Nathan Grayson

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Nathan Grayson

Aliases @Vahn16
Occupation Video game journalist
Affiliations Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun

Nathan Grayson is a former contributor[1][2] for Rock Paper Shotgun and current contributor for Kotaku. In August 2014 he became embroiled in a controversy regarding allegations of journalistic impropriety when it was revealed that he had entered into an undisclosed romantic relationship[3] with the subject of his coverage, independent game developer, Zoe Quinn.

Notable Works

Grayson is most notable for his coverage of GAME JAM, a sponsored "indie" game jam event, which he detailed in an article entitled "The Indie Game Reality TV Show that Went to Hell". This coverage, which primarily focuses on personal conflicts and arguments that derailed the project, focuses heavily on Zoe Quinn, to the point of casting her as the protagonist of the struggle of the "indie developers" against the corporate machinations of the sponsors and their hired producer.

Overall Themes and Criticism

Grayson primarily tends to focus on issues of sexism in gaming, or content and media that he perceives to be sexist in nature. This is often attributed to a conversion in viewpoint developed while working at Rock Paper Shotgun:

Being here taught me to care about new things, too. I never thought myself openly sexist or racist or homophobic or anything like that before, but I also didn't understand how systemically ingrained many of those mentalities are. Writing about them helped me learn how to be less shitty, helped me become better at caring about other people no matter how different we are. And (sic)anyway, we’re all human.
— Nathan Grayson, "I Love You All"[4]

In the same letter, Grayson goes on to acknowledge Jenn Frank, Mattie Brice, Cara Ellison and the site Critical Distance for their contributions to his development as a writer.

A frequent criticism of Grayson is that he applies standards of sexism, or sexist content in a haphazard way, as illustrated by side by side comparison of his coverage. For example, his widely criticized coverage of DOTA,[5] where he asks Blizzard game director, Dustin Browder several loaded questions including, this infamous one:

You have some interesting alternate outfits for heroes. Roller Derby Nova, especially, caught my eye. On its own, that’s totally fine – just a silly, goofy thing. A one-off. But it got me thinking about how often MOBAs tend to hyper-sexualize female characters to a generally preposterous degree – that is to say, make it the norm, not a one-off at all – and StarCraft’s own, um, interesting focus choices as of late. How are you planning to approach all of that in Heroes?
— Nathan Grayson, Blizzard On Heroes Of The Storm, Female Designs In MOBAs

Prominent Youtube personality TotalBiscuit criticized the above question, as well as other aspects of the games media in a video entitled I Will Now Ramble About Games Media For Just Under 30 Minutes.[6] Pointing out that very premise that "MOBAs" as a genre "tend to hyper-sexualize female characters" is not a widely held view or accepted as fact, and instead Grayson was engaging in a form of Begging the question in order to state his own belief as fact.

The above article and subsequent criticism can be contrasted with Graysons coverage of another Blizzard product, Overwatch.[7] Which instead reads directly like a press release touting Blizzards devotion to de-sexualizing female video game avatars despite admissions from Blizzard designer Chris Metzen that they are actually still sexualized:

However, even in the context of Overwatch, which represents a good number of different races, nationalities, and sexes, Metzen admitted that "there's a lot of room for growth." And to be fair, Overwatch's women are mostly super slim and clad in cat suits, so... yeah. (That's not to say they aren't great characters, nor that a game shouldn't have some sexy characters. I just agree with Metzen: there's room to grow.)

For Blizzard, that's definitely a focus going forward. Metzen added:

"Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we've been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don't know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it's something we're very sensitive to. We want that to be part of who we are, what our brand is. I think [Blizzard president] Mike [Morhaime] talked in a roundabout way to that in his speech [at the start of BlizzCon]. It's something we're very cognizant of. We want girls to feel kick-butt. Equally represented."
— Nathan Grayson, With Overwatch, Blizzard is trying to do Women Characters Better

Many readers have blogged speculation about if the overall change in tone shows favortism to Metzen as opposed to Browder, or if Grayson was deliberately trying to moderate his reporting after the outcry following his DOTA interview.

