GamerGate: The Zach Quest Story

I can already sense the irritation from the #GamerGate tag on Twitter. “Why are you mentioning ZQ? It’s not about ZQ! Stop bringing up ZQ!” I know, guys. I see your point, believe me I do; I wouldn’t be going down this road if I didn’t think it was important.

But if you will, indulge me in a little free-writing exercise. Let’s say that about a month ago, a scandal broke about a male game developer named Zach Quest.

Now, Zach is a young developer who recently received some acclaim for his first major release, Artistic Game. Zach was fortunate enough to meet a young woman named Erin, and for a while, it was like a dream come true. Unfortunately, not all young love can work out, and eventually Zach and Erin went their separate ways. Heartbroken and angry, Erin wrote a scathing tell-all post, complete with screenshots of chat logs between her and Zach– including multiple confessions from him that he had been abusive.

The effect was immediate: Kotaku and Polygon both ran “Artistic Game Creator Accused of Rape” stories the next day. Granted, those are two different websites, so the headlines weren’t EXACTLY the same, but they were pretty much the same. Other websites soon followed suit. Zach’s name had soon been dragged through the mud all over the internet.

Some readers– perhaps fans of Artistic Game, or just concerned about the extreme tone of the articles– pointed out that an angry ex-lover is not exactly an unbiased source, chat logs or no chat logs. Sure, the logs looked pretty legit, but who could know for sure? It could all be doctored. It could all be cherry-picked to make Zach look as bad as possible; only Erin and Zach know what really happened between them, right?

“Believe the victim,” some of the most prominent voices in the games press said.  “Women don’t lie about this.” Blogger after blogger came out to call Erin “brave” for speaking out, “strong” for “punching up,” not being a passive victim of abuse, for not letting another innocent woman be a victim of Zach’s misogyny, etc. Those who doubted the veracity of Erin’s claims were shamed as misogynists: easily-threatened men trying to cover up the real issue of men’s abuse of women with their stupid, ever-so-transparent nitpicking bullshit. Those who characterized her as a bitter ex-girlfriend, thus not the most trustworthy source in regard to Zach’s character, were called out for their stereotypical characterization of a woman as “bitter,” or “spiteful.”

Other gamers were less interested in whether or not Erin was telling the truth, something they could have no way of knowing, and instead cared about the relevance of the story to the readership. After all, even if these awful allegations were all true, what did this have to do with video games? Good person or bad, gamers only care about Zach Quest in his capacity to make video games; why cover his personal life like a supermarket tabloid, especially when there aren’t even any criminal charges, and the only “evidence” is a blog. Shouldn’t the games press be above that?

Once again, the gamers who wanted the video game press to stick to video games were ridiculed. “There’s a systemic problem with misogyny in the gaming industry,” three different writers who wrote for Kotaku (or maybe Gamasutra? Who can tell?) opined. “Gamers support creators with their dollars, and if someone is an abusive jerk who hates women, gamers have a right to know before purchasing their products.” In addition to being called idiots for not seeing the importance of the misogyny epidemic, those who asked “Why are you covering this?” were called misogynists for wanting to cover up clear evidence of misogyny. In fact, the very fact that there were gamers who didn’t want this story covered was touted as proof—indisputable, crystal-clear proof—of just how embedded misogyny is in the game industry. Anyone with an ounce of conscience would want this information out there, so this dirtbag could never abuse another woman again!

Unfortunately for Zach Quest, who was deeply distracted from his furious typing efforts on Artistic Game II: My Dark, Beautiful Soul by all this (Spoiler: his soul’s not that dark), the scandal still wasn’t over. It turned out he had cheated on Erin, and worse, he had done it with a female games journalist: Natasha Garson of Kotaku. Natasha had written a piece that included coverage of Quest, but claimed she wrote it before the two had “done it”; nevertheless, concerned gamers were certain, this time, that they had found common ground with the press. Surely, everyone on all sides of this would agree that this was corruption, it was wrong, and the journalist in question should at the very least be reprimanded for it; not because sex happened to be involved, but because of the breach of journalistic ethics.

Well, they were half-right. Because while the gaming media continued to skewer Zach Quest (Jezebel, sister-site to Kotaku, now regularly referred to him as Zach “RapeGamer” Quest like it was his legal middle name), Natasha Garson was not reprimanded; in fact, members of the games press were quick to point out that she was also a victim. According to her (and remember, no woman has ever lied about sex), she hadn’t known the full extent of Zach’s relationship with Erin when she had slept with him, therefore she had slept with him under false pretenses– in modern parlance, also known as RAPE.

