The warn­ing came in an anony­mous email: in­die de­vel­oper Zoe Quinn was to be the tar­get of a fo­rum-or­gan­ised raid. Her game, De­pres­sion Quest (co-cre­ated with Patrick Lind­sey and Isaac Schankler), at­tempts to give play­ers some idea of what it feels like to live with de­pres­sion, and is based on the per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of the team. The game has at­tracted a great deal of at­ten­tion, and even some awards, since its re­lease. But de­spite sur­viv­ing YouTube, Red­dit and 4chan com­menters with lit­tle trou­ble, the ar­rival of the in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion game on Steam Green­light in De­cem­ber 2013 proved prob­lem­atic for cer­tain mem­bers of one mes­sage board, trig­ger­ing a dis­qui­et­ing chain of events.

“I was con­tent to take some screen­grabs of the mes­sage board to show friends and leave it at that,” Quinn tells us. “I didn’t en­gage, be­cause I know how the In­ter­net works and that would just make them tar­get me more. It was some­thing I wasn’t re­ally tak­ing se­ri­ously at all, un­til two weeks later I got a phone call and I couldn’t make out what was hap­pen­ing at first. Then I re­alised it was some­body jerk­ing off.”

Quinn had been in a sim­i­lar place once be­fore. This was De­pres­sion Quest’s sec­ond Green­light cam­paign, hav­ing faced a sim­i­lar level of re­sis­tance from a vo­cal mi­nor­ity the first time around – enough that Quinn felt forced to pull it.

“We were putting a non­tra­di­tional game di­rectly in the line of sight of very tra­di­tional gamers. And some tra­di­tional gamers have huge is­sues with women, and huge is­sues with games be­ing

Why the co-cre­ator of De­pres­sion Quest is fight­ing back against In­ter­net trolls

any­thing that aren’t space marines or plumbers! People were say­ing things like, ‘This isn’t a game. This is ter­ri­ble. You should go kill yourself,’ ‘De­pres­sion isn’t real,’ or ‘You’re just push­ing pills.’ And then it started in­ten­si­fy­ing off­site, the threats started rolling in by emails, and then some­body sent this re­ally de­tailed let­ter to my house about how they wanted to rape me.”

Quinn was de­ter­mined not to aban­don De­pres­sion Quest’s sec­ond shot at Green­light, but the phone in­ci­dent forced her to change her num­ber and hunker down to wait out the storm. Phone in Air­plane mode, she heeded the ad­vice of peers, col­leagues and that anony­mous emailer: ‘Don’t feed the trolls.’

That was un­til Mighty No 9 com­mu­nity man­ager Dina Abou Karam came un­der fire for her art­work of a fe­male ver­sion of the game’s pro­tag­o­nist, Beck, and her “cor­rupt­ing fem­i­nist in­flu­ence”. The back­lash filled Quinn’s Twit­ter stream, with some par­ties sug­gest­ing that the calls to re­move Karam were based on le­git­i­mate fears and that sex­ism didn’t ex­ist in games.

“I’m sit­ting there look­ing at the phone I can’t use be­cause people will fling ter­ri­ble things at me, and I just snapped. This ac­tu­ally is a fuck­ing prob­lem. I hadn’t spo­ken up be­cause I’m just so used to this, but no, fuck that, this is what’s go­ing on, so don’t sit there and tell me that sex­ism doesn’t hap­pen. Don’t sit there and tell me that ha­rass­ment doesn’t hap­pen to fe­male game de­vel­op­ers, be­cause I’m liv­ing that right now, and I have on and off for the en­tirety of my

“I’m sit­ting there look­ing at the phone I can’t use and I just snapped. This ac­tu­ally is a fuck­ing prob­lem”

ca­reer. I’m sick of this ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ shit, be­cause it doesn’t work and all it does is make it so that the people get­ting ha­rassed can’t talk about it. “It’s messed up that people just ac­cept this and it’s some­thing that I’m fight­ing very hard against. [Too many] people ac­cept this as the cost of do­ing busi­ness for a lot of game de­vel­op­ers who are people of colour, or women or trans­gen­der – any­body who doesn’t fit what people think of when you say ‘game de­vel­oper’, y’know.”

And what of the sug­ges­tions that in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion doesn’t be­long on Steam? “Steam is the largest dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion ser­vice for games, but there are things on there that aren’t ex­plic­itly games. I want to be on Steam be­cause I ab­so­lutely think [ De­pres­sion Quest is] a game, and I’d like to see more non­tra­di­tional games like Pro­teus, Dear Es­ther or text-ad­ven­ture-type things on the plat­form. The fact is, text ad­ven­tures have been in­flu­en­tial in games since day frick­ing one. I mean, hello, Zork ex­ists, and if people want to pre­tend that doesn’t mat­ter and isn’t wor­thy of Steam, they need to get their heads checked.”

Zoe Quinn, co-cre­ator of PC game De­pres­sion Quest (above)

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