A profile of Nathan Grayson.
is a former contributor for Rock Paper Shotgun and current contributor for Kotaku. In August 2014 he became embroiled in a controversy regarding allegations of journalistic impropriety when it was revealed that he had been in a close personal relationship with the subject of his coverage, independent game developer Zoe Quinn, without any disclosure.
Grayson is most notable for his coverage of GAME JAM, a sponsored “indie” game jam event, which he detailed in an article entitled The Indie Game Reality TV Show that Went to Hell. This coverage, which primarily focuses on personal conflicts and arguments that derailed the project, focuses heavily on Zoe Quinn, to the point of casting her as the protagonist of the struggle of the “indie developers” against the corporate machinations of the sponsors and their hired producer.
Grayson has been a quality assurance tester or play tester on some minor video games such as Arcade America, Disney’s Timon & Pumbaa’s Jungle Games, Peter and the Wolf and Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.
Overall Themes and Criticism
Grayson primarily tends to focus on issues of sexism in gaming, or content and media that he perceives to be sexist in nature. This is often attributed to a conversion in viewpoint developed while working at Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
Being here taught me to care about new things, too. I never thought myself openly sexist or racist or homophobic or anything like that before, but I also didn’t understand how systemically ingrained many of those mentalities are. Writing about them helped me learn how to be less shitty, helped me become better at caring about other people no matter how different we are. — Nathan Grayson
In the same letter, which was published in June 2014, Grayson goes on to acknowledge Jenn Frank, Mattie Brice, Cara Ellison and the site Critical Distance for their contributions to his development as a writer.
A frequent criticism of Grayson is that he applies standards of sexism, or sexist content in a haphazard way, as illustrated by side by side comparison of his coverage. For example, his widely criticized coverage of DOTA which was published on 22 November 2013, where he asks Blizzard game director Dustin Browder several loaded questions, including this infamous one:
You have some interesting alternate outfits for heroes. Roller Derby Nova, especially, caught my eye. On its own, that’s totally fine — just a silly, goofy thing. A one-off. But it got me thinking about how often MOBAs tend to hyper-sexualize female characters to a generally preposterous degree — that is to say, make it the norm, not a one-off at all — and StarCraft’s own, um, interesting focus choices as of late. How are you planning to approach all of that in Heroes? — Nathan Grayson
In response, Browder states that “We’re not sending a message to anybody. We’re just making characters who look cool.” and “No one should look to our game for that.”, while also taking Grayson’s “very fair” feedback into account.
Grayson, seemingly not entirely satisfied with this answer, went on to write “But it’s not even about a message. The goal is to let people have fun in an environment where they can feel awesome without being weirded out or even objectified. This is a genre about empowerment. Why shouldn’t everyone feel empowered?” After this question, a PR representative of Blizzard stepped in, as “the interview (…) obviously ended in an uncomfortable place”
Prominent YouTube personality TotalBiscuit criticized the above question, as well as other aspects of the games media in a video entitled I will now ramble about games media for just under 30 minutes. Pointing out that very premise that “MOBAs” as a genre “tend to hyper-sexualize female characters” is not a widely held view or accepted as fact, and instead Grayson was engaging in a form of Begging the question in order to state his own belief as fact.
In a follow-up to the interview, which was published on the same day, Grayson told his critics to “stop that right now”, in regards to his comments about the design of female characters, as “this stuff isn’t (…) political at all” and “To insist otherwise is to vastly undermine both gaming as a medium and, you know, your own species.”
The above article and subsequent criticism can be contrasted with Grayson s coverage of another Blizzard product, Overwatch, published on Kotaku on 8 November 2014, which instead reads directly like a press release touting Blizzard s devotion to de-sexualising female video game avatars despite admissions from Blizzard designer Chris Metzen that they are actually still sexualised:
However, even in the context of Overwatch, which represents a good number of different races, nationalities, and sexes, Metzen admitted that “there’s a lot of room for growth.” And to be fair, Overwatch’s women are mostly super slim and clad in cat suits, so… yeah. (That’s not to say they aren’t great characters, nor that a game shouldn’t have some sexy characters. I just agree with Metzen: there’s room to grow.)
