This article was published in italian for MOTHERBOARD ITALIA (VICE) with a different editing by Antonella Di BiaseEnglish Version: Maria Alessandra de Beaumont and Andrea Turel CacceseThis version it's also available on Medium
When I got in touch with Kevin, a.k.a. Apple//Green, a young German musician to interview him about his work, I had no idea about what he was about to tell me about the real Gamergate scandal consequences, which happened two years ago in the US. Kevin is the author of a notable soundtrack for a game that never got made.
Kevin is a talented musician who only got few occasions to put himself to the test and a couple of times it was incomplete games. His only means of support is his Patreon, with some support by those who buy his personal songs on Bandcamp.
Apple//Green: I’m currently a freelance musician and have been working for mostly non-budget/non-profit games with the exception of one dating Sim I’m contributing music for occasionally. [It] is developed by one person who has been kind enough to share donations she receives with me.
Hearing there are few samples in his production and many real instruments, I asked him about the type of equipment he uses.
Apple//Green: While it still depends on the genre, if a track is supposed to have non synthetic instruments I usually try to purchase the actual instrument and record them with my microphone.
The exceptions here being string sections, pianos, full on drum sets and anything else that’d cost me over a thousand dollars or more to purchase.
However I do have a very close friend of mine in America who’s been graciously recording real live horns for me whenever I need them. This being probably one of the best examples.
I tried adjusting the audio levels on the horns a bit and added a few more trombones at that one part where they play the kazoo melody.
I managed to chat with Kevin a little bit via Telegram just to interview him about his music, but as we’re about to touch the topic of the videogame soundtrack, he asked me:
Apple//Green: Just before I dump a big block of information on you, how much do you know about Vivian James and everything affiliated with the character?
What I knew about Vivian James at the moment of the interview was just the game that included his soundtrack. I only got to delve into the story in the following days, talking to Kevin again. The ins and outs of the story were appalling.
In August 2014, the videogame community, stemming from the American one and then spreading to the rest of the world, was blown over by the so-called “Gamergate scandal”. It was an actual media rumpus, that showed the terrible power united haters can have. A demographic study that, if thorougly analyzed, would explain how Trump’s victory was already certain months before American elections.
Three years passed already, but talking about it could very easily still fuel arguments and flames: the Gamergate topic touches upon sexism, misoginy, fascism, misinformation and fanatism.
Any male journalist who ever tried to explain the topic, adding his own point of view, found himself drowning in critical comments, generating deceptive discussions.
Trying to recap for story purposes, and focusing on haters and doxxing:
- On February 14th 2014 a free browser game, Depression Quest, was published. It was an interactive fiction game made with Twine. The game, talking bluntly about sensitive topics such as depression, psychiatric drugs and suicidal tendencies, was at first harshly criticized by a multitude of haters. It was then positively greeted by the critics and ended up as a paid game on Steam on August 11th 2014.
- Actor Robin Williams died committing suicide on the same day. He suffered from Lewy body dementia and this news shocked media from all over the world, who imagined Robin Williams as a doctor in clown clothes making everybody smile in his everyday life. On the internet, the average user and the aforementioned haters (who failed at boycotting the videogame Depression Quest) unknowingly united and accused the developer Zoe Quinn of taking advantage of the actor’s death to sell her game. Moreover, since the developer was female and the average gamer was male, to them Zoe Quinn immediately became a whore.
- Indeed, the first one saying how much of a whore she was was her own ex fiance, accusing her with an open letter on tumblr of having had sex with a journalist in exchange for advertising her game.
- From this, a huge controversy followed about journalism ethical integrity, as well as harsher death threats to the developer. But while the game became free to play and it came out that the journalist never even reviewed the game, it was too late. Since haters tipically never admit being wrong, other women in the videogame industry were targeted, including the creator of a web series about feminism, Anita Sarkeesian. She was forced to being escorted by FBI after a university lecture of hers got cancelled because a letter had came in saying “the deadliest school shooting in American history” would occur.
- The unstoppable rise of this kind of haters was defined by Know Your Meme encyclopedia the rise of social justice warriors. Basically nazis.