Artistic Game Creator Now Accused of Double-Rape– including of Kotaku Writer,” wrote Kotaku. (Frankly, everyone at Kotaku should have recused themselves from writing this story, but when asked, senior staff said they had forgotten that recusing “was a thing,” so whatever, it happened.)

Some gamers pointed out that, despite Quest’s inarguably despicable conduct, it was still possible that Garson had committed a serious ethical breach, and that should be investigated. “Why are you defending an (accused) RAPIST?” games journalists responded. Sure, maybe Garson had made a small mistake, but that was so comparatively minor compared to the crimes of Zach DOUBLE RAPIST Quest, who cared? In fact, caring about that at all was a sign of skewed values; in light of these allegations, only a misogynist would care about that. Or as the always-eloquent Lee Alenda put it:

“This woman has been raped by a male game developer- a giant, pulsating, pus-encrusted black eye on our entire industry- and you care about a MINOR ethical breach that MIGHT have happened? Let me ask you: where the FUCK are your priorities?”*

You would think that was the end of Zach Quest’s sad tale, but not quite. After all, a zillion gaming sites (who apparently had no interest in using this interval of time to do anything more relevant to their ostensible jobs than discuss rape) wrote: if Quest had been despicable enough to rape two women, who’s to say he hadn’t raped infinity women? In fact, given the evidence, wasn’t it more likely that Quest had raped many more women, inside the industry and out, and they simply were too ashamed, too frightened to come forward? Clearly, based on the evidence, this was further evidence of the misogynist attitudes within the game industry; if women weren’t so cowed into silence, clearly all infinity+1 women that Quest had savagely, brutally raped would have come forward already. Anyone who couldn’t see that was naïve, living in a cave…or they were misogynists. Does that go without saying by now? Probably does. These sites get some kind of tax break dependent on the number of times they can use “Misogynist” in the same article.

Gamers were upset; sure, Quest had done wrong by women, but to extrapolate that there was some huge misogynist rape conspiracy? That was just going too far. That was just inventing things out of whole cloth. Perhaps, if they could all just sit down and talk about this, they could find the right balance between condemning Quest’s individual behavior and contemplating the possible wider implications of it, without giving into delusions and paranoia. Plus, maybe there was some point in giving Quest the benefit of innocent-until-proven-guilty? After all, despite the claims of two women (who both had clear incentive to lie, if you actually think about it) there was no evidence that Quest had raped even one woman, let alone infinity. (And for the record: he didn’t. No rape took place at any point. I know that’s largely irrelevant to this story, but just wanted to throw it in there as, you know, a background detail.)

However, when discussions about Quest, Erin, and the whole gang sprung up all over the internet, they were mass deleted; this had been a clear case of MISOGYNY, and giving anyone involved the benefit of the doubt was being complicit in MISOGYNY, since “Women NEVER lie about this,” and the games press would not be complicit in MISOGYNY ever, even if it was the last thing they ever did.

The next day, all the gaming sites that had been covering this story published a story called “FUCK OFF” (the titles were slightly different, but that was the general gist), which said they were no longer catering to gamers, since gamers were a bunch of misogynist (tax break +1)fucktards who should all die in a fire, then have their ashes re-assembled by a talented necromancer, then die in another fire– because really, it’s all about dying in fires at the end of the day, for some reason.

“We will continue to serve people who play games with enough interest that they actually follow gaming news on a daily basis, but who are not gamers, because they are better people than you; in fact, it’s logically impossible for such people to exist, therefore they must be unicorns, and unicorns are awesome. See, this kind of impeccable logic is why we’re so much smarter than you, readers. You smelly, basement-dwelling neckbeards think you can compete with a unicorn? FUCK YOU,” said the largely untrained press devoted solely to covering the development and distribution of a subset of pop entertainment meant to occupy leisure time.

————And here is where our little narrative meets up with reality. Arguably, we never really left it.**

This is my problem with the “How can you tolerate the harassment (of a woman) that started GamerGate?” idea. It shouldn’t have to be said, but I don’t condone the harassment of anyone, male or female; however, the fact that things would have played out in opposite fashion with a male developer in the lead role is a product of the same political hive mind in media that many gamers now take issue with, using the GamerGate tag as a rallying cry. It’s not that it’s okay with me that someone was harassed; it’s not okay at all. But women’s harassment is repeatedly, systematically used as a political weapon to further an extreme leftist***, identity-politics-obsessed agenda that’s become extremely prevalent in our games media. Men’s harassment, on the other hand, is largely seen as justified; if he didn’t want to face punishment for his actions, he shouldn’t have been such a woman-hating slimeball, right? A man being harassed is a sign of the Patriarchy having the screws put into it, and that’s portrayed as an inherently good thing because THE PATRIARCHY IS JUST THE WORST, never mind the fact that the individual men involved may not have actually done much of anything.

