Advice for women looking to get into game design: Part 1

[ETA: Part 2 is now up! You can find it here! Part 3 is here.]

Before we get started

Lately, the issue of women and minorities in game design and development has been a topic of conversation in indie tabletop circles. I recently wrote about the dustup that happened over the level of female representation on D&D’s core design team. Since then, several interesting data points have been added, such that I think it’s worth taking a look at here.

So I’m going to write a 2-part series here about getting started as a woman in indie publishing. Some of what appears here will be “recycled” content, in that it’s repurposed from a Google+ post that I made several months ago. Most of it, however, will be “original” content that has not previously been pulled from my brain meats.

Part 1 is going to handle what I’m calling “thinky stuff” – pros and cons of publishing your own content, as well as common cognitive pitfalls that women face in game publishing.

Part 2 is going to deal in more practical matters. I’ll talk about my experiences as a self-publisher: how I got started, what goes into making a finished game, and the many different avenues available to self-publishers.

So now that I’ve laid that out, let’s get started.

1) The pros and cons of self-publishing

Most of the time when people talk about “breaking into the industry as a game designer”, what they mean is “getting a freelancing gig for one of the ‘mainstream’ publishing companies[1]”. But if that is all that you think of when you think of “breaking in”, then let me tell you YOU ARE SELLING YOURSELF SHORT.

Not to get all “get off my lawn” on folks here, but it has never been easier to self-publish games than it is right now. There are so many tools now that allow people to self-publish exciting and polished games that just plain didn’t exist when I started dabbling in self-publishing nearly seven years ago. It is absolutely possible for a one-person operation (like yours truly) to make and publish games that people want to buy.

There’s also the issue of economics. Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press wrote this fantastic look at the economics of publishing from the standpoint of one of the “big dogs”, and it’s a great look at why freelance writing is not well paid, and why it’s not ever going to be well paid in the current market. The fact of the matter is that very often, a tiny self-publisher with a tiny audience can shoestring a game of their own and still make more money than they’d make freelancing for one of the big companies.

As a new writer in the industry, you can expect to make between 2-3 cents per word. That’s it. But as a self-publisher? You get all the profit, minus only expenses related to distribution, which adds up much more quickly.

Real-world example:

The work that I did for V20: Dark Ages was at a contracted rate of 3 cents per word. 3 cents per word times several thousand words means that my final fee was several hundred dollars.

Contrast that with SexyTime Adventures: the RPG, my stupid satirical dungeon-running not-even-a-standalone-hack of Dungeon World that’s mostly an exercise in mocking bad fantasy cheesecake art. I shoe-stringed producing it and it wound up costing me $35 total. To date, it has earned me more money than the work I did on V20: Dark Ages[3].

More importantly, I own the rights to all of it. My work on V20: Dark Ages was done work-for-hire, which means I don’t own any of the work that I did on that project.

Now all of that said, there are some cons to self-publishing. I’m not going to pretend that it’s all giggles and unicorns! Because there are distinctly unfun parts to self-publishing too. So I’m going to do a good old-fashioned pro-con list here:

Self-publishing pros Self-publishing cons
You own 100% of your work Self-promotion and publishing are time-consuming
You don’t have to wait to get paid KickStarters are NOT for the faint of heart (or the weak of organizational skills)
You don’t have to worry about getting screwed out of a comp copy, or about an employer just not paying you for your work – all of which are very real risks Building an audience is something that takes hard work over time. There is no substitute for this. None.
The profit margins are much, MUCH larger Finishing a draft is just the beginning of the process
You are in control of the creative process You’ll need to find a trustworthy, competent editor. Getting your edits will never be fun, or your editor isn’t doing the job right.
There are no rules for what self-publishing HAS to look like. How much time and effort you put into publishing is up to you Organizing playtests sucks. Seriously, it’s just the worst. (Except KickStarters.)
There are many alternative funding models and storefront options for people not willing/able to get into the logistics of dead tree books

Personally, I would LOVE to see many more people start self-publishing their own stuff. Tell that voice in your head that’s blasting the litany of reasons why it wouldn’t work to STFU. (It’s lying, but we’re going to come back to that in part #2.) I’m obviously pretty biased, but as someone who has experience with both ends of this? Self-publishing is by far my preferred method of game-writing. BY. FAR.

In the end, you have to do the calculus of what makes sense for you. But don’t let the Myth of the Game Designer fool you into thinking that you’re not “good enough” or “popular enough” or “talented enough” to publish your own content. And don’t EVER let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that you have to do freelance writing for “exposure” or to “gain experience”. Because here’s the deal.

As a freelancer, YOU ARE PROVIDING A SERVICE THAT HAS WORTH, or else they wouldn’t be paying you for it! The game companies are NOT in this to help you, the lowly freelancer. They are in this to MAKE MONEY, pure and simple. Working for “exposure” is an endless, useless trap so DON’T DO IT.

2) Self-publishing: common cognitive pitfalls[2]

[This is directed pretty much exclusively at women (misandry!), and is all taken from things I have berated myself for at some point or another.]

You have imposter syndrome, and it is lying to you.

