A Sordid Affair: Of Zoe Quinn, Privacy and Integrity
In a fourth year human resources course, we were posed a question about what we would do if an employee was sleeping with someone from a customer business. I responded with the old Trudeau-ism of “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” What is personal is personal and it stays that way as long as it doesn’t affect my business.
That was the wrong answer according to the professor and whole rest of the class. The implication of the scenario was that my hypothetical employee was sleeping that person to make sales. They couldn’t be using each other just to use each other. She was obviously using him to reach another end.
Gaming is going through this same scenario right now. Zoe Quinn, the developer behind Depression Quest, is mired in scandal after her ex-boyfriend outed her as sleeping with a number of people in the industry, including a writer for Kotaku, which blew up into accusations of Quinn using sex to get positive coverage from the gaming press.
I want to preface this by saying that we shouldn’t care about random people’s personal lives. When I said off the top that if someone’s personal life doesn’t affect me somehow, it’s not my business. I meant it. However, in this instance, the accusations levied against Quinn might make it our business.
Zoe Quinn is the developer of a recently released game called Depression Quest. It was released to some fanfare last week after it made its way onto Steam for free in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death. It garnered more attention from gamers for the timing of its release than the quality of the game itself but it made a little wave nonetheless.
Earlier this week, Gamer Headlines broke the story of its life when it came across a very lengthy piece of writing by a man claiming to be Quinn’s ex-boyfriend. In it, her ex, Eron Gjoni, detailed private conversations and posted screenshots of chats they had during their relationship.
Gjoni accuses Quinn of cheating on him with five men. They included an indie developer, a sound designer / game dev and two other men whose names were withheld out of respect for their privacy (a slight irony there) because he and Quinn were on a “break” at the time. For this post, I withheld the name of the other two men because they’re not relevant to the discussion at hand nor does it matter to me who Zoe Quinn may or may not have slept with if it doesn’t affect me.
The fifth name is the relevant one. That fifth person is Nathan Grayson, a writer for Kotaku. If the fifth man was a graphic artist or programmer or anyone other than a member of the gaming media, I wouldn’t be writing anything about this matter. I’d dismiss it as personal drama more fit for the National Enquirer than a usually reputable geek interest blog but here we are. However, the implication is that, just as the university example I mentioned at the start, Quinn used Grayson as a means to an end.
Having examined the evidence and statements by a couple of interested parties, I don’t have any reason to disbelieve that the two slept together. However, I believe that same evidence refutes any allegations of journalistic malpractice or using sex as a means to an end by either Mr. Grayson or Ms. Quinn.
While it’s entirely possible that any conversations they had might not be recounted with total accuracy, it seems like it’s far too big a project to make up all the chats then censor them to remove personal information, conversations and make up the names of people Quinn was allegedly sleeping with. There was also a video that Gjoni posted showing him clicking to a Facebook chat the two had that also appears on his website. Therefore, I’m willing to take this at face value for the moment.
From Grayson’s side, there’s no direct denial. He mentioned lies on Twitter but he never directly mentioned what the lie was. The accusation from Gjoni is that Grayson slept with his now ex-girlfriend? The accusation from a large portion of the rest of the internet is that Quinn slept with him in exchange for favourable coverage? Those are two very different things. Two people using each other for sex is very different from one person using the other for sex while the other is using sex as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. One is none of our business but the other would end up being our business if we read Kotaku. He doesn’t help himself by not addressing the matter directly though I can’t fault him for being so angry that he doesn’t dignify this matter with a response.
Grayson’s editor at Kotaku, Stephen Totilo, didn’t directly address the matter of whether Quinn and Grayson had sex and focused on what and when Grayson wrote for Kotaku. Some people may not be satisfied with that but Totilo addressed the only relevant matter in this whole situation. On Twitter, Totilo noted that Grayson hadn’t slept with Quinn when he last wrote about her in March but noted that Grayson hasn’t written about her since. On his website, Gjoni puts the timeline of when the two slept together in the April to June range which fits the timeline in Totilo’s statement.
[Ed. Note: The above paragraph was amended with a correction from Eron Gjoni who left us a comment to note that Grayson and Quinn started their affair in April rather than May. The correction was made above with a link to his comment. No other changes have been made to this post or in my assessment of this matter.]
The evidence presented by Gjoni and the Totilo’s statement point me towards the conclusion that while it’s possible that the allegations are true and Grayson and Quinn slept together at some point, it was after Grayson last professionally wrote about Zoe Quinn and/or Depression Quest. I’m also inclined to believe that this had no impact on any coverage of the game or its developer on Kotaku or by Grayson. And the witch hunting about Quinn trading sexual favours for positive press is, by all reasonable interpretation and extrapolation of the evidence at hand, absolute bollocks that seems to be perpetuated by anti-feminists or misogynists or whatever you want to call the people spreading what appear to be false rumours about the effects of Quinn’s personal life.
So I don’t know why we’re talking about who Zoe Quinn did or didn’t sleep with when a short examination of the evidence at hand indicates that who she did or didn’t sleep with had no impact on the coverage of Depression Quest. Her personal life is her personal life and if it doesn’t impact us in any way, it should stay personal and private. As I said previously, the only reason we should be concerned is because of the accusation that her personal life may have impacted gamers because the coverage of her game by a very prominent outlet could have been biased. Once that is disproved, and I believe that I have sufficiently done so, there is no reason to care about Zoe Quinn’s or Nathan Grayson’s personal life.
This whole incident does bring me to a troubling realization about the expectations and the reality of video games journalism. The core gamer seems to expect the likes of IGN, Kotaku, Polygon, so on and so forth to be the same as The New York Times, the Washington Post and so on and so forth. These gaming news outlets have lost so much trust by being glorified PR firms for game developers and publishers in return for exclusive content, interviews and advertising that the majority of gamers willing to take the most ludicrous of accusations levied against a website as fact because of their pattern of behaviour. However, we still expect them to be The Times ethically when we know the majority of the content they produce would get them thrown out of the Times’ newsroom.
In reality, the most damning accusation levied at Quinn should be the accusation that she was using DMCA claims on YouTube to censor criticism of Depression Quest. While this isn’t a new tactic, we’ve seen the Streisand Effect in action enough times in gaming over the last year to know that it’s real and censoring criticism does nothing but draw attention to the criticism of that game. However, we’re all focused on what appears to be tabloid “journalism.”
I think that everyone comes out a loser in this affair. Zoe cheated on her boyfriend with five men after being hurt by a cheating ex-husband herself. One of those was a journalist who allegedly slept with an interview subject some time after the interview was posted and inadvertently opened an unholy shitstorm of possible journalistic ethical violations and will have that attached to his name for the next few months until it blows over even if I think he did nothing wrong. The gaming press for not even dignifying this matter with coverage even though they can go “Bam! False!” with about three minutes of reading and three hundred words and stop this dead in its tracks. Her ex for airing their dirty laundry in public. [Update: Eron did note a grievance with my terming his part in this dirty laundry. His comment to this post is down below.] Everyone trying to burn Zoe at the stake for what she does in her personal life. Hell, even I feel like a loser in this affair because I’m wasting nearly 1,600 words of my time trying to defend two people I don’t know from accusations that blew up from woman sleeps with man to indie dev sleeps with every games journalist alive for positive coverage.
This whole industry is depressing sometimes. Can we talk about games for a change?