GamerGate Launched in My Apartment, and, Internet, I’m Sorry. (Not that sorry.)

note 2:34 PM 4/30/15: welcome, traffic from “Game of Fear” readers. please read this statement before proceeding:
this piece is a personal account, as I’m a demonstratively crappy sociopolitical journalist. I will reply to direct questions left as comments. all comments, including corrections, clarifications, and discussions, are public and located in the right-hand sidebar.

as of January, I removed myself from public discussion of GG and sociopolitical issues; I believe I’ve revoked my right to participate in good faith. I regret what I’ve done and left undone contributing to attacks on those affected by the events following the publication of tzp. I maintain my hopes that women in games and all fields are able to keep doing what they love and that the actions against them STOP.

***

note 1:43PM 11/4/14: I’ve added comments in the right-hand sidebar with fact-checks and clarifications; you can view these by clicking the speech bubble icons. Also: I have only wishes for the safety of people who’ve received harassment and threats since the beginning of GG, no matter who they are or what side they’re on. I hope everyone can safely get back to making cool stuff soon.

note 3:54 PM 12/13/14: I acknowledge and deeply regret my role in creating the vitriolic atmosphere that has harmed so many women in games and games journalism. this was written on 11/23 and my donation to RAINN went through on 12/3. I’ve since avoided public commentary on GG as I lack the industry knowledge and political acumen to provide any worthwhile perspective, and my former comments were from a restricted point of view that gave me tunnel vision. my involvement now is nil and my hope is that all those affected remain safe.

***

Around mid-June this year I made a friend. The day after we saw Edge of Tomorrow and got really fantastically drunk (he drew powered exo-suits in condensation on the bar while I yelled about tachyon biology), this friend got back together with his girlfriend, which was cool.

A few weeks later, he texted me from San Francisco at 11PM their time and long after I’d fallen asleep, saying he couldn’t believe what had happened, that it was over with his girlfriend. He crashed with another friend the night he got back to Boston, but asked if he could hang with me for the next couple days afterward. I met him at a subway stop, finding him wearing the same dress pants I’d seen him in a week and a half before, and looking generally like he’d gotten hit in the face with a shovel.

He’s doing a bit better now. (This was end of July. I’m on the right.)

A month later, my friend and I sat on the edge of my bed, with our legs crossed and laptops open. “Okay, I’m going live.”

“Do it,” I said. “Go.”

Fuck,” Eron said suddenly, a few moments later. “4chan found it.”

“Oh no.”

“Well. Gonna be interesting.”

That’s how Gamergate launched from the bedroom of my summer sublet ten weeks ago.

***

Okay. A few important things:

  1. I am a 25-year-old woman.
  2. I do not game in any meaningful way. I mean, I play the Sims 3 really intensely for a couple weeks every three months or so. In high school I played Halo, because the best way to get out marching band stress is by shooting your section mates in the back and yelling some swears that you’re not allowed to say during rehearsal. My specialty in Halo was getting lost in corners of the map not even the experts recognized. Also falling off of things to my death. Oh, I guess I play puzzle games. Like 2048. I play a lot of 2048. But I have no personal stake in the gaming scene.
  3. My background is in engineering and chronic illness. I’ve spent about as much time working towards my bachelor’s of materials science as I have working on keeping my Crohn’s disease (and depression, nerve damage, arthralgia, anxiety, and PTSD from my first, and abusive, relationship) under control.
  4. I didn’t know who Zoe Quinn was until Eron talked about implanting a microchip in her hand. She sounded pretty cool.

***

In person, Eron is fairly unassuming. His hair makes more noise than he does. He tends to wear a black knit beanie with “hi” embroidered in white lowercase script on the brim. He makes shitty puns. He likes really terrible pop-punk and screamo. He will occasionally spell phonetically because he’s been speaking Albanian with his family all day. He makes really, really shitty puns. He laughs uncontrollably at bad dialogue in movies.

He once nearly collapsed in the middle of the street sometime after midnight, drunkenly wailing, “No, play with meeeee” at a local cat I was petting; the cat ignored Eron and he was crushed. He believes “You’d make a good programmer” is the highest compliment he can give. He makes unbelievably shitty puns. He sits and waits, calm and patient, when I receive bad news, stuff that makes me freak out and shut down—he talks about something else, cracks jokes, asks what I need or what he can do, and doesn’t act like I’m an inhuman freak for having a panic attack. He goes back to making terrible puns, and I respond in kind once I can.

