You know, I’m not under any obligation to write one of every week.
In fact, if I remember right (it’s been a very long time), when I was first hired to write here, I was just told I could slap something up here whenever I felt like it. Nowhere is it written, or stated, that I need to have something to say every week. And yet, because I like being consistent, I almost have stuff to say, and yes, because it means I get a little bit of extra money at the end of the month, I make a point to try to put something up. Sometimes a review. Sometimes a retrospective. Always my opinion. And sometimes, rarely, to elaborate on a news article that struck me earlier in the week that I feel deserves more time and attention then what I can reasonably give it.
But sometimes, something happens in the gaming world that deserves elaboration, deserves exploration and maybe even a little dissection, yet I find myself absolutely baffled by it. Not that I don’t know what to say, exactly, but more I don’t know how to say it… or how to start.
I guess this story starts in 2013. Grand Theft Auto V won game of the year. The PS4 and the Xbox One was released onto the world. And an unassuming indie game called Depression Quest would unknowingly change gaming culture, and in some ways the world, forever.
History is funny like that: you can trace the biggest moments back to the smallest things. Realizing trees were a good place to hide lead to agriculture. A sandwich in 1914 lead to the holocaust in 1945. And a girl trying to share her journey with depression on the computer would dismantle an entire culture and even, some say, lead to a former game show host and failed real estate Mongol becoming president of the United States.
But that’s not what we’re talking about now. Now, we’re talking about Depression Quest leading to Zoe Quinn’s ruthless harassment, which in turn, lead to a jealous ex-boyfriend in 2014 to release a lengthy blog post about his relationship with her, which culminated in Gamergate, a civil war in the gaming world that pitted progressive SJW’s against enraged misogamists on how progressive and accepting the gaming world should be, under the thin guise of “ethics in games journalism”. Not unlike how many people will claim the actual United Sates Civil War was about “States Rights”.
Everything went to crap for a long time. And it’s easy to forget just how crappy it got. Death threats were everywhere. The industry was being pulled left and right. Politicians and the police got involved. And while the controversy eventually did die down, and the majority of the gaming public sided with the notion of being more inclusive and friendly, it never really went away… just like how Gamergate didn’t really “start” in 2014. 2014 was just when the crappy underbelly of our industry was fully exposed, and even though sunlight did disinfect that particular postulating wound some, it didn’t get rid of it entirely. It continued to fester, but now we were aware of it… and the people that were a part of it were emboldened with a new sense of community. They were smaller, but stronger. And they would continue to gnaw at the edge of our culture for a long time, making sure that every two steps we took, they’d toll one step back.
They were everywhere. They were with Ion Storm and the recent controversy surrounding their stupid gay jokes. Hell, they were probably even part of the development team.
They were behind the Jessica Price incident, and the follow-up cases where other prominent female developers were accused in the hopes of having a repeat of that victory.
They were behind the attacks, death threats, bombing, and the other harassment that followed around Anita Sarkeesian and her project, Feminist Frequency.
And they were everywhere else in between. Never going away but never being as bold as they were in 2014, when they had their big battle and they lost. SJW’s like myself won our victory, sure, but it was incomplete and indecisive. And in the darkness that continues to loom around our favorite hobby, be it cultural or industrial, they continued to wait for that one spark that could light them ablaze and send them careening into the spotlight once again.
I think last week, they got exactly what they were looking for.
When Alec Holowaka killed himself.
This is the dimension of the story I find so difficult. Because outside a few noteworthy situations (lookin’ at you, Adolf), suicide is never a good thing, and this is most definitely not one of those situations. And for as controversial as Alec Holowaka was – and how central he and his actions were to the conflict I see brewing in the horizon – it feels… well, it feels like poor taste to use this tragedy, which is personal and terrible, as a jumping off point to have a discussion like this. All the more when it would necessitate painting Alec in an honest, and thus unflattering, light.
But the problem is, ‘good taste’ was never the prerogative of this scummy underside to the gaming world. And while good taste might make me hesitate to mention Alec Holowaka, especially in this context, it certainly hasn’t stopped the scummy, festering warts that make up a shockingly large number of our community. You don’t have to look hard to find people, people who are willingly ignoring the express wishes of Alec and his sister (who some are also attacking, unsurprisingly yet abhorrently), blaming this incident on Zoe Quinn and Night in the Woods co-founder Scott Benson, who both spoke publically against the abuse Alec Holowka engaged in during his time on the game, with Zoe Quinn’s testimony specifically revealing some genuinely horrifying details about his behavior and attitude.
They say that their accusations, and their lack of understanding, and their lack of willingness to go to the proper authorities rather than jumping immediately to public shaming, was what caused him to kill himself.
They say that Zoe Quinn has already accused one person, Eron Gjoni, of sexual harassment, and since someone obviously can’t be abused more than once in their life, she must be making stuff up.
They say… all kinds of nasty crap. crap I don’t want to engage with, and stuff I don’t have to engage with, so I won’t.
Because for the purpose of this article, it doesn’t matter. This is exactly the kind of response you’d expect from these people, who are just waiting for some excuse, any excuse, to crucify someone they don’t like. And why wouldn’t they? Sometimes, if they’re really lucky, their mad witch hunt will actually catch a witch, like Jessica Price, so they have to swing at every pitch that comes their way, right?
But seriously, even though this was predictable and completely following the post-gamergate playbook, it feels… different. The things that I mentioned above, all the little ways Gamergate has continued to persevere long after the controversy “ended”, those were mere episodes, brief and annoying and terribly stupid, quick to begin and quick to end (unless you count the long-standing psychological damage this kind of harassment can have on their victims, of course). But this feels like it has the makings to last longer than a mere episode.
Look at where we’re at right now. The world is different than it was in 2014. It’s worse. We have a racist president. We have a growing alt-right movement that’s been emboldened by him. Nazi’s march in the streets. We’ve got big names on big channels advocating traditional gender roles. Qanon is a thing for God’s sake. The gaming world might have moved past Gamergate, but the actual world that surrounds the gaming world is far more accommodating to the same principles and feelings that first inspired it. Sunlight was the best disinfectant, but what happens to mold when it starts to rain?
Combine that with a gaming world that’s been rocked with other recent scandals (like formerly beloved composer Jeremy Soule being ousted), this suicide -- this stupid, evil, and terribly selfish suicide – could be the catalyst to something far bigger, and far worse, than Gamergate ever was.
I wrote not too long ago that I wished, deeply and sincerely, that all the evils in the world could be laid plainly and fairly at the feet of video games. I wrote that it would be lovely if there really was just that one problem, so we could get rid of it and fix everything. But the world, unfortunately, is not that simple. It’s a complex web of impossible-to-guess unknowns. Just like how you could have never guessed that a sandwich would lead to World War 2, I can’t possibly know for sure that this suicide will lead to another civil war in our favorite medium. It's been relatively quite in the days since the event (due possibly to Zoe Quinn almost immediately quitting Twitter, which is terrible), but it could still just be the calm before the storm.
I hope it's not. I hope I'm wrong. But we'll have to hold our breaths and see.