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):

Screen shot 2015-10-19 at 8.04.35 PM


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.

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.)


Lots of folks are trying to show me support. I really appreciate it, but what I would appreciate more is if you took your energy in fighting battles with people who don’t care about me to raise the voices of minority folk. Maybe use this time to try get more people employed who aren’t straight white men.

Instead of the collective being one that shouts down marginalised folk, let the default collective be one that raises us up and doesn’t let us be drowned out by bizarrely angry and dismissive others. The status quo is broken and solidarity for marginalised voices should be a constant for progress, for looking and moving forward; solidarity shouldn’t only exist for when things dissolve. Things are already broken and supporting one another is how we continue.

Who cares what they’re saying about me? You know who I am. There’s nothing for you to defend, but there’s plenty for you to promote. I’m not going to tell you who that is, you should know. I’m thankful for the volume of support, but please use this energy to get us jobs, get us recognised, get us safe and able to feed ourselves in industries we love but are told we’re not allowed in.

I might return to social media. I might not. I want to be there for my friends. Again: I’d rather not make this about me. Please, help everyone so that no one ever has to go through what I did.

PS: Please stop talking about me in any relation to Gamergate. Talk about abusers, harassers, unwelcoming environments, and so on. Most of us have experienced this long before any hashtag movements.

PPS: People asking for evidence don’t care about evidence. The fact I left a key source of income and employment, where I was able to get pitches, writing gigs, etc., you would think would be sufficient – but, again, they’re not interested in evidence. Please: Don’t debate them, help promote us.

UPDATE: Comment section has reached attention of people I don’t want to talk to (ever/right now), so I’m putting automoderation on. Sorry, but I’m not in a position to handle court-approved evidence submission, people saying I know nothing, etc. I don’t understand why people are this upset, this focused on me, but I really, really want to move on.

UPDATE 2: Please don’t fight in the comment sections. Please don’t demand evidence, I’m not here to  do your bidding. If you are not a friend or follower, this really is quite irrelevant to you. I really do just want to be left alone and want us to focus on creating safe spaces, not partaking in boring anger of people who hate me for reasons I will never understand. If you’re “neutral” about this, I don’t want to hear from you either, thanks. This isn’t a court proceeding. Find a better subject: It’s not me.

Debunking common responses to diversity

Those of us who speak often about diversity – particularly in gaming, but it’s an issue for all mediums – are often faced with similar responses. I want to reply to some.

Throat clearing

Let’s first be clear about what diversity support is: The call to have more games include people of colour, trans folk, etc., is about wanting more, not less.

We want not mere inclusion of, say, black characters, but ones who aren’t all gangsters (as in Watch Dogs); transgender folk who aren’t solely included as targets of transphobic jokes (as in Grand Theft Auto V); women who aren’t caricatures or replaceable with inanimate objects (too many to list).

Diversity is about the recognition that other people partake of a medium, are worth representing within those mediums as people, and who have certain issues particular to that group that are worth exploring in a respectable way.

The question about what to do with this recognition is where difficulty lies. But the responses to such a cause help no one.

Common, wrong responses

“Not every game has to cater to a minority!”

No one is saying every game has to. The call for more games to include and deal with issues that affect various kinds of people is not a call for every game to meet some magical quota. I don’t even know what such a measure looks like. I also don’t really know what “catering to a minority” means.

Diversity campaigning means “cater to all/more people – not just some”. Saying diversity is “every game must cater to a minority” is the exact opposite of the overarching goal of “more”.

We’re highlighting too many games already cater to one demographic (straight white men); in other words, games already cater to one group. We’re saying try make stories about more than one group of people; lots of cultures, nationalities, abilities, etc., exist. We’re all interested in games.

“Let artists create what they want!”

If you wish to make your game star another white man, that is entirely your choice. But it’s still a choice and we will and can criticise you for it. Just as you are totally free to make your lead character another boring white dude, we use that same freedom to criticise you.

Whatever your reason – publishers force you, “the market” decides, etc. – it’s still a choice to focus on the stories of white men. It’s still a choice to disregard other voices or cultures or people. There is no law you’re adhering to.

Make whatever you want: that’s freedom.

The ability to criticise art and artistic choice: that’s the same freedom.

We either both have it or neither of us do.

“It’s bad for business.”

I’m not sure how you ignore examples where a diverse cast led to the biggest profits a franchise had. We’ll ignore women leads sell better – again and again. Since when is it smart business practice to ignore substantial potential audience base?

Do you really want to be fostering an audience that is outwardly repulsed by the idea you treat women respectably? That maybe people of colour don’t have to be terrorists or gangsters? Is that the type of audience you want supporting your work? If not, then you can include other kinds of people and know that the alleged original audience of straight white dudes will continue to support you, because you’re good, talented, creative.

The men who loved Half-Life, which starred a power fantasy version of many of them, didn’t abandon Valve when Portal starred a woman. How belittling of yourself, your audience and the rest of us, when you view your audience based on the most bigoted.

But here’s a black/women/etc. character! Why are you complaining?

