The following was written as a letter to a friend of mine discussing thoughts on Gamergate, years on. They thought it was a good piece of writing, and encouraged me to post it, so I am.
Then lets talk. I figure we may as well have it out on this--we've been edging around the bush for a while now. But I figure I should lay all my cards on the table here. This won't be a short reply, because my thoughts aren't a soundbite or a talking point. I honestly don't expect you to read this. So here they are:
Two travelers meet at a fork in the road, heading to the light. One path looks rougher, the other easier. Its hard to tell which is the shorter route, but one stops to look at the path, while the other goes down the path that's easier. The traveler who stopped finds a sign hidden behind an over grown branch, "Friend!" they yell back, "That's the wrong way!" but their companion is out of earshot. They walk down the trail to find their friend, but the light begins fading, and the road starts sloping down into a cave. With no light of their own, they turn back, going down the right fork. They can only hope their friend stops to read the sigh.
* * * *
I mean, it was literally about some guys harassing a woman because her ex-boyfriend was jealous she was dating another guy and said her wrote a review about her game...Which he didn't because that review never existed. I remember when the accusations were first made, when the videos first went up about it. I watched them and thought, "Well if that's true, that's quite the ethics violation," thing is, "if" is a mighty big word. I searched for the reviews that she'd apparently gotten, and they just...didn't exist. They weren't cached anywhere, they hadn't been deleted, they just didn't exist. And that made my skin crawl.
Because people just believed it. They didn't wait to hear the other side, they didn't look for facts, they just reacted. And it was awful.
I'm a nerd myself. My bestselling book literally went through every episode of Doctor Who ever. I dressed up as a character from a Star Wars video game when I was a kid and no one knew who I was. I love being a nerd. That doesn't mean I'm not going to sit by and let nerds be awful to people just because they're also nerds.
I've received lots of hate mail in my life, and a few death threats. I've even gotten death threats from feminists, even though I am a feminist, just like I've gotten the same from nerds even though I am a nerd.
Gamergate started based on a lie, and proceeded from there into massive hate and abuse to people. It crossed line after life, driving people into hiding and off the internet. People who strangely all happened to be women. Strange, how the men who supposedly wrote the reviews (that didn't exist) didn't get targeted. Strange, that they were all women. Almost like "ethics in video game journalism" wasn't really the point.
If it was, why wouldn't they be going after the companies that blacklisted Kotaku for reviewing their games honestly (and badly), and the gaming websites that posted positive reviews of games they hated to keep their clout with gaming companies? They didn't. They let that slide. That wasn't a big deal. But a woman making a game about her depression? Get her.
* * * *
In 2014, I received death threats about an episode of Doctor Who that had the Master revealed to have regenerated into a woman. These death threats were from trans-exclusionary radical feminists who hated trans people, and were sending trans kids, KIDS, death threats, encouraging them to commit suicide...ugh. It was awful. I spoke up about it, and received horrific abuse, threats... people trying to hack my accounts. False accounts made under my name. It was scary. Terrible. No one deserves to have to go through that.
But that's been Gamergate's modus operandi from day one. I don't agree with the views of all the people they've targeted--but honestly I could care less. When you resort to that kind of bare knuckled hate: to sending in threats you'll shoot up a school so they have to back out of an appearance, harassing their employers to try to destroy their livelyhood...I don't care anymore if you're "right". You're hurting people over nothing, and you're wrong.
That people these days defend people who agree with them who try to hurt and destroy other people's lives just because they agree with them is messed up. Is the world so divided that we can't look our fellows in the face and say "This isn't the way"? Well, okay apparently it is, but hey...
Not all gamers and nerds are jerks, but some are and I'll be damned if I'm going to turn a blind eye to it.
Not all feminists are jerks, but some are and Ill be damned if I don't see things are wrong when they are.
Not all, but some, and saying words when they are isn't a sin.
And if all is said, but some is meant, maybe we should be able to understand that sort of frustration.
People are afraid of being wrong, afraid of their beliefs being challenged, afraid of turning away their support from people who are awful just because those people agree with them and seem to have power. And that makes me sad.
Because I believe in people, as much as maybe I shouldn't. I believe we were created with goodness in us, and purpose, and light, and something worthwhile.
But things like Gamergate, or the harassment against me, its a crooked path to the holy land. The road promises purpose, uniting against a foe (but don't look to hard at the foe, if you do it might look human), but the path goes askew. Instead of the light, it leads down somewhere dark, and those pilgrims can only chant "I see the light" till they believe it, because otherwise they'd have to admit that the road they followed was the wrong one, and its easier to keep going down that dark road than to turn your back to it, and trek back to the fork to take a different path. Easy, oh that word, easy.
