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Critical Distance: The First Month and the Future

May 6th, 2009 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Uncategorized

Dear Critical Distance Readers, Contributors and Interested Parties,

What is Critical Distance? What is its purpose and what is its aim? What gap in the field, what niche of interest, does it serve to fill?

These are questions I have been asking myself for the past few weeks, and they go largely without satisfactory answers. However, I think we are beginning to see at least the general form these answers will take – outlined by the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, as it were.

So far, we’ve operated quite successfully from a “we’ll figure it out as we go along” mentality, and that has resulted in some great initial efforts, and more than our fair share of attention. We have started by posting links to blogs and intelligent articles that deal with aspects of games, game design, game culture, player theory, and that’s been fine so far. The internet clearly does not need another Aggregator site for videogame content – and we have rightfully identified this. We have however identified the related, yet fundamentally different need forarchiving” – that is, having an easy and sensible way of collating, arranging, referencing, and just generally remembering important blog posts, articles and discussions.

It is telling that the most excitement and interest in Critical Distance has been for the “Critical Compilations”, and I have personally seen the Braid Critical Compilation name-checked in a number of places, completely unexpectedly. So where does that leave us? Have the link-out posts been a failure? Certainly not – however I think that they can be significant improved and brought into line with this core idea of keeping the threads together and of archiving.

It is also telling that the most successful of these ‘link-out’ posts have been the larger, more comprehensive ones. Specifically, Denis Farr’s recent Achievement Unlocked: Sex which, while focused on the discussion of a single post, elaborates on certain points with links to other articles and the ideas contained within them.

This is where I see the most fruitful area for the future of Critical Distance coverage – in being able to bring together and synthesize a new post and new coverage from disparate arguments and multiple sources. Think of it as providing the community with access to your memory, your own history of reading, your store of knowledge gained through the engagement with ideas in blog posts, and with each-other. Within this notoriously short-memoried and shortsighted community you the contributors are the elders. A videogame blog that has a critical slant and that has been around for more than a year is still a bit of a rarity, and the fractured nature of the community results in a lot of what seems like ‘re-inventing the wheel’. We see it all the time when, for example, videogames get compared to movies – I’m sure you will have read a lot of arguments for and against aspects of the topic over the years (Michael Abbott’s from some-time last year, and LB Jeffries’ most recent essay on the subject come immediately to mind).

But plenty of people interested in our writing and writing about games haven’t read those yet, or may have just forgotten about them. We can remind them, if we make the effort and do so in a humble and non-condescending way, we can help to work against the trend to continually re-hash the same old tired topics. And we can do it without becoming elitist, or inwardly focused (an allegation some have leveled against the game studies movement within academic circles). What better way to say you’re outwardly focused than to demonstrate how widely read you are on a subject?

So what can we do practically? For starters, I would like to solicit your feedback on this proposed shift of focus, as well as on the general operation of Critical Distance so far. What parts have you found personally useful? What things would you like to see change, or would you do differently? Secondly, I would like to ask contributors to re-think their approach to posts from now on (and if you haven’t done one, consider this for any future posts) by trying to include alternative sources, contrary opinions or further elaborations on the topic of the original article. If you have read something before that has relevance to the discussion, include it. If you’ve never read anything about the subject before then obviously the post is doubly worth highlighting for its unique contribution as well as to find out about what others might have read related to it. Sharing relevant links with others interested in certain topics or discussions has, in my view, been one of the better successes of Critical Distance so far.

All of this will necessitate posts being longer than they have previously, but that’s actually fine. We will work to keep a limit on the number of daily posts to keep it manageable for our readers. We are most definitely not trying to compete with the Kotaku’s of the world and their frenetic posting schedule, slow and thorough is good (In fact better – and I have personally had to make a mental adjustment in this area).

Thank you again to everyone who has worked to make Critical Distance whatever it currently is, and whatever it shall become.

Edit: 5/10/09 – The comments section is now closed, we thank everyone who took the time to leave feedback.

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74 Responses

  • Personally, I think the “Archive” strategy is a great idea. However, I do agree that we should give the People what they want, and what they want are the compilations.

    But, I really don’t want to let go of our more specialized aggregations. I think as we get more popular, people will really appreciate them.

  • I like the word archiving to describe Critical Distance. I knew what you were trying to do, but I could never get underneath the skin, or adequately describe it. Thank you for your self analysis.

    I agree about the critical compilations, but they are not easy to write. So far there have only been 4 to my knowledge. They take time not only in compiling and organizing them, but time has to be taken so bloggers can write their thoughts at their own pace. The Prince of Persia one is an oddity in that a large group of bloggers got together and decided to all play the game at the same time and nearly all of the writing on it came out at the same time.

    Maybe we should look into how long is long enough to have enough distance from the game.

  • I see no problem with only putting out one or two posts a week, so long as they’re solid, compilation-style entries.

    I think the idea of archiving both based on games and based on more abstract notions (e.g., female protagonists, jumping mechanics, the first-person perspective, or comparisons to film). C-D could become a wonderful resource for thinkers looking to get background information on topics of interest or of potential new writing.

    The problem I see with this notion is that it doesn’t neatly fit the periodical nature that blogs tend to have. I hesitate to say this, but it might better fit an encyclopedic format, with entries that the core of editors keep updated.

  • I am presently writing an article on and around Braid for the film site for which I work, and I am very grateful for its particular round-up which has helped me to review what has been said about it (some of which I had read, some of it not). I have been checking the site daily since and find your linking strategy constantly interesting and relevant. So whatever it is you think you’re doing well, keep doing it!

  • While I’m slinging ideas around, I’d also really like to have a way to track updates and comments on individual posts.

  • juv3nal says:

    I think the articles are fine; I have faith that whatever direction you choose to take them will be fine too.

    The podcasts, on the other hand, need a big whack of something…I want to say structure, but maybe that’s not it. Currently (although I have not listened to the most recent one) they meander as conversations are wont to do, and maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to keep track of who’s said what.

    • Duly noted. I’m still trying to figure out the dynamics of this podcast. We have had new guests every episode so it is difficult to try to get any familiarity with the voices.

      As for the discussions on the podcast, I do agree it meanders a lot. I try to guide and edit the conversation so there is some logical flow to the topic. But I will continue to try my best to keep things structured. :-)

  • I think the idea of Critical Compilations on topics other than specific games is a very good one. Compilations of articles about Games as Communication, or Horror Games, or Usability In Games etc, would be very beneficial to a lot of people.

    There’s really no need for them to attempt to be comprehensive and they can always be treated as multiple volumes, provided they are organised in a manner that allows all volumes on a particular topic to be located quickly.

    Another aspect of Critical Distance that I think would be appealing comes from something I noticed with the podcasts. This is the fact that not every critic agrees with each other, and there are really no correct answers. Taking advantage of the diversity of contributors and providing some distinct point \ counter-point articles would be a good idea. With maybe two people on different sides of an argument posting up an editorial with links to supporting opinions and articles.

    In fact thinking about how the podcasts are treated they are a form of critical compilations themselves.

    I think the clue to how to move forward with Critical Distance is in the name itself… Focus on the titles and ideas that are NOT covered by most gaming sites… Focus on the games that people have stopped playing the ones that can now be looked at with fresh eyes.

    With regard to criticism when it appears and how frequently are far less important that the quality of the work itself. If it leads to one post a week, embrace that and make that one post outstanding.

  • I like what you guys are doing so far. I only hate the Further Reading section. ‘Tis either a mess or a clusterfuck.

    Could use some more CSS (at the very least) or a series of book reports that your readers could use to decide which books they should spend their limited time with (at the very most).

    • Michel says:

      There’s a lot of layout stuff that isn’t polished, and that page was one of the big ones. But I agree that it doesn’t really work, even if prettied up.

      I’ll talk it over with the others but it was my idea initially so I don’t think it will be missed. I think a monthly or bi-monthly book review to accompany the featured book in the sidebar would work a little better.

      Thanks for the input.

  • Brinstar says:

    I haven’t been a long-time reader of this blog. I only recently found out about it, and I’ve read all of two posts, plus skimmed a handful of others. I think the ideals of the site are good. I think that the critical link round-up format, with commentary is fantastic. This format has served me well in my own blog, and it’s served other bloggers well, too.

