Update: More than a few people have asked me about my use of the term "Social Justice Warrior" as it is perceived as a negative by many. During my research for this piece I was reading various blogs, watching videos on YouTube, and in general I heard the term used by both sides seemingly describing the same type of person. One side thought of it as bad and the other as good, but they used the same terminology. I personally am not a fan of the term but when writing about this topic I thought it would be best to use the descriptors of those involved. I mean no offense, especially considering I tend to be a "Social Justice Warrior," I just shy away when it becomes all or nothing group-think.
I never heard of Zoe Quinn before this week. I had heard about Depression Quest and I'm certain I read her name in articles about it - but it didn't stick. She wasn't someone that was ever on my radar and as such I have felt hesitant to talk about her and the incredible firestorm that has been raised around her. I don't know her. I haven't followed her. I have no idea what type of person she is... I just have what others are saying. I know personally, having seen what people have said about me, that what people are saying isn't always true. So I've been skeptical this entire time as the narratives in these stories tend to get co-opted by the people who want to believe a certain thing. It seems to me if you believe that games victimize women, you defend Zoe Quinn. If you think that women like Zoe Quinn play the victim to further their own careers or agenda, you hate her and think she is a lying, manipulative piece of scum. Here's my issue, I do think that games industry is extremely unfair to women, minorities are grossly under-represented, and I think that Zoe Quinn is hurting those causes she claims to support.
The major part of this story, which is why it is so scandalous, is that it involves sex. Sex, in itself, doesn't bother me. If Zoe slept with a different person every night of the year I would have no opinion on that. This isn't about slut shaming as I don't really believe in the concept of a slut. The problem with sex, in this case, is that she was supposedly having it with members of the gaming media covering her work. This is extremely unethical for any institution that gives any credence to journalistic integrity. I'm not saying that Zoe and a gaming journalist can't have a relationship, but at the point that the relationship goes from "journalist" and "person being covered" to something more intimate, that journalist MUST recuse themselves from covering anything related to that person. That person must not talk to other journalists and try to get them to cover their partner's work. This is cronyism through media coverage and it is disgusting.
Whether Zoe actually has been manipulating media coverage of her through sexual relationships or not isn't a major concern to me. I would like to know the truth, of course, as the implications are important, but I think the cat is already out of the bag on this one and it goes beyond Zoe. The gaming media is extremely insular. Not everyone, there are some amazing reporters out there, but it feels like the vast majority conform to this "Social Justice Warrior" group think and everyone who doesn't subscribe to it is the enemy. Zoe subscribes to it, so she is protected. Total Biscuit does not, so he is now demonized by this community. Does it matter that Total Biscuit has done more to promote indie gaming than anyone else in the industry, including conferences by Sony or Microsoft? Nope, he doesn't fit into the Social Justice Warrior handbook and therefore is evil. I, personally, subscribe to most of what "Social Justice Warriors" believe but I am not as aggressive as them. I think that there are dialogues to be had. I think there are things they get right and things they get wrong. There are points I understand from the other side saying that it's basically censorship if we are only allowed to think one way about certain topics. Social Justice Warriors think they are more open-minded but they aren't, they are just as close-minded on the opposite end of the spectrum. The people with the open minds are in the middle.
Another part of this story that I have been going back and forth on is gaming journalists giving money to game creators. The list of people in the gaming media who have contributed to Zoe's Patreon is shockingly large. My initial feeling, which I tweeted to a friend who asked me about this, was "It doesn't bother me. I want journalists to like games." Part of liking games, to me, is supporting them and the people who create them. I recall, however, in my Journalism 101 class that I took in 1995, that as a journalist this is absolutely crossing an ethical line. I personally think that if a gaming journalist does contribute to a game creator either through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon... whatever; they MUST recuse themselves from ever mentioning the game or anything about the creator. Twenty Four Hour cable news in the United States is an absolute joke as it tells their target audience exactly what it wants to hear. Are you a conservative? Watch Fox News. Are you a liberal? Watch MSNBC. Do you like fancy holograms? Watch CNN. And even in this cesspool that is killing objective news, Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely without pay for contributing to three Democratic congressional candidates. Of course "indefinite" ended up being less than a week, but the point still remains - you don't finance what you are covering.
This isn't really about Zoe Quinn. This is about how members of the gaming media behave. The going theory is that Zoe Quinn not only used sex to get positive coverage of her work but has also fostered these relationships to help protect her from scrutiny. While this has been the hottest topic on our message board, and many other independent outlets... the big gaming sites are acting as if this story does not exist at all. I have no idea if Zoe Quinn orchestrated this through sex, lies, and manipulation... but I do know that it is a believable story because the gaming media at large has failed to hold itself to any sort of ethical standard. That says far more about the media than it does about Zoe Quinn.
