First: I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT ENDORSE HARASSMENT OF ZOE QUINN OR OF ANYONE ELSE. DO NOT HARASS PEOPLE. DO NOT BE MISOGYNIST AT PEOPLE. DO NOT SEND DEATH OR RAPE THREATS TO PEOPLE. DO NOT DOX PEOPLE. Even if someone is an abuser, they are entitled to not being harassed, doxxed, or subjected to misogyny.
Second: apologism for harassment or abuse will get your comment deleted and I will consider banning you.
Third: I do not have an opinion about most Gamergate-adjacent issues, because the only video games I have played in my entire life are The Sims and a bunch of Twine games mostly themed around mental illness, transness, or transhumanist BDSM. I cannot imagine a world in which it would be reasonable for me to have an opinion (Incidentally, this game is neat and contains none of the above.) The Gamergate opinions I have are:
- Anita Sarkeesian is almost painfully liberal feminist and anyone who calls her a radical feminist needs to read more Dworkin
- “Five Guys” is a slut-shaming and misogynist joke and people should be ashamed of themselves
- Many Gamergate people are not motivated by fighting abuse, but instead by anti-feminism; notice how quickly Anita Sarkeesian got tied into the whole thing, and that she (a) is not involved in the Zoe Post (b) has never abused anyone but she is (c) a fairly prominent feminist in video gaming whom a lot of people hate for no discernible reason.
- We should all ignore Christina Hoff Sommers and hope she goes away.
- #NotYourShield certainly contains some sockpuppets, but claims that they are majority sockpuppets seem to be less motivated by evidence and more motivated by the desire to believe that no women, LGBT people, and people of color disagree with social justice.
- Gamers are probably sexist and gaming is probably an environment hostile to women, because to a first approximation everyone is sexist and every male-dominated environment is hostile to women. (Not a gamer, have no opinion about specifics of whether it is more hostile than anywhere else.)
- People need to stop Internet-diagnosing Zoe Quinn with borderline personality disorder, because I have BPD and it makes me sad.
- Please stop calling misogynists fat Aspie neckbeards. I know many fat people with Asperger’s and poor grooming habits who would never dream of being misogynist.
- I agree with Ken White, who is a very sensible human being
- and, most crucially for this post, Zoe Quinn is a textbook emotional abuser.
Cheating is morally wrong, but it is nonabusive. Similarly, lying to your partner is morally wrong, but absent a relationship in which you establish power and control, it is nonabusive. However, Zoe Quinn’s response to Eron Gjoni figuring out that she was cheating and lying does enter the realm of abuse.
Eron describes his relationship with Zoe in the Zoepost:
This was part of a fun little emergent two player power / head game she decided to play with me. The gist of the rules seemed to be as follows:
- If boyfriend relates observations that lead to a correct belief, girlfriend is to make up false reason to explain observations. If boyfriend backs down, girlfriend wins.
- If boyfriend doesn’t back down, and notes girlfriend’s reason conflicts with other observations, girlfriend must get angry and demand boyfriend trust her unconditionally. Boyfriend must then choose between trusting girlfriend, or trusting his own ability to so much as reason clearly.
- If boyfriend chooses to trust girlfriend, girlfriend must demand he trust her about something that contradicts something else she demands he trust her about. When boyfriend cannot possibly act in any way that doesn’t violate one of her principles or claims, girlfriend must establish he is going insane. If boyfriend succumbs to additional bouts of anxiety spent questioning his own sanity — girlfriend wins: multiply points by number of hours longest panic attack lasts.
- If boyfriend does not back down, and decides instead to trust his own ability to think clearly, girlfriend must threaten to break up with boyfriend. If boyfriend backs down, girlfriend wins.
- If boyfriend continues trusting simple reasoning, girlfriend must actually break up with boyfriend (for a period of time no shorter than 1 hour and not exceeding 2 days). If boyfriend does not bring up the subject again, girlfriend wins.
- If boyfriend does not back down, and figures that since the relationship is over, he might as well try to get the universe to make sense, girlfriend must figure out some way to break up with him *even more*. If boyfriend drops the subject, girlfriend wins. If boyfriend does not drop the subject, repeat step 6 — point multiplier for number of times step 6 is repeated until girlfriend wins.
