More about yesterday’s post

I’ve gotten a lot of email about yesterday’s post, and it’s clear that at a minimum I need to say a few things to clarify what I meant by it.

I intended to say:

— when I hear about things like the hate mail people receive, my instinctive reaction is to say something like “we would never do that!” “we are all far too decent!” or “that is not at all my experience!”; but this is not true, and I know it is not true. There are people in our community who would and do write threateningly to women. For me, because I know the community as a whole much better, it is easy to say “this person is a jerk, but not representative”; that is not always so obvious for recipients in a different position, and it gives us the reputation that the community is an unsafe place. I have had enough conversation with Porpentine about this situation to feel certain that it was neither invented nor from some random non-IF person.

— I feel shame at being associated with a community known for such behavior, even if the reasons are not under my direct control and were not caused by me. Shame is not the same as guilt, and deals in perceptions and associations, not in technical justice.

— to the extent that I do harbor any blame towards someone other than the author of said email, that blame is directed first toward myself, not toward “everyone” or “the men of the IF community” or another nebulous group. I do believe there is some collective responsibility for the trends of communities we’re part of, and that sometimes it’s not enough not to endorse something; it’s necessary to explicitly call it out as unacceptable.

I have known for a long time that women in the IF community sometimes get threats or inappropriate romantic advances or inflammatory rants, because I’ve received them and heard from others who received them. But I’ve avoided talking about my own because it seemed self-dramatizing and self-centered; I’ve avoided talking about other people’s because conveyed privately. Porpentine’s public statement about her experience provides a context in which to explicitly say “this happens and is not okay” without betraying anything said to me in confidence about anyone else’s experience.

Here are some things I did not intend to express, but that other people have thought I did:

— that I agree with everything Porpentine wrote in the rest of her article. We’re different people with different experiences and views
— that I think most of the IF community would endorse this email-sending, or that I regard most of the IF community with animosity
— that I have the exact same take on Porpentine’s reviews that she did. I didn’t quote that bit for a reason. Most of nastiest feedback I saw about howling dogs came from sources outside the traditional community; but I’m not sure I’m interpreting the reviews in the same way that Porpentine does, and am not sure I’m drawing the lines of the IF community in the same place she would.

At the same time, I know there are things about IF community reviewing and expressions of community standards that do cause hurt and alienation, and I am fairly routinely told about bad experiences by people who bounced off the community; it seems like every time I go to a game dev conference, I’m guaranteed to have at least one of each of these conversations:

1) I love the concept of IF but hate the parser!
2) IF is the reason I got into writing my own games! (sometimes there are surprise hugs here)
3) I tried to engage with the IF community and I felt totally excluded/everyone was mean/no one was interested in me.

Over time, that adds up. You’d be surprised how many game designers are in the business because of IF or partly inspired by IF. And you might also be surprised by how many people have found themselves on the outside, looking in sadly, for reasons that I at least didn’t ever detect. Porpentine, again, is unlike most of the people I’ve talked to about this in that she’s articulated some reasons and issues aloud.

I am not sure what to do about this aspect of things. I am still learning to hear people when they tell me about this, because my instinct to say “oh no we are incredibly nice really” or “that’s not what happened to me (so therefore I don’t think it really happened to you)” is so powerful. I don’t know what to do, but I am trying at least to listen when people tell me about these encounters with the community and not dismiss them even when they come in forms I find painful.

44 thoughts on “More about yesterday’s post

  1. I think that you are already doing the best thing that can be done: Holding it up for public discussion. When the deviants realize that they are in a disliked minority, they just may think twice about repeat offenses. Also, I have seen people make comments that they did no realize were hurtful. When confronted, they professed ignorance. Well, if they read your postings, they can no longer use that defense.

    Also, I believe that we can all do better. For me personally, despite being a “good guy” in my own judgement, I have twice inadvertently made comments in postings that were misinterpreted by the recipients who were hurt by them. Rather than just pass it off as just those people being overly sensitive, or paranoid, I learned to be much more careful how I phrase things, and to be much more considerate of others, especially women who may have had a history of abuse.

    • Did you really call people different than you “deviants in a disliked minority”? And then follow up saying you believe you are a good guy in your judgement? You are insane and people like you are the real minority. Hateful and outdated.

      • I think (hope) that by ‘deviants in a disliked minority’ he meant misogynists et al. (Not, contextually, a very good choice of words.)

      • Hostility like this is a problem not unlike that which Emily is bringing up. You’ve given the person you are replying to no chance to respond, no room at all in fact. You simply call them out as insane. How does that help? In my experience its better to criticize the behavior rather than the person.