    However, looking at the roster of Editors and Contributors, my hope is that this blog doesn’t become (and I will be perfectly blunt here) a “Brainysphere” circle jerk of mutual link masturbation.

    I think the critical gaming blogosphere, collectively, is generally good, especially on game design issues.

    On cultural and social issues, though, the analysis and critique are a little spotty. I see just as much cluelessness and privilege amongst bloggers who deem themselves more aware and more analytically-minded than those mainstream gaming communities as I see in the mainstream gaming community itself. Reading the comments on the post immediately before this one makes this point very clear. On this note, it’s disappointing to be disappointed again and again.

    Having said that, because I do think that CD’s aims are in the right place, I will be reading along, albeit with much scepticism.

    Also, I think you need more women editors and writers.

    • @ Brinstar: The comments rife with privilege in the previous post were mine, and I’m a reader of this blog–not an editor or a contributor. My privileged comments were argued against by the contributor, so I think there’s a sign that at least one staffer shares your concerns. He in fact acted in the exact manner prescribed by the numerous articles on privilege you linked on Brainy Gamer awhile ago–he referenced a female writer and didn’t argue with her in the feminine space he invoked (in fact, he supported her writing against my arguments with it). So skepticism is healthy, but C-D shouldn’t be blamed for a reader’s disagreement with your philosophy on privilege.

      Anyhow, +1 on the need for female contributors. Also, since you’re a fairly encyclopedic mind on feminist game blogging, Brinstar, maybe you could suggest for the C-D staff some good places to look for articles/contributors? I know it’s your stance that you’re not an educator, but it would be quite helpful.

  • tekanji says:

    @Simon: Yes, you aren’t an editor or a contributor, but your comments were way out of line. That they got through moderation with no one even issuing you a warning to check the way you were debating says a lot about the kind of community that’s being built here. Unfortunately, it’s exactly the kind of (lack of) moderation and (lack of) consideration as the mainstream communities that disappoint me, and Brinstar, and countless others. Readers/commenters of a blog set the tone of the community as much as the blog staff do. Which means that it’s absolutely the responsibility of said staff to draft up commenting guidelines and decide amongst themselves what kind of community they want to foster.

    Also, it’s not just the lack of diversity of the staff that’s an issue, although that is a problem, but also the lack of an understanding of privilege in the general community that curtails the ability to properly critique games from through a social lens.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that my time is limited and therefore I’m not going to stick around a site that makes me feel unwelcome. And, from what I’ve seen of the small community here, there is a serious lack of respect that, while clearly not intentional, is nonetheless a red flag to those of us who have been burned time and time again by communities moderated by people with a lack of understanding (and, often, a lack of interest) in anti-oppression activism.

    Like Brinstar, I want CD to succeed, but I’m concerned that it’s going to be Yet Another Gaming Site By Mostly White Guys for Mostly White Guys.

  • Kateri says:

    I agree with Brinstar completely. I think CD is a wonderful idea, but I had concerns before it even started about how inclusive it would be. Having Denis on board has allayed that somewhat, but there still seem to be problems approaching issues of oppression.

    Basically, if contributors writing on such topics have to deal with the same tired old attitudes and attacks every single time, they’re just not going to bother getting involved. (NOT specifically referring to the previous thread’s comments, more things I’ve seen happen elsewhere, including Michael Abbot’s VGC, that I’d like to prevent happening here as well.)

    There are plenty of resources like Feminism 101 that could be linked to when stuff like this comes up. (do NOT have the energy to link hunt now, sorry) Getting a woman on the editorial team would likewise be great – I can think of a few names, but wouldn’t want to put them forward without knowing whether they were up for it.

    It is inevitable that there will be people commenting who don’t always understand the issues, and everyone understands that on the internet, morons happen. What is important is that the editorial and moderation policy sets a strong, positive tone for the community. This is especially important for issues around oppression, where although it’s just casual intellectual back-and-forth for someone not part of the oppressed group, for a person writing from a position of having experienced it on a deep, personal level for their whole lives, it’s not casual, and shouldn’t be treated as if it is.

    • I really value your and Brinstar’s suggestions and comments here, both in terms of more general privilege issues as well as the Brainysphere “in crowd” issues. I think (and I’m only a small part of C-D as it currently operates) that the intention to accept and link broadly is a good one, and could ameliorate some of the issues.

      Good intentions are worth little unless they are put into actions, however, and C-D’s relative youth on the internet means it hasn’t had a chance to spread out much beyond the original founders. I think we’d all love to see a broader set of writers with more diverse perspectives and specialties.

      Specifically in terms of privilege issues in games and in the culture of games, I’d personally really appreciate a long-form expository article on the current and past state of the issues as well as various current viewpoints in the discussion — an article that could be used as a central reference on the subject for future writing and to help folks unfamiliar with the topic. The problem with the expository mode, however, means being able to report with a relatively firm sense of disinterest — especially hard in a topic that so frequently and easily feels very personal.

      That said, I’ll do what I can to encourage and advance that sort of article.

  • Ben Abraham says:

    I feel that I should weigh in here, despite the fact that I wanted to deliberately stay out of the comments on this post. I wanted everyone to feel free to pipe up with whatever criticism they wished to share, however big or small.

    The nature of the community and our comment moderation policy has been raised, and with regards to that I should mention that there currently is no moderation policy and I am personally inclined not to have any. Does that mean letting any old punk run their mouth in the comments thread? No – but moderating their comments should never be the first step, in fact it should be the very last. I would encourage active engagement with the offending person for a number of reasons;

    Firstly, it’s so that we can all benefit from seeing a mix of different perspectives (as biased, as racist, as privileged as they may be!) and see what happens when they all rub shoulders together. If you’ve been “burned” too many times to provide even the benefit of the doubt, to address your fellow commenter’s comments in good faith, then I wonder whether you haven’t lost the very spirit of ‘inclusiveness’ that I see being argued so strongly for. Inclusiveness “on your terms” is not inclusiveness, as far as I can tell.

    Secondly, it works to set a tone for other commenters when they see other people’s negative comments or offensive words chastised publicly. If it all happens behind closed doors, who’s to know what actually went on in a discussion? We also leave the critical distance editors & moderators open to accusations of quashing dissent, which, I hope you can see from our solicitation of feedback and criticism, is far from our desire. Obviously trolls will not be tolerated, but the general the aims of Critical Distance are of openness and transparency in discussion. Censorship of comments does not come into the equation except in the most extreme cases, and that works both ways -œ I would never wish to silence the above commenters who decried us as masturbatory in our linking habits or as negligent in controlling our community.

    I agree that our list of editors could certainly be improved, and it’s something that we’ll be keeping an eye on going forward. It is the way it is because of the site’s manner of inception – not including any female editors or contributors was not a deliberate move but a result of the fact that I personally didn’t (and still don’t) really know any female game bloggers well enough to entrust them with editorship. That’s not a criticism of any of them, just a reality with me (and perhaps a small criticism of my own failure to build relationships with female videogame bloggers).

    Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to comment, I hope you’ll stick around. Try not to judge us too harshly based on our first, initial efforts.

    • oliemoon says:

      Well! Since you’re all about the “free speech” here and being
      (supposedly) open to criticism, I feel comfortable saying that your
      response to the question of moderation both appalls and disgusts me, Ben Abraham. I am going to judge your words harshly because you have said some deeply offensive things and I believe they call for harsh judgment. Others have already commented far more generously than I will, and yet their comments still produced a reaction that reeks of privilege from you so I see no reason to continue to feed you cookies and hope that by serving you sugar you’ll actually listen to me.

      but moderating their comments should never be the first step, in
      fact it should be the very last

      I strongly disagree. There’s a reason that one can rarely find
      intelligent discussion at places like Kotaku: when you click on a
      comments section and all you see is bigoted, privileged wank and
      stupidity, why would any sensible person even want to participate in
      that conversation? The bigots drown out all other conversation. Moderating comments makes the comment thread a stimulating and welcoming space for lurkers to feel comfortable enough with speaking up and voicing their views. If all they see is asshattery, they’re not going to bother. That is an important aspect of silencing tactics that you should understand.

      Firstly, it’s so that we can all benefit from seeing a mix of
      different perspectives (as biased, as racist, as privileged as they
      may be!) and see what happens when they all rub shoulders
      together.