One last question for those who subscribe 100% to the Social Justice Warrior handbook of gaming. Does anyone not see the irony that it is white guys, talking about getting justice for white women, in an industry where the creators are largely asian or white and most of the major gaming press covering them are white? I get that that there are serious issues that deal with women in this industry and I don't think we should ignore them. Race, as it relates to the video game industry, seems to be ignored wholesale. That, my friends, is unacceptable. It is also proof, to me, that this isn't about social justice. This is about a "scene" that has been created around indie gaming and quite a few members of the press. If you aren't in that scene, you don't matter.
Whew, great editorial. There's a lot to decompress here. First, it's about time that someone pointed out what the real problem is. Gaming press has become so insular, so tightly associated with indie devs and publishers that it's nearly impossible to believe that we can get fair and objective coverage. It's so bad that even when there isn't something fishy going on we are often reminded of something fishy and it causes us to be suspect. Gaming media may have failed us in the case of Zoe Quinn. But, the conversation isn’t largely about the media. It’s about what Zoe Quinn did wrong. Men, feel justified delving into a woman’s sex life because she’s a “public figure”. Zoe Quinn is just a symptom. Shouting her down, discrediting her, making her the villain in this narrative doesn’t change anything. Games media may needs examination. Spreading truth or lies about Zoe Quinn’s sex life doesn’t do that.
I'm confused by your line of thinking here. If Zoe Quinn didn't actually do anything wrong outside of her private life, how could she be using her relationships with the gaming press to protect her from scrutiny? Wouldn't there be nothing to scrutinize other than salacious gossip about a private matter? With all the talk about ethical lapses, I haven't seen a lot of evidence that the Kotaku writer she's involved with has abused his position to promote her career - if memory served, he never reviewed her games for the outlet or anything like that. For a matter that's allegedly not about sex, there sure seems to be a lot of discussion about sex surrounding this topic. Are the 'big gaming sites' supposed to run stories with intimate details about a person's private life because message boards are blowing up over it? As to the matter of journalistic ethics you raise, I think you had it right the first time with your reaction of wanting journalists to care about games. Most games journalism is closer to criticism than reporting in my view, and having biases and preferences is essential to criticism. If a member of the gaming press has a financial stake in a game company and might profit from the sale of the game, that's a major conflict and should be disclosed, but I don't think that contributing to crowdfunding or strongly agreeing with a creator's ideological beliefs rises to that level at all. Third, my personal take on the label of 'Social Justice Warrior' is that it essentially functions to enable people to change the subject from concerns regarding social issues to the tone of people who are raising them. I'm not saying that people aren't crossing a line by tweeting abuse at TotalBiscuit or issuing a blanket endorsement of every variety of rhetoric. However, I get the feeling that there a ton of people who honestly believe that problems with race and gender in gaming culture can be comfortably overlooked if faults can be found in people raising them. The idea that there's a shadowy cabal of social justice plotters wielding massive power over the gaming community by calling people names (not saying that's your argument, Pete, but it's a common one) is lunacy.
Seeing an editorial from someone that I respect that seriously uses the term "Social Justice Warrior" is disappointing. It's a pejorative term just like "white knights" that's used to discredit, demean and demoralize people who publicly express sympathy, or defend marginalized groups in gaming. There is a long history of terms like these used to describe people trying to improve things for a group of people that they do not belong to. Today we use "white knights" or "Social justice Warriors" to describe white men who speak out in support of women in games. Years ago those same white men would be called "miscegenist" for speaking out against segregation. It's the way dominant groups identify and separate troublemakers within their own ranks.
Perhaps Zoe intended to recreate her game in live action. I know that all of this crap is pretty depressing to me.
@bravery - I don't know if it happened or if it didn't. The larger point I was trying to get at, and possibly failed at getting at... is that the story is so believable to people because of how insular this scene has become. @solryn I agree with you about the term "Social Justice Warrior" but as I was doing research for this, many used the term as a positive describing themselves. I was merely using the language that the people involved in this mess have been using. I'm not a fan of it, personally.
One more thought. As a black man (speaking from just my personal point of view) I don't view issues with the treatment of women in video games solely a gender issue. It's really an issue of inclusion. Greater inclusion in video games mean that not only is there greater diversity but a greater sense of belonging. In other words if there were far more women and people of color in games but attitudes and portrayal of these groups didn't change then nothing is really gained. Everyone should be allowed to feel safe speaking about issues that are important to them. I remember when resident evil 4 came out and there was concern about the way that blacks were being portrayed in that game. It was social media suicide to come out and say, "Yeah, that make me feel uncomfortable." Gamers attacked anyone who dared to speak out about that issue. Some of the people that you may dismiss as Social Justice Warrior are just trying to move the hobby to a point that everyone feels like they belong and are welcome.
@Pete I think that larger point came across pretty clearly, but I differ in thinking that it's justified. I have no problem with people being cynical about the games media or anything else, but cynicism doesn't absolve anyone of the obligation to think critically about the situation. I see a lot of people jumping to worst-case scenario conclusions here without doing that, and I think it's a problem. Also, I'd submit that the insularity of the 'scene' might be because the gaming community is often times hostile and defensive to the type of criticism and debate that comes along with a vibrant or socially aware discourse.
All excellent points, Braveryexists. Thank you.