Friday, October 17, 2014

Ethical Approches #Gamergate Could Take But Doesn't

The movement #Gamergate is problematic on several levels. One, it's based on misogyny and rooted in Privilege. Two, some of its points don't hold water. But there are people with good intentions involved in the movement, and this blog post is addressed to them.

If you want to actually address journalistic ethics in the video game industry and do not condone the harassment of women, here are some solutions that #Gamergate could take, not just to win public approval, but because it's right.

1. Do Not Read the Publications You Don't Like

If this was really about journalistic integrity, you, as a consumer, have every right to boycott a product. In this case, it's the magazines. You can even write to their sponsors, like what happened between Intel and Gamasutra.

End of story. That's all you need to do. No need to harass people, no need to Doxx women, no need to write scathing letters to people not involved with the magazines you don't like.

Don't make it about Zoe Quinn, because she's not a journalist. Don't make it about Anita Sarkeesian, because she's not a journalist. Don't make it about Brianna Wu, because she's not a journalist. If you want to be taken seriously about journalism ethics, talk about journalism ethics.

Otherwise, we'll call bullshit on you.

2. Start Your Own Publication

No one is censoring you. If you have ideas or messages or propaganda other publications don't want to cover, create your own.

That's what GoodGamers.Us did.

Do I find their rhetoric problematic? Yes. They claim to be Ad-free but make an exception for Google AdSense (what happens when Google makes games?). They don't pay their contributors.

But that's within their right, and currently, the most reasonable response from #Gamergate I've seen.

3. Codify Your Stance

List down what you stand for, in concrete terms. "Corruption in Games Journalism" might be a competent tagline, but it's useless unless you cite specific points or examples. In what way is there corruption in games journalism? For example:
  • Game reviewers should not review games they paid via Kickstarter.
That's a concrete stance on the issue. Critics from both sides can discuss this issue. I can say, for example, that it is not a Conflict of Interest to review a game you paid for, regardless of whether it was bought via Steam, Kickstarter, or at a store. But via this way, concrete points can be discussed and debated, and people can either agree or disagree on the specifics.

Part of the reason #Gamergate is demonized is because it has an abstract cause, and people can only judge the results, which is the harassment and doxxing of various women in the industry.

Codify your position, and then we can gauge you on how close or far off the reality is from that goal or intent.

4. Accountability in Membership or Leadership

Currently, #Gamergate has no accountability. What they have is a membership of convenience: if someone claims they are pro-#Gamergate, they are part of the membership; if someone claims they are pro-#Gamergate and do something that tarnishes the image of the movement, they are disavowed by some members. This is a membership of convenience, in which no member of the movement can do anything wrong, or when they do, they are immediately expelled, depending on who you are talking to.

What they need is one of two things. One is a census (and I don't mean real names). They have a list of their members. So whenever someone outside of that list does something horrible in the name of #Gamergate, it is transparent that they are not really part of #Gamergate. But if you do not have such a list, you cannot claim that 99% of your movement are good people and only 1% is bad, because you don't have the numbers to back that up. Similarly, you can't say that person is not part of your movement despite them claiming to be part of it, because you have no concrete membership criteria; you have to take the good with the bad.

In Ferguson for example, it's clear who the citizens of Ferguson are, and who aren't. And when someone in Ferguson causes or is subject to conflict, there is accountability in that community; they don't say he or she is not part of Ferguson. That person is their responsibility and they act accordingly.

But because outing is a real threat, a census is not necessarily a practical solution in this case. Instead, a figurehead or leader should represent #Gamergate, someone who can speak for them, and someone who can't be disavowed in case they say or do something wrong. Even groups like Al Qaeda have leaders and spokepersons, to either claim credit or disavow the actions of other people claiming to be part of their membership. But without a leader, claiming that someone is not part of #Gamergate is as valid as a harasser claiming to be part of #Gamergate.

This is perfectly valid. This is why #Gamergate is a movement associated with harassment and threats.

Claiming that "they're not part of #Gamergate" is hollow because the organization has no sense of accountability. In fact, this only creates an atmosphere ripe for harassment, because the harassers are part of a mob, as opposed to individuals, and can thus conduct more harassment because the blame will be shouldered by the community as opposed to the individual.

5. Change the Hashtag

#Gamergate has a lot of baggage that goes with it, including harassment and misogyny. If you really wanted to discuss journalism ethics and make it a safe space, start a new hashtag.

Would it ensure the harassers won't go with you to the new hashtag? No. But they will definitely stay with #Gamergate.

But I can understand why people don't want to change the hashtag. They attach pride and identity to the hashtag. Or perhaps they think others won't follow them to the new hashtag.

But what are you more concerned about? Actual ethics and the protection of men and women in the Internet, or the numbers a hashtag has garnered so far?

6. The Privilege of Walking Away

If you walk away now, nothing will happen. Companies making AAA games will continue to make AAA games. You will still be able to play games. That's Privilege.

You know who can't walk away? The people being harassed, especially the public figures in the limelight.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#Gamergate Has Everything To Do With Gender

There's a lot of sexism in the industry, whether we're talking about fandom, gaming, etc.

What a lot of people don't realize is how sexism is systemic and often unconscious. Just take a look at #Gamergate and its proponents immediately shout that they're against "corruption in games journalism" (which is about as concrete as the "War on Terror") when their entire movement has revolved around perpetuating sexism and harassing women and allies.

A lot of people, understandably so, are tired of having the 101 talk. That's because doing so is exhausting, and they're not here to teach you: they expect people to be intelligent and do their own research.

But proponents of #Gamergate claim that they're not misogynists, when that's precisely the case. Let me break it down for you.

