First Impressions: Crash Override by Zoë Quinn

Like everyone online, I watched Gamergate crash through gaming culture with a look of horror and surprise on my face. In its wake is an industry and community that is still reeling from the vitriolic hatred that hid itself under the guise of an ethical crusade.

After listening to Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (impressions here), and finding myself intrigued (and once again horrified) by her recounting of abuse during the Gamergate campaign, I wanted to find a more in-depth exploration of the events.

At the centre of Gamergate was a young independent video game developer named Zoë Quinn. Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate is both Quinn’s memoir, and also a handbook for how to understand the culture—both on the Internet and off of it—that led to Gamergate, and continues to shape much of the sociopolitical landscape around the globe.

Where Quinn goes above-and-beyond is the way she’s able to pick the movement apart, piece-by-piece and analyze the way it acted as a canary in a coalmine for the events leading up to and preceding the 2016 US election. I’ve looked back on Gamergate, and also the Sad/Rapid Puppies campaigns that took aim at the Hugo Awards for several years, and often thought to myself that they were a warning of what’s to come. Quinn, in the bullseye, had a clear view of the events, and her analysis is bought thoughtful and well-grounded.

One minor issue is that Quinn’s narrative is a bit jittery, often jumping back and forth from a linear narrative recounting her experience being targeted by Gamergate and a more general overview of the cultural and social impacts of the the campaign. The book might have benefited from having a more considered narrative structure that better allowed Quinn’s personal narrative to inform the larger themes and discussion. Still, a small nit to pick in an otherwise great book.

Quinn narrates the audiobook herself, and injects the narrative with a lot of emotion and nuance. Coming off of Felicia Day’s memoir, which is taken to new levels by Day’s experience as an actor, Quinn’s narration can sometimes feel rough around the edges, but that doesn’t hurt the overall experience at all, and is a worthwhile tradeoff for having her tell her own story.

I’m about halfway through now, and looking forward to completing the book this week. It’s a great guide for anyone curious about the impact of Gamergate, regardless of whether you’re invested in the gaming community. It’s at once horrifying and hopeful, often at the same time.