On “letting” artists create & criticising what they create

So I said

And a hat wearer said in response (to another person who highlighted my Tweet):

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This is in reference to my criticism of games in general and, more than likely, Witcher 3 in particular (yes, angry nerds are still angry about that for reasons I fail to understand.)

Look at what this person thinks.

“Letting creators do what they like” – what could this possibly mean? To “let” someone do anything requires an ability to prevent. Even moral conundrums of “letting the fat man die” means being able to prevent his death. When I or other critics write about what games can and should do (and not do), we do so with words and argument; we do not “let” creators do anything because we’re, quite literally, in no position to either allow or prevent them doing so. We’re writing blogposts or articles or Tweets – not laws or business policies that have to be adhered to.

The ideal is that creators – and others – will look at our arguments and agree with them. This won’t happen all the time or even most. But that’s how you start engaging critically: your view sparks another, which sparks another, which sparks another. People engage, debate, think. In the end, they can look at your argument and decide it’s boring, dull, not worth listening to – and move on. It’s an argument, not a legal binding document that, if ignored, will land you in prison.

I want creators persuaded to do better by virtue of them agreeing with my arguments; I want them to go “Hm, that’s a good point: I will include more people of colour!” and then do so, of their own free will, because they read me and others and decided it’s a good idea.

Or not. Or they can totally go “lol no” and decide not to. Either way, they came to their own conclusions because that’s how arguments work.

Even if you disagree with my opinions, to claim I “let” creators I criticise do anything is just obviously false: I do not run any corporations, I do not run boards that censor products – yet it’s a belief repeated so often, I believe such people do believe it. I really think they perceive my disagreement with how media fails to represent people of colour – or whatever – as me preventing creators making their art.

I think GTA V is a hot load of shit, but I’d be incredibly concerned if Rockstar found out they were not allowed to create what they wanted. That’s not just awful for Rockstar but all creators. I don’t want a moral police that Rockstar have to submit petitions to, in order to get a game past. I want Rockstar themselves to engage with criticism and think “hey, maybe homophobia/transphobia/sexism/racism isn’t cool, maybe we shouldn’t?” If they don’t, well, I guess they’ll just keep making their massively successful franchise?

It’s hard to comprehend what power angry people like Hat Person think critics have – but the perception feeds into the worldview that critics “deserve” harassment and righteous opposition. There’s a perception that because critics are being listened to they are also being “obeyed”. The inability to negotiate the difference between criticism and control is a thorn in the leg of fruitful debate, a wrench in cogs of passionate discussions, meaning nothing useful can be produced.

I can guarantee you that most prominent media sites have had famous critics hating Michael Bay’s films – especially Transformers. As far as I know, Mr Bay is still successful and the film franchise was still going strong amidst all the hatred. Being heard doesn’t mean being listened to – let alone obeyed. You can get your argument on the front page of the New York Times and I can choose to ignore it.

“Let creators create what they like!” Well, I can’t. I genuinely can’t do that. Because I can’t do the opposite either. Even if I wanted to, I don’t even know what not letting creators create what they like means – unless you’re talking government censorship.

Critics create criticism – why is our work not allowed? Art is allowed to be criticised; that criticism itself can be criticised. What you can’t do is, instead of disproving arguments, portray them as authoritarian dictates – which is the most bizarre portrayal I’ve seen of contributions from someone who is a freelance writer to a video game website.

The assertion also seems to give immunity to art just because we’re fond of it. Because someone made it and we love it, we don’t want anyone thinking any part of it is bad. It’s sacred and perfect.

But this is nonsense.

You can like and criticise the same thing; it’s possible and important to think about the flaws of the things you love dearly, because nothing is perfect. Criticism is essential to progress: how do we get better if we don’t know what’s wrong? If something is perfect, it means there’s no reason to try. If nothing else, that sounds rather uncreative and boring.

Hate our arguments; ignore me; whatever. But this idea that I or other critics have any significant control over corporations or people with more money and power than us is ridiculous.  I dunno: If we had such power, we wouldn’t be freelance writers – we’d just be bringing this stuff out and enjoying it from the comfort of our yachts (those are things that fly right?).

What we’re aiming for is improvement by virtue of persuasion, not dictates; that so many don’t even know what that looks like is kind of alarming to me.

If you like my work, please consider leaving me a tip: It’s greatly appreciated.


You’re not playful, you’re an asshole

You probably heard about this awful interview with the cast of the upcoming Fantastic Four. Within a short space of time, it got incredible horrible.

