Books and Gaming and Ugh, This Has Been a Weird Season

So I've written a couple of posts (loooong ones too) and not published any. I started out really annoyed with myself for not doing so, but now that I thought about it, I'm ok with that. You see, I have a background which makes me somewhat of an ...hmm, I'm not an expert, but I've had a good decade of research/study/writing (as in it was my job a decade ago) in fields that directly touch on what's been going on in video games and book reviewing. I'm not someone a national paper would call, and even a local one would probably want someone still in the field. But this isn't a good time for me to write something about all that, not to mention a part of the whole mess revolves around not letting yourself be outed and thus harassed.

 

I was really kicking myself for not stepping up and writing. And then many of you did. And then I realized, I don't have to stand in front - I can have their back and comment my agreement. Because that's what felt safe. That much I could do. And in that way all of you had my back, because you were all articulate, heartfelt, and said pretty much everything I was thinking and feeling. You may not of known it, but each of you who posted were giving me the equivalent of a big hug. I was reading everything and smiling. Thank you all for that. Even if you didn't know you were doing it, you did. That's why writing online is important, no matter if you think what you're doing is very little, and few people are paying attention. Sometimes it helps without you knowing it.

 

[I was going to post a long list of your writing I've read - and you know I do love linking - but it kept getting longer and longer. Such that I've already put this off a day and I still have more links. I think you'll all forgive if I give up and post this. I'm hoping the previous paragraph indicates how much I needed to read all of that writing.]


My main means of entertainment are currently books and videogames. It's what I've turned to for most of my life when I'm stressed to get my mind off things - I play or read to get out of myself and away from problems. And I read about those hobbies on a daily basis. And that's where the main ...issues have been occurring (I'm not going to link/name game stuff specifically because of the toxic nature of it all).


The problems in the two fields are different - but the similarities are there. People are outed and targeted, then the focus is on them and their personal lives. Gender is a matter in both - women are consistently targets. Brushing off the problem and its importance has also been a problem. Now things have come to the point where threats of mass violence and actual violent incidents have occurred.


One thing that concerns me most in all this is the concept of "we must hear both sides." The problem in that is how people are defining "sides" here.


[The following paragraph will not be news, most everyone has said similar things.]


If a bully decides to beat up someone for lunch money on a daily basis, I understand the human need to want to know why that bully picked on that kid. But motive isn't an excuse for threats and violence. Putting the microscope onto "what did Y do to X to cause the attack/stalking/fill in blank here" (term for this: victim blame) is never helpful. People often don't realize they're doing this - we're usually motivated by curiosity when something hasn't happened to someone we know, and most of us gossip in some way. And in a narrative, characters do things for a reason. Problem is, that's not how threats and violence often work - often the motive is obscure or nothing to do with anything the victim has actually done. It's certainly not equivalent to threaten injury to someone because they said something negative about you or something you created.

 

No one deserves to be the unlucky target that's only in focus because someone else judged them to be weak and thus safe to stalk/harass.


In reality "righteous vengeance" is rare. That scenario only works out in fiction. In reality "righteous" is subjective, and hunting down a person usually ends in violence or death, especially for women. I don't need to link to anything here, there are enough family murder/suicides in the news regularly, for example. And women are blamed both for having their home information out there anywhere (online, on paper, with phone companies, etc.) and also for not speaking up publicly (which can out your location). However the story is told, there's always someone to suggest that the victim should have done something differently.


When the media "tells both sides" - and this is something journalists always have to watch out for in their writing - the trick is not to force the sides to seem equivalent. Because often this isn't the case. There is usually power of some sort on one side, and not as much on the other. For instance, when someone is outed online with their real name and address, and the accusers are all pseudonyms - there's no "both sides" there at all, period (I'm referring to the video games issue). You have one person you can dig up all the life history on - and no names at all on the other side, so no answer to questions of bias. (There's a whole essay in that topic on how to treat anonymous sources, but that's in Journalism 101. Unfortunately there should be a Reader 101 that helps spot problems in what information those sources are giving - let's just say if more people took Literary Criticism they'd have more of those skills. The up side: reviewing books means you have been developing those lit crit skills. You don't have to have taken a class to do it.)

