Unlike abuse that happens IRL, some people seem to think online abuse is avoidable. Game developer Zoë Quinn knows this all too well as the target of Gamergate, the topic of her memoir, Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate, which goes into agonizing detail over the incident, and reveals how simple it is for anyone to become a victim of online abuse, and how utterly screwed we are when it happens.
Gamergate started when Quinn’s abusive ex posted a manifesto in an attempt to ruin her life. He rallied a bunch of men’s right activist types who posted nude photos of Quinn along with her personal information, mailed violent and graphic packages to her apartment (she was thankfully in hiding at the time), and issued a barrage of death and rape threats if she dared to continue working in the gaming industry or attend industry events. But wait! There’s so much more — more than any book on the topic could possibly cover. Somehow, all this abuse was disguised as a rally cry for ethics in gaming journalism, after the trolls fabricated a story about Quinn exchanging sex for a positive review of her game “Depression Quest.”
Thankfully, Gamergate isn’t the book’s sole focus, as it’d make it too tragic of a read. My favorite part of the book was reading about Quinn herself, the extremely rad person behind this shocking tale. I was amazed to learn just how similar my upbringing was to hers. Growing up in a nothing town with chronically poor and constantly warring parents is all too real to me. So is relying on music, video games and the internet to escape the sad reality that defined my formative years. I, too, stole pages out of my public library’s magazines to decorate my teenage bedroom. And the internet was my first entry into a world that let me know there was so much out there than my super-limited surroundings and circle of friends. Of course, you don't have to be from a small town to feel alienated from your surroundings. We're all alone in this world.
And Quinn was frightfully alone, too, in her fight against Gamergate abusers. Thanks to zero protections in place for victims of online abuse, she was forced to fend for herself. Even in instances where online abuse is absolutely illegal and a police matter — like death threats, the publishing of private information, defamation, revenge porn, and more — little to no intervention occurred. It’s all too easy for the police to say it’s out of their jurisdiction or force the victim into doing the police work for them. Even more laughable, perhaps, are instances where Quinn discusses having to print out the internet because police refuse to accept a USB drive filled with evidence. Why are the police still treating the internet like the Wild West? Mind=blown.
Similarly, tech companies don’t want to uphold their own terms of abuse and act helpless in addressing the issue, when they clearly have the power to protect victims of online abuse. Quinn writes:
The incentives for these companies to remove abusive users are not as compelling as they should be. I want to believe that it’s not intentional, but it’s hard to understand why episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’ are wiped from places like YouTube within nanoseconds while chronic abusive users are allowed to flourish.
Though it’s not surprising that tech companies would choose to support major corporations by removing copyrighted materials over helping victims of abuse any day of the week, it’s still a major flaw in how these companies run and choose to selectively care about its users, and testament to the “business as usual” mentality we continuously endure in a changeless world.
Quinn switches gears a lot in “Crash Override,” going back and forth between telling her story about Gamergate, its aftermath, and her work on Crash Override, the company she started to help victims of online abuse. I wish she would have talked more about herself — after all, it's her memoir. I hoped to learn more about her life before and after Gamergate, instead of immediately getting into chapters about how to resist online abuse. Her story felt unresolved, and untold, in parts. That said, Quinn fills many chapters with valuable information regarding internet security issues, which we’re all vulnerable to when using the internet at any capacity.
As someone who just experienced a security issue, and for anyone worried about the Equifax breach, the chapter about digital hygiene provides valuable insights for anyone putting way too much information on the internet. I knew a lot of this stuff already from dealing with stolen phones, identity theft and crazy exes — and I learned everything reactively — so this information would’ve been good to know beforehand to protect myself better, instead of just reacting to crappy circumstances as they arose. I learned a lot from Quinn aside from what I already knew, and found a ton of tools and resources I never heard about prior to reading this book.
Quinn’s insights on how to use technology effectively will help anyone struggling to connect online. As she so rightfully points out, there’s a ton of noise on the internet, and the information out there is not created equal, even if algorithms treat it equally — so most of the information people share on social media outlets like Facebook is absolute clickbait garbage. She warns readers on the dangers of sharing loads of disaster porn to friends around the clock, and covers how to talk like a human on the internet. This is all advice that’s much needed, as people typically act in a way they’d never dream of behaving IRL on the internet. Even if you’re not a troll, you’re probably doing something wrong — and Quinn points out several ways to be a better citizen and friend online. Crash Override is an essential read on how to survive the digital age — one that’s hilarious, heartbreaking and brilliant throughout.
top photo: detail of Crash Override
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Crystal Erickson is a writer, blogger, copy editor and proofreader. Off the clock, she freestyles cat-themed raps to Cat Mulder, watches campy horror movies, and talks to plants. You can follow her on Facebook.