I.  The Initial Focus was on Zoe Quinn

Here is GamerGate's Know Your Meme page. You don't get more pro-#GamerGate than that. It starts out with Zoe Quinn, a female developer. Now here are the accusations:

1. She slept with journalist Nathan Grayson to gain favorable reviews for her game Depression Quest. Let's unpack that assumption.
  • First, this is what Joanna Russ (author of How to Suppress Women's Writing) describes as "The Double Standard of Content". To quote from Russ's book: "Motives for the dismissal differ: habit, laziness, reliance on history or criticism that is already corrupt, ignorance (the most excusable of all, surely), the desire not to disturb the comfort based on that ignorance (much less excusable), the dim (or not-so-dim) perception that one's self-esteem or sex-based interests are at stake, the desire to stay within an all-male, all-white club that is, whatever its drawbacks, familiar and comfortable, and sometimes the clear perception that letting outsiders into the club, economically or otherwise, will distrub the structure of quid pro quo that keeps the club going." Many of this will apply to Depression Quest, but let me put it in Lay Man's terms: Zoe Quinn, a female developer, made a game, and because female developers could not possibly make a good game, she slept with a man to get a good review. That is what #Gamergate is stating, whether implicitly or explicitly.
  • Second, such a review did not exist. But it is easier for a lot of gamers to believe it so.
  • Hypothetically speaking, let's assume that Quinn did, in fact, bribe Grayson to gain a favorable review. Gamers should have focused on Grayson, not Quinn. (They would only do so significantly later, nor did this lessen the harassment on Quinn.) If the Koch brothers bribes George W. Bush to gain a favor from the government, the burden is on Bush, not the Koch brothers. But the focus on Quinn (as the subsequent points show) betrays that this is really about women in the field instead of actual ethics in journalism.

2. That journalists were contributing to Quinn's Patreon account.
  • This is what Russ would consider a "Prohibition", which prevents women from committing art. To quote: "For example, poverty and lack of leisure are powerful deterrents to art: most nineteenth century British factory workers, enduring a fourteen-hour day, were unlikely to spend a lifetime in rigorously perfecting the sonnet." Simply put, these gamers do not want Quinn to earn a living, so she can create more games.
  • Second, Patreon is not GoFundMe. In order to get be supported at Patreon, you need to deliver a product. In that sense, it is irrelevant if journalists are contributing to a developer's Patreon account or not; they are consumers, and free to critique or review those products.
3. Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez had relationships with other game developers so she must be biased.
  • In many ways, this is a double standard. Men in other industries have friendships and relationships with people they write about or whose works they review. It's like claiming that the late film critic Roger Ebert never should have met or befriended the people he wrote about. Moreover, the focus on Hernandez (as opposed to every other male game journalist and their web of friendships and social contacts), betrays this conscious--or unconscious--sexism.
4. Robin Arnot, the chair for Night Games at Indiecade, had an affair with Quinn, which was how she received her award.
  • See #1.
  • That accusation also dismisses the integrity and decision of the rest of the jury.
II. Denial and Victim Blaming When it Comes to Harassment

During #Gamergate, several people were harassed, including the following:
1. The initial responses was to either deny the event, that they staged it, or that they deserved it. This is what's called Blaming the Victim.

2. Notice that one of the people that was harassed was Phil Fish, a male developer. There is a different form of harassment applied to him. Whereas with female developers it is enough to threaten them, show them dick pics, mail death threats, or call their house, because Fish is a male developer, a different method used to scare him: divulging his financial information. The discrepancy in tactics used shows the inequality between men and women in the industry, in the same way that a black man carrying a toy sword can get shot in America, while a drunk white man goes home safe (or another extreme, a white man can shoot another person in the face and have the injured party apologize).

3. Some proponents of #Gamergate have claimed that they get harassed too. One wrong does not eliminate another wrong, nor is that a valid excuse to dismiss the harassment others have received. (The tragedy is that when publications like Polygon writes articles like harassment in video games, the response by #Gamergate is that such articles are corrupted and biased!)

III. Using #NotYourShield as a Shield Against Criticism

#NotYourShield is simple: whenever critics of #Gamergate claim that #Gamergate is misogynistic, they use the "But my female friend said" or "I have a black friend so I can't be racist" card.

It is also a failure of proponents of #Gamergate how dialogue and Feminism works. First, Feminism represents several things, and there is room for debate. That is why there were arguments between the First Wave Feminists and the Second Wave, the Second Wave and the Third Wave, etc. There will be various interpretations of Feminism and it continues to evolve. For example:

Paste Magazine's review of Bayonetta 2.
There is nuance to that discussion and will boil down to the articulation of their respective points. (And the difference is that these critics can disagree without threatening each other with harassment or violence.)

There is this video for example from someone who describes themselves as a Feminist. This doesn't give proponents of #Gamergate a free pass when it comes to accusations of misogyny and sexism though.

IV. The Invisibility of Women and Unconscious Bias

First off, you know someone who talks about ethics in games journalism? Maddy Myers. How come you haven't heard of her? Maybe because she's not one of the Powerful Games Journalists [that are] Men?

Or look at Jenn Frank, whose disclosure that she bought Quinn's work previously and briefly met Sarkeesian was so ridiculous a disclosure that The Guardian's editorial did not deem it fit to publish the disclosure originally. Because it's ridiculous (e.g. there is no conflict of interest). But it is only in the #Gamergate community that such standards are enforced.

A lot of gamers will probably have heard of TotalBiscuit, currently one of the top Steam Curators. Kudos to him for thinking on the ethical conflicts of using his position to recommend a game from a paid sponsor. It's too bad that when it comes to the harassment of women in the industry, his explicit support of #Gamergate is implicitly condoning all the bad things associated with the movement. Those are his priorities.

That's not to say all of this is conscious. Take a look at Escapist Magazine, which ran two articles on game developers and how they perceived #Gamergate:

If I have to spell it out to you, Women are described as Female Game Developers. The men, however, are just Game Developers.
Later, when it's revealed that one of the male developers interviewed harassed Zoe Quinn, a female game developer, here was their response:
But when male journalists start complaining...

