Standing Up For Myself

I am adding a header image to this post for blog consistency. No! The game pictured is not the game in question! It's just random pretty E3 photo from my phone OKAY?

So I just got off a plane to this flood of tweets and messages and emails and urgh, I was already tired enough after spending fourteen hours watching old Futurama episodes with my kneecaps crushed against the chair in front of me. If you’re clueless as to why I might be on my blog instead of sleeping off the horrors of flying, I kind of wrote this article about PR sexism at E3 and it got a little attention. If you’re here for precisely that reason, cool! I want to address a few of the things that keep coming up in various comments, forums, tweets, and probably also hastily scribbled notes attached to the legs of the angry carrier-pigeons that will be arriving at my house in a couple of weeks.

Why didn’t you STAND UP FOR YOURSELF?

This is pretty much the most common negative response, and in hindsight, I wish I’d addressed it. I certainly thought of addressing it; what I didn’t think at the time was that it was apparently necessary. We already know well that women often don’t speak up. We should even know why – this article on “gaslighting”, which the entire internet read and linked and ranted about last year, illuminates the issue exquisitely.

In the first year of my games degree, I learned quickly to stay quiet in the face of male-heavy classrooms. I was never welcome; one guy said that this was a degree for hardcore gamers, and that I didn’t belong here, obviously being a player of the Sims or Farmville. In one of my very first classes, a guy raised his hand and said to the female tutor: “Hey, can we get a guy teaching this class?” I was always last choice for group projects, because nobody ever assumed a girl could know anything about games. Things got thornier when I tried to protest their stupid opinions of women’s abilities to play, develop, or analyse games. My gender was always used against me to shoot me down. “Nobody else has a problem,” they would respond. “Is it that time of month?” “You’re overreacting.” “You have an opinion, that’s so cute. Now get back in the kitchen.” From even more obnoxious classmates: “God, you’re a crazy bitch.”

It’s not pleasant to be the target of such language, and hearing it in such great volume – just for challenging a bunch of guys’ uninformed views – was exhausting in a way most can never fathom. Finally, worn down, I learned to say nothing.

But I also learned, in my final year at university, that writing was a fantastic release for me. It allowed me to finally enjoy games as much as any of my classmates did – in a far more productive way, and in what has generally been a much more supportive environment. My way of saying “fuck you” to the idiots of my uni was to advance in a field they didn’t believe I was capable of penetrating; to develop a career many of them only wished they could be a part of.

So the accusations of not “standing up for myself”, and the associated implication that what happened at that particular booth was somehow my fault, are both bemusing and frustrating for me. When you’re treated like that for years, it becomes really fucking exhausting to keep trying to speak up. You give up; you find other ways of dealing with the issue.

So what was my Kotaku post, if not retroactively standing up for myself to much greater effect?

Your little story means NOTHING unless you name and shame the guy!

For one thing, I don’t think the guy in question deserves to lose his job or be targeted by an internet mob. When these problems have been going on so long, I wouldn’t blame him for not realising that his behaviour wasn’t right. And following the embarrassment gamers made of themselves for the Ocean Marketing thing, I really don’t want to orchestrate another lynching.

For another – and I’ve said this several times and am getting quite tired of repeating it – this isn’t about the one goddamn guy. He’s indicative of a problem that’s deeply rooted in the industry itself. Naming him is treating the symptom of a disease, not the cause. We could all go and make his life hell with threats on the lives of his wife and kids and pet ferrets and whatever, but in two weeks things would be exactly the same as they were before. We would believe that the problem had been taken care of, leaving one guy bruised and broken while the true disease continues to manifest in the industry.

I think my refusing to name him is making people feel uncomfortable, because it prevents them from just blaming one person, destroying him, and then sweeping his remains under the rug. I mean, sure, I hope the PR rep in question has read my article and realises that what he did was wrong. I also hope that many, many others in the industry are also taking note.