        I don’t mean to single you out as the source of the problems in the IF community. I am sure that you are not. Its all of us in this at fault. But I do think you have provided a good example here of behavior we can do without.

        Its better to give each other enough room to feel comfortable sharing our creativity with one another, to share our thoughts. I think that Robert was quite frank in his views, and its refreshing to see that. He admitted that he thinks of himself as one of the good guys, but still has plenty of room for improvement, and then described how he has tried to improve. I think that describes us all.

    • Hey! Fun times!

      I realize this is a subject that is likely to provoke strong feelings, but I am not okay with people attacking one another in this space. I think the original confusion about Robert’s meaning was cleared up, but I would prefer not to see people using such words as “deviant” or for that matter “insane” as insults here, because they carry a lot of stigma against certain groups. So let’s a) not do that; b) not call one another names in general. If you want to have a dialogue on different terms, then you can have it somewhere other than here.

  2. I think this is very good information that Porpentine presented in her post. One of the reasons I didn’t go into computer science was that the men were so ridiculously sexist; I was looking into the IF community and suspecting that the men in that community would be the same way. So when I develop my own games, I think I’ll go with Twine. I’m happy that was cleared up.

      • I would not agree with Winter’s phrasing, but the general sentiment is noteworthy. I myself am not aware of any sexism in the IF community. Mind you, I don’t co-habitate deeply with it. I don’t personally know the people, have shared a handful of PMs with a few, I don’t go to IfMud. I could be an IF author and never have delved any more deeply that I have. If there is sexism under the surface, I assure you that if you stay on the surface, you won’t find it.

        But I really, really doubt it’s there anyway. I mean, the other day we had a discussion on IntFiction about use of profanity in a certain context. Two people were strongly set against it (as it happens, I was one of them, but that’s another issue), but there was still a rational discussion about the matter, and the bottom line was, everyone encouraged the author of the game in question to keep at it.

        I do not believe these are the people who e-mail authors with hurtful content. I do not believe these people are abusers. I could be horrendously wrong, of course. The only thing sexist about the IF community as far as I can see is that there are more men, and if I had to guess I’d say that’s because men are statistically more interested in programming, and IF was a programmers’ domain for a long time. But that’s just numbers.

        And going back to Winter’s point, it’s true that CYOA (twine, inkle, and so on) is fundamentally different from parser IF. If the story you wish to tell, or the experience you wish to create, fits one system better, by all means use it. Don’t let the trolls dictate your art. Otherwise they’ve won already, because that’s what they’ve been trying to do all along – destroy what they don’t like. I’m sure there’s no need to expound *that* any further.

    • Woah there! I am a man, I am in the IF community, and I am not sexist. If you believe all men are sexists, I would not presume to argue with you. But the men in the IF community are just a random bunch of men who happen to like text games. As it happens, I make games in Twine and Inform, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.

      As for Porpentine’s work, personally it makes me feel very uncomfortable, but that’s awesome. Isn’t the point of art to provoke an emotional reaction? Why anyone would describe her work as a crime is beyond me. Anyone should be allowed to create whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

      • Woah there! I am a man, I am in the IF community, and I am not sexist. If you believe all men are sexists, I would not presume to argue with you.

        But I also didn’t say I thought this. Though I think the question of sexism is actually quite complicated and not always conscious when it appears, I did not make any claims about “all men” or “all men in the IF community”, and in this post explicitly disavowed making such claims.

  3. I am male. I may or may not be sexist in the eyes of others, but I do not dwell on that. For me the particular -ism doesn’t matter. What matters most to me, especially in the content of Emily’s post above is that people do not feel safe to participate. Thats not good for a creative community. If people think they will be greeted with hostility when they share their work, then they won’t share, and the whole community loses. And since I recognize that its better for me when more people are sharing, I do my best to defend those that do share, and listen to anyone that has a problem with me. I am no angel, so I know that I need to watch myself.

    In general, hostility runs counter to sharing. I prefer to focus on sharing my work, and providing constructive feedback to others.

    I can’t speak to the specifics in the IF community as I am not really a participant. I enjoy IF and create it now and then, but its long been a solitary interest for me. Most of my game dev and community activity is done around Unity or modding NWN which are very different communities. And it is on the both of these two communities that I am basing my above comments on.

  4. I self-identify as male, and I would definitely agree on the prevalence of misogyny in the CS industry. While I’d like to think the IF community is less inundated with it (indeed I’d assumed from my impressions of various works of IF I’ve seen that discussions of power, literary deconstruction, and feminist analyses was commonplace), in retrospect, I suspect my enjoyment of being part of the IF community has fostered a certain complacency.