You end up with this message:

Because in the gaming industry, when a woman claims that they're being harassed, their word isn't good enough. How many proponents of #Gamergate will deny this happened?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview: Cypher on #INeedDiverseGames

Hi. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what is #INeedDiverseGames?

It was a wee hashtag that was born out of frustration with the state of the industry, the lack of diversity I saw. Now it's become a point for people to express why then need diverse games, not just for themselves but for others to enjoy the art of gaming.

How did it start?

This tweet:

Despite what people might think, the hashtag was not in reaction to, or in anyway influenced by GG. They really weren't on my radar until the renewed coverage lately.

What are your goals, whether short-term or long-term?

The short term goal is to get people on board with the idea that diversity in games is a good thing, that it does not hurt anyone to give people more options rather than retreading the same stories, the same plots in games. For people to realize it's about inclusion, not exclusion.

Long term goals is to make sure it doesn't become a flash in the pan, hot topic of the day then fizzle out because something else is going on in the gaming world. Be that making it into a full time project, asking the game dev community for help in keeping it alive and thriving or the masses that clearly want more diversity based on the tweets that have been flying fast and furious.

What's the reaction been so far?

For the most part, incredibly positive. There have been attempts by GG'rs to hijack the hashtag, claim that if you support #INeedDiverseGames, then you support GG. That's so far from the truth, I don't even have words for it.

But on a more positive note, the outpouring of support and great response has been amazing. For a hashtag that was thought up on the fly while I was angry about gaming, it's gotten a great response. Kudos to those folks who have actively taken on those who seem to have a problem with wanting more diversity in gaming.

What have been the challenges?

Mostly, making sure that this doesn't overwhelm me (or the awesome dragonreine who has been instrumental in helping me run the tumblr, twitter, etc.) and to not let it fizzle out. Gaming is important to me, it's been part of my life for twenty years and because of my love of gaming, the challenge we all have is to make diversity more than a buzzword, to make it the norm rather than the exception. To show that there is room at the table for everyone.

What games do you like to play? Which games are doing it right?

I'm more of an action and RPG fan. Final Fantasy VII - XIII, Suikoden, Shenmue, Dragon Age, Dragon Age II and the Mass Effect Series. I also grew up in arcades, I love, love, love a good fighting game. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown, so many I could name but except for FPS (I get motion sickness from them), I'm pretty much an all types of games gal.

As for games doing it right, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age Origins & II, Gone Home, Child of Light, Papa & Yo, Remember Me... are all examples of giving you more diverse options, either through customization of your character, or giving you the option to play as a woman, a woman of color, a child, a young adult woman. There's also been a lot of suggestions from followers of the tumblr and via twitter.

How can we help?

Tweet, write up posts, review games and spread the word about titles you find. Not everyone has played every single game, and a lot of times you might have played a game that others may not know about.

If you can back game projects, or signal boost if contributing money is an issue. Tweet with the hashtag, Support indie game devs, support those with ideas if they tell you they want to do X, don't let the first thing that come out of your mouth be don't do it, it won't sell, no one cares. If that's the default response to different ideas, nothing will change.

Also be able to criticize games and gaming culture. Accept that not everything is great and that for the medium to grow, it must be critiqued and analyzed so people can find the flaws, fill them in and smooth them out.

Where can people find more about #INeedDiverseGames?

Here’s a handy link to the About page.

You can also find us at:

Facebook / Twitter / Google +

We’re taking submissions and are open to questions via the askbox or email

Lastly, there’s now a spreadshirt store up, and a full explanation up here.

Cypher has been an avid gamer for twenty years, and is invested in making sure that people see having more diversity in games is not a zero sum game, or about exclusion, in fact she wants more, better games for everyone.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Understanding #Gamergate and Why it's Problematic

For more than a month now, one of the biggest controversies in the video game industry is #Gamergate. Each side will have their own narrative. Here's the one from the pro-#Gamergate side for example:

However, if you parse the details of what #Gamergate stands for, it becomes problematic on several levels.

Both sides agree that #Gamergate started when independent game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest, what some gamers consider a "non-game" because, among other things, it was an interactive fiction game) was accused of sleeping with a journalist to gain favorable reviews on gaming website Kotaku. This is detailed in the website of Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. (Vice has an interview with him.) Never mind the fact that such a review did not exist. Or that Gjoni coached members of 4chan on how Quinn (and the media) would react.

Adam Baldwin (popularly known for playing Jayne in Firefly) was initially the face of #Gamergate, as he was one of the first to use the hashtag.
Several personalities would come to Quinn's defense, including controversial game developer Phil Fish (creator of Fez, the subject of which was tackled in Indie Game: The Movie), as well as several simultaneous articles from various gaming media outlets that "gamers were dead":
So cue the current uproar.

The Background

As a background, this isn't a development that happened overnight. Neither pro-#Gamergate or anti-#Gamergate woke up one day in August and decided to be angry. This was a conversation with the gaming industry that has been happening slowly.

For the past few years, the gaming media has pointed out various injustices in the gaming industry, such as the harassment of women in the industry. This has been the bias of various media outlets as part of, well, making the gaming industry a more welcoming place for people outside of the status quo. Does the video game industry have problems?

Here are some examples:
Currently, some gamers are infuriated with this. For some, it's because they think this has no basis in reality. (Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not happening to others.) Some are thinking that if this continues, someone will take their games away. (The critics aren't asking to take away your games; they're criticism.) And some simply play defensive and can't take any form of criticism when it comes to their favorite media. (They should read "How to be a fan of problematic things".)

So here we are, #Gamergate.

The #Gamergate Propaganda

The problem with harassers in the gaming community is that they have no moral cause (beyond simply being personally offended) before #Gamergate. By framing their agenda in what seems a righteous cause, they draw upon support from various people (some with legitimate grievances towards the gaming industry, some opportunists, and others that are simply ignorant).

