The Escapist spoke to 4Chan and the independent game developer called Zoe Quinn after she posted several screenshots from an IRC chat channel of her opponents discussing "blackhat" operations.
The controversy currently occurring in gaming culture began on August 16th when a man named Eron Gjoni posted a long description of his alleged relationship with the developer of Depression Quest, known as Zoe Quinn. Some people reacted to some details in the post - her alleged affairs with a game journalist and others in the industry - with anger and resentment against what they perceived as a bias or agenda against gaming culture. This sparked more debate and more articles in the gaming press over the next few weeks, increasingly centered around the movement known as "Gamergate" for the chosen Twitter hashtag for discussions. While that was occurring, Quinn claims to have quietly infiltrated a sub-group of the forum board 4Chan in order to expose the motives behind their actions. On the morning of September 6th, starting at 3:30 am ET, Quinn began posting on her Twitter account selected screenshots of chat logs from this channel - called #burgersandfries - claiming that those involved had "ulterior motives". The Escapist reached out to members of 4Chan to get their response to these accusations and to Zoe Quinn to clarify some of the statements she made on Twitter.
"Most of it is taken out of context to make us look bad and half the images, what she is describing isn't even taking place," one member of 4Chan told The Escapist in an IRC chat room. "Seriously, just read the logs she posted and the conclusions she comes to. Some very strange connections."
"We want the same thing as the entirety of #GamerGate - less clickbation sensationalism, a step up in terms of journalistic integrity and transparency of their reporting," said another member.
Quinn claims these are not their intentions and the only reason this chat group existed was to target specific individuals. "The motivations of the people starting #notyourshield and #gamergate were transparently to harass and bully developers and writers who were perceived to be 'SJW's," Quinn said in an email. SJW is an acronym for a "social justice warrior," a blanket term used by some to describe some members of the gaming industry. "The only people targeted were women or people who stood up for women. #notyourshield was solely designed to, ironically, be a shield for this campaign once people started calling it misogynistic."
The alleged genesis of the #notyourshield hashtag was in a thread discussing Gamergate on 4chan. "Something like #NotYourShield," wrote the anonymous poster, available here in an archive "And demand the SJWs stop using you as a shield to deflect genuine criticism."
It is important to note that anyone can go to 4Chan and post nearly anything. Some 4Chan denizens believe it is impossible to judge the whole group or movement by the possible actions of a few. "There are no peers and no members on 4chan. Even you could go to one of these threads now, post an inflammatory statement and no one would be the wiser," said a 4Chan member known as Albel. "This total anonymity means that anything happening on 4chan has its share of bad eggs - people who disagree with the topic trying to give it a bad name."
Most of the 4Chan members we spoke to disavow any connection with harassment or abuse. "Individual members have probably done so, which is very wrong, but we as a general community do not condone harassment, and encourage our members to take the moral high ground," said a member.
"I don't doubt that people have given [Quinn] shit, but it's being played up to the nth degree to bring in sympathizers, and most of this 'abuse' actually takes the form of all the information we're making public on her," another member of the 4Chan community stated. "She accused [actor] Adam Baldwin of spreading all sorts of dox on her when a simple click could confirm he didn't, and despite being proven wrong she kept crying wolf. She's at best hamming it up and at worst a liar."
Despite these claims, many mentions of "blackhat" operations are in the chat logs provided both by Quinn and 4Chan. "Blackhat" refers to hacking or stealing of private information through nefarious means. This is one excerpt from a conversation on Tuesday, September 2nd:
Sep 02 21.41.11 <Flux_> We going blackhat?
Sep 02 21.41.16 [PepPep] I feel like this is all some kind of intricate multiplayer ARG designed by Quinn and her ex.
Sep 02 21.41.32 [Spurdoodoo] Are we playing games or are we the games
Sep 02 21.41.47 <Gamer_Positive> (DARPA PepPep.)
Sep 02 21.42.01 <Cameralady> kilim
Sep 02 21.42.06 <Cameralady> PM me your game
Sep 02 21.42.09 <Cameralady> im curiuos :o
Sep 02 21.42.12 <Montie> I vote yes on blackhat
In some of her Twitter posts, Quinn mentioned that she was filing a police report due to the severity of the harassment she received. The Escapist asked Quinn about her work with the police but she declined to comment. Please note that The Escapist firmly stands against all harassment, bullying and abuse.
Because of the strict anonymous nature of the 4Chan forum board, the threat of an impostor or a "shill" entering the group is mentioned often. Quinn said that this is one of the reasons why she entered the group and posted the screenshots. "I want these anonymous jerks to be a little more fearful that maybe the stranger they're discussing hacking plans with isn't actually on their side," she said.
The anonymity also makes it difficult to determine who is emblematic of the movement and who the outliers are. During The Escapist's chat in IRC, a member was banned that others had privately claimed was a shill. After the chat ended, the member's ban was lifted. The following conversation was then recorded (the screen names have been removed):
[20:10] <Member 1> why was [member] banned?
[20:10] <Member 1> o.o
[20:10] <Member 2> and force him to only communicate via PM
[20:10] <Member 3> Ayup.
[20:10] <Member 2> BECAUSE HE KEPT saying stupid shit
[20:10] <Member 1> oh
[20:10] <Member 2> and gets screenshotted saying it
Quinn claims the chat logs she released proves the members posting in this 4Chan group were "astroturfing," or attempting to adopt the grassroots Gamergate movement for their own motives. "This was all a weird mixture of 4chan hate campaign and astroturfing, and this shit needs to stop," Quinn said. "People need to understand how this sort of thing works so that they're not duped, because the thing about astroturfing is that at first glance it can be convincing to people who have no knowledge of the topic or key players."
"We don't speak for GamerGate or notyourshield as a whole," said Albel, who organized The Escapist's chat and identified himself as the "PR" of the #burgersandfries chat room. "It is impossible for us to do that. Each and every one of us speak only for ourselves. I've said some things in this chat I'm not proud of. I've said 'fag' and 'retard' a few times and now that I think of it, I let anonymity get the better of myself and I have to bring it back around. None of us want people like Zoe, Anita, Leigh, Jenn, Burch, Grayson et al to disappear from the industry. We don't want to put them out of jobs or take their livelihoods from them. This is and always has been about transparency in journalism. Holding people responsible and accountable for their actions. Asking for recusal where necessary and being completely honest with the ties you have with the people and things you write about."
4Chan has released what they claim to be the full chat logs from when the IRC channel that was created on August 17th. You can find the archive here. Quinn provided her own logs to The Escapist and we are working on a way to display them now. We will update the story once they are properly formatted and uploaded. A collection of Quinn's Tweets, included the selected screenshots of chat logs and her commentary on them, can be found here.
Note: This post has been edited to correct minor errors and typos. One of the 4Chan members quoted should have been identified as "Albel", not "Abel". We also corrected the wording regarding posting on 4chan to remove the phrase "create an account".