Hi kiddo. This is your father. You haven't been born yet (you haven't even been conceived yet!) but Daddy is writing you this letter anyway to apologize to you and let you know that he loves you and it's going to be all right.
I want you to keep your head up no matter how much the goings-on of the world sometimes hang about your shoulders. I'm sorry that despite being 50% of the world's population females own 1% of the world's property. I'm sorry that only 28% of businesses in the United States are owned by women and I'm sorry that if (god forbid) you have to walk up to a police officer and report that you've been sexually assaulted you're very likely to be treated with skepticism and contempt. I apologize in advance for the way people will treat you when you accomplish things. When you succeed ignore those who say you did so not because you're worthwhile or talented but because you're a woman. And don't listen to what mean old Garry Kasparov says—it's not like he's well-respected by gamers or anything.
I know you might want to follow in my footsteps and have a career in gaming. After all I'm a sedentary guy and you're going to have every opportunity to get interested in games and gadgets as you get older. That's not to say that I won't take you out for swimming class or show you the wonders of the outdoors. I'll give you a chance to excel at whatever your beautiful little heart desires. But certain things come more naturally to me than others and if there's even a small chance that you might find yourself working in the same industry as your old man I want to prepare you for it.
This letter is mostly about some stuff that happened recently but it's also about me your dad and how I've changed as a person over the years. It's an open letter so I'm going to let all my friends read it too. By the end of it some will be mad at me perturbed and energy-sapped because I've made them feel guilty and asked them to question things that seem natural to them. Some will dismiss me too entrenched in the perceived righteousness of their ways. They will tell themselves that I am expressing a progressive viewpoint for the express purpose of ruining their fun. (This is known as “Krounering” shown below):
By inviting my friends to read I might burn a few bridges—but it's for the greater good. I'll teach you when you're older that bridges can damage you. Sometimes they're little more than the rotting scaffolding that supports a worse version of yourself. Put another way if one's only religion is progression bridges with their connection to old ideals and lessons better forgotten can be heretics. So light 'em up. Become free. Become explosive material.
If at age 30 you are little more than the currency that fools have paid you spend yourself.
Where to begin? What can I tell you about your father that you don't already know?
Well I love gaming. Sure I haven't attended a live event in a while and I haven't played any MTGO since they disappointed me by not implementing 1v1 Commander in time for the release of the product of the same name. (I bought two of those decks listlessly played some Singleton with your mother and then threw them back into the E-Closet.) Still even a little removed from the beaches of wizardry I remember the sodden wooden pilings of the dock (encrusted heavily with barnacles and crabs) and find them comfortably familiar. I'll probably draft some Innistrad. And by the time you're about eight years old we'll be able to check out the new MTGO client together.
When I leave Magic kiddo it won't be because I'm tired of playing the game itself. It'll be for two reasons:
A. It's too expensive to play the most interesting Magic.
B. I'm tired of gamers and their terrible attitudes towards you my daughter my flesh and blood. The girl who will one day look up at me and say “I want to do what daddy does!” and then watch as I screw my face up into a flesh vortex and think really hard about what that choice means for you.
Let me tell you about “B” kiddo. B for “boys club.” B for “Bereznak.” And B for a word that the first so gleefully applies to the second.
Remember the above quote kiddo. We're going to come back to it later.
In the meantime I have some semi-bad news for you. Your father is a big nerd and I'm not just saying that to score cred with everyone else reading. I can prove it. This group of so-called “geeks” and “nerds” is an organization I've belonged to for years. We have a secret handshake of sorts a nerd I.D. card a set of shared circumstances that allows us to identify each other and know that we've found a kindred spirit.
So let me tell you about Geordie Tait your proud father embittered youth former social pariah turned career gamer.
This is my Certified Geek License from the Federal Geek Association (formerly the Federal Association of Geeks). On the back you'll find my biometric information and the results of that I.Q. test that I “aced” in kindergarten. “Smarts” is in quotes because it describes probably the least-valuable intelligence out there—the smirking arrogant synaptic pep that allows a young lad to impress a few special education teachers but falls far far short of allowing him to draw useful conclusions about life forthcoming adulthood or how to improve himself.
Many of daddy's friends also have one of these cards. Many of us have felt separate from our peers and excluded from normal social activities because we were bright from a young age. We carry a chip on our shoulder because of that. We're an entire race of squanderers of keen minds turned to inert and even flagellatory ends. In many cases these so-called “smarts” did little but start us down the road to social ostracization.
This is my “Depressed and Lonely” card which I now produce to prove to you that your father was unfortunately an introvert and not much of a smooth operator with the damsels. Girls showed little interest in me as a younger man due to my awkward appearance strange hobbies sketchy social skills and unpopularity with the chaps. I didn't possess the strength of character not to resent them for this and so a bias against women developed. I spent a long time foolishly grumbling about gals who liked to get out there and party an activity that I was too shy to contemplate. “Why don't they want to sit around on the couch eat pizza and play Tekken 2?” I wondered. From age 18-28 I wanted nothing more than to have a steady girlfriend. It never happened.
At a time when I had no idea what I was doing with my life gaming provided an outlet a direction and an escape from depression. I started playing Magic: The Gathering and then writing about it pouring all of my energy and money into my hobby. I made new friends that I'll treasure forever. When I married your mother my best man was a Pro Tour coverage reporter and my groomsmen were an old PTQ grinding buddy a former StarCityGames.com editor and a fellow creative content professional turned standup comedian. I've also managed to slowly carve out a career in the gaming industry from my humble beginnings as a prolific but pandering pundit.
I owe the game a lot. If anyone had reason to defend the honor of Magic from the perceived callousness of an internet hussy it was your old man. I am definitely one of the tribe.
This story sounds mean. It's about a girl who poked fun at some boys and how the boys banded together to punish her for it.
At 3:30 pm on August 29 2011 a day that will live in infamy Alyssa Bereznak an intern at Gizmodo posted an article about her dates with a famed Magic: The Gathering champion. This champion turned out to be Jon Finkel.
The article had a negative tone. It did not attempt to tell “both sides of the story” or give Jon the benefit of the doubt. There were no caveats no attempts to qualify the many forceful statements in it. That uncompromising tone combined with the community of readers to which it was published resulted in a maelstrom of negative feedback.