    Alienating members of the community isn’t just bad manners, it’s actively damaging. Critique on the actual work is one thing, but there’s a sharp divide between that and attacking the person. But above that, standing idly by and facilitating such behavior… that’s not okay either. Whenever we talk within the community, whenever we share observations or swap coding tips or give each other inspiration, we build on each others’ knowledge: in short, we tap the community for our benefit. That makes us part of the community, and I’d argue that gives us a responsibility to keep it healthy and inclusive.

    The strength of IF is supposed to be in the fact that you can use it to tell any story; no astronomical budget necessary, no huge team or vast sets required. If we — or rather those of us that don’t conform to the majority — can’t be allowed to write uncomfortable works for fear of censure or threats, then we cripple the community. We poison its soul.

  5. I’m wondering when misogyny is an overly dramatic label used when someone is simply being immature. In my mind, to achieve misogyny, one needs to clearly state a disdain for women repeatedly and consistently. If someone simply says something stupid once or even twice and is corrected by their peers, isn’t that how we adapt to social norms?

    I’ve personally made my own mistakes in this regard, but I’m positive that my stupidity was born of a lack of maturity, worldly views, and the community within which I was raised. I’m also positive that I am a better person because of my interactions with the IF community, specifically the people on ifMUD, the meetups, and such.

    My experience with the IF community is that it is highly intelligent, sometimes overly critical, and occasionally overly sensitive. But if you go back to the late 90’s it was way worse than today. The reviews of annual competition games back in the “beginning” of the comp were almost always viscerally negative, and often abusive. Flame wars were common. Now I attribute the changes to the fact that people have learned how to communicate in text over the Internet with some semblance of decorum. But there are still people joining the Internet on a daily basis and they come from varying backgrounds. They may not even realize that the way they address people is offensive or inappropriate. So we have become adept at helping people adjust. We do this quite regularly on ifMUD and I’m pretty amazed at the level of tolerance for immature behavior. It was not always so.

    Now. If someone is truly being abusive and consistently shows a disdain for polite conversation, then we should absolutely call them out and make attempts to reduce the noise level from such participants. This is in fact the reason many of us converse on the intfiction forums now instead of Usenet. We just couldn’t tolerate the idiocy anymore.

    I hope Porpentine understands that the vast majority of what I view as the IF community is a positive, supportive, and relatively well-adjusted group of people. Whatever abuse was done should not be attributed to the community but to people that need to either be corrected in their behavior or under the worst scenarios, blocked from communication.

    • Hi David,
      As someone who works directly with a lot of women both in the games industry and in the IF community, I have observed and been part of a lot of conversations about gender and sexism.
      When it comes to defining or identifying a ‘misogynist’, I agree with you that open derision or disdain is about what it’d take. ‘Misogyny’ as an environmental feature, however, can be more subtle and can be contributed to by genuinely well-meaning people. Subtle bias, careless comments, and unknowing dismissal all contribute to an environment of misogyny — some people refer to these things as ‘microaggressions’ and someone doesn’t need to be a misogynist to make them.

      I think the most important thing is to, as Emily has done, honor the frustration of those who perceive their marginalization in a community and stay aware of ways to improve it while still staying true to the things that you value about that community.

      • I agree with everything you’ve said, but I still think the use of the word misogyny, even in the micro-aggression sense, is too weighty. I think immature is a better word even if the immaturity is directed in a gender-biased manner. But this is semantics. I agree with your point.

        I will note that I would not have understood your point in my twenties or possibly even my thirties. It wasn’t until I started feeling the sting of age-related biases at work and in my personal life that I began to realize how communities react to differences. I never felt marginalized in my career or life until the last few years. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel that way my entire life. That is a daunting burden for anyone to shoulder. I think the Internet provides relief, but obviously also provides opportunities for abuse.

        We should honor those that feel these frustrations. I’m not so sure I would be as eloquent or engaged as Porpentine under the same circumstances.

  6. my last comment was not toward Emily or Porpentine. It was for anyone who has been complaining about how I have been stating my opinion. We are a community not a cult. Quit trying to make people conform to a communicative way that makes you more comfortable.

    • You appear to be saying that because it’s the Internet and everyone is different, we should all just deal with the fact that some people want to say unkind or hurtful things. However, I don’t think the Internet should change the way we communicate, as if “Internet” communication is somehow different to “face-to-face” communication. It’s easier to write something rude and abusive in a forum or blog than it is to say it to someone’s face. Abuse is abuse, no matter what the means of communication. It does seem, though, that many people get behind a keyboard and all their normal social filters get turned off and they say things they would never say in person.

