Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Guest Post: "Why I GTFO Of Gaming"

I’m watching a documentary called GTFO: A Film About Women and Gaming and… sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t watch these things because they make me SO angry and fill me with so much anxiety and bring back memories and decisions that I didn’t really want to think about anymore.
When I started school, I was majoring in interactive design and game development. When I graduated, I was majoring in writing. While there were many things that went into my tearful, anxiety ridden decision to change my major, one of the biggest was some of the sexism covered in this film.
I wish I could convey to you the amount of panic this subject gives me. I’m seriously sweating as I write this post. Because it’s even more than just the decision to change my major. It’s all the things I gave up on because of harassment; my own, the stories of other women, and the public blowups that everyone hears about (and many men around me laugh about).
Being a girl in a game design course for me meant being afraid to speak. Whether real or imagined, the very culture of gaming made me afraid to mess up. Because saying something wrong, not getting every gaming reference, not doing well on a project, not being perfect would be proof positive that I didn’t belong there. I felt absolutely downright ashamed when I couldn’t fully grasp programming. I didn’t even want to be a programmer! It was just a course that everyone was required to take to get through the major and I had panic attacks over it. I was afraid to ask for help and was embarrassed when I finally did.
Whenever I started to feel like maybe my fear was unfounded, something would happen to prove me right. Little comments I’d overhear about other girls in the program, comments I’d hear when I was part of a group project with a bunch a guys, things guy friends would say to me, etc.
And for the girls who did speak? The girls who dared to be visible in the major? Ridicule. I started getting involved with a guy from one of my classes, and he told me that before he knew my name, he referred to me as “the cute redhead” and the other outspoken red-haired girl in class as “the bitchy redhead.”
The worst part of that? I’m guilty too. I thought she was annoying. I thought she was abrasive. Until I realized she didn’t act much different from the outspoken guys in class. It’s so ingrained that I couldn’t see what I was doing to another woman. To someone who was brave enough to speak anyway despite facing the very things I was afraid of.
Long(er) story short, after enough comments, enough panic, enough fear of asking for help, I changed my major. I kept game design as my minor, as I figured that I could get into game journalism, which I had an interest in anyhow.
I don’t pursue that anymore. I was really gung-ho about it too. I joined the school paper and began reviewing games. I got in contact with Game Informer and came close to getting an internship. I even attempted to start a game review website with some friends.
But I would have panic attacks reading the comments on Kotaku and other sites on articles written by women. It was even worse when the article had anything to do with feminism. I couldn’t even talk about it. I tried to share concerns on Facebook in an attempt to prove to myself that “not all men” are like the commenters. Time after time I was shut down and disappointed by many of the guys I went to school with. Many guys that I sat in a classroom with that agreed with the comments. Some guys would “like” the status or article I posted but say nothing. Their silence made me lose more faith.
More public things started happening like the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian and Jennifer Hepler among others. My pulse would quicken and I’d start to panic when I’d see friends either joining in or laughing at the harassment on Facebook. 
Every time I thought about my future; every time I sat down to write a review or came up with a new idea involving gaming, that attitude towards women was all I could think about. It soured all my ideas and tries. I wanted to start a gaming blog reviewing indie games. I couldn’t. I thought about doing video reviews. I REALLY couldn’t. I wanted to apply for more internships and continue reviewing, but the magic of it was just evaporating. It was replaced with worry and anger. Fear that I might one day be a target.
Even when I did eventually start a Let’s Play channel with a friend. I told him that he basically had to handle all the YouTube things and field comments and public outreach because my fear of this gendered harassment was too great.
I even had a freelance employer ask me to do video reviews and I panicked. The thing is, I so badly wanted to, but I just COULDN’T. And I slowly lost contact with him.
So it all stopped. I gave up on the review website I attempted to start, I haven’t written a game review in ages, I hardly even play games anymore, and I WISH that was the worst of it, but there’s one event that solidified my fear.
Some students began a start-up studio my last year of college. There’s a lot I could say about this, but basically I wound up as project lead on an app game; a position that brought back many of my fears from being a game design major.
I spent hours working on the game writing a detailed design doc. I enjoyed it immensely (for the most part, but every development has its troubles) and was so proud of the work my team and I did. 
During this time, I’d still occasionally post articles on Facebook that I hoped would provoke discussion and perhaps prove to me that things would be ok. At this point the absolute opposite happened.
A guy I considered a friend flew off the handle in the comments of an article I posted. I’d had enough and I unfriended him. Suddenly I started getting notifications that there were new comments on the YouTube trailer for the app game I was working on.
When I looked, it was a lot of rude garbage. It didn’t take much sleuthing to figure out who it was. I called him out on it and disabled comments on the video. 
This is where things got scary. Suddenly I started getting a bunch of threatening emails. Threats against me, against the game I was developing, etc. I found out that he had organized a group on 4Chan to harass me and the game.
I couldn’t calm down. Everything I feared was happening. And over what? Because of an article with a feminist slant? Because I dared to speak up on my own Facebook? Because I hoped that things could be better? And from a “friend” too. What would someone who wasn’t a friend do?
The threatening emails continued for months. Every time I got one it sent me into new waves of panic. Not so much because of the threats in the emails themselves, but because all my fears had been proven true. What was even the point of continuing down this path? The game was never released, but the damage was done. That was the last time I had much to do with game related things.
I felt guilt over quitting too. I knew I was letting “them” win. I felt like I was letting down other girls like myself who just wanted to know that it was possible to be a woman and be involved in something games and be respected. To know that it could be ok. But for me, it wasn’t. I didn’t want to be anyone’s proof of the possible. I didn’t want to be a martyr or some kind of trailblazer. I just wanted to do what I enjoyed, and I couldn’t understand why harassment and fear was the price I had to pay for that. Especially when my male counterparts didn’t experience such attacks based on gender. Hell, all this isn’t even a comprehensive list of the things I’ve experienced or have witnessed.
So I quit. I have no plans to go back either. It’s over. The magic is gone, and I’m not sure what could bring it back. That kills me, but it is what it is.
And fear still controls me. Even now there are things I’d like to try that aren’t even gaming related, but I’m so afraid. If you follow my bird blog, some of them I’ve talked about before.
I don’t know if it’s something I will ever be able to get over. It’s something that has greatly contributed to my depression. My confidence and self-worth are gone. It’s hard to see the point in trying anything that could be even remotely public. That’s a difficult thing to contend with when your major was writing, and most anything you do is supposed to be read and consumed.
I hope someday things change in terms of women, harassment, gaming, and online spaces, but I’m sure not holding my breath.

Originally posted here by ladeh-amanda.