But what exactly does #Gamergate profess to stand for? Corruption in video game journalism.

In WhatCulture's "10 Things You Need To Know About The #GamerGate Scandal", here's the things they bring up (those in bold italics are my replies):
  1. It’s Not About Misogyny. Yes, it just so happens that many of the targets happen to be women. Or as some pro-#Gamergate proponents have framed it:
  2. Everybody Receives Death Threats. Which is why #Gamergate condones victim blaming or suggest harassment is a false flag?
  3. It’s Not Just Straight White Males Who Are In Favour. And some women don't identify as Feminists. Or that some People of Color have racists views.
  4. Not All Gamers Send Death Threats And Harass People. Cue #notallmen.
  5. Corruption In Video Game Journalism Is A Real Issue. Yes, it is. Leigh Alexander has a list of genuine ethical concerns. But blaming indie developers is like saying public school teachers should receive less funding to solve the US budget. Or actually going after actual controversial issues like Shadows Over Mordor.
  6. It’s About Separating The Journalist From The Blogger. Or: I don't understand media bias and how how actual journalism works, so I will claim people whose views I don't agree with aren't being objective. And let me insult bloggers while I'm at it.
  7. Men Don’t Want To Keep Gaming A “Boy’s Club”. They have a funny way of showing that.
  8. #DescribeAGamerIn4Words Is A Smear Campaign. And endemic of the perception gaming has to the general community, and why #7 keeps on happening.
  9. It’s About Negating Censorship. Governments censor work. Individuals or companies don't.
  10. It’s About The Videogames. Cue excuses why they don't like games like Depression Quest or Gone Home, so if somebody likes games they don't, it must be corruption.
So you can see some of the inherent problems when discussing #Gamergate, whether its proponents approach it with intentional or unintentional ignorance.

In my interaction with the hashtag, other points brought as evidence of corruption in games journalism include:
  • Conflict of interest in reviewing video games where the author backed it via Kickstarter, Patron, or some similar crowd-funded service. That's not conflict of interest. That's like saying it's a conflict of interest to review a game I bought. You are not a shareholder when you fund a game via crowdfunding; you're a consumer.
  • Game journalists are too close to game developers. First off, game journalists ARE close to game developers. That's how they obtain the news and how stories/leaks happen. Second, when  journalists aren't close to game developers, as is the case in this Brad Wardell interview, you're still angry at them.
  • The game journalists have a secret mailing list. Journalists are allowed to converse with each other, just like professionals in other industries.
There's a list of other grievances at Little Tiny Frogs.

L. Rhodes attempts to converse with proponents of #Gamergate and understand their points. Here are Rhodes's observations:
"At the same time, many of you told me that you wanted to see less social criticism in those reviews. If you really think that through, you’ll see that you can’t have it both ways. There’s a deep contradiction imbedded in the notion that, on the one hand, writers shouldn’t be beholden to developers when they review a game, and that, on the other hand, they should avoid criticisms they feel are relevant. Most game publishers don’t want to be criticized for the social prejudices they may have worked into their games. As such, the simple fact that a writer or editor would be willing to publish a social criticism ought to be treated as evidence that the venue is maintaining some independence from the industry on which it reports. Even when it doesn’t interest you, even when you disagree with what’s been said— even if, as some of you expressed, you feel personally affronted on the game’s behalf—you ought to welcome such criticism as a check on the sort of cozy developer/press relationship you’ve called corrupt."

Who Is Involved or Supports #Gamergate?

As previously stated, there are a lot of personalities involved in #Gamergate. Some believe the propaganda, some have sincere intentions, and some that view this as an operation and propaganda. Here are some who publicly support #Gamergate.
The Results of #Gamergate so far:

The harassment and doxxing of various people (whether pro- or anti-#Gamergate) including (but not limited to:
Various hashtags like:
  • #Notyourshield, where various people (including LGBT and people of color) support #Gamergate and tell video game journalists not to represent them in their criticisms.
  • #Gameethics, which discussed problems in the video game industry--usually from AAA companies--but is constantly accused of derailment by #Gamergate supporters.
  • #INeedDiverseGames, which states reasons for having diverse games, only to be criticized by #Gamergate supporters as derailment. (Edit: From the comments: "I was not thinking about GamerGate when I created the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag. Do not give them credit, or give the impression they were even on my mind when I created it. - Cypher")
A cancelled Indiegogo campaign, Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption. It was not initially disclosed that the campaigner was intending to hire their spouse as the lawyer in question., a no-ads (except Google AdSense) gaming review site that claims to be mostly free of political ideologies and does not pay its staff.

Christina Hoff Sommers, host of Factual Feminist, makes a video that video games are not sexist.

Intel pulling out its ads from game development site Gamasutra and subsequently apologizes (but does not reinstate) on a late Friday afternoon.

Other Comments:

The Escapist has an article featuring several anonymous female game developers sharing their views on #Gamergate.

Leigh Alexander has a list of ethical concerns in video games.

The prevalence of impersonation and conspiracy theories to discredit women in the game industry.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Essay: Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines

First off, before I start, I wanted to say I didn't want to write this blog entry. Not because it needs to be said, not because it's another controversy in the speculative fiction field, and not because I'm probably the least qualified person to talk about it, but rather because it's another case of a privileged White Anglo-Saxon Male who posts something problematic on the Internet, and marginalized groups get to respond.

