On #GamerGate and the impossibility of “just making games”

Hey, folks. So you’ll notice that there haven’t been any freebie linkspams for… a while. And that’s pretty much a direct result of #GamerGate, because everything that I would link to could be summarized as TL;DR HUMANS ARE AWFUL. Not to mention that it is not possible to put enough trigger warnings on even the not-terrible coverage of GG issues.

I’ve also been having a hard time finding the bandwidth to write here, despite the abundance of topics that I want to write about. I have friends that I want to interview about their positive work in games, there’s more analysis I want to do of the changing trends in Magic: The Gathering art direction, I’d like to noodle about some thoughts inspired by recent game projects on the intersection between social justice and game design. I mean, I have a fucking Patreon – you’d think it would be easier to find space to write here when I am literally getting paid to blog about the things that I am passionate about.

But friends, it’s been so hard.

We get told “just make games” or “just make art” like it’s supposed to be some kind of panacea. Like “just making games” will enable me to rise above the bullshit and transcend the awful with sheer awesome. And honestly, I would love, LOVE for that to be the solution. Nothing would please me more than being able to post a clever “haters gonna hate” meme and move on with my life.

But how can I “just make games” for a hobby that wants me to stop existing?

How can I “just make games” when “just making games” requires me to engage with a community that I don’t want my daughter to be a part of, and that I will do my best to hide her from when she is old enough to venture into online spaces. (Which, thankfully, is many years away yet.)

How can I “just make games” when hate and terror campaigns created to scare women out of gaming are triggering my anxiety and making it hard for me to just function day-to-day, let alone “just make games”.

For those of you who have never had to deal with anxiety, it’s fucking exhausting. And GG makes it literally impossible to know where the line is between “shut up brain, you’re being stupid again” and reasonable fucking caution.

Is enabling 2-factor authentication on my accounts needless paranoia, or reasonable caution? Who the fuck knows? When a co-worker discovered my blog, was I being an over-reacting paranoid weirdo when I asked him not to link it to a bunch of trolls? Or was I justified? Fuck if I know! When my name pops up on a forum that is well-known as a haven for misogynist tabletop gamers and I am called an “extremist”, am I making mountains out of molehills when that site’s presence in my blog’s referral links for the last month causes a vague, generalized dread whenever I check my site stats? Or is this something that I need to worry about?

I DON’T FUCKING KNOW ANYMORE.

People who say “it’s just on the internet” are not only completely out of touch with the reality of how modern life works, but they’re ignoring the real mental health consequences of these cyber harassment mobs. You don’t have to be directly targeted by them, either. Just the knowledge that they exist is a visceral threat. And when these mobs attack women that you respect, admire, and look up to – there’s a certain sense of inevitability. If I continue to walk down this path, it’s hard not to believe that this is what the future holds for me.

That is terrifying.

And it keeps me from doing the fucking work that needs to get done in order to “just make games”.

I have a KickStarter I need to be promoting more. That I’m proud of! Because it’s fucking awesome! And I have done some promotion work, but I’ve been chasing after “safe” audiences, because it’s not as worry-inducing as chasing potentially-hostile promotion sources for an explicitly social-justice-oriented game product, and hoping that the stats on funding and KickStarter are accurate and that momentum will get me over my funding goal.

I have things I want to blog about for an audience that has proven its interest and its willingness to support me with actual electronic moneyz, and lately I find myself writing out of a sense of obligation rather than real passion or excitement.

The fear, the anxiety, the need to detox and spend time doing and thinking about things that aren’t games – it all gets in the way of “just making games”.

And to those who say that I’m overreacting, that it’s all in my head, that it’s not a big deal, that “no one’s died yet” – that’s bullshit. At least one trans game dev, Kate von Roeder has committed suicide[1], and a mass shooting threat has forced Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a talk when the local law enforcement was unwilling to prevent attendees from bringing concealed weapons.

Let’s not forget that it was only several months ago that the Isla Vista shooter went on a killing spree after months of escalating online rhetoric about how much he despised and wanted to kill women. And it was nearly twenty-five years ago that the Montreal massacre resulted in the deaths of fourteen female engineering students at the hands of a man who blamed feminists for ruining his life.

So yeah, people have died. And more people might die. And that’s what every woman who works in games and is vocal about feminist issues deals with. The knowledge that speaking out comes with consequences, and it is impossible to know how steep those consequences will be.

So where does that leave me? For now, I’m still here. I’m still making games. I’m still blogging. My anxiety means that I’m not able to sustain the level of output that I know I’m capable of when I’m feeling well and am not having active symptoms, but I’m in the process of getting help and am trying not to beat myself up too much. I’m forcing myself to engage in self-care and am doing what I can.

Maybe some day we’ll be at a point where I can “just make games”. But that’s not a future I see arriving any time soon.