Granted, it’s true that I know lots of male designers and writers with imposter syndrome. But it’s worse for women, because we have the double whammy of starting out a new craft in a hobby that tells women we don’t belong here.

You will feel like you have nothing to contribute, that you have no business calling yourself a game designer. That’s bullshit. Tell your brain the shut the fuck up and keep designing. (You may not ever get rid of that voice, but I promise it gets easier to tell it to STFU with practice.)

Write the game that you want to write

Making games is work and you have to really be excited about a project to see it through from start to finish. Don’t discard a game idea because you think no one will be interested or want to play it. Make it anyway and put it out there. You may be surprised! Hell, I’m still surprised that ANYONE actually bought SexyTime Adventures, let alone played it. But it happened! And I almost didn’t publish it, because I thought no one would be interested but me.

This goes double if you want to write a game about something stereotypically “girly”. You want to write a game about saving kittens? DO IT. A game about teenage girl angst? ROCK. A game about shoujo magical girl anime? OMFG DOOO IIIITTTT.

doitnow

You do you. It’s okay to design for a niche audience.

Only writing hacks doesn’t mean you’re not a “real” game designer

It took me years to call myself a game designer because I can’t write original systems for shit. But I’ve learned that I’m really good at taking a system that does 75% of what I want it to do and Frankensteining it into doing a particular thing it didn’t do before. That’s game design!

Did you make a game? Then you are, grammatically, a game designer. Own that label.

Not being able to get outside groups to run playtests does not mean that no one will want to play your game

Seriously. It doesn’t mean that you suck, or your game sucks. It means there are too many games and too little time to play them in. It’s okay. Find some friends to play your game with you. It’ll be okay.

Keep your eyes on your own work

I still sometimes beat myself up that I’m not as prolific as Designer X or I’m not as popular as Designer Y. And it’s stupid and pointless. Be the best designer YOU can be.

Perfect is the mortal enemy of good enough

There is a difference between perfect and polished. Your game will never be perfect. Is it good enough? Good. Shove it out the door and move on.

You do not need a middleman. REPEAT. YOU DO NOT NEED A MIDDLEMAN.

Self-publishing is a thing that you are allowed to do. Yes, you with your no previously published games. Yes you with your lack of budget for a professional illustrator. Polish your game to the best of your capacity and put it out there. You do NOT need to shop around for “established” publishers to publish your work before you can call yourself a “real” designer.

That said, self-publishing is work! And maybe you don’t want to do that extra work, and that’s okay. But be upfront with yourself about your reasons – if it’s about validation, then re-consider. Because the economics of freelancing means that even self-publishers with tiny audiences (like me) can often make more money by publishing their own work.

Find a community of designers who you can talk about design with

I’ve learned A LOT about game design from talking with other designers and watching their process. Similarly, I find that talking about my in-process design thoughts helps me refine my ideas. Google+ is a GREAT place for that, because Circles and robust blocking tools make it easy to aggressively curate a discussion space you find productive.

You do not require the validation of assholes

That’s so important I’m going to say that again.

YOU DO NOT REQUIRE THE VALIDATION OF ASSHOLES.

It’s a sad reality of the gaming community that there are assholes, and as a woman you WILL encounter them. Sometimes, it may be someone you’ve heard about, someone who you think of as a Big Name. It can be really hard when that happens to remember that your worth as a designer is NOT contingent on their approval.

Say that the absolute worst case happens and they try to blacklist you. Remember that your audience is NOT 100% of gamers. Your audience is people who like and appreciate your games. And contrary to what they think, Big Name Assholes don’t really have as much power to affect your game sales as they think they do. People who would listen to a Big Name Asshole calling for a boycott of your work? Aren’t sales you should care about losing.

MASTER THE GLORIOUS ART OF NOT GIVING A FUCK, FOR IT WILL SET YOU FREE.

Remember to have fun

You’re making GAMES after all! Have fun! Even if I hadn’t sold a single copy of SexyTime Adventures, I would still consider it a success, because I giggled to myself the entire time I was writing it. Make games that you have fun making.

[1] Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Pelgrane Press, Evil Hat, Green Ronin, Onyx Path, etc etc

[2] This section was originally written as a Google+ post, which you can find here.

[3] Full disclosure: that’s not factoring in the 30% pay bump that was one of the KickStarter stretch goals. By that metric, it falls just short.

A tale of two marketplaces

Well, folks. I had actually planned on writing about how recruiting truly diverse teams of writers requires actively removing barriers to entry. But instead, thanks to Gabe Newell and the legions of MRA asshats on Steam, I’m writing this instead. Blame the fedoras.

Anyway. Before I get into a detailed look at why Gabe Newell’s response to a flap over on Steam was both unethical and colossally bone-headed, let’s cover some necessary background. (Feminism is much like sci-fi in that infodumps are an evil necessity.)

Chapter 1: Steam Greenlight and indie game Hatred

Hatred isn’t a new game – it’s been in development for a while. But it wasn’t a game that many people had heard of before it got put up on Steam Greenlight two days ago:

Hatred, from unknown Polish developer Destructive Creations, was first announced back in October. Its trailer seemed to revel in the massacre of civilians with a kind of gruesome glee. The video drew comparisons to ultra-violent game franchises like Postal and Manhunt for its apparently amoral focus on gunning down innocent bystanders in violent detail. “This is the time for vengeance, and no life is worth saving, and I will put in the grave as many as I can,” the protagonist says in the trailer. “It’s time for me to kill, and it’s time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here.” —Kyle Orland, Ars Technica

Charming.

