Here Lies Kyle, Son of Durotan

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“Did you see that thing on Wow Insider?”

I look at something else.

“No.”

A large sigh of frustration came out of my boyfriend, eternally chagrined that his girlfriend didn’t read the blog he worked at.

1.

I don’t recall when I started reading Wow Insider, on and off, but I do remember when I might have – somewhere around 2006, when I was still blogging regularly at Livejournal. I was part of a community called wow_ladies, and it felt like every other week, something that we talked about in the community, among thousands of women (and hidden men) that something we argued about ended up on the front page of this news site. We’d always end up looking like a bunch of catty drama queens (sometimes we were, most of the time we weren’t) but I ended up sticking around to read Wow Insider from time to time – not necessarily because I needed tips but because for the first time in my internet career, I enjoyed seeing particular personalities at play.

Alex was a friend of mine at the time, that I knew from a forum we both frequented and also that he was my guild master. He eventually applied to Wow Insider and got the job. I was extremely proud because well, I had a giant crush on him but also I knew he was a really amazing writer with a knack for dry humor and an affable “voice.” The idea of writing about video games was something I didn’t even think people could do as a job, back then.

2.

I hung out with Alex for the second time “in real life” at Blizzcon 2008, both of our first time attending the convention. I was extremely nervous, having never been to California, and getting to meet his co-workers. I felt incredibly awkward, especially later as I sat in an odd tropical Disneyland restaurant as the staff of Wow Insider that were in attendance held for fans of the website. I did get to talk to, if my memory serves me correctly, people like Dan and Elizabeth and pick ineffectually at some nachos. There were a couple of die-hard people that showed up, profuse in their praise and overwhelmed to meet people they admired so much. It was a really touching difference from the rest of the bar, which was loud bros in Hawaiian shirts or overtired parents who just wanted fifteen seconds to suck down a Mai-Tai.

3.

There’s a phone ringing somewhere. It has to be 2 AM. It feels like 4 AM.

My boyfriend rolls over and looks at his phone. “Patch notes.”

He gets up and starts his computer.

4.

I was really sad when Christian Belt stopped writing Arcane Brilliance. He was the only person, save for maybe Lhivera, who made me feel like grasping mage mechanics was incredibly simple and did it with such flair and humor. When Stacey Landry got slotted into Belt’s old shoes, I didn’t feel like they were too big for her.

I was never a huge fan of the class columns but I always made sure to read the ones for mages. There was something comforting about it.

5.

“Oh yeah, my boyfriend is an editor at Wow Insider!”

“Adam?”

“Uh, no.”

6.

The first money I made from writing and understanding of games journalism came from Wow Insider. I had a few pieces picked up for the site via AOL’s Seed program, which would let all of their associated content outlets post ads for freelancers, and turn them in for money. Any time that Wow Insider was looking for Breakfast topics or even a couple of long-form pieces, I would throw something up there. I didn’t have a job at the time and we were single income. Making 20 bucks here and there was a big deal to me.  I gained an appreciation for people’s work being valued and paid for.

But what I really learned was how to turn a piece out on a deadline, how to chop back fluff. I also learned, once Alex became an editor, what the demands of running a website really were, particularly one tied to a single game (or two.) The mechanisms of keeping a news outlet afloat is something a lot of people aren’t privy to. It’s often a question of money, dealing with public relations teams, and decisions that aren’t in your immediate control. Corporations are what make it possible to pay people (which I believe is crucial) but they also care about bottom lines and simplification and synergy and other words I barely understand. Corporations don’t see people, they see ad services. They don’t often recognize communities, they see revenue streams. They allocate funds but they don’t tally up actual costs.

The people at the top are often slumlords, who keep the whole building from collapsing but do little to make some place livable.

7.

Anne is talking about lore and it’s so fascinating. 

We’re passing through rock formations somewhere in Utah and I feel like I’m on an alien planet, while a gentle tide of Anne describing what might be Warcraft’s next expansion is drifting through my ears. We’ve been on the road for a couple of hours now, heading towards Blizzcon. Alex is sitting in the front seat and I’m in the back, looking out the windows, occasionally leaning forward in-between them to catch what is being talked about.

It eventually begins to snow.

8.

I kept listening to the Wow Insider podcast even after I quit WoW.

9.

I think I’ll go read Wow Insider right now.

 

Escape Velocity

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Thelma and Louise picture courtesy of the Screenlines blog.

Sometimes you just have to trick yourself into thinking you’re going on vacation and while no one is paying attention, pack your car and head west.

It’s weird to think of leaving a game and its attendant community with the same gravitas as other more serious topics, but given how often World of Warcraft resembled a small town at times, it is an apt description. For a population of 7 million, it was incredibly insular in that regard. Instead of doing things for World of Warcraft, it’s been nice to focus on other things, particularly things that interest me, no matter what they are. I’ve been catching up on more television and movies with my boyfriend, as well as trying out way more games. Not having to maintain an audience who only care for me to talk about WoW means I can talk about anything I want, and interact with whomever shows up to listen.

