Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz

For tackling online abuse.

Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz
[Game Over Illustration: JDawnInk, Controller: Carlos Alvarez via Getty Images]

Game developer Zoe Quinn was the first target of what became known as Gamergate last year, a hate campaign waged by anonymous Internet users on women in the video-game and tech communities. The rape and death threats got so bad that she was forced to flee her home. During the ordeal, Quinn learned a lot about dealing with cybermobs. So in January, she and her boyfriend, Alex Lifschitz, launched Crash Override, a volunteer group that offers free advice to victims of online harassment and refers them to experts in law, information security, PR, and law enforcement. “When [online abuse] gets to a certain point, it changes your life irrevocably in a way people don’t understand,” says Quinn. “Sometimes all people need is to know that somebody gets it.”


Bonus Round: Alex Lifschitz

Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

It really depends on the creative roadblock we’re facing. I get a lot just from learning about other people and the way they do things. Creativity isn’t just an abstract font for me personally–I tend to just look at those who have successfully overcome issues similar to the one we’re dealing with and try to imitate not their solutions, but their attitude and approach to it, and take it to heart. It’s always important to keep an open mind about everything you don’t know, even if you’re already knowledgeable or creative in your own way. I’m distrustful of muses.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Check my phone. It sounds trite, but it’s mostly a preparatory thing. I don’t always hit the panic button first thing in the morning, since that’s when I’m more ‘revving up.’ I see the start of any intensive activity as a time to get centered and self-examine for what you’re about to take on, so I look to my inbox to better guide that morning’s reflection as I go about a calmer meditative routine instead of immediately making moves.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

I’m a game producer and also help run task forces and nonprofits, and a lot of the skillset overlaps. I think people have this idea that a lot of the day-to-day is some impenetrable black box of specialized knowledge and jargon and industry intrigue, like out of some kind of Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk, but people would be surprised by how much of what we do is just the procedural implementation of common sense. ‘Be excellent to each other,’ ‘Don’t do anything you couldn’t defend,’ etc. It helps you stay mutable and relatable.

What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?

I’d say that honor belongs to Pepito the Cat. No matter how miserable things get on Twitter, it’s good to know a cat is somewhere he needs to be.

How do you keep track of everything you have to do. Can you send us a snapshot of your to-do list?

My personal method of keeping track of tasks is a simple combination of email and whiteboard. It’s shockingly effective and transparent. My inbox acts as a to-do list, and I’m always striving to hit a zero inbox. If there’s something that requires updates or monitoring before I can close it out, I stick the email in a ‘cycling’ folder/tag and put it on my whiteboard along with the name of who I’m waiting to hear back from–that keeps me honest, since I need to not be the person that item is waiting on to get done. That whiteboard is always within eyeshot so I can’t just ignore it. It also lets other people in my environment see what’s on my plate, to make sure their request hasn’t gone into a black hole. When I hit zero inbox, I run down my ‘cycling’ folder to see if there’s anything I can probe into and try to clear that out. I use the pomodoro technique to get it all done.

What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?

See answer to the first question, really. There are very few ‘aha’ moments when I’m facing a problem that emerge from individual process, but they come more naturally when your principles align with the regular consumption and analysis of new ideas. One thing we’ve taken to heart is that plans tend to get you in a rut when planned for their own sake, but a consistent moral and professional compass is a lot more useful for evaluating problems and coming out on top. That compass gets tempered by working through problems. Like Eisenhower said, ‘Plans are useless; planning is everything.’

One thing we often use to get a clear picture of murky professional or ethical choices is what I call ‘The Diner Test,’ a mental exercise that has gotten us out of a lot of potential disasters. You imagine yourself sitting across a table at a greasy-spoon diner with the people who stand to be helped and hurt most by the decision you’re about to make, and imagine they ask you the most interrogative, simple, Socratic question they can about what you’re about to do, and hold you accountable. Then answer honestly. Are you really personally comfortable with what you come up with? Can you sleep well with your answer? If not, it’s time to reconsider your decision.


About the author

Sarah Kessler is a senior writer at Fast Company, where she writes about the on-demand/gig/sharing "economies" and the future of work.