Granted, it is true Hatred isn’t exactly the first game of its kind. Postal and Manhunt blazed that dubious trail. Still, given that the rate of mass shootings in the United States has tripled from 2011’s already pretty-fucking-high levels, it’s not too surprising that Steam stepped in and quickly removed the game from Greenlight.

…for about 24 hours, that is.

Late last night, Hatred re-appeared on the fan-voting section of Steam Greenlight, with all of its original comments and votes intact. What’s more, it seems like Destructive Creations received an email from Gabe Newell, apologizing for the decision to remove their game:

Hi, Jaroslaw.

Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers.

Good luck with your game.

-Gabe.

Oh good. I’m so glad that Gabe Newell is committed to fighting for the artistic freedom of game developers to make games that paint entitled men who go on violent rampages as the hero. I mean, it’s not like mass shootings have exploded as a phenomenon since Postal and Manhunt were first released (1997 and 2003 respectively). And, you know, who needs to be concerned about promoting a cultural narrative that glorifies mass violence when there have been 278 American mass shootings up to this point in 2014? I’m sure that can’t possibly have any negative repercussions.

Even more disturbing are the comments that have been added since Hatred was reinstated that call for developers to add SJW NPCs that they can murder:

SJW

WHAT. THE ACTUAL. FUCK.

The first comment is actually a (particularly gross) description of Zoe Quinn – the unfortunate original target of #GamerGate. I honestly don’t have the bandwidth to marinate in that kind of bile, but it seems that there have been specific requests for other favorite targets of #GamerGate, including Anita Sarkeesian.

But. You know. FREEEEEEDOM. Or something.

Chapter 2: Drive Thru Cards/Drive Thru RPG and the #GamerGate card game

So let’s compare and contrast the above with DTRPG’ handling of an analogous situation that arose when MRA tabletop designer James Desborough used their self-publishing tools published a #GamerGate card game that purported to be “satire”:

One player takes the side of Gamergate, and the other is the SJW’s in this satirical look at the recent controversy.  Play either the “Social Justice Warriors trying to get away with egregious breaches of ethics before Gamergate can create enough of a fuss and social pressure to expose them, all the while flaming each other on Twitter, screaming for attention and being trolled hard.[1]

…riiiight.

DTRPG reacted swiftly and removed the game from its site. A few days later, the following update was sent to DTRPG publishers and was also posted to DTRPG’s social media feed. Their update addressed several points, including the merits of supposedly satirical works based on active hate movements (emphasis mine):

Normally, satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.

Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally [sic] frought, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our site.

(The entirety of their post can be found here and is well worth reading.)

Chapter 3: Privately owned marketplaces and censorship

It’s interesting that both Valve and DTRPG raised the spectre of censorship in their responses to their respective situations. But it’s also unfortunate in that it helps promote popular misconceptions about what actually constitutes censorship.

Neither Valve nor DTRPG are in any way connected with any kind of government or governmental body. They have no power to stifle the free speech of a creator, because they don’t have any ability to levy sanctions against the creator of an offensive game. Nor do they have the power to prevent a creator from publishing a game via alternative methods, of which – it should be noted – there are many. (KickStarter, Patreon, IndieGoGo, etc etc.) Indeed, it has never been easier to be a self-published game creator.

Valve and DTRPG are simply companies that happen to own a marketplace where third parties are allowed to promote and sell their own games, in exchange for a share of revenue earned. They get to set the rules for that marketplace, because it’s their fucking marketplace.  Kicking someone out of their marketplace or pulling a particular product from their digital shelves isn’t censorship. It’s a private company discontinuing a relationship with a vendor.

To use a real-world analogy…

GenCon has a Dealer’s Room in which vendors may purchase space to set up a booth and sell merchandise. The Dealer’s Room is, essentially, an absurdly large private marketplace. (In 2014 there were more than 3000 booths!) Because GenCon owns the marketplace, they set rules as to what may and may not be sold in the Dealer’s Room. Some of these rules relate to the types of items that may not be sold (biohazards, live animals, rocket launchers, etc). Some of these rules relate to the content of items being sold. (No visible female nipples, no frontal nudity.)

For the most part, these rules don’t generate any controversy. Partly because vendors know that they can’t expect total freedom when using someone else’s marketplace to sell their goods. But also because those rules protect the interests of the vendors who choose to participate in that private marketplace.

Continuing with our analogy, let’s say that GenCon had no restrictions on use of their space and were happy to let you do anything, anything with your space once you had paid for it. And let’s say that you’re a vendor who sells products that meet the core demand of GenCon’s typical audience, and you have a booth. You’re looking forward to doing some solid business, but when you show up it turns out that the booth next to you is selling fresh-from-the-cow manure. And their booth is full of it. Hundreds of pounds of manure.