I never thought I’d leave Warcraft. I thought about the day that I’d just end up being done and turn off the lights, wander away. I didn’t realize that it would really be me watching my pretty consistent enthusiasm for a game being ground into dust and my attempts to change things being stymied as I realized that a giant company doesn’t really have to care. Warcraft, and Blizzard if we’re being honest, is so massive that it has its own gravity. You either roll in towards it or in my case, work up the energy to fly away. It is a funny business attaching yourself, limpet-like, to one game and one game only and the whole method of criticizing the one thing you’re so intimately connected with. People resented me for my criticisms, but those same people were the ones I had to impress and cajole into listening. I grew increasing frustrated when I realized the only thing that kept us talking to each other was a thing I was growing to hate. I was playing the same game that I had come to despise over a number of months, wishing it would get better and then watching it get worse. I definitely wasn’t making any progress, and I wasn’t getting any better at what I was doing. I also was becoming a person I really didn’t like – resentful, angry and generally just bitter.

Everything looked like it would be better once I put enough distance between myself and Warcraft.  The reality is that it is and isn’t. I am a small country mouse in a big city now. (I would imagine some people would term it as “little fish in a big pond” but I am not nor consider myself such. I just know this is a different culture now where the land is way more unfamiliar.)

The larger gaming community is confusing and it’s been odd to disentangle myself from one population of people with a significant sexism problem only to run straight into watching the paranoia, misogyny and schisms happening all over due to gamers being angry that women like making games and writing about them. It did remind me though that trying to attack the problems with one game left me not focusing at how it’s a deeply connected issue to every other game that’s been made and the people who play them. It also showed me that the despite all of those fibers crossing back and forth, capital-G gaming is content to not overturn the rock that is MMORPGs and the shit that goes on there. This is one of the reasons that MMORPGs have such a weird, impenetrable barrier around them; they are a genre of game so all-encompassing and socially engrossing that it’s very hard to get out of them long enough to try other things, and the audience is okay with the larger world ignoring them.  MMORPGs are hard to understand unless you’re in the thick of it. Having been there, I understand that it is extremely hard to leave, and extremely hard to peer into it without feeling confused.

I guess this is at least one thing I do understand, this liminality. There’s a difficulty in making a promise to yourself that forever means just that, the end.  It’s hard to change present tense to past, to put down the road lines as you’re driving, trying not to outpace your expectations by the reality of the situation. I keep moving forward and away because it’s not cool to look at explosions. It’s also hard not to sound dire when I don’t even know if I’m running from, or to somewhere

Some days, it feels like a little of both.

 

 

 

This is How It Should Be

Adults on a concrete surface hold colored controllers in the air and move around.

Adults play Johann Sebastian Joust outdoors at BitBash Chicago.

 

The last three weeks have utterly destroyed me.

Granted, I’m not someone who had a hate campaign targeted at me, but watching women I considered to be at the forefront of games criticism being picked off, harassed, doxxed or quitting really took a number on my own sense of safety as well as my desire to be a writer in gaming. This slow-moving avalanche of misogyny reminded me of some awful things in my past and left me struggling to articulate feelings of helplessness as a woman, feminist and creative person.

In spite of all that, I was excited to be attending an indie games exhibition in Chicago called BitBash. Underscoring that excitement, however, was a touch of nervousness – what if I wasn’t “cool enough” to be there and what if there was drama? Still, I thought that getting a break from the constant misery-reinforcement on Twitter and various blogs was a good idea. I was also going to hang out with Gita, someone who’s work was incredibly enriching to me but also was a kick-ass lady to be friends with. In addition to that, she was also okay with hanging out with a weird Internet woman (me.)

We met up on Saturday and took a car over to the Threadless warehouse space in the Western Loop area of Chicago, not knowing what to really expect. We showed up and were greeted by a pretty welcoming sight: people milling around in the front parking lot playing games and having a good time. We had gotten there early enough so the food trucks hadn’t quite been set up yet, but late enough to make clear that the space was full of things to do and see. We had pushed our arrival later in general, as BitBash had warned of lines, but for the most part it was just the right amount of people and we had no problem getting in and milling around.

One of the first games I got to experience was Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik), which Gita had excitedly mentioned wanting to play since we got there. When I had read the description, I was confused, having no experience with the original game, and it seemed very abstract. Watching a bunch of people play it though, made me realize how fun it was. Even though I didn’t step in (I have a really intense performance anxiety), watching everyone flail around and move to get other people to shake their controller, appropriately controlling their speed to the slowed-down or sped up orchestrations, was incredibly entertaining. Adults playing and having a good time outside is infectious and isn’t something you see often, especially since many of us focus on hobbies that keep us inside, aloof. Not to be outdone by just peers, I even saw a group of grown men attempt to compete with a tiny little girl who was just as excited as them to play.