So instead of starting off with what's wrong, let me begin with what's right. When talking about diverse anthologies and submission guidelines, here are some books that fit the bill:

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox & Daniel Jose Older | Submission Guidelines
Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall | Submission Guidelines

THE SEA IS OURS: TALES OF STEAMPUNK SOUTHEAST ASIA edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng Submission Guidelines

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios | Submission Guidelines (disclosure: I work for Twelfth Planet Press)

With that aside, I want to point out two Guest of Honor speeches from the recently-concluded Wiscon 38. One from Hiromi Goto and another from N.K. Jemisin. Here's an excerpt:

"How important, then, that published stories come from diverse sources; from the voices, experiences, subjectivities and realities of many rather than from the imagination of dominant white culture. For even as we’ve been enriched and enlightened by tales from Western tradition, stories are also carriers and vectors for ideologies. And the white literary tradition has a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming." - Hiromi Goto
"We’ve seen that bigotry directed not just toward black authors but authors of all races other than white; not just along the racial continuum but the axes of gender, sexual orientation, nationality, class, and so on. We’ve seen it aimed by publishers and book buyers and reviewers and con organizers toward readers, in the form of every whitewashed book cover, every “those people don’t matter” statement, and every all-white, mostly-male BookCon presenters’ slate." - N.K. Jemisin
I want to home in on a specific passage from Jemisin's speech:
"A SFWA affiliate member posted a call for civility on his website; in the process he called me “an Omarosa” and a “drama queen”, but of course he didn’t mean those in a racialized or gendered way... And let me emphasize that I am by no means the only woman or person of color who’s been targeted by threats, slurs, and the intentional effort to create a hostile environment in our most public spaces. People notice what happens to me because for better or worse I’ve achieved a high-enough profile to make the attacks more visible. But I suspect every person in this room who isn’t a straight white male has been on the receiving end of something like this — aggressions micro and macro. Concerted campaigns of “you don’t belong here”."
On the very same day Jemisin made her speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up (you can find the screenshot from The Radish of the edited submission guidelines as of 2014/05/27), from the same editor who called Jemisin an "Omarosa" and "drama queen" (the original post has been deleted as of 2014/05/28).

Now there are two points I want to tackle: the submission guidelines itself, for the Formalists out there, and the editor. Why does the latter matter? Because as someone whose culture has been marginalized, to quote Hiromi Goto, I don't want to be part of "a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming." And when you're a writer, your immediate gatekeeper is your editor. You want your editor to be someone informed, someone you can trust. Imagine, for example, if the editor of an LGBT anthology was Orson Scott Card. Wouldn't you, either as a writer or a reader, find that problematic?

Also, to clarify, I don't think there will be a "perfect" editor or anthology. There will always be something that people will complain about, or find problematic. But on the other, that's no excuse for cultural appropriation (especially from people of privilege), and it's easy to screw things up. Case in point, Wil Wheaton's non-apology when using the term "spirit animals," even when it's explained to him why it's wrong.

I. The Submission Guidelines

What if aliens landed on Earth right next door? How would your neighbors react? What about you? What if they landed all over the world? How would people of different cultures respond? What about Earth explorers encountering aliens on their own planets far from home?
The premise is fine. It sounds generic, but nothing problematic yet.

Submissions outside these dates and parameters will be summarily rejected and cannot be resubmitted. I reserve the right to close submissions at any time if the slush pile is too big and I have what I need. No money is promised or contracts offered until the Kickstarter funds. No simultaneous submissions.

Also, people who are living or have lived in NonWestern cultures, especially the ones they write about, will absolutely have a leg up as authenticity is really important to me.

Here, there is an attempt to reach out to marginalized groups, although this would immediately be contradicted by the editor's succeeding paragraph (see below). Also, it assumes that:

  1. The authors will actually write about the culture they've interacted with ("especially the ones they write about") because there's always a possibility that I, a Filipino, might write about Japan, and what do I really know about Japan?
  2. That the authors will automatically be familiar and understand the culture, because the possibility that they are "cultural tourists" couldn't possibly happen, and
  3. As a reader, the authenticity that I care about is what's written on the page, not the author's biography; a knowledgeable person might not necessarily be able to adeptly convey their experiences for example.
Multi-award winner Mike Resnick will be writing a new Africa story for this, and there will be other headliners with reserved slots, including Kay Kenyon and Jack McDevitt, but I will be looking for 10-15 stories from the open call.

Wait, wait, a privileged Western white writer writing about Africa? This hasn't been done before!

And Mike Resnick has written about Africa before. He must get it right, right?

In many ways, the editor's oversight of this fact is part of a larger, arguably unconscious, racism on his part. Take for example his blog entry titled Broadening The Toolbox Through Cross Cultural Encounters: On Resnick, Africa & Opportunity. Instead of talking about writers from the continent of Africa (and it's a large continent, so there's a large pool of writers like Chinua Achebe, Lauren Beukes, and Joan De La Haye), we get Mike Resnick. Nnedi Okorafor gets mentioned but only as an off-hand comment, rather than the focus of the article.

So when talking about an anthology that's diverse and inclusive, neither Mike Resnick, Kay Kenyon, or Jack McDevitt are what I'd consider the examples you should be touting as a contributors. Because to many, it appears that you are favoring the already privileged writers instead of those marginalized.

I won't even comment that an author that was touted in the original version was eventually rescinded in the edited version, after it was brought up to the said author's attention.

The goal is to have stories by a few known and upcoming Western writers but also include some up and coming foreign natives writing from their own cultural view as well to give exposure to SF from outside the Western world as long as it matches the theme. I will be limiting the number of Western writers included to be sure we get those outside voices.
Words matter. Here, we have a contradictory paragraph. On one hand, it claims that it wants to give "foreign natives" a chance. First off, you don't call writers of other cultures foreign natives. It's foreign to you and they are natives to you (when was the last time people referred to themselves as natives?). It already tips the editor's hand that the book is from a Western paradigm. On the other hand, it's also the Western writers that seem prioritized here. I mean that's why we have guaranteed authors like Mike Resnick, Kay Kenyon, and Jack McDevitt (none of which are, ahem, "foreign natives").

Stories can be Past, Future, Present, on Earth or off, let your imagination run. But I don’t want a bunch of alien POV stories.

