Female Indie Dev’s Perspective on the Culture of Intimidation in the Indie Game Dev-Journalism Scene

Why I’m Posting This Anonymously

For someone making claims whose truth is somewhat dependent on my identity, you’re likely wondering why I am keeping that identity hidden. You’ll often hear folks complaining about the harassment of game devs. And while they’re correct that it happens a lot, most of that harassment is just insults and name-calling. Actual threats (direct or implied) make up a tiny fraction of it. With that in mind, consider the response from Zoe Quinn’s friends and supporters to people who spoke up about their personal, lived experiences from interacting with Zoe:

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And this and other actions have been enough to create a chilling effect amongst others who would speak out:

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To me, the way Zoe’s supporters are trying to suppress (and subtly threaten) those who speak out against her is far more terrifying than any harassment I’ve seen sent Zoe’s way. I’d much prefer random strangers calling me a cunt and wishing I was raped than the sort of creepy reaction those people received. And that sort of culture of intimidation is why I’m remaining anonymous, and also why I’m strongly considering leaving the indie game dev scene.

Who Am I

I’m a female indie dev. I’ve done art on about half a dozen games, one of which was moderately successful. I’ve had varying degrees of interaction with the journalists and developers involved in the latest controversy du jour, as well as many others who are part of this culture in ways that have not been publicized but are far more insidious than Zoe Quinn sleeping with people for publicity. I was raised religious and hold fairly conservative views politically (I feel I should declare my biases ahead of time). This is as much personal detail as I am willing to share. I wish I had the kind of courage to speak openly about this as a few others have dared to, but I simply don’t.

What’s Your Agenda

To get people to boycott this bullshit, pure and simple. That means both devs and journalists (and the companies that hire them). I have no interest in silly ideas like “solidarity” and “signal boosting,” the goal is to say here’s what’s wrong, so that good people don’t buy games from/read articles by people they don’t absolutely trust to not do this shit.

I also want to show that the actions of these people are directly harmful to women in the industry. One of my favorite series growing up was Gabriel Knight. Jane Jensen was (and is) a big inspiration in my life, and what made me want to get into game development. Seeing a woman as the lead on multiple games (and high quality ones at that) made it obvious to me at a young age that sexism doesn’t keep women from succeeding in this industry. Unfortunately the death of adventure games was (for a while) the death of Jane’s career. My pseudonym in writing this article is in honor of her.

That’s all. I’ll try to keep it brief.

Let’s Cut To The Chase

Despite (or rather because of) all of the pontificating by left-leaning social justice types in the game industry about oppression, the easiest way for talentless hacks to break into the indie gaming industry is to associate with the sort of hipster liberal types that are getting all the publicity for their oppression. And worse yet, they get in over people with actual skills. I had a friend in college who was an amazing 3d modeler trying to break into the industry. She was turned down repeatedly and had to settle at a shitty mobile game company making cow clickers that no one cared about. Meanwhile Zoe Quinn is able to get hired by Loveshack solely because of who she knows (and sleeps with). But this isn’t about Zoe, her scandal is just a microcosm of the widespread corruption and nepotism in this industry. Another example is when the IGF allowed Fez to re-enter the competition (even though it had been there before) just because of Phil Fish’s connections to the festival organizers. These are not isolated incidents, and one need only look at the unprofessional interactions between journalists and devs on social media, at cons, and elsewhere to see that any semblance of professional barriers between these people don’t exist. It’s already apparent from their interactions that they form a very strong clique.

To be part of this scene while holding the religious and political views that I do is very difficult. I generally keep it close to my chest because the few times I’ve said even simple things like “I can’t make it to the thing on Sunday because I’m going to church” had led to all sorts of derision and mockery by other people in the industry. I shudder to imagine the blowback from their clique if I told them about how I voted yes on Prop 8. Just look at the way Doug TenNapel’s Kickstarter was lambasted by people in the industry (led by Ben Kuchera) because he dared to have a (non-liberal) political opinion. The creator of Earthworm Jim was only barely able to reach his Kickstarter goal, which was relatively modest compared to most of the others I’ve seen. This is just one example of how only those who toe the social justice line are allowed by the press and the devs’ clique. Even those who just try to keep quiet and uninvolved are often called out for not doing enough, or being a poor “ally.” To succeed in this industry you have to meet the standards of this clique, when it should be about meeting the standards of gamers. But when it’s impossible to get any publicity or work without meeting the standards of these self-fellating sycophants, that’s near impossible.