And as a side note, I also don’t appreciate a fellow games journalist’s assertion that I am fearful of being blacklisted by the publisher in question. I mean, I’m not much of a reviewer; I have never done this for FREE GAEMZ, and the insinuation I’d care about that is a little insulting. If blacklisting is even a possibility, then I’d say that’s actually worth exploring as a real example of games journalism being broken – demanding that I name names is dodging the issue I’ve raised, and that in itself is pretty broken.

Fyi, everybody who visited booth X/played Y game was treated the same way as you.

That’s a real cute way of downplaying the issue. Nobody knows which booth this happened at, or what the game was. I’d also like to highlight a line in the article that everyone apparently missed: I looked down the booth and saw gamers at the other computers playing their own games, their own hands controlling the avatars.

At the time I visited, I was certainly the only one it happened to.

I’m a woman and it didn’t happen to me.

This kind of response has been incredibly disturbing to me. Besides belittling what I experienced, it’s also frustrating, because I kind of semi-understand the sentiment behind it. If this one chick comes out and complains about sexism, are people going to think all girls in gaming are like that? Gosh, how embarrassing for the rest of us.

I have trouble believing the problem was as isolated as many seem to be implying. Not when we still have Hitman trailers, not when ladies are still harassed online for the crime of having vaguely girly screennames. Maybe the specific PR problem didn’t happen to you. Maybe every one of the hundreds of people you met at E3 was unquestionably polite, and maybe not a single male attendee attempted to hit on you or check out your ass while you weren’t looking.

You might be incredibly lucky: none of it may have happened to you. But if it happened to someone else, it is still a problem.

Read that piece of yours for Kotaku. Katie, you’re better than Kotaku. They’re the Herald Sun of gamer news. You can do better.

This is a Facebook message from one of the aforementioned guys I went to uni with – and unfriended – years ago. I have literally no response to this. I’m just pasting this here because I actually find it incredibly hilarious, and I really need the laughs. I couldn’t think of a better place for my article to have ended up but at Kotaku – I’m proud it’s generated so much discussion, and has affected as many people as it has.

I’m going to turn comments off on this post, as I don’t particularly want to have to stay up all night, jet-lagged, moderating things on my personal blog. I hope the above has cleared some things up for people. If you’d like to discuss anything, email or tweet at me.

Disdain at the D.I.S.C.O.

[Originally in issue #5 of Ctrl+Alt+Defeat magazine, March 2012.]

I’m in Menethil Harbour. I’m fishing. It’s many hours past sundown, the dusky blue sky reflecting on the ocean, reflecting the shadows outside my bedroom window. The cataclysm is yet to rend this quiet harbour town, plunging its inhabitants and half its buildings beneath water. No one here knows their fate. I am yet to know mine.

I am a pretty night elf with a trademark bob of teal hair. I’m a rogue, a sneaky little slip of a thing with a mean temper.

And I’m standing on the docks, fishing.

I’m not sure why; I hate fishing, and I don’t think this harbour provides any of the kind of fish I particularly need at this time. Ships with full, golden sails arrive occasionally at the far pier, collecting or depositing passengers before they leave once again. I stand here, plucking fish off my line every now and then, for about fifteen minutes before another boat comes in from the city of Stormwind, dropping off a lone occupant.

Unlike the other travellers, he does not instantly summon a mount and race out of town. This little dwarf warrior, in the mid level 20s, is dressed in the drab kind of gear that signifies he’s new, if not to this game then at least to this realm. He’s American, I presume, given that most Australians like myself are asleep at this time. He doesn’t seem to own a mount yet; he jogs over to me on foot.

But before he even approaches I know what he’s going to ask. I sigh inwardly.

“hey” he says to me out loud, his imagined voice the only text in my otherwise empty chat box, the only sound in this town save the occasional bell of an arriving ship.

“Hi,” I venture, monosyllabically and noncommittally, waiting for him to make his request.

It takes a few seconds; I imagine him stabbing at his keyboard with two index fingers. “do u know how to get to arathi?”