      Do you have any idea how infuriating this one sentence is? So that “we” can benefit from rubbing shoulders with racists, etc.? Who is this “we” that you speak of? I think what you actually mean is “us white men” (please correct me if I am wrong about your ethnicity and/or your sex/gender; based on the pictures at your blog/Twitter you appear to be a white man) because I already “rub shoulders” with racists, misogynists and homophobes Every. Single. Day. I don’t have the privilege of avoiding them. Ever. I am not going to waste my time, my energy and my sanity “debating” issues of oppression that affect my existence on a daily basis with some random internet asshole just so you and the rest of the (largely white, largely male) so-called “Brainysphere” can sit around taking notes and learn from it. What the hell? Do you have any idea how deeply messed up that is? Are you too blindsided by your own privilege to realize that something like Alex’s post isn’t about debating theory but about the actual reality that women live with? We don’t exist for your personal intellectual growth.

      This quote from TV show The L Word (of all places) is appropriate here
      (My intent is not to say these specific words at you, but to
      illustrate the kind of feeling that statements like yours evoke):

      “Oh, fuck off, Mark! It’s not my job to make you a better man and I
      don’t give a shit if I’ve made you a better man. It’s not a fucking
      woman’s job to be consumed and invaded and spat out so that some
      fucking man can evolve.”

      If you’ve been “burned” too many times to provide even the benefit
      of the doubt, to address your fellow commenter’s comments in good
      faith, then I wonder whether you haven’t lost the very spirit of
      ‘inclusiveness’ that I see being argued so strongly for. Inclusiveness
      “on your terms” is not inclusiveness, as far as I can tell.

      How dismissive (and ironic) of you to suggest that our experiences of
      being dismissed and treated like crap for being women, for being POC,
      etc. etc. are not real or not legitimate enough(or did you mean
      something else by putting the word burned in quotes?). When you exist
      with privilege, you do not get to set the terms of inclusiveness. I
      don’t insist that I know what’s best for trans folk and if they don’t respond to transphobia the way I think they should then they’re just being narrow-minded and exclusive. Why? Because I am cisgendered (to give you an example of some of the privilege that I benefit from) and don’t know jack shit about it means to be trans in this world. I respectfully defer to their authority on an issue with which I have no personal experience.

      If you don’t understand why many of us no longer give offensive
      people the benefit of the doubt at times (and instead just get pissed
      off and/or walk away), then that more than anything is indicative of
      your privilege here. Have you never heard the saying, “The definition
      of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting
      different results”? Generally speaking, when people do or say sexist, racist etc. things? We’ve heard it all before That’s why we
      don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. We’ve had the exact same
      conversation over the exact same offense dozens of times before and we
      already know how it’s going to play out. And if you don’t understand
      that, then you’ve likely never experienced it (ah, the benefit of
      privilege!) and aren’t really qualified to tell us how we should be
      responding to bigotry.

      And here’s the other thing you’re missing: Often times, when some of
      us comment at blogs like this, that in of itself is an act of good
      faith. I wouldn’t be wasting my time leaving this comment if I didn’t
      think there was the possibility that you are not in fact as awful as
      your comment leaves me inclined to think you might be. I am hedging my
      bets on the hope that you are actually interested in issues of
      oppression, that you want to encourage a culture of respect at
      Critical Distance and that you are looking for ways to improve the
      status quo. So just to be clear: I am giving you the benefit of the
      doubt. tekanji, Brinstar and Kateri are giving this site, the
      editors and the readers the benefit of the doubt. If I am not prepared
      to give a site the benefit of the doubt, I don’t read, much less
      comment at it.

      Censorship of comments does not come into the equation except in
      the most extreme cases

      Moderation =/= Censorship.

      An example for you. It’s illegal to yell “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium in the USA when there is no fire. Why? Because it presents a clear and present danger to other people in the auditorium. It is not considered censorship to disallow this kind of speech: it is moderation of free speech that is intended to insure the safety and well-being of others.

      Moreover, moderation does not necessarily mean deleting offensive posts. It can also mean editors/admins calling out inappropriate behavior in the comments section from their position of authority. That more than anything sets the tone for a site: when the actual moderators (and not the members) step in and clarify what is and isn’t okay. When no authority figure steps up, many people will perceive said authority as giving silent approval to said inappropriate behavior. Probably not every single editor (if any) at Joystiq is a raging bigot, for example, but they have no problem with allowing people to spew bigoted commentary all over their threads so they clearly condone it and that’s not much better.

      I would never wish to silence the above commenters who decried us
      as masturbatory in our linking habits

      Re-read Brinstar’s comment. She stated that she was worried about the
      possibility that this site would end up a masturbatory link
      fest like most of the rest of the so-called “Brainysphere,” not that
      it currently is.

      perhaps a small criticism of my own failure to build relationships
      with female videogame bloggers

      I think you should probably examine that failure a little further and
      seriously consider why it is that you lack these kinds of relationships with women, but not with men.

      Look, here’s the fact of the matter. Your lack of moderation has
      already ensured that Alex is no longer comfortable at this site,
      stopped commenting on the thread about her own post and will no longer
      allow her work to be posted here. She gave this site and then Simon the
      benefit of the doubt and what happened? She got a nice plate of male privilege shoved down her throat and her good faith is no more. Your comment? Was the cherry on top for her. When you lack moderation, you’re giving open license for those with privilege to run rampant and dominate the conversation and you’re sending clear signals to everyone else that they will not be treated with respect at your site.

      Given the nature of your comment, I suspect that mine will not be well received because you very much seem to embody the attitude that has led to tekanji to worry about this site becoming Yet Another Gaming Site By
      Mostly White Guys for Mostly White Guys. It is no coincidence that the
      so-called “Brainysphere,” from which this site seems to be an outgrowth, is so very very white and so very very male. And it will be no coincidence if Critical Distance stays on par with course in that
      regard.

      But say you do practice the “good faith” that you are quick to
      proclaim we should all be practicing at all times. In that case, This site might help you (and anyone else) understand why your comment has made me so damned angry. And you know, it’s too bad. I was impressed with Erik’s response above (part of the reason why I decided to comment at all here), but after reading your comment my ability to maintain any faith in this site has significantly plummeted.

      • I’m by no means an expert on these subjects, but I’d really like to learn. I know it’s incumbent on me to take the initiative, but I struggle to know where to start. It makes me long for my days in academia, where I could walk down the hall and make an appointment to talk to someone skilled at explaining such things.

        I guess that makes me selfish in asking for such a source, but if anyone could point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it.

        • Which part of it do you want to start with, Erik? Have you read any Gayatri Spivak or Judith Butler?

        • JoeTortuga says:

          Erik, and others, I found these articles by Mary Anne Mohanraj on John Scalzi’s “Whatever” blog to be enlightening, and allowed me to review my thoughts on these issues in a way that wasn’t overly emotional.

          Also, I’d like to not that overall, this conversation about something has instead become a converstaion about the conversation, which is one of the first steps of not dealing with it.

          Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets you Up To Speed Part 1

          Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets you Up To Speed, Part 2

        • I hadn’t read any of that. Most of my experience with issues of privilege (and specifically gender) had been in casual formats (where it often seemed an assumption that everyone knew the relevant scholarly texts) or in literature discussions where such concerns and analysis often were but one of many analytical views (I almost had to drop out of some classes because they were devolving into socialist v. feminist shouting matches, which was truly unfortunate). Since I come from a position of privilege in an embarrassingly broad array of angles (not to say I’ve never been looked down on, but I tend to fall on the “privileged” side of most of the cultural spectrums people talk about), I feel like I’ve only survived without being seen as “the bad guy” because I do my best to try to take everyone’s points of view and individual feelings into account, and I try to keep my mouth shut unless I think there’s something important that I can add to a conversation. I also really dislike conversations that involve a disparity of respect. I feel like I’m rambling, but I wanted to try and explain where I’m coming from and my relative ignorance.

          My thanks to everyone here (especially Oliemoon, Joe and Roger) for helping me with some of my intellectual lacunae. I think that’s a wonderful taste of what C-D could be.

    • JoeTortuga says:

      Ben, I’m not going to comment on the content of your comment, but I think there are ways to accomplish both free and open speech, and comment on speech that we consider inflammatory and disrepectful. I do think that the gaming community at large (if not the people I’ve worked directly with on this site) can be a divisive, rude, impolite bunch. We don’t want to keep people from talking, as that does open us up to criticism of censorship (even if it’s proper moderation).