He has my black ribbed cotton beanie and I am not going to stop distributing embarrassing cat stories about him until I have it back.

***

Between the night I met up with Eron at the subway stop and the night he published thezoepost as a Wordpress blog from my room, we spent about a month doing two things: drinking, and talking about his breakup. Breakups in general, really. Also livelihoods of the socially disenfranchised, Internet harassment, probability theory, and at one point what “ferrous” meant.

My employers had laid me off in early July, so I had plenty of time to kick around, drink, discuss the makeup of magnetic metals, and talk out Eron’s shit with him. It was probably a week or so after he got back from SF when the penny dropped, for me.

The scene: it is about one o’clock in the morning; I, a graceful swan, have just fallen down half a flight of stairs; we are walking to a 24-hour convenience store for Eron to buy more cigarettes. Eron is carrying my flask as a gesture of goodwill with undertones of really, Rachel, you’ve probably had enough. And he’s talking about this one week when Zoe had been in town and he’d been so excited to spend time with her, but she had gotten really weird and told him there were a bunch of people crashing at her place out of the blue so she couldn’t hang out with him.

When he asked her if he could visit – you know, so she didn’t have to give up being a good hostess – she said no way, she was working way too hard. When he asked if there was something wrong, if there was a reason she didn’t want to see him, she told him he was crazy for thinking that that might be the case. God. Honestly. She just had a lot of work, and she didn’t need some clingy programmer getting on her case when she had guests. Don’t be ridiculous. Don’t be so possessive.

The bunch of people crashing at her place that week, by the way, were actually just one person, who she was sleeping with. She made up the other two. Total fabrication.

She’d already snapped at Eron for asking about anything to do with her personal life, because any questions meant he was suspicious, and she had to be one hundred percent certain that the person she loved trusted her completely.

“And she kept doing that, like whenever I asked if there was a problem she’d act like I was crazy for assuming there was one, and if I said I wasn’t suspicious she’d insist I was wrong, and it was like, if I can’t trust my own reason what am I supposed to trust, and she’s telling me to trust her but all the evidence I have says I can’t, and then she tells me I’m becoming neurotic, and then trying to figure out if I’m becoming neurotic I basically became neurotic about the possibility of being neurotic, like, I barely ate for like a week – ”

The origin of the term, for those who weren’t aware.

“You know,” I said, kicking gravel, “there’s some people, I mean, abuse survivors, I mean, we call that ‘gaslighting.’”

Ping, as gravel bounced off a municipal trashcan and the penny clinked to the floor of my rather scattered brain. We, survivors, know the word for this. Emotional abuse is what you call it when someone manipulates another person into stuff that isn’t in their best interest, like staying in a relationship with someone who’s endangered your health and called you names and implied you’re going crazy for questioning them. This woman had been emotionally abusing my friend.

***

“You know she had a huge problem with you?” Eron said at some point.

What? “Why?”

Well, Eron’s behavior when gearing up to hang out with me – mentioning my name, saying we were getting coffee or food or something vague because we were shitty at planning – matched the behavior Zoe used when she was gearing up to meet with anyone she had been cheating on Eron with. Since this was stressful for her to observe, she manipulated Eron into saying he would cut me off.

(He did, by the way. It was about a week of more-or-less radio silence. Eron wasn’t rude when I messaged him, but it was pretty clear he had other priorities. So did I: I’d just received a penciled-in diagnosis of fibromyalgia and had to shave my head about it. He contacted me directly once, to ask if I’d like to get emails about job openings at his workplace. Three days later, I woke up to the message about her cheating and his breakup. He apologized.)

He showed me the logs of their Facebook messages about me. They went on for pages. At one point, he tells her that, look, my friend Rachel, she’s having a rough time right now, she just got laid off and she doesn’t have insurance, her Crohn’s is acting up, she’s in mental crisis and so is one of her close friends, and she has PTSD from sex abuse that makes her really averse to non-platonic physical contact, like, me cutting her off because you think she’s trying to sleep with me is just not reasonable —

“Excuse me,” Zoe interrupts, finally, “if I don’t trust her at all on that. Whatsoever.”

This person wrote Depression Quest and advocates for mental illness awareness and survivors of sexual violence. This person waved aside my described symptoms with a single line, because she didn’t want me near her boyfriend.

If that flag were any redder, it’d run out of hex values.

