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Post-mortem: I’m not sorry

Follow-up: in March, during GDC, writer Dan Cox interviewed me via email about this “controversy.” His questions, along with my answers, probably go much further in explaining my attitude. My editor and I also explain our “go big or go home” mentality—as well as our happiness in playing the roles of villains—in the final quarter of this episode of Unlistenable.

OK, I’m sorry for just one thing: I’m sorry I have such a wonderful editor.

I was barely into the thread itself by the time I was hard at work on a YouTube-type comment.

In considering both the comment thread and the blog above it—which I’d interpreted as some litany, as some unreal catalogue of hither-and-thither complaints—I wanted to respond, because I know that professionals who are enmeshed in any sort of politic business are unable to respond to these types of criticisms, or with any passionate emphasis. This makes me angry all on its own.

Also, professionally and personally, I was deeply unimpressed.

As my remarks snowballed, though, I realized I should write something for myself, just to let it all out. Well, and when I say “for myself,” I mean “for Infinite Lives,” which is my site and oh my god I periodically drag my co-writer through the mud when I irresponsibly follow some wild livejournal tangent.

So suddenly I wasn’t working on a frothing Internet comment at all; I was writing a piece for this very site instead.

My editor IM’d, wanting to know whether my column were finished yet, and I was very, “NOT NOW I’M BUSY” to him. He wondered what I was writing, so I sent it to him in four or five chunks over IM. He announced he wanted to publish it, and from there we really giddily lost our minds, our enthusiasm mirroring and magnifying. He cut one chunk and I cut another, and now we agreed the piece was totally ready to go. He gave it a much better title and suggested some images, and I told him I was all-in. I endorsed every addition myself. I was furious and happy.

For me, it was as much about “fun” as it was “ire.” I decided, if I were going to feel irate about something, wouldn’t it be great fun to just run all the way? Because it’s totally true—I’ve forced my writing to be this very level-headed, contemplative thing for a long time. I’ve always held that “manners are how we show strangers we care,” and I certainly believe it.

But I’ve also noticed I do that thing girls do: I rely on “hedged” diction to couch everything I say in some sort of apology. Maybe it would be nice, for once, to forget judiciousness.

So here the article is again.

In the course of what I wrote—which I admit I haven’t reread ever since we published it, out of real, sheer terror at whatever I said in the moment, probably something seething about grinding my enemies’ bones with a pestle into powder—I am sure I made much of having worked in a “mainstream” capacity in the past.

And I’ll explain why: it’s sickening that people in “mainstream” arenas don’t get to defend themselves fully and blood-boilingly. (Since having worked in “mainstream” “games” “journalism,” I finally returned to retail, where people might believe your politeness makes you an idiot, or else they believe that the man and woman at the cash register aren’t actually the owners of the business. Surely the chip on my shoulder is calcified by retail work; that’s fine.)

It does make me angry that being a “mainstream” writer means you never get to say what you mean. Mainstream businesspeople never get to defend what they “do.”

You never have an opportunity to defend yourself, because your primary motive is to do the work you already do in this stiflingly politic way. Have you ever been trapped in a position where you are not allowed to defend yourself, or where you happily make yourself the scapegoat at every opportunity? It’s an incredibly helpless, please-kill-me feeling.

I have spent most of my post-high-school years trying to not be brash or bombastic, and it’s just so passive-aggressive. And what would it be like to be aggressive, without all that horrible passivity? I wondered about it.

So I figured, sure, people might enjoy hearing what I sound like when I yell in the living room, absolutely livid, about almost anything. Because I do: I shout and point in all directions, just hissing and spitting, trying to work out my feelings. Sometimes this means I can make an outline later, so that I can write some well-conceived, mannerly thing, but just for fucking once I just wanted to set down all the hissing-and-spitting. I thought this might be interesting for my core readers, or at least it could be more fun for me.

OK, maybe I was bored. Maybe I was bored, but I wasn’t being disingenuous: I meant everything I said. Oh, man, did I.

Wouldn’t that be fun, though? I marveled. People have been getting a little too comfortable around my writing these days, I reasoned. Maybe people should not feel so comfortable. Maybe they ought to know I am a loaded gun. Maybe I should take a worthwhile opportunity to say what I really think.

Maybe I could learn how to not say “maybe” and start saying things with a little more certainty and authority.

I idly wondered how this attitude might look on a woman. What would the response be like? It thrilled me.

I decided I wanted to play a villain. It would be so much fun! I wanted to play with the fact that I am not an emotionally generous person. I think I was—sometime in the past—but I’m not right now. (I also wanted to reinforce that you should be more frightened of the judges’ very humanity than of the mechanized “process.” I think this is a fair point.)

This all might have been selfish of me: I might have not helped anything. That’s too bad.

“I don’t have any strategy here at all,” I admitted to my editor in an IM. In real life, I sighed. But my “career” has taken hits before: I don’t have so much to lose. I should be allowed to say what other people would like to say. I should even be allowed to say what I would like to say.

I am only just now trying to explore where “no manners whatsoever” and “meanspirited” diverge. Where do they diverge?

Anyway, I told my editor, “Let’s put the ‘go’ in the ‘go-for-it.’”

My editor did suggest we omit some of the article, especially those parts where I confess all the ways I ever went wrong as an IGF judge. I said no way. I said I wanted to be beyond reproach. He said all right.