How am I supposed to overlook the inherent unfairness of this? What if it was my little brother? What if it was yours?

This is why it’s put me an awkward position lately when I see people, who I otherwise respect, make comments like “I can’t support GamerGate because I don’t tolerate harassment,” and things to that effect. The members of the games press use harassment of women to further their own dubious agendas, using it as an example of how bad the Patriarchy is, then use harassment against men as a team-building exercise to experience the catharsis of publically ripping an effigy of the Patriarchy to shreds. It’s sick, it’s ungodly hypocritical, it’s self-deluding, and I can’t support it. Even if that means temporarily siding with the “harrassers,” or people who question the woman-as-perpetual-victim narrative, which makes me an easier target, I can’t let it continue without speaking out.

To me, this is an even bigger problem than the relatively small percentage of gamers who do harass women over the internet; they’re just sad human beings acting out, usually more pitiable than dangerous. The culture of weaponizing harassment, both real and perceived, is more pervasive, more insidious, and more downright evil; what it is, at the end of the day, is a cult. And the people most deeply indoctrinated into the cult are the ones who are the most convinced that they’re doing the morally sublime, unquestionably right thing…well, it’s a cult after all. I’m pretty sure you know how that works.

To some, maybe the story I posted above just seems ridiculous—after all, I’m only speculating on what would have happened if the central figure had been male instead of female; I have no way of knowing for sure how Kotaku and other outlets would have handled this hypothetical situation. But I have a feeling, if you’ve been watching these sites for the last few years (and, hopefully, are not already a member of said cult), you feel in your gut that there’s a lot of truth to my little story—that it would have definitely gone something like that, if not exactly like that. We can predict how they think because how they think has been co-opted by something that has distinct, inflexible rules, making them utterly predictable. Even if this weren’t a moral problem, it’s just so goddamned boring, quite frankly.

Whether you want to call the desire to change this GamerGate or something more along the lines of “cult deprogramming,” we won’t achieve much real justice, social or otherwise, while still caught up in an atavistic cycle of building up and tearing down that pits the genders against each other and as such, breeds hate. In the guise of “progress” we regress to the level of our ancestors who venerated the Mother Goddess, then ran into the woods and tore deer carcasses apart for religious catharsis; everything old is new again. The more sophisticated we like to think we are, the easier it is to miss the patterns that tell us how little things have changed.

Let’s just say that many members of the games press—and they certainly aren’t alone in this—are laboring under the illusion that they are very, very sophisticated. They need to be disabused of that notion, for themselves as well as their readers.

*The gamers in question tried to say that they couldn’t have priorities because they were already dead, but said journalist had already blocked them on Twitter, so they never got to tell her this. They were very sad, because for some reason, they thought their feelings…mattered? It was weird actually.

**After all, something similar happened to a male game developer recently, but I’m not going to name names because I don’t want the poor guy’s name dragged through the mud any more than it already has been. Many of you probably already know of the incident I’m referring to anyway.

***And I’m left-leaning myself, so I don’t want to hear about how I’m a Republican or a Tea Partier or whatever; this is not a conservative vs. liberal issue. It’s about incredible mind games we play to convince ourselves we’re The Good Guys, and that weakness of character is never limited to any one political movement or party.

5 thoughts on “GamerGate: The Zach Quest Story”

  1. I honestly have to agree that it’d have gone down like this to an extent if the genders were reversed. It just seems like whether a woman is involved, everyone of the radical-feminism (or whatever to call it) mentality assumes that the woman is innocent and the opposing side (presumably ugly men or whatever they want to make that side out as) is evil, gross, misogynist, or whatever. I personally consider myself a MRA because while I’m for equality, I’m against the male-bashing, “white-straight-men-are-always-wrong”, “only-men-are-capable-of-evil”, “we-need-to-abuse-men-to-even-things-out” angle that the people we affectionately refer to as “SJWs” always seem to take, even if not vocally but quietly. Isn’t the original point of feminism to stand for gender equality–as in, respect for both genders, acknowledging that they’re different in their own ways but isn’t better then either one? All that hatred is pointless (but really, when is hatred healthy?), and all the immediate reactionary bias has to stop.

    1. Although I think the MRA movement has some valid points, especially in regard to child custody battles, I feel like the leadership is too extreme for me to condone it. It seems like they co-opt a lot of the “see my victim card” stuff from third-wave feminism, switching out “Look how horrible the Patriarchy is!” for “Look how unfairly men are treated in a post-feminist world.” I think the best approach is being an egalitarian; of course, egalitarians are often attacked for not realizing that they’re ‘really’ feminists, so you really just can’t win.

