So this post came to my attention today, and I think it’s something worth paying attention to, for a variety of reasons. It addresses, at length, the problem of online harassment, the dismissive way we talk about trolling as though it is insignificant, and the way in which lending credence to many online campaigns is damaging not only the targets of those campaigns, but the tech industry (gaming and non-gaming) as a whole. It talks about Kathy Sierra (it’s written by her) and what happened to her in 2005. But, most importantly, it talks about a culture of privilege in the tech industry as highly toxic.
One of the points Sierra makes early in the piece is that the problem of women in tech is not that women are in tech, but that people think their presence and their ideas are actually important.
I learned that the first threat had nothing to do with what I actually made or said in my books, blog posts, articles, and conference presentations. The real problem — as my first harasser described — was that others were beginning to pay attention to me. He wrote as if mere exposure to my work was harming his world.
But here’s the key: it turned out he wasn’t outraged about my work. His rage was because, in his mind, my work didn’t deserve the attention. Spoiler alert: “deserve” and “attention” are at the heart.
A year later, I wrote a light-hearted article about “haters” (the quotes matter) and something I called The Koolaid Point. It wasn’t about harassment, abuse, or threats against people but about the kind of brand “trolls” you find in, say, Apple discussion forums. My wildly non-scientific theory was this: the most vocal trolling and “hate” for a brand kicks in HARD once a critical mass of brand fans/users are thought to have “drunk the Koolaid”. In other words, the hate wasn’t so much about the product/brand but that other people were falling for it.
In other words, women are welcome to speak up, to publish, to make games, so long as no one notices. As long as they do so from a quiet little corner of the internet in which only other women (who also don’t try to talk too loudly) hear or read or play them. A voice is only dangerous if it is loud enough for people to hear – a sentiment that applies as equally to a woman in a boardroom (where she is often talked over) as it does to the internet (where her words go unread or unlinked-to).
But if a woman – or anyone seeking to challenge the status quo – begins to speak up, to become active and visible, then her words are no longer dropping into the abyss. She (or he or ke) is no longer invisible, no longer silent, and that very real, very visible presence becomes a reminder for others that there are more voices and opinions than those held by the supposed majority.
And in tech – in gaming and online – that means that the hardcore, those whose word has thus far shaped the nature of the industry, are no longer the only voices in the mix. Instead of a collective seeking the same kinds of games, telling the same story of heroism and power, there are other voices, other stories, other kinds of narratives, surfacing which challenge not simply what is being told, but the right of those who have thus far been telling it.
And that, I think, is the key to all this. It isn’t simply that women and minorities are starting to speak up, it’s that they’re specifically and explicitly telling the dominant paradigm that it doesn’t have the right to be dominant. And power is a zero-sum game. In order to grant equality to those who have been oppressed, they have to take power from those who have done the oppressing – there is no way for the dominant to remain as they are if the oppressed are to escape their oppression.
And that is not a narrative that the dominant want to hear.
But what, really, does that mean in the context of the tech industry? It means that there will be more games (some which reflect the “old” way of doing things, some which will be “new”), there will be more articles and blogs and thinkpieces with a variety of viewpoints. There will be a lot of noise, and any one person will not agree with all of it. Gain, not loss.
But it will also mean that some things will disappear. Some jobs will go to women or to minorities or to transpersons rather than to white men (in a case where all applicants are qualified). Some “old” games will not be made. Some “new” will not be made, too. Some blogs will no longer draw as much traffic, and will die out. Some will never gain traction, no matter how worthy their cause. Not everyone will play all the games.
And you know what? That’s okay. Not everyone reads Shakespeare. Not everyone watches Romantic Comedies. Not everyone (shocking!) watches Scandal. And that’s okay. That’s the sign of a healthy industry, of advancing culture. So my advice? To quote Frozen, “Let it go.”
I’ll be in a corner, trying to be heard.