Other Industry Work

Nathan has been a quality assurance tester or play tester on some minor video games[8] such as "Arcade America", "Disney's Timon & Pumbaa's Jungle Games", "Peter and the Wolf" and Zoe Quinn's "Depression Quest".[9]

Conflicts of Interest

Dierdra Kiai

Nathan Grayson published an article about a GaymerX convention on 25 July 2014.[10] In the article, he admits he having a friendship with game developer Dierdra Kiai, and links to Kiai's website on which her website can be purchased. Grayson wrote another article on 1 April 2014, in which he interviews Kiai.[11] Grayson delivers a glowing profile of Kiai as well as providing a direct link to the product storefront for Kiai game "Dominique Pamplemousse". On 17 July 2014, Nathan Grayson publishes an article about a video interview with a many indie developers from GaymerX, in which Kiai takes part as well .[12] No mention of Grayson's relationship to Kiai or any sort of disclaimer is given in either of the two articles.


Grayson wrote two favourable articles on GaymerX on 25 July 2014[13] and 25 August 2014.[14] A number of tweets show the President of GaymerX, Toni Rocca, and Grayson planning to meet up with each other, indicating a close personal relationship [15] Grayson failed to disclose this conflict of interest in both articles.

Nina Freeman and Porpentine

In Grayson's "Top Ten Games of 2014"[16], he plugs Porpentine's game "With Those We Love Alive", who was a co-worker at Rock, Paper, Shotgun while he was there.[17][18] In the same article, he also plugs Nina Freeman's How Do You Do It, who he has a close personal relationship with, as evident in a collection of tweets.[19] Neither of the two conflicts of interest were disclosed in the article.

Riot Games

Between 17 October 2013 and 15 July 2014, Grayson published four articles on RPS about League of Legends, a game developed by Riot Games.[20] Three more articles were published on Kotaku on 2 February, 3 February and 23 February 2015. Numerous tweets show Grayson to have personal relationships with at least Riot Games employees, which Grayson failed to disclose in any of the seven articles.

Robert Yang

A favourable article about Stick Shift was published on 6 April 2015 by Grayson on Kotaku.[21] The developer of the game, Robert Yang, wrote numerous articles for Rock, Paper, Shotgun in 2013, during the same period Grayson was an employee.[22] No mention of this professional relationship was made in the article.

Robin Arnott

Nathan Grayson mentioned Robin Arnott and his game SoundSelf six times in a three month period between March 31 and July 9, 2014,[23][24][25][26] including two conspicuous name drops in articles having nothing to do with Arnott or his game.[27][28] Based on Arnott's facebook profile, he's been friends with Grayson since as early as March 2013.[29] In the articles, Grayson either profiled Arnott or his work in a positive light, or used him as a quote and plugged his products, even including links to his products. None of the six articles contained any disclosure about their friendship.

White Whale Games

Grayson wrote a favourable article on 2 October 2014 about Monstrocards, a game developed by White Whale Games. [30] A link to the Kickstarter page of the game was put at the bottom of the article, one day before the deadline of 3 October 2014. Moreover, Grayson failed to disclose a personal relationship with two White Whale Games employees, as evident in tweets detailing plans to meet up with each other.[31]

Zoe Quinn

Grayson wrote several articles mentionining game Developer Zoe Quinn, which were published on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Kotaku. As will be seen below, Grayson failed to disclose important information regarding his relationship with Quinn in several of those articles.

Grayson first wrote a favourable article about game developer Zoe Quinn on 5 September 2012, which highlights her games and includes a link to her products.[32] By time the article was written Grayson and Quinn appear to have become very friendly with each other. The two have known each other since at least as early as June 14th, 2012,[33], had met each other several times and have exchanged compliments and otherwise had friendly conversations on on twitter several times before Grayson wrote his first article on Quinn.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42]

Grayson and Quinn continued to maintan friendly contact with each other after the September 2012 article was published. On 12 November 2012, Quinn tweeted about her plans to create a game about social anxiety. Grayson in response volunteered himself to be a consultant on the game.[43] On 27 March, 2013, Grayson attended the 1ReasonToBe panel at GDC.[44][45][46] Quinn, who was also among the panel's audience, contacted Grayson and asked him to hang out with her after the talk would be over, a request to which Grayson happily complied.[47] By November-December 2013 Quinn and Grayson have clearly become very fond of each other, as was evidenced by them exchanging compliments and expressing affection toward each other on twitter. At one point Quinn even expressed a desire to hang out with Grayson.[48][49][50][51]

