Long Live Zoë Quinn, The Nerd Hero We Deserve

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feature image via Wired.

So I’m a huge nerd, right? Enough of one to claim the title of Geekery Editor on this here boat of gay bananas. I watch Critical Role every Thursday—that’s prominent video game voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons for literally hours on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel; if I’m not playing D&D myself, I watch it live—sometimes until two or three in the morning because I’m an East Coast dweller. See? Huge nerd. I’m a big enough nerd that sometimes, when I’m writing or drawing in my journal, I leave old Q&As playing that the cast members have previously Periscoped. Huge. Nerd.

Early this week, I watched Critical Role cast members Matt and Marisha’s Fireside Chat, one of those old Periscope videos. It’s just a video of them on their couch, talking to their fans and answering their questions. It’s charming—it makes you feel like you’re hanging out with them, which is frankly an excellent content move on their part. Very on brand, as thousands of people watch what used to be their private gaming group every week. But I digress. There’s a moment when Marisha, a voice actor in many popular games, says, “A few years ago, before the—you know—the horrid G-word that shall not be named on the internet…” Matt, another popular voice actor, the game’s Dungeon Master and Marisha’s significant other shushes her. “Let’s not go into that,” he says. Marisha continues to say that she’s been the target of harassment, but I barely heard what she said after that moment, that tiny interaction that these generous people let the world see.

I didn’t hear because I became incredibly sad. This video, born out of fans’ desires to connect with the people who bring their games to life, demonstrated a harsh reality in the nerd community: there’s a mob here, on the internet, among us, that has the same amount of power as Lord Voldemort. Us assholes have given birth to G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

My second reaction was anger—why can’t she talk about it, huh? Maybe if more women did, hearts would change! If the people perpetrating the systematic targeting and terrorization of women in the game industry knew how their actions affected people, people whose work they care deeply about, then perhaps they’d think twice before peppering the next human being with rape threats. I wanted her to talk about it so badly because I respect her and want to hear what she has to say on the subject—she has unique insights that I think I would find valuable. WHY WON’T SHE TALK ABOUT IT?

My third reaction: shame. That’s a real rosy view of the world, that things would change if only we could or would speak reasonably about this G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Likely, that’s a false view. Likely, talking about it would put her in danger. All you have to be is a woman on the internet. I didn’t fault any characters who inhabit the wizarding world for their fear; I shouldn’t hold my real people to a higher standard than my fictional people. If someone or a group of someones want to prioritize their safety and mental health over wading into the muck with their wand at the ready, that’s fine. That’s good, even! My flash of anger burned away, doused by shame. That sadness, however, remained.

I’m glad I had this small, private moment sitting at my desk—it took no longer than thirty seconds—because it prepared me for the news that Zoë Quinn, whose harassment by her ex-boyfriend sparked the rabid internet flame wizard that is G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, is dropping the charges against him. She announced the news on her Tumblr. She apologized for the post’s length and rambling quality, but she needn’t have done so. Aside from the title missing a word, it’s so graceful and articulate that the reader can’t tell that Quinn decided not to edit it (and it was a very intentional decision, that). Here are some highlights:

This cycle was so vicious that I even vacated the order myself once he appealed, hoping to make it end. I gave him the legal relief that he’d asked for. It might sound weak but I’m not made of stone, I’m a scared person trying to escape her abuser in spite of the fact that he’s created a self-perpetuating faction within my own industry to continue to punish me for walking away. It wasn’t about him fighting a powerful evil woman, or gaining his oh-so-crucial right to sic a mob on me, it’s always been about punishing me. It was about using it as a way to hurt me further, so when I gave him what he ostensibly wanted he actually *showed up to object to my motion to vacate the order and hand him a win*. The court dismissed him, and the order has been dead for months, and yet he’s back on Kotaku In Action chumming the waters about the oral arguments they’re hearing on a nonexistent order next month.

He gets paid, he gets attention (he even brought a date to court once), and the cycle continues. All the while, shit gets worse and worse for me and my family. The simple fact of the matter is the criminal justice system is meant to punish, not protect. I don’t care about seeing him punished – I would rather he get better. And they’ve done nothing to protect me – it’s only made things worse and become another weapon in his arsenal, and the arsenal of the people out there way scarier than him.

And

All the while, it’s hard to explain the indignity of having to sit through this and try to be a “good victim”. To sit in the same room as the man who did this to you and so many others and not appear too emotional or shaken, because the last time you said “uh” too much it became “proof” that you were lying instead of reliving trauma on command. To hide your anger and your outrage and your hurt so you don’t look like you’re seeking revenge, but to also not hold back TOO much because then you look robotic and unaffected like you haven’t been in fear of this man or in fear for your life for almost two years. To have to sit silently while everyone messes up basic facts of the case because they can’t tell the difference between usernames. To leave little bloody half moons in the palms of your hands from squeezing your fists tightly to try to look like you aren’t shaking from being in the same room with him.

