As we noted in part one of our interview, Zoe Quinn endured an appalling amount of Internet hatred related to the Gamergate controversy. In response, she wrote a book Crash Override, chronicling how Gamergate almost destroyed her life.
In response, she has created the Crash Override Network, an advocacy group that helps people who are experiencing online abuse.
Quinn faced two years of personal attacks, doxxing, and a continuous spotlight. She was accused of sleeping with journalists and others for professional advancement, including getting positive reviews for her game Depression Quest, or at least tapping her friends to get positive press. Those claims were spurious at best, but they spread across the Internet and created a movement that was stoked by the likes of former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos.
Now she’s working on a new game that she says will be a comedy. How’s that for resilience? I found Quinn’s description of Internet hate from within the eye of the storm to be clear-eyed and gripping, as I experienced a small version of that myself with my own Cuphead controversy. There were times in the height of Gamergate when Quinn felt overwhelmed that false information was going to rule the day. And that was in the days before “fake news” was a household phrase.
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I have corresponded with Gamergate fans, and I have heard what they have to say about Quinn. In this particular forum, I am giving Quinn the floor in a wide-ranging conversation about what happened and how she has responded.
Here’s an edited transcript of part two our interview, which is about how she is moving on and turning her experience into something positive. Here’s the link to part one.
GamesBeat: Your Crash Override Network seems like such a hard thing to do. It’s almost like boiling the ocean, to try to resist this force [of Internet hatred].
Quinn: The way forward—I’ve been trying to think about this stuff for a very long time, how to make life better for the most people. A big part of the equation is also doing it without burning myself out super hard, or having it being the only thing I get to do with my life anymore. I’m so ill-suited for this position. I’m a weird goofy dork. I have a hard time being serious for more than five seconds, but this is such a serious thing. People look to me for guidance or responsibility. People put a lot of stuff on me as a symbol of something, which is nothing I opted into, but it’s a responsibility I take seriously regardless. That all adds to the Godzilla effect.
I think that my way forward might be to try to create as much stuff possible to teach other people how to be there for each other and push to get other people how to do all the things I know how to do – buffer your privacy, secure your accounts, just walk through someone who’s dealing with one of these crises. If everyone has the tool kit and knows how to do that, maybe I don’t have to be in this position. I can go back to working on games, because I really love doing that.
GamesBeat: Have you had your chance to really sink your teeth into game development?
Quinn: I had a very successful Kickstarter about a year ago, and I’m finally back to doing the thing I love. It was kind of paused because of the book tour. I don’t know why I got myself into this, but I thought, “Oh, it’s writing a book. That’s so much easier than writing and developing and programming and doing an art for all of this game stuff. Writing a book is only one option. I don’t have to think of 20 different things for the player to do and then have the game account for each one of those things.” It seemed like an easier way of writing, and I was totally wrong about that.
I’ve been in this situation where I was going super hard on finishing the book and getting it out — and now doing all the promotional stuff, because I didn’t realize that after you finish a book there’s still a kajillion things to do – while trying to finish this game. But working on the game has been such a profoundly healing experience for me. It’s something I didn’t ever think I would be able to do again.
I tried, during Gamergate. I’d sit down to work on stuff and my mind would go blank and I just couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t know I had [post-traumatic stress disorder] PTSD. But I feel like I can’t help but be a game developer. I’m one of those weird indies where I can do everything from coding to art to music to whatever. I can do everything. If I wanted to, I could go to any number of different media and not work in games anymore fairly easily. I have enough of a skill set.
But I was just daydreaming one day about this weird technical problem I hadn’t solved forever ago. “Oh, what if I do this approach to it.” I just sat down to see if this would theoretically work, and it works. “Oh, now what if I do this?” All of that magic started slowly coming back to me. I remember, after I think eight hours passing where I’d gone into this coding frenzy—I wanted to make an FMV game, like Night Trap style, a comedy game in that vein. For so long that was my dream game. I figured out how to do it in a way that would let me do a lot of weird stuff with that format, over the course of this afternoon. I was just sitting at my desk crying with relief. I was so happy that I didn’t lose it, because I was so convinced that I had.
Now that I’m working on this game, a comedy game about loving yourself and other people, doing comedy where no one’s the butt of the joke—it’s absurdist. It’s goofy and good-natured. It’s silly and sweet. A lot of what the player has to do in the game is being good to people and being good to themselves. It’s been finding a lost piece of myself again.