- If boyfriend calls bullshit on the whole thing and breaks up with girlfriend, boyfriend wins. This is the only winning condition for boyfriend.
It is not normal behavior to get angry at your partner unless they believe mutually contradictory things. It is not normal behavior to convince your partner that they are going insane in order to cover up your lying and cheating. That is gaslighting, and that is abusive.
Zoe Quinn attempted to isolate her partner by demanding that he stop being friends with someone who had previously expressed romantic interest in him, even though the relationship was platonic, she had no reason to distrust Eron, and the friend was going through a hard time. The use of romantic jealousy to isolate people from their friends is a tactic of abuse. Although she did not manage to isolate Eron completely (but then they’d only been dating for a few months, give her time), the fact that she tried to do it once is a major red flag.
Furthermore, throughout the logs, Zoe engages in a repeated pattern of shifting the blame from herself to Eron. She blames her cheating on Eron not loving her; she blames her lies on Eron not trusting her immediately after he had discovered her cheating. She guilt-trips Eron when he tries to set boundaries. She constantly lies and withholds information, far beyond what would be necessary to cover up her cheating– from claiming to be tested when she hadn’t to contradicting herself about her emotions and desires. It’s important to note that, while blame-shifting, guilt-tripping, and lying and withholding are unhealthy, everyone engages in unhealthy relationship patterns sometimes, particularly when they’re angry. However, in nonabusive relationships, both partners eventually take responsibility for their part in problems, respect their partners’ boundaries without guilting them, and tell the truth before they get called on it. Zoe Quinn, on the other hand, blame-shifts continually and with no self-awareness about what she’s doing and no taking accountability.
Zoe Quinn repeatedly threatens suicide when her bad behavior is brought up and at one point attempts suicide in the middle of an argument. This is inherently abusive. That is not about mental illness: I myself am a person who sometimes becomes suicidal when people criticize me and I am speaking from a position of knowledge. No one wants to do something that makes someone they love feel suicidal. That gives suicidal people and people willing to fake suicidality a tremendous amount of power to shut down criticism, push their partner’s boundaries, and convince people not to leave them. This doesn’t mean not talking about your suicidality, not taking care of yourself, or not leaving situations that make you suicidal. It is possible to responsibly be like “this conversation is making me feel suicidal; I’d like to continue discussing it, but can we take a break for an hour?” and then seek support from someone else to get yourself in a good place. Telling your partner “I should kill myself” when they are talking about how you hurt them is not that. It is an act of abuse.
Finally, Zoe Quinn received a restraining order to keep Eron Gjoni from speaking up about his abuse, thus using the legal system to silence her victim. In her affidavit, she used Eron’s “admitted mental instability”– a self-diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder– as evidence that he was abusive, which is absurdly ableist (particularly given that people with SPD are no more likely to abuse than anyone else).
(Note that the restraining order contains disturbing allegations that Eron Gjoni has called hotels he suspected Zoe was staying at in order to dox her, an act of stalking. I have been unable to find evidence about whether these allegations are true or false and will update this post if I find any such information. If true, I consider it to be an act of abuse and harassment as well. ETA: A friend of Eron’s privately contacted me to say that a person had claimed to have met Zoe at a hotel and Eron had called the hotel to find out if Zoe had made a reservation during the time period the person claimed; however, I have no way of knowing if this is what happened.)
Why Doesn’t Anyone See It?
Why the pro-Gamergate people didn’t see it seems fairly obvious to me. Early on, a lot of the discussion of Gamergate occurred on 4Chan. While 4Chan has many excellent qualities, such as such creative and abundant use of the word “fag” that “gayfag” had to be coined to refer to the ordinary homosexual, nuanced and sensitive discussion of the complexities of emotional abuse is not among them. Furthermore, the Gamergate story was taken up by prominent members of the misogynist asshole community, such as Roosh V and Vox Day, whose previous contributions to discourse around abuse include ““No” when you try to take off her panties means… “Don’t give up now!”” and “the concept of marital rape is… an attack… on the core foundation of human civilization itself“.
(#NotAllGamergaters, of course.)
