The explosions outside won’t stop

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. People were jumping on someone’s piece of writing, trying 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, 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.