The Machine That Eats People

I just finished having a really long conversation with another friend that works in games and it inspired me to write this post. It’s given me a lot to think about.
I’m still processing my experiences…

As I write this, the game space is under another metoo “moment”. More of these horrible, but all too normal stories, this time coming out of Blizzard. I won’t be linking to any of these because I don’t have the stomach for it.
We’ve had these “moments” come and go now for the last few years. Each time reminding this space of the abuse it is capable of levying against vulnerable people.
You would think that “fratboy culture” where co-workers were sharing nudes at a party, and the victim ended up dying by suicide, would be surprising but it’s just… not anymore. It hasn’t been since the start. It’s the type of stuff that gets whispered about at conferences when one of the men is dangerous. You get warned. Everyone knows. Those that get hurt are the ones that were too new to get warned… It’s built into this industry.

I put “moment” in air quotes because it’s really not a moment. It’s only a moment because it ends up trending… the story is juicy enough for journalists to jump on and milk, and then the headlines dry up. Most stop hearing about it, but it never goes away. To many of us it’s a reality that’s just built into the system. It’s good for the machine.
Even talking about “how bad it is” is a resource that gets exploited by news. Everyone seems to benefit.

When you’re a victim of sexual assault, abuse, and labor exploitation (usually all at once), times like these are really hard to weather. Twitter explodes with words of allyship and support… usually from people that knew about abuse, assault, or rape, but take the opportunity anyway to join in on the conversations so they look like they actually care.
Talking about it inflates the egos of personal brands with blue checkmarks, all suddenly waving the flag of solidarity… when they usually couldn’t care less. Especially not if someone reaches out to them for help, outside of trending moments.
Many of the people professing support were people that knew what was happening to myself, others, someone in their life, but either looked away or helped protect the abuser. This is on loop. It’s a cycle, because times like these are when those responsible can use this pain to wash their hands… or further inflate their brand.
Many that I reached out to for help, or that attacked me while I was fighting with the fallout of coming forward, are now lecturing about being good allies… I’m not the only one in this boat. It’s a pain to too many.

There are a lot of stories, a lot of hope wasted on the wrong people… are there even good people here? It’s easy to think there aren’t any when things like this come to the surface because with it they bring a strong reminder that nothing has changed since the last time around.
The people that benefit from it however are people like Schreier who enthusiastically break all the gory details to their Twitter following with a type of sadistic glee you’d expect from… I don’t know… Vampires, or anything else that eats pain.

It got to me because Schreier was one of those jumping in on being the loudest voice in the room by “breaking” this story. People heralding him as a hero…

So, you know… It’s wildly amazing when abusers cover abusers and act like they care about abuse.
It’s just as crushing because it signifies how little has changed since the last time people Tweeted “we have to do better!”
There is no level of accountability, and those that come forward are the ones that pay the fullest price for it.
After this blows over, the survivors will be the ones left to pick up the pieces.

Two years ago, at the same time that I came forward and there was a “metoo moment” in video games, A.M. shared their story of rape and abuse at the hands of the Kingdom of Loathing team.
It’s a horrible one, full of receipts, details, and plenty of behavior that should warrant serious concern. I do not believe people like this should have continued to function in this space after something like this was brought forward, but two years later they are still here, still getting featured, still getting included… A.M. did the tremendous emotional labor of warning people, messaging people, flooding Twitter with this story, but here we are. Nothing got done.

Why are they still here? It’s been two years and not a single thing got rectified for the person harmed. They’ve had plenty of time too.

I think it is beyond upsetting that the harm can go so deep, be perpetuated so significantly, but still after years of this being public knowledge the person harmed has to argue with people about why accountability for something like this matters.
A.M. is the one that is expected to share this space with their tormentors, to tolerate, be professional, question their humanity whenever this comes up and people demonstrate just how little they care by letting these people be here.
A long time ago a friend of mine said “it hurts to know that they know” and I can’t think of a better way of expressing that.