When you talk to them, they say that there is a demand for their product. And it’s true. The demand is small, and their traffic is pretty meager, but people do seek out their booth to buy their manure. But this puts you in a difficult position. You’re not the one selling manure, but you’re sure as hell going to be associated with it, and your products are going to wind up smelling more and more like shit the longer their manure sits right next to your booth.

Now some of your customers will be completely unfazed by the presence of the manure, either because they are dedicated customers with whom you have a long-established relationship, or because they have no strong feelings about manure. Some of your customers will be unhappy about the manure, but will still patronize your booth if they happen to be nearby. But some of your customers will decide that they don’t want to go near a tremendous mountain of shit in order to buy your products, and it goes without saying that you’re going to have a harder time attracting new business when many customers won’t even see your booth, they’ll just see the massive shit pile and go somewhere else.

However, this isn’t the case for Valve and DTRPG. Both companies have, to varying degrees, restrictions on what products they will allow to be sold in their marketplaces. Both companies have recently found themselves in the situation of having a publisher that wanted to use their marketplace to sell games that amounted to festering piles of shit. The difference is how they reacted.

DTRPG quickly stepped in, removed the manure from their marketplace, Febreezed the shit out of everything, and apologized to their vendors and customers. Whereas Valve initially removed the manure from their marketplace, then let the manure vendor back in and personally apologized to the shit-sellers for having the temerity to imply that perhaps some people would be unhappy about having a festering shitpile attracting flies in their marketplace.

Which just goes to show why DTRPG is a company I’m happy to do business with, while Valve/Steam is a company that I go out of my way to avoid patronizing, if at all humanly possible.

Monday Freebie: the entitled douchebro edition

Well, folks. I had intended to start working on a new post today, but the world’s worst headache has reduced me to pasting links into a textbox, so I’ve given up and decided to do a freebie linkspam instead.


 

The incomparable Jay Smooth talking about beating what he calls the Little Hater – the voice that tells us that we are not good enough and no one could possibly find our art valuable. This is something that pretty much every creative person I know struggles with, myself included.

 

25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male. This is an excellent, excellent video about the kinds of privilege that male gamers experience in gaming spaces, and is an excellent resource if you find yourself getting into an argument with someone who confuses privilege with special treatment.

 

Okay, this has nothing to do with social justice – it’s just really flipping cool. Are you the kind of nerd who has ever wanted to create a planet, only it seems like too much work, and then you find out that someone wrote a free planet-generation tool that does all the work for you and you get super excited even though you don’t really know what you’d use such a tool for? …I mean. [cough cough] Not that would ever be that nerdy, but I hear that some of my readers are. Nerds.

 

Congrats on your opinion. This excellent post by Prolost’s Stu Maschwitz is a thing that should be enshrined in geek canon forever. In particular, it’s written about lens flares in JJ Abrams’ Trek movies, but it could just as easily be about women having Patreons or really whatever nerd thing it is that you happen to get in someone’s face about. GO READ IT.


And now a thing that requires a little background.

So over the weekend, the somewhat-infamous James Desborough – a game designer who has been a vocal supporter of #GamerGate and who even tried to make #tabletopgate a thing (yes really) – published a particularly tasteless #GamerGate card game in which one has to battle unethical SJWs by stalking, harassing, and doxxing them. The venue he chose to do this on was Drive Thru Cards, which has an automated publishing process for publishers who have previously published titles with them.

Considering that a lot of publishers who use Drive Thru Cards/Drive Thru RPG/One Bookshelf to publish their content are also people who have been the targets of #GG’s harassment and doxxing, naturally there was swift and immediate backlash against the game; many publishers sent complaints to DTRPG saying that they would not continue to use DTRPG’s services if the game wasn’t pulled – which it was, and quite quickly. (Kudos to DTRPG for dealing with it so quickly over a weekend, no less.)

Of course, a lot of people got terribly upset about this awful, awful ceeeeensoooorshiiiiiip. So here are some things that summarize the situation better than I could in my be-headached state. (No, YOU’RE making up stupid words on the internet.)

First, Matt McFarland knocks it out of the park on his blog in explaining why DTRPG pulling the game IS NOT CENSORSHIP ZOMG READ A DICTIONARY. Also, he talks about why the response by some people who actually harassed and doxxed the owner of DTRPG was not fucking okay. (Spoiler alert: DOXXING IS NEVER FUCKING OKAY)

Second, this post by Fred Hicks is worth reading as a response to the fallout from the game being pulled. Apparently, because some of the Evil Hat crew had the nerve to talk publicly about how – hey, if this stays up we should evaluate if we want Evil Hat’s brand to be tarnished by association, a bunch of anti-SJWs got all het up and decided to harass Fred Hicks, because clearly this was solely his fault and CENSORSHIP and also BULLYING. So then they got a bunch of people to harass Fred when he was just trying to do real life shit, because ETHICS. Or something.

…I’m going back to bed and coming out never.

On being a “professional victim”

I’ve been pretty quiet the last two weeks, and I apologize for that. I meant to get one more post up in November, but, well, that didn’t so much happen. Partly it’s because I was pouring a lot of writing energy into finishing a first draft of my current game project! Which I am excited about! But partly it’s because I’ve found myself second-guessing everything I’ve wanted to write about.