[1] I’ve heard reports of a second trans dev committing suicide, but the Google search results are too toxic for me to face today. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m just a blogger and not a real journalist or something.

21 thoughts on “On #GamerGate and the impossibility of “just making games”

  1. There’s this huge myth that pervades discourse about education that if we can just get high-quality teachers (whatever that means) into inner-city schools, the children will suddenly be engaged and learn, regardless of their external circumstances. This is not even close to true. If a child is tired, or hungry, or scared, or depressed, etc., that child CAN NOT LEARN. It’s not that they don’t want to – they just can’t. No amount of teaching technique is going to override the hierarchy of needs.

    I mention this because I feel like this is where we have arrived in the game industry. The luxury of discourse and production is the privilege of those who feel physically and emotionally safe. How can we expect people to be creative if their most basic need for safety is not being met?

  2. I know how you feel: I am constantly torn between wanting to talk about this shit and wanting to ignore it until it goes away. Reading the news about what happened to Anita Sarkeesian made me want to puke, and the comments… I can’t even find words to describe what I felt.

    PS. Just went and backed your kickstarter project. I am looking forward to use it in one of my campaigns in the future. I really hope it’s successful!

    • I admire the people who are fighting the good fight, but I also support those who aren’t up to wading into that morass. Take care of yourself and stay safe.

      (And thanks for the support! I hope it creates fun for you and your group!🙂 )

      • That’s exactly how I feel: I really admire those who are brave enough to stand up, but I also respect who doesn’t want to risk their safety.
        Creating content that is positive and that other women can enjoy I think is a way to fight, too, be it fan art, an article, an actual game.
        Nothing like the shitty argument “you don’t like what is available, make something yourself”, but more of a quiet and positive space to talk about what we love in games and have fun.

  3. “Just make games” is the equivalent of “just walk through this dark parking deck”. Just because other women have been attacked there is no reason for _you_ to be afraid.

  4. Hi, this is just a short comment to show my support. I’ve been following your blog since 2010, and today it is as insightful as ever. Please, keep doing this. I am white and male, so I’m as privileged as they come, and it’s after reading your blog that I really started to consider the issue of systemic sexism in gaming (and notice boobcams in games). I remember laughing at the Fran and Balthier gender swap, of being engaged by your old post about Bioware and Beneziah’s cleavage. Please, don’t give up.

  5. I wish people would realize “just making games” or “just being creative” is incredibly difficult when you don’t feel safe or dealing with stuff like anxiety or depression. Its like attempting to climb up a wall while being chained to cinder-blocks. Its possible, but really hard.

  6. The thing that bugs me about the Montreal massacre is that the only places I can find people are talking about it are feminist spaces. Its like the rest of the world allowed itself to forget that it happened. Hopefully the Isla Vista murders don’t get as forgotten by the rest of society, but only time will tell on that one.

    Also wundergeek I follow your work because it makes me think and it is always thought provoking, whenever you decide to publish something knew you will have this reader. Thank you for everything you’ve done so far.

  7. Ugh: I am soooo sorry you have these feelings.

    The work you do with your blog is wonderful, and educational to those of us trying our hands at “game design.” As one of the most privileged dudes on the planet, I have not had to deal with the same bullshit as you. I just haven’t. My own personality is one of “fuck ’em” if they don’t like how I think…but it’s a lot easier to be cavalier when people aren’t issuing death threats or trying to hack your real life through internet sources.

    I don’t know how you can insulate yourself totally and still do the work you do. You really can’t. A clever person who wants to track you down can do so. A person who really, really wants to do you harm can find a way to do so…and that’s really shitty. But the only way to be truly safe is to “hide your light under a bushel,” and do you really want to do that? Right now, you’re one of those beacons modeling the change you want to see…isn’t that more satisfying? After all, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow…or have a sever allergic reaction to a prescription drug (a la Bruce Lee) and drop dead anyway.

    You don’t want to live in fear, and most bullies…especially internet bullies…are lazy and cowardly. The ones who are diligent enough and smart enough to track someone down (or organize an on-line hate campaign) are also smart enough to not do their own dirty work because they have too much to lose if they end up in jail. Take that as a bit of solace.

    Yes, you could get gunned down in a shooting spree by a rabid misogynist…what about the young elementary schoolers that were gunned down the other year having taunted fate in no greater way than making it to their classroom on the wrong day? If the universe decides to hand us such a crappy lottery number…well, hopefully it serves some higher purpose that we’ll know once we’ve shuffled off the mortal coil.

    Again, it’s a lot easier for me to say these things because I haven’t been in your shoes. I deal strictly with tabletop games and am a small fish in a small pond…people who don’t like me simply dismiss me or ignore me. But *your* voice is one that is doing a lot more practical, real-world good than my musings and ramblings. You’re aiding a culture shift…an important part of our societal development. Without you and those like you, we will simply be passing on the same-old-same-old to our children…which is a real disservice to THEM, both the girls AND boys (I personally have one of each).