“Leave this town, stick to the path, and follow it left when it forks,” I reply promptly. I reel in another fish, and I hope that the dwarf doesn’t need further explanation.

“k thanks” he says.

He’s about to leave, but I know he’s not done yet. And I’m right. He has another request.

“can u take me there?”

I feel myself physically bristling at this. I’m at the level cap, dressed in sleek, colourful gear attained from the current raid instances, and I am busy fishing, dammit. At this time, I’m one of the few people in the realm to own a two-seater motorbike, but I only allow friends to sit in its side-carriage. Not anyone like this lowbie. What makes him think I am going to make the time to ferry a stranger across half the continent? Why do lowbies, with their poor typing skills and irritating abbreviations, always feel entitled to ask favours of high-levelled players? I gave him directions – was that not enough?

So I simply say, “No.” And to prove how busy I am, I cast another line into the sea.

“k” he says passively, turning to leave.

He’s not far when he seems to change his mind yet again. I brace myself for another inane question, another unwarranted request for a favour.

But after hovering at my side a moment, instead of saying another word, he drops a small wooden chest, out of which springs a mirror ball that sways to and fro, casting small spinning shards of reflected light across the pier’s haphazard wooden planks. The night sky lights up in a kaleidoscope of colour; fast-paced music featuring the laughter of gnomes plays, and in a wondrous daze, I click on the ball to see what will happen. My rogue abandons her fishing rod and begins to dance.

And with that, the dwarf is off, out of sight and running out of town.

I later learn that what he has deployed is a D.I.S.C.O. Ball, a rare item presumably used to raise the spirits of jaded, impatient, high-level raiders.

As I find myself grinning at the absurdity of this mirror ball, I feel something in myself soften. It’s just me and the mirror ball here on this dock, and though it’s the middle of the night in both of my existences, my world is alight. I feel awful.

Thinking of that little dwarf navigating the Wetlands outside town by himself, I remember the first time I came to this harbour as a baby rogue. My brother, a rogue far more competent than I at the time, had been the one to protect me from the Wetlands’ crocodiles. I might have quit without his help, given up. Though the game has been nerfed and gone through numerous changes since, I wonder if I have just sent this little dwarf to his death.

Quickly, I type his name into my chatbox. “Wait,” I whisper to him desperately. “Do you still need me?”

“nahh” he says. “i’ll figure it out.”

“Well…” I say finally. “Let me know if you ever do need help.”

“k.”

The following morning, unable to stop thinking of the dwarf or his mirror ball, I add him to my contact list. The next time I see him online I message him immediately to ask how he’s doing, and to offer him a hand if it needs it.

He is as short with me and I was with him upon our first meeting. He politely declines my offers of help. We stop talking. I instead observe him through my contact list as he levels over the next few weeks, making it to the 60s before he stops logging on altogether. I never see him again after that.

He was right. He didn’t need me.

The game didn’t need people like me.

The word game, the dating game

Everything I do these days, it seems, is marked with inadequacy. I will claw desperately for something to busy myself with. Once I have it, I stare. I listen to the world fall away around me. I’m wrapped in inaction, fear moulding itself to me like gauze soaked through with anaesthesia and pressed unsympathetically to my skin.

I only know how to speak, and boy, am I good at it. “Fire away,” I dare. “Fire away.” I give nothing away. The future is ridged with the familiar regret of my being fucking stupid enough to let this happen again, again. The future is already my mistake. It bears down on me too fast, too harsh, and I do not move because I have long forgotten how.

It’s in an unlikely dating game that I find brief solace. It’s usually only my own face I examine in cruel mirrors, but here, I become accustomed to the curves, the elegance, and the wistfulness of typography. Letters present themselves to me, petals to be pulled from a flower to expose its sad, yellow heart.

I choose for myself Adobe Garamond Pro, my own High Renaissance man. I do not read his biography. I care not for his history; I care only if he can help me probe my own. I pair him with the backtalking Futura, who I imagine to be my achingly angular counterpart, dressed in thick black eyeliner and secret, sardonic angst.

