Here is a thought, without links, without comments, without an invitation to engage in a discussion or debate. It is a personal thought that I feel the need to write down lest I spend the next 24 hours unable to sleep, or spend the next however many more hours feeling so awful I am unable to concentrate. So I am putting this thought here on my personal blog. I’m not trying to force ideas onto anyone, I am merely going to talk about how I feel. If readers take issue with this, then the exit button is to the top corner of your screen. Click on the little red button or the “x” and be on your way.
Yesterday a teaser trailer for a videogame was released. It was violent, gratuitous, and problematic in many ways. Personally, I thought it was a bit gross and found it difficult to watch, but I didn’t have a lot to say about it beyond ‘colon-hyphen-backslash face’ (which was less a ‘saying’ and more a ‘doing’). Within hours, people from various publications began writing opinion pieces – some on the sites they work for, some on their personal blogs. These people called out the harmfulness of such trailers in their depiction of women, and I, like many others, retweeted and re-posted these pieces of writing on my own Facebook page because I thought they raised important points. I also agreed with them.
While I was disappointed with the trailer, it didn’t upset me a great amount. What did upset me – to the point of tears this evening – was the way in which many people responded to those who were offended by the trailer. It was most upsetting seeing comments trying to dismiss both the issues raised in the pieces of writing and the writers themselves. I was upset seeing friends, acquaintances and complete strangers jumping on Twitter in an attempt to brush the problem away, to dismiss the concerns of others, to try and tell them how wrong they were for feeling the way they felt, accusing them being over-sensitive, for blowing things out of proportion. It was hurtful to know that the people in my life, whether it was those deeply embedded in it or haphazardly attached because I once hit the ‘Follow’ button on their Twitter page – lacked the empathy to pause for a moment and think of how their collection of 140 characters might affect another human being. It was terribly sad to see some people immediately jump on someone’s piece of writing and try to shut them down without stopping to think: “Hey, something is really bothering this person. It is bothering them so much they have written about it at length. What bothers them doesn’t bother me AT ALL, but you know what, they have their reasons for feeling the way they do and I should respect that.” I often tell myself that if the whole world meditated for an hour each day, or if every did 200 squats in 50-squat increments every day then perhaps we wouldn’t be so angry at each other all the time. We’d be too calm to internet-shout. You might call me naive, but the comments are disabled, so that is too bad.
So here’s my problem when it comes to people behaving in the way I described in the previous paragraph: for me, personally, as a human of the female kind who is always around videogame websites and comments because of my work, seeing these kinds of comments and tweets is like a form of mental terrorism. It feels like these people have parked their cars of hate, ignorance, and lack of empathy on top of my brain and set off a bomb.
I think it takes guts to write about things that bother you, and it takes bathtubs full of guts to write about something as hotly debated as sexism in videogames and videogame culture. The only times I have written about the subject I needed a lot of encouragement from a lot of people. This isn’t because I have no confidence or a self-esteem (I have healthy amounts of both), but I bring this back to the car bomb analogy – I needed people to tell me that the coast was clear. I needed to be assured that I could dig into a part of myself that I normally try not to show and share stories about difficult experiences. Whether it was a fellow journalist I respect inviting me to write about the issue in a piece with her, or it was seeing other people I trust and respect writing similar pieces, I took all of these as signs that it was safe to step outside and I could share something incredibly personal without being trampled on. Heck, writing this is incredibly difficult for me, and I will spend the next few hours wondering whether or not I should ever hit publish.
For me, talking about sexism in gaming and how much it upsets me is not an easy thing to do. I do not vomit up pieces on the sidewalk and walk away from them. I agonise over whether I should say anything at all. So when I do say something and the dismissal brigade comes out in force, it’s feels like someone told me the coast was clear only for there to be a line of car bombs waiting outside for me. And this is why I often don’t say anything. This is why before retweeting certain pieces that were written about the videogame trailer to show support for them, I waited, spinelessly, for someone else to retweet those pieces first. This is why I kept my opinions of the videogame trailer to my private Facebook page and filtered out people who did not know me very well. Every comment or tweet I saw that told someone they were wrong, oversensitive, hypocritical or stupid was a figurative car bomb going off right outside my brain. And when there are bombs being let off so close by then you sure as hell do not go outside.
