Scott Benson and Alec Holowka

Death of a Game Developer

One Year ago, Alec Holowka killed himself. Here’s the full story.

8 min readJul 16, 2020


On August 31, 2019, indie game developer Alec Holowka, whose best-known works were Aquaria [2007] and Night of the Woods [2017], killed himself. Four days earlier, his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Quinn, accused him of sexual violence and emotional during their brief relationship in 2012. Within a day of the accusation, Holowka’s company InfiniteFall cut ties with him, after saying that they believed Quinn’s account. News of his suicide was broken by Holowka’s sister, Eileen Mary Holowka, who described his death with the oddly passive phrase “passing away” as if her brother was suffering from a degenerative disease.

I was no fan of Holowka. I’d played Night in the Woods [2017] and found it tedious, belonging to the very exclusive set of games that have caused me to fall asleep while playing them. Indeed the only part that I outright enjoyed was the Pale Cat mini-game, and that only because it reminded me of Hyper Light Drifter [2016]. Yet, both at the time and for months afterward his suicide weighed heavily on me. That someone could go from being on top of the world one moment to friendless and driven to suicide in less than a week was disturbing.

I found the way the media reported on his death unsettling as well. The way that every article written about his death said “Alec Holowka dies” rather than “Alec Holowka committed suicide” as if the press was aware of the role they had played in pushing him to suicide and were trying to cover up the fact for posterity. They had no trouble calling Chloe Sagal’s death, for instance, a suicide in the headlines. Why couldn’t the same consideration be extended to Holowka?

Moreover, I found all the commentary on the event lacking. There were plenty of hot takes, but nothing of any substance. So I decided to let some time pass, a year give or take, and if what happened still bugged me I’d go back and look into further.

It still bugged me; and seeing the industry wracked by a fresh wave of accusations for long past crimes (and some non-crimes) I figured that now was as good a time as any to put my thoughts on the subject in order. Don’t contact anyone mentioned in this article, as the goal here is not to hound others for their past misdeeds. Just pause for a moment the next time someone you know or know of is accused of some heinous act before you rush to condemn them. Nobody was ever hurt by taking a day or two to try to understand what happened.

Zoe Quinn

Quinn’s story, like all accusations of abuse and violence that emerge years after the fact, is suspect. None of the details in her story can be independently verified because they all happened in private behind closed doors. Moreover, some seem to be openly contradicted by their social media from the time. Quinn describes how Holowka “physically confined” and “isolated” them, yet their twitter from the time describes numerous outings and expeditions across the city of Winnipeg, including acting as the lead in a play! Perhaps Holowka made her make these tweets to cover his trail, we don’t know but seeing as such a statement is missing from Quinn’s original accusation it seems doubtful.

Nor is Quinn what anyone would call a reputable source. Let’s not mince words, Quinn might very well be a pathological liar. I don’t know how else to describe someone who makes completely groundless claims about killing a would-be rapist before spreading rumors about how the photographer she hired to an erotic photo-shoot forced her to look at pictures of mutilated vaginas. At the very least Quinn is deeply mentally unwell and everything they have to say should be taken with a grain of salt.

None of this means that Quinn was lying in their accusation against Holowka. Indeed, I must concede that, by all accounts, Holowka was not mentally stable either. Certainly, he would not be the first person who has hurt someone close to them while in such a condition. Unlike most people commenting on the subject, I won’t say that I know for sure one way of the other if Holowka was abusive or not. I wasn’t there and any hard evidence beyond Quinn’s accusation is long gone by now. But given Quinn’s past and the holes in their story, I think there is certainly room for reasonable doubt about what happened in 2012. At the very least, I would like to hear Holowka’s side of the story before making up my mind. Too bad that’s impossible now.

Yet, I wouldn’t, as some other commentators have, assert that Quinn is solely or even primarily responsible for Holowka’s death. Hell, even if we could be certain that Quinn was lying (and we can’t), that alone would not mean that they are responsible for Holowka’s suicide. Bitter exes have been spreading malicious rumors about their former partners since the dawn of civilization. If you don’t believe me just read some of Catullus’ poetry. In past ages things like what Quinn said would have been considered and discarded with a “well, maybe” by the public at large and left at that. No, there’s something unique about both the time in which Quinn made their accusation and the circumstances of the accuser.

