Why I Don’t Feel Welcome at Kotaku

By Guest Contributor Mattie Brice, cross-posted from Kotaku

Tamagotchi. Remember those?

They became popular when I was in 4th grade. Sometimes my mother took me to a nearby Target to pick a toy- she told me it was for good grades, but I knew it was because I got bullied often at school. One of these times, I raced to find a Tamagotchi, as all of my friends were getting them. I liked the idea of something with me at all times, to take care of it and make me feel like something needed me.

And there it was, a whole wall of glittering purple eggs. I remember that exact, uncreative display panel to this day, and my mother stopping me. She told me to wait, that my aunt wanted to get that for my birthday when she visited. I protested, but the answer was the same: be patient, you’ll get it soon enough. We went a week later and all of them were gone, sold out from every toy store in our area. For some reason that memory is lodged in my brain. I brought it up to my mother recently, but she’s forgotten.

The stray times I visit Kotaku, it’s like I’m seeing an empty panel that the reward for my sitting, smiling, and internalizing should be. I was supposed to find somewhere to escape to, maybe even a place that needed me a little. You told me to wait, and I did. Where’s my Tamagotchi?

There is only a wrong way to go about this. So let’s just get to why I’m here:

Me too.

I’m part of the gaming community, but Kotaku doesn’t see me as a gamer. No, instead I’m a multi-racial transgender who-knows-sexual possibly-feminist woman gamer. A boogie monster. Someone who uses too many –isms and –ists in their daily tweets to actually enjoy anything. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ask what it’s like to be me in this pocket of society.

You know that invisible ink in detective movies? If you could get an internet lighter, you’d find “This site is for heterosexual white American men gamers.” Kotaku will never include me until it’s figured out that “gamers” is skewed to one identity and asks me to deal with that. No. Me too.

Gamer culture isn’t Kotaku’s fault. That skewing Japan as a land of weirdoes is humorous. That gamers like to look at galleries made up of T&A shots of women in cosplay. So what if someone like me doesn’t fit in with typical gamers? The editors are just providing what gamers want, how is that a bad thing? Are you using that lighter?

When I wasn’t bullied as a child, I was creating games. My favorite thing to do was to give my friends superpowers based on their personalities. When we played, they were empowered to be themselves. It was always fun because each one of us mattered. I mattered. Ever since, I knew I wanted to be involved with games, maybe even make them. I contemplate what I would say to kid-me now that I figured out what a gamer is. What kind of treatment I would receive if I ever got into the industry. Would it be more humane to convince my past self I didn’t actually matter?

I’ve turned away from Kotaku because it doesn’t like my answers. There’s a reason I can’t find you bountiful resources of sexually liberated cosplayers not posing for straight guys. [I had asked Mattie to help me find some sources of cosplay images more in line with what she would like to see on the site. — Kotaku Editorial Director Joel Johnson] Why there’s a scant amount of criticism of manchild culture. How the LGBT community is still the elephant in the room. We haven’t thought of what a gamer community that assumes diversity instead of homophobic adolescent dudes looks like. There are plenty of stats of who the “average” gamer is, what the actual demographics are. However, the image in our mind hasn’t changed in decades.

There’s a taboo against saying that. Me too. It’s radical liberal talk, an attempt to kill everyone’s fun. The common denominator response is “Why won’t you just go somewhere else?” I usually do. This attitude polarizes the community between large, mean-spirited marches of “the old guard” and a few impenetrable bastions of rigid but progressive niche philosophies. I’ve run to places like The Border House because “me too” isn’t deliberated upon, it’s the law. I turn away because Kotaku doesn’t ask me “Why are you leaving?”

Me too.

I’ve stared at those two words and deleted them often enough that I forget what they mean. I can’t say those words here without preparing myself for the sling-fest, and some days I just can’t summon the strength. This is after I go through my life dealing with crap society presents me just because I exist. And you know what sucks? That many times, my words are shrugged off, or given the fatal “I’ll think about it.” That isn’t inclusivity. Being benign doesn’t help. Letting commenters spew toxic isn’t inviting. Looking to defend yourselves doesn’t solve anything when it’s so obvious there’s a problem. I’m not looking to shame you, I just want to set things right.

Must I be a martyr? Must you be a machine? Are our only choices to become symbols and lose our humanity? Do you understand what you’re asking of me when you tell me to be patient? Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?

The games I play now won’t let me be myself. No game dares to feature a transgender character that isn’t on the wrong end of a joke. Sometimes I pretend that my party members know, but are too scared to ask. God, I don’t even know if most actual people know what it means to be transgender. Or multi-racial. Or anything other than what they are. I don’t know if they know it’s okay to ask. Then maybe we could figure out what a gamer really is. Halfway isn’t enough, but I will accompany you on the journey.

