Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Why Your Voice is Important

A couple of weeks ago, a GamerGate and NotYourShield supporter passed away at a young age in an apparent suicide. I don't want to give out her name, just in case it gets misconstrued as politicising her death or capitalising on it for my own gain (either for clicks or just to talk about my own stuff). That isn't the case. However, her death affected me more than I thought it would.

I actually didn't know the young woman in question. I recognised her face when news of her death was posted but I can't recall ever speaking to her on Twitter. The reason her death affected me was because of something a friend of mine said about her: "She told me, nearly a year ago, she didn't feel that her voice was important". One of the reasons I wish I'd spoken to her was because in the past, I've felt the exact same way.

The thing is, whatever you're committed to fighting for -- gender equality in video games, ethics in games journalism or more mainstream stuff like combating intrusive DRM in games -- it can feel like you have a ton of great points to make but they rarely, if ever, receive the recognition or awareness you want. That sounds selfish or egotistical but everyone wants to feel like their opinion connects with someone. For example, I've no doubt that every single person reading this can formulate a perfect rebuttal to Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs Women in Games videos. There are many, many videos on Youtube doing just that but some of the most well thought-out arguments end up falling to the bottom of the pile and don't often get noticed as much as they should.

I probably don't know how lucky I am; this blog doesn't set the world on fire or anything but I have a very friendly audience and a few people on Reddit who are kind enough to "signal boost" a lot of the things I write, especially the last few posts. I appreciate it a lot. Some posts have even been linked to by writers more high-profile than me, who I respect a lot. However, it still often feels like no matter what I say -- or anyone says -- about the subject of gender issues in gaming, it doesn't make a dent in the flawed "gaming is anti-woman" narrative. That can make you feel like your voice and opinion is unimportant.

It's a little more complicated than that. I don't update this blog very often anymore and there are a variety of reasons:
  • Laziness
  • Other priorities
I have other commitments to deal with apart from writing this blog. I mentioned studying game design, so I have to balance continuing with that as well as work. I've had to put writing commitments on hold for other sites too.
  • The narrative pushed by mainstream gaming sites remaining unchanged
As mentioned above. To this day, mainstream gaming media pushes the narrative that gaming is a "boy's club" in spite of ESA statistics (page 5) that suggest it's actually fairly equal. No opinion pieces are written to rebut this claim or the idea that gaming is sexist. Women who disagree are treated as if they don't exist and men who disagree are dismissed because of "privilege", "patriarchy", "mansplaining" or another excuse to not actually answer the points made. It's reached the point where even bomb threats against GamerGate meetups receive little, if any, coverage by mainstream gaming sites. Presumably because reporting on diverse groups receiving harmful threats would damage the "harassment-endorsing boy's club" narrative that has been built up for years.
  • Waning interest in gender issues in gaming
Related to the above point. Seeing nothing change makes it hard to care about staying current concerning gender issues in gaming. That, and the majority of articles on the subject tend to be from mainstream gaming sites and therefore either clickbait, full of inaccuracies, incredibly dull or a mix of the three. Videos suffer from the same problem. Although I've written about articles/games/videos in great detail in the past, it feels like it can only be done for so long without regurgitating the same information.
  • Better/more high-profile writers than me covering the same subject
This happens quite often. Back when I started this blog, I wasn't on Twitter and since I joined, I would say there's been a big positive and negative shift when it comes to how I approach gender issues. The positive shift is that I no longer feel like one of the few people talking about the subject, which I did back when the only places I had as an outlet were Gamespot comments sections and the TV Tropes forum. There are thousands of people talking about gender issues in gaming, who roll their eyes at the claims made by outraged social justice warriors who don't care about facts. The negative shift is that I used to take to this blog whenever something annoyed me on a gaming site and needed to be responded to whereas now, I go on Twitter to see what the people I follow thought of it.

The many articles of Adrian Chmielarz on Medium are some of the standout articles that I may not have seen without being on Twitter. Liana Kerzner's five-part series "Why Feminist Frequency almost made me quit writing about video games" is another bright spot. Whether other people are more eloquent, have a platform seen more people or simply have an interesting twist on their argument that I don't, I find myself more tempted to direct people to their points rather than write my own nowadays.

So, with all of this in mind, why is YOUR voice important?

I've heard it mentioned a few times that movements aren't made up solely of leading figures but of many smaller voices. I always thought that sounded a bit like a cop out but it's true; with a bunch of supporters making the same argument, gamers have made a movement out of what would otherwise be a few dissenting opinions on various websites. Without the "smaller" voices, the videos and opinion pieces by more prominent figures would be easy to dismiss. With them, on the other hand, it makes it harder for game journalists to do and remain credible. Instead, it exposes them as being agenda-driven rather than reporting on issues objectively.

The reason that seems like a bit of a cop out is because you still won't receive the same acknowledgement as a lot of people making the same argument and still feel like the things you say aren't being read. Plus, if you're anything like me, you don't have any intention of making videos and you don't live anywhere close enough to attend a meetup with other like-minded people. Hell, you may not like social media or may not want to go through the effort of writing an article/filming and editing a video. However, these things don't mean that your voice isn't important or isn't being heard.

You don't know who your words affect. There are tons of people who lurk on forums without posting or browse Twitter without having an account. Who's to say that one of those people won't see your intelligent, well thought-out point and use it in their own article or video? Although I can't recall any specific occasions -- I tend to give credit for good points I've heard people made -- I'd be very surprised if it turned out I hadn't done that at least once. And I know it's definitely happened to me, with both Adrian Chmielarz, mentioned above, and Milo Yiannopoulos (in the line "leveraging a tragedy to her own political benefit").

Plus, think about this; what's the big deal about popularity anyway? There are hugely popular sites like Buzzfeed, Polygon, a bunch of Gawker sites and more that have only achieved popularity through clickbait. So many of their articles and videos offer nothing of any substance but hey, they're popular! On the other hand, there are independent news sites, blogs and gaming media sites all over the internet that offer objectivity, intelligence and substance in ways that popular sites based on clickbait can't even comprehend. If you feel like your voice isn't being heard, take solace in the fact that you're still speaking out. You are like an independent news site. You have credibility and moral fibre for expressing your opinions when you aren't even sure if anyone will ever read them.

If you want a tip for making your voice heard, here's a practical piece of advice: post on Reddit, not Twitter. Twitter is like everyone shouting over a crowd of other shouting people, trying to get noticed. Reddit, and other more conventional forums, are closer to a discussion.

Finally, don't give up. You'll never know who you could reach or what impact you could have if you give up. Your opinions are valued more than you know. Even as someone who is normally pretty cynical when it comes to people who try to be motivational, I believe that. You never know when your opinion will be the one people take notice of, rally around and support/defend, whether it's as an article or in the comments section of an article.

And I don't normally say this but I feel compelled to, given what I've been writing about; thank you for reading.