I’d like varied POV from different cultures, so I want 1 or 2 from alien POV but not half the anthology or a third. I want some set on Earth and some off. Some could be on starships, too. But I don’t want all. So if you are setting them on Earth and if you are using American POV or Alien POV, please let me know so I can encourage balance.

I would accept a really good story longer than 7 k, but contact me and it will be under much more scrutiny. 3-5k is my sweet spot, honestly. 5-7 is okay but, again, not ideal because I have so many great people wanting in and I’d love to have as many stories, authors and cultures represented as possible. Of course I will take the best stories. If it works out at 12 instead of 20, so be it. But I’m just telling you what I’m shooting for.

This is just horrible writing. This can be summed up "I want X, but not too much of X, or too little of X." That's not to say you won't be making these decisions as an editor, but it's usually made after you've received all the submissions, not before.

I want this to reach a broad audience, including education uses, so if you use foul language, humorous setting is going to be easier sell than serious and if you drop more than two F-bombs in a story, you are lessening your chances. Same goes for “goddammits,” “shit,” “asshole,””mf,” and you get the picture. I am not trying to be a prude or force my beliefs on you. I just want to balance an audience because people need to learn about cultures and perspectives and that has educational value. To quote the description at the top: “we’d like this to be a collection parents and kids can read and discuss to learn and encourage interest in SF and other cultures.”

This means I also don’t want political stories. No bashing other people groups, cultures or belief systems/parties. This is not to be divisive but uniting, because my experience has taught me there are a lot of other viewpoints in the world we Westerners can learn from, but hearing them won’t happen if we turn people away.

First, all stories are political. In fact, the paragraph banning "goddammits," "shit," "asshole," etc. is a political decision. When someone says they're not political, what they really mean is that their politics belongs to the status quo, and they don't want to challenge that. One example is Nintendo's recent statement regarding same-sex marriage in a their video game, Tomodachi Life:

“Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life,”

What they really mean by "no social commentary" is "we are against homosexual partnerships."

Second, we go back to the dominance of the Western paradigm in the anthology. That's why words like "we Westerners" are used. What is the point of soliciting stories from Non-Western writers, if inevitably, their stories will be Westernized to cater to a a perceived Western audience?

I love action but I’d also like a bit of levity so humor is good. I don’t want all humor. And I don’t want all action but I do need some of both. (How’s that for being specific.) That being said, sex and graphic violence also should be kept out.  Pretty obvious. Enough said. Smatterings of foreign words for flavor are fine, but we should be able to interpret it in context. You can play with (translations in parenthesis too) but too much of that just increases word count and makes it harder to read.
Again, more bad writing (I want X, but not too much...). With the bolded part, the editor betrays their lack of understanding of other cultures and the craft of writing.

First, for great writers, foreign words are included in the text not necessarily because they're flavor, but because they're essential to the story. Second, if an author chooses (or does not choose to) translate a word and place it in parenthesis, there's a reason for it, and it's not due to extending the word count. Third, if it's harder to read, that's because the author doesn't condescend to the reader.

As I am expecting an Africa story from Mike Resnick, seek authenticity.  He’s famous for his Africa stories and I have no doubt whatever he does will be brilliant. After all, he’s got Nebula and Hugo nominations and awards for these stories. Which means, if you write Africa, expect to be compared.
First, writers are only as good as the work they submit. No competent editor would blindly accept a story that hasn't been written yet. Because it could be crap, and that's regardless of your politics.

Second, some would argue Resnick's stories are inauthentic. And it doesn't also mean that another writer, say one hailing from South Africa, will write an inferior South African story.

This editor has been to Africa, Mexico and Brazil and studied the cultures, countries and religions extensively, for example, so please research any culture you choose. Do not write what you think they are. Do not write stereotypes. 
Africa is a continent. Mexico and Brazil are countries. To equate the two is an inability to understand their cultural nuance, especially from someone who proclaims they have studied the culture, countries, and religions extensively.

I am inviting a few Western writers whom I know have traveled and have strong cultural knowledge, sensitivity and passion for places they visited.

Translation: because despite my previous claims that this anthology is for writers outside of the Western world, this is really for my Western writer friends (because we don't have enough of those!).

Not every Mexican is the same, for example, but please have it so your Mexicans are real enough my actual Mexican friends would tell me you got it right. (I do have friends around the world who will read for cultural authenticity before I make final selections, so I want authentic.)

Here we have a contradiction. On one hand, the editor is making a claim that Mexicans are diverse. On the other hand, he also wants a Mexican archetype that will ring true to every Mexican (or at least his friends, because his friends represents Mexico). Which is faulty because you can't please everyone in a culture, because that's the definition of diversity. I can write about my own Filipino experience, and it might ring true to some Filipinos, but will sound faulty for others.

Also, it seems the barometer for cultural expertise is "they are my friends from around the world," which honestly isn't very methodical.

Here's a Bingo card from The Angry Black Woman:

What are the odd little cultural quirks people exhibit which would strike outsiders as odd but insiders as perfectly normal? Use those in your story for humor, confusion, etc.
Yes, because we should pander to our Western audience. And not because cultural quirks are essential to the story.

Must be willing to respect the editor’s editing requests. No assholes allowed. Seriously. Also, if you have slandered my name or resent me for not sharing your views, don’t bother. I guarantee I won’t.
To borrow an image from The Radish:

I guess the editor can slander and resent other people, but not the other way around.

II. The Editor

So Thomas Bryan Schmidt claims that "[he] has not said or done anything racist or sexist in his entire life" (source). Despite in the same blog post, he labels N.K. Jemisin as an Omarosa. Or, you know, his history of name calling, whether it's due to a person's gender or race.