As The Mary Sue reports:

If you don’t want to sully your day by watching the clip, it features the interviewers being intentionally ignorant about Sue and Johnny Storm’s familial relationship (“you’re black; how does that happen?”); berating the actors for not watching the movie, and criticizing [Kate] Mara’s short hair cut (apparently she was “way, way hot” before). The clip ends with Mara being asked if the hair comment made her uncomfortable, and Rickman assuring her, “I’m a toe guy, and your toes are fine.”

The cast were, to say the least, unimpressed. The boring “shock jocks” are shrugging at people’s responses, naming the film “hipster” and displaying all other manner of fratjock bullshit a lot of us are used to.

But one of the station’s hosts issued this statement to Buzzfeed in response (at bottom of article). In particular this part made me tilt my head. (My emphasis because goddamn.)

My partner’s (Southside Steve) [Rickman] conversation about Kate’s hair is something that came up while Michael B Jordan took a phone call so I think they were kind of just going back forth in a playful way. As for him complimenting her toes and why people are upset about that…sorry…no idea. Steve likes girl’s toes. People should be appreciative when they get complimented. Those that are upset on Twitter I guess don’t get enough of them. Who knows?

Oooooh boy.

First, notice assertions of it being “playful”, that it was just “complimenting” – downplaying the impact it had on both Mara and anyone else. Their feelings and interpretations are dismissed or awfully labelled as some kind of weird grudging response to not getting “compliments”. Because, yes, we all want creepy men telling us how toes makes their boners happy.

Dear cis dudes: Detailing what makes Captain Boner stand at attention is pretty much the least interesting thing in the world to strangers; it’s especially not interesting, at best, or horribly invasive, at worst, to the people you’re attracted to. “X attracts me” is like an unsolicited dick pic. Stop doing that. No one asked.

This is made worse when the person you’re telling this to can’t really leave the room and can offer no response, other than be a sexy* blank canvas on which you feel entitled to smear your boring boner details all over.  No one is saying you’re not allowed to find different aspects of people attractive; but, holy fuck, maybe consider the context in which you discuss that? I know a lot of men feel the world is their playground and waiting with bated breath to hear about their latest boner escapades, but I assure it is not.

Please, cis dudes. Stop.

But now we come to the real killer sentence: “People should be appreciative when they get complimented.”


People should be appreciative when they get complimented

Yes, he said that.

People should be appreciative when they get complimented

He really said that.

By “people”, he means “women”, more than likely. Notice again that by merely asserting it is a compliment, it just is one. Fuck your views or how you took it; Mr Man intended it as compliment and, regardless of time, delivery, context, words used, it is damn well a compliment. And if you don’t like it, you’re being uppity!

Please note: This is the exact same mindset that goes into catcalling and street harassment. “But she’s hot!” comes the excuse, as if it’s a woman’s fault you’re attracted to her and you have no willpower that you just have to become a jackass. It’s as if being attractive (to you) is a natural law that dictates men must dismiss decency and reduce women to fuckability. Notice agency is removed when men treat women this way: “She’s no longer a full being, she’s an entity that I want to fuck.” (Sometimes we do want that from our partners or certain people; but it’s contextual and still premised on respect for the other person. Even when we are “reduced” to fuckability, we can, and should, do so with respect.)

This removal of women’s agency, of personhood, is clearly on display in this entire response, as any thought to what other people were experiencing  – notably what a woman was experiencing – is shrugged off as irrelevant or mistaken because a man says so. Because a man intended otherwise.

This is nothing new. Women experience this every day. Women and those of us who are tired of our loved ones experiencing this aren’t shocked by it, we’re bored of it. And we want it to end. “Shock jocks” aren’t shocking; they’re so, so boring. I’m tired of people using “edgy” or “shocking” as an excuse to perpetuate bullshit so many of us are trying to erase as acceptable; the irony is we know this is status quo, even if these boring shock jock types and their audience think otherwise – after all, we’re not the ones with the big radio show interviewing Hollywood stars.

Nobody’s impressed cis dudes. Nobody cares about your boner.

* I use “sexy” as a shorthand for what you, personally, find attractive.

“Geekdom is the only place where socially shunned males can be save [sic] and be themselves”

This popped up among several friends, from an anonymous geek person . [Sic] all around.

Geekdom is the only place where socially shunned males can be save and be themselves. So when women, who exclude them outside geek culture, invade those save spaces and force the scene to conform to their wants and rules they leave the men with nowhere to go. Where can they flee? They’re backed into a corner. Attacking invading women is not harrassment – it is defense. Women hate socially inept males. Why should they not hate them back when they try to destoy their only sanctuary.