      For this reason, I think we should consider some sort of disemvowelling or other shunning method. How would that be applied? I’m not sure — but I think it should be transparent about what is going on. Being open and clear about what we are doing is vital, I think, to being respected. But so is having an inviting place to have intelligent discourse.

  • Kateri says:

    I really really hope that people will read olimoon’s fantastic post. It’s way saner, calmer, ‘nicer’ and more constructive than the once I felt like writing.

    I hope that people will take the time to understand it, and avoid knee-jerk defensive reactions. We are not trying to be ‘negative’, we are trying to help make C-D better, as the topic invited us to do.

    You have a fantastic opportunity here to include loads of really good bloggers who have been writing valuable stuff for ages, but who have been continually overlooked and alienated by the main games crit circle. I have seen other occasions (VGC, anyone?) when a similar chance was there, and it was blown. You’re on the point of blowing it again. Please don’t.

    • Kateri says:

      Sorry, oliEmoon, curse the lack of an edit button!

    • That’s calm and rational? I understand explaining being deeply offended but then writing off Ben as being yet another bigoted white male, deeply offended, can’t possibly understand because of privilege, very offended, etc.

      I realize most of you aren’t very big fans of me but I just want to point out one little complaint. You keep talking about dismissing us and writing us off for making one comment or one strange act. Do you really think we’re all sitting around trying to insult you?

      It’s the same thing any time one of these debates comes up. It’s see things your way or I’m just another privileged white male who can’t possibly understand. There is no compromise. No conversation about differing perspectives. No dissent is allowed.

      How is this a conversation? What would even be the point of commenting on an article if that’s the response we’re going to get?

      • But, LB, this *is* the conversation–it just happens to be a conversation about the conversation. The question is what steps, if any, should be taken to ensure that the conversation meets the needs of the interlocutors C-D wants to serve.

        • You’re right, Roger. I think it’s important to remember that we’re still talking about how to improve C-D. I certainly don’t want to dismiss the more specific concerns we’re talking about here, but we’re all talking about audience and moderation with an eye towards improving the site.

      • Kateri says:

        @LBJeffries I don’t know what to say to you, since to me, oliemoon already explained why this was not about crushing dissent, or censorship. So your post just sounds like knee-jerk defensiveness from where I’m sitting, but (while not claiming to speak for her) I’d be happy to discuss specific things she said, if you want to take issue with them.

        • Alright, let’s do it. First, starting off by saying my entire post is a knee-jerk reaction is just as belittling as it would be for me to dismiss someone else’s complaints about the discussion of gender. Much like olimoon’s post which complains of the responses being “a reaction that reeks of privilege” in the first paragraph, you are dismissing me right off the bat. I don’t speak for everyone, but starting off a post by insulting someone does not usually generate a positive response.

          Indeed, that’s something of a theme in the post. After the moderation section it starts right back up again. Insinuating that we are all too blind by privilege, that we are somehow claiming oppression doesn’t exist, that we’re all just taking notes trying to study something.

          When you exist with privilege, you do not get to set the terms of inclusiveness.

          And there it is, the refusal to discuss. She gets done saying she won’t take the time to explain her position, then she claims we have no right to talk about or judge it.

          And if you don’t understand that, then you’ve likely never experienced it (ah, the benefit of privilege!) and aren’t really qualified to tell us how we should be responding to bigotry.

          And there it is again. She goes on later to say she hopes we’ll encourage mutual respect and moderate fairly, yet we’ve been banned from having an opinion on how that’s done.

          All of these criticisms are laid out in the link she provided, so I doubt this is a shock to anyone that I am just repeating some of them. Much like that faq on how to argue with liberals, or conservatives, or pro-torture, or those bizarre NOM people, it handily lists out the major complaints people make during these kinds of conversations and justifies dismissing them.

          Indeed, perhaps the reason she constantly knows what people are going to say during these chats is because she has already bracketed their response into one of those categories and dismissed it. I certainly get that impression from the post.

        • Kateri says:

          Caveat: all opinions are my own, not necessarily oliemoon’s or anyone else’s.

          @LBJeffries “First, starting off by saying my entire post is a knee-jerk reaction is just as belittling as it would be for me to dismiss someone else’s complaints about the discussion of gender. Much like olimoon’s post which complains of the responses being “a reaction that reeks of privilege” in the first paragraph, you are dismissing me right off the bat.”

          And there was me thinking I had couched it in vague enough terms like ‘sounds like’, etc. I wasn’t saying it WAS a knee-jerk response, but since I couldn’t see how your post directly responded to anything oliemoon had said, and seemed to miss things she did say, that was how you came across to me.
          However because my previous experience of you has been that you’re an intelligent person, I asked you to explain yourself rather then ignore you and walk away. If I was dismissing you, I wouldn’t have asked for your opinion, now would I?

          “[i]When you exist with privilege, you do not get to set the terms of inclusiveness.[/i]

          And there it is, the refusal to discuss. She gets done saying she won’t take the time to explain her position, then she claims we have no right to talk about or judge it.”

          She said that someone outside the group has no right claiming they know what’s best for that group better then the members of that group do. Which is not the same thing as saying you can’t discuss it. However, to avoid derailing other conversations, it helps to have these discussions in appropriate places. For example, Alex’s comments thread would not be a good place, as it would distract from discussion of her arguments. Thus the importance of moderation. To facilitate, not arbitrarily limit, discussion. This thread, by contrast, is a (more) suitable place.

          “And there it is again. She goes on later to say she hopes we’ll encourage mutual respect and moderate fairly, yet we’ve been banned from having an opinion on how that’s done.”

          Again, it’s not about having an opinion. God help anyone who tried to prevent ANYONE on the internet from having an opinion! It’s about recognising that when it comes to issues of personal experience, not all opinions are equal.

          Suppose that someone turns up to a book-club, where everyone is discussing the book they’ve all read. And she sits there saying “Hey! Hey you guys, I haven’t read this book! Don’t you think the cover is sorta blue? But I haven’t read it, listen to me!” over and over again, and when told to shut up, says she has the right to her opinion. Sure, yeah, technically, but she looks like an idiot, and if she just sat down and shut up, she might learn something.

          “Indeed, perhaps the reason she constantly knows what people are going to say during these chats is because she has already bracketed their response into one of those categories and dismissed it. I certainly get that impression from the post.”

          Well… yeah. Is that really so surprising? I can’t say it better than she did:

          “If you don’t understand why many of us no longer give offensive people the benefit of the doubt at times (and instead just get pissed off and/or walk away), then that more than anything is indicative of your privilege here. Have you never heard the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Generally speaking, when people do or say sexist, racist etc. things? We’ve heard it all before. That’s why we don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. We’ve had the exact same conversation over the exact same offense dozens of times before and we already know how it’s going to play out.”

          YES, ok, sometimes the reaction is premature, and it turns out that someone who initially appeared to be an asshole was misinterpreted. But it’s not as common as you might think.
          And in any case, I would think it reasonable that privileged people trying to stick their oars into such a discussion be AWARE of this. To have a modicum of understanding for the amount of shit that the oppressed group has had to deal with, to accept that trust may need to be earned, and to be mature enough to handle the occasional reflexive, unearned slapdown. Because if the person is genuinely not an asshole, and approaches things reasonably, in my experience their opinion WILL be given the consideration it deserves.

          And just in case anyone’s now thinking “so you’re saying we both CAN’T understand the oppressed group, but at the same time MUST try to understand them!” well, yeah. I guess I am. It’s part of all human social interaction to some extent or another, isn’t it? Trying to understand others, but knowing you can never, ultimately step outside your own skin. Them’s the breaks. If you care enough about other people and their feelings, you’ll try, but if you don’t, noone can force you.

  • It can be very difficult for those of us in privileged positions to understand the offense certain comments make cause, this isn’t a question of malicious intent it’s basic ignorance. As we try and work through this ignorance mistakes will be made, I know personally I’m not asking for “women to teach me” or some other condescending sentiment, I’m going to go out and learn on my own as quite frankly I feel it’s my responsibility to do so.