Look, full disclosure. I've said lots of racist and sexist things in my life. I've screwed up, horribly. So I wouldn't make any attempt to claim that I'm not racist or sexist. But I'm willing to tackle, to change, and to correct myself. I don't always succeed.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt isn't that person. He has two main problems:

1. He never blames his own writing for conveying the wrong message. For example: "I should apologize to them that THEY misconstrued and misinterpreted my words?" Or statements like this:

Regardless of your politics, that's just a bad policy for someone whose profession is writing and editing. People don't need to know you. They can only read the words you use.

2. When people try to explain, educate, or address his points, he ignores them. If he hasn't heard of you, you get banned. If he has and you're famous, he'll try to placate you.

Disregard, disregard, disregard, ban.

III. My Experience

As far back as 2012, I witnessed an exchange between Bryan Thomas Schmidt and a friend. The former had an ambiguously-worded tweet that could be interpreted as defending Save the Pearls. Bryan then wrote a blog post condemning my friend. I replied, in private and politely, why I thought his blog post was wrong, and informed him that I would be posting a rebuttal on my blog. He then took down the post, called me a bully, and banned/blocked me.

I told this and showed the transcripts to an author/editor friend of mine, and he told me neither he nor his wife would support bullies. So back in 2012, I shut up.

Maybe posting this account makes me a bully. But by not speaking out back then, it's paving the way for injustice. In 2013, Bryan posted about #SFFCivility. In 2014, it's the Submission Guidelines mentioned above. Because I have no doubt, some people will submit.

And it goes beyond those projects.

I love SF Signal. I was a contributor. I stopped contributing after 2012. It's not because Bryan Thomas Schmidt was also a contributor to the site, but that fact wasn't encouraging either. I don't know how the current members of SF Signal feel about him. [2014/05/30 Edit: He was no longer a contributor to SF Signal since the last quarter of 2013.]

Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing produced interesting podcasts before 2012. After that year? I wouldn't know. I stopped listening by then. Bryan Thomas Schmidt was a sponsor of the show, and guested a few times.

#sffwrtcht is also run by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. It's been consistent and a valuable venue for authors or publishers looking for some publicity. Bryan claims that it's inclusive, but how can it be inclusive when the owner calls people names like rotting meat, deletes tweets/comments/posts, and immediately bans people unless they're famous? So yeah, it's not a venue for me. [2014/05/30 Edit: The hashtag was apparently appropriated by Bryan from a female creative and was never acknowledged.]

I'll just be here, with the rest of #TeamRottenMeat.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Comic Reviews: And Comics by Mr. and Mrs. Yumul, Dirty Laundry 2 and Other Stories by danielle riña, Minkowski Space Opera Chapter One by Aaron Felizmenio

And Comics by Mr. and Mrs. Yumul

Mr. Yumul has gorgeous stylized art; Mrs. Yumul has powerful prose. Unfortunately, comics is about the synthesis between the two, and most of And Comics simply lack synergy. The end of the comic explains the rationale for this--Mrs. Yumul crafting the narrative after Mr. Yumul had drawn the panels--and while it's an interesting creative exercise, it can be a frustrating reading experience for the discerning reader. Occasionally, you end up with profound gems like "The Box" which resonate even once you've put down the comic, but there are a lot more misses than hits. Which is a shame because And Comics is ripe with potential, and if the two creators had coordinated, they could have produced memorable comics.

Dirty Laundry 2 and Other Stories by danielle riña

Dirty Laundry 2 and Other Stories is one of those comics that really comes together: rough stylized art that's appropriate to the creator's narrative, a personal story that's compelling, and a tight theme. Dirty Laundry 2 does feel like danielle riña's dirty laundry, whether on the literal or metaphorical level, and it's peppered with telling details and intimate scenes that tug at your emotions. The only complaint I have is how the lettering could use some improvement, although the fact that it's handwritten also adds to the charm.

Minkowski Space Opera Chapter One by Aaron Felizmenio

I'm still hesitating when it comes to Minkowski Space Opera Chapter One. It has potential, but there's also room for improvement. The weakest element of the comic is the art for while it's passable and has its fair share of stunning panels, there are scenes where the lack of polish detracts from the story. In panels that feature several characters, it's difficult to distinguish who is who. Or in one instance, a character suddenly pops out of nowhere. But the good news is that the story has legs. Aaron Felizmenio is fusing sensibilities of Western fantasy with Filipino myth, and while it's too soon to tell whether the payoff is worth it or whether the combination is handled with finesse, there's enough substance to provide readers with hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Comic Review: Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers edited by Rob Cham

Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers is one of those anthologies that's raw, unfiltered, and born from passion. It lacks a certain polish, not in terms of art or design, but in terms of editorial direction that can leave the reader baffled. But one could argue this lack of polish is what gives some of the stories their edge, the courage to experiment and fail if need be.

Thematically, Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers is Rob Cham's breakup anthology. Or at least that's the expectation established by the title, the opening comic, and the epilogue. Where it starts to stray are Cham's collaborations with Petra Magno ("Spooky Tales of the Here and Now") and Auti Nones ("Comics for Millenials"), which are actually quite entertaining and witty, but don't seem to fit with the larger arc that Cham initially pitches to the reader. It might have been an attempt to break the monotony of heartbreak-after-heartbreak, but that's what the single-page strips of Apol Sta. Maria already accomplishes with its insertion before each piece.

The challenge of any anthologist working with a theme is to make sure not every story reads the same. And in many ways, Cham's selections fail in that accord, as what we often end up are literal heartbreak stories juxtaposed with images. At its worst, we have "Untitled" by Carljoe Javier, which simply does not work on several levels: the lack of a title is undeserving, and there's no build up for the narrator we're supposed to feel empathy with. Thankfully, the other contributions make better attempts. "Un-You" by Petra Magno tries to engage with the concept of heartbreak via metaphor, and it barely works. What salvages it are the telling details that convey Magno's personal investment in the narrative. "My Favorite Christmas" by Mihk Vergara plays with two different stories, one told by the text, and the other by the images. They're supposed to converge and be related, but it's an all-too transparent ploy.

