2013 has been quite the year. In my personal life — I’ve managed to stay employed in an industry that’s had some serious stability issues, married the love of my life in a wonderful and small ceremony with our closest friends, showed my horse for the first time and did well, lost 35 pounds and ran in two 5k races, and started transitioning into a new career in real estate. I really can’t complain there. In my gaming life, I’ve had a fun year as well. I enjoyed a number of adventure-type games from the indie (Gone Home, The Novelist, Kentucky Route Zero) to the AAA (The Last of Us, Tomb Raider). I picked up both a PS Vita and a Nintendo 3DS to enjoy games like Persona 4 Golden, Animal Crossing, and Pokemon. I managed to mostly avoid Steam game collecting, my favorite metagame. All in all, I can’t complain about that stuff.
One thing in my online life that changed pretty dramatically is the positioning of my voice in the crowd. In previous years, I spent much of my time ranting and raving on Twitter about social justice issues, feminism in gaming, intersectionality, etc. and spent a lot of time writing blog posts on The Border House. I also wrote articles freelance for a number of publications online, which I basically ceased doing in 2013. My only real blogging venture in 2013 was here on CuppyVille, where it was all lighthearted, extremely random, and mostly World of Warcraft focused. I basically stepped down from my role as Lead Editor at The Border House, switching to admin maintenance stuff on the back end instead of sharing my opinions on the front end. There are some pretty specific and major reasons for this.
I’ve shared some of them on Twitter. Mostly sentiments such as feeling like I don’t “fit in” with the gaming feminist crowd, feeling that the conversations were dominated by negativity (which is something I shy away from), and never feeling more judged in my life than when I started standing up for the underprivileged in games. I’ve unfollowed a number of major voices in game criticism because of the negativity, which isn’t because I think anyone is a Bad Person but because it’s just content that I’m not wanting in my life at this time. I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate this without sounding like I am whiny myself. As if almost on cue, Raph Koster posted a blog post today that said smart things that could have been written by me if I were a way better writer and smarter person.
In practice, I saw that when I made what I believed to be substantive points, they usually got ignored in favor of seizing on single words or phrases that could be selectively quoted. And of course, by not participating I was simply leaving that response as the final word. I would click on a link and (I am not exaggerating here) read it and then be able to measure a 20 point rise in blood pressure with the cuff I keep by my bed. That queasy sick feeling in the middle of the chest, and how the sweat breaks out on the forehead.
It happened to me this morning. I feel it right now.
There was a time, 3-4 years ago, where not many people were talking about social justice as it related to video games. I’m not saying “I was one of the first” or “back in the good old days”, but the truth is that the conversations around women in gaming, personal narratives in gaming, gay themes, LGBT inclusive games, etc. are at an all-time high. However, the space is more contentious, competitive, and difficult to interact in than it ever has been before. People are hanging on every single word you say, waiting to find something ‘wrong’ with what’s been said. Every step forward contains a caveat that we’re so far away from our goal. Every good intention ends up being critiqued into the ground to the point where I am even afraid to mention my good intentions. I went from someone who was nominated for an award by Microsoft at GDC 2012 for my efforts in this space, to someone afraid to talk about it at all.
The Border House was created with the hopes to start conversation about issues, highlight the good and the bad, serve as an educational place for people new to feminist concepts, and offer a platform for a diverse audience to speak about games. 2010-2011 were years where people were thankful and so wonderful in emails about what we were doing with the site. We genuinely changed some people’s lives, and it was wonderful and magical. In 2012-2013, I noticed a bunch of pushback for the site — but it wasn’t from trolls and men’s right activists. It was from the loudest and most prominent voices in the gaming social justice circles. We weren’t radical enough, we didn’t cover enough indie games, we didn’t write enough in general, we didn’t pay writers, the Lead Editor is too privileged. I stopped being invited to the GDC social events, was all but snubbed by some of the very people who I thought were part of the same friendly space as I was. Maybe it’s me. But after talking to a few other people about this, I’m not the only one who has noticed it.
But this was the year when an editor at a games publication actually said to me “stop writing.” This was the year that the metaphors of violence were the most popular way to describe what we should be doing to each other’s life work and passions. Burning down. Destroying. This was the first year in my career where I have had multiple conversations with people at conferences about the fact that they actively feared what others in the field might do to them or say about them. The advice I got in private conversations was “don’t let it get to you,” was “let it just burn out,” or the paradoxical “just focus on the work” …when both the games and the writing about games are the same work, and so is the interacting with others who also do the same work.
If “destroying videogames” is your goal, that’s fine. I know it’s a metaphor and that it’s said with the utmost love for the medium. But the constant references to violence and vitriol when talking about how we should improve the industry grows exhausting. I want to celebrate successes without hanging on every fault, because the industry *is* in a better place than it was when I started working in games professionally 6 years ago. If you don’t trust me, trust Raph who has been doing this for longer than most of us. I’m not sure how this space gets more and more negative and futile when things are getting better. I’m just not the type of person who replies to successes with negativity because it wasn’t fast enough.
I’m a firm believer that if we want everyone to be on our side, to support our efforts, we aren’t going to move as quickly if we make the loudest voices the ones who harbor so much intense negativity that they become toxic to interact with. I’m tired of being afraid to hit ‘publish’ on a blog post like Raph Koster is, tired of not even writing my thoughts down in fear of what the responses might be. I’m sick of holding my tweets back because I’m so scared of what people will think of me. I can be my own person, with my own positivity about feminism in games without freaking out that I might not be radical enough, or academic enough, or critical enough.
My 2014 Social Justice Resolutions
- Publish more. Tweet more. Speak more without being afraid of what people might say. Engage in those scary conversations with people, even those who are smarter than me, because I’m a valid contributor too.
- Expand my horizons. These conversations are largely dominated by a small group of voices, and I want to expand beyond those and hear the viewpoints of those who are less heard. I don’t want to be comprised of the opinions of a hive mind, but instead hear the voices of a diverse audience.
- Celebrate successes more, praise those doing good positive work.
- Point out flaws less, because honestly — there are more than enough people doing this work already.
- Be a beacon of hope and positivity in our community, because we need that just as much as we need people ‘destroying videogames’. Building things up is important too.
- Be kinder and more supportive to those who are on our side, who support intersectionality in gaming and want better for the industry. Not jump on them for every word they say.
- Do all of the above while still being critical and having opinions that might differ from other people — because that is okay. It’s okay that I don’t love most Twine games that I try. It’s okay to be uncomfortable with playing a game about “consensually torturing” someone. It’s also okay to make mistakes, as long as I learn from them.
This might not work for you, might not be right for you. But it’s right for me, and I’m going to try to resolve to do these things in my own little way in 2014. I’m happy for where the industry is now. I’m happy that a wider variety of people are making games, that tools have unlocked the creativity of a diverse set of voices and are allowing people to make personal statements through game design. I’m excited for 2014.