That kind of experience was indicative of what I noticed over and over again while we were there: everyone showed up. Gaming events have always felt very overwhelmingly white and male and this didn’t. Granted, there still were a lot of white dudes there, but many more people were that didn’t fit the profile. A highlight of this was notably how many women there were. Given recent events, it made the event feel incredibly safe. Looking around, I saw tons of women: working the event, playing video games, as well as sitting around chatting with each other. In general, it was a diverse array of nerdy people with splashy t-shirts with Metal Gear Solid or Doctor Who, hipsters with knit caps and flannel, as well as people who I’d probably see in my office. It wasn’t even the typical young, single crowd either. There were older people, parents with kids, and couples of all varieties. It surprised me, even as someone who’s crowed that “gaming is for everyone.” Seeing it happen as a bunch of people coming out to have a fun time really knocked that idea home for me.

Other than attendees, Threadless itself was another high point. The space was incredibly inviting for not just play but also relaxation, which I relished. I’m someone with a chronic illness and having half of it outside with benches and grass meant that I could take breaks to sit down, read my phone or generally enjoy the nice weather. Gaming tends to present a level of stimulus for me but adding in crowds of people (and it did get crowded inside at times) meant that it becomes a touch overwhelming, so being able to take a moment was appreciated. If I had to grouse about anything, it’s only that it needs a bigger space next time. Lines for the food trucks also presented a problem, as standing for long periods of time on concrete made comfort impossible. Overall, though, it felt nice that there were spaces to chill out and socialize if you needed a break. Gaming could do well to recognize this for other events, as I know I am not the only person who might need this sort of things.

Inside the store’s floor and warehouse proper is where most of the games were being exhibited. I milled around, elbowing my way past throngs of people, as most of the cabinets or laptop setups were close together. I regret to say that I did not play most of the games that were at the exhibition, but one that caught my eye was the Choosatron by Jerry Belich. The idea of a game being a Choose Your Adventure register printer was really unassuming and creative to me. I picked a story that revolved around the machine’s assurance that I was dead. Quietly, and with satisfaction at the simplicity of it, I folded up the tape of my story and put it in my pocket. I still have it.

Most of my time was spent watching other people play the games and that was fine enough for me. Something about games is intensely private for me, whether it is putting quarters into a machine no one is playing or sitting at my computer fiddling around in Diablo 3. The idea of people leaning over, waiting their turn and watching me gave me the creeps and reinforced this idea in myself that I’m still terrible at video games. However, this was mostly my own anxiety talking. No one was being rude or aggressive at any point during the event. Dying was a mirthful moment, and messing up got the usual face-palms and backslaps from friends. I got to watch one of the game’s creators (I believe) even cheering on participants who made a point of knocking over tables in Tango in Paradise Simulator (Andy Saia) by chanting, “TABLE TABLE TABLE!” loudly. While I was a touch sad I didn’t get to play Max Gentleman (Hats Productions) or Tango in Paradise, Crypt of the Necrodancer (Brace Yourself Games), getting to be a part of the overall experience was worth it to me. Everything about the space and experience was rewarding and gave me some part of myself back that I had lost along the way in the past month.

As Gita and I took a car back to her apartment, both of us remarked how positive the day had been. Both of us had felt a need for something like that and we had gotten it in spades. It was an enriching event that felt like the way games should be: fun and for everyone. Everyone from adults to kids had a good time, including two little girls that had just come from tap recitals and someone’s grandmother watching the Joust.

It was a renewing Saturday. It would have been even if in the wee hours of the night, Zoe Quinn hadn’t revealed that this feverish nightmare had been online misogynist brigades actually conspiring. It washed away a lot of the perpetually sour, negative feelings I’d had over the past couple of weeks and gave me at least one bright spot amid all of the rubbish. In the larger aspect, it felt like this is how I imagined things. I know it’s a little high-minded to wish for a utopian world where gaming could be for everyone, without harassment or guile or oppression, but for a few hours in a warehouse, maybe it was.

 

[Storify] Sexism and the Need to Call it Ignorance

I’ve started to notice in games journalism that as more and more conversations are had about sexism in the gaming community, the whittling away of what caused it keeps coming up. Game developers blurting out unvarnished opinions about women in video games and women characters are passed off as mere good-natured ignorance because it’s not seen as volatile misogyny. The problem with this is that is doing nothing but lessening the impact of calling it sexist. Intent and feelings do not matter whether a game developer is hurling slurs at women or merely making a statement that misses the mark. Sexism is sexism and we need to address that fact.

I wrote up a Storify regarding why I tackled this topic and it includes a link to the latest article that falls into that rhetorical trap.

This is something we really need to stop doing.