Writing about Bayonetta because a bunch of dudes got mad about me having opinions on Bayonetta was an easy choice. I mean, oh, you don’t like me writing about Bayonetta? Well here, have some more unsolicited opinions about Bayonetta, since that’s how I roll. (I’m contrary like that.) But how to move on from there? Well… that’s more difficult.

The problem is that I actually read about 19 pages of this weird anti-me hatefest (which was a terrible idea, seriously, don’t ever do that. What were you thinking past me??), and since then I’ve felt stuck as to how to pick a topic for a new post that wouldn’t play into the narrative that has been constructed against me, which has gotten so sprawling and disjointed that literally anything I write here can be co-opted as ammunition.

It can be pretty unnerving knowing that anything you write can then be twisted to support someone’s arguments that you are a: homophobic, anti-feminist, sex-negative, compulsively lying, egomaniacal, unethical feminazi fascist who harasses people and is so delusional that someone should really have me involuntarily committed for my own good. (To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t been accused of being racist yet. Although given that my first published game, Thou Art But A Warrior, is about Muslims, I fully expect that to be added to the litany at some point in the future.) Seriously, how do you keep that level of bullshit from messing you up once in a while?

But in the end, I have to choose between giving the trolls new ammunition (everything is ammunition. Everything.) and remaining silent, which I’m not willing to do. So instead, I’m going to rant a bit about Patreon, and about my least-favorite new slur being hurled at women, queer people, and PoC with Patreons – “professional victim”.

First: Patreons by women, queer people, and PoC are the devil

When Patreon was just starting to develop a head of steam among my indie game design circles, the earliest adopters that I saw jumping on board were predominantly white and male. To the point where it initially made me pretty uneasy as a new thing that was happening, as I was afraid that it was going to turn into yet another way in which the voices of white men were going to be privileged over other voices:

plus

However, after a while I was able to get over the idea that I didn’t have anything of worth to offer potential patrons and I put up a Patreon of my own. As did other not-white-dude creators that I knew! And much to my delight, Patreon became a vital platform in enabling otherwise marginalized voices to create things they were passionate about and receive the support that they needed to do so.

Which is naturally about when there was a bit of a paradigm shift in how individual Patreons were talked about online.

Now instead of being universally lauded as a “revolutionary new crowdfunding model”, very often the reaction to an individual Patreon depends greatly on the identity of the person running it. Are they white and male? Excellent! Carry on! You use this new crowdfunding tool to make the things you want to make, you bold and visionary content creator you!

But wait! Is that Patreon being run by a woman? Or a PoC? Or a queer person? Or – gasp – someone who represents a combination of some or all of those traits? Then it is a TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE! Legit just the worst! Because mumble mumble ethics and mumble mumble other reasons!

Seriously, it’s a little baffling how incredibly offended some people get about the fact that this blog is Patreon supported. Despite the fact that everything that I accept Patreon funds for writing is published free of charge here on my blog, which means that anyone who cares to can read my blog without needing to contribute a single red cent, it’s somehow the absolute worst that I have sixty seven whole patrons who contribute varying amounts of money per unit content generated. THE WORST! How dare I take people’s money in return for expressing opinions! FACISM.

… [ahem]

The fact is that I use my Patreon money to justify the time and energy that I put into writing content here, time that could otherwise be spent on other paying projects. And I fail to understand just why that’s such a terrible thing. Despite that my average monthly revenue has increased about 50% from when I first re-launched GMMaS, I’m still not raking in huge butt-piles of money. On average I’m making about 2/3 of what it costs to keep my kid in daycare – which is only one of many new, exciting, and completely non-optional child-related expenses.

And for the most part, that’s the sort of shit that a lot of Patreon dollars get used for – the daily shit you have to do just to stay afloat. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but being a Millennial is fucking hard. We don’t have any careers, housing fucking sucks, we’re going bankrupt getting the education we need to compete, and the Boomers are never, ever, ever going to retire. (Never.) So anything that allows people the breathing room they need to make art instead of spending potential creative energy just fucking surviving is something that we should be celebrating!

But of course, since the success of Patreon as a platform means the increasing prominence of female, queer, and minority voices… WELL. We can’t have that, now can we!

Second: “Professional victim” is so fucking silencing I can’t even

When I started hammering out the initial outline for this post, I knew that I had enough content to justify making a paid post. And yet, the idea of making a paid post taking on the idea of Patreon creators as “professional victims” was pretty terrifying! Because of course, the two biggest targets of this new “professional victim” label are Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. Both of whom are women I admire tremendously and look up to, but whose example I desperately do not want to emulate. So when “professional victim” was recently added to the constructed narrative circulating against me, it was… unnerving to say the least.

I was sufficiently aggravated that I took to venting on twitter:

tweets
Tweets are in reverse chronological order, because twitter is dumb

There is a huge problem with calling women like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (and, to a lesser extent, myself) “professional victims”. When you extend that logic to its natural conclusion, that means that the moment any not-white-dude has the temerity to accept crowdfunding monies in exchange for a good or service, they automatically forfeit any right to speak openly about the abuse that they receive as a result.