Someone over at Gizmodo noticed. After publication the piece was edited in the following ways:
1. The line “this is what happens I thought when you lie in your online profile” was changed to the less harsh “this is what happens I thought when you leave things out of your online profile”.
2. The taunting bush-league conclusion was removed: “Also for all you world famous nerds out there: Don't go after two Gawker Media employees and not expect to have a post written about you. We live for this kind of stuff.”
3. The line “if everyone stopped lying in their profiles maybe there also wouldn't be quite as many OKCupid horror stories to tell” was changed to a longer less inflammatory section that did not refer to “lying.”
4. An italicized introduction was added attempting to explain the thesis behind the article and essentially admitting it was “mean.” Additional explanation was also added at the end of the article echoing this thesis.
5. Jon's name not present in the original article was added.
6. Terms like “world champion of nerds” and “champion dweeb” were removed.
The article seemed on its face to condone shallowness which is not something that most people can get behind especially a group of gamers with high hopes about the storybook romances they'll one day experience when a fair damsel looks past their gruff dice-rolling exterior and gets to know them. Furious responses poured in. This was perhaps understandable to a point as the article had a number of major problems:
1. It was written for Gizmodo a tech website. The tech industry is among the most male-dominated and sexist in America. The stories of conference organizers begrudgingly booking female speakers and then grumbling about “affirmative action” are legion. Scott Adams is celebrated as the sharp-witted visionary behind “Dilbert” darling of office bulletin boards and yet he continues to make stupid statements about women on a regular basis. Without condoning the response I really don't know what this article was doing on Gizmodo.
2. Nearly all potential discussion was lost in the baggage that comes with the word “shallow.” A case could (and should) have been made that disqualification of a potential partner on the basis of Magic: The Gathering play is in fact legitimate. But the article was too short for that without the space to explain itself as it needed to. Instead it depended on readers to draw that conclusion themselves. Gizmodo readers. Male keyboard warriors many with the welts of social ostracization still open and weeping upon their hairy backs. It was never going to happen. People tore into the word “shallow” like jackals slinging their heads low in the belly of an overturned gazelle.
3. She used Jon's name which added an element of “man this guy is a nerd!” harshness to the whole proceedings. If you stretch it you can make a case that Jon as a (in his words “Grade D”) celebrity was fair game for this. I don't blame anyone who doesn't think so though.
4. The real thesis of the article whether or not Jon was obligated to mention his Magic: The Gathering world championships in a dating profile was never given much of a treatment. The article was a drive-by shooting that made its point and then floored it and sped off.
So it was a short ill-placed piece of writing that arrived stillborn in a pool of nerdrage. It had a message but that message was buried. Uncooperative incensed readers were in no mood to unearth any meaningful subtext. All most people saw was a judgmental woman making fun of a well-respected man.
Payback was sure to be hell.
First things first. The best classiest response came from Jon himself. On Twitter in interviews answering questions over the course of several days he refused to take the bait and dig the needle in. He deserves a ton of credit for that.
Few others were interested in the same approach.
As the article went viral everyone wanted to get their two cents in their gamer passions inflamed. Even the mildest of men—people I'd seldom seen get so animated about anything—had something to say. Joey Pasco a SCGLive commentator and well-known podcaster pulled no punches:
The accusation here is that Alyssa should “give Magic players a chance” and that dismissing them out-of-hand is reprehensible. This was an idea echoed by many people and one we'll return to later.
Who else have we got on deck?
ffeJ probably my favorite Magic writer had no sympathy for Alyssa. Indeed the article did not invite much examination or sympathy and he gave it none.
Your kindly Uncle Evan who I will introduce you to when you're old enough was one of the many that chose to focus on the baffling inappropriateness of the article's forum:
These responses were off-the-cuff and paid the article little respect which can be understood. The tragedy of Alyssa's article is that it was flawed and because of this the gamer community really needed to rise to a special level of perception and thick-skinnedness to respond to it in a constructive way.
Lacking the proper perspective and hot under the collar everyone fell short.
Most of the responses fell into three categories.
A. GENDERED INSULTS
Sorry you had to see that kiddo. I promise you not all “geeky” males behave so abominably. Why right here on StarCityGames.com we've got number-cruncher Chris a real hero. Once Riki Hayashi boorishly called Brian David-Marshall a “shill” for not asking Alexis Jansen a bunch of questions about gender-reassignment in the post-Great-Designer-Search-1 victory interview. Moral upstanding Uncle Chris called it “disgusting.” (Riki to his credit has since apologized.) You'd have been impressed.
Wait what? Sh*t. Forget that daddy mentioned Uncle Chris okay pumpkin? Uncle Chris is mean; he kicks puppies and collects their anguished yelps in an obsidian jar. Also whatever you do don't head over to Wikipedia.
If you have a book report due you will need to actually read the book sweetie. I know it's a chore but I don't want you exposed to any objectionable edits.
Speaking of shallow…
B. WE'LL SHOW YOU WHAT SHALLOW REALLY MEANS
A lot of the boys decided to laugh at Alyssa and let her know that because she was shallow she had missed her chance at dating a guy with a lot of money.
I know honey—it hurts my brain as well. I'm sorry if this is confusing. I guess for you to understand this part I should explain that kindly old Mr. Finkel was a well-respected man. Many of daddy's peers admire him greatly for the amount of money he's made with the power of his almighty brain.
I'm sure by now you've met Uncle Ted—he and daddy and are always yammering back and forth at each other.
Now I'm not going to say that your Uncle Ted is a huge Finkel barnacle (cough) but every couple of weeks he tweets in an awed tone about the size of Mr. Finkel's apartment and bankroll. It's like clockwork. In fact just last week in the midst of this entire kerfuffle we had this exchange:
At that point I assume he fired a few knuckleballs into his CPU fan and trundled off to bed.
I'm happy to report that Ted who often takes pleasure in being flamboyant and outrageous engaged in practically no Alyssa-bashing. Perhaps he realized Twitter is not just a big gamer bull-session but representative of all types of people.
Others who admired Jon and his millions showed considerably less restraint.
I guess everyone who isn't a millionaire should cry themselves to sleep at night. Of course at least this guy knows who Jon is…
I think Anon over here is confusing him with someone else entirely.
It went on and on mutating inside the dark moist recesses of a meme generator to include another sort of shallowness altogether. I'm sure you're very mature for your age kiddo but you might want to avert your eyes.