Women And Gaming

Let’s be completely honest: most women don’t play Quake III. Most of those few women like me who actually like first person shooters, grand strategy, space sims, and all those other genres that make up “core” gaming don’t care if they can play as a female protagonist, or if the girls are wearing skimpy outfits, or if you have to rescue the princess. They like the exact same things as men who like those games, and they just want good games, nothing more nothing less. And most of them feel that all this rambling on about representation is distracting from the real issue: big developers and publishers are making shitty games for mass appeal instead of the kind of awesome games we played growing up. When you distract from that to rant about what is literally imaginary misogyny you’re hurting women like me who just want good games. There’s a reason the only new game I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year was the new Strider, even though I’d rate it an 8 out of 10 at best: it’s a simple premise with solid execution. No attempts to speak about how the social justice topic du jour, just solid gameplay and enough of a story to string it together. Not that I’m opposed to games telling a story, but for the vast majority of genres stories aren’t all that important, and speaking out on social issues is irrelevant to what I want: gameplay. Most other women, if they play games at all, play Candy Crush and Farmville and Solitaire and whatever else is popular on phones. By conflating us with them you’re hurting us and keeping the games we like from getting made.

Beyond that, I have a problem with the entire agenda that these people are pushing, and believe it to be extremely harmful to women. Here’s a quote a Mormon friend of mine sent to me, one of the leaders of his church said it:

There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. In that rejection, one would have hoped that men would rise to the higher, single standard, but just the opposite has occurred—women and girls are now encouraged to be as promiscuous as the double standard expected men to be. Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.

In the wake of this Zoe scandal I saw dozens of self-proclaimed feminists arguing that women being able to sleep their way to influence was actually a good thing. That kind of culture enables the kind of sexual harassment earlier feminists fought so hard to outlaw, and undermines the legitimacy of women who actually have the talent and do the work. We shouldn’t be encouraging women to sleep around, we should be holding men and women equally up to standards of fidelity and ethical behavior.

The entire premise of equality (as pushed by the clique that runs the industry, at least) is silly to begin with. How do you make a cat equal to a dog, or an apple equal to an orange? Men and women have fundamental differences (biological, psychological, and spiritual). Trying to make them the same is not equality. Men and women have complementary traits, and trying to make them the same destroys their strengths and amplifies their weaknesses. Women have a lot of unique things they can offer to the game industry, but trying to treat them like men will only destroy those contributions.

I’ve said about all I that I think needs to be said, though I could rant on for hours about my feelings on these issues. Remember that you are the consumers, journalism and the gaming industry are supposed to serve you, not the other way around. Take back your power by refusing to support any group or individual that can’t maintain even the most basic semblance of ethics and professional conduct. Don’t go to Kotaku and Polygon and IGN for your reviews anymore. Support guerrilla journalism, and if those guerrilla journalists start to do the same crap the old guard did them drop them before they can get entrenched. And don’t support people who are hired for who they know (or sleep with), support people who prove they have the chops. And even though I don’t quite agree with their goals or ideology, consider lending a helping hand to The Fine Young Capitalists, they deserve some help after the way this industry treated them. I’ll consider doing a follow-up to some of the responses I receive in the comments, but this might be the last you hear from me. Thank you for listening to my rant 🙂

P.S. A special thanks to my friend JC who helped me verify some information for this article and provided several of the images at the top. I owe you a GEP gun.

 

EDIT: I finally checked on the response to this in the first time since I wrote it and realized I hadn’t set comments to auto-approve 😦 You should be able to comment freely now. Sorry! I’m still debating if I want to write any sort of follow-up.

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