The work put into bringing something like this up, paying the price of immeasurable internet harassment, death threats, people trying to retrigger you… and people in your own space not caring either, is a lot of work.
So, in moments like this, when “metoo in games” makes headlines, and all those come out acting surprised and shocked… it’s really hard to not feel like you’re somehow… not human. Just not a person.

The conversation with a friend…

The conversation that I had was largely centered around the role game journalism has played in perpetuating abuse, and these inherently abusive power structures.
Can we really expect substantial change if someone like Schreier centers himself as the face of it (beyond just telling the story)? Should abusers be allowed to write our stories?

Since Patricia Hernandez assumed the role as the new Editor in Chief at Kotaku (please bare with me, this is not a criticism of her) there were a couple of major Kotaku fuckups (or internet outrage, whichever you prefer) that took over game industry social media for a few days.
What these were is completely unimportant, but my concern during this conversation was how my own situation painfully taught me that representation is not liberation.
If marginalized people fight to assume positions that were once occupied by abusive people, does the system end up changing the marginalized person so they become the new abusers?
Is it that only abusive people can “make it”, so even when they are marginalized they are still no better?
What is meaningful change?

I think the mistake I was making is looking at the individuals rather than looking at the system, and what role they are basically forced to take on if they want to exist as part of it.
The game industry, its systems, game journalism being one of these systems… are all built on the principles of abuse. They prefer the powerful. They exploit. The system exists to protect that, and to perpetuate itself. I think a lot of people would agree when I say that it’s rotten to the foundation.

So, when the power dynamics shift, and new blood comes in to fill up that space, that system will crush anyone trying to enact change. The very structure is corrupt. I don’t think you can really change it… Not by throwing a ton of good people at it, and expecting it to somehow fix itself. It’s basically just a type of human sacrifice.
I think, maybe, the best way of seeing this is to be concerned for the well being of anyone like Particia.
My friend knew of Patricias work, and spoke highly of her, so I trust that point of view. I never followed any of these people, but it was good to hear a more positive take on that situation. Either way…

Like the title of this post, the machine is built to eat people. It will function the way it does, no matter what well meaning person runs it.
I think trying to change these things is basically like throwing human sacrifices at it.

So, based on all this, how do you even navigate meaningful change?
Change has to be possible. All this has to change. It’s inevitable, but how can that get done without losing good people in the process?

I’ll be honest and make this clear… After what I went through, game journalists scare me. I’m terrified of them. I have a very difficult time seeing that profession as anything good. I think that should be understandable, and it will take a lot of time to get back to normal.

When I see something like the latest two fuckups from a place like Kotaku, I’m mortified.
The very same motion of discourse, people picking sides and dunking, journalists jumping to defend the article, journalists dunking on actually relatively OK takes… was done to me for something that I think should not have been done in the case of sexual assault.
Defending a bad video game review is one thing, but defending an article (in the very same way) that exploits and endangers sexual assault survivors is an entirely different thing… but I was given the same treatment.

In the conversation the metaphor of a robotic arm on a machine, that’s used to skewer people, was made…
Despite a leadership change, and maybe the best intentions going forward, someone like me is used to seeing this “stabby robotic arm skewering motion” used to harm people. If you suddenly replace that robotic arm to hold money, and generously hand out money to people instead, someone that knows its harm will still be mortified just because the potential of harm exists. It was used to cause harm. That was demonstrated. That power was used and the potential (the fact that it exists) is bad enough.

I think that’s a really big issue in the games space. The system is rotten and I don’t think it is fair, or even constructive, to throw marginalized people at it and expect them to change it for everyone. There is no level of meaningful solidarity or allyship that exists, just because of that.
The people that benefit from abuse benefit both from the system that abuses, and then the rehabilitation of all that. The people that pay the fullest price are those that are abused (marginalized people, survivors…).
So (like I said, I’ll say it a few times) I think a big going question after all this, and even after the next metoo type moment (or black lives matter, or trans rights, or…) is how do you navigate any type of meaningful substantial change? Especially in the midst of what basically is a predatory performance of change.
Is reform possible if the system is so fundamentally built to harm?