Which is, of course, complete horse shit. Not to mention that “professional victim” is a term very often hurled by #GamerGaters, or at least people who support #GamerGate – despite their claims of being concerned primarily about “ethics in game journalism”. (But then, #GamerGate has always been singularly blind to the hypocrisy displayed by a campaign of harassment designed to silence and discredit women that simultaneously purports to be about ethics.)

However, just the very idea of “professional victim” is very toxic, and can very often be incredibly silencing. I know it’s something that I wrestle with all the damn time in writing this blog – the fear that I will drive away patrons if I write “too many” posts about gendered harassment. When deciding what topic to write about next, in the back of my head there is always the calculus of “how many posts have I written about a specific game or piece of game art since the last time I talked about this” and “should I set this aside until I’ve put more non-harassment-focused stuff out there?”. Despite very much wanting to speak out against the sort of harassment that Zoe and Anita (among really so many others) have faced, it’s hard to for me believe that me talking openly and honestly about my experiences is something that has any real worth.

“Professional victim” is a term that is also brutally effective in dismissing someone’s worth, not only as a creator but as a human being. When someone is a “professional victim”, literally any sort of behavior against them is okay, because any abuse perpetrated against them is something that they were asking for in the first place. “Professional victim” is the “what were you wearing” or “how much did you drink” of the internet – a blanket permission to engage in toxic misogyny without any real fear of negative consequence.

So the fact that I have written paid posts in the past about harassment I’ve received, and that I am writing this post now, and likely will do more such posts in the future? That’s a hard, scary thing, friends. Because that only reinforces the “professional victim” aspect of the constructed narrative against me, and as Anita Sarkeesian has excellently discussed, once the narrative that has been constructed against a person reaches a certain critical mass, it no longer matters what the facts are because the myth attains a life of its own and nothing you say or do can ever slay that myth.

Friday Freebie, plus some other stuff

The incomparable Leigh Alexander wrote this piece about Tidus and Final Fantasy X, which I can identify with deeply. I’ve played the game four times and sobbed at the ending every time. This is a game that will forever have a place in my heart.

With the approach of GenCon, a lot of people have been saying smart things about convention-preparedness. Rather than link to them all, I’m going to link to one post by Hans Cummings which starts with a roundup of convention advice posts and then goes on to provide some really great tips for how to make sure that you aren’t impinging on the con’s accessibility for people around you. (This should be required reading for people who attend conventions.)

Science communicator Vanessa Hill made this excellent video about the psychology of online trolling. So of course Lewis’ Law was proven once again when Vanessa Hill subsequently… got trolled. (Which feels strangely recursive.)

You look stressed. Have some animals taking selfies.


 

Now that things are calming down a bit at the day job, I’m starting to turn my attention back to more complex posts, as well as more posts about actual games I’m actually playing. I’ve also started chasing data points for my thing about sex workers in video games, although simply opening the spreadsheet makes me wince:

This is just a small snapshot.
This is just a small snapshot.

I fear this is turning into my white whale. I WILL CONQUER YOU! NO SPREADSHEET CAN DEFEAT ME!

…ahem.

I also intend to write about my thoughts on Lightning Returns, which I’m mostly enjoying. And of course I’m sure I’ll have several posts about this year’s GenCon. So there’s a preview of what’s brewing.


 

I’ve been really busy with prep for GenCon. That said, instead of actually finishing up GM prep materials, I found myself having to write this. And after writing it, I thought it would be good to put up a bit more visibly:

WRT “proof” of harassment, I am not obligated to “prove” my personal experience, not even to have it evaluated so that it might be (in)validated by an “objective” third party. The entire idea is nothing more than victim-blaming, because it places the obligation on the harassed person to “prove” that they have been victimized. If you’re not willing to believe me when I talk about my lived experience, how can I reasonably believe that you’re suddenly going to take me seriously if I jump through this extra hoop? Especially when that lived experience dictates that jumping through the hoop is useless, because the goalposts are just going to get moved anyway. “He wasn’t being serious”, “it wasn’t actual harassment“, “that’s just the way he is”, etc etc etc. So if I say “I’ve been victimized” and your response is “prove it”, you’ve already proven to me that you don’t have the basic human empathy for this interaction to be worth my time.

I get to decide who is worth my time and who isn’t. You are not entitled to my time OR my attention. Nor am I obligated to care if you think that I am lying.

Which, by the way, is an accusation that has gotten thrown around a lot. And you know what, FINE. We’re part of a hobby where the harassment and marginalization of women is so routine that it’s taken for granted. Anita Sarkeesian. Jennifer Hepler. Jade Raymond. All documented, all in the public eye. But if I speak up about my particular experience? And I don’t provide reams of documentation spanning multiple years, or if I say I don’t want to name someone because I’m trying to avoid the inevitable fallout of such an act? Easier to believe that I’m just making it up for the fun of it. You know, for attention. Because it’s not like women face social and professional consequences for speaking out about that stuff. And we certainly never have to try to balance the desire to speak truth to power with the need to protect our own personal well-being.