I wish Kotaku would tell me “We don’t want you to go away.” You’ll have to scroll down a bit to see if that comes true.

Me too.

  • Ike

    I think of Sheik from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as a transgender character, but that’s just grasping for straws.

  • Anonymous

    I usually hang out io9 which I find to be a lot more welcoming to all types of nerds. I did a search on Kotaku for “cosplay” and what comes up? Two posts the describe the pics as “skimpy costumes” and another featuring a professional cosplayer in pics that straight dudes would use for their yank banks. Um, yeah. Talk about “straight male gaze.” But what’s really annoying is that Kotaku claims to be some sort of place for nerds, but they have no idea what that nerdom actually is–and shit like that shows that clearly. 

  • Bob Gordon

    I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned it here, but Jacques Servin shared your insight in the 90s, and it was the reason he went from being a programmer for SimCopter to a notorious prankster and eventually one of the Yes Men (but, really, he runs that show).  Substitute transgendered for gay and we have the same awful situation he encountered. 

    It’s time for us to make them come up with levels and games that represent you.  There are gay and feminist gamer websites; there needs to be a forum for transgendered gamers, too.

    The sexism and homophobia on standard gaming sites is legendary, documented and heartbreaking.  What happened to Jade Raymond made me want to cry.

  • Anonymous

    something awful is run by horrible misogynists and racists who don’t care at all about oppression, and will ban you if you try to start something about it. the current mod team helped set up a thing so that a female poster who had been arguing with people much like those described in this very article was ‘trained’ (made only to post in a specific board) to the most vile, hate-filled board on the site, a board which fondly recalls the time they collectively drove one of it’s members to suicide as a humorous event, and gave her a special title filled almost entirely with slurs. when called on such matters they’ll get a female admin to do something or even just say that she approved of it as a way of silencing those with valid complaints.

    • C W

      In general, yeah. Their gaming forum still remains better moderated than Kotaku, sadly. 

    • C W

      In general, yeah. Their gaming forum still remains better moderated than Kotaku, sadly. 

    • C W

      In general, yeah. Their gaming forum still remains better moderated than Kotaku, sadly. 

    • C W

      In general, yeah. Their gaming forum still remains better moderated than Kotaku, sadly. 

  • Anonymous

    You reminded about so much of my childhood. No wonder I got into roleplaying and gigapets. I’ve been roleplaying since I was a kid. I remember during recess in elementary school playing a family of cheetahs with my friends or acting as the characters from movies like the Mummy. I almost always got to be Rick or some other guy, but my friends and I would switch roles to be fair.

    I’ve slowly left larger gatherings of anime lovers and so on b/c of the fetishism, fanservice and so on. I’m pretty selective about the anime and other things I like and I don’t want to be bothered by people who lack any critical thinking or an ability to look outside of their own limited purview.

  • Anonymous

    PennyArcade really fucked up last summer when a female gamer protested their comic with a rape joke about dick wolves; they proceeded to make fun of her incessantly and their legions of fans attacked the blogger and went out of their way to purchase dick wolf shirts. So, they kind of suck in a lot of ways, too.

    • C W

      “they proceeded to make fun of her incessantly and their legions of fans attacked the blogger and went out of their way to purchase dick wolf shirts. So, they kind of suck in a lot of ways, too.”

      Right, they fucked up there http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline but they genuinely seem to care about their community even if Gabe’s a bit dense, and while some of their fans are douchers, they keep their forum pretty decent. PAX is also doing a fairly decent job, notably getting rid of “booth babes” as per a survey response from their fanbase.

    • C W

      “they proceeded to make fun of her incessantly and their legions of fans attacked the blogger and went out of their way to purchase dick wolf shirts. So, they kind of suck in a lot of ways, too.”

      Right, they fucked up there http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline but they genuinely seem to care about their community even if Gabe’s a bit dense, and while some of their fans are douchers, they keep their forum pretty decent. PAX is also doing a fairly decent job, notably getting rid of “booth babes” as per a survey response from their fanbase.

    • C W

      “they proceeded to make fun of her incessantly and their legions of fans attacked the blogger and went out of their way to purchase dick wolf shirts. So, they kind of suck in a lot of ways, too.”

      Right, they fucked up there http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline but they genuinely seem to care about their community even if Gabe’s a bit dense, and while some of their fans are douchers, they keep their forum pretty decent. PAX is also doing a fairly decent job, notably getting rid of “booth babes” as per a survey response from their fanbase.

    • C W

      “they proceeded to make fun of her incessantly and their legions of fans attacked the blogger and went out of their way to purchase dick wolf shirts. So, they kind of suck in a lot of ways, too.”

      Right, they fucked up there http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline but they genuinely seem to care about their community even if Gabe’s a bit dense, and while some of their fans are douchers, they keep their forum pretty decent. PAX is also doing a fairly decent job, notably getting rid of “booth babes” as per a survey response from their fanbase.