We've got a little of everything. Gendered insults. References to her appearance. Mentions of how much money Jon made playing Magic as if it that matters when one is looking for his or her soul mate. Weren't gamers supposed to be romantics expecting partners to “look past a hobby to see the real man?” Turns out we're writing our love letters from the inner cloister of Uncle Scrooge's counting house.
There's unbelievable hypocrisy here. Gamers so often yearn for a companion who won't get hung-up on things like appearance and who will take a deep look at the qualities inside but appearance is always the button they press when it comes time to in their eyes “take someone down a peg.”
As bad and as dull and ferociously misogynistic as these are here's another one that is still more infuriating:
Shameful confession time for Dad—I spent my early twenties expressing the above sentiment and it was no less stupid back then. The idea that gamers are the gentle lambs of the dating pool neglected by females who gravitate toward wolves who will devour them whole is a gamer bromide from way back. It is personified in the Nice Guy™ Gamer one of our number who considers himself an ideal romantic partner because of his ability to offer emotional support under false pretenses characterizes friendships that don't lead to sex as “failures” demonizes extroverts and awards himself gold stars for not hitting women or raping them.
As you can see above “Mr. Nice Guy” also believes that geeks are less likely to cheat on their partners. This just isn't the case as the water-cooler at any gaming company well knows. Gamers are always trying to “Next Level” things and fancy themselves the Smartest Boys Club in the World. Pick a societal stricture that might actually prevent this philandering and a gamer will give you a reason that he can just shrug it off.
Religion? “Opiate of the masses. Are you seriously suggesting that I keep it in my pants on religious grounds? You're just like the Taliban.”
Monogamy? “Antiquated social construct. Men are genetically predestined to hunt. I know this is true because Scott Adams and some guy in PV's article comments told me so.”
Traditional relationship morality? “I don't see how I can be expected not to sleep with my friend's girlfriend if she is unhappy and there's a spark between us. This might be the only chance I have at happiness and I'm going to take it. It was his fault for playing Magic 12 hours/day and ignoring her. P.S. Sorry honey tomorrow I'm playing Magic for 12 hours.”
Responsibility? “I know I have a couple of kids but I'm out of here. Later honey! Going to grind my way onto the gravy train! You only live once and at 22 years old I feel the cold hand of the grim reaper on my shoulder!”
These ironclad moral philosophies are developed throughout post-pubescence by reading Fight Club quotes in the forum signatures of other gamers. To sum up all of the notions in this meme image are false. You can date whoever you want pumpkin. Sometimes after you make your choice you'll get people who will try to make you feel guilty or foolish for not dating them instead. That's all that's going on here.
So what else have we got on tap? Oh of course.
C. INTERNALIZED MISOGYNY
Daddy is very interested in integrating the gaming industry and is always ready to encourage any budding Jacqueline Robinsons. However it is hard for girls to be taken seriously in gaming when dozens of wannabe FragDolls are tap-dancing on top of the dugout and offering opposing players “a shine.”
When the article came out and men started hating on it many female tech/gaming writers were eager to present themselves as an alternative to the evil and shallow Alyssa Bereznak. One such instance was this piece by Elly Hart of Gizmodo Australia criticizing Alyssa for saying “bitchy things” and spending an entire paragraph shaming her for “not knowing her limits when it comes to alcohol” an assertion not in evidence anywhere.
“The fact that you don't know your limits when it comes to alcohol—or that you might have even deliberately got yourself drunk—doesn't make you look very credible.”
This is a sentiment that sexually assaulted women have been hearing from the police for years. Elly Hart uses it here as she shucks and jives to appease the multitudinous nerd-raging masses. In her defense master's house was on fire and there was a warm corner in the attic waiting for her if she was able to dump some water on the blaze.
Now listen—you mustn't be too upset with Miss Hart. She's a female writer for a tech website and that is a very very difficult job. In order to fit in she has had to internalize all the ways that boys in her industry treat girls poorly and take them for granted. It's okay to blame her less than you do the boys who were mean. As you grow I'll be proud of you if you tend to assign blame to power and tend to forgive the oppressed.
Let's wrap up.
Some have said that Alyssa was trolling but whether she was or wasn't does not matter anymore. The furious punishment became after a short while more significant than the crime. It continued long after any compassionate person would have kept his silence. For each studious rebuttal there were nine withering sexist remarks riding sidecar. And this I believe kiddo—the man who leans in for insult number one-thousand having already seen the first nine-hundred ninety-nine reprisals vault from the barbed tongues of his peers is furthest in the wrong.
Why did gamers respond so viciously?
And perhaps even more curious
…considering how eager I've sometimes been to crucify a poorly written article…
…considering that I'm a gamer and a geek…
Why didn't I join them?
Good question. Let me tell you all about it kiddo. I've got some apologizing to do.
So a female writing for a nerd-leaning website wrote a scathing article that denigrated possibly the greatest Magician ever to sleeve up a deck of Magic cards. I was stung and immediately wrote a rebuttal article defending the community and the game while smugly pointing out that the champion in question had no shortage of money and certainly no trouble finding dates.
Huh? You didn't see Daddy's rebuttal article? It WAS published honest! Right here on StarCityGames.com!
Nearly a decade ago.
Back in June of 2003 a sometime-sorceress named Starr Kaplan wrote “Why Do People Think Magic Is Full of Fat Rude Slobs?” an article containing at least a little of the same sentiment carried by Alyssa Bereznak's recent Gizmodo excursion.
The forums are lost to time now because Uncle Pete and Uncle Evan have no sympathy for Luddites but you're creative and I'm sure you can imagine the response—an endless unraveling toilet roll of “shallowness” accusations and invective. The similarities to the Bereznak situation are eerie. Each article contained inflammatory statements an excoriation of gaming and gamers with a generally negative tone. Even more than Bereznak's article Kaplan's focuses on the social stigma attached to gamers aiming to make the community take responsibility for its bad reputation. A further commonality is that it maligns a player who could be considered the greatest of all time—Kai Budde in this case. Here's the quote in question:
Kai fat jokes? It was essentially the 2003 version of: “You might end up sharing goat cheese with a champion of dweebs.” Well honey Daddy was a misanthropic barnacle in those days and was not going to let that stand. Wielding like a cudgel what I charitably saw as “writing ability” I proceeded to embarrass myself. My smug intellectually worthless rebuttal rant now acts as a time capsule for sentiments better off forgotten. It reads uncannily like the same nonsense that was trotted out just last week when Alyssa poked the Magic hive with a sharp stick.
