Lets catch up with the hazards of being a woman in the gaming (in this case the indie gaming) industry.
Zoe Quinn is the creator of Depression Quest, a text based game that seeks to present the experience of someone suffering from untreated extreme depression. She recently put the game up on Steam Greenlight, a system introduced by Valve for its Steam service, that helps indie developers show that their games have enough of a following to deserve integration into the Steam Store and platform, something that can really increase the visibility of the project. Then she took it down after a wave of misogynist harassment that appears to have been levied simply because she was a woman attempting to talk about depression, though she has also tweeted that at least some of it stems from an idea that she is a “pill pusher” even though medication is only one of the ways in which the player can choose to cope with the in game character’s illness.
Regardless of the initial kernel of disagreement, the form the anti-Depression Quest outrage took was itself deeply misogynistic, and familiar to anyone who follows stories of internet harassment campaigns. Individuals shared around Quinn’s contact information, including her home address and telephone number, in order to send rape threats, misogynistic slurs, and even to call her up and masturbate into the phone. Because, as we all know, women don’t suffer from depression because “they can just go out into the street, [spoiler cut for explicit sexual description] lie down with their hole open and have any man come solve all their problems.”
Since this round of harassment, Quinn has returned Depression Quest to Steam Greenlight, so you can go take a look and vote for it if it’s something you think is worthy of putting up on Steam. You can also find a review of it here.
Let us turn now to Mighty No. 9, a Kickstarted spiritual successor to the Mega Man franchise, that even has Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune involved. This week the makers of the game introduced their backer community to the game’s newly hired community manager, Dina Abou Karam, as one of the Mighty Numbers, just like all of their backers, with some fan art she’d done of a female version of the game’s titular main character Beck, the Mighty No. 9. This may seem obvious to you, but it will become important in a moment: the update was clear that this “female Beck” was simply fan art, or, as might be implied from the framing, Karam drawing herself as Beck.
Some members of the Mighty No. 9 backer community took this to mean that Dina was a corrupting feminist influence on the game, delved into her personal life, and demanded that she be fired and that they be given refunds. From Gameranx:
Finding fault with her presentation, these persons decided to pry into Dina’s personal life by combing through her Twitter account for other transgressions against the human race, and found that she had written tweets supportive of feminism and linked to one of Anita Sarkeesian’s videos. In a similar case, her being initially hired as a community manager and artist became tantamount to BioWare’s employment of Jennifer Hepler as a writer for the Dragon Age games—sometimes dubbed as the “cancer that is killing BioWare.”
Kickstarter does not, in the vast majority of cases, allow refunds: the company’s policy is that you’re choosing to trust the project creators with your money, so once you’ve handed it over, their participation is over. However, as a recent rash of “kicktrolling” has shown, it is fairly easy (or at least doable) to get your credit card company to reverse the charge, even after you have received backer rewards.
Without access to the backer forums, it’s unclear how numerous Karam’s detractors are, but Comcept, the game studio behind Mighty No. 9, felt forced to make a statement in response to accusations that she holds “biased views towards social justice in favor of women and transgendered LBGT community members,” that since being hired she has altered or will alter significantly the content of the game to follow a “feminist” agenda, and that she slept her way into the job because her boyfriend also works at Comcept. Naturally no such parallel investigation was made to see if there were other qualified Comcept employees had a friendship with another employee before being hired.
Comcept actually sat down and responded to questions like: “Will the community manager be creating their own robots and levels and programming, or changing the game in any way, from what the core creative team wants?!” The answer, of course, is no, because that’s not what a community manager does, and were they to try they would probably eventually be fired for annoying the dev and concept teams.
In my title I call each of these examples of harassment “inexplicable,” even though they have clear explanations: some folks are uncomfortable with a woman making video games. Some folks are uncomfortable with a perceived feminist being involved in their video games. But “inexplicable” was really my first reaction: you mean a bit of gender swapped fan art led to backers demanding that heads roll and money be refunded? That an interactive fiction game placed on Steam Greenlight would incite an internet community that apparently believes that because they have the attention of men, women can never suffer from depression?
The emotional toll of harassment campaigns on their survivors should not be dismissed, diminished, or undersold, and I am glad that Zoe Quinn is continuing to promote Depression Quest on Steam and that Comcept has stood by Dina Abou Karam. Listen, vocal sexist minority of the gaming community. If you think you come off looking like the “not-scared” members of this community, you need to step back and take a look at the larger picture.