    I’m not comfortable with the term “brainysphere” as the connotations it evokes are I feel unsuitable, it was never coined as a term of arrogance or superiority, rather it came from the fact a lot of folks got to know each other through the work of Michael “The Brainy Gamer” Abbott.

    I’m neither an editor nor a contributor but I have been involved to a degree in the forming of Critical Distance and I know it was explicitly intended not to be a self congratulating circle jerk. However we are a small community and growing that community takes time, and is not always easy.

    I’m not asking to be taught, I’m simply asking that this site and its staff be given the time to grow, it’s a painful process and dear god will we make some really stupid mistakes along the way. I welcome the comments of Brinstar and oliemoon because; yes we all need a kick in the head. You didn’t have to comment you could have, justifiably, written us off, and you didn’t. I thank you both for that, and I hope those of us involved in Critical Distance can take that advice onboard.

  • I also want to apologize for not being an active participant in the prior comment thread. I didn’t really realize how messy it got in there. I’ll try to respond there soon, but I hope someone got something positive out of it.

    • Might be a good idea to have an informal policy in place advising any interested parties (editors, writers, well-wishers [I'm in the last group, BTW]) to put out an all-points bulletin on Twitter if something like that happens. I know I missed it until Ben tweeted this morning. I’ll certainly try to pay closer attention next time!

  • I just want to add very quickly before I have to hit the hay for the evening (I’m located in Australia) that I hadn’t noticed the turn for the… shall we say, ugly and unnessecary?, that the comments had taken on the previous post.

    In light of that, I’m now seeing this whole discussion in a very different light and hope that you’ll forive us (and me personally!) for the clear oversight in allowing that discussion to take the direction that it has.

    • I’m in the same boat. I’d only read the first few comments, and, while they were rocky, I wasn’t sure they matched the reaction I was seeing here. I apologize for my ignorance in that while posting here, and I reiterate my apology for not having taken a more proactive stance in that thread. My juvenile opener to those comments was bad bad enough even before the thread turned sour, and I fear I set an inappropriate tone from the outset.

  • “Are you too blindsided by your own privilege to realize that something like Alex’s post isn’t about debating theory but about the actual reality that women live with? We don’t exist for your personal intellectual growth.”

    This is the key mental puzzle piece that was missing for me. I don’t agree with every tenet on the sites about privilege you link, but I wouldn’t have been so argumentative had I realized that this was the purpose of Alex’s post. I suppose I didn’t realize it because she didn’t provide anecdotes from her own life that related to the subject (but I can understand why she wouldn’t, the Internet being such an open space).

    I’ve purposefully not apologized to her before because I found her tone immediately insulting, but now I understand why things got defensive so quickly.

    I apologize to Alex, and I apologize to C-D for bringing this discussion to a head while the staff was still busy trying to figure out how to organize the site. In the future I will attempt to mitigate my privilege by making it clear with female writers whether or not we are debating/arguing theory openly or whether I should defer to possible painful personal experiences. And thanks, Kateri, for carrying on a private email conversation about this with me to help me see Alex’s viewpoint.

    I would like to posit, at the end, one thing that I don’t see present in the Fem101 sites and which I’ve discussed with Kateri. A straight male, if he is familiar with feminist theory, is used to numerous years of interaction with female professors who are comfortable enough in their power positions to openly/heatedly debate tenets of feminism. What happens when such students go onto the Internet is that it is conceptually difficult to understand that the women bloggers they see writing so confidently are not in fact ready to take the distanced attitude the professors were.

    If any of you maintain one of those privilege destinations, I think a discussion of this fact (separate from the “We’re Not Here to Educate You” section) would help a lot of educated male feminists who run into a conceptual wall with this stuff. If doing so would even be of interest to you, of course.

    • Blargh, let me clarify the third paragraph, because it didn’t come out correctly.

      I took Alex’s first reply to me as an ad hominem. What I didn’t realize was that my initial comment was implicitly ad feminam given the context of her original post as a personal female reflection.

  • oliemoon says:

    Like Ben, I’m in a timezone where my bed is starting to look very alluring (Japan), so my response will not be too in depth or specific to anyone.

    I appreciate the thoughtful responses that you all have contributed. I know how difficult it can be to grapple with the issue of privilege and I am heartened to see that several of you really want be engaged (For whatever it’s worth, I am certainly no privilege-free zone myself; off the top of my head I am cisgendered, abled and have size privilege. When it comes to my own internalized issues with transphobia, disability and fatphobia, I still have plenty of work to do, not to mention the fact that it’s not like I am perfect in areas where I don’t even benefit socially from privilege).

    My first response to the request for more resources is to suggest heading over to tekanji’s blog and check out the links on the right hand sidebar. She’s got a list of excellent blogs and post all categorized under specific themes, and often times when I find that I have run out of internets I just pick a random new link from there and start reading. (Her ‘Privilege in Action’ series–linked on the left hand side bar–was also really eye-opening for me)

    That’s a pretty massive pile of resources to dump on your laps though, so I’ll get back with more specific links tomorrow when I get the chance.

  • There are a lot of topics in here.

    Kinds of articles –

    I like the small link-outs just as much as the compilations. I see no need to restrict ourselves at this time to one kind over the other. Contrary opinions and older sources are something that should be included; we editors should make an effort when we see a post to dig up other writing on the subject that the submitting author may have missed. This would involve a more active role for the editors, but not a huge time investment, I should think. I would also hope that the comments for these posts would bring out responses containing alternative sources.

    Direction of the site -

    I think it’s a bit unfair to level the “Brainysphere circlejerk” accusation right now; I think we’ve been pretty good at preventing that from happening so far. If you’re worried, however, that this site will only offer that perspective then the obvious solution is to contribute. There’s an e-mail address right there on the ‘contact’ page. The goal of this site is to spread the word about thoughtful discussion of games by everyone, not just the blogs we visit or feeds we read every day. You want to broaden the perspective, so help us bring yours into it.

    Comment moderation –

    Simple arguments that get out of hand and cause hurt feelings are a fact of life on the internet — the previous post’s comments seemed to take a turn for the worst because of misreadings of the article and other comments (although it certainly escalated from there). We editors all have RL duties, and at present there is no notification system that automatically forwards comments to us. As a result, we will not always be able to step in immediately when things start to get out of hand.

    That said, we editors (and I personally) should have paid more attention to that post’s comments and done more to keep the conversation respectful. I am personally sorry that I let things get out of hand through my inaction and inattention. I will make an effort to keep a closer eye on things in the future so that everyone can enjoy the site. A more comprehensive comment policy may be necessary. I’ve been a moderator before, on rockier forums than this, and I know how to swing a banhammer if we decide that’s what needs doing.

    Discussion of Privilege -

    L.B., this isn’t an appropriate venue for this argument. Kateri and Oliemoon, if you want to rebut him please do, but I would prefer us to keep this comment thread oriented on the subject of how to keep this site relevant, interesting, and welcoming to you rather than the question of whether or not privilege claims amount to argumentam ad hominem.

    • Might I suggest we use your suggestion to L.B. to establish a general guideline?

      C-D # 1: All discussions are open for debate as long as the interaction remains civil; however, in the case of race/gender/sex representation issues, commentors should defer to the experiential opinion of the oppressed minority. If one wishes to debate this position, the discussion must take place off-site in a location approved by both parties.

      It’s verbose and maybe too strict for Ben’s taste, but might that alleviate the worries of the Iris contingency?

      • As for website UI design, I’ve found that limiting allowed word count per comment reduces the need for a quoting system and forces people to think in smaller chunks of thought, refining their position and allowing easy reference for countering.

    • oliemoon says:

      I think it’s a bit unfair to level the “Brainysphere circlejerk” accusation right now; I think we’ve been pretty good at preventing that from happening so far.

      I just want to point out Brinstar didn’t accuse Critical Distance of being a “Brainysphere circlejerk,” she expressed concern that it might become one and I do think that is a pretty important distinction to make.

  • The world of academic writing is rife with debate about the legitimacy of its methodology in selecting papers for publication. The pedigree of journals and the determination of pedigree is actually published on a routine basis. Legitimacy and power should always be taken into account when looking at the effect a journal (in the case of C-D, feed) should have.

    Debate about legitimacy should also appear here as it should on the personal blogs of each of the members of the editorial staff and contributing writers’ personal spaces. Criticizing is a means through which we can get the very best out of people. It would be a shame to see a site actively edit out criticism.