***

I talked Eron through a handful of panic attacks that month. Pretty similar, but orders of magnitude tamer, he said, compared to what he went through that week when Zoe was telling him he was crazy and he had to believe her or else she’d dump him. What got to him was knowing that there was someone this dangerous around, and that people looked up to her as a voice for social justice in video games , and that she was willing to use that for her own ends. That made him panic.

I know that feeling. One of the aspects of my lost job that had made it difficult for me to participate fully was the field, flat-out. It was my first and still fiercest academic and industrial love. But in the same field, and thus attending all the local conferences, was a person who’d employed me as an intern once, who had sexually harassed me until I quit the internship.

The field didn’t just have him, it had his company co-founder and colleagues, who’d all opined that I was just being difficult and sensitive and that if I were smarter I’d just get used to it and carry on with having my safety and dignity compromised on a daily basis. The prospect of interacting with him — with any of them — made my skin crawl. My throat closed up when I tried to envision swapping business cards at a trade show.

I mentioned the issue, in highly abbreviated form, to my supervisor at my job, and got a stay of execution on attending local trade shows. So my immediate problem — of running into my well-respected harasser when I was trying to work — was hypothetically solved. But the solution involved a major limitation on my freedom. I couldn’t do what my coworkers did. I missed a lot of good tech, nerd bonding time, baggies of trade show swag, and industry news, just because I knew my harasser was floating around out there.

Thinking about other young women in the field running into him, working for him, receiving the same treatment from him — it still makes me panic. My scalp crawls and my stomach flips. It almost helps I’m too ill to work full-time in the industry.

***

Eron talked about going public. He talked about panic, about awareness, about making sure that people knew what they were getting into, about taking a hit – there’d be a hit, for speaking publicly against a woman in any field, but especially against a woman with Zoe’s position and friends in progressive indie gaming – for the good of all, eventually.

He talked about evaluating the risk to his current job, his future jobs, his family, himself. You know, whether he’d get stalked or murdered for this. He talked about the danger to Zoe, about how he could minimize personal harm toward her, whether he could effectively defray harassment towards her.

He settled on a few plans toward that end, and decided the risk to himself was worth it. Even the total loss cases for him still meant greater than zero public knowledge about Zoe’s manipulative behavior, her role as an abuser, and the number of lies she’d told. Anything was better than the way it was now.

So he messaged me around 11 PM on August 16th, with “hahaaa, instaban on PA.” I told him to come over.

PennyArcade had banned the post immediately. Then SomethingAwful did, while Eron was working on his laptop on his way to my apartment. Or, SomethingAwful did some bizarre SA-specific thing and put his account on probation. And then banned the post.

“Fuck,” he said sometime slightly after midnight, once he’d quasi-settled on the end of my bed, laptop plugged in to the power strip under my desk. “Now what. It’s cached, but I don’t have any central—”

“Wordpress,” I said.

“Just — just Wordpress?”

“It’ll be there. It’s not — ” I dug through their terms of service while Eron jiggled his leg at high speed, a typical tic when he’s hyperfocusing. “It’s not violating anything in their TOS. It’ll be out there.”

Fifteen minutes passed. I was reading livefeeds of the protests and police action in Ferguson, MO. Eron broke the quiet. “Okay, I’m going live.”

“Do it. Go.”

“Okay. It’s up. Can you look it over? Layout? Whatever?”

I got the URL and checked it for the first time of dozens. “It looks like a massive helldump, dude.”

Aside from that.”

I kept skimming. “Solid.”

We went back to our respective Internet bubbles. “Fuck.

I looked up.

“4chan found it.”

Neither of us looked away from our screens for the next five hours.

***

In the last ten weeks, my buddy’s face has been attached to a Vice article about 4chan’s Vivian James and included in a photomontage of career misogynists, serial assaulters, and child rapists (I asked the author of the article what was up with that. No response).

He’s been issued a restraining order by Zoe including a prior restraint on free speech. On September 30th, this restraining order—and gag order on speaking about his own abuse—was upheld in Massachusetts courts for another year.

He’s been contacted by handfuls of first amendment lawyers — I think more lawyers than I have doctors. He’s received death threats, graphic descriptions of genital mutilation, fan art from some strange and beautiful souls on Tumblr, a comparison to Sauron from Cracked, and a tide of fury from… most of the Internet. He’s been doxxed.

Of course, the first people to be doxxed were Zoe Quinn herself and other female devs who spoke in her defense. Zoe received floods of hate and threats within hours of the post going live. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic, was forced to cancel a speech at USU after receiving death threats referencing the École Polytechnique Massacre (and Utah State decided that their students’ right to concealed carrying of firearms was more important than Sarkeesian’s right to speak safely). Brianna Wu, Liana K, and anyone who identifies as a feminist within gaming — they’ve been getting smeared.