It doesn’t work out.

“Sorry,” the dating game tells me. It never works out.

At this point, I have become accustomed to morphing into other people. I cut my own hair, watching flat strands fall unceremoniously into the bathroom bin. Reapply my lip gloss, let the cold clothe me. I shape the vessel but don’t know how to fill it. I fake life and I never quite rise.

And now, I am drawn to playing out numerous existences as the guts of words. I become a girl again, playing with dolls, matching together puzzle pieces, experimenting with shades of ugly. I marry the sickeningly girly Archer to Avenir’s fake grin and think, fine, have each other. The limbs of Glypha fit neatly, satisfyingly, into Univers’ straight spine. I engineer dreams of the heart and plot aesthetic nightmares. I think on how close I came to complementing so many people, and I marvel at the nature of things. You know how it works out, sometimes, so rarely in the areas you’d expect.

I see harmony in wine labels. Travel guides. Bed-and-breakfast signs, creaking quietly in strong rural winds. Clay cities melt, pleasantly, into the night.

“Fire away,” I whisper. “I have nothing.”

I don’t know how to play the word game in life. I have abandoned the dating game. But in these letters, in their imagined lives, I have found a brief escape from my own stiffening prose.

On women “kicking ass” at games

I’m sick of waking up each morning to read yet another news story about a close-minded douchebag gamer being sexist. Yesterday it was some charmer claiming to have bedded women on Sonic bedsheets; today, the perpetuating and justification of sexism in the fighting games community. But you’ve heard these stories already, and that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

What I do want to bring to light is a common response to this: that women should totally be taken seriously in games, because “women can kick ass too”.

Stop saying that. Seriously.

Having a girl say “he was just sexist because I was more skilled than him at Starcraft 2″ creates the same kind of hierarchy amongst women that Cosmo does when it offers articles titled “100 Things His Ex Didn’t Do In Bed”. Such a hierarchy suggests that certain women are less deserving than others of misogynistic treatment. It perpetuates a culture where women are pitted against each other, competing to be the “best” female player, competing for the attention and validation of their male peers.

“But Katie, are you sure you’re not just saying this because you suck at games?” you might say.

Who fucking cares if I suck at a game? Who cares if I’m even good at a game? Why does a women need to be skilled to be respected as a person with a hobby? Why can’t she just be respected because she’s a human being?

Most people are not brilliant at games, whether they’re guys or girls. But the guys don’t have to worry about personal insults of their skill based around their gender. So why is it so common to hear things like “I am a skilled gamer, and this is why you should respect me as a woman”? This creates an expectation of women gamers that the guys simply don’t have to worry about, and it can be used to justify sexist behaviour towards the less skilled majority. How are women less acquainted with gaming going to feel if they want to give online gaming a go? How would a new player handle the inevitable abuse if there’s a clear distinction between her, the noob, and the women who make a point of being better than others?

If we placing ourselves above other women that way, they may feel they have even less of a right to speak up about their experiences. You’re not helping feminism by pointing out that you can “kick a guy’s ass”. You’re only degrading other women, and you’re really not even helping yourself.

Edit: This post is in no way about games journalism or criticism, and is no comment on or justification of my own contributions to it.

A few words on sex in Mass Effect

Hey, you! There’s a new podcast out there by the Game Taco guys and I’d like you – yes, you! – to listen to it! They were kind enough to invite me onto the show a second time, due to all of us having been involved in Melbourne’s 48-hour game jam. Myself, I hovered at the shoulders of game developers by day, wrote letters about my observations to Kotaku’s Mark and Tracey by night, and helped judge the games at the end of the whole thing. Game Taco’s Smoo and Mr Ak did some hovering of their own, and Anna was the only one actually brave enough to participate as a developer.

