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.