A big thing that I keep going back to is the importance of accountability.
In the game space, accountability has become just as hollow of a phrase as allyship. These words have been used to inflate the ego of personal brands for so long it’s hard to really grasp what they mean anymore.
We can’t count on anyone benefiting from the system (that machine that eats people) for something like accountability. That is on us too.

If you’ve been abused too much (been through too much) while in games, then you’re expected to leave. Your presence here is kind of looked down on because you’ve “failed so hard” the healthiest thing for you to do is to leave. You are either “too triggering” to be around, remind people of the negative things, or you’re just too concerning.
I’ve gotten that a lot too. Other friends of mine that have survived horrible shit have too.
We lose too many good people to abuse. The survivors that silently leave. The lost potential of what we could have had if it wasn’t for the fucking rapists.
It’s a massive loss. Somehow we bend over backwards to keep the rapist here. To rehabilitate the abuser. To justify their presence here… but even when it comes to the conversation of survivors leaving, people agree that this is the right thing.
To me, staying is the one thing that you can do to hold them accountable.

Your presence in this space is a type of accountability. It is probably the most powerful one that you can allow yourself.
You are here to remind them of what they’ve done. They cannot control the narrative as long as you are here. There is no lying, or hiding what was done, because you are still here.
If those harmed would be given the power to stay (just as stubbornly as the abusers), then the abusers would have to reconcile with their presence here. Eventually they would not get tolerated.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. If we could just stop pushing out good people, not letting them become some kind of “necessary” sacrifice for change…

Staying is hard. It’s brutal to share a space with people that you know so violently failed you, raped, abused, or protected the rapist and abuser. It’s hard to not feel like you’re less than human because you see the performance of belonging extended to everyone else
Moments like these, when everyone is jumping in to use something like “metoo moment” to make themselves look good are even harder.
I think the most substantial thing anyone here can do is to give up on the concept of allyship because that has failed us.

A couple of years ago, one of the people that worked with a rapist abuser was Tweeting about being an ally to women, and techniques to promote women… Basically what you’d normally see from someone being the good guy.
I reached out to the survivor asking if they told him (does he know?)… They really put their story on blast too. It was hard to imagine that he would not know… They said they’d check, they checked, found out they didn’t tell him, and reached out to him.
I never heard about it again. I thought it’s unfortunate that he would be supporting work from abusers, even if he worked on it, because he’s so outspoken about being a good guy. I had hoped…
When this wave happened, this was the Tweet that went up.
So… I give up? We all should?

What I think I did wrong in this case, and how I failed them, was that I asked them. I let them do the work. I should have confronted him myself. I should then also have confronted him if I saw his Tweets.
I understand that I’m seriously struggling with my own situation, but if I wasn’t so fucked up about everything… That’s the thing I could have done. I could have carried the weight of alerting people, confronting people, holding people that know accountable, instead of reaching out to the person hurt and allowing them to do it.
Because these things add up.

The responsibility of constantly reminding people that someone has raped, abused, harmed… is a tremendous one that eats at your self-worth like nothing can. You have to constantly be the bearer of bad news, wear the stigmatization for it, listen to horrible excuses, argue about it… It’s almost like self-harm to bring things to light. To keep having to do it is terrible.
That’s at least the one thing that I wish “allies” could grasp. That they should carry that responsibility of warning people too.
I’m tired of the excuses…

The system is rotten. This machine eats people. It will keep eating people, no matter how many marginalized people are thrown at it. I think we need to start having serious conversations about how to navigate that so it stops costing us good people.

There can be no meaningful change if the responsibility of change is placed on those that are harmed the most.
Change should not only be up to marginalized people, traumatized people, vulnerable people… yet those are the people that are expected to sacrifice the most for it.