on the Zoe Quinn story by saying that he was not getting involved and encouraged everyone to take the internet’s claims with a pinch of salt. Later Zoe tweeted about parasitic YouTubers, to which TotalBiscuit reacted. The end-result was a lot of indie game developers turning on TotalBiscuit and making it an us-versus-them styled war between indie gaming developers and YouTubers, as they’re called, with even the man who is doing more and more to vindicate my initial (pre-Fez) claims that he’s a man-child with too much attention on him, Phil Fish, throwing some insults into the mix.
Why were indie game developers picking on TotalBiscuit? Well they saw his stance as one that was against Zoe Quinn and took it personally. They said they would pull support and not allow TotalBiscuit coverage of their games. And this, readers, is why I wrote an article back in February about indie gaming just not being ready for popularity. Indie gaming is like an adolescent teen being asked to do an adult’s job. Oh they showed some promise as children and there were great expectations for them, prodigal sons and daughters that they were. But at the first real responsibility, they dropped the ball and showed their immaturity, proving that they still have a lot of growing to do.
Look, we who write about games do not do it for ourselves. TotalBiscuit might earn a living from his games coverage but that doesn’t mean he does it for the money. Furthermore, if he wants to do coverage of a game then there is nothing in any legal statute that is going to stop him; the law just does not work that way. So all of these indie game developers threatening to pull their games from TotalBiscuit’s channel by abusing YouTube’s copyright claims system are being extremely petty, above being immature. And that’s not all, folks! Because before this, they were more than happy to benefit from all of the coverage that so-called ‘YouTubers’ the likes of TotalBiscuit and PewDiePie offered their games; in fact, the developers were the ones who were approaching YouTubers in order to get that sort of coverage.
And now they all turn on TotalBiscuit, why? Because they must defend one of their own? What are they, twelve? Indie gaming is not ready for the spotlight, and it proves it time and time again. I’ve said this for years now. And I said it knowing that all of us want to see the indie gaming sphere grow and reach a stage when it can compete pound for pound with strong triple-A titles. But it’s far, far easier to hide behind a company’s name, than to go and put out a game on your own and incur the wrath of the internet. And this is why triple-A shows more maturity even though it has its own set of — perhaps ‘adult’ in this gaming metaphor — problems to deal with.
So at the end of this entire fuss, what have we learned? A few things:
- The gaming community is so insecure about the accusation that journalists and developers do unscrupulous things that all you need to do is create a story and whether it’s true or not, it will turn into a massive argument and engulf the internet in hate and anger for days, if not weeks. Not unlike other very human conspiracies, the likes of religious debate and even vaccination.
- The indie gaming world is far too defensive and therefore also insecure; very happy to enjoy the perks of game coverage but quick to turn around and alienate those who cover their games at the first sign of contention. Like adolescents they are not looking for a constructive discussion but rather just have a lot of angst and perhaps just need to get laid (inside joke).
It’s a tragic situation for Zoe Quinn and I would never wish that on anyone, guilty or innocent. She has had pictures of herself posted all across the internet and had her privacy entirely compromised. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine random people you’ve interacted with online, showing up at your door one night? That is ridiculously scary. And all this because of a messy breakup with a boyfriend who happened to understand the poisonous element that is 4chan. Perpetuated further down the line by a ‘picking sides’ mentality that is telling of a subsection of this gaming industry that just doesn’t understand how to be in the spotlight.
We always talk about how we should be positive about gaming and look for the good in everything; the more PR-like writers will tell you about the silver linings and bright sides and try to create euphemisms for otherwise bad situations. The undeniable observable truth here is that gamers are just the worst kind of human beings, when they want to be. And that’s an unavoidable aspect of being a gamer in 2014. There’s no point ignoring it and pretending everything is great. It isn’t, and the sooner we realise that, the sooner we can all play Depression Quest to help us feel better.
Insert facetious disclaimer here about how no sexual favours were traded for coverage of this topic.