- Phil Fish (the creator of renowed FEZ), seeing how much how gamers sucked and how they treated videogame authors, decided to sell FEZ and his company Polytron intellectual rights.
And back to the interview:
Apple//Green: It’s heavily tied to gamergate nowadays but started out as a reward from a feminist crowdfunding campaign called “The Fine Young Capitalists”. I forgot the exact amount, but a certain amount of donation money would let you draw a character for one of the games, so one day a lot of anons on 4chan decided to pledge like $500 to the campaign alongside the following drawing just to prove a point.
I think someone just said: “Hey, why don’t you just all send money to my PayPal account and I’ll send that to TFYC in the name of /v/ as a whole?”. I could be wrong but that’s essentially what happened.
It was during this upheaval of events that a young sharp Canadian man, being in the right place at the right time, was able to take advantage of this social storm.
We’re talking about Matthew Rappard, founder of The Fine Young Capitalists, a self-defined “radical feminist” group. Their purpose was to promote non-profit initiatives in favor of under-represented demographic and working classes in the media industry.
Someone from The Fine Young Capitalists wrote on reddit they were being targeted by Zoe Quinn because of a contest of theirs.
TFYC organized a contest where you had to pick an idea (among five total) to develop a videogame for a society based in Bogota. The peculiarity was that these projects were all developed by women (actually, only the concept was created by a woman, since after the crowdfunding it was clear that the crew was only made up of about 30–40% women.)
On Twitter, Zoe Quinn criticized the initiative — she may have been right or wrong, but the tone was certainly wrong. Being Zoe Quinn the woman (or rather, the whore) everyone hated, someone, tied to TFYC, commented a defamatory reddit post about Quinn, saying that after having been insulted and doxed (to dox means to publish online private information, with the purpose of blackmail, extortion, and so on) by the developer, they opened an Indiegogo campaign needing 65000 $ to help their initiatives.
During the storm, 4chan /v/ (videogames) and reddit were the most focused places about it in the internet, followed by the #gamergate hashtag on Twitter and tumblr.
The discussion goes from reddit to 4chan, and since that everyone started endorsing TFYC — so much a mascot is born, supporting female freedom of expression.
This mascot is Vivian James, created by the 4chan community as a whole.
Apple//Green: I like to think the character reached the status [of meme] once Gamergate became more mainstream, since that was when a large number of people would create fanart and such for it. It was more so supposed to be a mascot of sorts.
/v/ already had its mascot, a “board-tan”, that is a character that represents the board and its users, so Vivian became /v/ board-tan’s daughter.
He sent me some pictures created by 4chan users. I asked him who made them.
Apple//Green: Random anons in threads at the time. There isn’t really any credit attached to most Vivian James art, since that’s pretty much how 4chan’s supposed to work. There’s no name or upvoting system attached to any content and it’s all just contributing content and ideas for the sake of it.
Seeing as the 4chan community became active creating this mascot, The Fine Young Capitalists promised that if they supported their campaign, Vivian James would be part of their videogame.
I’ve been informed the character created by /v/ is Vivian James. We will work with the creator to incorporate her into the lore of the game.
I've been informed the character created by /v/ is Vivian James. We will work with the creator to incorperate her into the lore of the game.— TFYC (@TFYCapitalists) 22 agosto 2014
The feminist organization caught the press attention even more when their crowdfunding campaign got hacked: this gave the whole matter more visibility and added fuel to the Zoe Quinn fire. In the first half of September 2014, especially thanks to 4chan donations, The Fine Young Capitalists reached and exceeded the amount it needed to produce its videogame. As his first official communication after collecting 71500 $ from more than 3800 backers in the IndieGogo campaign, the founder of the project Matthew Rappard thanked both his supporters and trolls hindering the campaign.
To all our trolls, thank you for providing a constant stream of comments to keep the dialog flowing. People often ask why I respond to trolls I find with a name search. The key reason is that whenever I do, more people hear about the production, which means more donations. Without you critics of the Internet, we would have soon been forgotten. Your anger and drama kept the project alive and for that I salute you.
After these words, The Fine Young Capitalists chose one of the contest ideas and started working on it, while month after month the focus on Gamergate started fading and becoming a distant memory. A year later, in August 2015, the games came out on Steam for 5 $.