Women in games, creators and critics alike, are working through a tide of hate that’s reached the front page of the New York Times. Each new story makes me a little sicker.

When I mentioned the death threats Sarkeesian received to a friend, their response was, essentially, “Oh, she’s gotten those before.”

Misogyny in games—hell, in pop media—is not a new story. It’s an extremely highly-charged one right now, and that increase in intensity can be mapped to Eron’s publication of thezoepost.

I’d like to be able to say “I don’t know how this happened,” because the memory of Eron and I crouched over our laptops in mid-August is so far removed from the current hurricane of hashtag wars and front-page headlines. But I’d have to be a lot less smart not to see how it happened: men (some men) believe women are subhuman. Men (some men) believe women deserve punishment for existing. Men (some men) wilfully screw up ethical discussions because they don’t want to listen to women speak.

I know, I know, “actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism” has become the late-2014 punchline to end all punchlines. Check out TotalBiscuit’s post about this (or listen to its Soundcloud live-reading). There are problems with ethics in games journalism, or in journalism in general. Stuff like Gawker saying it’s their right to say “bring back bullying” in an atmosphere in which people have been driven out of their fields due to harassment—yeah. Okay.

***

An LGBT minor who edited Zoe Quinn’s Wikipedia page was doxxed (by a supporter of Zoe’s) on September 8th. Zoe retweeted their identifying information.

The Fine Young Capitalists, a group that Quinn cheered about having effectively DDoS’d, have collected over $25,000 in donations from 4chan to help support female game developers (out of over $70,000 total). TFYC’s coordinator, Matthew Rappard, recounted in an interview Quinn’s attempt to bribe him to change his story about working with her.

An anonymous party put together a compendium of instances of Gamergate supporters being harassed by the social-justice-aligned so-called good guys.

On August 26th, I posted an open letter to Zoe; it boiled down to “hey, you don’t get to redefine bits of my life and use that to fuck with my friend.” I received no response from her, and I don’t really expect one. However, the number of people who’ve contacted me privately to thank me for speaking out is in the dozens.

The people who’ve contacted me publicly to ask me to please rethink my position, because Eron is clearly evil — well, I appreciate their concern.

Multiple people pointed out that others came forward about Zoe’s past behavior only after I posted. Mallorie Nasrallah, for instance, posted about working with Zoe years ago, when Zoe spoke of murdering an attacker. Phil Wythe, a writer and social justice advocate as well as a fellow survivor — and a fan of Zoe’s until thezoepost went up — started a series of videos taking apart the stuff Eron’s published to show what emotional abuse can look like. Survivors have come to Eron thanking him for making his story public, for giving them the opportunity to have that penny-drop moment of recognition: that this isn’t right.

Being on Eron’s side—not as part of Gamergate, as such, considering my lack of gaming, but as his friend—is weird. On Twitter, I follow my favorite authors and artists, all women, and most of them have either directly or indirectly referred to my friend as a misogynistic crybaby jilted ex.

I want to attempt to set the record straight, here: Eron broke up with Zoe, that last time. If anything, Zoe was jilted. Words mean things, y’all.

That’s my main point, through a couple thousand of them. People like Zoe Quinn, who twist your words against you, who use your diagnoses as weapons and your childhood stories as ammo in legal action, make words mean completely different things. And they do that willfully, with the intent to harm.

People like my harasser, whose colleagues still believe I’m just an overly-sensitive little girl who can’t play by the rules in engineering, use their power to make your protests inconsequential.

People like my abuser from high school, who linked my not forgiving him in a trivial fight to his consumption of 17 shots of vodka in half an hour, and the resulting destruction of his car’s side mirror, use their fury to make you believe your words are a weapon you didn’t know you were holding.

People like Zoe, telling Eron she believed I was lying about my PTSD, act as public advocates for mental illness patients and abuse survivors—but only for an audience.

I’m not speaking as a Gamergate agent or, really, as someone with an ax to grind against Zoe. I’d be interested in hearing why she called me a liar, but I get the feeling she’s pretty busy these days. I want more women in tech and media, at all levels—in development, in journalism, in the games and books and comics themselves.

I want those women to be as safe, respected, creative, and supported as any man, and I do not want them unprepared in an industry with Zoe Quinn.