      It’s a similar situation with PETA, really. I like to think I’m in favor of animals being treated with more respect and dignity, but I could never join PETA because the leadership is just bonkers. Every movement has its bad apples, but when the leadership ARE the bad apples, I can’t look past it.

      1. Exactly right. Radical “whatever” tends to be bad far too often, whether the subject is. I may be a MRA, but I’m not a radical MRA; I’m just so against the anti-male SJW narrative to the point where I’m practically the definition of a MRA.

        Regardless of whether we’re SJWs or MRAs, though, the politicking and condescending behavior towards readers needs to get out of games journalism, and I think that’s something most people can agree to. We’re here to play and talk video games, after all!

  2. I feel using such a strawman is dangerous. We can muse all we want about what may have happened under different circumstances, but it simply cannot be equated to reality. The language you use in the indictment of this theoretical man seems a bit above realistic. Maybe I am too optimistic, but I would hope that no organization would declare someone as a rapist based on biased testimony. The fact of the matter is that we have a situation that did develop. That this is not even the second time in recent history violence has been targeted at a woman in gaming specifically should be evidence enough that it is a legitimate issue. Anita Sarkesian and Jennifer Hepler did not deserve the treatment they received. Did they deserve judgement on their ideals or faults? Yes, but instead many opponents chose to use hate to fuel their backlash.

    I do believe that a lot of discussion is getting drowned out in the noise, but I’ve had to look no further than my own circles to find examples of people unwilling to compromise on opinions when discussion Quinn and the extent of her harassment. The problem is on both sides, and we have to understand that so many people have used #GamerGate as a banner for their sexist or hateful tendencies that it is a toxic environment for any actual criticism. If you do support the tag you have to understand you’re giving equal ground to those who would use it as a cudgel of the worst sort.

    People have yet to take the screws to any company with actual power in the industry for their many transgressions. It irks me that any individual, man or woman, would be used as a scapegoat for the myriad problems already infecting the industry as it is, and I will never stand for it. It is my firm belief that the only way we can have intelligent discussion is to remove the element of emotion that blinds others with hate. Those with rational minds should find a new banner to voice their opposition to problems they find in both gaming journalism and the industry itself.

  3. I don’t think my story is all that farfetched because a male game developer was recently accused of rape by at least one major gaming site based on nothing but a claim from an ex-girlfriend; this happened 2-3 months ago, I think. I wish I could give you the info so you could verify, but like I said, I’d rather keep his name out; it shouldn’t be too hard to research if you’re interested.

    You’re writing as though the initial (vile) harassment took place under the GamerGate banner, but I don’t see how that’s possible. The harassment of Ms. Quinn took place before GamerGate was a thing; the tag didn’t come into use until the gaming press ran a bevy of “Gamers are horrible and should die” articles, and it was the contempt of the press, when confronted with reasonable questions about conflicts of interest, that sparked the use of it. In case you’ve heard that it originated on 4chan, it didn’t; it was first coined on Twitter by Adam Baldwin. It seems unfair to blame the current supporters of the movement for something that primarily happened before it was even extant; anyone who tries to harass Quinn (or anyone) in the actual tag is quickly reported for abuse.

    Second, I’m not sure how I could be giving “equal time” to people who would use the tag for evil, because where are they? I’ve spent a dumb amount of time I’m Twitter over the last few days (I’m in an unusual hurry-up-and-wait situation right now that I won’t go into here), and most of what I see under the tag is people civilly discussing what they’d like to see from the games press in the future; as I said, the occasional potty-mouthed troll pops up (and trolls saying “LOL GamerGate is dumb” just for attention of course), but they’re reported and otherwise ignored. How can I be giving equal time to these bad people that are not under the tag and have nothing to do with? The people who are still harassing Quinn or Sarkeesian or whoever else are presumably off conspiring on some forum or IRC chat somewhere; not where I have anything to do with it.

    Lastly, and most importantly, you talk about two women being harassed as if this is especially newsworthy, and this is what I was talking about in the second half of the article. Gaming personalities in general get a shit-ton of abuse; it’s sad, but it’s a fact of life as minor internet celebrities. People like Jim Sterling and TotalBiscuit are constantly getting abuse, but they’re expected to just shrug it off, because abuse of men is seen as harmless (when it’s not being outright celebrated). It seems like you’re saying that you’re suspicious of my premise that harassment narratives are categorized and weaponized by the press, and we need to start getting wise to this, because of the sad fact that you heard in the press that two women were harassed recently; I’m assuming you see why I can’t take that criticism too much to heart.

    Anyway, I do appreciate you taking the time to reply in depth, I really do; but I feel like the concerns you raise here are largely ones I deal with in the body of the post itself.

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