[Disclosure: This is a book review by Austin Ogonoski]
The most ironic part about Zoe Quinn’s memoir is that it doesn’t need a third party to debunk every last one of her claims. With hyperbolic tangents abruptly derailing even the most sound of her monologues on the state of the internet as we know it today, and seemingly innocent anecdotal comments that instead build a compelling narrative against her character, Crash: Override – Zoe Quinn’s magnum opus – is an odyssey of mental illness.
Though the actual writing honestly isn’t terrible, Quinn has largely failed to present her side of Gamergate’s origins in a way that makes an outsider sympathetic to her plight, let alone believe her in the first place. Crash: Override aims to be some sort of all-encompassing hoo-rah against online harassment after the author details her brush with the dark side of the internet, but comes across as the scattered diary and occasional manic rantings of someone suffering from a Cluster B personality disorder. While a part of me feels a wave of second-hand embarrassment for her actually going through with getting this thing published, as she ends up painting herself in a really poor light presumably by accident, Quinn has essentially done the work for all of her detractors. The ultimate relic from the Gamergate scandal, Crash: Override is worth a read if only to shake your head in disbelief at how so many people ate up its’ contents without question.
Quinn opens the book with a relatively sound, reasonable monologue about how her breakup went from bad to worse in the span of just a few weeks, but ruins the initial flow with the asinine statement: “my breakup required the intervention of the United Nations.” It is here where we’re introduced to Zoe Quinn’s unique manner of thinking which becomes a staple of Crash: Override – Zoe routinely jumps from zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye, giving the reader whiplash in the process.
She’s not just some random developer of a text adventure, she’s a female indie game developer smashing down barriers in the industry. Zoe’s ex wasn’t just a shitty boyfriend she was incompatible with in a relationship, he was a toxic asshole who left bruises up and down her arms. Trolls who harassed her online aren’t just bored teenagers on 4Chan, they’re neo-nazi alt-right Donald Trump supporters. This kind of language may win her brownie points among those in social justice groups, but to the average reader curious about this whole Gamergate thing, or those who are genuinely trying to understand her side of the story, it comes across as utterly ridiculous. Several times throughout the opening chapters, Zoe indeed embarks on promising concepts or monologues that the reader will be interested in finding out where she goes with them, only to discover an almost cartoonish, child-like worldview in which she sees everyone even remotely against her as some kind of outlandish Disney villain.
There is never any effort made on Zoe’s part to help bridge the gap between herself and those on the fence curious about her experience as the victim of online harassment – Zoe is too busy name-calling to consider that not everyone is going to automatically side with her, and it leaves readers such as myself largely confused at what this woman is on about.
Yet while one could sympathize with the level of anger Zoe tosses around so liberally – she is the victim of the internet’s most prolific smear campaign in recent memory, we can’t really deny that – anecdotal comments left by Zoe in the opening pair of chapters accidentally hint at her general immature and emotionally-charged view of the world as being a symptom of a bigger issue at hand, and this is where Crash: Override really starts to fall apart.
In Zoe’s attempts to flesh out her backstory and give the reader some insight as to who she is as a person, she inadvertently reveals she is both untrustworthy as a narrator, and quite possibly suffering from a very debilitating mental illness that clouds her judgement. Not even a few pages into the book, she describes herself several times as Queer – which to the average person is a sort of blanket term for the LGBT community – but then Quinn doubles back and describes a string of heterosexual relationships both past and present. While Quinn’s sexual orientation doesn’t actually matter in the context of Gamergate, what does matter is the questions this raises about the veracity of other events and facts she has written about in the book. If Quinn is queer on page three and dating a straight male colleague just ten pages later, what does this say about 1) her mental stability and 2) the accuracy of what she’s written about in Crash: Override? Authors of fiction scrutinize inconsistencies like this and intentionally keep character bios readily accessible to ensure Jack doesn’t have blue eyes on page twelve and brown eyes on page three hundred – but Quinn makes it clear that this was something she wanted the world to know about herself. It’s an ultimately fatal creative choice.
