Sunday, July 1, 2012

Exploding Internets and "Censorship"

Man, it's been a month of weird, huh?

So, in case you don't know, there was this Kickstarter, in which Anita Sarkeesian was raising money to do a series of videos examining how women are portrayed in video games. This came on the heels of trailers for a new Hitman game and a new Lara Croft game, both of which are, let's say, problematic, misogynist, and violently sexualized (or sexually violent, take your pick).

Anita wound up getting rape threats, and a concerted effort from...well, assholes to get her project cancelled. It would up make her just shy of $160K, so the asshole brigade probably succeeded in doing nothing but getting her more money, but that's not the point.

Meanwhile, there's this guy name James Desborough. James writes, occasionally, for Mongoose and has written for Steve Jackson, and he does his own stuff through Post Mortem studios. I've never been a fan; PM does a lot of parodies of White Wolf properties, some of which are too British for me to get the joke and so which just aren't my taste. But he's also written for gems like the Slayers Guide to Female Gamers, which is meant as a joke, though I think the joke is, at best, tired and should be taken out and mercifully shot.

But then he published a blog post called "In Defence of Rape."

Now, what he was talking about in the post (spurred, partially, by the aforementioned Lara Croft trailer) is the use of sexual assault as a plot device. The point he thinks he's making is that sexual assault and rape, in and of themselves, shouldn't be off limits to writers. I agree with that, I suppose.

But the point is lost. It's lost amidst how fucking gleeful he is not just about using rape as a plot device, but over defending it. And that's what makes the whole thing creepy, not the larger point he's trying to make. The other thing is, he included the phrase "rape is fucking awesome as a plot device," though I swear the first time I look at the post the words "as a plot device" didn't appear in that sentence (I could be wrong about that).

So he posted linkbait. And then the shit started. A woman started a petition to ask Mongoose to refrain from hiring him again. The Internet exploded. The woman in question (who is a rape survivor herself) was getting rape threats faster than she could clear them from her inbox. Desborough said on Twitter that this was no big deal because those threats weren't "genuine." Then he and his wife started getting them.

Mongoose has apparently stated that they aren't going to hire him anymore, and weren't planning on it anyway (they didn't handle all of this well initially, but I don't have any real use for Mongoose anyway so I didn't pay much attention to that part).

Desborough posted on G+ complaining that all of this was triggering for his depression. I'm sure it is. I'm sure it sucks to get threats against you and yours. And I empathize. I wouldn't wish that one anyone. I do wish, though, that he would take the lesson - what you say matters. When you say hurtful things, that matters. You're not just taking the piss or whatever when you contribute to the overall level of misogyny in this industry. And it's not the same thing when it's directed at men, because as a man, all else equal, I do not have to fear sexual attention. At no point is a woman following me down a hallway or, indeed, sending me nasty email, going to truly make me feel threatened, and if a man was doing it, it wouldn't be the threat of rape rather than just straight-up violence that I would worry about.

(That's privilege, by the way. It's a real thing. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it isn't.)

The whole thing makes me sad. But then the folks who do this shit make it easier on me, because they misuse the word "censorship" and that just pisses me off, and then I don't have to feel sad anymore.

Look, if the government comes down and says, "No, you can't publish this book or say this thing on your blog, it's illegal," that's censorship. And sometimes that's even justified, I think, but that's a separate issue. If the greater masses of the Internet say, "Hey, you can say these things, but doing so makes you an asshole and we don't want to buy your shit anymore," that isn't censorship. That's physics. That's cause and effect. And mind you, a lot of people got on board with Desborough. They were fine with everything he wrote and wanted to buy his shit on the strength of his writing. That's cause and effect, too.

I think it's generational, in a way. Younger folks, maybe those who have grown up with the Internet, might think that what you say online doesn't count because it's not said directly to a person. To that I say: Pretend it is. Pretend that who you want to talk to or who you imagine you're talking to is sitting there, in front of you, listening to you say what you're typing. And imagine your mom's there, too, why not.

You own what you say. What you say, online, can have consequences. Saying nasty or hurtful things online, as in "real life" (as though online isn't real life), doesn't make you cool or edgy or more honest or genuine. It means that you are impaired in communication, specifically pragmatic language, because you haven't figured out how to talk with people and really communicate.

And yes, if you come across as a complete asshole, people might feel compelled not only to avoid spending their money on what you did, but to ask other people to do likewise. That's how this works.

Not censorship. Just physics.

More on related matters here.