Before GDC I was feeling incredibly ground down after all the aggression “Everything is going to be OK” was generating at me. I was at a point where I wasn’t too sure if keeping this up even mattered. After seeing everyone come by and voice how much “Everything is going to be OK” meant to them, and how much they love my work, I’m very encouraged to keep it up. If you are one of those people, thank you so much, it really means the world to me to know that my work is appreciated this way.
People where genuinely interested in the game too, especially at GameJolt’s The Other Party. It was so cool to hang back and watch people play it and laugh and engage with it the way they did.
As I mentioned in this Twitter thread (worth reading for the sake of understanding)
For my next game I'm seriously considering using a fake identity or male name. I'm tired of my work being held back because a woman made it. It's so hard to watch and be able to do nothing but "keep at it" and "stay positive" even when you know what is happening.
— Nathalie Lawhead (@alienmelon) February 26, 2018
and this one…
illustrative of the spectacular way to miss the point when it comes to exactly the discussion of sexism and discrimination, but fine i will bite and argue since silence doesn't do much for awareness (not retweeting original reply tho)…
[thread incoming] pic.twitter.com/Q0zzb3SiFI
— Nathalie Lawhead (@alienmelon) February 27, 2018
I’m at a point where “Everything is going to be OK” is going to wrap up, especially with the update finally completing, and I have to consider approaching my next “game” in a better way so that it stands a chance.
I completely realize that having a woman’s name on my work does an tremendous amount of damage to it. If I’m serious about my work succeeding, I have to face this fact and admit that I’m hurting this work by insisting on being so outgoing about who made it.
In the past (speaking of an older project) I had been anonymous, and people assumed that a man made the work. The project was very successful and doing well. It got so far as to people inviting me to things. As soon as they found out that a woman made it, this association tanked the project. Throughought the over-a-decade that I’ve been doing this I’ve been told that people will not take work by women seriously. It’s just looked at as lesser. This is consistent. My association does a tremendous amount of damage to my work.
As an artist this is hard because I want to be proud of what I made. I want to talk about it, and be known for it. On the other hand I have to come to grips with the fact that women’s work will be erased, and men will be remembered. This is history, and it’s still happening.
My older work was consistently put down for me having made it, but the same men that put it down would completely rip it, copy it, and basically draw very close (too close) inspiration from it, and that work made by them would take off and get widely recognized. It did well for them. It’s still talked about, but what I did isn’t.
In this sense there is a constant tension of erasure that women have to navigate. It’s very hard to admit that you are the one that is holding your art, games, or work, back from succeeding.
In the end, women are expendable. Our work will not be remembered. Men will always be. After all that I have been through, I see no hope in this. The only thing we can do is remember eachother. We need a counter culture. One that is extremely aware and admits these problems.
During the convention I asked a lot of other experimental game developers, and alt/art game developers, if they get harassment or hate for their work. They all said no. Even the ones that spoke up about gamer culture, and Steam, didn’t receive harassment for speaking up. They where all men, so the way how they are treated and the response their work gets is very different. I see here that the only thing I can change is not be a woman (outgoingly at least).
During the convention so many women told me that it meant a lot that I was doing what I am doing, and it gives them courage. I feel like in a way I would be turning my back on that, and that I would be betraying myself if I hid who I am so my work can succeed. This is a painfully difficult situation to be in, and honestly I am exhausted. It’s been well over ten years of this stuff pretty much non-stop. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even here.
After the IGF ceremony I and a friend went to the bathroom. There was a massive line for the men’s bathroom. There was none for the women’s. We could just walk in.
It was such a difficult real life metaphor to look at.
When I came back to the the airbnb I broke down so hard. It completely validated everything that I’ve been through professionally and personally.
I’m always holding on by the finger tips. I really don’t know how much longer I can keep this up, but if I do let go then that’s one less woman who is going to be there.
This is just not financially sustainable for me either. I don’t have any support, especially not on the level that a guy will enjoy for putting out his game. I live as meagerly as possible, and even have worked myself down to one meal a day, so that I can enable doing this.
When people turn around, especially men, and tell me to “keep it up” and “you have allies” and “please don’t quit”, I don’t think anyone understands to what extent I fight to keep this up.
I know my work is good. It’s a “work of genius” when people are under the impression that a man did it, so I have that validation that it has nothing to do with quality.
When I started nobody wanted to collaborate with a woman. For reasons of it being too distracting, or jeopardizing the quality and professionality of the work. I had to teach myself everything from sound, music, programming, animation, art… It’s been well worth it for making me talented. I do all this on my own now, and receive 0 help for building this. Everyone other dev I ask has someone that does sound, someone that does writing, and someone that does design, etc… Which kind of blows my mind considering that often one guy ends up getting the credit as the genius behind the work. When I ask for help I’m told that I can’t say that it’s my game anymore.
So I’m completely alone.
Building all this, as a solo-dev, takes up all my time. Sometimes I sleep at the computer. I do this because I absolutely love it. I don’t want to do anything else. This is my creative drive, and what I absolutely believe in as an artist.
