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Developer Zoe Quinn offers real-world advice, support for dealing with online harassment

Zoe Quinn is the creator of Depression Quest, and she became a target for harassment when the game was submitted to Greenlight.

"There’s a certain subset of the Internet that sent death threats to my house and leaked my phone number," she said during a speech at the Game Developers Conference. She went on to offer some advice from her experiences in both dealing with the harassment and reaching out to people who took part in harassing behavior.

"Internet harassment is not something that you can simply ignore or avoid. When digital distribution is our primary market, the Internet becomes part of our workplace," she said. "Beyond that the Internet is where so many of us find each other, we build our communities, and for some developers who can’t travel and don’t have local options, it’s the only community the developer has."

Quinn talked to hundreds of people after asking if they used to harass others and stopped in the past. "The number one thing that they all had in common across the board, they didn’t think the person on the other end of the screen was an actual person." There was no magic bullet: they stopped harassing others when their social circles stopped thinking this behavior was cool, or something happened that humanized their targets, and they understood that they were targeted actual human beings.

"This means that the don’t feed the trolls thing doesn’t actually work, even a little bit. Calling it trolling doesn’t even make sense, it’s harassment. Let’s actually call it that," she said. "Suggesting that people stay silent in this face of this only makes it harder for people who want to speak up about this to actually vent or come out." The idea that simply ignoring the problem is a valid solution may even encourage people to stay silent instead of pushing back against the behavior, seeking support, or just venting about their experiences.

"Taking care of ourselves and each other is important too," she said. "When things got too real and overwhelming, I deliberating went out and did something completely ridiculous." She and a friend filled an Angry Birds bank with glitter and smashed it. They read some of the worst messages out loud and in funny voices. "It felt so good to take a break from it and be ridiculous instead of worrying about the seriousness and heaviness of all of this."

"Not everyone can fight back, and even those who can, can’t do it every day"

She also suggested to talk to people who aren’t a part of the video game community. "It helps to realize how small it really can be in the grand scheme of these things and to remember that there’s life outside of video games and people who don’t even know about any of these things," she explained.

Quinn also suggested stepping away from the computer entirely to do good in your community. "It helps me to deliberately stop what I’m doing, go out, and help someone else. Because when you are being that positive change, when you are first hand making things better, then you have irrefutable evidence that it’s not all bad," she said.

Being the target of a harassment campaign is going to affect everyone in different ways, but discussing it and dealing with it openly and without shame can go a long way to helping the victim themselves, but it can also offer hope and guidance to people who don’t feel comfortable talking about it, or are scared it could open the door for more harassment.

"I’d like to encourage you to talk about it in any way you feel comfortable. If not, that’s fine too, just make sure to take care of yourself first," she said. "Not everyone can fight back, and even those who can, can’t do it every day. That’s not something to feel guilty about. I know it’s asking a lot but if you can, be open. Show how it’s impacting you. Don’t retreat into ‘show no weakness’ PR mode."

"You’re also a voice for other developers who may be feeling the same thing," she continued. "Some may reach out to you, or give you advice, or stand up for you or commiserate. You may not realize how much you need that right then."

[Note: The author of this post contributes to Zoe Quinn's Patreon campaign. See Polygon's ethics policy here.]

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