Here's an actual quote from it:
“Women have to deal with it it's that simple. They'll play Magic when they can get away from hitting bars to get ogled or looking in the mirror and thinking they're ugly or whatever it is that women do.”
I'm sorry kiddo. The above is probably the most reprehensible “slut shaming” statement I have ever written. Daddy is an IDIOT. It's all there. “Chicks who go out to bars are whores. They're superficial too.” Superficial! Said so smoothly as if men had nothing to do with it.
Obviously I was taken to task for this right?
Nope. As much as I'd like to report that a female version of Jon Becker showed up in my article forums to ruin my career nothing of the sort happened. There was the odd dissenting remark here and there but mostly people just laughed along with the rant and saw no problem with it. I should have expected that because amazingly I'd done almost the same rant a year before in 2002 in response to another similar article by Brainburst author Ron Vitale. Few people had any problem with that one either—and if any women complained I certainly just ignored them insulated from reproach by the embrace of warm hairy male privilege.
Let's see what other garbage we can unearth. Oh! Here's a good one.
“If I was Kai and I read that I'd be a little upset. Of course he has many reasons to simply ignore remarks like this—about 200000 reasons lifetime. And counting.”
If you are experiencing dj vu sweetheart it's not because they changed something in the Matrix. (What? You don't know what that is? It's a movie that came out well before you were born and had no sequels whatsoever. Honest.) The reason the above statement seems familiar is because it's the exact “criticize his hobbies all you like he's still stacking up dead presidents!” sentiment that many gamers expressed when Alyssa rejected our fearless leader kindly old Mr. Finkel. Nothing proves an accusation of female shallowness like stating how much money the guy she's not interested in makes. “Yeah! Pass him up even though he's rich! That's shallow as hell!”
Anyway I can't read though any more of this crap. I'm sure you get the point—that two times a piece critical of the community's treatment of women was written and both times I rode to the rescue like Sir Galahad protecting the fragile rights of that most oppressed of groups the Caucasian malcontent.
Hold on sweetheart Daddy has to go and stick his head in a microwave. If I could travel back in time and confront my 2003 self the second thing I would do (after telling my doppelganger to call up the Trail Blazers and scream 'take Durant!' into the phone) would be to punch myself in the face.
As for the Kaplan article a few questionable statements aside I think it holds up pretty well—more than I can say for what I wrote in response to it. I've held on to these two low-class rants for the same reason the Bartman baseball was briefly preserved—so that I could one day detonate them in front of thousands of people.
That was 2003 kiddo. I had my head up my ass and so did everyone else. I torpedoed a female-written article and was essentially lauded for it. I was blissfully unaware of any problem.
So when did I start to clue in? Good question.
You're too young remember this pumpkin but there was a time about a decade ago when the trading card company Upper Deck attempted to compete directly with Wizards of the Coast to see who would get your allowance money. Flush with cash from the success of Yu-Gi-Oh! UDE (Upper Deck Entertainment) drove a truckload of money to the front door of organized play guru Jeff Donais and asked him to build them a winner. In the years that followed Upper Deck pursued and wrangled the services of a who's who of MTG luminaries. Brian Kibler. Antonino De Rosa. Ben Rubin. Justin Gary. Even Brian Hacker who invented that thing called “drafting” that causes Daddy to swear at his computer screen.
Despite being about as far from famous as you could get I was hired as well to do (what else?) content writing. Because the company was growing fast I was made to wear many different “writing hats” during my tenure one of which was that of a coverage reporter for the Vs. System “Pro Circuit.”
Now I'm not going to say that Vs. System's Pro Circuit was a hollow promotional monster that pandered to the KGB-quoting Rounders rewatching pokermania of the early 2000's (cough) but Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey were given sponsors invites to the first event. They didn't show. Neither did Garry Kasparov who had also been invited. The ringers who did show easily mopped the floor with the rubes and Vs. System quickly became known as “free money.” Guys would show up for the +EV events but had no real emotional investment in the game. It wasn't being played at a grassroots level. I heard more than one member of Vs. System R&D lament that he couldn't quit working for Upper Deck in time to be eligible to play in the Pro Circuit since the events were so soft and profitable.
But I digress. All you really need to know sweetheart is that I served as a coverage reporter at only one of these Pro Circuits events and that I failed to distinguish myself in the annals of journalism.
On Day 1 I was left to my own devices having been instructed to come up with several interesting “features” to go along with the match reporting. The first feature I submitted was an article about three teenagers who had slept in the open outside the convention center. I thought it was an interesting way to highlight the indomitable gamer spirit. This feature literally cost Upper Deck about $500 as Jeff Donais decided to put the three youths up in a hotel to avoid the public-relations disaster that might spring from a “Boy Seeking Card Fame Murdered By Transient” headline in the next morning's Detroit Free Press.
Bad as that was my second feature would have topped it had it seen print. One of the players at the Pro Circuit was a GIRL (gasp!) and I thought this was noteworthy and worth an interview. Her name was Whitney Sitzler and that was probably the only non-asinine question I asked her. I plunked down my voice recorder and for about 10-15 minutes softballed patronized cajoled and flirted my way through a terrible interview featuring questions like: “Have you ever gotten an advantage in a game by being a girl?” and “So you're here with your husband?”
Since I was 23 or 24 at the time and headstrong I came dangerously close to (yet again) getting away with this and learning nothing from it. Luckily the coverage editor for Metagame.com was Kate Sullivan who declared my Whitney Sitzler interview a worthless load of trash and saw that it was never published. I never talked to Kate at length about exactly what the problem was but the idea that there was a problem was enough to start the wheels turning in my head. I got my first sense that there was something out there—a social issue and social responsibility I couldn't detect despite what I considered an open mind.
That germ of an idea would lay dormant for years until I met your mother in 2008. Like most couples do pumpkin we shared our interests with each other and I wanted to involve her in my interest—gaming. Together we passed the carefree days by playing Ascension Magic Online and plowing through my endless collection of Japanese-developed RPGs.