In October 2017, the #metoo movement began in earnest (the phrase had been around for a decade at this point, though it was here it became a household term) when a deluge of women claiming to have been sexually abused by film producer Harvey Weinstein began to come out of the woodwork. In short order, the slogan “believe all women” emerged and became popular. Anyone who pointed out that this slogan was obvious nonsense and that women lie just as frequently as men, was quickly shouted down and labeled a misogynist. A culture of unthinking certainty began to emerge among the commentariat when it came to accusations of sexual abuse. In the court of public opinion guilty until proven innocent remained the mantra for years.

Dan Tabar and Alec Holowka

Yet, as evidenced by the recent accusations against presidential candidate Joe Biden, when people say “believe all women” they don’t really mean it. Either that or most will abandon their principals at the slightest inconvenience. Indeed, in light of the possibility of having Biden canceled by the very apparatus that his allies previously used to try to cancel the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the commentariat tried to argue that “believe all women” was a right-wing plot all along! This article is especially absurd because not only can you see many prominent feminists and liberals tweeting “believe all women” but the phrase that the author insists is the original, uncorrupted phrase “believe women” is identical in meaning. I guess, “Give women the benefit of the doubt” wasn’t catchy enough.

Still, even though the media and celebrities were pushing a dangerous and irresponsible line of thought, people were under no responsibility to believe it. Everyone with a functioning brain could tell you it was stupid to believe people just because of their gender and their claims. Even the very same people who were pushing the slogan wised up as soon as someone they cared about found themselves on the receiving end of it. Yet people in the indie game world, as well as members of the gaming hobby press, had another compelling reason to trust Quinn implicitly: the old Gamergate controversy.

For those not versed in what is now effectively ancient internet history, Gamergate was an online shitshow in 2014 that emerged after Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, publicly announced that Quinn was cuckolding him with several men. Among those men was Nathan Grayson, a blogger for Kotaku who has previously covered Quinn’s game Depression Quest [2013]. This was latched onto by a group of gamers as a breach of journalistic ethics and in turn, these gamers (as well as gamers at large) were denounced as misogynistic chuds by the gaming media at large. The relationship between gamers and game bloggers had been rocky for years at this point and the controversy around Quinn provided an explosive touching off point. To defend their integrity, many bloggers and developers found themselves in the unenviable position of having to back Quinn to the hilt and insist that not only were the accusations of her ex-boyfriend false but that Quinn was nothing short of a paragon of virtue; a fair maiden besieged by hateful trolls.

I won’t go into every detail of the ugliness as it is both complicated and largely irrelevant, but it suffices to say that it got very ugly on both sides with the gaming press emerging from the fray battered and shell-shocked. For most people, this controversy is a footnote, a mild curiosity in the history of the medium and internet culture. However, it really must have touched a nerve with members of the commentariat, because they constantly bring it up again and again. With each retelling of the story, gamergate grows ever more insidious, and ever more powerful until you have otherwise reasonable adults insisting that it was gamergate that was responsible for everything in the past half-decade up to and including the election of Donald Trump.

Whatever your opinions on the gamergate controversy, it should have little bearing on what happened with Holowka. A reasonable person would have no trouble saying that while Quinn may have been the victim of misogynistic abuse, that doesn’t mean that she is inherently trustworthy. Yet the game bloggers are, on this particular subject, far from reasonable. They see Gamergate hiding under the beds at night just waiting to pounce on them. Gamergate, for them, is not some years old controversy, but a clear and present danger that is aligned with the forces of global fascism. They see any admission of Quinn’s fallibility (even when it is completely unrelated to their role in gamergate) as a tacit endorsement of their opponent’s viewpoints. Given the ease with which people in the inner circle can be canceled and given the boot for even slight heterodoxy, I can understand why when the accusation was released no one was willing to break rank and raise suspicions. I can even understand why Alec’s partners at Infinite Fall threw him under the bus at the first hint of suspicion.

When every mainstream game publication was trumpeting his accusation and quietly assuming his guilt, when he was the lowest point in his life, Alec Holowka had no one to turn to. On the flimsiest of pretenses, they abandoned him and left him to wallow in despair. If I can accomplish anything with this article, let it be this. When you see a friend reduced to such dire straights, find the courage to stand by them, to listen to them, and to hear their side of the story. Whatever crimes they’ve committed, whatever hurt they’ve done, they deserve that much. Alec deserved that much.