Photo courtesy of Eron Gjoni
When you talk to Eron Gjoni, the guy whose tell-all blog entry about his ex-girlfriend sparked the recent flare-up of the notorious Quinnspiracy debacle, it's hard not to sympathize. He doesn't want to be seen as part of "the sexist crusade to destroy game developer Zoe Quinn." While interviewing him, I liked him as a person. Still, the fallout from his mistake has been like the outbreak of a drama virus, and the symptoms are intense misogyny and general internet discontent.
In the past couple weeks, if you don’t follow games, you probably didn’t pay much attention to the final release in the second run of Walking Dead games, or the well-reviewed latest release of Diablo III on PS4. Still you might have noticed the embarrassing anti-feminist drama from the gaming world spilling over into non-gaming news sites and onto your twitter or Facebook feed. That’s because this has been an incredibly bad month for gamers.
You know the very end of The Lord of the Flies? When that British Navy guy is standing there, looking at the boys screaming and chasing each other, and he scolds them for their bad behavior, and they all look at each other like, Jesus, we killed someone, and the book is just over? That’s the world of video games right now.
How bad is it? Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra says it’s pretty much over:
“Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad. These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers—they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no “side” to be on, there is no “debate’” to be had. There is what’s past and there is what’s now. There is the role you choose to play in what’s ahead.
Why so apocalyptic? Game discourse has become a fucking mess. An all-out, screaming shitfit that never stops.
On Wednesday, gamer punching bag Anita Sarkeesian got harassed and threatened for the umpteenth time by gamers who were angry about being called out for their misogyny. This time, she was driven out of her house by death threats. Her ongoing YouTube series isn’t always perfect, but it has never once done anything to merit a two-year campaign of anonymous threats.
Then last night, while that was in the news, I edited and published a short article by Allegra Ringo about Vivian James, a new mascot created by 4chan to thwart proponents of social justice in gaming. When I woke up the following afternoon, gamers were harassing her en masse on Twitter.
The Gamer internet has been on the war path lately, weeding out what it perceives to be corruption in games. Just after venting their "anger at feminists and SJWs trying to dictate what's in games and screeching when things don't meet a 'diversity' quota," gamers voice their rage at journalists who "get a lot of freebies from game companies to do their job." And how gaming news sites are "gossip magazines at best." To approach gaming as someone who writes for the internet means getting tarred with that brush, and to be a woman intensifies it.
One relatively meek voice in the chorus of screams, however, had a more specific, and less shrill goal: Don't vilify Eron Gjoni. Gjoni was instrumental in the Vivian James story in ways I won't rehash here, but suffice it to say while he had wanted to warn the internet about a woman, his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Quinn, he says he in no way wanted to attack women in general, and if forced to pick a side (and it seems like he'd rather not), he allies himself with the social justice side of things ("I very much align with SJ," he later clarified over email). In Allegra's piece, he was a nastier character than he wanted to be considered.
I got in touch with Gjoni, and he seemed very decent for a 24-year-old who had just sparked an anti-feminist shitstorm with a blog post about his ex-girlfriend. I told him how I viewed what he had done: "Your ex is a prominent figure in the video game world, and you put the details of your breakup online. Is that fair?" He said no, but his version didn't contradict mine:
“My ex is a prominent figure who presents herself as one of the only strong voices for equality in the video game world. She presents herself this way so that no one believes her to be capable of doing the selfish and harmful things she does to professional and interpersonal relations in order to advance through the ranks while twenty thousand people look up to her as a paragon of virtue. I wrote a blog to warn those who will be romantically or professionally involved with her (usually both) that they should exercise caution around her, and to let her fans know that they should find a new voice to act as the spokesperson for equality in games.”
While we chatted I very much wanted Gjoni to tell me that the way he was being turned into a martyr for men's rights activists and 4chan users disturbed him, but he never really did. He resisted aligning himself against either side. He seemed to want to be a calm voice, but one that was setting the record straight once and for all. He wanted the world to know that Zoe Quinn was not to be trusted or harassed, and that Vivian James, the female gamer mascot was imperfect, but that he liked her. This was one of the more fascinating parts of the conversation (This is edited, but here's an unedited transcript of our Skype conversation. Parts that I agreed would be off the record have been removed):
VICE: What do you think of Vivian James? Do you like the character?