To go from writing this book, which I wasn’t sure I wanted to do—I kind of feel like I’m in a position where I went through this wild thing, and I can use this as a lens to talk about bigger issues. Maybe make it so this doesn’t happen as severely or to as many people. Or if and when it does, people are maybe prepared a bit better to step up and be helpful, or be warned away from participating in what feels like innocuous behavior.
I don’t want to be the Gamergate person forever, especially since for everyone else Gamergate was one thing, but for me it started with someone who’d been profoundly abusive to me, someone who I had trusted. It has a personal level to it that I don’t think it would for anyone else.
GamesBeat: It seems like the book is a way to put some of these things to rest? I feel like the internet doesn’t have any rules against double jeopardy. You’re put on trial for the same thing over and over. The book seems like a way to deal with that.
Quinn: That’s a big part of it. I’m trying to use it as a way to bring in other people who aren’t in the position I’m in, who never got to talk about what they went through. You’ve read it, so you know there are a bunch of sections where I just posted statements from people who’ve been through the wringer and dealt with stuff like that. I try to bring them with me as much as I can. I had to fight for that, too, because people would ask, “Can you rephrase this? Can you put these interviews in your own words?” That’s kind of missing the point of what I’m trying to do here. My publisher was cool about it and I’m grateful for that.
I feel like I’m always going to be stuck having to talk about this a lot, but at least I can point to the book. If I can make as many tools and educational materials for people—not stuff about Gamergate, because I really am over it in terms of relitigating every single thing that happened. At this point I’ve forgotten so much of the ridiculous stuff that got involved, celebrities weighing in, all this crap. But the point is, if I can make a bunch of educational stuff and put that out there and get people to do what I’ve been doing for other people when they come to me for help on a bigger scale, maybe I won’t have to keep talking about it and I can just be a game developer again.
GamesBeat: I saw one of these guys posting just recently, “Zoe never filed an FBI report,” and all I could think was, “Why are you still bringing this up now?” It seems like one of the flaws in the internet itself. There’s nothing to remind people that we’ve already gone through this.
Quinn: Yeah. A, that’s not true, because—there is so much paperwork. Not just the FBI thing. I think people, too—when they got the Freedom of Information requests for the Gamergate documents, they assumed that I wasn’t in it, but I think they didn’t realize that my case was different because it was a domestic violence case, a totally separate thing. Unlike a lot of the other targets, I know who did this to me, and the motivations and stuff—it’s not so much a criminal harassment issue as a domestic violence and abuse issue. Not only is that stored in different places, but there are different laws surrounding privacy in those matters, for obvious reasons.
But it’s another one of these things–I can go out and say that, but then it’s a whole thing. People try to prove me wrong. It’ll dredge up a bunch of other stuff. The guy who did all this to me is still hyper-fixated and pops up from time to time to stir the pot. It’s not a thing I want to deal with when, instead of doing that, I can go work on things that I love. At some point you have to call it and decide for yourself where your boundary is.
The thing that’s been hard to do, that I’ve been trying to do, is be trustful. Just hoping, or believing, in people’s better natures. I still strongly feel that a lot of people who participated in Gamergate, who participated in this sort of thing, are doing so because they go into it with—they’ll believe the version of events that fits their world view. Then you have people who will hopefully be rational and look at something and realize, “Oh, that’s clearly BS on its face.” If you look for any actual proof it’s not there. The thing that I keep trying to remind myself of is that those people are not anywhere near as loud. Why would they be? They have no reason to be.
I feel like if I’m patient—I have to allow myself to be patient and wait for other people to figure it out. I mitigate harm where I can. I don’t run myself ragged trying—it would be so easy to get caught up in living a life that’s purely reactive and responsive to what other people are doing. But you get your agency back. You get to do stuff because you love it.
GamesBeat: I saw that some Gamergaters tried to infiltrate Crash Override. They were counter-claiming that the group was compiling dossiers to fire back at them in some way?
Quinn: It’s like there’s some weird conspiracy theory—there are a couple of different conspiracy theories claiming that I killed people. All right, who were they? Who did I kill? If you even look for any specific details—you would think that if someone is so convinced that this thing happened, they should know basics like that. Who was the victim? When did this happen? Where did this happen? Instead of just yelling the clickbait headline version of events.