This combination of inconsistency and emotionally charged rantings only increases as the reader progresses through the introduction of Crash: Override, which describes “the night” the smear campaign against her went public. Quinn in my opinion does an excellent job of setting the scene and conveying to the reader just how serene and mundane things were on the evening of “the big thing the book centers around,” but what follows are a handful of key moments that destroy Quinn’s credibility as a storyteller before we’ve gotten into the thick of the memoir.
Upon Quinn realizing that shit has truly hit the fan, and most North American 4Chan readers are scrolling through an essay describing how she systematically cheated on her boyfriend with several people in the video game industry, she retreats to the women’s restroom to try and calm herself down. In a couple of paragraphs that will undoubtedly be removed from future publications, Quinn has a panic attack while she begins taking inventory of all the people she’s wronged over the years, and wonders which one of them came forward with evidence so damning, the internet is having a difficult time putting a lid on it. This says all you need to know about Quinn’s character, and casts serious doubts on her narrative that the ex boyfriend was the abusive one – she seems to be aware that on some level, she’s a tremendously shitty person, and in brief moments of clarity it causes her a lot of grief. The fact that this passage has not been widely scrutinized and put on display for all to see makes me believe most of her supporters haven’t even read the first few chapters of her book. Zoe, to put it rather bluntly, tells the reader directly that she is crazy.
Yet if there was any smidgen of hope that Zoe still has something worthwhile to say with Crash: Override, it is almost entirely squashed in her description of the alleged harassment that came from the smear campaign against her. This is supposed to be the focal point of the book, this massive, coordinated harassment campaign that readers are supposed to sympathize with and feel compelled to join her in the fight to change the internet, but if you’re waiting for this big moment where police bust down the door and escort Zoe into a remote mountain hideout, far away from the safety of these supposed Neo-Nazi’s who want to slit her throat and have already taken her parents hostage, it never actually comes.
The “harassment” Quinn received was little more than kids on 4Chan prank calling her parents, shitposting about her while drunk, and then telling her she’s a whore on Twitter. Quinn tries to justify her gross overreaction to this stuff by saying it hurt her because she suffers from mental illness, and the mean things random people said to her online caused her anxiety that she’d worked for years in therapy to overcome, but all this does is confirm what I’d suspected from page one – Quinn suffers from a serious mental illness that affects both her emotions and her thought process. For this reason, I have difficulty believing there is much truth to Crash: Override; the reader is instead tasked with taking the clues Zoe has left during her brief moments of clarity to piece together the real story.
These clues become much more frequent as the memoir progresses onward from the events of day zero, to the point where even those trying desperately to side with Zoe as an act of impartiality will be hard pressed to do so. Quinn splits up the action with an admittedly endearing autobiographic section detailing her youth and the discovery of a used 3DO system her father brought home as a gift — but this brief interlude, like all other elements of Crash: Override, eventually falls prey to Zoe’s inability to keep her emotions in check for the benefit of the reader. Quinn quickly shifts the focus to an incredibly long and depressing diatribe that does her no favors, in which she confesses to what I’ll describe as “random acts of degeneracy.”
She’s known as the lesbo slut in high school just days into her first semester after hooking up with a classmate, she gets into hard drugs basically out of curiosity, marries some guy at nineteen (keep in mind, every few pages she reiterates that she’s a lesbian and has known this since a young age), fucks up her finances to the point where her and her husband are homeless, and gets into sex work as a means to an end – albeit on the “lighter” side with softcore modelling.