Eron Gjoni: I think she's like a politically correct version of 4chan. And yeah, I kinda like her. But I may be biased, because she probably wouldn't exist were it not for the blog.
Is she basically a mascot for female gamers born out of spite for a female gamer?
Well, The Fine Young Capitalists [are] making a t-shirt with a tagline along the lines of "I don't care if you're queer fat ugly or gay, if you play video games, you're alright with me,” which, is at face value kind of a collection of words 4chan might be inclined to use as pejoratives. But upon further inspection [it] is a message of acceptance, and denounces things like body negativity or homophobia.
They would say "land whale" and "unfuckable" and "a faggot.”
Right, but, they don't limit themselves when it comes to slurs.
Vivian James. Image via the Fine Young Capitalists' Twitter account
They sure don't. Does Vivian James—in your mind—use slurs?
In my mind, she uses terms which might be offensive in some contexts, in naively non-offensive ways, but she'd probably say something like "that's gay" to say "that's undesirable" without meaning any offense to gay people.
Would she say the n-word?
I don't think she'd say that, no. But she is a fictional character, and [The Fine Young Capitalists] is very progressive; so basically, absolutely not. She wouldn't say anything which is unequivocally offensive, or else TFYC wouldn't allow it. I imagine they'd allow some character quirks though. Things which are socially speaking, not okay, but they can, like, make other characters that correct her or shun her for the naive offenses. […] She strikes me as the type of person who means no offense, but has the contextual caution of a high schooler or something.
So she might use the odd slur, but she's just young, and doesn't know better?
Yeah, basically. […] Not sure as to the point of this line of questioning though. I don't have any creative control over her character design.
Not to get psychoanalytical, but I can't help feeling like Vivian James' tendency toward hate speech that comes from a place of naïveté is being projected onto her by someone with a guilty conscience.
Gjoni wanted to steer the conversation away from misogyny and toward the aforementioned nepotism and corruption in gaming and games journalism. At the heart of the issue for those who insist that Quinn is the villain is the idea that she traded sex for positive press, or maybe just screwed her way into positions of influence. "There are people who are legitimately concerned about games journalism, who don't fall into either camp, and they also get brushed away," he said.
I alluded to the severity of the constant harassment and his reply circled around on itself. "Yes, that's happening, but it's not the only thing happening, and it should be the thing most discouraged in terms of coverage. One side will point to the publication and say, 'Look, these MRAs are attacking us,' and form into groups and make it worse," he said.
It seemed like he wasn't seeing the forest for the trees, so I gave him my unsolicited opinion: "While there are these issues, corruption with journalism, and all that, there's this huge mountain of misogyny," I told him. "So, when we non-gamers look at gaming culture, we have a tendency to point at the huge mountain."
"There is yeah. I'm just personally of the opinion that continuing to frame it as just that, is going to make it more about just that," he said, "but you likely have more experience with these things, so I should probably defer to your judgment."
I didn't tell him the rest of my opinion: I think some of this belief in corruption and nepotism is misogyny. Gaming is a business, and in any business, people don't all get to the top, win influence, or get their project greenlit because their work is the best. They get there by hook or by crook. Men can commodify representations of female sexuality to sell inferior games, and that's making an honest buck, but if some women get to the top by commodifying their own sexuality, that's corruption? Fuck that.
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(At Gjoni's request, a parenthetical was added to paragraph 10, in order to clarify his stance on social justice.)
Topics: Quinnspiracy, Zoe Quinn, video games, anti-feminist drama, gaming culture, gamers, obtuse shitslingers, debates, game discourse, Anita Sarkeesian, SJWs, social justice warriors, corruption in journalism, games journalism, blogs about ex girlfriends, spite, messages of acceptance, vivian james