With Crash it’s tricky, because the hotline has been down for some time, because I’ve been trying to work with people who do stuff like build the National Suicide Lifeline. People who work in this space as the thing they do. I’m still just a game developer. They have wisdom and insight into this whole thing that I don’t, as far as how to run things. All we did was, people would come to us for help and we’d say, “Here’s what we can do. Let’s get your accounts secured. Let’s get information we can scrubbed off. If you don’t want to give us any information, we’ll walk you through the process.”
Those people aren’t going to go out and say, “Hey, this is what happened, this is what the process looked like.” If they come to us they’re already hiding from an online mob. The last thing anybody wants to do is then say, “Hey, internet mob, I was working with someone else you hated and now I’m going to say something nice about them.” They don’t want to attract that again. The only people left to talk about it are people making stuff up and trying to pass stuff off that’s not related or not even me as something having to do with the Network.
I’m just trying to pass off everything I know to people who live and breathe hotlines. I’ve been working on a resource toolkit of stuff that other groups, domestic violence advocates and stuff like that—giving them the tools so that if someone comes in and their ex is stalking them, that might have an online component. Here’s everything I know about—everything is purely defensive. Here’s how to help people that come to you, secure their personal information, stuff like that. It’s to find a point of intersection, because so frequently online abuse comes from offline abuse. Trying to empower the people doing work in those spaces with the technobabble infosec hell that they might not be well-equipped to navigate. And then open-sourcing all the information I have.
I’ve only ever been interested in self-defense measures, not going after individual people participating in these sorts of behavior, outside of filing reports if that’s what the victim wants.
GamesBeat: That’s law enforcement’s job?
Quinn: Right. I’m skeptical of law enforcement’s ability to do much to help this stuff. I worry that overinvolvement of police leads to bad stuff happening to a lot of folks. I’m more interested in seeing consumer advocacy for more privacy measures, where government and law enforcement can crack down on companies that are taking advantage of online abuse, or encouraging it, or participating in it, rather than just dealing with individual bad actors.
How do we focus on harm reduction? How do we make it so that this stuff can’t turn into a mob in the way that it does? And if it does, how do we keep it from escalating to dangerous places? I’m more interested in the mechanisms rather than the individual actors.
GamesBeat: There are different parts in the book where you note that people really didn’t stand up with you. The industry would express support privately, but wouldn’t come out publicly. Friends would often be in the same position, where they were just too afraid to come to your defense.
Quinn: It changes from day-to-day. I can feel a bit bitter sometimes. It seems like some people who didn’t say anything or didn’t believe it back when all this was happening to me are suddenly like, “Oh, wow, hey, guys, I just figured out that this is a problem.” I’ve been saying this for so long. But at the same time—I’m just redefining my own expectations of people. It was naïve or immature of me to want to be able to change people’s minds overnight. The way people grow and learn—my goal should be to plant seeds.
I think back on all the times that my mind has changed about things or I’ve learned new things. Usually it wasn’t an immediate epiphany. Sometimes I just needed to look at something from a specific angle or hear it enough. Nobody knows everything right out of the gate. I try to have patience with all that.
The thing that makes me sad—I had a hard conversation with someone close to me recently. I get why people wouldn’t want to stand up. If nothing else, what happened to Phil Fish immediately after he stood up made it pretty clear that there were consequences for it. I don’t want people to get hurt on my behalf. But it’s one of those things where if there was a critical mass, I think things would have gone differently. But because the stakes were so high, I don’t know how we would have gotten that critical mass at that time.
The thing that makes me frustrated is sometimes hearing from multinational companies that have so much more resources, that would be so much safer than I was, telling me that they saw it and they felt bad about it but they couldn’t do anything about it. You could have maybe reached out privately and asked if I was okay? It’s not a bitterness. It’s just a sadness. I do understand why it happens. Everyone’s busy. Everyone has real lives.
I’m still irritated by people who caused harm in the way that they did speak up. The ones that were like, “Some people say it’s about harassment, but others say it’s about ethics in game journalism.” That’s the thing I take issue with. Anybody that wrote about it and would say, “Zoe Quinn was accused of having sex for reviews,” but would never clarify that that was a completely fabricated idea, that it was demonstrably false. They were just spreading the accusation.
GamesBeat: There was a false equivalency there, where they felt, “Well, I have to be fair to people who disagree.”
Quinn: Right. The problem with the false equivalency is when it comes to plain disinformation — information that’s not only false, but being maliciously spread to hurt someone – if you think that fairness there is standing somewhere in the middle, the middle point between the truth and a lie is still a lie. Few things are as clear-cut as “This literally never happened.” If we can’t say that, that’s not being fair. It’s the opposite.