    As this is the internet, there are dozens of sites that try to consolidate data for you. The idea of this site is a good one but it is definitely bound (for right now) by the fact that it is being created directly after a conference in which a very inclusive group made some very real bonds and wish to continue them. There are no credentials that exist in the academic world to appeal to should opinion be called on as an unfounded opinion. Everyone here has to walk a very fine line.

    If you are intending to create a site that has multiple authors and intend to gather multiple feeds into one, I suggest following Terra Nova’s method of selecting and moderating.

    http://terranova.blogs.com/

  • Wait, so we’re essentially saying anytime a game engages with gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference certain people have more authority than others? Or are we just banning discussing these things any time they come up in general?

    • The assertion of the links on privilege is that one way to recognize and mitigate it is to defer to the experience of those who have been marginalized. I think maybe people are waiting on Ben to wake up and make a statement on whether C-D will follow that proscription? Or they got fed up and left.

      • tekanji says:

        I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m currently in the Wait and See crowd.

        I understand that this is a lot to process, especially since discussions of the dynamics of privilege and oppression are new to most of y’all. And it’s probably the first time most of you have been asked to consider what a lack of moderation policy means to people whose issues are routinely drowned out by the “normal” (read: for the privileged) conversations.

        If Ben et al are willing to actually do the work (and, believe me, it can only be accomplished through hard work) to make this space a place where social issues like oppression can be discussed in a way that doesn’t alienate non-privileged groups, then I’m more than happy to become a part of the community.

        • I’ve kick-started a discussion about community and moderation with the other editors and we’ll be looking at doing a better job in this area in the future.

          I hope you feel you are able to contribute as part of the community and that you don’t feel driven away by relentless degrading comments. I look forward to your unique contribution. =)

    • Yes, I think that’s a fair way to say it: when a game engages with law, laywers have more authority; when a game engages with mathematics, mathematicians have more authority; when a game engages with southern US regional stereotypes, southerners have more authority; when a game engages with women, women have more authority; when a game engages with ethnic minorities, ethnic minorities have more authority; when a game engages with gays and lesbians, gays and lesbians have more authority.

      Though the way that you phrased is “gender, ethnicity, or sexual preferences”, rather than “women, ethnic minorities, or gays and lesbians”. In the US, though, a game is likely to be marked as engaging with the broader categories when it is, in fact, engaging with the narrower categories. Or, to put it another way, we don’t typically call out games that engage with male white straight people as engaging with gender/ethnic/sexual preference issues. And the authority level isn’t symmetric, either: I’m quite sure that women have a lot more understanding of men’s experiences than men do of women’s experiences.

      I certainly hope the result of this doesn’t turn out to be banning discussing these things when they come up in general.

    • Brinstar says:

      L.B Jeffries: Wait, so we’re essentially saying anytime a game engages with gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference certain people have more authority than others?

      Kateri and oliemoon have already answered this question, however I will do some Privilege 101 again to help supplement their points.

      Members of the oppressed group have more authority to speak about their experiences as oppressed people because it is a part of their daily, lived experience. You can have an opinion about these issues, but your opinion carries less weight if you are not a member of the oppressed group. Why? Because you are not a member of the oppressed group. You don’t have an informed opinion of what it is to experience the oppression that they do.

      I am a cisgender woman. I have cisgender privilege. I could never speak with authority on what it is like to be a trans gender person, because I will never and have never experienced what it is like to live while being a trans gender person. Therefore, when discussing issues that affect trans gender people, I defer to the experiences, opinions, perspectives, and yes — the authority of trans gender people. Sure, I can have opinions about trans gender issues, but I have no idea what it is like to experience trans gender oppression on a daily, lived basis that a trans gender person does. I can only talk about trans gender oppression in theory.

      You are male. You can never speak with authority on what it is like to be a woman, because you will never and have never experienced what it is like to live while being a woman. Therefore, when discussing issues that affect women, such as female gender roles in games or sexism in the videogame industry, you should defer to the experiences, perspectives, opinions, and authority of women. You can have opinions about sexism, but you have no idea what it is to experience sexism or the oppression of women on a daily, lived basis. You can only talk about sexism in theory. A woman’s perspective on sexism should carry more authority than a man’s because a man doesn’t experience oppression by virtue of his sex/gender on a daily, lived basis. Saying that your wife or girlfriend experiences sexism and she shared their feelings about it with you about it is not the same as actually living the experience. Therefore, no — you aren’t qualified to speak with authority on what it is like to experience sexism as a woman, simply because you are not a woman.

      I know this is a hard thing to swallow, that from an anti-oppression perspective, your opinion doesn’t have equal weight as others on certain issues. As a straight, white male (I assume, please correct me if I am wrong), you are used to the world treating your opinion with far more weight than queer people, people of colour, and women. You probably feel frustrated, like there’s nothing you can say or do that will be “right” by us. What can you do? Well, how about listening for a change? How about not being so defensive, and acting as if your character is being personally attacked? There are a lot of other good suggestions here. How about being an ally to women? I would suggest reading ally blogs written by males so you can educate yourself on your privilege and how you can minimize the negative impact of your privilege in the oppression of others in your daily life.

      I’d like to say that, even in anti-oppression communities, members of privileged groups — people who get the concept of privilege — often have trouble seeing beyond their privilege and deferring to the oppressed groups. Just look at the RaceFail 09 debacle within the feminist sci-fi community for a very painful and damaging example of this. And last year there was the Amanda Marcotte/Seal Press debacle in the feminist blogging community, another very damaging series of events. So, your shortcomings in this, as someone who I believe is not well educated in anti-oppression concept or the concept of privilege, is understandable, but still continually disappointing, given the number of pixels that oliemoon, Kateri, tekanji, and I have poured out on to the screen to explain these things to you.

      Now, whether this blog will actually be conducted with these things in mind, is another story. I can certainly hope it does, but that’s up to the editors.

      • I read all those blogs last time during the RE5 blow-up at Brainy Gamer. I know the whole argument and agree with most of it. I just don’t think it’s a very good conversation because, like the insinuation that I must be ignorant, it automatically dismisses people. Like Kateri said earlier, this is nothing personal, but I do not agree that the solution to centuries of privilege is to recreate the same system except disenfranchising a different group. The fact that it is a group that deserves it does not change the fact that it is still just repeating the same broken system of hoarding authority.

        I will always willingly operate with deference and respect to someone with firsthand experience. But I don’t want anything to do with a discussion that declares a person’s opinion to be invalid purely because of who they are. I would rather hear people out.

        • Brinstar says:

          I didn’t declare your opinion invaild. You are entitled to having an opinion. I just said that as a straight, white male, you are less qualified to speak with authority about particular issues by virtue of your not being able to live while being LGBT, to live while being non-white, and to live while being a woman.

        • oliemoon says:

          Brinstar wrote:

          You can have an opinion about these issues, but your opinion carries less weight

          You can never speak with authority on what it is like to be a woman, because you will never and have never experienced what it is like to live while being a woman

          you aren’t qualified to speak with authority on what it is like to experience sexism as a woman

          your opinion doesn’t have equal weight as others on certain issues

          And then you respond with:

          But I don’t want anything to do with a discussion that declares a person’s opinion to be invalid purely because of who they are.

          Please stop putting words in other people’s mouths and arguing against strawfeminists. Just as Kateri didn’t say that you were being knee-jerk defensive (and just as explicitly stated that I was not writing off Ben), you’ve been in the habit of misconstruing our words and countering statements and arguments that we have not made. No one is saying that your opinion on these particular anti-oppression issues isn’t valid, what is being said is that it carries less weight.

          I can have opinions on the finer points of Constitutional law and while they would certainly be valid, I think we can agree that they would carry less weight in a conversation between you and I given your area of study, no? This is the same thing.

          Also, it seems a bit strange to me that you say that you’ve read “all those blogs” after the RE5 discussion at Brainy Gamer, given that the two posts Brinstar linked were not linked back then, and are about male feminists and not racism. What exactly are you referring to when you say “all those blogs,” and by reading all them do you mean to say that you’ve read the entirety of their content? I suppose it would help if you clarified your background here because on the surface it seems to me like you might just be dismissing those links out of hand because you maybe think you already know what they say? But obviously I cannot say anything with certainty on that matter, I am just confused by the statement that you made.