      The problem is, by operating as a community we are almost by definiton asking people to conform to a communicative way that makes everyone comfortable (to a degree). Extrapolating the idea that we can’t limit the way people communicate, if aggressive, abusive people (who are comfortable with that type of communication) are allowed to continue doing so in a community, you will end up with a whole community of aggressive, abusive people because everyone else will be driven away.

      As a community we should be open to dealing with hard issues, some of which might not be comfortable, but we should be able to do it in a way that doesn’t alienate or disenfranchise people. In order for a community to survive it needs to build up and support the people who make it a community.

      What does this mean? It means that I am entitled to my own opinions (as is everyone else), but if I want to share those opinions I do so in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone. Name-calling, threats, demeaning statements, all these things destroy a community. Allow it to continue and there won’t be one.

  7. So one question that popped into my head after reading this: how would you suggest that we improve matters here? Starting and keeping an ongoing dialogue about matters like this is a good start, but where do we go from there?

    • What about making games about it?

      Not being sarcastic, either. Games get played by different people, and in those games people are forced into other people’s shoes – I vividly remember a great flash game Ms. Short linked to a while back that a transgender used to describe how he felt before, during and after a thorough sex change. It was way more effective than anything I could read about, see about, talk about. We could use the power of games, therefore, to start making our points in a way our audience really understands. We’re all gamers, after all, right? It’s our common ground. If we enjoy games and wilfully participate, why not use them for our betterment?

      • (can’t see a “reply” button for the below post, which is the one I want to reply to, so chronology is bound to get a bit weird)

        Yeah, after I posted and as I re-read, I did wonder about the correct pronoun. “She” would be it, I guess, though internally I still think of her as “him”.

        Well, to be frank, I think of her as “someone whose gender I now find to be totally in the air but hey, who cares, as longs as he finds happiness and a firm identity for himself.”

        And there I did it agan! I immediately used “he” and “himself”m and only spotted when re-reading before posting! I am choosing to leave it that way to illustrate how it really doesn’t matter much, as long as she’s (had to think before writing now) happy!

      • “She” is correct; and it does matter, not least in showing respect for her as the person who knows her own gender best. This page reflects many of the things my trans friends have told me about how they would prefer to be treated.

      • What I got from the game was that it absolutely does matter, though. I personally dislike being mistaken for a guy on the internet, and will correct people, even though my gender is not relevant to the discussion. It’s like, if they think they are talking to a dude, they are not having a conversation with *me,* and I want to fix that.

        I can kind of imagine (especially after playing the Flash game) what it would be like to be mistaken for a guy all the time, in person. I imagine that it really sucks.

      • I understand, and apologise. I’m afraid I can’t change the way I think of someone, but in future I will certainly give it more thought when putting it into words.

      • Sure. And I didn’t mean to make you feel called out — these things can be challenging especially when you’re thinking about them for the first time. The first time I had a friend tell me they were thinking of themselves as not the gender that I had understood them to be from childhood (we knew each other for a long time), it surprised me a lot and took time to process. Though, for what it’s worth, using the pronouns they requested helped me gradually change how I thought of them, as well.

      • I can think of anything as anything else. I can think of a rock as secretly a surveillance bot. The imagination is a potent thing. If you can’t think of a biological man as psychologically a woman, then IMO you should be asking yourself, ‘What’s stopping me?’ Because it’s fairly certain that there is no actual impediment to the imagination in this regard. Essentially someone is asking you to exercise your imagination on their behalf.

  8. Pingback: A view from a different rock | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  9. Well. Colour me naïve, but I never expected anything like this – either the response to Porpentine’s game (the first word to describe that response, incidently, that springs into my mind is *insane*) or the hostility in some of these replies.

    I mean, come on. We are people attracted to a form of gameplay that is all about two-way communication – player and parser, or player and author. The genre we all have in common is at turns provocative and humdrum, conformative and ground-breaking. No IF player, I am sure, who really enjoys the genre, can say that he has not played at least one game that broadened their horizons, or made them realise something, or caused him in some way to reevaluate certain things.

    I honestly do not understand how there can be space in a community such as *that* for mysoginym censorship, and such, well, hatred.

    It has been pointed out, of course, that it wasn’t the *community* that lashed out at Porpentine, but rather some *individuals*. I’m still surprised. Generally speaking, in this day and age, we really should have moved beyond this sillyness, this hatred for that-guy-who-doesn’t-agree-with-me-on-a-given-issue.