For Blizzard, that’s definitely a focus going forward. Metzen added:
“Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we’ve been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don’t know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it’s something we’re very sensitive to. We want that to be part of who we are, what our brand is. I think [Blizzard president] Mike [Morhaime] talked in a roundabout way to that in his speech [at the start of BlizzCon]. It’s something we’re very cognizant of. We want girls to feel kick-butt. Equally represented.” — Nathan Grayson
Conflicts of Interest
1. Deirdra Kiai - Nathan Grayson published an article about a GaymerX convention on 25 July 2014 for Kotaku, in which he admits he having a friendship with game developer Dierdra Kiai, and links to Kiai’s website on which her game can be purchased. Grayson wrote another article for Kotaku on 1 April 2014, in which he interviews Kiai. Grayson delivers a glowing profile of Kiai as well as providing a direct link to the product storefront for her game Dominique Pamplemousse. On 17 July 2014, Nathan Grayson publishes an article for Rock, Paper, Shotgun about a video interview with many indie developers from GaymerX, in which Kiai takes part as well . No mention of Grayson’s personal relationship with Kiai or any sort of disclaimer is given in either of the two articles.
2. GaymerX - Grayson wrote two favourable articles on GaymerX on 25 July 2014 and 25 August 2014 for Kotaku. A number of tweets show the President of GaymerX, Toni Rocca, and Grayson planning to meet up with each other, indicating a close personal relationship. Grayson failed to disclose this conflict of interest in both articles.
3. Nina Freeman and Porpentine - On 24 December 2014, Grayson published an article on Kotaku entitled Nathan’s Top Ten Games Of 2014, in which he writes about the games of Nina Freeman and Porpentine. Another article entitled Steam Refunds Could Cause Some Big Problems was published on Kotaku on 2 June 2015, in which Grayson writes about Freeman’s games while also linking to her website and the game’s Steam pages. Numerous tweets indicate a personal relationship between Freeman and Grayson, while Porpentine was a former co-worker of Grayson at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Neither of the two articles contained disclosure about these conflicts of interest.
4. Riot Games - Between 17 October 2013 and 15 July 2014, Grayson published four articles on Rock, Paper, Shotgun about League of Legends, a game developed by Riot Games. Three more articles were published on Kotaku on 2 February, 3 February and 23 February 2015. Numerous tweets show Grayson to have personal relationships with at least one Riot Games employee, which Grayson failed to disclose in any of the seven articles.
5. Robert Yang - A favourable article about Stick Shift was published on 6 April 2015 by Grayson on Kotaku. The developer of the game, Robert Yang, wrote numerous articles for Rock, Paper, Shotgun in 2013, during the same period Grayson was an employee. No mention of this professional relationship was made in the article.
6. Robin Arnott - Nathan Grayson mentioned Robin Arnott and his game SoundSelf six times in a three month period between 31 March and 9 July 2014, including two conspicuous name drops in articles having nothing to do with Arnott or his game. Based on Arnott’s facebook profile, he’s been friends with Grayson since as early as March 2013. In the articles, Grayson either profiled Arnott or his work in a positive light, or used him as a quote and plugged his products, even including links to his products. None of the six articles contained any disclosure about their friendship
7. White Whale Games - Grayson wrote a favourable article on 2 October 2014 about Monstrocards, a game developed by White Whale Games. A link to the Kickstarter page of the game was put at the bottom of the article, one day before the deadline of 3 October 2014. Moreover, Grayson failed to disclose a personal relationship with two White Whale Games employees, as evident in tweets detailing plans to meet up with each other.