What good does any of this do for anyone? It’s been almost two years now, and I desperately want to move on with my life. Even if I did win, I doubt locking Creep Throat away would do anything. Even putting aside my huge misgivings with the US prison system, he’s not going to change. The people who support him would see him as a martyr. I’d probably be looking at years of appeals and court dates and apologizing to my family for MRAs screaming at them in the middle of the night.

Truly, you should go read the whole thing. But be warned: reading anything about G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is sad and stressful; reading these words, a first hand account of what it’s like to be the Harry Potter figure in all this, is straight up harrowing. But it’s necessary; I think witnessing is really important. Other publications seem to think so, too—I’ve read so much coverage of Quinn’s announcement. It’s all newsy, nothing so personal as the author’s feelings about all this. The comments though (I’ve read a bunch of those, too, and Reddit threads) are ALL emotion. Everyone taking so personally Quinn’s harassment and trial, from one side or the other. It’s hard not to—G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has affected so many people so personally. Hell, it’s affected me personally—friends have been made targets, and every time I approve or assign some great coverage on Autostraddle, gosh, do I sweat. I do not ever want to be the reason that a fellow writer and friend becomes a target. Sometimes it feels like the only response one can have is a personal one. Especially since most women I’ve talked to in my life have experienced some sort of harassment, digital or otherwise.

What’s so frustrating—and perhaps why Quinn’s harassment is so resonant with so many women I speak to—is that G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is nothing new. It’s simply a new way of doing an old thing, of harassing women. The idea of the “good victim” that Quinn suggests has been around for ages as a way of discrediting those that report abuse. I might be preaching to the choir here because we all know the “good victim” doesn’t exist. If you’re too good, that’s a strike against you too. The world hated women long before the game industry was a twinkle in technology’s eye, and unfortunately the world will probably continue to hate women long after we move to the next thing. The difference here is that the internet is the Wild West—a frontier with little to no regulation. Truly the only difference between G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and a regular ole IRL criminal harasser is that the law hasn’t gotten here yet. It’s still culturally acceptable to harass women offline; it is even more legally acceptable to harass women online.

It’s a fact Quinn acknowledges—she doesn’t want to lose the case and set a precedent that makes it harder for women to legally defend themselves against digital harassment in future. The law isn’t here yet, but it will get here. Even people who purport to like chaos create order (for example, I was watching Critical Role last night and people were super disturbed that Marisha was sitting on the left-most side instead of directly in the middle, where she usually sits. Like, a lot of people. But once again I digress). Says Quinn in her post, “The simple fact of the matter is that I’m less useful to the world as someone who fought this case, win or lose, than someone who can throw all hope of winning away to be honest with you, to educate you, to try and call for reform so I can set the next girl up for a spike instead of falling on my face.”

And she has been doing that in spades! She cofounded Crash Override, an organization that helps survivors of digital harassment rebuild after the fact, as well as engaging in outreach and education. As part of Crash Override, she’s released a bunch of extremely helpful guides. It’s still hard not to feel that burst of anger, that shame, that sadness at the news—so many of us, of my friends, of women in gaming wanted to see her win. We wanted justice for her, for everything that’s happened since. I’ve written about my friend Laura, who I always game with; it’s no surprise that we texted each other almost immediately when we heard. “I want her to do what she needs to do but I also wish she could be the hero we need,” she said. And, “No one should be forced to be a hero, I just wish it could turn out different.” I wish that too, but based on her other work—and on her response—I actually do think Zoë Quinn is the hero we need. And the one we deserve.

On top of her activism, she’s providing a model for how to exist after G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named decides you’re a threat and tries its hardest to Avada Kedavra you off the internet (or just plain Avada Kedavra you). She’s both setting boundaries and not giving up her career, not going offline. She’s figuring out exactly how to evolve after 18 months of pure suckage. And she’s not editing herself when she speaks about this experience!

Like I said, that decision was made with intention; the idea of having to be guarded and strategic about everything while reliving trauma in order to be the “good victim” is something she smashes asunder with her brave choice to go forth into the world with just true words, right from her heart to the internet. So many members of the queer community are harassed online for different reasons—for example, trans women are regularly doxxed by their own version of The Internet Dark Lord.

Quinn’s getting her life back and she’s being a badass. Seeing someone recover from this, navigate the system and find it wanting, in a really public way is actually something we needed, so that if and when it happens to us, we have someone who’s been there before and documented it. We’ll know what to do. It’s an unfortunate reality that this is where we needed a role model, but we did. And over here, in our tiny corner of the internet, I want us to stand in solidarity with the witch who wouldn’t burn, the one who triumphed in her way over G-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Long Live Zoë Quinn; best of luck as she levels up.

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 545 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. I applaud Zoe for turning a shitty experience into the foundation for a resource that will help others in situations like hers and educate people who aren’t. That’s inspirational. You’re a good egg Zoe, don’t let the bastards bring you down!

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