* * * *
There are a lot of places online that become echo chambers. And that echo is where thoughts often die. I'm sure you can think of a few. Where learning is memorizing the correct thoughts, and not the questions. There's plenty of it, in lots of circles. But Gamergate has been pretty egregious in that regard. From the moment I questioned its opening premise, and found it a blatant lie, and then realized that the people running it didn't care that it was, I knew it would be another forever. And it has been. Everyone who disagrees with it is a "SJW feminist cuck" and the like.
Its goals are ethereal, transient. They are firmly whatever it takes to get angry and harass someone this week. It asks for all gaming to fall under its list of approved thoughts, getting angry and offended whenever a game comes out that is meant for someone other than them to enjoy. They hold any criticism of what they believe as abuse, and any criticism of their precepts as heresy.
And its had serious consequences. Not just for the innocent people they've targeted with threats and hatred, but for gaming as an art form.
From the outside, Gamergate was perceived as exactly what it was, a viscous and immature attack on professional women. It made gaming look bad, and set back gaming's perception as a developing art form by years. Want proof? People having been trying to preserve old games for posterity: the history of gaming laid out for the future. Saving the code of games before the material they were saved on corrupts or wipes or blanks, saving the materials around their release...
Before Gamergate, funding for these efforts was increasing. After it, it dropped like a rock. Game archivists have been struggling since it, because why would you fund the preservation of a hobby when people are hearing about the awful things Gamergate did?
It should have been taken down swiftly, a slight blip that people realized was a hoax as soon as they googled to check the story and found it was a lie. But I don't thing Gamergaters wanted to know or believe the other side of the story. I don't think the people who sent me death threats did either. I think they were glad to be in the dark, whispering that they were in the light. Because not knowing was comfortable.
* * * *
In 2010 I was dealing with trauma. A friend of mine bought me an Xbox 360 out of his own pocket purely out of kindness, because he thought it would be therapeutic. It was. I was able to blot out my pain for a while with it. Later, I found I was able to blot out physical pain somewhat to. I could overwealm my senses. Take control of my body even as the massive aching pain creeping up my neck tried to blot out my ability to move. The injury hurt, but it helped.
In 1998, my teacher challenged me to get my math grade up. I was failing, and he said if I got it up by the end of the year to a B he'd give me his old NES. I worked hard, I studied. The math didn't make sense, but I kept working and I made it. He gave me the box, smiling, and told me that I'd earned it. He told me I hadn't actually believed I'd do it, but that he was so proud of me that I had. And I felt amazing.
I set up the NES in my basement, and hooked up some old record speakers to the sound output jacks. I played it on the old ripped couch, lovingly losing life after life in Super Mario, Zelda II, A Boy and His Blob... I actually didn't beat a single game. I didn't care. I had earned this.
In 2011 I became vice-president of my college gaming club. I organized "Games for Amnesty" the year before to raise money for charity. I brought the nerdy clubs on campus together to raise money for charity that year in my new role. I thought, being a gamer is good. It is objectively good. We're nerds, we're misunderstood, and so we know what its like to be misunderstood. I thought, this is who I am. I am a gamer.
In 2014, Gamergate happened, and every notion I had about what being a gamer meant was shattered. I was forced to confront so many things I'd ignored, so many dark moments. The boys we'd let stalk girls in our groups because they were just weird and that's how they were, right? The guy who led the creepy roleplaying group where he had his rpg character rape all of the women in the group's characters at the college. I looked back on all of these things with horror. Because we were nice, misunderstood, and we were not the people who'd bullied us, right?
But of course, we could be. And my eyes were opened.
Its 2017, and I love gaming. I love being a nerd. But I'm not innocent about it anymore: I've met vile people who are nerds and gamers, and I've seen what they've done. So it must be pointed out for the ill it is, not because I hate gaming, or being a nerd, but because I love it. Because I played that NES in the basement, because I played that Xbox and brushed away the pain. Because I know it can be good, so I won't simply accept what is bad.
Because in life there are roads, and someday someone will see a crossroad, and start down a fork where they think the light leads, and I can say, "Hello friend, I know that path looks easy, but why don't you come down this one? You don't have to stay with me the whole way, and it will be harder, bur I think you'll be happier in the long run."
