I’m making a new game. This is my first, very early attempt at an artist statement, creative philosophy, and unpacking what it is about…
This all is about something very near to my heart, very real to me, and I would like to take some power back by making art from these experiences.
The game opens in a long straight hall. This space is like a temple. There’s this atmosphere or reverence, dread, forgottenness… It’s been well traveled, but nobody is here. It’s not a place that people like to go.
Along the sides of this passage are countless columns on which people have been put on display. Most of them are women. Bodies are tied up, as if they were crucified. It’s as grotesque as it is beautiful, in a strange poetic way. Some have their guts on display. Aspects of them are brutally pulled out, for everyone to see. Maybe it’s beautiful for how they still maintain their sense of dignity, despite where they are.
Beneath each is a plaque with their name. Describing that this one is “The Liar”, “The Whore”, “The Accuser”… each depicting what accusation they are responsible for making.
At this point I hope the person playing can gather what they came forward about, and that society put them on display, publicly gutting them… They are a monument to the abuse they suffered, their own failure to be safe… here for everyone to see, forever…
You walk down this hall carrying your own burden. It’s a piece of you the same way that cancer is a piece of you. It grew in you as something unwanted, but it’s still part of you, slowly eating you. It’s something you can no longer carry.
You walk, hoping that you will be an exception to some unstated archaic rule. Those that you walk past are warnings, a sacrifice to be respected.
You are about do this hoping that it will be different this time, just for the simple truth of “I can’t carry this anymore…”
When you reach the end, there’s a pit. It’s an indescribably massive void staring at you. It’s as if you are looking into all of human thought, anger, outrage, opinion… It’s nothing short of intimidating.
You give it your offering.
The Void embraces your pain. It accepts it, and then consumes you.
Things go as expected. You are strung up alongside the others. Called “The Accuser”, gutted, torn up, it takes your face.
You are put on violent display. Everything about you is taken apart, a public vivisection, the same as all the rest that you walked past…
You are separated from your body and now trapped in The Void.
After this, the entire game will be about navigating this horrible dark place so you can return to your body.
Everyday you must argue with the void, reminding it that you are human.
If you succeed then your humanity will be returned to you, and you can return to your body… So you can be free of your burden, free from what consumed you.
The hopeful end would be that you make it out, and you can be free. That you are successful in convincing this omnipotent massive presence of your right to your own humanity.
While you are here, the passage of time is something that will slowly grind at you. Fifteen days is hard, thirty is inhuman, by the time you’ve reached three hundred you want to die. You cannot give up. Even if there is no end in sight, and you are foolish for believing in one, this isn’t a place to die.
That’s the idea in a nutshell. It’s based on a very long, difficult fight.
It’s going to be a horror game about navigating the violence of words and social circles.
Personal History & Synopsis…
After all of my experiences (you can read about the entire thing, beginning to end here) I have been reflecting a lot on how social media is intrinsically structured to harm vulnerable people. Journalism being part of that.
It’s our infernal gossip machine.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we downplay the effect that words have on people. For example, sayings like “sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt me” or “it’s just words”… all those sayings that we are very familiar with when first dealing with bullying, tremendously downplay people’s responsibility for what they say and who they direct that to.
Words can be violent. Words can be just as violent as physical violence. There’s nothing meaningless about the effect that words have on someone, especially when a lot of those words are directed at someone vulnerable.
In many ways social media is built to amplify that type of violence.
Before I get carried away with unpacking all that, here’s (the shortest possible) background of my own experience dealing with this type of violence over social media… it’s important because it’s the backbone of what I want to create. It’s based on all this…
I spent over a year and a half publicly begging that a publication that took advantage of my sexual assault, and similarly abused other sources for this story, to take the article down. The article was written abusively, very dishonest to those of us that had our name on it, and the editing done to it was similarly abusive.
I initially fought with them to remove the details of my assault, which they lied to me in order to get. They eventually removed the paragraph, but the editor in chief at the time made an edit to the article bringing my credibility into question.
