the “hold in there” mentality, post E3… some thoughts about indie and mainstream culture

It’s been an interesting episode of mainstream games culture this year. It also reminded me how much I value itch… and GameJolt… and Glitch City… and ok, that could be a long list…
I had the opportunity to showcase “Everything is going to be OK” at the MIX. I keep realizing how important it is to showcase art games like that at mainstream events like E3 because it normalizes them. It kinda dawned on me how things are changing… especially when people that I would never have pegged for enjoying something like this, come by and get excited about it. It was good.

This episode of E3 was also a more difficult time for me in terms of confronting past trauma. If it were not for my work having found a place in the indie scene, and all the friends I’ve made over the years, I’m pretty sure this one would have ended me. I think it just goes to show how much resilience and persistence pay off.
If I would have given up when I wanted to I would not have lived long enough to see that things can change, and that what I went through was abuse. It wasn’t my fault. I’m worlds apart, compared to how things used to be.
I don’t have much of a goal with this post. It’s a rant. May contain some encouraging messages… maybe not.

My rapist’s work resurfaced at E3 because a popular IP is getting a sequel so all that is back again… and being championed around again.
Ironically I went to showcase my game, that talked about these issues of abuse, at an E3 event. Fun how things end up turning around for you. Small opportunities for you to claim your voice.

Hearing his work used to give me such a meltdown… because it reminded me that I am where I am, and he is where he is.
The story is fairly typical… This person cost me my career, because I had the nerve to turn them down. They cost me everything, and then enjoyed all the defense in the world for it. Who am I to make these claims against them? They are famous and a contributing member of society. Such genius needs to be protected. I am a nobody and probably making this stuff up for attention…
There are so many excuses people make.
After the enormous cost this had on me, I was left with nothing again. They made sure I don’t stand a chance (career wise), but framed it in a way that they are a hero. Just “warning” people about me, that’s all. Very harmless public service.
I thought they were a friend, which made it very painful.

I couldn’t live with myself after what happened. It sent me spiraling hard.
The thing is, when someone of such stature does that to you, how can you even have self worth? Maybe they are right? How do you even go on believing in yourself and what you do?
People believed anything he said about me. It was hard to navigate.
It took me years to work away from that, and come to a point where my work is recognized, and I’m given the time of day. Something a guy like him is given in abundance.
So now I’m asked to politely stomach seeing their work around, and it will probably be championed around as the pinnacle of whatever in games.
Maybe it’s just me, but maybe our priorities are really fucked up. We will give unconditional love, support, and defense to men like that, and (without skipping a beat) walk over, talk over, and otherwise ignore women.
Through-ought my career, and the well-over-a-decade of doing this, I’ve had to bend over backwards just to compensate for the fact that “a girl did that”. My work has continuously suffered because of it.
For what it’s worth, I wrote about it here. Awareness about these issues might make a difference. That’s why I’ve been sharing.

The ironic thing is, when I share these things, a guy will always pop out of the woodwork and say something along the lines of “well, guys have it hard too…” and share whatever superficial difficulties they may have faced.
I call this superficial difficulties because they are not being asked to function in a scene were your rapist’s work is lauded as an amazing achievement, and you have to bite your tongue, and calmly listen when they are being talked about as “such a great guy” or “such a genius”.
Imagine being completely at the bottom, having lost everything to someone like that, and then their music plays over the station you’re listening to. How would that make anyone feel? I can’t find words to describe the feeling of helplessness, and worthlessness, that spirals you into.
I know I’m not alone. I know there are many others who have had similar experiences, who are expected to silently swallow all that, just so they can keep their job, save their face, or so speaking up will not cost them everything.
I wish I had answers for how to survive something like that. I don’t. To be honest there are days I wish it would have killed me. It’s hard to live with… Ok, I did make a game out of it. So maybe that’s a positive aspect. The way to take your power back is to make art out of your pain. Be too angry to give up.
I have the love for my work, and what I make, that gets me through these periods of suicidal ideation and self-loathing over how victims get walked over “for the greater good”.
I wish I could pass on exactly how this feels to any guy willing to listen, just so they understand what they are expected to play into when abusers get idolized.
It’s such an easy thing to do too. It’s when our system’s are set up in such a way that the biggest personality, with the biggest achievements, gets unconditional unquestioned adoration.
I understand the appeal, because maybe that could be you. You could be that person that everyone loves, and does what they want, says whatever they want… We don’t want that reality brought into question.