          And, well, while it may be that you know the “whole argument” that is being made here, it does seem to me that maybe you don’t understand it (or the concept of privilege) thoroughly, given that you have characterized it as:

          recreat[ing] the same system except disenfranchising a different group

        • Kateri says:

          @LBJeffries “Like Kateri said earlier, this is nothing personal”

          That’s not what I said. I wouldn’t say that, ’cause, see, it IS personal. Just not to you. That’s really the heart of the problem, here, isn’t it?

        • @L.B. Jeffries: I’m having a hard time figuring out how to read your comments. Part of it is because I’m having a hard time teasing out your use of the word “authority”. It has a couple of meanings:

          1) A recognized expert on a topic.

          2) A person in a position of power.

          In this discussion, we’re talking about definition 1 – in fact, it’s an important datum that no women are authorities in the sense of definition 2 for this web site. But when you use phrases like “centuries of privilege” and “disenfranchising”, that sounds to me more like you’re talking about definition 2.

          And then you accept a limited form of definition 1: “I will always willingly operate with deference and respect to someone with firsthand experience. But I don’t want anything to do with a discussion that declares a person’s opinion to be invalid purely because of who they are. I would rather hear people out.” If I’m understanding you correctly (which may well not be the case; in particular, I have a hard time figuring out what to think about your use of “invalid”), this sounds to me like you’re saying “women are experts on their own personal experiences, but have no more expertise on the experiences of women in general than men do.”

          This sounds quite odd to me – to go back to my earlier lawyer analogy, this sounds to me like a non-lawyer telling a lawyer “I accept that you know better than I do what happened in that courtroom yesterday, because you were there and I wasn’t, but I expect others to treat my opinions on the interpretation of law the same way as they would treat yours.” While some non-lawyers are very well informed on matters of law, in general the burden of proof is very much on the non-lawyer in such a context. (At least that’s the way I would treat them; if you “would rather hear people out” in such circumstances, I salute your patience.)

          Hmm, I seem to be repeating @oliemoon, except more clumsily. So: what she said!

        • At the risk of using a horribly inappropriate analogy….

          You can ask a Designer their opinion on a software problem and it might well be interesting and worthy of attention but you are always going to defer to the Programmer because they have the direct and applicable experience.

          The problem I see at the moment is how to successfully trend the line between allowing all opinions and thus encouraging an all encompassing inclusivity and ensuring that the opinions of those with direct and applicable experience are given the respect they deserve. It’s important that such individuals do not feel threatened or excluded from participating in discussions simply because the less informed opinions of others outweigh them in terms of sheer quantity.

          It’s a difficult problem but one it’s vital to solve if games criticism as a field and games as an industry are to mature beyond a “boys club” mentality.

        • You don’t all appear to be interpreting the word “defer” in the same way. L.B. seems to think this is an exclusionary term meaning that an SWM opinion on anything remotely related to power dynamics is immediately trumped and discarded as worthless the moment a non-SWM speaks. The rest of you are seem to be disagreeing with this interpretation, at least in principle, without offering a concrete description or examples of what “deferring” might mean. Perhaps an example of the moderation you think should have been performed (according to this standard) in the Achievement Unlocked comment thread would be of use.

  • tekanji says:

    Let me first say that I’ve been involved in the moderation of several different kinds of communities since the early ’90s, had the experience of reconciling my wish for “free speech” and “open discussion” with a moderation policy, and have written various articles on the subject of online communities (sorry don’t have time to pull those up). Here’s my advice.

    In order to create a community that meets the goals of CD you’re going to have to actively foster an environment and community that is welcoming to your target audience and unwelcoming to those who will chase off your target audience.

    The first step to creating that environment is to establish a clearly worded moderation policy. I would recommend that researching various sites (not just game ones) and seeing how their policies (or lack thereof) affect the kind of community they have.

    In terms of a starting point, I would recommend Acid for Blood, Feministe, and The Angry Black Woman. There’s also my blog and New Game Plus for examples of more in-depth policies. It might also be worth checking out the rules for the forum at Iris for the “Discussion Policy” section.

    I think it would also be good to have a page like ABW’s Required Reading page — and make sure that the Editorial staff has at least a fundamental understanding of privilege, oppression, etc — so that if there needs to be a 101 discussion re: privilege, oppression, etc. that the non-privileged individuals don’t have to be the ones doing it.

    Also, it should be pointed out that if the comments on every thread regarding social issues turn into 101 education, most of us aren’t going to stick around. While 101 is obviously valuable as a teaching tool, you can’t have a critical discussion of a social issue if you have to keep debating the meaning of “privilege” or “racism” or whatever.

    Ultimately, it’s up to y’all to decide what kind of community you create. Good luck and I hope that, whatever you decide, you succeed in reaching the audience you want to target.

    • Thanks for the help! I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the idea of having a reference page on issues in order to avoid rehashing conversations (and mistakes) is at the core of what I’d like to see at Critical Distance.

      Part of the inspiration for this site was that newer voices to the discussion often bring up topics and arguments that other folks have debated a number of times (the games vs. film analogy, or “are games art” issues, for example). While I’ve talked about having central reference pages for things like “ludo-narrative dissonance,” I see strong value in having roughly similar central reference points for issues of privilege as well. Not only would such pages be valuable to us as humans and as conversers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if such a baseline would help solidify the groundwork to bring more folks into the field of media criticism and theory that draws heavily on looking at social issues in texts, games, films, or other works.

  • I think we might also take a step back and realize that all of this is arising from one post that happened to touch on a hot-button gender-and-privilege issue. We seem now to be talking as if C-D were supposed to be about gender-and-privilege.

    Certainly, every post and every comment should be inclusive, but C-D editors and writers shouldn’t IMO be burdened with the need to put everything they write under an explicit rubric of inclusivity.

    • Brinstar says:

      Roger Travis:Certainly, every post and every comment should be inclusive, but C-D editors and writers shouldn’t IMO be burdened with the need to put everything they write under an explicit rubric of inclusivity.

      “Burdened”? If you think it is a “burden” to be welcoming and inclusive of people who are traditionally marginalised in videogame culture (women, POCs, LGBTs, people with disablities, etc.), to approach conversations with the understanding and assumption that not everyone you’re talking to is a straight, white male and to approach conversations with the attitude that you have no clue about what it’s like to be part of these marginalised groups, then I want nothing to do with this site.

      I haven’t been angry over the course of any of these conversations, but I am now. I am absolutely livid at your ridiculous display privilege. I am disengaging from this discussion now. I want nothing to do with it anymore.

    • oliemoon says:

      I would just like to point out that this conversation is not happening solely in reaction to what happened over on the thread about Alex’s post; what happened there is part of a larger trend within the so-called “Brainysphere” that several other feminist gamers and I have found ourselves frustrated with over time. Given that Crtitical Distance seems to be an outgrowth of said “Brainysphere,” and that most (if not all) of the editors and contributors are considered to be part of said “Brainysphere,” it’s important to realize that our concerns are not stemming just from the previous thread, but also from problems that have been a trend within the community to which this site belongs.

      I do find it extremely disappointing that you feel it will be a “burden” to be an inclusive site at all times, but it is also not entirely clear to me what you mean by “an explicit rubric of inclusivity.” Could you clarify that statement?

      • @oliemoon, @Brinstar, @Simon Ferrari, and @tekanji if it wouldn’t be too much trouble I would love to have you all on the podcast next week or sometime in the near future to discuss these issues concerning privilege in gaming and the gamer community over all. I think it would be a fascinating panel discussion. If that interests you please contact me so we could schedule a date which would be good for all of you. :-)

        • I don’t know how well I did but I tried to create the arguments made here (albiet from a privileged position given that i’m a white male) over at my own blog in order to try and restart the conversation as I think it’s very important to have.

          http://www.beforegamedesign.com/2009/05/race-and-gender-in-video-games.html

          I should also say I want to discuss the issue in general and not how it relates to C-D. I know I made some mistakes in my assessment and explanations, so please, call me on them.

          I took more of a position from race, but the same argument mostly exists for both gender and race. I realize there are differences so let’s maybe list them there?

      • Mistakes have been made in the past, and continue to be made with regards to the “boys club” nature this community has a tendency to present.

