Although violent animosity against women in video games is not even close to a new phenomenon, it didn't congeal into Gamergate, a coordinated movement with mainstream press attention, until Eron Gjoni, the ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoë Quinn, released a lengthy blog post alleging that she cheated on and emotionally abused him while they were together. And he would do it all again, even knowing the consequences.
"If I could go back in time and tell myself not to do this. I wouldn't. That is, I wouldn't tell myself not to. Because it's for the best. Regardless of how the outcome is actually getting painted. As this giant harassment campaign against women filled with all sorts of death threats. On the ground the movement isn't barely like that," Gjoni, 24, told BuzzFeed.
About that outcome: Gjoni's post initially led to bogus allegations that Quinn, who was already a frequent target of harassment, had slept with a Kotaku writer in exchange for favorable coverage. From there, it morphed into campaign against prominent "social justice warriors"—in this case, basically a synonym for "women"—in the gaming sphere.
(Full disclosure: Kotaku and Gawker are sister sites, both owned by Gawker Media LLC.)
After driving Quinn and feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian from their homes with threats turned out to be a bad PR play, the harassers changed tacks to focus on rooting out alleged corruption in video game journalism, picking up earnest supporters, sockpuppets, and media opportunists in the process. The death threats against women didn't stop.
But even having seen how it turned out, Gjoni feels he did the right thing. The tell-all about his history with Quinn was never meant to be about gaming, he says. It was intended as a "callout" of what he sees as Quinn's hypocritical betrayal of the social justice ideals she espoused in public.
He understood his ex's reputation would be ruined and that the harassment she was already living with would get worse, but he somehow didn't expect angry people on the internet to take things to even grosser extremes.
"I spent the better part of a month planning all contingencies," he told BuzzFeed. "I gave this outcome an exceedingly low probability."
Although he didn't see Gamergate coming, Gjoni—who said he recently left his job due to the increasing time demands of "internet warfare"—is still an active participant and a key figure in the campaign. He regrets the harassment and threats that have occurred, but says they're coming from fringe trolls for whom he and Gamergate bear no responsibility.
"I can't deny my letter was the spark. I guess I feel compelled to offer an apology to them. But also I don't know how to do that without taking the responsibility away from people who are actually doing the harassment. But, I guess, let me know how I can make it up to you?," he said to BuzzFeed.
But he also told them the same thing he told Vice when Gamergate first blew up: that he considers himself strongly aligned with social justice and doesn't feel the campaign is anti-woman or "about gender"—it's just being framed that way in the media.
What Gjoni is saying doesn't quite add up, but at least he's consistent in saying it.