In the end, the thing that saved me was the space my work found in the indie scene.
When Tetrageddon was first included in IndieCade’s E3 showcase (many years ago), that was a massive breakthrough for me.
After the thing that I went through, I thought that all of games was this fucked up… There’s no hope, so might as well make the best of it and fight for my own work… It’s just that way, and all the guys in that scene are like that…
It was very healing to have guys walk up to my game and gush over it, as if I was worth talking to. Eventually I realized that I AM worth talking to, worth recognizing, worth listening to… because I’ve always been that. Abusive people isolate you. They make you feel worthless, and make sure they control the narrative about you.
I have no other answer, or solution, for people going through similar but saying that it somehow manages to get better. Somehow you can break through. You have as much right to be here as they do.

Is breaking through the right thing to do tho?
I have more questions than I do answers… this is a rant. I don’t expect anyone to read it.
When someone tells me to “hold in there”, in passing, when I share how hard I have had it, it’s probably more hurtful than encouraging… On the inside you want to grab the person, shake them, and demand that they help… if you being here matters.
Like, what am I holding in there for? Who’s helping? Things don’t change, your tolerance toward bad things just adjusts. Is it ok for you to get used to tolerating that? How long before functioning in a space becomes abusive? Why ask people to be ok with that behavior?
Is being here self-abuse?
I made a game about it. I literally can’t make how this feels any clearer.
If you have to stomach listening to praise, love, and adoration for your rapist and their work, is this ok?
At what point is it not on you to have to change things, fight for things to get better, and fight to assert your value as a person or artist? When does it stop being your responsibility, and maybe become the responsibility of others to make things better?
If diversity matters then maybe we need to make the space welcoming to that diversity. You can’t just champion it. You have to actually listen and change.
It’s not on women to fix this anymore. Women have done all they can. Victims have done all they can. Maybe it’s on everyone else too (those in positions of privilege) to own how things are and make it better (instead of saying “hold in there”).

Like I said, I got a tremendous amount of healing by just being in the indie space. By hearing people say that my work mattered. I can’t express how down I was, and how little I thought of myself. After a while you just internalize hate. What abusive people say about you is something you just end up believing. You can only last so long.
So my work got covered by journalists, it got into festivals, it received the recognition that I was told that i didn’t deserve, and would never get.
Healing doesn’t take place immediately. It’s hundreds of tiny little breakthroughs, and kind words from friends or strangers.
The way I viewed this E3 was that there’s a very vibrant community that exists around these “big” game events, that has a soul, and offers an alternative to something as ugly as abuse being championed.
Whenever I see a journalist thoughtfully pocking holes in an AAA game that would not have been held to such cultural scrutiny before, I get tremendously encouraged. People CAN care. Abuse IS bad.
Maybe this culture can grow up, but I don’t see it happening in events like E3 or GDC. I think actual change will come from alternatives, and counter cultures.
At least I hope. I have friends much more jaded than me that will (rightfully) shoot that down. I need to hope.
Things like E3, Steam…. pick any mainstream element of games… exists to reinforce these outdated values. The values that enabled someone like my rapist to maintain such a prominent foothold here.
Maybe the counter culture, and indie parts that exist here, can continue to poke holes in behavior, values, or unjustifiable things that used to be considered common place.
I’m not saying that indie is without flaw. There are plenty of ills here, but it’s the criticism and discussions happening that give me hope.

Outside of this lengthy rant, that I’m really only writing to relive some of the pain and encourage myself…
I don’t want to hold in there anymore. I don’t want to be told that everyone has it tough, and that I’m lucky to have gotten the recognition that I did. I want to come to a point that someone like me can take recognition for granted, just like anyone in position of privilege. “Of course I’m getting recognition. My stuff’s good!”… I want someone like me to be able to say that too.
We deserve to be here just the same.
Me being here isn’t a freak accident. I worked with lots of intention to get this far. I can’t be the only one that has gone through such experiences, so maybe this should give a shred of hope to others, just as a sign of solidarity.
I also want us to understand what we are saying when we tell someone to “hold in there”. I want us to care enough to make things right for the culture we created, and maybe help each other.
Asking someone to endure abuse is wrong. If the presence of a person, group of people, or art movement, is important, then we need to ensure that its presence is safe. That it’s welcome on an equal level. We need to make sure that abuse is no longer enabled, let alone defended.