It is admittedly difficult to sympathize with someone who has a track record of prolonged degeneracy such as Quinn, who then goes on to describe herself as a person that is “fundamentally broken” who “thrives on conflict,” with “self-destructive impulses.” Quinn believes this to be symptoms of depression, but the thought process she’s actually describing, and how she’s portrayed herself in her memoir up to this point, is actually Borderline Personality Disorder – a far more serious and debilitating mental illness. In short, the opening chapters of Zoe’s book build a compelling argument that she is delusional, neurotic, and extremely unstable even on the best of days – she tells us so herself.
With that in mind, she can be partially forgiven for her willingness to take what are harmless 4Chan shitposts calling her a whore – she physically includes screenshots of such in her book – and twisting them into some complex narrative that there are secretly an army of deranged lunatics hell-bent on tracking her down and raping/murdering her.
By page sixty, it is abundantly clear that Quinn is extremely sick and in need of professional help.
Readers are brought back into the Gamergate scandal from her autobiographic interlude, only to see Quinn jump from zero to one hundred once more – successful YouTube personalities attempting to report on her role in the Gamergate scandal are again treated like Disney villains who threaten the serenity of her magic kingdom, and she spends page after page trying to over-explain how these people have supposedly done something wrong by making commentary videos on the whole thing. Again, Quinn then calls them all liars and losers and tin-foil hat freaks and every hyperbolic name under the sun to earn brownie points from all the correct groups, yet fails to realize that 1) she is a public figure who is allowed to be held up to scrutiny and 2) her memoir up to this point is an assortment of anecdotes pointing to the fact that she very well may be the problem. Rather than confront this head-on, she takes the unnecessarily more complex route of inventing her own reality, and it transitions into a section of the book that is more or less manic post-modern nonsense involving every buzzword from “non-binary” to “genderqueer”, and how they’re all oppressed by white men on the internet or something.
Quinn eventually stops this babble and returns to something more coherent, but her emotions quickly flare up again and she acts a fraction of her age, becoming distraught at the horrendous crime of… having her Twitter account hacked. Adding to the absurdity of her overreaction, is a phone call she receives from her father about the situation, in which he seems only mildly annoyed that people are prank calling his house but otherwise goes back to work on his motorcycles and just sort of brushes the whole thing off. Zoe, on the other hand, talks about collapsing onto the floor and sobbing as people she doesn’t know and will never meet in her life toss generic insults at her on Twitter. This interaction says a lot, as it seems the father has more or less become accustomed to Zoe losing her mind at what are mild inconveniences to anyone else. Quinn may be completely detached from reality, but she does an excellent job at developing the characters around her.
And while I’m sure the feminists and social justice warriors will pile on me for not being sympathetic to Zoe’s situation, by this point in the book she has not described a single complication in her life that this “harassment campaign” has spawned. Her friends have all stuck up for her and offered their support. Her family seem to know she’s overreacting just a touch, but they too understand that she might be going through a tough time and give her a courtesy call to see if everything is okay. Her boyfriend, despite the allegations that Zoe is a turboslut, stays with her. Neither Zoe, nor her boyfriend, both employed in the gaming industry, lose their jobs – in fact, his employer sends them a very blunt email stating they really don’t give a shit about what trolls online say. Individuals in the indie gaming scene offer their support. Zoe has not tangibly lost anything from what her alleged “toxic” ex-boyfriend has posted online about her. Instead, she works herself up about stalking situations that have happened to other people, convinces herself that there is a chance it’ll happen to her, and then lets these fantasy scenarios consume her.
Speaking of fantasy scenarios, Quinn finally introduces us to “The Ex” at the halfway point of the memoir. Like all people who have wronged her, Quinn treats “The Ex” as a hyperbolic, stereotypical cartoon villain in Crash: Override, because this is how she sees the world. Again, I reiterate a point from earlier; this does her no favors, as the average reader does not see the world in the same manner, and her thought process comes across as childish, illogical, and sick. Three or four pages are dedicated to ripping on this guy for every reason under the sun, and making him out to be some Chad Thundercock who routinely beat the shit out of her, but her descriptions are so comical and over the top that I refuse to believe any of what she’s written is even remotely truthful.
