Thursday, September 4, 2014

I talk about the gaming mess

As you probably know, online discussion in the gaming world has recently gotten noisy and nasty. Plenty of people have written about this. I haven't written about it.

I have solid reasons for not writing about it. I am in the final stages of writing a game. I am prone to being distracted by the Internet, and particularly by big ugly Internet arguments that make me feel terrible but I can't fix them. When these arguments fall my way, I reach for the mute button. I need to finish my damn game.

Plus, my Internet security is imperfect (because security is always imperfect). I'm a straight white guy, so maybe not the most likely target of ire, but if someone takes against me I'm hosed. My web sites could be compromised. People could demand their Kickstarter money back. The worst time for this to happen would be right as I'm shipping four years of my game-writing life.

So I've been keeping my mouth shut -- which makes me a coward. Screw that.

On Monday an open letter to the gaming community went up. It is a simple statement:

We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.

If you see threats of violence or harm in comments on Steam, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook or reddit, please take a minute to report them on the respective sites.

If you see hateful, harassing speech, take a public stand against it and make the gaming community a more enjoyable space to be in.

This was organized by Andreas Zecher. A lot of names appear below it; you will see mine there.

That's a start. As we all admit, signing a letter is easy. I want to say more. I'm not sure where to go, though. So I'll say some pro-forma stuff, and then I'll tell a little story, and then I'm done.

I like to say that I am very famous in a very tiny pond. I know the pond pretty well. If you're reading this blog, if you've heard of me or care what I think at all, you're not the problem. I hope.

Just in case, though...

If you are the problem: stop. If you like my games, and you also think it's a good idea to track game authors down and yell at them, or threaten them, or shout that they're shameful miserable frauds: stop. Or go away. You're not a fan of my games if you do stuff like that.

There should be, and will be, more games by women and for gay folks and by trans people and for people of color and by people with disabilities and by and for every combination of the above. It will happen and it will be a good thing and gaming will be better for it.

Okay. That's said. I don't seriously think any Gameshelf regular readers disagree.

(Of course, this link may be passed around the Internet, in which case you might be a drive-by commenter who's just here to disagree with me. Please don't bother. I don't care what you think, and I suspect you don't care what I think except to disapprove of it. I will be disemvoweling any comments that cross the line, and the line is tightly bounded, trust me.)

Are you feeling good about not being the problem? Hold off. Despite what I just said, the problem is us. The problem is me. I'll tell you a story.

At PAX East 2011, we had an interactive fiction get-together. This was not formally part of PAX (because the Boston IF group is way too small for PAX to even notice us), but we rented a function room in the adjacent hotel and had some panels and demos. We had a pretty good crowd of old-time IF regulars, plus a few interested people who wandered over from PAX proper.

So I'm standing there in the room, wearing my ugly publicity jacket, and a couple of interested people come up and say hi. I'm feeling awkward (because I hate talking to strangers) but I'm helping throw an IF social event, so I've signed up for this, right? So I look at the two people standing in front of me, and I turn to the taller one without tits and I say "So how did you get into IF?"

Or something like that. I don't remember exactly. But you can guess what happened next -- the other one coughs and says "I'm the game designer."

(You know, it only occurs to me as I write this -- that might have been Zoe Quinn. I don't think it was, no, but I'm bad at faces at the best of times and I wouldn't have heard of her in 2011. Oh well. That's the big turd-cherry on top of this story, if it happens to be true.)

Anyhow, I tried to play like I hadn't just made a total ass of myself, which of course meant I was making a bigger ass of myself. I don't believe the words "I apologize" escaped my mouth. We chatted a bit more (all three of us) about IF and then they went away, and either that game designer thought nothing of it or she decided IF was a pack of assholes and avoided us forever after. Or something in between. I don't know. I was stupid and I apologize.

I don't believe that "gamers", that very large and ill-defined group, have a hate on for women or for women who make games or for games that have women in them. Not uniformly. I think that 90% of the Internet ugliness comes from 10% of the people. It's trolling; it's attempts to cause maximum pain with minimum effort; by that token, the effect is magnified beyond the cause.


Every explicit threat stands amid a circle of people saying "Well, I don't support threats, of course, but I disapprove of what she's saying." Or "I'm neutral on the question of who makes games, but obviously she hasn't behaved ethically." Or "I'm sure there are a few trolls out there, but there can't be that much harassment, so she must be making some of it up." Or "Harassment of men is just as serious a problem as harassment of women."

Each of those people stands amid a circle of people saying "I just don't care whether women are represented in games." Or "Games are entertainment, politics don't belong there." Or "Big titties are standard in game art, there's no reason to complain about them." Or "I worry that social justice arguments will hurt my career." Or "This big Internet spat is not my problem."

And around them is a vast crowd of people who want to think that they're decent, tolerant, good people but who screw up and don't try to fix it. Or who don't speak up. Silence supports apathy, apathy supports intolerance, intolerance supports violence and fear.

I want to think I'm a good person. Not my decision whether I've succeeded, really. But I can decide to speak up.

That's it. Simplistic, no doubt. I have not put a millionth the effort into writing this that some of my game colleagues have put into just living their lives in this miserable situation. People who know more and have lived more of this stuff than me are writing, and I can list only a few posts:

I have all sorts of thoughts about the situation that I haven't gotten into. The parallels between the Death of Gaming (today) and the Death of Adventure Games (1989) and the Death of Adventure Games Again (1997). The parallels between this big culture clash and the teeny clash between old-school parser IF and choice-based IF. The parallels between gaming going foom (today) and SF fandom going foom (about five years ago).

That's not this post. This is the post I have to write in order to be good with myself.

[Site operator note: This post speaks for me, too, and I'm proud to host it on the domain. -- Jason McIntosh]

Comments imported from Gameshelf

Gunther (Sep 4, 2014 at 1:43 PM):

Thanks for not keeping quiet, both of you.

Jason McIntosh (Sep 4, 2014 at 2:03 PM):

To be clear (since a couple of people have said "good job" at me already): This post is entirely Andrew's. I underwrite its thesis and am pleased to host it here, but the thought & labor is his.

Kent (Sep 5, 2014 at 1:34 AM):

Good job.

Jesse (Sep 10, 2014 at 1:42 AM):
Every explicit threat stands amid a circle of people saying "Well, I don't support threats, of course, but I disapprove of what she's saying." Or "I'm neutral on the question of who makes games, but obviously she hasn't behaved ethically." Or "I'm sure there are a few trolls out there, but there can't be that much harassment, so she must be making some of it up." Or "Harassment of men is just as serious a problem as harassment of women."

Two of those statements seem uncontroversial.

Jesse (Sep 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM):

Also, speaking of the 10% of people who cause 90% of internet ugliness, you may want to reconsider linking to Ms. Alexander:

Jason McIntosh (Sep 22, 2014 at 5:07 PM):


I read these links, and cannot accept them as articles written in good faith. The first one in particular seems to be urging, in its conclusion, that Leigh Alexander be silenced because she expressed frustration towards the (almost-exclusvely male) crowd of self-identified "gamers" that has harassed and blocked her and her colleagues in the past. I suppose I do agree that this attitude (of the writer's) does touch on what Zarf's article is addressing...

Jesse (Sep 23, 2014 at 2:41 AM):

I guess I don't understand how the "attitude" of the person who wrote them could possibly excuse Ms. Alexander's threats, racist remarks, and spreading of personal information.

You're now part of the circle of people standing around her and the things she says, just like the gamers who this very post calls out for not speaking out against harassment. How are you going to respond?

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