There’s a certain pride some RPG Gamemasters take in killing off as many player characters as possible. A pride in death so narrow in its execution and so pusillanimous in its formidability as to astound graveyards. It’s talked about with a respect and steel to it: these are real games, with real threats, with real stakes, where you can feel the grit between your teeth.
It's also absolutely boring.
RPG’s contain two concurrent elements that run in tandem with each other. That they function together is a bit of a miracle, but without either they lose the whole. These two elements could be called the RP (the roleplaying) and the G (the game). On the one hand, you have a group of players performing and developing characters who explore a fictional world. On the other hand you have a framework that runs the characters, a stage for them they cannot exit, a game with rules and boundaries. Every RPG group will have a different balance of these two elements, after all no two people are alike and it's perfectly fine that they’d have different interests from each other Some groups will weigh towards the RP: they’ll focus much more on the interaction of the characters, their lives and developments. Some groups will focus more on the G: playing with the rules of the game, and defeating the challenges that come across them using the game mechanics.
However, if this mix gets too out of balance, you may as well not be playing an RPG anymore. If you get too focused on RP, you might as well chuck the dice and rulebooks out the windows and just sit around talking in character for a few hours. If you get too focused on the G, you might as well chuck the rulebooks out and get out a board game. To be an RPG, both elements are there to some extent. The balance may shift, and vary, but there is always some of both.
But the topic here is of course my distaste for killing player characters off. Lets clarify that first, shall we? By this I don’t mean player characters shouldn’t die. By all means, if the characters do something reckless or dangerous there should be consequences to that. If the drama of the game is reaching a climax, even more so. But that’s not what I’m referring to: I’m talking about the idea that Gamemasters should strive to kill players throughout the campaign, and follow through on it. This mentality can cause more problems in a game than I think many Gamemasters realize, and I’ve sat through many campaigns where Gamemasters were unknowingly making many of their players miserable, and surprised when they started dropping out of the game, skipping sessions, or simply going through the game zombie-like, performing rote actions without passion.
So what’s going wrong here?
The simple answer is: different players have different preferences on what the balance of RP and G are in a game. There’s more to it, but let’s start there. Players who desire more G will get bored if too much of the game is just sitting around talking and interacting, players who desire more RP will get bored if too much of the game is just number crunching and die-rolling. In an ideal world, Gamemasters would be able to find groups consisting solely of players whose play style in an RPG closely mirrors their own, but in reality this nearly never happens. Most gaming groups are friends, or mutual acquaintances, and making these people unhappy can have consequences outside of the gaming table. Thus is extra important for Gamemasters to be aware of it, because when badly managed this can cause rows in real life, or more commonly a grumbling drifting apart.
This is at its most aggravating though, during player deaths.
Developing a character is hard. Most players aren’t able to simply drop into a character and begin playing that person in a developed way. Many experienced players have a few characters they can drop into quickly, or a few traits they can play up well to start, but this is window dressing over actual development. Even most actors take time to drop into a role, developing the role over rehearsal to understand and create a character they will perform. Some have mastered certain stock characters they can play on command as well, but that’s different from creating a new character to play.
If a player’s character is dying over and over, just as they are trying to develop that person, this teaches the player that developing a character isn’t something that’s rewarded in the game. For a player more concerned with RP elements than than G elements, this can be kill the whole experience. After all, if you are less concerned with maximizing a character’s potential to survive encounters than developing their backstory and continued personality, then it's less likely they are going to survive an encounter. Ironically, this means a character that’s less developed as a person might survive longer than one who seems more fleshed out and real.
I’ve played and Gamemastered for nearly two decades, and I’m only 27. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of frustration with character death. Every player at some point loses a character they care about, and that’s just part of the nature of RPG’s. You’re telling a story, and in stories just like in real life, people die. Character loss can drive games, can be genuinely moving, or ridiculously memorable. Sometimes players can be upset at the simple fact that a character in a game can die, and learning to let go of that character can be a valuable learning experience for a person. In the right circumstances, the death of a character can even be hilarious. But what character death shouldn’t be is frustrating. It shouldn’t feel like a punishment for players who simply want to play the game differently than their Gamemaster. Ideally, we could all find groups that perfectly match our own playstyles. In reality, most of us would rather play with our friends even though they might have different tastes.