    I wasn’t aware of this issue of Perpentine’s. Thank you, Ms Short, for bringing it up. Thanks to your blog’s exposure and Planet IF, it’s pretty much plastered all over, and a good chance for us to reflect on tolerance.

    • ” in this day and age, we really should have moved beyond this sillyness, this hatred for that-guy-who-doesn’t-agree-with-me-on-a-given-issue.”

      Welcome to the world, though. What do you mean “this day and age”? Have you seen views on trials? (Such as O.J. Simpson or Jodi Arias.) How about politics? How about religion? Those things still attract many people who cannot tolerate someone having a different opinion than them. It’s been that way for a long time and continues to be. I think it’s when people have a “this day and age” attitude, that blinders get put on.

      Substantively, I believe that people who do espouse hate within a community can be actively shunned by that community and, in fact, it makes the community grow stronger. As you said, it was an individual or a few individuals who apparently caused this issue. So shun those individuals, support the person who was offended, and simply be on watch for that behavior.

  10. Emily, FYI I tried to follow the link to Porpentine’s original article in your previous post on this, but it appears to be broken.

  11. (This is aimed, I suppose, mostly at anyone in the chorus of commenters who chimed in to say, essentially, “Not me!”)

    I’m probably very late to this conversation, but I only just read Porpentine’s original post after reading reactions here, and… I don’t know, but I guess I was expecting something a lot more incendiary than what I actually found. The post says a lot about sexism within and outside gaming communities in general, but the only part of the post specifically about the IF community says, if I’m reading it correctly, that Porpentine was intimidated by the IF community because it seemed to be primarily composed of people who have not only different interests/concerns than she does, but also a certain degree of institutional privelege over her; that she decided to participate in the IF community anyway, because she had a story to tell; that her game was received with some harassment and dismissal (including private harassment), and some strong praise. She said all this very articulately, avoided generalizing all the IF community’s reactions to her work, and stated very clearly that the point of sharing these experiences of the IF community was to point out what nearly stopped her from writing in the first place:

    “The reality was more complex, both negatively and positively, than my fears.

    “The point is that I almost didn’t participate at all.”

    None of this should really be new information. As long as I’ve been poking around the IF community (since around 2004 or so, I think) there have always been elements capable of this kind of harassment. Such elements exist in most Internet communities, and the IF community does not have some special immunity to that. And yet, of course, people are very much scandalized by that. The most immediately vocalized reaction in most communities when this kind of thing happens is “Most of us aren’t like that!” But the point is that some of us really are like that, that most of us can be like that if we don’t monitor ourselves and think about the context and implications of our actions, and that every now and then we need to be reminded to watch for those tendencies in ourselves and in the community spaces we have.

    And another thing: This comments thread has derailed a bit into a discussion of whether it’s appropriate to limit certain kinds of expression in Internet communication, and as usually happens when such a discussion occurs, there are some complaints about the concept of community moderation. What it comes down to, for me, is… If you’re angry, I think you ought to be able to show it. Be as angry as you have to be. Use all the scatological references you want. But the moment anyone begins to imply that some people’s lives are worth less than others, or that another person’s life experiences are invalid, nobody is obligated to give a platform to that rhetoric. There is a big difference between, say, calling somebody a “misogynist a****le” and insulting someone using a word historically used to belittle people with disabilities. The former is an airing of grievances; the latter is an implication that some people’s lives are not as valuable as others. I don’t mind seeing the former in community spaces, even if I’m disinclined to agree with it and it’s levelled at me; I believe the latter is impermissible. All people have a basic dignity worth protecting; the same is not true of all opinions or all figures of speech. This is not a discussion about “free speech.” It is not a discussion about whether we should legislate away one’s right to be a fascist. It is a discussion about whether we have to allow a person to use our community spaces to demean people. We don’t.

    So, if you’ll all excuse me for being a little blunt, I will say (as I think others have, to some degree) that we should all get over ourselves, try not to act surprised that someone has pointed out how one of the perennial problems of gaming and Internet communities manifests here, and be forever prepared to question the dismissal or harassment of people when we see it.

    Sorry I’m verbose and incoherent today.

    • Keep in mind that Porpentine edited the post that started all this, after Emily had already written some of these posts in response. I’m not really sure what the posts said originally, which means that I (and the whole late-reading internet cocommunity in fact) am no longer qualified to judge. This is the fundamental problem with editing ones public posts after the fact with no notification or even indication of what was changed or replaced. There is a reason that respectable journalists never do this. Of course, a bunch of hobbyist bloggers are not journalists and don’t have to play by the same rules, but that doesn’t mean that the negative consequences of extensive stealth editing on a community’s comprehension of its own history just magically disappear.

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