Today I sat down with the creator behind The Fine Young Capitalists (Matthew Rappard) to talk about the group’s politics, their recent project to get games created by women into the market place, and their involvement with controversial figure, Zoe Quinn.
Their most recent project has been a contest in which women submitted ideas for games. The winner, who is being voted on right now from five possible candidates, will have their game made and released to the public.
APGNation: First, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions today. Our staff and readers really appreciate it. To begin, why don’t you tell our readers at home who may not be familiar with your organization what you do and what inspired everyone involved to start the project in the first place?
The Fine Young Capitalists: The Fine Young Capitalists’ mission is to create media using underrepresented labor [and] unexplored demographics to fund non-profit organizations, thereby “creating the means for the production”. In simpler terms, we are a loose group of artists and entrepreneurs who work with minorities to help them make video games, graphic novels, and videos. Our current project is to get women to design video games and in March we did an open call where any women could come up with an idea for a video game. We took the top five best ideas and assigned them concept artists to design their game. Those ideas are currently online and the Internet is voting on the best one. If there is enough interest in the form of pre-orders through crowdfunding then we’ll work with the winning woman to create her game and [give] her a percentage of the profits with the rest going to charity. The majority of the women who applied did not have the necessary skills or connections to make their game.
Our groups were inspired because we felt that many interesting stories weren’t being told. This was a combination of lack of interest from the business community and the financial difficulties of hiring experienced labor when starting out. We were also highly suspicious of projects that only focus on education. Running a two-week workshop on how to design a game is great for fun, but it takes years to learn the skills necessary to make a real game and months to develop a project for market. We really wanted to show the world a finished product that people would buy as a way to inspire businesses to hire more women.
We also wanted the backers to understand that they were giving money because they thought the project would succeed; therefore, TFYC is set up so anyone that supports the project gets part of the profits from the game to give to charity. This was supposed to create the idea in [one’s] mind that he was investing in a woman. As a radical feminist group, it’s important for people to see women as creators of ideas that are financially viable. By creating this perception, it helps us to break down the patriarchy.
You can back us here.
APGNation: Zoe Quinn was connected to The Fine Young Capitalists for a time. What role did she play in the grand scheme of things?
TFYC: We did not expect this question, but Zoe Quinn has probably been the largest problem to this production even before it existed.
On Feb 28th, Zoe Quinn found out about the production through one of her followers, @ObiCynKenobi. Zoe Quinn started asking questions about the production and we answered.
Zoe Quinn then began a Twitter discussion, which can be seen here. But the major points are she DDoS’d our site, she called us exploitative, and her PR manager Maya Felix Kramer posted my Facebook information which Zoe replied to, alerting her followers. Due to this, I received a death threat. My name Matthew Rappard does not appear on the current site or the previous site for TFYC, and I would have preferred to be a silent partner. This Twitter retweeting went on for almost 24 hours, most of them calling us transphobic and exploitative.
TFYC is what we like to refer as a high-risk production. We were aware that there might be some blowback. We did not expect this level of blowback, specifically the claim of being transphobic. One business partner, not wanting the rest of his work to be referred to as transphobic, left the project. He was planning to contribute $10,000 dollars. This cost was covered by me.
We immediately delayed launching the site for a week while we addressed these issues making sure our transgender policy was correct (it was checked by another human rights lawyer) and we went over our monetary policies, and they were all deemed fine.
After the launch, it became extremely difficult to engage with an audience, because if you searched for our name especially on Twitter, then you will find long
We approached a journalist and got a response for Chloi Rad at Indiestatik, who liked the project and did an interview. Upon her arrival at the GDC, we assumed she would publish the article. We contacted her at GDC when we were having more Twitter problems with another user, asking when she was going to publish the article. She said she would talk to Zoe Quinn while she was at GDC. Chloi Rad did not get back us for about a week. We were doing an AMA on Reddit, which included drawings, and we did a drawing of Chloi as a means of getting her attention. Chloi asked us to immediately remove her name/picture from the AMA and explained that Zoe had told her that the project was highly exploitative and that we were transphobic. She made it clear she didn’t want to be associated with us. All the issues Zoe had with the project were addressed in the interview but Chloi never published the article.