  • sophie

    It did seem like a shitshow and a half when I visited the site, but people read the article which I think is worth something, they didn’t immediately scroll down to end to proceed with a mess of insults. 

    Although it’s angering that people are so awful and willing to express such negative sentiment (which is a nice way to put it) I like to think that maybe they’ll read Mattie’s sorts of articles and perhaps when they’re older or in a different place in life they’ll start to understand what she’s talking about, and think back on it. I did something to that extent and did more research on my own privilege and what it means which is how I discovered Racialicious and other wonderful resources but I’m still learning and fiddling. My privilege and personal experiences definitely affect my lack of cynicism but I’d be hopeful anyway, it’s just too sad otherwise. 

    • C W

      Eh, i’m certainly a cynic but I think that change of a forum’s dominant culture is impossible without direct action from its mods. Posting a link to see it filled with seething jerks isn’t a solution, obviously. You need to actually give a damn, which isn’t something the Gawker Media crew are paid enough to do. They like the pageviews the comments section brings in, but they don’t give a damn about the QUALITY of comments, like HuffPo or better sites like Salon. 

    • C W

      Eh, i’m certainly a cynic but I think that change of a forum’s dominant culture is impossible without direct action from its mods. Posting a link to see it filled with seething jerks isn’t a solution, obviously. You need to actually give a damn, which isn’t something the Gawker Media crew are paid enough to do. They like the pageviews the comments section brings in, but they don’t give a damn about the QUALITY of comments, like HuffPo or better sites like Salon. 

    • C W

      Eh, i’m certainly a cynic but I think that change of a forum’s dominant culture is impossible without direct action from its mods. Posting a link to see it filled with seething jerks isn’t a solution, obviously. You need to actually give a damn, which isn’t something the Gawker Media crew are paid enough to do. They like the pageviews the comments section brings in, but they don’t give a damn about the QUALITY of comments, like HuffPo or better sites like Salon. 

    • C W

      Eh, i’m certainly a cynic but I think that change of a forum’s dominant culture is impossible without direct action from its mods. Posting a link to see it filled with seething jerks isn’t a solution, obviously. You need to actually give a damn, which isn’t something the Gawker Media crew are paid enough to do. They like the pageviews the comments section brings in, but they don’t give a damn about the QUALITY of comments, like HuffPo or better sites like Salon. 

  • Rebecca A

    Me and my friends did( and still do) the same thing! Being a PoC nerd, I have the same impression.  Even if the game has a lead as a female, she is white or fair skinned asian.  She has the perfect 36-24-36 body which is on display with unrealistic outfits. Have you even seen a thicker girl in a story that wasn’t played for laugh? Even with the small proportion of girls in games, they never stray far from their molds. If they are lesbians they are hyper sexual beauties  who are always looking to make out with some random girl. Or she is a super butch with man like qualities and is usually almost asexual. Transexual, I haven’t seen.

    Why can’t they see that we are part of the picture? We aren’t looking for pity or trying to dominate the world, inclusion is all that is needed.

  • Anonymous

    This reflects a bit of my own experiences with gamer culture. When you protest the brazenly racist, homophobic, or sexist language, either with a vigorous “that’s wrong stop that!” or a simple “I don’t like to be called that/would prefer not to hear that, so please stop” you are responded to the same way, as if you are a killjoy who has come here to ruin the fun.

    The comments at Kotaku were utterly predictable as well.  If they aren’t arguing that “the internet is just like that to everybody” (which even if true, is acceptable as an excuse how?) they’re arguing that you’re reverse oppressing them for the sake of a personal pity party or “looking to be offended”. Basically, it’s never *their* fault that their racist, transphobic , homophobic, sexist language that they have made commonplace in the gaming culture is a turn off to people who are non-white, gay, trans, and female. Clearly it’s those groups being oversensitive, rather than people with no experience of marginalization in those areas not being sensitive enough.

    And then they wonder why they get a bad rep.

    • Bump’n’Grindcore

      Exactly. That post is full of comments to the effect of “suck it up, life’s tough”, yet gamers are the first to bleat about misrepresentation and stereotyping if their fragile little privileged egos feel slighted. 

      As a female on those forums too often I’ve found myself becoming something of a troll, because proving that you can be more foul mouthed, dirty and aggressive than any of the dudes seems to be the only way they’ll listen to your arguments. They seem to go by the alpha-dog theory, which sucks, because you shouldn’t have to resort to smack-talk to get your point across.  Even if it can be amusing sometimes. 