 

Some of the questions journalists should be asking (I've seen some of this asked/answered, not all):


-What are the connections on either side to money, industry power, etc.? Private citizens should be given the option to remind private. At the same time, if there are death threats, questions should be asked. (THIS is why journalism isn't easy. This is also why people get degrees in it rather than saying "anyone can do this, it's easy." Also see: people who tell authors that writing books is easy.)


-Who is standing up to publicly defend or critique side X, and what are their affiliations and history? Does their background make their case or show conflict? Can we trust the truthfulness of their words? (Also important: who is related to the issue and NOT saying anything?)


-If we did a side by side list/comparison of points for each (ex., Hale vs her reviewer), are we forcing any false equivalencies? (reviewer/private citizen doesn't give name vs Hale does, when Hale is also a public figure/author with book to sell)


-How are we using images to show each side, especially if one side isn't willing to/feels safe to show their real face? Does the lack of an image or questioning an image make a case for one side or another? How is the lack of image being framed? Are we thus showing more images of the person making the accusations? (Falls under questions of whose story is this?)


Journalists don't normally answer those kind of questions for the reader, and should not try to in news articles - instead they present quotes. It's still not objective, because then you have to read how the journalist has framed the story - how things are described, what specific words are used and how. (It's usually clear how the journalist thinks/feels on the topic - it's hard to remove words that indicate that.) How much text/space is given to the opposing perspectives? Some of what every journalist writes will be subjective - which is why it's important to read with a critical eye. Again, this is where critiquing literature is your friend, you have experience in this. Which is why so much of what everyone has written in our bookblog community makes me happy.

 

Yes, I am fangirling over your critical thinking skills.


That's some of what I've been thinking about. If I was still in the industry I'd be studying it. I am happy to know that there are many of academicians already doing so. Why do I know this? Most of the problems here aren't new. Just one example - women's treatment online has had much research already, and that's still ongoing. Now that the latest events have made national news? The result will be more scholarship. I think of this as a positive.


Here's something I've been focusing on, because in both stories there's the real threat of people - especially women - pulling out of the discussion and no longer writing on a topic they love.


Some of what the people in the videogame issue are very specifically attacking (much more overtly and violently than in the book community) is something that is academic and cultural - the ability to review something subjectively and thus voice your opinion on it. To be free to think and write about it. That attack is going up against a lot of history and academic work. Reviewing games took many of its methods directly from years of film reviewing, not just consumer reviews. And film reviews were born of the long history of reviewing art and literature. Writing about art, literature, etc. in order to try and explain/understand a culture goes back thousands of years. That's not going anywhere, it's deeply embedded in our culture and no one can crush it out entirely, no matter what the social movement of the moment.

 

And of course women aren't going away either. Just as they didn't go away when George Elliot and the Brontes published and the male reviewers were shocked, shocked I tell you, that there were all these women authors around "suddenly." And in those complaints were the familiar "they're taking over the book industry." And also that this would ruin everything forever. (Read fun examples of this in A Literature of Their Own). Just like when women suddenly had the right to vote, to get an education, to own property, to have jobs, etc. etc.


So when I focus on the fact that no one can turn the clock back on any of this - I feel better. None of us are going anywhere, and none of us are going to stop having opinions. How we write them - and what we emphasize (being more verbal about "I have the right to say I do/dont like this") - may change, but we're not going to be pushed into not thinking, reading, writing, or discussing.


And that's what I've been thinking as I read all of your posts this week.
Now we'll see if I feel brave enough to leave this up permanently.

(Also I'm probably unclear in there somewhere. I've never been great at self-editing. Please point anything out as problematic.)