An article is very important because it allows us to engage with social networks like Reddit (I.E. link to the article instead of our page) and the Chloi sentiment was repeated when Zoe was brought into the picture with other journalists. We contacted Zoe a total of 5 times before the start of the crowdfunding, twice by phone and twice by email, and once through Chloi. Before the crowdfunding portion started, we also sent Emails to Chloi and Maya Felix Kramer explaining we would not engage in crowdfunding if they deemed the project exploitative— neither responded. One of Zoe’s emails explained that we would hire her as a consultant on a project, [but] it was not returned.
We were extremely worried about Zoe because of her experience in a GameJam, which she ended. We were seriously worried that a similar thing could happen to us.
Once we launched the project there was a thread about the Wizardchan Raid on Reddit. We had done research on Zoe and we were aware that Wizardchan had not raided her, and assumed it was common knowledge and posted to the thread what happened to us, expecting 10 upvotes. We also indicated that Rebel Jam, the Gamejam that Zoe had started after she ended the previous one, had no start date or location but was still taking donations going directly into her bank account.
That Reddit thread was picked up by the Internet Aristocrat and published online in one of his videos, which is where the information became public and known by the Internet community. We assumed at this time Zoe just didn’t understand the project and was covering herself.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier contacted us after our Indiegogo page got hacked on Aug 25. At the time, we assumed Zoe had simply not understood the terms of our website, and asked to do an article on the facts of the issues, explaining Zoe was confused and did not understand them. We wanted to set the record straight on what happened, but again, the article was never published.
On the Aug 27, Zoe contacted us via email asking why TFYC said she doxxed us. We explained that she had retweeted Maya’s doxxing information. Zoe explained that Maya was not associated with her (a point that goes against Maya’s webpage and the Twitter conversation) and attempted to manipulate the situation and blame it on Maya.
At the time, we felt that since PAX was such an important part of Zoe’s work life that we should make a statement on the situation. We asked for a phone call. Zoe wanted us to deny that she had doxxed us, we said we wouldn’t lie but would make a statement. Zoe then proceeded to bribe us by saying that she would speak about us at PAX if we [change] the statement. We didn’t take her up on the offer but said we’d make a statement, which she approved. We also discussed helping with RebelJam/ Another GameJam, because we had a difficult time making contacts in the indie video game industry. She agreed to help us.
Over the course of the next day we worked with Zoe to create a document known as the Peace Treaty. Zoe was supposed to have signed it but at the last minute decided not to. We expected her to take some responsibility but on her Tumblr she simply said that she didn’t Doxx us, and that it was just because she got passionate.
On September 2 we contacted an interactive/television producer that worked on video games that was interested in helping Zoe with Rebel Jam and to provide funding for the project. Zoe did not respond to three emails and one text asking if she’d like to have a meeting with the producer. We felt extremely used at this point.
We have taken down the PeaceTalk document, instead directing people to the statement.
We feel Zoe is extremely suspect as she has lied to us on every occasion, she has deliberately misrepresented information, as well as openly bribed us to change our story. We strongly suggest people should be very careful when dealing with her.
APGNation: On the topic of the threats received by people like Zoe Quinn, what do you think makes some people believe that such threats are a legitimate form of protest or speech? What do you feel is the best way to work towards eliminating behavior such as this?
TFYC: Threats aren’t protected speech, period. And I feel they cloud the issue. As I’ve written at great length, there are very good reasons to be critical of Zoe Quinn’s work. Honest criticism can not be expressed and explored fully when she’s receiving threats of violence.
I feel the best way to end such behavior would be to have an honest and open discussion in the press so that people understand the issues, and don’t just jump to conclusions. I find [that] even on Internet discussions, if you link to an article that can deflate an angry argument. I feel that honestly this isn’t happening. Not for reviews, not for stories, not for anything. Penny Arcade once made a statement that /r/games is like a portal into seeing what gaming news will be in four hours. Reddit is not a place for people to get stories, and writing a story in four hours based on unsubstantiated information isn’t real journalism.
I also feel people should really stop taunting their trolls; at the time of writing at least a third of the top 20 posts on Zoe’s Twitter feed were taunts at 4chan and other Internet trolls. It’s impossible to say this without sounding like you’re blaming the victim, [but] it’s difficult to consider her blameless when you pretend that saving a public IRC chat is hacking a site, or that people who have no rank control a group. I have never been able to successfully get 4chan to do anything. I’d be shocked if anyone else could with a degree of certainty. They came to us with a donation, then came to us with a character — we just said yes, we asked for nothing. Pretending that 4chan is one person or that their members share a common opinion on any topic is just plain silly.