None of it was honest. They misquoted, quoted out of context, and pretty much used any opportunity to shit on those they hurt. I logged all that really clearly HERE and HERE.
The resulting arguments were about how ethical this abuse was… it was a constant theme, that this abuse was “by the book”.
After almost a year of me begging that something get done (anyone please care, please “make this right” to those harmed, please make amends, asking for accountability from people that built their careers on covering the lack of accountability in the game industry…), the journalist that did this to us wrote a long thread in which she called me a liar, brought my credibility into question, and got her very famous and very influential industry contacts to throw their weight behind it.
They did, and it was more of the same nightmare that was starting to get normalized at this point. I logged all that here.
At this point all of them (those supporting her, those at the publication, the way this was written) were helping my rapist. It goes without saying that it has done irreparable damage to actually holding him accountable (that was the original reason pitched to me by the journalist and why I even participated in that article).
The way this was written already protected him, scared away other survivors of his who’s testimonies could have made a difference… It was shit.
I think it’s also really important to remind everyone that this was about a rape. It’s not something you should be lightly discoursing like it’s all “just principles”. This was about exploiting something very traumatic, putting that on display before a massive readership (they have three million Twitter followers), and then using that massive platform to silence those harmed.
Brenan Vance had a really great article unpacking all that here…
I tweeted everyday for over a year at the publication, asking them to please care about how they harmed vulnerable people, and take the article down. You can read most all of my Tweets here, to see the scale at which I was begging.
The Editor In Chief responsible left the publication too. They were aware of this situation, even contacted me, but nothing was done. This in no way was a secret to anyone there. I logged that here.
Throughout the entire year, many journalists took to Twitter to subtweet about this, vaguely discussing the situation in ways that kept sending harassment my way.
It was probably one of the most emotionally scarring things I have ever endured. It was worst than just being raped.
One of the journalists wrote a long thread vaguely discussing this (casually talking about principles) in which they made a point to say that it sets a bad precedent to delete articles, social media accounts for publications aren’t the one to reach out to, articles shouldn’t be deleted… It was toxic. People asked “what is this even about?” others said that it’s about my situation. I don’t see who else it could be about because nobody else in this space was Tweeting at any publication’s social media everyday, asking for an article to get deleted.
Overall it was in poor taste, but to me it was more of the same level of heartlessness. I logged that here. I responded with a thread, similar to my post, where I said that this was heartless and hurtful.
Before my thread and post (where I responded) were published, I was already receiving harassment because of the journalist’s thread.
After me getting publicly involved in a discussion that very much impacts my situation, then more hell broke loose. The journalist started to highlight very mild criticism they were getting and calling it harassment, then that fed into more outrage and escalated to worst words being said.
Some very abusive takes were written at me, most of which were retweeted by them and their following. It was really hard to go through. I had never even met this person before. I don’t know them. I never interacted with them.
All this out of the blue… like so many of the vague Tweets about an inherently abusive situation that you’re expected just to navigate or ignore.
Their own following kept attacking me after that, and even went so far as to start reporting my account. They kept fueling that.
After this, throughout the remainder of my begging that something get done, they would Tweet that tweeting at the social media account of an outlet doesn’t get articles deleted. I don’t see how that was about anyone else but me since I was the only one in this space doing that.
Later, toward the end, when I was asking that people also Tweet at the parent company they made a vague Tweet saying that tweeting at the owners doesn’t do anything either…
Every time this happened someone would get abusive at me.
All this was regular. Journalists kept doing things like this. I kept getting blocked, emailed, DM’d… with abusive takes…
At one point I logged into a Discord I was part of. I saw people discussing my situation. A (former) friend of mine was discouraging people from helping me because “she knows me” and tried to help me. None of that was true. She never tried to help…
I messaged her saying that what she said was hurtful. I said that in the most non-confrontational way that I could. She responded back with a barrage of really toxic and manipulative words, victim blaming. I shared some of that here.
It’s a tired narrative that I’m even more tired of going over. There were so many of these conversations about my own situation that people just expected me to stay out of so they could comfortably talk about it, as if I’m not in the room.