She is also still yet to explain why she identifies as queer no less than six times in the memoir up to this point, including twice where she outright confirms she is attracted to women, but is still only entering relationships with heterosexual men. Regardless, Quinn and The Ex attempt to converse for the first time since shit has hit the fan, and this doesn’t go well at all. The Ex suggests that Quinn is the root of the problem and needs to take a serious look at how she treats other people, to which Quinn responds by screaming a bunch of nonsensical shit at the guy. Of course, for the past hundred pages, Quinn has openly told readers she is mentally ill, thrives on conflict, and has self-destructive “impulses,” so all sympathy is lost for Quinn at this point. In a book intended to make people sympathize with the author and take up her crusade alongside her, you end up kind of hating her and peeling back the layers of her bullshit.
The climax of said bullshit is realized when Quinn decides to take out a restraining order against The Ex, and what’s hilarious is that others clearly start to figure out what they’re dealing with – again, I applaud Quinn for leaving readers these clues sprinkled throughout the memoir. Once more, Quinn attempts to make herself sound like a damsel in distress, but to anyone who applies critical thinking to her dialogue, it’s really obvious what’s going on. Law enforcement quickly identify that she is the crazy ex in this situation and basically do their best to stall her and give her bogus non-answers so she’s discouraged from taking things further, which she elaborates on in an attempt to make it sound like she knows what she’s talking about and that the cops are cold, condescending assholes – but I can assure you she doesn’t.
She attempts to hand over screenshots of hundreds of anonymous 4Chan shitposts as proof of harassment, and the cops basically shrug their shoulders and go “not my department.” Quinn is too retarded to realize that’s professional speak for “are you fucking kidding me, get the fuck out of here, nobody cares you were called a whore on Twitter” and tries to over-explain to readers why she received similar answers from multiple police departments – until she finally lands on a department bored enough that day to cooperate and grant a restraining order. Quinn deems this endeavor a success and continues to paint her Ex as a one-dimensional supervillain who is obsessed with her, but fails to realize that people are going to read her book and discover that she literally flew coast to coast in an effort to shop around for a restraining order. You tell me what’s more obsessive; the guy venting to the internet about his shitty girlfriend and it accidentally went viral, or the girlfriend flying across the country to place a gag order on him after three other police departments refused to do anything?
What started as a rather serious memoir has turned into an unintentional black comedy, in which it’s up to the reader to discover the protagonist is actually the antagonist, and you should be rooting for the person originally depicted as the villain. If Quinn had written this story as fiction, she’d be heralded as creative a genius and win an indie award or two, but as this is a memoir written about 100% real events that occurred during the fall of 2014 and you’re supposed to take her claims at face value, all it does is make Quinn look exceptionally retarded.
Quinn’s retardation comes to the forefront as she begins describing the experience of applying for a restraining order. Quinn gets mad at the invasive interrogation phase that is standard procedure when applying for an order of protection, and seems deeply offended at other grown adults daring to question how a woman in her late twenties can be this distraught over a series of what are still just prank phone calls and mean tweets. Quinn’s anger at this stage of Crash: Override is totally nonsensical to a level-headed reader; someone who was being genuinely harassed would understand why certain shit-tests were in place, but Quinn instead becomes aggravated that these people aren’t just taking her word for it and doing what she says. As she attempts to explain why this process makes her so angry, she accidentally opens herself up to two genuine libel lawsuits by outright lying about the results of Gregory Allen Elliott’s harassment trial (she claims he was charged, but all charges were dropped and he is a free man), as well as Canadian journalist Christine Blatchford just for daring to support Elliott – when she was fully correct to do so. I desperately wanted Zoe to get off this topic, and to my surprise she did, only to jump back to “present day” and admits the man she moved to France with after dating for a week (yes, you read that correctly) didn’t work out – mostly because she was getting blackout drunk and getting into fights with him as a way to prevent an onset of “depressive cycles.” The sheer lunacy of Zoe’s behavior – admitting she is a deeply flawed, sick, and destructive individual before accusing everyone she doesn’t like of either beating her or being Neo-Nazis – is exhausting; and it seems she too needs a break.