Lastly, the idea that victims of harassment would pay attention to what the person who instigated that harassment has to say on the subject of their harassment is, frankly, ludicrous. You know what many victims of harassment want? To be left the fuck alone. And that’s what block functions on social media are for! Which many victims of harassment use to keep their social media mostly tolerable. So if a guy that I’ve blocked makes a call to have people report his block-worthy behavior with a supposedly “neutral” third party… Good for him? I’m not necessarily going to be aware of that. Because again, NOBODY IS ENTITLED TO MY ATTENTION.

That said, it’s not anyone’s business but I have been having conversations with people behind the scenes and am trying to make something positive come out of all of this nonsense. Make of that what you will.

So that’s a thing that happened.

Tips on successfully trolling a feminist

But first, some administrativa[1]

I’m pleased to say that I’ve reached a milestone. 50 patrons are now supporting this blog through my Patreon!

patrons
WOOHOO!

Since re-starting the blog after its somewhat lengthy hiatus, I’ve written 25 paid posts (including this one) covering a huge range of topics, from silly to serious and everything in between. So thanks to all of you for your continued support.

On to business.

I got one of my best troll comments yet here on the blog the other day. I won’t gratify the troll by posting the entirety of the comment, but it did call me an “autistic entitled skank” and said that I’d given him cancer. I was so delighted that the first thing I did (after deleting it from the post, naturally) was email it to a friend, who shared a good laugh with me.

misandry rays
I HAVE THEM.

Which got me thinking about how the majority of trolls are usually working against themselves in their feeble attempts to provoke anything stronger than mild annoyance. Because a lot of their “big guns”? Aren’t actually insults. Or rather, the fact that they are perceived as insults only proves the point of what I am talking about[2].

So because I care, I decided to write a post concerning mistakes to avoid when attempting to troll a feminist.

I know, I know. You’re welcome.

Lesson One: Grammar and spelling are important

When you’re crafting a comment designed to pierce the hate-filled heart of a feminist, it’s important to stick the dismount, as it were. You could be the Hieronymus Bosch of internet comments, but if your masterfully crafted barbs are delivered without any care for spelling, grammar, or capitalization, you’re just going to get laughed at. Case in point, this guy:

c minus

It is a sad truth that feminist agents of misandry are elitists and will only deign to read comments that adhere to proper rules of grammar. Now that’s not to say that you must be perfectly fluent in English – we do attempt to be reasonable, after all. There is usually an obvious difference between the sorts of small mistakes made by someone whose first language  isn’t English and the mistakes of someone who clearly doesn’t care about sentence structure at all.

So remember. Feminists are shallow and will totally judge a book by its cover, especially when that cover is ASKFLFLTTTFFTKKK.

Lesson Two: Things which aren’t actually insults (to feminists)

One of the difficulties in trolling a feminist is that there tends to be a lot of miscommunication because of different priorities. Many of the things that you deem most insult-worthy are also things that feminists are indifferent to or even perversely proud of.  So here are some (non-)insults to avoid the next time you feel the need to tell a feminist what you think about her so that she’ll feel bad about herself.

Amazing gif made by b1nd | Deviantart here
Amazing gif made by b1nd | Deviantart here

Fat/Ugly/Unfuckable

The problem with calling a feminist any of the above is twofold. First, feminists get called these things so often that these insults are just like water off a duck’s back. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, not that we care about the feminist’s time because feminists, amirite? Second, telling a feminist that she is a fat/ugly/unfuckable isn’t actually a statement of objective fact, but rather opinion. You are putting forth your opinion that this awful feminist lacks qualities that would make fucking her enjoyable.

The problem with that? Feminists don’t actually care what you think about their fuckability, or lack thereof.

It is, of course, a blight upon our civilized society that there are women out there who don’t care if a man offers his unsolicited opinion about her attractiveness as an (in)validation of her worth. But this is a sad reality we brave few have to face.

Cunt

There are several problems with using this line of attack. First, if you happen to be using this insult against a woman (which is likely), you are forgetting that feminists don’t actually think that being called female anatomy is an insult because there is nothing inherently dirty about women’s bodies. (They are, of course, wrong because yuck and also cooties.)

Second, consider that most feminists have generally positive feelings towards cunts, which is another reason this taunt should be avoided. Many (though not all) female feminists actually have cunts, and a large subset of those female feminists actually enjoy having them. (I’ll admit that in moments of feminine weakness, I have been guilty of this.) So if you call a feminist a cunt, especially a female feminist, there is a good chance that your jab will be counter-productive and engender positive feelings instead, which is counter to the whole point of the exercise.

Bitch

Bitch is a pretty broad insult, which would seem to make it useful in its versatility. But all it really means, in the end, is that a woman is not adhering to expected social norms of behavior. And since feminists are devoted to overthrowing the social order and instituting a matriarchy that privileges women over men, calling a feminist a bitch is actually a compliment.

Don’t believe me? Look at the preponderance of products available online emblazoned with some variation of “you say bitch like it’s a bad thing”. The free market is a testament to the prevalence of the widespread female disregard of the bounds of proper female behavior.

Lesbian/dyke

This one is just a waste of time, okay? As we all know, all feminists hate men and naturally, as a result, will only want to sleep with women. Calling a feminist a lesbian is like calling a US Senator corrupt. You’re just stating the obvious. Also, given that feminists are in perpetual competition with each other to see who can hate men the most, calling a feminist a lesbian is just going to serve as validation for her man-hating ways and will only earn her brownie points with other feminists.