So I don’t kill characters for no reason, and I don’t take pride it in when I do. My goal isn’t to show off what a powerful Gamemaster I am, it’s to tailor a game to my players they can enjoy. This means making sure that games I run have both the RP and the G. For the record, I’ve definitely run into games that were imbalanced towards the RP that left G players bored to tears, but there have been far fewer of them than the reverse. A good game is going to give something to all of its players, even if the balance isn’t what every player would like ideally, there’s going to be something there for them. With experience a Gamemaster can learn to tailor the experience of their games so that players can each have the experience they want in a session, mixing up a variety of encounters and objectives that let different players have their moment to shine. No Gamemaster will be perfect at it, but it’s something to be aware of.
So Gamemasters of the world, tailor your games to your players, not just to yourself. You have to play with the group you have, not the group you want. If your group is happy with how it is, great, don’t change it. But if you’ve been noticing problems, or remember a person who used to be super excited about joining your game and then stopped coming, think about what you offered them at the table. Was it what they wanted? Was it something you could provide?
Cause chances are, there’s a great player out there who just wants to develop a character’s life rather than optimize their combat statistics who is just waiting to liven up your table.
This guest essay is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can find all of and download at this link: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-the-finale
by Amanda Irwin
Let’s start this essay with a statement, think about the female protagonist in science fiction literature. Think about it. Think about it seriously. What do you think about? Did you think about how few there are? What about female characters in general?
When I think about female characters in Sci-fi, I can’t help but think about how few and far between they are or how limited they are in character complexity. What comes to mind is Leia Organa from Star Wars or all the women that James ‘Jim’ T Kirk has had relations with. For me, I often think about how women are not valued in the science fiction genre, if they’re even there at all.
I was surprised to say the least when I started reading James Wyler’s 10,000 Dawns that the protagonist was female. But not just female, like any protagonist, Graelyn Scythes is so much more complex and intriguing .
The first thing I noticed about Graelyn is that she is not sexualized. Graelyn is described as having black hair pulled into a ponytail and wearing black glasses. That’s it. There is no mention of her body type, weight, or even skin color. It is all left up to the imagination of the reader and that on to itself is refreshing. Unlike Leia, Graelyn doesn’t wear a metal bikini nor does Graelyn get involved in a cliche romance with the “bad boy” in the story. Do I sound pretentious and bitter? Probably. In the Star Wars films, Leia’s most important quality, other than her metal bikini body, is her love story with Han Solo. What is Graelyn’s most important quality in 10,000 Dawns? Her intelligence.
Although Graelyn is emotionally cut off and appears as though she doesn’t care, she is, in fact, very human and cares for a few people. For example, she cares immensely for her cat, Mr. Sprinkles, and feels incredibly sad when she has to give him up in order to go to Atlantis. I wasn’t crying when she gave up Mr. Sprinkles, not at all. But Graelyn doesn’t just care for her cat but also for our favorite metal man, Arch. When she and Arch are thrown into a different universe and are attacked, Graelyn’s fight or flight instincts kick in and she runs only to think of Arch right afterwards. Graelyn’s thoughts keep wondering if Arch is okay and she hopes that he is alive.
Despite Graelyn’s lack of emotion and logical almost robotic thinking it reveals that she has built a shell in order to stop feeling hurt by whatever has happened in her past. It’s not just her past that she tries to hide but also her fears. Graelyn, like many people, fears failure and disappointment of not being able to leave a mark on history.
“I am very scared I will amount to nothing. I am already nine years old and
I have not made any significant scientific breakthroughs. I can already tell
I am a failure.”
-10,000 Dawns, Chapter Nine
It’s not just preventing herself from getting hurt and showing fear but Graelyn, also, doesn’t want to be pushed around. Graelyn wants nothing more than to be respected and admired for her accomplishments and if she has to be cold towards others than so be it. This only adds to her humanity and her desire to not feel emotions.
It becomes very clear that Graelyn internally struggles between expressing her emotions and gaining respect. If she shows emotion, then she’ll be seen as weak. But if she bottles up the emotions then she loses parts of her humanity. There is no win-win in this situation in Graelyn’s mind and seems to be something that she battles with constantly. Does she express emotion and be perceived as weak, or does she lose her humanity in order to gain respect?
We all desire to be respected and admired for our accomplishments. Humans will almost do anything they to gain respect. Some kill others for it, some will only hurt others. Some will become cold towards others and see weakness as failure, much like Graelyn does. In a way, a desire to be respected is a common human quality
Graelyn is a complex character and I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of her character. She is very logical but hiding an emotional side, she tries to be aloof but still cares for others, and, the best part, she isn’t sexualized in any way. The real question now is how can I get my Contemporary Gender Issues professor to start reading this story. Any thoughts?
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.