8. Zoe Quinn - Grayson first wrote a favourable article about game developer Zoe Quinn on 5 September 2012, which highlights her games and includes a link to her products. By time the article was written, Grayson and Quinn appear to had become very friendly with each other. The two have known each other since at least as early as 14 June 2012, had met each other several times, had exchanged compliments and otherwise had friendly conversations on Twitter several times before Grayson wrote his first article on Quinn.
On 12 November 2012, Quinn tweeted about her plans to create a game about social anxiety. Grayson in response volunteered himself to be a consultant on the game. On 27 March 2013, Grayson attended the 1ReasonToBe panel at GDC. Quinn, who was also among the panel’s audience, contacted Grayson and asked him to hang out with her after the talk would be over, a request to which Grayson happily complied. By November-December 2013 Quinn and Grayson had clearly become very fond of each other, as was evidenced by them exchanging compliments and expressing affection toward each other on Twitter.
It would also appear that Grayson was somehow involved in the making of Quinn’s game Depression Quest, as he was credited in the game’s closing credits since February 2013. When Quinn was asked why Grayson was thanked in DQ’s credits, she replied that he was “[one of] the testers” and that Grayson and others “[made] sure [the game] didnt crash and explode when other people played it”. Likewise, Zoe referred to Grayson’s work on the game as “bug testing”. Seeing that Depression Quest was released in February 2013, it can be asssumed that the work Grayson did on an unfinished version of the game happened prior to that date.
Quinn’s comments gave the impression that Grayson worked on the game as a beta tester, but Grayson denied it. He admitted, however, that he provided creative input for Depression Quest, meaning he was still involved in the making of the game:
I offered [Quinn] a couple lines of feedback. They basically amounted to, “This is a neat idea, but when I went through this these sorts of things happened.” I battled depression for a pretty significant chunk of my life, so I felt like that input was warranted. As a result of that, Zoe decided to mention me, along with dozens of other people, in the game’s credits. I was honestly surprised to find out about this, because I don’t feel like I actually did anything worth being thanked for. But hey, it happened. — Nathan Grayson
Grayson failed to dislcose his relationship with Quinn and his involvement with making of Depression Quest when he wrote about those subjects for Rock, Paper, Shotgun on 8 January 2014. He also demonstrated his closeness to Quinn just a day after the article was published, saying that he would ‘’burn down the gaming industry’’ if Quinn were to retire from it.
Signs of friendship between Grayson and Quinn can also be seen in the tweets posted by the two on January and March 2014. On 30 January 2014, Quinn directed a tweet at Grayson and another person saying that she misses them. Grayson replied that GDC is will come soon, suggesting that he was planning to meet Quinn there. Quinn was delighted by Grayson’s response. Between 17–23 March Quinn and Grayson hung out with each other on several different occasions.
On 30 March 2014, Quinn tweeted about her plans to go to a trip with Las Vegas along with Grayson and others. Just a day afterwards Grayson published an article on Kotaku, in which Quinn is the central protagonist of the article, which also includes a link to her game. Just like in the previous articles, Grayson failed to disclose his personal relationship with Quinn and his involvement in the making of DQ. Eron Gjoni, Quinn’s former boyfriend, belives that Quinn and Grayson were friends “for a while” prior to late March/early April 2014 i.e the time in which Grayson wrote about Quinn for Kotaku.
It should be noted that in an article Grayson wrote about Christine Love on 19 March 2014, he provided full disclosure of the fact he once sang karaoke with her. Based on this standard for providing full disclosure, he should have provided full disclosure in the article he wrote about Quinn on 31 March 2014, as he had sang karaoke with her prior to that date.
Grayson also mentioned Quinn in a Kotaku article published on 13 March 2015, detailing the events of GDC 2015. Leaked emails show Grayson to have paid Quinn a total of $800 in early August of 2014, which was confirmed by Grayson himself:
This concerns something that happened then–nothing even *remotely* work-related. Given that it’s a personal matter, I’d prefer not to say any more. — Nathan Grayson
Although he admitted to dating Quinn briefly “last year”, no disclosure was made about the financial conflict of interest in the article.