Oh Japan. Nearly every female character we encountered was designed by men for men. Ridiculously proportioned child-like in voice and temperament they were calculated to attract the subway-groping attentions of the otaku. As a then-28-year-old who claimed to be at least somewhat sophisticated I found myself embarrassed by the portrayals of women in every game we played. I hadn't remembered things being THAT bad! But they were. As a younger man I hadn't noticed it probably for the same reason I hadn't noticed that my SCG rants were little more than loosely wrapped bindles of word-vomit. Word-gurgitation if you will.
“Man the portrayals of women in video games are really complete garbage” I realized. The gaming news seemed to match what I was seeing everywhere in my old games and jumped out at me with a vibrant wrongheadedness I'd until that point been unable to detect. When it was announced that Soul Calibur V would take place 20 years in the future developers were quick to assure any sweating nebbishes that Ivy Valentine a popular female character with a figure that makes Christina Hendricks look like a goal post would not be aging. Instead they would wedge her into a time capsule. The lesson was clear—males can age in fighting games and females can't.
Didn't Tekken pull a twenty-year time leap once? I looked back. Every male character—older. Every female character was either new preserved in a stasis tube or had been replaced by her daughter.
Don't even get me started on what they did to Samus Aran in Metroid: Other M.
Hard as it was on me it was hell for your mother—and I felt really bad about that.
This was my hobby that I took so much pride in. I wanted to share gaming with her but gaming wasn't good enough. She enjoyed spending time with me but to get through the activity itself she had to grit her teeth and indulge me in so many embarrassing places. Gameplay rescued us sometimes. Character design was a constant slap in the face always carrying the stink of demographic targeting and unabashed fan service.
“I want to see myself represented” she told me once with a bone-weariness that I knew I couldn't alleviate. I realized that most of our tried-and-true narratives are taken from history and thus exclude women. Any period piece (Sengoku Japan Early China Ancient Rome Prohibition-Era America) automatically marginalizes women because with a few exceptions they weren't allowed to do anything until about 1970. No matter how riveting you think that Tom Hanks movie is where he's a mob hitman travelling the country with his son a woman will look at the screen and see no one like herself and a story set in a time when women were barely allowed to vote. Men get to imagine that we are Tom Hanks and she gets to imagine…what? Doing the dishes? Getting killed in the first five minutes? My heart went out to her and to all women who wish to be space captains and crime fighters and great historical figures.
Just by talking to a woman on a regular basis and re-experiencing games with her added perspective; my view was changing. I realized that the iceberg tip I had glimpsed years before when I was told that my fluff interview was not appropriate was an honest-to-god civil rights issue right in front of my face in my industry. In my hobby. Viewed in this context things that I would previously have ignored (or even laughed at) started to stick out like sorest of thumbs.
Every day some new evidence of anti-woman gaming attitudes would float to the surface of the industry like a dead body. In the middle of writing this section in fact it was pointed out to me that one of the programmers coding Dead Island used “FeministWhore” as the placeholder name for a female character's ability and then skillfully left it in the debug code for all gamers to discover.
Gather round kiddo. Let's see how male gamers responded to this on the Steam user forums. They were up to all of their old tricks:
“Sense of humor? No they must be insensitive bigots there's no other possibility.”
Minimizing the event. Hinting that those upset are “irrational” or “emotional”…
“I don't think anyone gives a **** if it offends someone. It's just a little joke within the game's files. It's not a T-rated game by any means and feminists are bitches anyway. Cry more.”
“It's like getting mad at a perfectly good friend who has never expressed a negative thought about anything because you broke into his house and read his diary and found out something about him that you didn't know.”
Qualifications and excuses…
Honey when I think about sitting beside you when you're older and looking at these sorts of sentiments with you digesting them together with you I get sad. I can barely imagine trying to explain to you that this is what you're going to have to get used to if you want to be a gamer. To many male gamers feminist just means “someone who will not tolerate the only jokes I know how to make.” That's why I'm thinking really hard about whether I'd like you to be involved in gaming at all.
What about Magic: The Gathering? Do the players and industry professionals involved have healthy views on gender? I'm glad that you're curious about one of your father's favorite games—I know that once you grow up and become a young woman you probably won't have any interest in my “geezer” activities at all! So I'll savor this while I can. Let me answer that question by giving you this quiz. I know you like quizzes. This one is fun as well as educational and will lead you to several important conclusions about our community.
If you manage to get all three answers correct I will buy you your favorite ice cream.
How do you think you did? I guess there's no need for me to actually answer these—you're unencumbered by preconceptions in your tender youth and you know in your heart what the truth is. As a sportswriter said after Bobby Thompson's “Shot Heard Round the World” fiction is dead. Only the truly outlandish will ever be believable again.
The reason I didn't flame Alyssa Bereznak is simple.
I'd changed. I was fed up. I'd sat beside your mother through all manner of ignorance stereotyping and hate from male gamers and I saw in the response to Alyssa a shameful reflection of the attitudes I'd once had. A reflection of my own viciousness self-pity and entitlement—anti-qualities I'd once wielded with scornful bullying obliviousness in my own writing.
I was so sick of the avalanche of sexism that I wouldn't have criticized Alyssa if she'd set Jon on fire during the date.
Now that I've explained why I didn't respond negatively to Alyssa Bereznak let's examine why so many male gamers did.
Try to forgive Day for the above quote if you can find the generosity in your little heart—like most male gamers he doesn't understand that gendered insults are wrong and off-putting to women. Since E-Sports is even more male-dominated than Magic: The Gathering he's probably never been encouraged to censor himself in that way. That aside every gamer with even one living fiber in their blackened cynical hearts likes Day including your dad. We can't get enough of that five o'clock shadowed super-enthusiastic teddy bear.
Thanks to another depressed high-school suspendee (apparently there are a lot of us) named AJ Sacher I recently rediscovered Day's seminal “My Life of StarCraft” webcast episode. AJ is currently off somewhere making sure that Ali Aintrazi takes no pleasure whatsoever in winning U.S. Nationals (in fact he pops out of a pile of loose clothing and beats Ali with reeds whenever Ali smiles) but I should thank him for directing me to an uplifting viewing experience one that really encapsulates the joy and jeopardy of being a competitive gamer.