It would also appear that Grayson was somehow involved in the making of Quinn's game Depression Quest, as he was credited in the game's closing credits. By checking the game's data, Ethan Ralph of The Ralph Retort has deduced that Grayson's name was included in the clsoing credits since February 2013.[52] When Quinn was asked why Grayson was thanked in DQ's credits, she replied that he was "[one of] the testers"[53] and that Grayson and others "[made] sure [the game] didnt crash and explode when other people played it".[54] Likewise, Zoe referred to Grayson's work on the game as "bug testing".[55] Seeing that Depression Quest was released on February 2013,[56] we must assume that the work Grayson did on an unifinished of the game happened prior to that date.

Quinn's comments gave the impression that Grayson worked on the game as a beta tester, but Grayson denied it. He still admitted however that he provided creative input for DQ, meaning he was still involved in the making of the game:

"I offered [Quinn] a couple lines of feedback. They basically amounted to, "This is a neat idea, but when I went through this these sorts of things happened." I battled depression for a pretty significant chunk of my life, so I felt like that input was warranted. As a result of that, Zoe decided to mention me, along with dozens of other people, in the game's credits. I was honestly surprised to find out about this, because I don't feel like I actually did anything worth being thanked for. But hey, it happened."
Nathan Grayson[57]

Grayson failed to dislcose his relationship with Quinn and his involvement with making of Depression Quest when he wrote about those subjects for RPS on 8 January 2014.[58] He also demonstrated his closeness to Quinn just a day after the article was published, saying that he would burn the video game industry if Quinn were to retire from it.[59]

Signs of friendship between Grayson and Quinn can also be seen in the tweets posted by the two on January and March 2014. On 30 Janaury, 2014, Quinn directed a tweet at Grayson and another person saying that she misses them. Grayson replied that GDC is will come soon, suggesting that he was planning to meet Quinn there. Quinn was delighted by Grayson's response.[60] Between 17-23 March Quinn and Grayson have hung out with each other on several different times.[61][62][63][64][65][66]

On 30 March, 2014, Quinn twitted about her plans to go to a trip with Las Vegas along with Grayson and others.[67] Just a day afterwards Grayson published an article on Kotaku, in which Quinn is the central protagonist of the article, which also includes a link to her game. [68] Just like in the previous articles, Grayson failed to disclose his personal relationship with Quinn and his involvement in the making of DQ. Eron Gjoni, Quinn's former boyfriend, belives that Quinn and Grayson were friends "for a while" prior to late March/early April 2014[69] i.e the time in which Grayson wrote about Quinn for Kotaku.

It should be noted that in an article Grayson wrote about Christine Love on March 19, 2015, he provided full disclosure of the fact he once sang karaoke with her.[70] Based on this standard for providing full disclosure, he should have provided full disclosure in the article he wrote about Quinn on March 31, 2014, as he had sang karaoke with her prior to that date.[62][63]

Grayson also mentioned Quinn in a Kotaku article published on 13 March 2015, detailing the events of GDC 2015.[71] Leaked emails show Grayson to have paid Quinn a total of $800 in early August, which was confirmed by Grayson himself:[72]

"This concerns something that happened then–nothing even *remotely* work-related. Given that it’s a personal matter, I’d prefer not to say any more."

Although he admitted to dating Quinn briefly "last year", no disclosure was made about the financial conflict of interest in the article.

Allegations of Plagiarism

On 29 July 2014 Grayson published an article entitled "Your Favorite Elder Scrolls Character Probably Died A Horrible Death" that was primarily sourced from an Imgur post[73] by a user "St41n3dCl4ss". While in the article Grayson wrote, "St41n3dCl4ss" was cited as a source, that source in turn was actually an English translation of a French article by Corentin Lamy.[74][75] However, despite the citation, which was attributed incorrectly, the article itself is primarily a verbatim copy with some minor reformatting. This type of quotation in the long form, while an increasingly common part of Kotaku's coverage, is considered plagarism[76] due to the lack of additional original work in the piece.