What follows suit is either intentional genius on Cham's part or serendipity borne from modesty. In many ways, I think one of the stronger comics in the anthology are Cham's, especially the opening comic "Break Up 2013". It doesn't pretend to be anything else other than Cham's state of mind, sprinkled with the occasional conflict of how he says one thing but feels something else. Then compare that to what should have been Cham's epilogue, "How I Live Now," which provides perfect closure for the comic. It's also interesting how there's a subtle change in the art between "Break Up 2013" and "How I Live Now," showcasing the transition from one state to another. The last story is what everyone should read read read and buy buy buy: "Beehive Heart" by Petra Magno. Magno employs the best tools of metaphor--or even speculative fiction for that matter--to convey the turmoil of experiencing relationships. I spent P250.00 on Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers and "Beehive Heart" makes it a bargain. What makes this the genius part is that if this was intentional, what seems like Rob's story (his character opens and "ends" it after all) is actually giving way for Magno's, which is the superior story. From a structure perspective though, "How I Live Now" provides better closure and should have ended the comic (with "Beehive Heart" somewhere in the middle of the book), but it's the rawness of publications like these that highlight the gems.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Comic Review: Tabi Po Isyu 1 by Mervin Malonzo

Disclosure: The company I work for is the eBook publisher of the English translation of Tabi Po.

If we want to talk about the best that Philippine comics has to offer, then we need to discuss the symbiosis between independent publishers and major publishers (and I use the word "major" loosely because a major publisher in Manila doesn't produce a print run comparable to a major publisher in the US). While there have been some competent and good comics published by mainstream publishers, if we want to discover the stories that are exciting, innovative, or simply excellent, then we need to look for them from independent creators. Sometimes, those with merit never gain acclaim or an additional print run. But occasionally, an indie comic is picked up by a publisher who then introduces it to a wider audience and keeps the title in circulation. That was the case with Carlo Vergara's Zsazsa Zaturnnah and Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer. Success builds upon success. Even this early on, Tabi Po Isyu 1 by Mervin Malonzo feels like one of the most important Filipino comics in the past few years.

The last statement is a pretty bold claim to make, but Tabi Po is a rare work that arrives at an ideal time and makes a commentary on the industry, in addition to its value as a text.

From the perspective of craft, Tabi Po hits all the right beats. Let's take the art for example. It's gorgeous and visceral, evoking primal emotions while still maintaining a unique style that's identifiable. My problem with some art is that it can become too stylistic that it is difficult to distinguish one character from another; that's not the case here. And when we talk about Filipino comic art, a common failing or absence is color: either creators eschew the medium because it's outside the means of Risograph and photocopier production, or its usage is superficial and shallow once it moves beyond covers and pin-ups. Malonzo employs color here to its full potential, not by using the entire palette he has access to, but keeping it thematic and appropriate for the mood--and does so consistently.

Another pitfall of local comic creators is the integration of the Filipino language with their art. The usage of Filipino in comics can be challenging because the language is polysyllabic and can lead to reader exhaustion or take up a lot of physical space. At its worst, you have a title like the first issue of Bayan Knights, where captions and text boxes cover the artwork. On the other hand, if pulled off correctly, you have something that sounds organic and smooth, which is the case with Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Where I've seen it succeed is in Aaron Felizmenio's Gwapoman 2000, which sounds lyrical at times despite the verbosity of the author. Tabi Po feels just right, giving enough room for readers to digest the text, while still showcasing Malonzo's art. And language in Tabi Po matters, having read both the original and translated versions of the comic. Just look at how Malonzo navigates through the etymology of the word aswang and incorporates it into the narrative, creating this dialogue between the comic and the reader.

Then there's the story and lore of Tabi Po. When we talk about mythology, there are typically three kinds of storytellers. There are those that simply retell them, employing tools like characterization to make the story compelling and interesting. Then there are those that adapt it for a modern setting, appropriating what they see fit and infusing it with sensibilities from modern pop culture. If we talk about Filipino artists and myth, the two (well, three) popular creators people will mention will be Arnold Arre (for Mythology Class) and Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo (for Trese). My problem with these two works is that they're divorced from the source material and employed with different aesthetics in mind. Not that it's wrong per se, but there's a significant lack of literature, let alone comics, that deals with Filipino folklore outside of the context of urban fantasy. The Trese series for example simply treats our bestiary as either tools useful for the protagonist, or enemies that are easily dispatched in a panel or two--sensibilities that have more in common with today's Western TV shows where monsters are simply executed instead of being appeased, respected, or competed against. Then there is the third kind, where a creator produces a myth that sounds plausible and real, despite being fictional. And Tabi Po belongs to that category: the story of Malonzo's aswangs sounds like a folk tale we might hear during a visit to the provinces. This is myth building at its finest, employing the most potent of storytelling tools. You have characters that are literally The Other and embracing that concept. You have origin stories that combine not just the modern renditions of the monsters we know, but incorporating elements of our colonial past and making them integral parts of the story. Malonzo doesn't need to explicitly mention when and where the story takes place: readers glimpse it through the art, via the environment, or the language the characters uses.

When it comes to the industry, Tabi Po feels like the future. As previously mentioned, we don't get a lot of colored comics because most comic creators prioritize print publication and for independent creators, that usually means photocopiers. Tabi Po circumvents that limitation by publishing it as a web comic. While Malonzo isn't the first comic creator to be picked up by a print publisher after a successful online run, it's the serial I know that wouldn't otherwise have been possible elsewhere, especially due to the graphic content of the work.

There's a lot to parse when it comes to Tabi Po, whether on the fiction itself, or the cultural level it finds itself interacting with. The asset of Tabi Po Isyu 1 and Mervin Malonzo is that while they reflect and respect what came before, they continue to evolve and innovate.