First, it’s blatant nonsense that women – or rather not cis dudes – were never part of “geekdom”, it’s bullshit to say women “invade” geek spaces. The first games I bought were by Roberta Williams and Jane Jensen; I was reading Ursula le Guin before I knew I was apparently supposed to hate all girls (i.e. teens); and the most popular character among me and my friends for Halloween was Frankenstein’s monster, created by – *gasp* – a woman.

But, I don’t need to list women who revolutionised the various mediums they were part of or elaborate on the quality and beauty they brought to their various genres. The works speak for themselves. [Read more…]

That’s the price you pay

In my latest piece for Daily Beast, I briefly mentioned a current harassment case in Canada. A judge will make a ruling in the next few months. Some are claiming it is a free speech issue. In some ways it is, if we understand what such people mean by “free speech”: It should hopefully have some effect on the unfettered licence to say whatever we like without consequences that apparently only exists in online spaces – but not in meatspace. (The case is misconstrued as a free speech one, however, as Anne Thériault – who actually knows more about the case – demonstrates; a point I didn’t stress enough. I didn’t choose the title of the piece.)

We are allowed to write freely, but we treat death threats seriously; we can say what we like to basically anyone, but most oppose street harassment; we can travel freely, but presumably don’t barge into conversations between people we don’t know. Some of these are wrong by virtue of being criminal; but we’d all be worried if the only reason someone refuses to perform an immoral act is solely because of the law rather than personal ethics.

The major focus for my essay was to remove it from the conversation about free speech; to focus on it being an issue of moral priorities. It was about saying that more people need to use the tools that already exist in digital spaces to clamp down on abuse, harassment and targeting. It’s not censorship to close comment sections, because no one’s taken your keyboard, computer or internet access; it’s closing a door, not sticking you in jail (as I say in the piece). Blocking people on social media isn’t some tool I created: It’s within Twitter’s function.

My focus is how so many site owners and others with power refuse to use these tools in ways that actively discourage harassment, sexism, racism and so on; they prioritise no moderation, effectively leaving marginalised and frequently targeted people open to harassment, over bullshit ideas of “censorship” – i.e. licence to do what you like without consequence.

Even site owners are playing this tune because of how widespread this BS notion of free speech is – but they’re not the government, they’re a private enterprise. They can do what they like; they already prioritise everytime they let one person publish, but not another. So why do they only focus on what’s atop the line, not the area where readers participate?

And what reader will want to participate if they know they’ll be dogpiled, treated to harassment, sexism and so on?

Free speech is bullshit when people are too afraid, too fearful, too anxious to participate. Leaving it “free” means leaving it free… from top down consequences; it’s not some open agora with philosophers battling it out in amicable fashion. It’s marginalised people having to face down a horde, because the horde is already in power (that’s the benefit of being privileged).

Lots of people are saying “this is the price of liberty; you need to hear horrible things so that we don’t undermine freedom”. I hear horrible things all the time. I get messages about being lynched and killed for being a person of colour. There’s nothing free about entering digital spaces as a frequent target of harassment and stalkers and online abusers; I’m not asking for these people to be denied internet access, I’m not taking away their ability to write and publish on their sites or blogs or message boards or Twitter.

I’m saying more people in power should begin using tools they already implement, that their laziness or fetishising of free speech only benefits harassers’ freedom and, therefore, silences marginalised people; either in our refusal to participate at all or no longer wanting to speak in this space. (Thus, if you claim to defend free speech, even within this framework, you should care!) This isn’t “the price of liberty” – you are not free to hurt and harm. What that means for law, I’m not sure, but being digital doesn’t mean it’s free from the scrutiny of policies – and, in some cases, it has been under the scrutiny of the law to help protect people.

Digital life is real life. Just because, say, people are arrested for hate mail doesn’t mean mail has stopped or we’re unable to write; we just don’t send hate mail (again, if your only reason for not sending hate mail is the law, that’s highly problematic).

The more we start understanding digital life is real life, the better we can stop dressing digital protection as a free speech issue and understand this primarily as a safety one.

(Comment section will be heavily moderated because I hate free speech.)

Flagging justice

Background info on Newsome here.

Background on #McKinney here:

(Side note: I noted some awful whorephobia happening about “women on poles” as attempted humour, in response to the iconic image of Newsome. Don’t do that. Adult performers are no less deserving of respect; further, there’s nothing stopping an adult performer doing their job as well as fighting for justice.)