Go ahead click that link and check it out! As you watch you might find yourself moved by Day's emotional recounting of the many positive things that happened to him as a result of being unashamed of his game of choice—StarCraft: Brood War. When he's moved to tears recalling how he and his brother had supported each other through the emotional roller coaster of tournament play you might find yourself moved with him. When he talks passionately about how StarCraft is not something to be hidden away but rather to be made a point of pride you caught up in his breathless enthusiasm might agree. And like many of us just over the fence in CCG land you might apply that sentiment to your favorite game whether it's an RTS an MMORPG or tiddlywinks.
As a side note since watching “My Life of StarCraft” I've become addicted to competitive StarCraft 2 coverage and in fact skipped all coverage of GP Pittsburgh in order to watch Koreans steamroll people at MLG. Day is my favorite caster for these events combining honest enthusiasm for the game with deep knowledge and a quirky sense of humor. I'd go so far as to say that Day and Apollo are the best casting team available. Maybe someday you'll be behind the wheel of a Baneling bust! Your old dad would be so proud. More likely if you follow in my footsteps you'll be writing the tooltip for the Baneling. But hey—either one is fine with me!
Where was I? I'm sorry for getting sidetracked kiddo—I just can't get enough of cocky 80-pound Asians dropping Manner Mules on each other. The point is I like Day and a lot of other gamers do too—and in addition to being an accomplished player and the host of the much-loved “Day Daily” Day is at the head of a sort of “gamer pride” movement epitomized by his slogan “Be A Better Gamer.” His website day9.tv maintains an E-Sports “manifesto” that explains what is meant by gamer pride. I'll reproduce some of it here and in the reading of it one can see how gamers would flock to it like ants to honey.
We are more than stereotypes. We are adventurers and doctors engineers and entrepreneurs journalists and lawyers scientists and students. We are smart ambitious and competitive. We are gamers.
That's right! Time for all the members of the tribe to stand up and be counted! To no longer cower in the dark recessed corners of local gaming shops but proudly proclaim for all to hear that gaming especially competitive gaming with its travel and brutal practice schedule is a worthwhile activity that helps individuals grow and make new friends. That it is not a foolish guilty pleasure but a true journey with its own wonderful rewards!
Play develops relationships and communities. We have fond memories of growing up playing games with our friends and siblings. The gaming experience bonds us together now as it bonded us then. We discover friends partners and spouses while gaming. We game with our children. We transcend international borders when we play.
Yes! Gosh it all sounds so wonderful! Doesn't it just make you so happy and proud to be a gamer? Finally all that fear and apprehension you had about your hobbies and your place in society is starting to alleviate. You feel like you belong and that you're not crazy for thinking that others should understand the value in your gaming activities! You've found friends fulfillment and a career!
It was from this high perch of cultural self-satisfaction that gamers seeing Alyssa's frank assessment of Jon Finkel's dateability howled with outrage.
“Strike one strike two strike three? How dare she! How dare a woman not appreciate the value in something that makes us so happy that fulfills us that has brought us so many friends?”
Time to prove to your old dad that you've been paying attention sweetheart. Remember back at the start of the “Part of the Tribe” section when I told you to remember an unattributed quote because we'd be coming back to it later? Here it is again:
I bet your young inquisitive mind has been tearing at its moorings just wondering who uttered it. Take a few guesses.
Dr. Martin Luther King? I'm sorry sweetheart—but that was a good guess.
Gandhi? Nice try but no.
Kurt Cobain? I'm afraid you're wrong again pumpkin.
In fact it was this well-respected commentator:
Image Credit: Cracked.com.
Okay maybe not exactly this guy but it is an actual quote from an actual Juggalo. Had Alyssa Bereznak seen him on a date the resulting article might have gone something like this:
Did he still throw bottles at people's heads? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “Going to see Tila Tequila tonight with 24 Faygo empties.” Strike two. Did he know how magnets work? 'No.' Strike three.
My point is that one man's fulfilling depression-alleviating friendship machine is another woman's giant red flag.
Juggalos like gamers are known to be fiercely loyal to each other and to take a dim view of those who don't value hatchet-murder and a willful ignorance about magnetic fields. And while devotion to a certain lifestyle and accompanying circle of like-minded friends can have tremendous value for an individual that value is very relative. It doesn't represent equal value for a potential romantic partner.
Hear that kiddo? When you grow up and find yourself on a blind date with a man in clown makeup you are well within your rights to make polite conversation for a while (“Oh you're mad fresh chillin' tonight with 'Professa Fog?' How interesting!”) and then go home and blog about your date. Your prospective beau Mr. Thug Nutz will just have to accept that.
Gamers are unable to accept that.
Many gamers have cultivated a tremendous sense of pride because of the efforts of Day and others and see this cultivation as a marginalized subgroup triumphing over the preconceptions of the mainstream. It is in many ways a defense mechanism. They assign considerable value to accomplishments made within their own sphere and strongly identify with their gaming as a positive force leaving them unable to accept the idea that a romantic partner could consider it a negative.
This creates a problem. In the romantic arena male gamers still act like a cringing minority. This is despite the fact that until relatively recently (and still in some parts of the world) women have had little power to say “no” to a man regardless of his unsuitability.
Don't be fooled kiddo. Gamers are not a cringing minority but the same scornful entitled males you've been dealing with your entire life. And this particular breed—fancying themselves unappreciated intelligent and more worthy than other males of female attention—is in no mood for rejection. Despite their pretention to a higher morality when it comes to women they will repay rejection with cruelty and scorn.
There's another reason that the response to Alyssa Bereznak was so overwhelming and it has nothing to do with gaming.
Gavin de Becker is an author who has written several books about the nature of fear. In his book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence he noted that the outcome a woman feared most from any romantic encounter was rape and death. I know it must be really hard on you kiddo. You're going to go through life fearing that in a worst-case scenario you could be sexually assaulted and murdered by a member of the opposite sex. Sure it's likely that something that terrible will never come to pass (god forbid! I feel sick even talking about it!) but there are no guarantees. In fact some men (and presumably some women writing for Gizmodo Australia) will tell you to avoid drinking too much or wearing sexy clothes in order to spare yourself such a dark outcome. Imagine that! Hinting that it'd be your fault. It's tough being a girl huh?
Now pumpkin pretend you're a man. What's your greatest fear in a romantic situation?
Give up? More than anything we fear being laughed at and made to feel humiliated by the opposite sex.