        After the incidents with the VGC I’ve made a point of reading a lot of the articles on Feminism 101 and other related sites. Though I feel they have given me a better understanding of the great offense certain comments can cause I still find it very difficult to be absolutely certain how a particular comment or turn of phrase will be interpreted. I am a straight white male and therefore I’ll never be able to fully appreciate what it’s like to be in an oppressed minority. Precisely because of that I am likely to make comments that, even under the best of intentions, cause offense and provoke ire. I’ve got decades of privileged upbringing to try and unlearn so mistakes are going to be made.

        I’ve read over most of the comments here and on the one hand I think I can see how certain comments and of the use of certain words have caused offense but I can also see how easy it is to make such comments. A lot of us are operating with twenty plus years of dealing with mainly straight white men so there’s a significant degree of inertia to overcome.

        Disengagement is absolutely understandable under the circumstances, why would anybody want to continue commenting in an environment that is explicitly offensive and uncomfortable for them? I just fear that such disengagement will only serve to strengthen the segregate already present in the community and allow mistakes to go on being made.

        That sound horribly close to asking to be “taught how to behave” and I am at least intellectually aware of how patronising and offensive that sentiment is. It scares me to see such intelligent and engaged individuals as Brinstar and Oliemoon becoming increasingly frustrated and angry as I know how easily this community will slip back into the ghetto of the “straight white male club” when such voices as those are removed. I struggle to see a way around it, because as much as I can seek to learn about feminism and male privilege I will never fully understand it and therefore potentially cause offense. If my voice and voices like mine, are the only ones this community hears that will be doing everybody a grave disservice.

        • I’ve always felt that the way around it is a process that no one has ever been able to see all the way through. We (White Males) can’t help but feel uneasy and defensive about the sudden revealing of our privilege. We overcompensate and throw, “Whatever dude, just doing reverse sexism / racism shit”.

          This is where most people end. It’s easy to just write off an angry person or uncomfortable subject as something not worthy of discussion.

          However, once the defensiveness ends, or, if we can press the WASP boys club, a period of extreme sensitivity will probably emerge. This sensitivity will probably take the form of sarcasm (you could also call this political correctness – Refer to the movie PCU).

          After that, who knows. That’s where we’re at today. It’s a horrible position to acknowledge and address. The white male club has all the power and all the privilege and needs to decide how to act. In doing this, they risk further offense by just doing what has always been done…but in a new way. However, the first step might just be a he-said, she-said piece addressing the differences that can be seen on a particular game from two perspectives.

          Acknowledgment and discussion in a calm, collected, and respectful air has to be of supreme importance. Open-mindedness must be central. Males have to admit their position and females have to let the males come to understand the consequences their position has on non-whites and females in every area of existence.

          We (White Males) need to learn to discuss these things without emotions flaring and without knee jerk reactions that only serve to impede the discussion. We need to learn to be genuinely interested in the subject as it is very, very important.

      • I’m happy to clarify, and I hope despite her last comment Brinstar might also be reading.

        By “burdened” I mean “expected to fullfill as an obligation in every post or comment.”

        A “burden” is, in my lexicon, a load that must be carried, rather than a load that is to be resented. I certainly didn’t intend to imply what Brinstar inferred. As I read Brinstar’s reply to me, she’s asking that every writer and commenter be required to state clearly and explicitly in every post and comment, whether or not he or she is talking in that post or comment about privilege issues, that he or she respects the viewpoints of everyone. That would seem to me to be, metaphorically, a load to be carried.

        • Kateri says:

          @Roger Travis

          I’m honestly confused. Burden to do what? Not be an asshole? And all posts and comments? Do you think we’re demanding discussions of privilege in every topic, even if we’re just talking about how the controls handle? I’m here to talk about games. Honestly, the less I have to talk about privilege the better as far as I’m concerned, ’cause usually if I’m having to talk about it, it means someone is doin it rong. And whatever LB might think, we don’t enjoy getting angry over things. We get hurt, and stressed and upset, and sometimes that shows in our writing, and then gets worse, ’cause we get dismissed as angry harridans who hate you, and get off on picking up on every little thing you do wrong.

          But see… you couldn’t be more wrong. I have spent my entire life trying to get into gamer culture. [WARNING: Incoming Sob Story] I’ve always played games, but it was never a social thing. Even before the internet, the games magazines I devoured made it very clear that I was not their envisaged reader. My brother wasn’t much of a gamer, and his friends weren’t gonna talk to ME about it. None of my female friends gamed. Even now, I talk to female gamers who started gaming post-2000, and they have no idea what it was like to be a female gamer in the 1980s and 90s, and just how isolated a passtime it could be, and how alienated I felt from gamer culture. OK, enough of that maudlin crap, stop the tape!
          Fast-forward to now, 15 years on, and imagine my delight when I start finding intelligent games conversation blossoming all over the place, talking about the games I adored then and now! Educated, enlightened adults, proper adults with partners and and jobs and things! People like me, who are eternal students, and like to obsessively over-analyse and pick apart and synthesise and compare and contrast!
          Imagine my joy – finally! my people!
          Imagine my disappointment to find that you’re still trying to drive me out of the fucking treehouse!

          And why… because you’re worried you might say something dumb, and I might get offended? Look, saying dumb things is OK by me. Really, I say dumb things all. the. time. It’s a thing people do. To me, what’s important is that you act decently about it when you get called on it. I’m gonna have to link this again, because I found it helpful for myself, as a general approach: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2005/12/02/how-not-to-be-insane-when-accused-of-racism/ It’s short! Really! Unlike this comment… I’m gonna stop now.

        • @ Kateri: I’m not going to contribute to either side of the discussion, because I feel that things have gotten so drawn out that nobody really knows how everybody else thinks or feels (and words aren’t conveying the proper meanings anymore), but I wanted to thank you for opening up and sharing what you called your “sob story” (it wasn’t a sob story!). I’d never really heard about what it was like to be a female in the early generations of gaming before. So, thank you, Kateri.

    • I’m not sure if I disagree with your intentions, or just with the way they came out.

      The first rule of good communication is to strive to understand your audience. The audience is the reason you’re writing in a public forum in the first place — if anyone would rather go shout into the wind for their own exclusive benefit, they’re welcome. Our audience is anyone who’s willing and able to think about games at an above-average level, and that includes all sorts of people with different life experiences, sensitivities, strengths, callouses and scars. Inasmuch as we can be mindful of how our communication may tend to alienate others, I think it is our moral duty (yeah, I’ll go that far) to avoid such alienation.

      The question becomes how and to what extent the editors and community here can work to round off the rough edges of the comments and articles that others write. It’s obviously incumbent on editors to hold articles to a certain standard, but comments may be a more complicated matter, both based on the ability of editors to manage the number of comments (and there have been an impressive number lately!) and based on ethical concerns about where to draw the line between allowing free expression and protecting others from potentially hurtful or unwelcoming words.

      That latter, ethical question is something we editors are debating privately at the moment, though we do value any and all comments, suggestions and advice on the matter. It’s very certainly not an easy question, and will likely require a fine degree of nuance, consideration and care.

  • @ LB Jeffries: I read all those blogs last time during the RE5 blow-up at Brainy Gamer. I know the whole argument and agree with most of it. I just don’t think it’s a very good conversation because, like the insinuation that I must be ignorant, it automatically dismisses people.

    I thought I would chime in here. I’m not trying to be offensive as this argument is complicated and takes quite an effort to really get. Even after 5 years, I still don’t fully grasp it as I am not from the side of the argument was created on.

    First, I would say that this argument is falling on deaf ears if you can say this with a straight face. Saying that you agree with the argument while adamantly standing there in disagreement is a sure fire way to anger the masses and you can see from the discussion that it is working.

    The point of the argument about privilege is to recognize that the argument you’re trying to avoid is one from recognition of privilege and want to level the playing field. To deny this conversation is to reject the entirety of its content. You are making a complex Post Hoc error here.

    This is your argument: Because they want to come to the table as equals by forcing recognition of disparity, they are disenfranchising the privilege holders. Therefore the argument does not stand.

    This is typically made in that most people believe this argument is on the offense most times. It is only on the offense if you hold to the ideas of privilege that created the argument in the first place.

    Here is a website to illustrate a few points.

    http://fixracism.com/

    It comes in on race but can just as easily come in on gender and sex.