I also demanded that my editor cut a paragraph about why I didn’t judge IGF this year. The paragraph was intended to promise game developers that I had nothing to do with this year’s drama; instead I found myself listing sad things. My editor cut the section at my insistence.

Maybe an editor ought to be more persuasive, but I am happy mine was not.

And anyway, those parts we kept are important, they are part of my argument: I am not too sure there is a way, in any system of checks and balances, to democratically account for human error. It isn’t even real irresponsibility: it’s just being human. Robots cannot review a game. Sure, robots cannot give up on your game, either, but they also cannot critique it. For better or worse, we do rely on humans to have all these things happen.

And there is human error coming at this from all sides. Certainly it is terrifying for me to advise, as a former professional and current outsider, that perhaps developers should examine their games a little harder for problems. If someone—someone who is explicitly commanded to play your game—is bypassing your game, there might be an issue. Really! That idea hardly seems controversial!

Of course, I also believe that checks-and-balances are already built into the system. I’m not sure, at least at this early juncture, there is a way to change my mind. In the original column I say it—“you can’t do better”—and it’s just the thing someone says in an abusive relationship. But I really, really mean it. I’m not sure you could scoop together a better, more varied assortment of humans to play a single game.

So there is human error. But there is always human goodness, too, always there to overcompensate. And the humans involved in this particular system always have the best hopes in mind. You can republish every piece of personal correspondence they mail—sorry to bring it up again—but I won’t change my mind.

This part infuriated me most, I can freely admit, and I feel very reconciled about overstepping the bounds of politeness, manners, and decency in addressing this. Maybe it was totally “eye for an eye” of me. Maybe I scooped up too many fish in my net. But I will wholly admit my goat was got, at the outset, because some people had a bad attitude about some very, very nice people. (Here is the other troubling thing: we are all “nice people,” all trying to help one another out. Again, why call someone out over loving you?)

Perhaps it isn’t so “cool” of me to fight for something so “mainstream.” I joked to my editor that my conservatism was beginning to show, but also that IGF’s only real sin—the only reason their intelligently-devised process is held up to such speculation and skepticism—is that they are so “mainstream.” Would any other process get so widely smacked-down?

I believe the machine works. I mean, I’ve gone back to see what games won the awards I thought someone else ought’ve won; I can see why which games win. The machine really does weed out the worst. I do believe that.

I also believe that decrying the machine undermines every winner all the years previous. This makes me furious. Do we no longer care about all the games that have already won? We are talking about incredible games. Where is any evidence of nepotism? This makes me angry, too.

Before he published my rant, my editor asked me if I were ready. He asked me if I were prepared for the repercussions. I told him that, after I formally took my first professional job but before I’d actually moved across the country for it, I’d already had my first penis photoshopped into my mouth. Was I ready? Please.

There were only a couple reactions that were really inappropriate. I was due them, though: I was curious about what it might be like to try to sound like a man on the Internet. So I found out.

This next part is a quick aside about what it is like to post your opinion to the Internet:

One guy accused me of “Girl on the Internet Syndrome.” Really? Really, guy? I’ve been on the Internet since 1993, and I’ve long since grown out of the shock of also being female. He also wondered who in the IGF I am boning, which was a little bit more astonishing. I might be a little lovey-dovey about IGF—you can accuse me of wearing rosy goggles all you like—but I certainly haven’t gotten any sex out of it. (Someone should have told me! That might be exciting!)

Another guy recommended I die. That remark was deleted! I was sad to see it go! I asked my editor about it, and he said we had “policies” already in place. Aw. It’s nice that we have a “safe space” in the comments section, and I thanked him for this.

But all these comments were pretty much anomalous. Honestly I was surprised by their infrequency.

But there was one complaint that really jarred me while all the others didn’t. That one came from a game developer named Anna Anthropy.

Anna is working, as both a developer and a critic, from a fringe wherein she is able to point out issues of “otherizing” and “dismissiveness.” She is either sensitive or opportunistic to these cues—I am not always sure which, because I agree with her about 50/50—but when she makes a stink, I listen more carefully. This time, when she perceived that I was using silencing tactics (in this case, “Oh, you think you have issues? SHUT UP,” which is certainly how one should interpret my rant), I had to take inventory of what I had said.

Anna had crammed the point into a quick joke, into two short, well-timed lines, and it was important that I stop and listen.

Am I bullying? Did I create an unsafe space for game developers—including those people who take issue with the system already in place—for making their criticisms known? Because that really would be dangerous, if I have actively created a space where it is frightening to make needs known.

This last count is harrowing. I am still wrestling with it.

So if I am sorry for anything, it is for being a bully. I would really hope I hadn’t been. I would not want to be a bully.

There was an article someone linked, soon in the aftermath, about whether it were “possible” to be a “writer” in the “digital age.” It was entirely about those slow, careful things we write, with consideration, in a vacuum, versus those things one is tempted to post in a hurry, however carelessly, to the Internet.

But in that article, one famous author noted that he would never willingly sign his name to his own “rants” and “blasts.” I did. I marched, however haphazardly, from posting a comment to posting a column in the most visible forum I have. I put my name on it. And even though I am scared of my own wrath—even though I really fear being a bad person—by God, yes, I’d do it all over again.

VERY LATE EDIT: It turns out I’ve delivered some of these same opinions before. (In the comments: “You know what happens to indie games mainstream-reviewers want to criticise severely? They don’t review them. Like, obviously.” —Kieron Gillen)

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