I was spending over a year Tweeting at the outlet everyday. Journalists came and went with their toxic takes, or supportive takes. Every month there was some kind of thread from someone notable that sent harassment my way. If it wasn’t from a pronounced progressive voice, then it was coming from 4chan.
I think people forgot that this was about a rape. It just became another talking point.
It’s not fun when the person you are talking about reminds you that they are human and that this is hurting them. If it goes on for long enough then you just become a ghost to the social space that you exist in.
I equate this to something like homelessness. We walk past homeless people all the time. People dying on the streets. Starving on the streets… just disappearing. They are ghosts too. We are so used to seeing this type of suffering that it has become invisible to us. We’ve accepted it as normal.
I was begging for help for so long that I too became invisible. It was just suffering that is a normal talking point.
It became normal to blame me or my supporters for the fact that journalists were getting harassed, even if it had nothing to do with my situation, or was completely unrelated.
Toward the end, a lot of journalists were just mass-blocking anyone who ever voiced support for this. I understand why people block, and that they have a right to curate their timeline, but going back, sifting through hundreds and hundreds of accounts that ever said anything supportive about an obviously harmful thing, just to block them… was a bit much to watch… like a space just decided that you’re the one they want to sacrifice. Block out any responsibility for making this right. They want the right to discourse this, without being reminded of the consequence that this has on someone…
In the end, the irony is that my mom was the one that figured out what can be done. I went over what we did here. We contacted the “evil” corporate overlords of the publication, asked people to email them too, and something got done.
I thanked them. One of them said something along the lines of you’re welcome… and it’s over.
The irony is that all these takes, all the effort to turn this into a nuanced situation, “not a black and white” issue, all that effort to discourage people from helping, resulted in… nothing big really. This set no bad precedent for journalists. The space did not blow up because that article was removed.
All that drama ended in nothing more but a fart.
Was it really worth working that hard to prevent someone from having peace?
So, overall, that captures all the things I want to unpack in my horror game.
Philosophy and Early Artist Statement…
I think there’s this underlying thread here…
It’s how EASY social media made it to hurt someone.
When you vague Tweet about someone, when you write all those fancy words of wisdom about something truly horrifying, you don’t see the person you are directing that to.
I’m not really human to you. I’m a name, an avatar… easy to direct a take at and then block if you don’t like how I reacted to it.
It’s even easier to do all that if it’s been going on for a long time.
Structurally, there’s nothing discouraging that from happening in very large amounts. Everyone joins in with their words.
All these words, they can be so very violent.
It is probably one of the hardest, cruelest, most dehumanizing things you can do to someone… to put them on the receiving end of prolonged abuse through words, conversations, vague Tweets… all these conversations that essentially bring your humanity into question, while you (ideally) are expected to just stay out of it.
It’s like everyone in a space just arbitrarily decided that you are the one worth sacrificing.
People would constantly act like they are not responsible for what they are saying because it’s “just words”… just a conversation about principles, ideals, ethics, but there are people at the end of those principles.
Those principles that are being normalized are what cause this harm.
It’s amazing to me that all that effort went into preventing this very basic thing from happening.
Some of the journalists that wrote horribly bad threads also said they were on board with the article being removed, but then the same people went on to use their platform to discourage people from helping…
I think it’s so easy to do all that. It’s just a bunch of words you write and you post. You don’t really think of the effect that has on someone.
It was a basic thing I was asking for. Just remove this very harmful article, written abusively, so those of us being placed in danger aren’t placed in so much danger anymore.
Just protect the survivors you said you stand by.
Just give me my humanity back…
All this shit thrown over it. All the nuance. It suddenly became so difficult to do the right thing.
I truly love the irony that my mom, a senior citizen, someone you can brush off as some old lady, was the one that researched the publication and parent company to find the people we can contact.
None of the big progressive voices helped. It was the little people.
I know this is probably long, ranty, pessimistic, but I’m going to make a game out of all my experiences and it’s all these dynamics that will go into it.
There’s nothing short or small about all this. There’s a lot to unpack.
Social media makes it REALLY easy for you to not feel responsible for what you say.
