Yesterday, the internet exploded.
That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it certainly seemed that way when I started looking through reddit and other social media yesterday. Everyone was commenting. Everyone was theorizing. Conspiracies were flying. The iron fists of moderators were crushing comments left and right. It was a frenetic, animal scream that doesn’t happen on the internet very often (actually, it happens about once a week). This week, the collective scream was about Zoe Quinn.
Do you know who Zoe Quinn is? If you’re reading this, you probably do. But chances are probably fair that you didn’t before yesterday. If you’ve missed the news entirely, Zoe Quinn is the developer of a video game called Depression Quest. It’s not a big game. It’s not even a game that’s particularly well regarded. There are a lot of games that come out every year, and hers made some waves because it addressed a serious issue in a way that some people really appreciated. I haven’t played it. I don’t know it. I don’t really know anything about Zoe Quinn, and chances are, neither do you.
The reason the internet exploded around Zoe Quinn is because her ex-boyfriend posted a blog about her. In this blog, he stated that she cheated on him with several people during their relationship. One of the those people is a video game journalist. Many arguments (few coherent or well-reasoned) say that them sleeping together gave her undue exposure for her game and even favorable reviews. Of course, a cursory glance at a Google result page can tell you that that particular journalist is just a junior staff writer, and certainly hasn’t written any reviews of Zoe Quinn’s game (though he did reference the game in other articles). And it doesn’t seem that her game needed the added exposure of a junior staff member on a gaming website, as there had been at least a decent amount of exposure before that. So…what’s the deal?
The real issue here isn’t hard to find. In searching for articles about it all, I easily found this one from Escapist about harassment she received after putting the game up, and this was written back in 2013. So obviously, it had nothing to do with everything that happened yesterday. To everyone who isn’t outraged at her, it all seems pretty obvious. There is a large, vocal group of people that have a serious problem with women. And these people will load their cannons with anything they can grab as ammunition. Dirty secrets? Nude pictures? Fair game. Nothing’s off limits. Nothing is out of bounds. Nothing is too far if it will defame and discredit the target. Post her address, the phone number, make threats. Do anything. Make things up. Scream at the top of your lungs. Spread the bile as far as it will go and smear everyone with it. Did she tweet at someone? Did someone tweet at her? Someone mentioned her? Warned her? Defended her? Spread the bile. Bring everyone into the muck. No one goes away unscathed.
Doesn’t that seem like a lot of effort to hate someone you don’t know? This isn’t a person you will met or be friends with. Hell, you likely won’t even play her game. Aren’t there better things to do with your time?
The truth is, this episode will fade soon. Everything fades, especially in the age of the internet. What was a passionate cause on Monday is a forgotten meme on Friday. You’ll hear references. Jokes. But the intensity of this heat will die down, and by next week we’ll move on to some other story. Some other outrage. Some other person who will be flayed open for the world to examine. Zoe Quinn isn’t some kind of special case. The same kind of thing has happened time and time again, and it will happen over and over after this. And every time it happens, those who aren’t outraged are puzzled by those who are, because they can’t answer one simple question: why do you judge women on a completely different standard than men?
If an ex-girlfriend exposed a list of people that a male games journalist or game developer had slept with, would there be outrage? Sure, a little. But does anyone honestly think that there would be this level of intense hostility? It’s an old sentiment, but unfortunately it still lives: when a man’s sexual exploits are exposed, he’s praised. When a woman’s sexual exploits are exposed, she’s a slut. It’s not universal (nothing is), but it’s prevalent enough to cause ridiculous situations like what’s happening now. And yes, the internet is a big place. You can’t paint the internet, or even a single website, with the same brush. But you can’t even say “boys will be boys” (such a ridiculous thing that is) because the majority of these hateful voices are not boys. Not chronologically. They’re grown adults. Some of them with wives or girlfriends. They go out and behave like normal people, then come home and wrap themselves in hatred and self-loathing and do their best to ruin the lives of others.
So…what the hell are we supposed to do about it?
I don’t think we can fix those people who insist that Zoe Quinn’s personal life is their business. Sure, if you know someone and they seem to have a terrible world view, you can talk to them about it. But no one is going to be able to wander into 4chan and convince everyone that equality is a pretty cool thing and they should just chill a bit. No, we can’t really fix others. What we can do is make sure we’re doing right by ourselves.
I didn’t intend this to be the first blog post. So far, it’s not even been that closely related to games, but here’s where I start to bring it back. I’m a content creator. There are content creators of all genders, races, and backgrounds. And I don’t have to walk a mile in the shoes of each and every one of you to at least acknowledge that where you come from and where I come from are different. My life has not been easy, but I can acknowledge that if I were not white and male, my journey might have been even harder than it was. I got where I am through a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, but I also didn’t have anyone actively trying to push me down. I haven’t had open ridicule. No one has examined my life under a microscope. And if I (or pretty much any man) were in Zoe Quinn’s shoes right now, there would not be mass outrage at the situation. There just wouldn’t. I’m white. I’m male. And while these things haven’t busted open doors for me, they also haven’t closed any in my face. I don’t have to apologize for what I was born as, or grovel at the throne of Privilege. All I have to do is acknowledge that the world is not balanced or fair. And if everyone took a second and did that, the outrage would all but die.