    Take some deep breaths and consider things, of course. But know that there are those of us who respect and support you (even if we haven’t yet got our shit together enough to sign up for Patreon). Our love, prayers, and good thoughts are with you.

    [yeah, yeah, I’m making an assumption I’m not the only one who feels this way]

  8. Looking over the AMA Zoe Quinn did, she kept returning to the fact that the thing that’s kept her going through all the vile was the support she got from other women in similar situations as well as her close friends and family. When we surf the internet, we are almost always alone, which I think makes us more affected by the yuck. Worse, our brains are wired in a way where when we read stuff, it gets recreated in our brain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron

    So Wundergeek, (and anyone else out there facing a similar situation), never forget to reach out to people. From what I’ve seen, its been helpful for people to reach out even to those who have no idea what is going on in the gaming world because their reaction of how bizarre it is reminds them that the average decent person doesn’t fall for the hate mob mentality or tactics. Talk to friends, talk to family, talk to other women in similar situations. (Of course, I know you already know these things and it isn’t your first encounter with the internet hate mob, I just think its good to remember the basics when things get overwhelming).

    It might even be a good idea for you to let a friend moderate the comments on this blog for a bit. That way, you don’t have to deal with reading yucky yuck yuck and don’t feel you are obliged to read bile so that we can avoid it and have conversations. I don’t think anyone here would mind having someone else moderate. Even if, absolute worse case scenario: a comment gets deleted that didn’t contain anything wrong, that’s a small price to pay for any reduction of anxiety it could cause.

    More and more people are leaving Goober gate as they realize how horrible and hostile it is. The ones that stay will never be happy because none of their goals could ever bring them happiness. On the other hand, more and more people are learning how to speak up against harassment. Ever since I learned about what gamer gate has been doing, I’ve been praying for support for those its attacked and will continue to do so. Recently on facebook, a friend posted about the Utah threat and got a #notallmen response so I did what I could to support her.

    You have no obligations to us. I’m sure that even the people who support you with money do so, not because they just want articles, but they want to support you as a person. If you need to take a break, that’s fine. If you need to write articles to address serious issues that don’t have room for the jokes antigravity boobs have, that’s fine. We never want you to feel you have to write for us. Write for yourself when you want to, and if you choose to share, we are happy to read it.

    Never be ashamed of feeling scared or down. Its a normal part of being human, especially under these disgustingly abnormal circumstances.

    So, I hope the rest of your day away from the keyboard is filled with delicious food, enjoyable fall weather, and sitting in comfy couches and chairs. I also hope your time on the keyboard is filled with awesome support and cat videos worthy of giggles and chuckles.

    PS. Just noticed the bottom left corner of this website. It’s a cool hidden feature.

  9. You are far braver than I, and I offer you all the luck and support I can afford. You are doing excellent work, and even if “trolls are gonna troll” there are many people who will help you back up if they knock you down.

  10. Dear Wondergeek,
    Please know that you are a great inspiration to me.
    I’m happy to read that you are taking care of yourself, because we need you and people like you.
    This post made me cry.

      • It’s alright, really!
        Your post helped me realize that I too am suffering from low energy, lack of inspiration and general bad mood due to these events.
        And the first step to fixing a problem is to realize what’s causing it.
        Things are getting better now.
        So – Thanks for putting into words things I couldn’t figure out by myself. It’s not the first time you manage that.🙂

        • It took me a long time to admit to myself that I was having problems with my mental health, despite the fact that I’ve wrestled with mental health problems pretty much my entire adult life. So I’m glad that I was able to help you realize a problem in your own life.

          Take care of yourself, and be well.🙂

  11. [Thanks everyone for your support. I feel like I should offer more than that, but it’s been a crazy week at work. ^_^

    I couldn’t have come back to blogging without you all. Thanks for sticking with me.]

  12. Hi, I found your website today.
    I just wanted to say that your creativity is a precious burden. One of the delights of life is carrying this burden and discovering where it will take you. Please don’t let the strident voices of those who would control or limit your creativity weigh you down. It is a confronting, saddening and disappointing experience to discover that (at least some) of your audience is so determined to see your voice diminished. What do you plan to do about this?

    • Oh I certainly don’t plan on leaving gaming or shutting down the blog. I may not be as badass as Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, but I am still pretty damn stubborn. I just might be dialing back for a little bit to avoid burnout. Lots of mini-internet vacations. That sort of thing.

      And thanks.

  13. Poking through google randomly brought me here tonight. I used to post here a bit a few years back. Sometimes positively, often argumentatively(as an ally, I consider it a duty to push against arguments I consider weak: if you can’t get an argument past me, how will you ever convince people who are less supportive of the cause?).

    I just wanna say I’m glad your still around, despite the fact I often disagreed with you. Keep fighting the good fight!

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