I know that worry must sound pretty awesome to you—a big improvement from what you've had to worry about. Well most men don't see it that way. Men hate when women laugh at them. It makes them feel powerless and afraid and out of control and when it happens they lash out.
Guess who recently laughed at a big group of men?
If you said Alyssa Bereznak you're a good guesser. And when she did it so publically and with such apparent disregard for the tolerance to which gamers felt entitled things got nasty. She had made them feel vulnerable returned to the forefront of their minds those memories of rejection those long nights spent brooding telling themselves “if a woman would just get to know me she'd fall in love.” The readers of her article had thought the universal acceptance of their fetishistic gamer culture close at hand but were confronted by a maddening truth—that their ways and customs were for many potential romantic partners still a turn-off.
Alyssa called Jon through whom all gamerdom vicariously sat across from her a “champion of dweebs.” Her laugh could be heard echoing across the internet and the silhouette of her chortling dismissive mouth was like a Bat Signal for every humiliated and fearful geek to whom the marginalization of his identity was an affront. In that instant gamers felt so much pride and so much fear that they became not the evolved renaissance men of gaming to which Day's Manifesto had so cheerfully referred but the knuckle-dragging apes of their ideal.
Sorry to keep you up past your bedtime sweetheart. Let's talk about some other articles that came to light in the wake of Alyssa's—articles very germane to the issue of gamer relationships and the expectations placed on women.
In the closing moments of the #Finkeldate brouhaha Aaron Forsythe director of Magic R&D and all-around smart cookie linked to an old article that his wife Anne had written nearly a decade before. Magic articles written by women are rare and this one offering a unique view into the relationship obstacles that are bound to appear when dating a player is a pearl beyond price. In reading it I was struck by how much sacrifice was asked of Anne.
Some quotes from the article are telling.
“Magic: The Gathering is a common source of tension in many relationships. I met a player at Worlds in Belgium this past summer who confessed that he divorced his first wife (and the mother of his child) over this game due to her lack of understanding.”
Her lack of understanding. Obviously right?
“I have reached the point where all of you Magic players send me your resumes and lists of things you do besides play Magic or where all of the female Magic players illustrate how insanely busy they are and still manage to play this game and be happy with their men. But I could not stomach the thought of spending my free time learning a 'game' that was more difficult to me than Economics of Corporation Finance. By nature I am not a gamer.”
Women don't want to get into a relationship where they're playing second fiddle to an obsession. They shouldn't be required to and shouldn't be made to feel guilty for it either. Just because Magic has created value for you doesn't mean that it will create value in your relationship. Women are allowed to make these decisions for themselves.
“It took Aaron several minutes to look up from his game recognize that I was even there and to then give me a short and not-so-sweet brush off. After several weeks of this I just stopped stopping by."
Every woman who has ever dated a gamer has some version of this story. Many waste months or years of their lives reliving this same scenario time and again. Magic players because of the value they feel Magic creates for them feel entitled to play. Especially when they fancy themselves a career gamer they don't see how it could possibly be wrong.
The article then goes on to talk about how things came to a head—the relationship deteriorated because of a divergence of interests and time spent apart—and eventual reconciliation. During the low times you can get a sense of how desperately Anne wants to be with Aaron and how much of a hardship it must be to be apart from him or the second thing on his mind after Magic. “Aaron wanted me waiting in the wings for him to finish playing” she said and she was unwilling to accept it.
There is a happy ending to this story as Anne and Aaron have many children and Aaron has a fine career in the gaming industry one that wouldn't have been available to him without a large amount of Magic play. It is not fair to ask every woman to take that chance though. For each Aaron Forsythe and Jon Finkel there are thousands of guys tossing and turning in their soggy underdrawers dreaming of beating Team SoloMid in the finals of a LoL tournament. Guys who will ignore their significant others unto complete emotional suffering as they rot in their basements. Guys who will burn crucial family funds to furnish their decks with four copies of WotC's latest gilded embuggerance.
Let's look back again at Alyssa's article and that series of statements she made for which she was harshly criticized as “shallow.”
“Did he still play? 'Yes.' Strike one. How often? 'I'm preparing for a tournament this weekend.' Strike two. Who did he hang out with? 'I've met all my best friends through Magic.' Strike three.”
It was Anne Forsythe's article that really crystallized in my mind the truth that these questions and the conclusions Alyssa drew from them are totally legitimate and within her rights. More than that they don't represent shallowness but a preemptive strike against being treated like a mere accessory. A gamer might promise to treat his partner better than “some alpha male” but what he really wants is a partner who will pop out of a Pokball when A WILD LONELINESS APPEARS use the FORNICATION ability and then retreat mutely back into his collection dormant until needed again.
Are you hearing me kiddo? Listen to your old dad. Eventually you might meet some boy who plays Magic. If you choose not to begin a relationship with him because he's too deep into the game and all his friends play too that doesn't mean that anything is wrong with you. You are not shallow or judgmental; you are not necessarily passing up “a great guy.” You don't have to play second fiddle to a game and you don't have to accept his guilt-tripping and the cruelty of his friends all of whom play all of whom resent you for the loss of their raiding buddy or playtest partner. You don't have to accept his culture and that culture's ignorance to your needs nor do you have to subject yourself to their biases.
If someone dares call you shallow for defending your own happiness that way I want you to draw yourself up to your full 5'2” inches in height (I'm sorry that your mother and I are both short it couldn't be helped) and tell that person to jump in a lake.
That's a good girl.
Anyway I had little doubt that most Magic players would consider Anne's article “inspirational” and applaud her for compromising and ensuring a happily-ever-after but I couldn't be sure of their true feelings because the forums had been lost to time.
Enter Todd Anderson.
When I had last heard from Todd he was proving you don't have to work security at a Japanese hotel to get into a scuffle with GerryT. With this article he threw his hat back into the “raw slice of life” ring that had garnered him heavy response before. After reading it I knew I'd have to write something not just because of the inexplicable content but because of the predictable reaction. It was either that or explode.
“I'm sure he's just going to get a lot of support from teenage buffoons yelling 'Way to live the dream!'” I said to myself and I wasn't disappointed. Some people objected but nobody mentioned what I considered to be the worst problem with the piece—that it transitioned directly from his wife's tearful breakdown and apology into Todd waking up in an idyllic land of orgiastic gaming happiness unburdened by filial encumbrances.