I was silently recording the places these people were congregating and coordinating the abuse. They capitalized on that. They counted on that. They would bully publications into putting that in there if the writer didn’t do it originally. Maybe the writer did their job right, but they’d bully the editor, bully their advertisers. That’s what I’m frustrated by.
Even now, it’s been three years, and people who are not Gamergaters – who are just well-meaning people – think I slept with someone for a good review of a game that, A, was free, and B, never got a proper review anywhere. People just wrote about it because they played it and they had a feeling about it. It’s not as if I had review scores. It’s not that kind of game. They think I needed to get exposure at Kotaku? I had already written for Kotaku. It’s not as if I wasn’t on their radar or didn’t have a press contact there. I don’t know why I would have needed to sleep with someone.
It’s just infuriating that it was given any credence. Any time a major company reacted to them, whether it was Intel, or Kotaku saying they were going to revise their ethics policy. You guys are giving them legitimacy. You’re making it look like I did something, like this is a real thing and not just a lot of people hurting other people. It felt like the industry didn’t want me.
GamesBeat: In retrospect it feels like the beginning of the age of “fake news.”
Quinn: Exactly. The super mindfuck of it for me—the fact that Breitbart saw—I did an interview with someone two days ago who had read Steve Bannon’s memoir thing. They specifically used me to get to the gamer demographic, because these guys had already been involved with the games community to some extent and saw that there was a demographic to pander to, that was ready to hear the kind of invective that inspired what we’re calling the alt-right. They were primed to go for this. And they used me to do that.
GamesBeat: They also take offense about a line you draw from Gamergate to Milo [Yiannopoulos] to the alt-right to Donald Trump. Maybe that is unfair, to say everyone who’s in the alt-right was a Gamergater. Of course, if this one cause leads to another, it seems like you have to take some responsibility for it.
Quinn: It’s not as if anybody forced you to be a Gamergater. You opted in to that. If there was some cool club with 100 people in it and we had a shared interest in, I don’t know, skateboarding or something, and 70 percent of those people were also in the KKK, I probably wouldn’t want to be in that club anymore. I can probably go do the things I care about with people who aren’t neo-Nazis. I don’t have to adopt this label.
Nobody made you be a Gamergater. Nobody’s trying to make you defend this movement that has overwhelmingly been harmful. If I wrote a book just about Gamergate, digging into the specific tactics where they were trying to figure out charities to donate to and whitewash the harassment—there was an entire Github repository I have archived with these “operations” to cover up the nasty stuff they were doing. If you’re participating in something that deceitful, that’s trying to cover up the fact that it’s about harmful harassment, sexism, racism, hate, all this stuff that made up the alt-right, why wouldn’t you just step away from that? Why would you not be disgusted and put off by that? Whoa, hey, I’m out.
If nothing else, don’t let yourself be used to lend legitimacy to that sort of thing. Don’t defend the Gamergate movement from being called what it is. A movement isn’t a person. Shouldn’t you be more concerned with the harm being caused than the image of the group that’s by and large causing that harm? Where are your priorities there?
GamesBeat: When you think about some of this, going back, is there anything positive you remember? Any surprising acts of kindness that stand out to you?
Quinn: It’s been interesting meeting a lot of people who have been through this sort of thing and had no one else to talk to about it. There’s a beauty in that.
The thing that’s been the wildest about going on tour with this book has been meeting face to face with some of the people I helped through Crash, when the hotline part was still going. I don’t usually know these people’s faces. I’ve dealt with thousands of cases at this point and I can’t remember all of them. Just being surprised at meeting that person face to face and seeing that they’re okay. It’s hard for me to even wrap my head around or express how wild that is, and how grateful I am for them. This stuff is always a two-way street. It wasn’t for nothing, you know? All of this wasn’t for nothing. Still being here, still being able to make games.
If there’s one thing that’s nice in all of this—I play a lot of Overwatch, and I grouped up with this random kid I met. We played maybe 10 games together. We were both support mains, and when you’re trying to play solo queue that gets pretty hard. It’s a mess trying to coordinate six people you don’t know in a team game for competitive points. People get really intense. It was like, “Oh, cool, another person who’s good at the same specific underplayed role as me.”