What I can’t handle is the hate, anger, harassment, threats, being afraid, being ashamed of being a woman, and basically having to navigate this erasure.
I really wish I only needed to worry about what male colleagues in games have to worry about. Just sales, and marketing, and making a good game or work of art. I’m not sure how much I can keep up all the other stuff.
So, after hearing all this outpouring of support from other women, and friends, I am going to do my best to keep it up. I will try to be brave and use my real name on my art, as much as the thought of doing that again is already making my stomach turn. Although, hiding my identity is also very difficult. I don’t have an answer other than also saying “keep it up.”
It’s so hard because I’m alone in this. People will say that they are there to support me, and they will help, but when things are at their lowest, and things really do get hard, and I need help, then they distance themselves. I see that this is just a nice thing to say. It’s often not said in earnest. (this is a commentary on the general culture of allies. if you are a friend, yes I do believe you)
I do very much believe that this work (experimental work, especially work made by women and other marginalized people) needs advocates. Experimental games (art/alt games) in general need advocates, curators, and journalists, that keep fighting to validate it. This type of game, ones that are personal, vulnerable, crazy, unusual, and all those wonderful words you use to describe art games… have tremendous cultural value. It’s a lot of responsibility to put carving out an understanding of that value on the artist. The creators shouldn’t be alone in this. The only thing we can do right now is to keep making these games, and normalizing them as an artform.
We also need to be quicker in identifying and calling out subconscious sexism in ourselves. We see work made by women as lesser. It’s subconscious. Everyone does this, including women. Try to watch yourself and see how you react when you think something is done by a man, and then see how you react when the same thing is done by a woman. What words do you use to describe either work in both contexts? Is one “genius” and the other has “potential”? I don’t say this lightly. It’s said after a very long hard journey to actually being here today, and actually being known enough for people to give me the time of day. This wasn’t at all easy to accomplish.
When I started working in games I was completely expendable. I wrote about my experiences here, for what it’s worth it’s a good thing to read and understand.
So, if you read that, you’ll understand that I don’t see myself as “working in games”, I see myself as working in games’ counterculture because that’s the place that most accepted my work.
Either way, these are issues we can’t fix if we can’t talk about them, so I’m trying to be transparent.
We very much have to start calling out erasure of women’s work (this also counts for work done by anyone marginalized). We have to start allowing ourselves to enjoy work made by women, and talking about that work on the same level as we talk about men’s work. For example, men can be called “genius” and known as that, that word is rarely applied to women. Men are allowed to enjoy double, triple, or quadruple nominations, features, deals, articles… but a women will be told that she already has had one, or enough, so another will probably not happen. I have lost count of how often that has been told to me. This is that glass celling. Women’s successes are rationed. It’s an artificial maximum for how far you’re allowed to come. If you want to make it, you have to understand all these dynamics and be able to navigate them. For example, hiding your identity so people don’t know that a woman made the game, art, or work.
We really have to come to a point of awareness, in our discussion, and stop differentiating, and even downplaying women’s work, in such big ways.
After this IGF, and GDC, it has been made clear to me that my work very much does not belong in these industry focused, and mainstream indie focused events. It’s nice to have it there, and it’s a good statement, but I don’t think that’s where it makes a difference or is fully welcome. It’s not where the hope for the future lies, in my opinion.
To me, the hope exists in places like itch.io and GameJolt. I would not be able to have come this far without either of their support, especially GameJolt’s.
I hope those two places never sell out or change their focus.
I also see very clearly how important places like AMAZE, Fantastic Arcade, Heart Projector… are (there are many more that I’m too burned out to remember right now, sorry).
The way these games (art games, alt games, experimental, short-form…) will grow is by maintaining a level of respect, and understanding for what they are, and advocating for them as necessary outside of hyper-commercial circles. We sincerely have to stop calling them “weird” and “fucked up” and change our rhetoric to be more understanding of why they exist in the first place. It’s ok to own insults made by gamers about this work, but at some point this paints this work in a cultural corner. We need to carve out a much broader vocabulary to describe this work so that personal, vulnerable, or other types of art games enjoy the criticism they deserve. Either way, those have been my observations after all this and the months before GDC.
So, as I finish this update to “Everything is going to be OK”, I’m going to roll onto my next project. An announcement will soon come after releasing the update.
I don’t know how long I can keep this up, because, like I mentioned, it’s very resource intensive and I don’t have a clear support network. Either way, I’m keeping it up. This art is important to me, and it’s what I want to see in the world. It makes me very happy. :)
I will, with all the energy that I have, NOT hide the fact that a woman made it, or take on a male alias so that this project can succeed (to spare it from damage by association).
I want to do this because I want to live in that world. I want to stop being ashamed of the fact that I’m not a guy, and I want other women to know that they are not alone because there is at least one more of them going to the bathroom.
[Update, posting this twitter thread with links that also discuss these issues for the sake of awareness]
For those interested, here is a thread with links to articles similar to what I discussed in my post (how we view & treat work by women).
Although it's not only games, I think that these issues are strongest in tech/games because women (& minorities) here are expendable
— Nathalie Lawhead (@alienmelon) March 27, 2018