    • Anonymous

      Stuff like this also occurs in subtler ways in other spaces in society we aren’t “supposed to” occupy (like grad school), particularly when we speak our minds and offer any experience other than what the dominant culture says is “normal” (i.e. monoracial, white, upper middle class, heterosexual and male).   If you aren’t that and don’t pretend to be, they don’t want you there. Why? because one of the biggest, most important aspects of white privilege (“white” to me encompasses not just “race” but all the other constructs as well) is the ability to dominate any given space fully. That’s manifest destiny, that’s gentrification of the projects, that’s all those stupid comments on any gamer/tech/pirate forum online – that women don’t exist online, that if someone says they are a woman they are lying the only way to “prove” that you are a member of that rare species is to objectify yourself by putting up pics (preferably of your bits). Then they treat you (as usual) as some idiot. Any claim you make, however obvious, is challenged because you, as a woman (or transwoman) are always an idiot compared to any man. It is sad that even in cyberspace we struggle to find a place where we can stand as equals.  Not even the anonmity of the internet has managed the to equalize things, as all those “colorblind” racists would like to believe.

  • Logoskaieros

    Thank you for posting this.  I’m vocal about the ‘oh look, another straight white dude” as a protagonist, but I never thought about the significance for someone who is transgender.

    My next thought was, well, if I try to bring up transgender characters, I’m sure people will say “well they’re such a rare minority; you can’t expect ALL video games to feature someone like that.”

    But then I remembered a line I heard someone use in college (about liberal arts education and the silence on women, but it works here too):   So, kings and royalty are also a minority (.0001% at least, maybe .001% if they have a big family), definitely more so than transgendered people (who are probably .01-.1%?), but how many video games manage to have characters that are royalty? I think I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve played a game as a kind of prince or king. So it’s not the numbers that are the problem. 

    I’m sure a bigger problem is that (1) lots of people forget that transgendered people exist (as people) and (2) lots of people don’t know what it means to be transgendered, but once they do, my limited experience is that the numbers-issue is the next excuse commonly given on issues of representation. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CIPKMOXHLA5KG34HMH55OXHCVM Angel H.

    The Kotaku commentariat was ever so eager to prove the OP’s point.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this beautiful, powerful, poignant piece. I’m a Brown girl nerd who sometimes dabbles in the gamer community (although my primary haunts are tv-show/book fandoms). The isolation, racism and sexism are so painful and wearisome :( 
    I wish we could turn on the tv and see faces that looked like us, that we could pick up graphic novels and see superheroes in our image, that we didn’t have to apologize for and justify our presence in fan/culture sites.
    Anyway, thank you again for writing this. May I cyber-hug you?  **hug**

    In solidarity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ebony-Vandross/62500755 Ebony Vandross

    As I anticipated, the responses on the Kotaku site are examples of EXACTLY what you are talking about.

    As a gaming/anime female POC, I’ve NEVER liked that site.

  • Lydia Crowe

    Thank you for this. I left a game I really enjoyed because of the repeated sexist, homophobic, racist remarks from what was really just a handful of aggressive and loud gamer manchildren. The mild reprimands they received from the moderators were always met with “come on, it was just a joke!” kinds of defenses. It got to me after a while and I decided that the increased blood pressure and internalized feelings of low self-worth were just not worth it.

  • sophie

    This crossposting confused me a lot a first, but once I clicked on the top link to Kotaku and gained more context I understood it much better. I hope you don’t go leave Kotaku Mattie. You sound like a good influence on the community! Goodness people are thick skulled sometimes, you’d think games would be more fun and interesting with more perspectives and minds to contribute to them. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_X6VBM6TFKYFKPT5U4ZHMYFPUQM Simon

    You see this kind of thing in alot of nerd culture sites.  Seeing as these places, and nerd culture in general, is seen as a white, heterosexual space bringing up issues of race, gender, and/or sexual orientation will get you attacked.  Yet when the shoe is on the other foot, as with the casting in Thor and the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, to them it’s “more PC crap” and what they love is being threatened. 

    • C W

      They’re not even marginalized these days, and they still use that excuse to marginalize others who like similar, but not *exactly* the same entertainment as they do.

  • Neurochick

    I think this sentence really speaks the truth:

    @God, I don’t even know if most actual people know what it means to be transgender. Or multi-racial. Or anything other than what they are.

    I think that’s the larger problem.  People only know how to be what they are and don’t have a desire to even be interested in anyone unlike them.  

    • Bob Gordon

      Part of it is the culture’s emphasis on manufactured representations of reality, which it pushes from an early age to make synthetic culture normative (see The Corporation’s interview with the psychologist who designs child marketing strategies).  It’s also why so many treat Christianity as the normative religion:  They can’t separate it from the culture that defines them or, by extension, their own heavily edited reality TV show. They can’t imagine being Muslim, let alone, transgendered.

      Teaching and writing fiction are activities that make people stand outside their own experience and attempt to live in someone else’s head.  If everyone had to do one or the other as a daily exercise, I wonder whether gender/orientation narcissism would be as rampant as it is now.