Here’s my favorite example to help understand that…
In 1974 Marina Abramovic did this performance art piece at an art gallery in Serbia. She laid out 72 items on a table and invited the public to use them on her however they will. She did not move. She was completely subjected to the whims and mercy of the crowd.
Basically a crowd was given agency over a person.
Some of the items were harmful, like a gun.
Things escalated and the crowd would cut her, grope her… Overall, it spoke to the dynamics of a crowd, the loss of agency, what happens when a group is given power over someone… How a crowd will push the boundaries of a person’s agency, when there are no pronounced consequences.
What I think is interesting about this story is that as soon as she moved, when the gallery closed (she actually made it through the night), the audience ran away.
They could not face what they did.
I think this is a tremendous example when discussing social media, because this is something we all participate in, and it’s made so easy to do on a massive scale.
We don’t see the consequence, just the feedback loop that rewards us for participating in That Popular Discourse (the validation of the thousands of hearts and retweets…).
For example, ever so often the game industry will quote tweet one bad take to death. Last month it was a really bad take from a small account that Tweeted how crunch is actually good. I paraphrase because it’s absolutely unimportant… but every influential person on Twitter will jump in and say something sassy about it.
Yes, it’s a bad take, but is it worth putting the person who made it on blast?
I had one too a long time ago…
If games are art then we have to embrace the idea that they don't have to be fun. Art is not always fun. It covers a wide spectrum of emotions, and concepts. 1/6
— Nathalie Lawhead (@alienmelon) November 26, 2017
In context, it makes sense. It’s about a game I’m making. The small audience I have will understand.
Taken out of context, it’s an easy thing to dunk on. Which is what happened.
How necessary is that dynamic? Do we really need to single someone out just so we can sound smart?
On the surface all this is harmless. It’s a bad take. We all jump in to sound smart and be right, but I think that’s when things start to become abusive…
In my own situation, the one about rape, it became less about being “right” in the moral sense and more about being “right” in the argumentative sense.
If that article was finally taken down, and so many people made it so nuanced, it will make them not-right and we can’t have that.
So there are all these layers that get dumped on this really basic, really humane thing to do, that suddenly becomes too much of a political thing to do.
It’s fair to blame social media, but behind that are people that use it in this destructive way, and I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are VERY responsible for how we use that.
In Marina Abramovic’s case, all she had to do was move (regain agency over herself, therefore remove the power the crowd held over her), then they all ran away.
The audience was reminded of the responsibility they had for what they had done.
In the real world, and I think this is my own situation included, people feel guilty when you finally regain agency (take away the power they held over you)… sometimes it can make things more violent because it becomes worst for that guilt.
Our online spaces are a lot like that, but completely remove even a concept for how violent it can be toward anyone that gets singled out by them.
This violence was not “real”. It was all words… but it couldn’t feel more real, more violent, more threatening for all the people that participated in it.
I think the resulting effect that it has on someone is tremendously difficult to navigate, even afterward, because this all happened in my own home.
This is worth highlighting because it’s a really interesting thing to unpack, especially when I make a game out of it (explore transferring these experiences to fiction).
All this was virtual. All the people doing this were far away. I was, theoretically, “safe”. Nothing about this was really “real” in a normal sense. No threats were even followed through on, so it should be easy to just “get over”, right?
It’s so hard to do that tho.
I read all these words in my own home. I cried in my own home. I planned several different versions of my suicide, in my own home, as some last ditch attempt to finally be free of a constant, steady, stream of pain, accentuated by all these words from people I never even met.
All these violent words… the takes that felt like they questioned my right to humanity, something that if it was done to the same people making these takes surely they would not like it either… in my own home.
It’s a fight that happened in my own safe space.
I don’t really feel safe in my own home anymore, but (at the same time) I have no way of quantifying why not. It ended. It’s over. I won. None of it was “real”, and the people that were like this are quiet now. Moved on to another trending topic to make words about.
It’s really hard to grasp why it was so easy for people to do all that.
That last part is the thing to highlight. Our online platforms sure make it easy to be harmful, but not be confronted with any consequence for it.
