For those who spend any significant amount of time on the internet, Gamergate has been a part of our world for nearly two years. Once those floodgates opened, though, this centralized and all-pervasive misogyny was everywhere, it was just a part of life behind a computer monitor, to the point where many people don’t remember, or didn’t ever know, where it all started.
It started, though (and this is the simple version), when a noxious flaming garbage mound masquerading as a human man wrote a nearly 10,000 word screed aimed to discredit his ex-girlfriend, video game developer Zoe Quinn, as having slept with game journalists in exchange for positive reviews. This is a guy who had abused her while they were together and was now basically assembling an army to stalk her, all under the guise of “ethics in games journalism.”
And while we’ve all become used (not complacent, but accustomed) to this stalker army with a catchy name being a part of the internet, Zoe Quinn has continued to not only be the symbol of this internet war, she has also never stopped fighting her personal legal battle with that one guy who started it all. Until yesterday. After nearly two years, Quinn decided to drop her lawsuit against Eron Gjoni, and has written a lengthy, stream-of-conscious explanation as to why. She knows the other side will take it as a victory, as an admission that she was wrong, she deserved everything she’s gotten, all the bullshit you know they’ve been waiting to scream at her and at the rest of us. But the reasons behind this decision are simple, and heartbreaking. The short version: she’s fucking tired. For the long version, definitely go read the whole thing, in her words. But here are just a few important pieces.
Quinn starts off by talking about the “cycle” of what it is to have “one of the most public abuse cases out there.”
Without getting into a long, complicated blow by blow, every time something happened or the case was updated, he’d run back to the mob and make promises and jokes and pleas for more money. The mob would respond by going after me, my family, and anyone else they decided was involved. The mythology surrounding me would expand, conspiracy charts would “prove” I am secretly rich and really deserved it all along, and inspire more threats, stalking, and abuse. The cycle repeated itself endlessly. People kept getting hurt for being close to me, for a poorly worded restraining order that did nothing.
Quinn even vacated her original restraining order early on when it proved ineffective, and Gjoni actually “showed up to object to my motion to vacate the order and hand him a win.” Why? BECAUSE THE FUCKING CYCLE WAS WORKING FOR HIM.
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.
Quinn’s case was a struggle from the onset. Honestly, listening to her story, I’m surprised she didn’t drop this case early on. Looking on from the outside, we can wish for her to accept the struggle as the symbol to something bigger than she is, but obviously that’s not easy, and it’s not anywhere close to that simple.
“Establish legal precedent!” you might think. I did too. Then Elonis v United States offered little hope that a court wouldn’t skirt the issues of how domestic violence manifests online. Then Steph Guthrie and her co-defendant lost their case, the transcripts showing equal parts “she was asking for it” and “how did this get in there i am not good at computers”. Going to court is like rolling the dice, the precedent you established isn’t up to you, and I didn’t want to risk becoming a tool in the next Creep Throat’s arsenal if we lost.
Another major hinderance was the fact that— as John Oliver recently beautifully explored— the internet is like the goddamn Wild West as far as our legal system is concerned.
The spin is even more successful in these cases, because of how disconnected judges, lawyers, police, and juries often are from the internet. One told me to simply give up my career and stop going offline if I didn’t like the abuse. He barely bothered to look at my huge stack of evidence before declaring he had no idea what the internet was about and didn’t want to know.
Another relatively easy thing for those of us on the outside to suggest: going through the proper channels. Except you know what? Those proper channels are bullshit.
When you seek charges, you’re on trial as much as the other person, if not more. The “asking for it” defense is alive and well even in 2016, and you have to be a “good victim” in order to give your case the best shot it has. “Good victim”, when it comes to women in domestic or gendered violence cases like mine, tends to mean a lot of loaded, even conflicting things. The courts do not favor a lot of women simply for being who they are - women of color, trans women, sex workers, I could go on. Even beyond that, you have to be well behaved and silent about the proceedings, or risk pissing off the judge and giving the defense attorneys ammo to work with. Even my Cracked article was waved around in court by my ex’s lawyers, citing it as “the most disgusting thing that happened during GamerGate” despite my almost one foot stack of threats and photos of me that people had printed out, jizzed on, and sent to my family. The defense, so far, had hung a hat on trying to prove I deserved all of this.
We’re told that the courts are designed to help and protect the innocent, just like the police. But for a lot of people, in this case most definitely for a woman who basically has to prove to a bunch of naturally biased humans that she wasn’t “asking” for anything, that’s just not how it works.
I’m tired of watching people hand out “just go to the police they’ll protect you” while I silently scream and bite my tongue, because I know the advice-giver is giving horrible, ignorant advice. It’s so much more complicated than that, and if someone decides to go to the cops about their abuser they should be doing it with a more informed and prepared plan than I ever did. They shouldn’t have to have their lives hijacked for years to find out that that’s what they were even risking in the first place. I wish I had those two years back. The least I can do to make that right is to be honest and open with the world while trying to reduce the cost of maneuvering through these systems. The least I can do is try to succeed at getting my life back where the courts have utterly failed.
It’s absolutely horrible that this is how Zoe Quinn has had to spend the last few years of her life. And it is disappointing that there isn’t a more victorious happy ending. But good for her for looking out for herself. If she spent this long in this battle, knew it wasn’t helping herself and it wasn’t helping anyone else who has become the target of this army of trolls, we can’t really fault her for calling it quits, can we?
Read Quinn’s full blog post here.