Writer gets in touch with people who sent rape and death threats online

via Tabatha Leggett: “After writing a light-hearted post about how I didn’t get The Simpsons, I received death and rape threats. Tracking down the people who abused me turned out to be unexpectedly emotional.”

When the foundation is so poisonous, even comments that aren’t swearing or threatening can be part of what makes it all scary.

‘One London-based journalist who sparked a particularly hurtful conversation about my post on Twitter emailed me: “I have several female friends who have gone through what you’ve experienced, and something I didn’t really appreciate at first was the distorting mass of the crowd. Huge numbers of people coming at you – even if each individual might be being relatively innocuously so! – is scary, and now I know I was a part of one of those crowds I have to say sorry.”’

This is what people often don’t understand about being targeted en masse: Imagine 50 people, all speaking to you at the same time, demanding you answer their questions, that you respond to their hot take on the issue at hand, all while one or two others are literally screaming for you to be killed. Context is everything: shouting “get over yourself” or calling someone derogatory terms like “pussy” “weak”, etc., doubling down on making a harmless stranger feel targeted. It’s so common and so horrible. It’s incredible that people think this is acceptable behaviour and feel nothing even when targets ask you to stop.

Some gamers don’t want criticism, they want PR

Over at Gamespot, Kevin VanOrd – one of gaming’s best writers – “broke consensus” by giving Arkham Knight 7/10. Many other places are giving it much higher scores, including a perfect 10 at Polygon. They did a video talking to Kevin about why he did so (even though you can read the review itself to find out why.)

I noticed this comment and it kind of perfectly encapsulates what is so wrong with so many gamers’ responses to criticism.

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Yes: A person who admits to not playing Arkham Knight thinks it should get a higher score, based on a trailer. Because, I guess, trailers are never created to show off the best parts of the game, running perfectly smoothly, with the right set pieces, by a huge corporation’s marketing team. It’s not like it’s their job to sell you on a product of theirs based on decades of experience in marketing.

It’s strange because clearly this person could just ignore this review or Kevin’s perspective in their purchasing decision. (You’ll notice that this person asserts Kevin knows nothing about games, an accusation I know all too well as of late.) As someone who adores Arkham Knight, I can see where Kevin is coming from. That was his experience and it actually resonates with a great many other people.

The key to writing a good review should be that even those who disagree can still pick up on those aspects they’d love: For example, Kevin noted how often you use the Batmobile. He found that tiresome. However, I love the Batmobile and I loved the parts where I had to use it. So his response to the same scenarios are exactly the opposite of mine: there’s no arguing there, it’s simple fact that our tastes just differ.

It’s strange that someone who clearly has been swept up in the PR to purchase the game feels the need to defend it against someone who’s played it (and is clearly an experienced critic). Kevin isn’t stopping you; he didn’t say it was bad; he gave it a 7 not an 8 or 9 like most other places. That people who haven’t played it are taking issue with the score should tell you so much about how so many gamers respond to criticism in general. It’s tiring dealing with such responses. But we haven’t reached that point where such responses are the exception rather than the constant: Too many gamers want everything and everyone to be mouthpieces for PR, rather than individual, critical perspectives on our favourite medium.

Girl Scouts return huge donation after donor requests it not benefit transgender girls

I don’t really know what the Girls Scouts are, but this was incredible to read.

A $50,000 donation is cause for celebration at the Queen Anne offices of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. [The council’s CEO, Megan Ferland] came back to the office earlier this spring and announced that she’d just landed a $100,000 donation… Not only did it represent nearly a quarter of the council’s annual fundraising goal, it would pay to send 500 girls to camp. “We were thrilled,” Ferland says.

Except there was a catch. In late May, as news of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition was blowing up your Facebook news feed, she received a letter from the donor with a brief request: Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls. If you can’t, please return the money.

I don’t know how one reads that favourably. But that was Ferland’s response.

In a short letter, she informed the donor that she would, in fact, be returning the money. Her reasoning was simple. “Girl Scouts is for every girl,” she says. “And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to.”

Every girl. No matter what you or others decide they are.

You can read the whole story here, including the support they’re getting and, importantly, the support they need – it’s incredible reading that organisations reaffirming transgender people as belonging can do wonders to help the trans folk, since it helps combat stigma that leads to the awful situation so many live in.

Indeed, if you want an outline of what that looks like (at least in America), Last Week Tonight had an excellent segment.

Oliver and his crew are suuuuuuuch an SJWs.