Kotaku Investigates Allegations and Reforms Internal Policy

On 20 August 2014, Kotaku Editor in Chief Stephen Totilo released a public statement[77] addressing the controversy around Grayson's alleged journalistic lapses. Within it he address only the allegations about the romantic, or sexual relationship on behalf of his reporter. It is also worth noting that despite it being obvious that Nathan Grayson has never reviewed "Depression Quest" this allegation makes it into the official statement, as such:

Nathan has been accused of in some way trading positive coverage of a developer for the opportunity to sleep with her, of failing to disclose that he was in a romantic relationship with a developer he had written about, and that he'd given said developer's game a favorable review.
— Stephen Totilo

Despite Totilo not addressing the impropriety of one of his reporters not recusing themselves from a situation where they have an obvious conflict of interest due to long standing friendships, such as the coverage Nathan did of the "GAME JAM" event, Stephen then goes on to state the following:

Given the information available to us both from Nathan and all sources presented online, I have no reason to believe any further action need be taken. The situation is fraught for all involved, including our readers, whose trust is paramount; inquiry is always welcome.
— Stephen Totilo

Several days later on 26 August 2014, Totilo releases another statement[78] where he outlines a minor change in the policy regarding his reporters providing money to their subjects in the form of Patreon contributions and states:

The last week has been, if nothing else, a good warning to all of us about the pitfalls of cliquishness in the indie dev scene and among the reporters who cover it. We've absorbed those lessons and assure you that, moving ahead, we'll err on the side of consistent transparency on that front, too.
— Stephen Totilo

It is worth noting that despite no formal ethics policy being forthcoming, several disclosure statements were added to articles on the site around this time.

See Also

Zoe Quinn



  1. Rock Paper Shotgun Welcomes Nathan Grayson
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Zoe Quinn describing breaking up with Nathan Grayson on Facebook
  4. "I Love You All", Nathan Grayson, Rock Paper Shotgun
  5. Blizzard On Heroes Of The Storm, Female Designs In MOBAs
  6. "I will now ramble about games media for just under 30 minutes" TotalBiscuit,
  7. With Overwatch, Blizzard is trying to do Women Characters Better Nathan Grayson of Kotaku
  8. Mobygames Bio for Nathan Grayson
  9. Twitter Status, Zoe Quinn
  10. Kotaku Article, Nathan Grayson: The Best Games Convention I've Been To May Soon Be No More
  11. "Making Games Is Easy. Belonging Is Hard"
  12. The RPS Ultra Super Perfectly Coifed GaymerX Chat Show
  15. (archived version)
  19. (archived version)
  20. (archived version)
  23. The Indie Game Reality TV Show That Went To Hell
  24. I Nearly Passed Out In Public Playing A Video Game, And It Was Amazing
  25. Kinect Failed, But That Doesn't Mean Cool Game Controllers Are Dying
  26. Does E3 Still Matter?
  27. The Best Violent Moments In Video Games
  28. The Best Non-Violent Moments In Video Games
  29. Nathan Grayson Facebook friends list
  31. (archived version)
  32. Green For Greenlight: Valve Now Charging $100 Fee
  33. Twitter status Mattie Brice
  34. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  35. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  36. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  37. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  38. Twitter status Zoe Quinn and the picture linked in said twitter status
  39. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  40. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  41. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  42. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  43. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  44. For more information about the panel, seen the following link.
  45. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  46. Twitter status Andrew
  47. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  48. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  49. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  50. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  51. Twitter status Nathan Grayson
  52. Zoe Quinn: “Depression Quest Dead in the Water Without Grayson” (archived version)
  53. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  54. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  55. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  56. 'Depression Quest' Now Available on Steam
  57. About that Depression Quest credits thing
  58. "Admission Quest: Valve Greenlights 50 More Games"
  59. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  60. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  61. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  62. a b Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  63. a b Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  64. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  65. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  66. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  67. Twitter status Zoe Quinn
  68. "The Indie Game Reality TV Show That Went To Hell"
  69. Thezoepost - TL;DR (archived version)
  70. A Better Take On Video Game Sex
  72. Kotaku Writer Paid $800 To Dev He Was Sleeping With, Without Disclosure
  73. Imgur, Recurring characters in The Elder Scrolls series
  74. Twitter Status, Corentin Lamy
  75. "Elder Scrolls et personnages récurrents : le retour des zéros", WALOU
  76. What is Plagarism?
  77. Statement from EiC Stephen Totilo
  78. Statement from EiC Stephen Totilo