This is a response to the ongoing discussion about in-game relationships, gender and privilege on Nightmare Mode, sparked by Kim Moss’s You Know What’s Gross? We Often Play Nice Guys™ In Games With Romance Options, and Adam Ruch’s counter, Romancing the silicon wafer.
I’m not sure I’m in the best head-space today to write this. Then again, maybe’s my glumness may be the perfect angle to approach this topic from.
Sheri Graner Ray (co-founder of Women in Games International) gave a great talk at GCAP this year about diversity in the games industry. And one of the main things she tried to get across was that continuing to frame these types of arguments in anger ultimately doesn’t get anyone anywhere – it just leads to backlash and further conflict. That’s why #1ReasonWhy and #1ReasonToBe were so great – they were about acknowledgement of a problem and hope for the future, rather than righteous fury.
I’m a thirty-something white, male human. I’m flawed and I know it. I just want to put that out there up front. Anything I ever say is quite likely to be wrong or at least biased, in some respect or other. This is what makes it hard to be a writer – every time I put anything out there, I have to fight the fear that I’m going to upset people, make myself look stupid or like a privileged idiot, or whatever else. And these things will undoubtedly happen, because nothing I write can ever express every nuance of what I want it to.
This is the problem with committing to publishing written words – cast out into the world, they are suddenly given a level of legitimacy. And there they sit, unable to respond or change as they’re interpreted and picked apart by any passing soul. The only way I will ever get the chance to build on or evolve them is by listening to responses from readers and thus engaging in discussion. (It’s interactive – like a game, or something.)
In this case, Kim wrote a short piece exploring a shortcoming that she believes exists with in-game romancing options, specifically singling out Bioware’s RPGs (probably because they’re among the few well-known games that actually give any kind of romancing options at all). Adam responded with his own piece, criticising aspects of Moss’s piece, while agreeing with others. I (or anyone else) could easily now write a third article in response, agreeing with some of Kim’s and Adam’s points and counterpoints, and disagreeing with others (as indeed I do).
Instead, he was promptly set upon by a number of commentators, accusing him of sexism and attempting to shut down Kim’s argument with his privileged, patriarchal views.
It could certainly be argued (as some have) that Adam’d analytical approach to the issue missed the point of Kim’s article. It could also be argued that there is some patronising phrasing in there, although the main example cited seems to be a misinterpreted attempt at self-deprecation:
“I have written before about very closely related issues, but it was in an academic conference paper in which I use words like ‘agon’ and ‘autotellic’ so is probably not something many people have actually read, so I will probably have to go back to basics here.”
I picked up on the humour in that, but I can see how people could miss it if they’re reading the piece through a different lens. It may even be a cultural thing, more than a privilege thing – (broad generalisation warning) in my experience, Americans tend not to use this style of humour as often as Australians do.
What’s my point? That perhaps there have been some over-reactions here. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s concerns, but it does seem like they could have (in some cases) been expressed in a calmer and more considered way, thus allowing Adam to respond in a reasonable fashion, and continuing the conversation that Kim and Adam had begun without making a pariah of someone who (from what I can tell) wasn’t deliberately trying to stomp on anyone else’s point of view, and thus also alienating anyone who might be sympathetic to his perspective.
Equally, I’d implore Adam to try and understand what led to this reaction, and engage with the people who found his article so offensive.
We’re all human. We’re all flawed. And it would be well to remember that nothing anyone writes will ever contain the whole truth about who they are or what they believe.
I could use a hug. You?
[Update: I've written a follow-up post.]