Every time I want to say something and I feel that maybe, just maybe it is okay to finally say it, one comment is all is takes for me to deadlock my figurative door, board up the windows, and huddle in a corner. Someone on Twitter mentioned tonight that if you don’t want to be criticised then you probably shouldn’t put your opinions out there. I don’t agree with the tweet, but I can say this: because of this mentality, I don’t put my opinions out there. I don’t voice my concerns or call out sexism as often as I’d like on Twitter or in comments or even on my blog because I’m fucking scared. Because I know the moment I so much as bring up the issue, the car bombs will explode. It won’t matter that I do my job to (at the very least!) an inoffensive standard, it won’t matter that I’ve won an award, it won’t matter that I am generally a nice person. Everything I’ve done will count for nothing, and I will be torn to shreds for daring to speak about my own experiences.
I don’t think I can adequately describe how much it upsets me that by working in a profession I love in a field I chose, I feel like a prisoner. If I stay silent and just do my work, I’ll be left alone. If I gag myself and turn a blind eye to everything that’s happening, if I don’t inconvenience anyone in any way, I will never be targeted.
But you know what? I’d like to feel happy and free in my career! Man, my job is pretty neat! If I didn’t want to do this, I wouldn’t be doing this. Most of the time, things are great! But sometimes: car bombs. Or in the case of today and yesterday, lots of car bombs, up and down my street and right into my drive-way. And that’s unfortunate.
So that’s how I feel.
I’ve accepted a new job offer, so yesterday I bid farewell to Kotaku Australia. The decision to leave was not an easy one to make! Allure Media has been such a wonderful place to work, and I will really miss working with Mark Serrels — I don’t think there’s anyone in Australia who can run the site better than he can. I think I am going to buy a Simon Pegg AND Tin Tin figurine and place it on my desk so it feels like he comes with me wherever I go. I am not creepy at all.
Over the months at Kotaku, a frequent conversation that Mark I would have was about muscle density and how firm our biceps were (FYI they are really firm right now). The other frequent conversation we’d have would be about our goals and what we really wanted to achieve. Mark said his goal in life was to do a one finger pull-up. His other goal was to just “be the best”. When he asked what mine were, I said: “Same” (about being the best, not about the one finger pull-up — who honestly gives a shit about pull-ups? It’s all about squats and buns of steel, man). His drive has taken him to the editor’s chair at Kotaku; mine has taken me to my own chair where I am currently sitting in pyjamas, shovelling an assortment of nuts into my mouth. It was a pleasure to work with someone who shared a similar goal — it definitely kept me motivated — and I can only hope that I stay as motivated when I no longer have The Scottish Bro sitting next to me guzzling Pepsi Max while flexing his biceps. Thanks, Mark! You’ve been awesome!
Now we move to the next chapter of my career! Below are links to every big feature I wrote in my nine months at Kotaku.
Tags: features, five months, Kotaku, kotaku au, portfolio, round-up
I’d been meaning to do a Kirk Hamilton-type post about my first few months at Kotaku Australia but I never got around to it because I was overwhelmed by a case of “the lazy shits” (I think that is the scientific term for it, yes). Today I was going through the Kotaku CMS tagging stories, and seeing my older articles reminded me that I still hadn’t done some kind of a story round-up here on Zero Light Seeds. So here it is! Below are links to most of the big features I wrote during my first five months at Kotaku AU.
Working at Kotaku sure has made me a lot more prolific than when I worked in print! Aside from writing daily news posts, I’ve also been given the freedom to pursue and write the stories linked above. I used to be so pleased with myself if I was able to write two large features a month for HYPER or PC PowerPlay. I guess I used to also be some lazy jerk of a university student!
Tags: Kotaku, sexism
When this post appeared in the Kotaku AU re-feed today, I will admit that I allowed my mouse to hover over the “trash” button before I’d even read what it was about. Seeing the headline, I could already predict what the reader response would be, and as the only person on duty at the time, I did not want to read every comment that would be posted beneath the article. I ended up publishing it, holding my breath as the comments rolled in. I already knew what kind of comments they would be. They’re always the same. You can take this Sexism Bingo Card into any comment thread about women/feminism/sexism/sexuality and it won’t take long before the room shouts bingo and everyone walks away with a tray of meat sweat.
I was not going to provide any substantial kind of comment on the post because I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there, especially when it comes to a subject that generates so much anger and dismissiveness in the comments. I ended up commenting because a question was directed at me in a civilised manner and I thought it appropriate to respond. The question was:
I’m not justifying any sort of discrimination, but it seems impossible these days to make any sort of joke without offending people. Tracey, do you feel offended by this guys comments? Or do you find his joke funny?
Below is my response, which I have since extended for the purpose of this blog post (the original is still within the Kotaku comment thread (I’m going to get a bit more personal here because it is my own blog)):
Regarding this one comment in particular, I didn’t really find it funny, although I was annoyed that [Bissell] was perpetuating a stereotype. The thing I find frustrating when people say “it’s just a joke” or “you can’t make a joke without offending people” is this: people don’t just get offended for the fun of it. Generally speaking, women don’t enjoy getting angry about sexist comments. We don’t like writing angry blog posts, or calling people out for using gender-specific insults. We don’t get a kick out of this in any way at all. It’s really exhausting.