Here's the Cliff Notes version of the article:
The only line of demarcation between his wife admitting all wrongdoing and Todd having “the happiest day of his life” was an ellipsis.
I'd rather tell you that Todd launched into an explanation of their ensuing conversation and compromise or that Todd consoled her and told her that it wasn't her fault at all but that he wanted to find a way for both of them to be happy or that Todd knelt beside her and kissed her softly and made everything better or that Todd shook his head and said “no don't be ridiculous—you can't blame yourself.” But according to his account he didn't. He figured it was fine as is and gave his pen the signal to wrap things up hitting 2500 words almost exactly.
This next section is mean. It's about a boy who really disliked a piece of writing.
I hated the article.
I hated the decision the author made to paint himself in a negative light and then not pay off on it.
I hated the unseemliness of publishing such a one-sided treatment of a tense marital issue.
I hated the presumption to an italicized fancy-schmancy narrative form in light of the botched execution.
I hated the comically abrupt ending and lack of further discussion about what had just transpired.
I hated the implied “Forget that Alyssa here's what a woman should do” message in publishing it so soon after #Finkeldate.
I hated Todd's implied satisfaction with his wife's self-blame which he didn't bother to respond to or correct in the article.
I hated the sinister implication that “the gift of happiness” consists of a woman absolving a man of all blame and taking it all upon herself.
I hated the buffoons in the comments creaming themselves and asking Todd when he's getting his book deal.
I hated the lack of awareness of any of these problems on the part of both the author and a huge percentage of the commenters.
I especially hated the implied insult to the readership that this was something they'd find inspirational.
I wanted to scream out to everyone on StarCityGames.com:
Take a look at this. THIS is what a male gaming writer believes will resonate with OUR community. Todd feels comfortable publishing this a parable in which “Wife the Redeemer” takes away the expectations of the world even as she drives the nails into her own palms. He thinks that you the people who play Magic: The Gathering will not see anything sinister here. A woman expected things of him; he was miserable. Now she expects nothing and he is happy. He believes you will relate to this that you hope for wives and girlfriends who will make similar sacrifices and that you'd be happy that such things be expected of your daughters from the grinders they'll no doubt marry.
The above theoretical scream doesn't even begin to address the effect the article might have on female readers. I initially hid the article's existence from your mother knowing it would infuriate and depress her.
I'll tell you what pumpkin—if I had written it you'd be receiving this letter from the pearly gates because your mother would have killed me in my sleep immediately upon publication. The first night. I would have woken up to the sting of a hypodermic needle found myself sluggish and then she would have hobbled me like in Stephen King's Misery. She would have jammed the barrel of a revolver where the sun don't shine and pulled the trigger until it went click. (I'm sorry if that's too much information for you.)
Really I can't imagine any woman reading this article and being comfortable with what's in it. I can't imagine Todd's wife read it prior to publication. He must have written it in secret strapped the manuscript to the back of a ninja and had it transported to SCG headquarters on a moonless night.
The unreal part is that I know Todd meant it to be an inspirational story and had no bad intentions at all. He didn't write the article aiming for any anti-woman bias or message. He was just pounding out a cathartic slice of Todd Anderson Life for his loyal readers. It's because of male privilege and an absence of female perspective in gaming that Todd could tell his story the way he told it focusing on the things he did.
Meanwhile just a stone's throw away in another circle of the internet the same readership was tearing down a woman because she didn't want to give a Magic player a chance.
To all my gamer pals who were reading along with this letter:
There's a true civil rights issue right in front of us waiting to be addressed. It is parallel to other worthwhile causes that many of us already accept and cherish such as LGBT rights and it affects many people we love. This isn't some long-ago civil rights movement in a moldering textbook—it's happening in the gaming community right now. I know you're a gamer you're an angle-shooter you voided a black pool of nihilism down your own unsteady leg at age 16 and you've been floundering in it ever since. Well here's a cause that doesn't require you to attend any rallies or put up any posters. It's more ubiquitous than politics ethnicities or economics and it reaches right to your computer screen. You can contribute to this cause simply by tempering your own words and behavior and thinking twice about the language you use on message boards the products and depictions you support and the jokes you tell.
Resist the belief that you know everything about the issue already. Feminism is an actual field of study. As with any field of study it should be entered with an absence of preconceptions. If a woman has strong feelings about women's issues it doesn't mean she spends all of her time sharpening her castration tools. Talk to women about what's important to them. As you learn more you'll understand more in the same way that a budding engineer might gradually grow to understand a complex blueprint. If your first instinct when you hear the word “feminist” is to say “those man-haters want equality but they still want me to pay for everything hurf durf!” then you currently have as accurate an understanding of feminism as a confectioner would have of a Titan II missile schematic. You know those congressmen who say that Grand Theft Auto IV is a “crime simulator” that is “training new felons?” That's you and feminism.
I know you can do better.
The response to Alyssa Bereznak even as a show of solidarity behind one of Magic's biggest names was embarrassing. We looked like a bunch of jackasses. The quick jabs were crude and malicious and the longer responses were all carbon copies of the same whiny “shame on you give geeks a chance you might enjoy Mage Knight!” mantra. Nobody seemed to gain any additional perspective as time passed either with late-to-the-party buffoons gleefully diving in for b-word number 43293.
I kinda sorta forgive you the same way I kinda sorta forgive myself for those stupid articles in 2002. Whether you sent some nasty tweets vocally dismissed Alyssa outright as a shallow waste of space or are helpless with incredulity right now as you read a faux letter that you believe to be utter tripe I know that it all feels very justified and comfortable to you. For some of you it may take a woman's voice for progress to occur perhaps even a succession of them over a period of years. I have faith in you even if you're right now feeling angry at me and mentally reserving the right to flame “bitchy” articles written by “bitches.”
Finally to the young girl I've seen only in my imagination my someday daughter:
I hope that by the time you grow up things will have changed.
If they haven't and you find yourself being treated poorly marginalized objectified and idealized infuriated ignored shoved aside held to a double standard emotionally blackmailed taunted and insulted overlooked and under-appreciated your wishes dismissed your gender reduced to a vulgarity slut-shamed and resented I hope you will still keep your head high and pursue your dreams.
This has been my contribution to a better gaming culture for you and for every other woman. If you want to do what Daddy does you shouldn't have to play with such mean boys.
@Geordie_Tait on Twitter
Title art by Justin Treadway.