People in this space that took these stances, that directed these toxic words at me over this, are being celebrated for their progressive contributions again. No consequences to them, despite all the talk about how I should shut up because it’s a bad look for everyone.
It’s hard to re-adjust and feel safe in this type of space again, knowing that people can be so casually violent.
Worth saying too is that we are responsible for the way we use that. I’ve seen so many people make a bad toxic take, it backfire, and then they say “haha, yea Twitter is weird.” Not just Twitter. You’re responsible for saying that.
Ultimately what I want to do with a horror game, based on all these experiences, is to get people to reflect on how they use social media.
Is that take really worth making if you know how it will harm the person?
I thought a lot about how I want to do that. Do I want to put someone in a position where they make a bad take? I don’t think so because that’s what we already do everyday.
I really want them to see the effect that take has on someone. It would be important to me to task people with navigating that, while having to carry this tremendously painful thing.
Begging for humanity.
In all my work there’s this thing called The Void. It’s playfully presented as this omnipotent emptiness filled with everything. I allude to that being social media.
In this game I would like to unpack that more.
I would like to put you in a position where you have to, daily, argue that you are human. That you are worthy of basic dignity.
Then you have to navigate all the words, all the excuses, that giant soup of opinions… if you don’t do it right then you are stigmatized. If you do it right then your words get higher retention. Numbers go up signifying approval.
It’s a special hell to be in. I think “horror” is a perfect genre to unpack all this in.
All of what I fought with took place during a global pandemic, while in social isolation. My only interaction with people was this. Imagine how that’s like.
I’m looking at games like Yumme Nikki, that have a similar theme of isolation.
I would like to draw on the loneliness, how alienating of an experience that is, while tasking you to navigate all that in the loneliest possible way.
Like I said, words can be violent, and that’s where the threat to your safety will come from.
Every horror has some kind of visceral theme. Something that threatens one’s sense of safety or well being.
This monster will be the words from people that you look up to, strangers you never met, people you trust, people you might not even have expected something like that from. It’s a type of violence that anyone is capable of over the internet.
I think it would be important because we don’t really have much cultural understanding for this type of violence, but so many people are on the receiving end of it at some point or another.
A few people have already asked me why I want to make a game based on all this so close to this finally being over for me.
This is what I do. It is how I cope. I also think this is a really important thing to put out into the world.
To me, it would be like making a personal monument to something. Monuments aren’t always about nice things. They can exist to pay respect to very traumatic things.
I don’t like how easy it is to forget these things. The really horrible things people have to go through and just kind of brush under the rug when it’s done. I would like there to be a cultural conversation about dignity, survivors having a right to that, a right to their own humanity, how our social circles don’t especially allow that, and how we all are responsible for these things.
I spent over a year living with this everyday. Not wanting to eat. Having seizures, nightmares… Reading all this abusive shit. Being lifted up by the supportive words from so many people. Kind words that got me through it… It’s real to me, and if anyone has a right to tell a story like this it’s those that have lived through it.
I was talking with someone about horror games based on traumatic things. They told me about this one horror game that featured themes of sexual assault and how triggering it was to them. We then discussed how interesting it is that some media that features that isn’t triggering to survivors (it can even be empowering) and then other media is.
The horror game in question (one that also received a lot of accolades) was written by a man that had no personal investment in these themes. The other games we talked about, that are not triggering, are created by survivors.
So there are differences when it’s just “disaster porn” and something used to give power to those dis-empowered or even reclaim power.
I spent so much time fighting for my voice to be heard, fighting for my right to my own story, fighting for the narrative to not get twisted, co-opted, or taken… This would be my way of taking my voice back.
I also spent a lot of time thinking about the added harassment this will get me. While writing this, I was already worrying about who this might piss off, how “on blast” I might get put by whatever person over social media… because I spent so long navigating outrage… I don’t think I know how to care anymore. I want to take up space. I want to talk about these serious and important things.
So that’s it… I’ll be working on this thing for the foreseeable future after I get the Electric Zine Maker update out there.