So last week, we all gathered to discuss our experiences; forward the podcast to an hour in if you’re interested in just game jammery. Besides that, we also discussed Dragon Age’s assimilation of Felicia Day, hidden object games, a cat MMO (!), and sex in Bioware games. I had massive fun recording this podcast, so yeah, have a listen.

And under this cut, just some additional thoughts on the handling of sex in Mass Effect.

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No, I will not play SWTOR with you.

It’s beginning to really bother me: the number of people asking what SWTOR server I’m on, what my character’s name is, whether I want to group with them and hey girl do you wanna join my guild, I can help you level up and shit.

I’ve had people get angry when I’ve declined to give them my character’s name. I’ve had people adopt the condescending “disappointed” demeanour. I’ve even had someone imply that I deceived them because I was the one who had “convinced” them to buy the game, with some implication that I would indeed play it with them. (I have never, ever said to someone: “YOU HAVE TO GET THIS GAME SO WE CAN PLAY TOGETHER.”)

Nobody has the right to get angry with me. Leave me alone. I have played with a grand total of two people outside of my usual gaming group, and both times were mistakes that ruined the experience enough to make me want to ragequit. I’d rather stick to the very small number of people I know I can trust.

Here is why I do not want to plat SWTOR with you, or really, any other game either.

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A link to other links

Oh, towards the end of 2011 I did a lot of forgetting to link to other stuff I’ve done outside of this blog. I let one or two articles get published without huge fanfare, felt guilty, and then decided to just wait for a couple more so I could eventually show off my angry, hooting article pile-up.

It’s time!

Firstly, I interviewed Davey Wreden, the developer behind Source mod The Stanley Parable, right here in Melbourne. At the Mana Bar, in fact, which features a bit in the interview content. What the final piece doesn’t include is Davey’s charming speech to my voice recorder.

“Hello, Future Katie!” he said. “Man, you know things that Current Katie just doesn’t even know, you’ve seen things she doesn’t know she’s going to see right now. You are so lucky.”

He quickly joked that he had recently been shooting for “awesome starts to interviews”, though this still stuck with me. A few weeks later, when transcribing that interview, I really did feel like a learned person, and lighter for it, too.

So, yeah, Davey is pretty awesome. Read the interview at Games.on.net.

Next is my first piece for Gameranx, something about, quite literally, the first ten minutes of Skyrim. I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, and it takes a lot for me to get into open-world games, so to have Skyrim grab me so suddenly was pretty incredible.

(Currently I plod through Skyrim at the pace of a drug-addled child, so don’t expect any further insight for quite a while.)

And then there’s the podcast at Critical Distance, which I enjoyed being on. Warning: its length is epic (though I duck out partway, due to Christmas things demanding attention at the time). Watch out for the site’s upcoming This Year In Video Game Blogging post, which I help prune links for. (There is a lot of game criticism out there, damn.)

Finally, the last is something I can’t really link to, but if you’re in Australia I’ve love for you to pick up the current issue of PC PowerPlay magazine, for which I got to review Dungeon Defenders (the colour explosion pictured above). In hindsight, I wish I’ve given it an even higher score because it’s crazy, the amount of fun I’ve been having with this game. I think my enjoyment really showed through in the way I reviewed it, too: puns and memes ahoy! And if you stick around, I also have something coming up in the next PCPP issue, #200, in which I wrote about one of my favourite games of all time. Guess what it is? :)

Games I played in 2011

Following that incredibly imaginative title, I will now follow with an equally inspired anecdote about the new year. Basically, I have resolved to write more.

I spend far too much time procrastinating or playing games than I do actually writing about them, and there are many last year I played without so much commentary as the occasional obtuse tweet. It’s a little late to bother with a carefully outlined essay on each, so here’s a list of aspects I found interesting about certain games, presented in whatever order I think them up in. (Does not include all games I may have played, and listed games may not necessarily have been released in 2011.)

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On Hipstamatic, Myspace angles and feeling goddamn fucking awful all the time

All right, I’m saying this not because anybody said anything, not that anyone even cares, even, but because I’m almost ashamed of myself.