Lastly, many feminists are actually friends with lesbians and other queer-of-center people. Would you be insulted if someone compared you to some of your friends? ….well okay, but that’s not the point.

Autistic/Bipolar/Crazy

This, too, is a largely ineffective attack to make against a feminist. Most feminists get pretty vocal about “normalizing mental illness” and “reducing” the “stigma” against “people” with “mental illness”. Since calling a feminist crazy actually reinforces the point that they’re trying to make, best to avoid this one too.

Slut/Skank/Whore

Slut is probably one of the most meaningless words in the English language. It’s application has been so widespread that essentially all it means is “woman who did something you don’t like or approve of”. And since we’re talking about feminists, it’s pretty much their life’s goal to do things that upstanding, civic-minded individuals like yourself wouldn’t approve of.

Feminazi

Look. Feminazi is a term created by Rush Limbaugh and… really? Can’t we do better? Besides, any use of the term feminazi is automatically invoking Godwin’s Law, which means you lose. Sorry. That’s just the way it is.

Humorless

The problem isn’t that feminists have no sense of humor. Far from it! The real problem is that feminists aren’t funny. Or rather, that you don’t find them funny. Feminists, on the other hand, think that they are hilarious.

These stock photo women are laughing because misandry is HILARIOUS.
These stock photo women are laughing because misandry is HILARIOUS.

Unfortunately, this is an argument that you’ll never win.

Lesson Three: Don’t bother, because they don’t give a shit what you think

Or at least this feminist doesn’t.

 

[1] I will never use a short word when there is a much cooler, longer word.

[2] See: Lewis’ Law

Policy Note: How I spend my crowdfunding money

[For transparency’s sake, this is being put up as a freebie, because asking patrons to pay me to write a post devoted to telling a subset of non-patrons to fuck off seems a bit hinky. So there you go.]

For the most part, I would call the Patreon for this blog a successful experiment. Sure it would be great to have thousands of patrons showering me with money for every gem of wisdom I happen to let fall from my keyboard so that I could become a Real (read:full-time) Blogger, but I’m okay with where I’m at. The money I get from my patrons gives me the space to write about things that I’m passionate about and pay some bills. Because that’s the thing about having a kid – they’re expensive, and I really don’t have the luxury to write things that won’t turn into money anymore.

The only problem is that having a Patreon has opened me up to a new and extra-fun kind of dismissiveness that makes me very cranky: people who want to set conditions on how I use my Patreon funds before they claim they’ll take me seriously. You know, because if I was A Real Feminist[1], I would be putting my Patreon moneyz towards some worthy feminist cause instead of selfishly keeping it for myself, with the worthy feminist cause usually being saving poor brown women from their own culture[2].

Which is bullshit for two reasons.

First.

Let’s not pretend that if, for some reason, I decided to listen to your unsolicited opinions as to how I should spend my crowdfunding money, you would actually seriously engage with anything I’m saying here. Because “I can’t take you seriously because you’re not doing [X] with your crowdfunding money” is pretty much the same as “I can’t think of a good reason to dismiss what you’re saying so I’m going to come up with bullshit character arguments instead”.

These kinds of comments never come from people seriously engaged with feminism or feminist culture criticism, they come from random dudebros who are grasping at reasons for why I shouldn’t be listened to.

Second.

If you do not back my crowdfunding, I am obligated to give EXACTLY ZERO FUCKS about how you think I should spend that money.

The only people who get to have an opinion about how I spend my money are MY PATRONS AND/OR BACKERS. You can decide to back me or not based on whatever criteria you like – you aren’t interested in what I’m making, you don’t agree with the things I say, you don’t like my user icon, whatever. That’s your prerogative! Live your conscience, vote with your dollar, etc etc etc. But if you’re not giving me money, don’t be surprised if I completely fail to give any shits about what you think I should do with my money.

This Blog, Patreon funds, and how I spend them

I have been nothing but up front with my patrons about how I intend to spend their money.  Hell, it’s in paragraph #4 of my pitch on Patreon:

For the most part, the money that I have earned from my Patreon has gone to pay for incredibly unexciting stuff. Like getting new clothes for my kid every 5 minutes[3], or generally helping offset childcare costs and increased grocery bills.

But honestly, the fact that my crowdfunding dollaz are being used to pay child-related expenses shouldn’t even matter. If I wanted to spend it on strippers and blow (I’m not), that should be a valid goal, so long as the thing I’m crowdfunding still happens and my backers are happy with it.

Policy Going Forward

From now on, any comment that either tells me how I should be spending my Patreon funds or tells other people not to back my Patreon based on same is going to be deleted. Period. I have better things to do than engage with this sort of dismissive bullshit.

As soon as I get a chance (I can’t do it immediately at the time of posting), I will be revising the comment policy posted in the sidebar to reflect this.

[1] It would be impossible for me to overstate how much I love Mallory Ortberg

[2] Because if you’re going to be dismissively sexist, why not sprinkle a little helping of racism on top? You know, for the lulz.

[3] Seriously they grow so fast and even if you shop thrift stores, it adds up