I have a confession to make. When Gamergate hit its fever pitch, I knew of Zoe Quinn as an indie game developer that was victimized by an unfortunately large percentage of the internet. In other words, I didn't go much to learn more about who she actually was as a person. No matter how sympathetic I may have been, I didn't dig very deep into her own personal story as I did the antics of those trying to ruin her life.
How Did I Miss This?
Last August, Zoe Quinn's book, Crash Override, was released. The book takes its name from the crisis site that Zoe helps to maintain, and she discusses its origins and its function in the book.
The particular version of the book that I purchased was the audiobook, which is also narrated by Zoe Quinn herself. There is something very appropriate to not only hear her words being read, but to also hear her story in her own voice.
Crash Override by Zoe Quinn on Amazon.com
When I saw the ad for this come up, and realized I had been missing out, I purchased the audiobook immediately. What I didn't realize was that I would listen to the entire book in one night. It was that compelling.
Point of View
The book not only recounts the events surrounding her vilification online and the perverse crusade that resulted, but also looks at her childhood, early life, and her path to indie game development. She talks about how the insanity of Gamergate affected not just her life, but the life of her family and friends, and how it spiraled out to affect other targets, as well.
However, just as important as the impact this had on her, and the discussion of how the movement reached out to new targets after it put her through hell, she also mentions the origins of the movement, and the marginalized communities that the several of her most vocal detractors attacked before her, which ties to much larger current movements online.
As horrifying as these events were at the time, its hard not to see this as a segment of the internet testing the waters to see how much the mainstream public would tolerate in the future. Quinn also explains how the core movement had very organized and specific plans for persecuting their attacks, but how that core set of tactics was easily made exponentially more effective by outliers simply sharing videos and links across the internet after they had been created.
If you think you know the extent to which the initial harassment affected her life and the lives of those around her, you probably haven't heard the worst of it, and if you think it is all in the past, you really need to hear things from Zoe's perspective, to see what she has to deal with now on a daily basis.
It would have been fascinating to only hear Zoe Quinn tell her own story, from her perspective, but one of the extraordinary things that Quinn does in this book is to solicit the harassment stories from people that are from other marginalized groups, groups that do not receive the even the level of responsiveness that white women typically receive when reporting harassment.
Not only does Quinn hand over the narrative in a few places to those that otherwise might not have gotten a platform, but she outlines that work that she has been doing with Crash Override. The organization helps those that have been harassed navigate the systems of various social media sites to best effect, and it works with various platforms to strengthen terms of service and enforcement.
Even then, she is candid about the degree to which various platforms actually want to affect major changes. Even when shown what is happening on their sites, many platforms still have people in positions of power that would rather ignore a problem than invest in solving them.
Zoe had no responsibility to put herself in a position where she was helping others that were suffering from harassment, but, despite the frustrations with the slow process of affecting change, it is ultimately a very uplifting section of the book to read about the passion with which she dove into advocacy.
More Than A Biography
While the book tells Zoe Quinn's story, and arguably, even explaining her work with her advocacy group could be framed as part of that story, the book does more than recount just her experiences. At various points in the story, she details watershed moments regarding the internet and how it has been used and abused over the years.
Additionally, she gives some tips on the best ways to insulate people from taking the full brunt of an internet assault, and some of the most common steps to take to begin the process of damage control in the event of a doxxing. She is also careful to point out that no amount of preparation is going to make someone immune to a full-scale assault, but that people can take steps in the right direction.
A Way Forward
For me, at least, the most uplifting part of the book deals with Zoe Quinn's perspective on empathy and moving forward. She talks about the importance of seeing people where they are now, and not where they have been. She mentions that for all the bad actors on the internet, there are many people that don't fully realize the magnitude of the things they have done when they share links to toxic sites and material.
She discusses her own youth and the fact that she may not have been the best "digital citizen" in her treatment of others, and that while she never participated in hate campaigns or doxxing, it took viewing the reactions of others when discussing her online interactions with people she disliked to realize that her own actions were not ideal. She talks about the importance of expressing what is and isn't acceptable online, without dogpiling or crusading against people.
She discusses positive ways to help people that have been harassed, such as promoting their work rather than just empathizing with them when they have been victimized. She cites as a best practice making sure to share marginalized voices speaking out against harassment to make sure they are heard, before adding your own voice, if you are not from the marginalized group.
While she never goes so far around the bend as to say that everything will turn around soon, and in fact cites a lot of issues that are complicated and ongoing, she presents an amazingly positive stance for supporting people that may be vulnerable rather than tearing down anyone that may be a problem.
I didn't know what I didn't know going into this book. Zoe Quinn's story is both heartbreaking and heartening, and I am very glad that I got to hear her story, in her words, in her voice. This book will not make you particularly happy about the state of the internet. I learned a lot more than I realized about how bad some corners of the web can be. But the perseverance and positive call to action that Zoe Quinn elaborates in this book also restores some of my faith in people.
Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.
I don't normally review books, but this story was so momentous I had to look at it, and so compelling I had to put down my thoughts about it. I greatly recommend this book.