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11 September 2017
N.B: Quinn identifies by they/them/their gender pronouns.
When successful video game developer Zoe Quinn found out that their ex-boyfriend had posted a diatribe against them online, they did not know what would come next. Quinn had designed a game called Depression Quest that aimed to help its players understand and cope with symptoms of depression. As a result, some internet users saw Quinn as an example of “overly politically correct” culture and pejoratively called Quinn a “social justice warrior.”
Quinn told People this week that they then became the victim of a coordinated campaign of cyber harassment. Not only did male video-game players share Quinn’s ex-boyfriend’s post, they trolled Quinn’s accounts, hacked into Quinn’s hard drives to find and share nude photographs, and doxxed Quinn repeatedly. Quinn had to sleep on friends’ couches, fearing for their own safety when Quinn’s address was posted publicly. Of course, the abuse significantly impacted Quinn’s mental health.
When Adam Baldwin coined the hashtag “Gamergate” to describe the cyber campaign against Quinn, the movement grew and targeted numerous men and women in the video game industry who had advocated for greater inclusivity. Among the victims was Brianna Wu, who is now running for Congress on a platform of “landmark legislation on privacy and cybersecurity.” Anita Sarkeesian, prominent feminist media critic, also became one of Gamergate’s primary targets. As Matt Lees has pointed out in the Guardian, the 2014 Gamergate movement foreshadowed the rise of the contemporary far right, a movement that found its principles in the backchannel sexism of 4Chan and its voice in the incendiary writings of Breitbart.
Quinn has since refused to be silenced by harassment and has become a powerful advocate for victims, founding an online support network called Crash Override. Quinn has, furthermore, published a new book that tells their story and outlines some of the ways in which the internet’s culture can be changed to better protect women and victims of cyber sexual harassment. This sort of public campaigning is crucial to let victims know that they are not alone and that there are ways to fight this crime.