Why We Can’t Use the ‘Quinnspiracy’ to Talk About Gaming Journalism

Posted by | August 31, 2014

This month has been a very bad month for gaming culture. Embarrassing stints continue to rock the foundation of the gaming community and the gaming journalism industry. The result has been a tide of the internet hate machine revving its engines in order to harass yet-another-woman who is involved in or speaks about gaming. The fallout is real and the injury to actual human beings (and not just to the targets of the scandal du jour) continues to mount. We cannot use scandals of this type to discuss any other problem than the cultural reaction itself, without adding further fuel to the problem.

It’s a sad, deplorable state that the media just cannot put down because it’s ever-present, loud, and extremely sensational. Worse, it doesn’t need to be sensationalized at all; the explosive reaction to what happened with Zoe Quinn (death and rape threats continue) and more recently (again) with Anita Sarkeesian (more death and rape threats) on Twitter and other social media is a magnificent horror unto itself.

When it came to the scandal that may surround Zoe Quinn, much of the crusade against her alleged behavior came under the guise of pointing out the flaws in gaming journalism. A mistake we at Vox Ex Machina made when trying to report on the kerfuffle itself. To be sure, there may be many breaches of ethics and other issues, but the nature of the rolling thunder surrounding Quinn cannot be used ethically to speak about any issue in gaming journalism.

Why? Because the mob-crusade being led on social media and across small gaming press has absolutely nothing to do with gaming journalism: most of the fire, vitriol and consternation is directed at Quinn and boils out of allegations originating from a bitter ex-boyfriend.

And as more details about the “Quinnspiracy” continue to come to light it has become obvious that nothing she did has any relation to gaming journalism ethics whatsoever. There’s no evidence that her actions led to favorable press. The very crux of using the scandal surrounding Quinn as an example does not exist. Yet it’s still being echoed endlessly by social media and, just like an echo, is losing substance and definition and not gaining it.

At this point, the thin veil of “clean up gaming journalism” that might have surrounded the initial foray about Zoe Quinn or the “Quinnspiracy” is becoming ever-more-meaningless in a tide of venom and scorn that doesn’t speak at all to journalism and instead to the psychodrama generated by impotent Internet rage.

Arthur Chu from The Daily Beast aptly covers the gist of this problem in “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone: Why Are Gamers So Angry?

Boom. Instant horde of ravening orcs. People digging up nude photos of her to humiliate her, people constantly and relentlessly sending her crude, vile, harassing messages, people vowing with a straight face to make sure she never works again. He couldn’t have had a more effective tool to ruin her life if he’d been an organized crime boss.

The Zoe Quinn Hate Brigade party line is that this isn’t about shaming one particular game developer for her sex life, even though that is very obviously what it is about. (I predict the comments section of this very article will be 50/50 people sternly telling me it isn’t about her sex life and people gleefully tearing into her for her sex life.)

Chu continues on to describe the screen of “corruption in video game journalism” used by this harassment campaign. In short, with this sort of slime flying and little-to-do with journalistic integrity to talk about, it makes this entire subject a quagmire with no end.

As an industry a lot of the power does rest in the hands of publishers, developers, and distributors: the people selling a product to wanting audiences. The role of gaming journalism has long been stretched between glorified marketers—who are often tricked or cajoled by publishers to post previews of products as if they’re full reviews based on polished up demos—and entertainment newshounds looking for the most recent gossip to cover. The current indignity certainly falls into the latter and it is not driven even an ounce by the former.

The all-pervasive and encompassing power of social media has provided more than enough taint to this story that it is obvious that any discussion of Zoe Quinn cannot and does not exemplar anything at all about video game journalism.

The worst part: the continued attention to this subject that does not focus specifically on the human impact of this bad behavior on social media, the campaigns of harassment, and the distasteful state of the community only contributes to said disgraceful state. It does nothing to forward any understanding of journalism. It does not provide a signpost on how to fix the industry.

If there are problems in gaming media and games journalism: we will not highlight them nor solve them through the lens of any scandal that may or may not exist around Quinn.

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