By David Futrelle
Last week, game designer and Gamergate nemesis Zoe Quinn publicly accused indie game developer Alec Holowka of being abusive during, and vindictive after, a brief relationship the two had some years ago. Several others stepped forward with similar accusations.
Now the story has gotten sadder and uglier: Holowka has reportedly died by suicide. And those we might call the Eternal Gamergaters have taken to the internet en masse to accuse Quinn (and in a few cases, Holowka’s own sister) of causing his death.
On Saturday, Holowka’s sister Eileen posted a note to Twitter announcing the shocking and unexpected death of her brother. Her statement was in many ways a remarkable one. While describing Alex as “my brother and best friend” and declaring that “deep down he was a person who wanted only to offer people care and kindness,” she also acknowledged frankly that he had led a troubled life and that she would “not pretend that he was not also responsible for causing harm,” a statement that seems to offer a corroboration of sorts for the accusations against him.
Anticipating the inevitable scapegoating of Quinn, Eileen went on to say that her brother had told her he “wished the best for Zoë and everyone else, so don’t use our grief as an excuse to harass people.”
“Nah we harassing her,” replied one Twitterer.
And indeed, few if any of Quinn’s enemies heeded Eileen’s advice. Almost immediately, social media sites were echoing with angry denunciations of the alleged “murderer” of Alec Holowka.
On Twitter, they were blunt and nasty with their allegations, trying to get hashtags like #ZoeQuinnBodycount and #ZoeQuinnIsAMurderer trending. Many took their hate directly to Quinn, who quickly deserted Twitter entirely. A sampling:
Others directed their anger at Eileen Holowka … for acknowledging the harm her brother had done to others and asking his fans not to harass Quinn. (Eileen has since locked her Twitter account.)
And of course some Eternal Gamergate grifters — and Gamergate-friendly journalists — jumped into the fray.
Note: I have obscured the picture that accompanied the Heavy article because it was a picture of the wrong guy. I should also note that, contrary to Ethan Ralph’s claim, Quinn did not accuse Holowka of rape.
There were a few on the other side of the political divide who said they were glad the alleged abuser was dead, but honestly I found more people complaining about the alleged vast numbers of those “celebrating” his death than I found, after much looking, actually celebrating his death.
While Quinn and to a lesser degree Eileen Holowka are, at least in the minds of the Eternal Gamergaters, the villains of this piece, I should note again that there were several other accusers. Not only that, but Alec Holowka’s former partners in the making of the celebrated game Night in the Woods also came out to say that they found the accusations believable. In a note to backers, Infinite Fall’s Scott Benson wrote that
enough of the allegations are extremely plausible and just about all of it we’ve corroborated with other sources. …
When people who have years-long real life experience with the guy, people who knew him in different situations, locations, ages, and contexts, all say the same thing, you can assume there’s more to this than you’d know from outside the situation, taking it in 280 characters at a time.
Suicide never has a single cause. It’s certainly plausible that the allegations from Quinn — and the allegations from others that folllowed or that Holowka suspected would be coming shortly — may have triggered his actions, but they didn’t cause them. We don’t know why he did what he did. We only know when he did it.
Suicide is a rash and almost always an impulsive act it is, as many have observed, a permanent “solution” to a temporary problem. If you ever find yourself contemplating suicide, please — please! — reach out for help. Call or text a hotline, contact a friend (offline or on), talk to a therapist. There are people out there who care and want to help.
I urge anyone who has been through a period of crisis themselves to post comments below listing some of the resources (online or off) that you have found most helpful.
I also urge everyone to think twice about any angry comments they might want to post, whether that anger is aimed at Quinn or either Alec or Eileen Holowka. I will be quick to delete any comments that go over the line. (And if you see some comment from someone else that goes over the line, please contact me.)