APGNation: What are your feelings on Depression Quest?
TFYC: I feel that it is a game which some people feel a deep connection with. I do not, in the same way I did not like Dear Esther or the newest Madden. It just wasn’t my type of game the last time I played it.
That being said, it is neither a technological marvel nor a good indication of the average design skills of a woman. Since the game is browser-based, arguably Steam is a more cumbersome way to interact with it. And since Steam is taking a percentage of any donations received through its E-Store, it would have lower transaction costs in the browser.
It is a strange game to have made it through Greenlight. But there are worse games that have made it through and better ones that have not.
APGNation: One of your stated goals is to get more women into various aspects of the gaming community. What advice do you have for women who want to develop their own games or write about games, but may be intimidated by certain aspects of the culture? Also, for gamers in general, what advice would you have for people who want to help put a better face forward for the community?
TFYC: The first point to understand is that women in no way lack the skill or physical ability to write code or develop games. Per capita, women are more likely to be on Dean’s List in computer science than men; a woman invented the first computer programming language; and [women] show no less aptitude in problem solving or art. We assume most of the lack of interest comes from socialization and not a lack of desire or skill.
We find that men really just need to make people aware that they support women. One of the nicest things about TFYC is that it was all about the games, and we’d take the money from anyone. People who didn’t like feminism for some reason weren’t punished if they joined and could actively support women. We find even just saying “hello” to a new member of a gaming group, regardless of gender, makes them feel more welcome. These small steps help to make groups more inclusive and are just general courtesies.
We find that while the informal culture for video games can be difficult at times, the formal culture is very supportive. In Toronto, groups like Hackernest will give out free passes to their events to women and they are often given preferential treatment at events. We suggest woman exploit these systems to make as many contacts as possible so they can find the right person to work with. We then suggest that they focus on presenting their idea over themselves. Women tend to be viewed/judged on who they are and not what they can do. Because so much of computer science is through pseudonyms this can negatively affect women’s ability to succeed if they focus only on themselves. By focusing on ideas that are presented well, your gender can be removed from the equation
APGNation: Do you think that the depiction of women in games needs to change, and if so, how? Also, do any of you have a favorite female video game character that you feel is particularly well executed?
TFYC: We feel that additional women working in the industry will create new games, which will allow for new characters. Video games actually have a rich tradition of strong female characters, especially in JRPGs. Even Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider is executed quite well, and much better than she was before. We feel that games like Grand Theft Auto, with its particular brand of humor, overshadows the good work that is done. We don’t feel like people should stop making Grand Theft Auto but we do feel that women should be able to design more female orientated games with their own characters that they may feel are empowered, but might not resonate with men. We also feel that woman should add their own characters to the existing genres to make it more inclusive.
APGNation: There have been many accusations of misogyny leveled against the gaming community as of late. How much truth do you think there is to those claims?
TFYC: I can reference Bell Hooks here.
“Emotional neglect lays the groundwork for the emotional numbing
With all the focus on female characters and female representation, the media has completely ignored male representation in gaming and its audience. In reality the average male gamer is over 30 now, and many have daughters, wives or girlfriends. I don’t think people that lead these normal lives are misogynists. But I think a vocal minority feel they are not being represented and don’t have words to explain their problems. This confusion is expressed mostly as anger at everything. At game journalists, at women in the industry, at everyone.
I really feel more discussion of representation that address both genders would lower some of this anger. It would not completely remove it, but could help in the long run.
APGNation: On the other side of things, many gamers are speaking out about gaming news sites doing “feminist” news pieces. Do you think there is any legitimate concern here?
TFYC: I don’t feel that the issue has been with feminist pieces, I feel the issue was with Clickbait pieces; [articles] that were poorly researched and meant to cause anger in the reader. I feel that there is very little real discussion of feminism in games. Simply a lot of finger pointing aimed at the male demographic. I feel that if a publication was to do a longer column that explores gender in depth and provide a balanced viewpoint, it would be very well received by both genders, as our videos have. But I also feel that Clickbait probably generates the same revenue with much less effort.
APGNation: 4chan recently donated quite a bit of money to your campaign over at Indiegogo. Was it surprising to get so much support from them, and what was the response from your team to the donation at the time?