The book then takes a detour into the creation and operation of Crash: Override. In short, Quinn teams up with a couple of friends, and uses her connections around the gaming & tech industry to ban people she either doesn’t like, or have been recommended to her by others. Quinn believes herself to be an anti-harassment robin hood of the internet, but this section of the book reads like a manipulative schoolgirl proud of the fact that she tattles on her classmates.
When Quinn’s behavior is examined more seriously, in particular by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannapoulous, she waltzes into her third potential libel case by smearing him as well. By this point her vocabulary towards the controversial editor is exhausting and predictable – you can only call your detractors alt-right Neo-Nazis so many times before the words completely lose their meaning – but Quinn obviously doesn’t care. The irony in this passage is that in the immediate aftermath of Gamergate, Yiannapoulous would embark on several successful college campus tours after parting ways with Breitbart, and published his book anyway, meaning Quinn’s attacks have aged like milk.
The final third of Crash: Override descends into a disjointed mess, with Quinn extensively describing how she feels the laws regarding online harassment are either outdated or completely useless, before offering suggestions on how to prevent being on the receiving end of a smear campaign yourself. Neither topics are particularly informative or even a worthwhile read when presented in isolation. Quinn is clearly upset that she could not use laws to get revenge on her “toxic” ex-boyfriend, and was instead shit-tested by professionals who obviously figured out Quinn was the aggressor and did as much as possible to deter her from running amok within the system – Quinn only persevering because she shopped around. Quinn’s “advice” for browsing the internet is laughable at best, with most of her suggestions – using a strong password and limiting the amount of personal information you hand out online – being so absurdly generic and obvious you can tell she basically found an “internet safety for kids” list online and just fleshed it out in her own words.
There is, of course, an end to this madness, but in typical Zoe Quinn fashion it is plagued by inconsistencies and hyperbolic statements. Quinn eventually gets back into the routine of her career as a game developer, but she has never answered what is now a nagging question – if Depression Quest was a free text adventure, how exactly did she generate income?
Quinn laments the label her detractors have placed on her as a “professional victim”, only to describe a period of about a year and a half where she did nothing but travel the world and give speeches on being a victim of harassment – you can’t honestly tell me she paid for these flights out of her own pocket, using the profits of a game she released for free, right? She calls another group she doesn’t like Neo-Nazis mentions that her symptoms of mental illness occasionally flare up from time to time, and writes an extensive thank you to her friends and supporters to close out the memoir – while simultaneously mentioning that many of her friends actually distanced themselves from her. It’s bizarre, but also a perfectly fitting end for what is an extremely bizarre read.
After completing Crash: Override, I am left with one overwhelming thought that sort of encapsulates the book as a whole: Zoe Quinn is extremely ill, and the industry as a whole was taken for a ride. Quinn spends an excessive amount of time in her memoir accidentally leaking details about her mental state that slowly build a compelling case of her suffering from a very specific cluster B personality disorder, and when her ex-boyfriend exposed her, this triggered a manic, vindictive episode that lasted for the better part of eighteen months. While it is true that Quinn was doxxed by 4Chan and people called her names on the internet, both the abuse Quinn supposedly suffered at the hands of “The Ex”, as well as the harassment she claims forced her to live in an elevator with a guy she’d been dating for a week, appear to be complete fabrications fueled by mental illness.
What I find truly shocking, is that her editors never once warned her against publishing it. Quinn sinks her own ship in such dramatic and detailed fashion, there is zero point in the YouTube documentaries scrutinizing her every move – she does a better job of it herself, and it’s on sale for ten bucks.