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the narrative became largely “she CHEATED on her BOYFRIEND with FIVE MEN, that SLUT.” And, to their credit, many Gamergate people do seem to recognize that Zoe Quinn is emotionally abusive, although they phrase it in the traditional way of their quaint local dialect, namely, “that bitch is crazy.”
(“That bitch is crazy”, unfortunately, is a homonym, with the other meaning being “that female has needs and desires!” I never said it was a very good quaint local dialect.)
But for feminists, abuse is sort of their whole gig. So why didn’t feminists get it?
First: a lot of feminists uncritically accepted the Gamergate framing. Let’s be real, the Zoe Post is long and no one wants to read through the endless, endless logs. If what people seem to be leading with is “Zoe Quinn cheated on her boyfriend!” with a sprinkling of “Zoe Quinn is a slut!” for taste, it’s really easy as a feminist to conclude that the allegations against Zoe Quinn are nothing more than cheating and sluthood, and then to respond with “there is nothing wrong with being a slut, and whether she cheated matters primarily to her romantic partners, not to the Internet-going public.” This narrative, for obvious reasons, was supported by Zoe Quinn herself, who has an obvious interest in allowing everyone to believe the only issue was her cheating.
Second: arguments are soldiers: “once you know which side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it’s like stabbing your soldiers in the back—providing aid and comfort to the enemy.” People line up on the Yay Zoe Quinn and Boo Zoe Quinn sides, and the Yay Zoe Quinn side has some important points about feminism and the treatment of female game devs and maybe not calling people sluts. If you acknowledge that Quinn gaslit Gjoni and that maybe he is not just a “jilted ex”, you weaken Team Yay Zoe Quinn. Indeed, I myself have been assumed to be pro-harassment simply because I think that Quinn probably abused Gjoni. (WHICH I AM NOT. HARASSMENT IS WRONG.)
Third: people don’t take abuse of men seriously. We live in a culture in which studies of rape prevalence still consider a cis man forced into PIV sex with a woman to not be raped, in which reproductive coercion is talked about as something men do to women even though it is the only form of abuse men are more likely to suffer than women (NISVS; search for “control of reproductive or sexual health”), and in which Lundy Bancroft can characterize women abusing men as “couples where the man is the nice guy and the woman is the not-nice person” and still be heralded as an anti-abuse advocate. While feminists are better than most groups about acknowledging abuse of men, a phrase which here means “the majority of feminists at least acknowledge it can happen”, feminists have not totally overcome patriarchal conditioning.
Fourth: people don’t take emotional abuse seriously. All too often, people consider “emotional abuse” to be a synonym for “bad relationship.” But emotional abuse isn’t the same as fighting a lot or even calling each other names; it’s the systematic establishing of power and control over your partner through psychological means. And the consequences show it. Emotional abuse survivors suffer from poor physical and mental health. Even after controlling for physical violence, level of emotional abuse affects basically every kind of mental health consequence of abuse from depression to low self-esteem to stress level, and may even be a better predictor of PTSD and depression than physical abuse. Once again, this is something that feminists should in theory be better about, but not everyone is.
Fifth: people think that it’s a private matter. I agree that many sorts of relationship misbehavior are private matters. If Eron Gjoni were actually a jilted ex who was upset his partner cheated on him, he would have no call to tell the Internet about it. But abuse is not a private matter, as feminists have discussed endlessly. Abuse has serious physical and emotional consequences for the victims. The majority of abusers repeatedly abuse. An abuse survivor who is public about their experiences– and this is a tremendously private decision and I would never say it should be mandatory– allows future partners to make an informed decision and potentially avoid being abused themselves. If you would like your abuse not to be public, then I recommend that you not abuse people. After you have abused someone, your right to have others not know about this is revoked.
In conclusion: I believe the balance of evidence shows that Zoe Quinn emotionally abused Eron Gjoni. This does not justify harassment against her or invalidate critiques of sexism in gaming. However, I think we should at least acknowledge her abuse in our condemnations, reconsider making her a Perfect Flawless Feminist Hero, and stop fucking calling an abuse survivor a “jilted ex” or accusing him of being a narcissistic misogynist for outing his abuser.