Basically, #GamerGate flooded Frank with inane, wild-eyed criticisms and conspiracy theories until she couldn’t take any more. While she may have been considering a career change for a while prior, as she alluded to above, it’s clear that this latest deluge was the final straw.
I’m not sure whether a writer at Bustle meant to be so on-the-nose with his assessment of my nine-year career, but he’s right. Maybe I’ve been looking for an “out” for a while now.
I am giving myself permission to do something else with my life. What follows is why.
There’s a lot of deliberate misinformation being passed around—some of it downright defamatory—and much has to do with a 500-word op-ed published under my name in The Guardian. (I say “under my name” because the editorial process actually involves a lot of people and their expertise.)
The Guardian article was edited, fact-checked, and approved by a legal department, a process that took four days (maybe three, plus time zones). The Guardian itself is an old and venerable institution, and I am still very proud to have my name appear there.
In the first and several subsequent drafts I provided a disclosure, indicating that I do know Ms. Quinn and financially support her work, but the piece was ultimately published without it, since my views do, in fact, represent those of the paper. There is no “conflict of interest,” the paper determined, in my knowing one of the people about whom the opinion piece concerns. (The footnote has since been revised and updated, however, to reflect everything.)
I find it interesting, though, that my one “controversial” article, the one that “established” me as a “corrupted” video games journalist lacking “ethics,” was—unlike the many, many unwashed essays I have released into the wild—the same one that endured the most rigorous of due editorial processes.
It’s “controversial,” of course, because I decried the harassment and abuse lobbed toward a pair of people, one of whom I joke with online and see at conferences and also pay a few dollars to each month. For the record, I know a lot of people from all walks of life, joke with them online, see a lot of people at conferences, and pay for their work, ordinarily without injury to my career or reputation.
I also like to think I have taken a hardline stance against harassment and bullying, irrespective of whether I’ve ever met the person targeted or, really, whether I even like the person. It’s all immaterial: Abuse and harassment are never okay. That isn’t a particularly feminist stance.
I think, for me, and for anyone who knows me—or even for those who don’t know me, as even Vox refers to me as “a largely uncontroversial reporter and critic”—it’s inexplicable that my career would die on the hill of a single 500-word column. (In stark comparison, the blog you’re reading right now is nearly 1500 words.)
I started out as a staff reviewer in 2005 at EGM, writing 90- or 120-word reviews of video games (PS2, PSP, DS). I worked at Ziff Davis Media 2006-2008. In 2009, after a yearlong hiatus, I got it into my head that I could sneak back into the industry, keep my head down, and write increasingly weird essays about video games. The goal was to keep myself humbly invisible. (I have written before, very openly, about having been diagnosed with agoraphobia in 2008. The same essay describes my father’s Alzheimer’s.)
Since then I have written two whole video game reviews, both commissioned by Paste. The rest of the time I have written, for the most part, essays about my parents dying, or losing my apartment or the dog or whatever. I have also written three times for Vice Motherboard (once about Chop Suey, once about Cho Aniki and, the last time, about Snood), once for 1UP.com (a Mystery House retrospective), and once for the New York Times (“When Death Makes Us Laugh”). That stuff is fun for me.
Oddly, the essay for which I won last year’s Games Journalism Prize is essentially a video game preview, but it is, again, also about death. I have rarely written about people I know—and when I have, I’ve written about people who are dead, to the exclusion of almost all else—because I am a weird, unhappy woman who is obsessed with death.
In 2012 I explained to L. Rhodes the reasoning behind my weird-ass writing: “I didn’t like what came up when you googled my name, and instead of shrinking away, I wanted to take more ownership of the kind of writing I do. To take back my byline, basically.”
It is amazing to me that, after years of exerting some intellectual effort toward this end, I am back at Square One.
Anger they don't control, directed at people they haven't researched, for articles they don't read, on topics they don't care about.— Christian McCrea (@ChristianMcCrea) September 4, 2014
Baffled by widespread reception to The Guardian piece, yes, I am, but no, I was not blindsided.
As #GamerGate took off—initially, it was a movement, organized mainly on 4chan, denouncing the mainstream games press for its lack of coverage of Ms. Quinn’s apparently salacious sex life—I, too, had to wonder at the press’s imperious silence. I gritted my teeth. No one’s going to say something? Sure, fine, I’ll do it.
And oh, man, what a sucky feeling, to intuit that taking a hard-assed stance opposing abuse (of all things!) is going to somehow put you through the wringer.
I knew I wasn’t the one for the job; rather, I was the last person for the job, precisely because I subscribe to Ms. Quinn’s Patreon. (On that: $5 a month, for three months… that’s $15. I am being taken to task for $15, far less than any journalist’s bar tab.)
To be sure, GamerGate’s debate about Patreon, about those inbuilt “conflicts of interest,” arrived a few months late. In June, in reply to an anonymous question, I spoke openly about the poor pay freelancers make—usually between $50 and $100 per article here in the US, if they are ever paid at all—and, after hemming and hawwing and some over-transparency/TMI about my reasons, I launched a Patreon of my own. I have now had a Patreon for three whole months. (In 2012 I was absolutely prolific. My writing earned me, that year, $500.)
When I launched it, a lot of game developers wondered “aloud” (read: on Twitter) whether they ethically can contribute to a writer’s Patreon. It is an interesting conundrum. I asked a Patreon employee whether people could just contribute anonymously. Hell, I don’t want to know who my readers are.
“Well,” the Patreon employee sighed, “no, but they can use a fake name.”
I have remarked before that nobody, not even Patreon, is quite clear on what “Patreon” is, but we are already criminalizing its use.
When I saw The Guardian’s approved final draft, I knew there would be problems. The Patreon disclosure was gone, Phil Fish’s name had been added, and now the word “gamers” was used. I was disheartened, but not very surprised, to peek into 4chan and discover, in real-time, people confusing my Guardian article decrying abuse, for Leigh Alexander’s “Death of the Gamers” piece. I realized, finally, that I was witnessing a coordinated attack on my own career which, to someone who has never read my work, is apparently indistinguishable from Leigh’s.
It is “damn sad.”
Someone recently asked me on Twitter whether—knowing what I know now—I would do it all over again. I got a little distracted, spent a couple Tweets defending the op-ed, but the truth is, yes. Yes, in a heartbeat.
It’s almost ugly to say, but I’m actually grateful to GamerGate. All this time, I’ve felt beholden to video games, and to the people who make them or play them or read and write about them. Maybe it really is a conflict of interests: my own. It’s conflicts all the way down.
And really, my God, I don’t have to do this. I’ve been given permission to move on to another audience. I have faith in my abilities to do something, anything else, without feeling inhibited or limited by my hobby.
At the fine old age of 32, this once-partying spinster is finally getting married, with the hope of starting a family. With my parents gone, and a new family present (omnipresent, actually—sorry to my mother-in-law), I am beholden to an entirely new set of people.
I can finally understand and appreciate why I’ve watched so many games journalists walk away from all this*—and, bless them, you usually never have to hear about it.