The game was presented as a project made by Gamergate and 4chan /v/ and got tepid reviews by users. Moreover, Vivian James participation was negligible: she appeared in the brief intro and had a minor cameo role. As per her achievement data, it appears only 1.7% of players saw her.
Apple//Green: From what I’ve seen her affiliation with Gamergate was caused by common interest and pretty much just everyone who supported Gamergate always somewhat bringing the character into it.
The 4chan community, since it just managed to create its own mascot, decided to move forward on its own with the production of any media containing this character, in a more dignified way than what TFYC had done. I then ask Kevin to tell me about the origins of VivGame, the game designed by the 4chan community.
Apple//Green: The game started as a one man project. Since the developer preferred to stay anonymous he used the name “Devguy” in pretty much every Vivian James thread. The intention behind the idea of the game was to create a working engine with one playable level so that later on people could create their own levels.
Apple//Green: Since the game was initially supposed to be a project everyone could contribute to, Devguy also encouraged people to create their own music for the game and at the time a playable build with a boss battle (in which you fought a giant Redditor robot) was available.
So I decided to work on that as quickly as possible (threads on 4chan usually generally get deleted in a few hours) and people liked it so much that he immediately wanted to get in touch with me.
At the time the influx of ideas was HUGE, to the point where anons created a Google doc just to have this big collective design document everyone could contribute to.
The idea was for every level to eventually be themed after a board on 4chan. The /m/ board is for discussion about mech anime and everything related to it, so the demo for that level (which was created by another anon entirely) would play in a giant futuristic base filled with tons of references to mecha shows.
Apple//Green: Unfortunately there’s this stigma tied to 4chan projects created by anonymous posters inside threads, that is how they usually don’t get finished. It only makes sense that no direct contact and steady work schedule heavily influence progress, productivity and communication at the same time.
The eventual massive influx of shitposters once Gamergate started becoming a thing didn’t help at all, so eventually Devguy and I were the only people actively producing content for the game and after 2–3 playable demo builds development came to a grinding halt and for the next year or so. I’d occasionally send him e-mails containing new music and asking him if he’s still working on the game.
He’d tell me he’s in fact still working on it but as time went on progress on the game almost completely stopped and even he himself referred to it as a hobby project he might come back to from time to time. He also got doxxed by people who were assumingly anti GG/Vivian James and that probably didn’t help.
I asked him if he read all the commens on gameplay videos, where many people were asking for a Kickstarter campaign.
Apple//Green: I heard some terrible things have happened with doxxing recently. I highly doubt that a kickstarter project for the exact same game, lead by the same person, would be possible since 4chan projects are usually held to the high standard of “we don’t need publicity or fame.” I don’t know how Devguy stands on that matter.
This is a huge shame to me because I think the designs had a lot of charm and the mechanics and boss battle were surprisingly really enjoyable.
He then sent me a gameplay storyboard screenshot.
Apple//Green: I mean look at this. What is not to love about this? Haha
I asked Kevin some more questions in the following days, but because of some economic problems he first apologized and then said he couldn’t afford rent this month, so he didn’t feel like answering more questions. I told Kevin’s story so that someone could appreciate his music and support him in his work, since, while “radical feminist” associations could make more than 70000 $ to support artists. the same artists who supported the cause with their creations weren’t helped at all by these groups whose alleged purpose is charity.
By the way: what about The Fine Young Capitalists?
In 2015 and 2016 TFYC winded up managing fundraisers for three other projects:
- The first one was a contest to create a sci-fi webcomic called SNless, to be published with NonCommercial Creative Commons. To date, nothing is known about the contest.
- The second one was a scholarship created by an aerospace engineer-slash-porn star named Mercedes Carrera, for STEM students (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). The scholarship funds were donated via Indiegogo and by some cam girls’ audience.
- The third one was the Vivian James Film Award, or in other words, donating the remanders of the proceeds to a Canadian Cinema school, motivated by: “We created this prize because the new Ghostbusters sucks.”
Wouldn’t it have been better to give the rest of the funds to those who dedicated their valuable time, creating excellent material, and who really believed in the ideals that made TFYC a profit?