So WHY do we draw attention to it? Because sometimes it is genuinely hurtful. “It’s just a joke” doesn’t work when you’re constantly in a position of disadvantage. And the thing is it’s never just one joke in isolation. They stack up one after the other and they never go away. We hear it on Xbox Live, we read it in the comments, we see it in the games we play, we read it in the articles… when all these instances of sexism stack up, it’s no longer “just a joke”, it’s another hideous block of discrimination thrown on top of the mountain of blocks that we suffocate under.
A few years ago when I first started writing about games, I was able to easily shrug off sexist comments and “jokes”. I saw them as isolated incidents — moronic statements made by people who didn’t know any better — sexism wouldn’t play any defining role in my career as a journalist who writes about games. After that first sexist comment came another, and then another, and then another. It didn’t end. The first time someone makes a sexist comment and says it’s a joke, it is easy to believe. But when it happens again and again and again, it just doesn’t sit right. The more I was told that it was all just a joke, the more I felt that I couldn’t say anything when someone was completely out of line. I began to second-guess myself, I was worried that if I said anything I’d be dismissed for simply not “getting the joke”. A friend of mine gave me a simple analogy: “It’s like when you die in a videogame and your friend says ‘You just died’, and you’re like ‘I know’, and then ten minutes later they do it again. ‘Oh hey look, you died again.’ Such comments attack the psyche like the . . . slower, more ‘adult’ version of a child repeating every word you say immediately after you say it”.
Today on Kotaku we had one post about sexism and the comment thread was full of people ready to dismiss the concerns of women who felt that the way we as gamers talk about women is an important issue. A few weeks ago we had a post on a sexist advertisement run by a game retailer and again the readers came out of the woods to put down any person who expressed that they were offended by the ad. Weeks earlier, a post on female characters in videogames invoked a similar response where the writer was accused of over-reacting and making a mountain out of an ant hill. It goes much, much further back, and it’s not just on Kotaku — it’s everywhere, and it’s not okay.
What I have just identified is what upsets me the most. The day after a certain post regarding sexism went up on Kotaku, I went home feeling more defeated than I ever have during the time I’ve spent writing about videogames. I was disturbed, deeply saddened, and I found myself in tears, bawling harder than I have in years. What upset me was that all the jokes, all the dismissive comments, all the times I’d been told to toughen up and deal with it — all of that had snowballed to the point where a new “joke” would serve as a reminder for all the previous “jokes” told. It was a reminder that this isn’t a new and isolated incident where someone has made a silly remark about women; rather, this has happened before and people are clearly okay with it to allow it to keep happening. And it will happen again. These jokes are a reminder that if someone writes a post about sexism on Kotaku (or where ever) tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or five years from now, if I make a contribution I will still be dismissed, my opinion will still count for nothing, and I will still be accused of being anything other than a rational human being. The moment I contribute to the discussion, it won’t matter what my role is — I will just be another hysterical woman who is over-reacting.
I’ve been told that things will change in time, I just have to wait. Really? Really? Is waiting all it really takes? How exactly will things change if I just wait? And how long do I have to wait? What people seem to forget is that people who are discriminated against are feeling it right now. They live through it every day. It bothers me that we’re all being told to wait with no end in sight. It bothers me that waiting appears to be the solution. It bothers me that I feel like I need to tip-toe around a subject that concerns me, that as a woman I am somehow less qualified to talk about how issues affect me lest I be accused of being a “feminazi” who is pushing an agenda.
Understandably not all women feel this way. Some don’t believe there is a problem at all. But enough DO feel this way to speak up about it, and when they do we shouldn’t be dismissing them for being overly emotional or hysterical because if you were in their shoes you would understand why it bothers them so much. It bothers me. It bothers me so much I freeze up every time I see a headline in the Kotaku CMS about women, I wince before I look at the comments, and I’ll often sit there moderating them, feeling completely deflated, wondering why I bother writing about games when so many readers don’t even respect me as a human being. So, since you asked, that’s my answer. And the important thing to keep in mind with these things is that this may have been “one joke”, but how many “jokes” of this nature have women had to silently deal with, and how must it feel to be dismissed every time you try to stand up for yourself?
[Note: This post is written on my personal gaming blog and does not necessarily reflect the views of any of my employers. With that in mind, I have posted this here to get some thoughts off my chest, not to spark a debate or discussion. I've heard plenty of opposing views in various comment threads, I do not welcome them here.]