I uploaded a new profile photo of myself yesterday to Facebook and Twitter.

I’m not sure if it’s myself or my Anxiety Cat counterpart speaking when, upon receiving some sort of comment on or acknowledgement of this new photo, I instantly think, “Fuck. They see me for the self-absorbed attention-seeker I really am.”

I mean, stepping back for a moment, trying to dissociate myself from what I know of the photograph’s subject (that’d be me, yo), I don’t think it’s a terrible photograph. I like the frilly, tissue-papery pink thing in my hair. Hey, I totally didn’t botch my eyeshadow the morning it was taken. I’m assured that wearing my hair in a bun doesn’t have to be matronly. I look like a wistful, babyfaced version of myself, like a manifestation of all the Lana Del Rey I’ve been listening to lately.

But I wonder if the self-posturing for the photograph shows. The thirty-plus shots I took in pursuit of the perfect angle. Do people look at it and wonder if I would really wear that headband in public? I never wear my hair like that. Instagram filters are so overused now. And hey, isn’t this the third hundredth photograph of myself that I’ve uploaded recently? Why are there ten times as many photographs of me on my Facebook page than there are of anything else? How can I possibly live with myself, being a wannabe hipster using self-taken Myspace portraits on the internet?

I don’t know if anyone ever thinks that, looking at my photographs, but I wonder.

I remember the glee with which hipster-haters retweeted this article on Twitter. “Nostalgia for the present,” says its author, is actually a “viewing of the present as increasingly a potentially documented past.” So Hipstamatic users are pretentious, then. Desperately living up to fantasies of having lives as coloured as their hippy parents’, and emulating with their photographs the love and sweat put into developing a documented memory of yesteryear, never mind that each carefully orchestrated photograph was merely a two-second snap on a smartphone.

Well, let me tell you that I’ve no such delusions. I take the photographs because I know that I am insignificant, and have no expectations of my life meaning something to anybody.

I immortalise myself as something pretty because I spend the rest of my time feeling goddamn fucking awful about myself.

I was not the pretty girl at high school. Friends would tell me that maybe I’d actually be pretty if I straightened my hair, or grew taller. A modelling agency called me fat. My mother asks me all the time if I actually like having freckles (“shouldn’t you cover them up?”), and still each time I see her, without fail, she will comment on my weight. I can be big one week and anorexic the next. Point is, I’m never perfect, and I’m never even okay just the way I am.

iPhone photography cushions me. In bed at night, before I fall asleep, I put the photographs through the filters. I watch my life take on different hues.

The Myspace angle conveniently diminishes or hides all but my face, which is usually sufficiently touched up with mascara or lip gloss. Instagram’s Valencia filter bleaches the flaws out of my skin, making all those dermatologist appointments I’ve endured worth the money I’ve spent. I used Infinicam to exotify, romanticise a photograph of palm trees by my father’s pool, taken last time (and probably the last time, ever) I was in Kuala Lumpur. Something about the green sky and the dying sun’s rays makes me forget, momentarily, how his new wife had turned on me, told him that she never wanted to see my face again, convinced him that their home wasn’t open to me should I ever return to Malaysia. I look at the photograph and see KL frozen, epitomising the place that was my home for so many years. I don’t have to think about the fact that it is a home to me no more.

I have a lot worth celebrating, I know. But as the days shift towards the end of my arts degree, I become more and more aware of the years I spent doing nothing but being depressed. I feel old and constantly exhausted. I can’t help feeling that there’s so much more I should have achieved by now, but I’ve learned that even if I fail, looks should be enough to get a girl by. Right?

So I upload these ridiculous self-centred photos, and will continue to do so. I don’t hope that my present will one day become a glamorous past that others will look back fondly on. I just want to feel okay. If I can document the few seconds in which I don’t look as miserable as I feel, maybe I can convince others that I’m okay, too. Maybe I’ll eventually even convince myself.