We played a bunch of games together and started talking about our lives. I slipped that I was trying to finish a game and he says, “Oh, cool, you make games. Anything I would have heard of?” “Ah, no.” He’s just this 23-year-old guy. What if he was a Gamergater? What if he was one of these people? I said, “You’d be able to figure out who I am pretty easily, so I don’t really want to say.” He said, “Okay, that’s fine.” We became actually decent friends over months of playing video games together. I ended up emailing him, and I was pretty worried because my name is on my email. How’s he going to react to it? And it just wasn’t a thing.
He said, “I know a lot of game developers come to Seattle for PAX. I’ve never been, but it might be nice to meet you.” He’d been sending me little emails, super nice kid. I said, “I can get you passes, no problem. I do a bunch of speaking stuff there. If you want to come with me, I need people to help.” He says, “Oh, could you get one for my girlfriend too? I don’t want to go without her” And it’s like, wow, this isn’t even a crush thing. Sure, you can both come with me to PAX, this is great. I met them in person and they’re both super sweet.
We walked a few steps and somebody who I helped with Crash came up and was talking very openly about her case and all this stuff with it. It was a super intense case. This kid is off to the side looking at me. We go a few more steps and some fans say, “Oh, we love your work, can we get a selfie?” He’s looking at me again. And then we’re going up the escalator and he says, “Who are you?” “Oh, God, you still don’t know?” He says, “No, the first time we talked you seemed like a pretty private person, so I didn’t want to get into that.” I mean, that’s so nice.
He turned out to be the sweetest person I’ve met in the longest time. We went around PAX and he got to meet a bunch of other indie developers. He’d just dropped out of comp sci the week before, learning how to program. I hadn’t known that. I got an email from him while I was on tour, and he said, “Hey, I just wanted to thank you for that. I’m learning Unity now. I think I want to make games. The indie community seems really great.” It’s just been so nice. I didn’t think I could have that through the internet anymore.
GamesBeat: I liked that one line in your book. “This is what you deserve to be known for.” [It was about her advocacy work].
Quinn: Oh, my God. That GDC comment—I don’t know. I will probably never know who left that feedback, but that’s what I want to—I’ve tried to find my way back to myself. Keep making games. Keep making it easier for other people to make games. I don’t want the stuff that’s happened to me to override who I am as a person. Ultimately I want to make this a footnote in my life. That might be naïve and overambitious, but I still really love games, really love the internet and the people in it.
GamesBeat: Is the work related to Depression Quest something you think you want to continue with?
Quinn: The majority of my work in games, outside of Depression Quest, has been experimental pushes into comedy games. I think there are a lot of intersections there. I did stand-up comedy a long time before game development. There’s some overlap between comedy and depression and stuff like that.
I do want to just do something light for my next project. The game I’m working on, The Tingler, has been really good for that. It’s a game about love. I throw so much of myself into my work. Being able to throw myself that’s just loving and kind, not something about suffering for once, it’s been great to get back to that.
That said, I have definitely considered trying to make a game about what PTSD feels like. I feel like it’s pretty poorly understood and represented in the media right now, and that keeps people from getting help. It kept me from getting help for a very long time. I just didn’t understand what it was or what it’s like. “That’s something soldiers get, right?” But that will have to wait for when I have less on my plate than I do right now.
GamesBeat: It seems like falling back on creativity is a good answer.
Quinn: Something we share in common—both of our things started with a lie, but they were ultimately used by people who have a very narrow idea of games what can be or should be. They don’t want games to be anything else. “If you can’t play a hard game, you’re not a real gamer.” That drives a lot of stuff, “You’re not a real gamer.” The cool thing about games is that they can be almost anything. There’s room for all of us here.
GamesBeat: The last thing I want is to see people look at how I got treated and just run in the other direction. “I’d better not post anything about games.”
Quinn: The thing about all of this that’s frustrating, going out and doing interviews about the book—I’ve interacted with so many people who have nothing to do with games. “No, I swear to God, this isn’t everybody in games. This isn’t what games have to be.”
I’m not apologizing for the medium, but it feels like so much damage has been done to dissuade people from getting involved with games. That makes me sad, because so much of my work has been trying to do the opposite. I’m trying to design for people who don’t think there’s a game out there for them, or who wouldn’t know what to do if you handed them a dual-stick controller. I playtest with my friends’ parents a lot, just to see how intuitive my design is for people who don’t already know what to do in games.
I want more people in this medium. I want it to keep growing. I think it’s really cool. I want other people that would love it, who don’t know they would love it, get to find it and fall in love.
GamesBeat: It looks like you’ve found several different callings here, between Crash Override and making your own games.
Quinn: There’s always way too much to do.
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