TFYC: 4chan was swept rather unfairly into the Zoe Quinn thing. Their moderators actually engaged in a similar purging of information as many other sites had, but got relaxed faster than Reddit did. 4chan is a collection of users with different drives and emotions. They are often used as a tool to spread information anonymously by users that don’t frequent the page.
Because so much information was being posted by Zoe Quinn on 4chan, our name was mentioned due to the Reddit leak. As such we started to receive donations from 4chan. For two days in a row they were the top donors to TFYC, and I decided to Tweet out a thanks before going to bed. The Tweet was retweeted hundreds of times. When I awoke, I had received a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org, explaining that 4chan shouldn’t donate to women’s projects. I wrote a response on Twitter saying that /v/’s love of games transcended gender barriers and that they were welcome. This resonated with /v/ and they asked if they could get a referral link and pool their money to reach the most expensive perk, which was to be a logo in the game. We said yes, and over the next couple weeks /v/ managed to raise over $22,000 through their referral link. This easily awarded them with their logo which will appear before the front of the game. It’s important to understand that 4chan corporate isn’t affiliated with the project, so the community at /v/ took the time to design their own logo, which we are still voting on.
I was surprised that 4chan was so interested in the project. To this day we receive more referral traffic from 4chan than any other page. We feel this project resonated with /v/ because it’s so game focused and we treat them with respect. When /v/ designed Vivian James and asked if she could be placed into the game, we said yes because we liked the character. Because 4chan raised so much money we wanted to reward them. So we asked them what they’d like our next video to be about. They said female developers and as such we’ve covered three female developers and will probably cover at least two more by the end of the contest.
APGNation: The integrity of gaming journalism has come under fire recently. Is this a real concern, or something thrown out to distract people from other issues?
TFYC: Like movies, video games spend tens of millions of dollars on marketing. To pretend that this money doesn’t affect what is covered and by [whom] is ludicrous. This corruption is always a real concern, and gaining the trust of the audience back is nearly impossible.
I do feel many of the policies being adopted by The Escapist and other magazines in regard to Kickstarter and Patreon are actually good starting points to lowering the fears that people had. That being said, I feel most journalists are just trying to tell good stories and get paid properly. I feel that the majority of “corruption” is in reality “confusion” between parties.
Giant Bomb was created not out of the direct action of a publisher, but from confusion internally at GameSpot, and certain producers overstepping their bounds to lay off reviewers. The lesson there was that people too often jump to [conclusions] before coming to facts. However, many of the scandals that having been coming out in the last couple weeks do need to be addressed fairly. And steps should be taken so they don’t happen in the future.
APGNation: Do you think that gaming news sites will change if gamers begin to boycott those they feel are not ethical or reliable?
TFYC: I feel any site that cannot maintain an audience is doomed to fail.
APGNation: What does the future hold for The Fine Young Capitalists? Do you have any projects down the pipeline besides those already in the works?
TFYC: We are still working on SNless, which is a graphic novel project based around getting more people who self-identify as Black into the science fiction. Anyone that self-identifies as Black can create a character for the world. We’ll take the top 20 and work with the creators to design the character. The Internet will choose the top five characters and we’ll work with the author to create a graphic novel with the character. I like the idea, but it’s difficult to determine if it will be succeed or not at the moment.
APGNation: Of the projects you’ve worked on in the past, which has been your favorite?
TFYC: I’m still a money guy at heart. Unfortunately, my favorite projects are the ones where I work the least and get paid the most. I am not getting paid for TFYC, but my favorite project was one where I did almost nothing, got paid, and used the money to create a graphic novel with a friend.
APGNation: Thank you for your time, before we go though, do you have any parting words you’d like to share with our readers?
TFYC: The point of TFYC was to show that women have good ideas and that men support them. People often forget the second part. To every guy out there that supported us, thank for showing that so many men actually care about women’s issues. For the women that are just hearing about the contest, remember that we want you making games just as much you do.
APGNation: So there you have it. Another voice in the ongoing dialogue in the gaming community on gender, game journalism, and what we gamers can do to make our hobby more accessible to a wider audience. If you would like to know more about The Fine Young Capitalists and their recent contest to produce a game based on ideas pitched exclusively by women, you can visit them at their website here.
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We’ve reached out to Ms. Quinn via Twitter for an interview but, as of present, we have not heard back from her and those involved. If anyone has a suggestion for a future interview, then leave a comment below! Let us know who you would want us to interview next in our ongoing investigation of GamerGate.