Highlighting the existence of a minority individual doesn’t disprove the problem of majority. No one is claiming such stories or characters do not existence – we’re saying it’s too common, too predictable for stories to focus on the plight of straight white men.

For example, if Idris Elba was cast as James Bond, that doesn’t disprove or undermine that James Bond was/is always a white man. It highlights Elba is an exception and that very fact he’s an exception is the problem.

When you point out a game that focuses on a well-written black character – say Lee, from Telltale’s The Walking Dead (who is, unfortunately, a criminal) – you don’t disprove Arkham Asylum, City, Knight, Watch Dogs, Dying Light, Assassin’s Creed (AC) 2, AC: Black Flag & AC: Unity, Witcher 1, 2, 3, Far Cry 1, 3, Lords of the Fallen, Max Payne, Alan Wake, etc. etc. etc. etc. all star and focus on the stories of straight white men.

We already know about the few games that do people of colour well. We’re saying they shouldn’t be an exception, not they don’t exist.

Just be good: who cares if they’re black or white, man or woman?

It’s easy to not care about race or gender or sexuality when yours is the one that’s catered to by default. I am told constantly by white men that race isn’t an issue (which, makes me wonder: if it’s not an issue, why are they fighting me about it?); men constantly tell women to “calm down”, because, hey, Lara Croft exists. And so on.

The way this is framed is that it doesn’t matter if a character is a woman or person of colour or gay, just as long as they’re well written. This gives the impression that straight white men are inherently well-written and you need to make some kind of case for your person of colour lead.

The actual point is this: You need to make all characters, regardless of race, gender, good (or interesting or, at least, not boring/Aiden Pearce). We can all agree on that. But when you use that assertion when people are calling for diversity, you’re diverting the issue. We’re not talking about quality of characters, we’re talking about inclusion. If race doesn’t matter to you, then stop getting involved when people of colour mention inclusion. Why would we want a badly written person of colour in a game? That could be worse than their non-existence.

Your point is either pointless (of course they must be well written!) or diverting (focusing on characters’ quality rather than their inclusion).


Diversity matters to many of us: if it doesn’t matter to you, please rather just ignore our conversations. You don’t really prove you lack of caring when you try divert complex discussions about diversity. You also don’t help when you make the same talking points we’ve been dealing with for ages. Help yourself or help us, but please don’t be boring and distracting.

Dear straight white men: Don’t be that guy

When trying to tackle the various systems that belittle, undermine, oppress, and abuse marginalised people, we often encounter cages made of white dudes‘ folded arms. A refusal to listen; a refusal to acknowledge there’s a problem. There’s often a rumbling before, as their eyes roll when they see any mention pertaining to inclusion of women or people of colour in domains predominantly composed of those who look like them.

Whether it’s gamingatheism, genre fiction (seriously), science, whatever. The idea that these areas are still problematic – despite the existence of prominent people of colour, women, etc. – frustrates many of these guys. They feel as though simply not being a sexist or racist is sufficient to make these environments inclusive; as if by them not harassing, abusing or targeting marginalised folk, they’ve done enough and can’t understand why oppression continues. Or rather, why we’re still complaining. “Look! Barack Obama is president, there’s no racism! Look, a woman CEO, there’s no sexism!” [Read more…]

Public shaming and modern media

Jon Ronson has an adaptation excerpt from his latest book age out public shaming in the digital age. It primarily revolves around Justine Sacco, who you might remember as sending out that racist/unfunny Tweet.

Ronson writes:

The furor over Sacco’s tweet had become not just an ideological crusade against her perceived bigotry but also a form of idle entertainment. Her complete ignorance of her predicament for those 11 hours lent the episode both dramatic irony and a pleasing narrative arc.


By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke.


For the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.

At the time, I wrote about why Sacco’s Tweet wasn’t the worst part about the whole affair (and was subsequently quoted in the New York Times, when they wrote about this same issue): I was horrified by the reactions to it – and, mainly, how she was targeted by those with much larger platforms.

There’s an ethical dimension many haven’t considered with platforms and engagements: It’s difficult and tricky areas. I engage publicly on social media with people, quite often – but always with people who have anonymous accounts and aren’t traceable in any way. I don’t even try show up legitimate problematic individuals, unless they are threatening the livelihood and safety of others: if it’s just some loser Gamergater or MRA, I tend to just block, though inform others of the individual.

The point is it’s tricky and it should be tricky. Shaming shouldn’t be as easy as a Retweet, but it is and that’s dangerous. Platform holders like the Buzzfeed editors and Gawker’s Sam Biddle who thrive on public shaming deserve severe ethical scrutiny for their work and conduct.

Indeed, Sacco isn’t the one who should be ashamed; it’s those with major platforms who decided to draw the world’s attention to her, for her innocuous and clearly outrageous Tweet.

Why it matters that the internet’s made by men

The amazing Soraya Chemaly has a piece up about the internet being made of bros and why that matters.

Tech’s institutionalised male dominance, and the sex segregation and hierarchies of its workforce, have serious and harmful effects globally on women’s safety and free expression.

This is what Soraya documents throughout the piece. From revenge porn to the kinds of abuse women face, that segregates it from the kind men receive.

[Read more…]