Why I Don't Feel Welcome at Kotaku

Illustration for article titled Why I Dont Feel Welcome at emKotaku/em

As part of an ongoing discussion on Twitter and on The Border House with Mattie Brice about Kotaku's openness towards minority sexualities (or perhaps just minority issues in general), I asked her to write a piece we could put on the site explaining why she doesn't feel welcome around here. I definitely don't agree with a lot of the presumptions she has about our editorial perspective but that's why we're having the discussion in the first place, isn't it?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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. —Joel] 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Mattie Brice writes about diversity and narrative topics in video games. Along with her article work she hosts a podcast at The Border House and reviews games for Game Critics and the Moving Pixels column at Pop Matters. Sporadically blogs at Alternate Reality."

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DISCUSSION

truthtellah
truthtellah

I, for one, hope you'll stick around here at Kotaku, Mattie.

I actually agree with many of your criticisms of the site's direction, and I, along with other long-term commenters, have voiced these concerns before. Unfortunately, as you have seen, most critiques go unheard or simply unwelcome. I stick around Kotaku because I believe the commenting section can at least aspire to be better. It isn't held back by the market research and master plans of the staff. I enjoy Kotaku because of the good people that congregate here. Though the staff may believe them to be one thing, I believe they are more varied and certainly more willing to be accepting of you in what you're interested in and what you have to say.

"Why won't you just go somewhere else?"

I have seen this sentiment many times, both from the staff and various commenters who buy into the idea that Kotaku is perfect due to the simple fact that it is run by bloggers who can run it however they like. Yet, as you well know, sometimes we want to belong, and sometimes, when we see something is wrong, we offer suggestions for how it could be improved. If those concerns are simply given lipservice with no actual action, it's understandable for you to become frustrated. Many of us are. Relations with the staff have only gotten worse lately. Outside of a few of the nicer fellows such as Owen Good or Stephen Totilo and sometimes Luke Plunkett, there still seems to be an oddly dismissive way in which the staff interact with commenters. They want comments to be good, but then are lax with moderation, instead opting to focus moderation on those who would be critical of something they have done or said. They want better comments, but then they no longer reward better comments. They want our views, but they sometimes appear to not want us.

Nick Denton, in response to complaints regarding the brokenness of the site following the last major redesign, stated unequivocally: If you don't like it, you can go somewhere else. When I asked Adrian Chen about what Gizmodo was doing to rectify the redesign issues and the mass bannings against complainers that was going on, I was told that people who dislike it can just go somewhere else. Upon writing a long post on how this site could improve with just a few tweaks, I got a response that amounted to "Well, if you think there's so much wrong, why don't you just leave?"

They all miss the point. It doesn't just have to be an us vs them mentality when it comes to commenters and staff. I would love nothing more than to see the staff and commenters get along better and actually work together to make Kotaku the best place for gaming culture news on the Internet. When someone is critical, they aren't necessarily just trashing the site; they're pointing out areas that may actually have problems. And when the staff won't even discuss issues with the site in public, in the comments, there's a dearth of trust. We get the occasional "You commenters better shape up", but there's never a "Us staff will shape up". It's as though there is a company policy that no one can publicly admit there are problems or areas for improvement.

The inevitable response to complaints like this will either be "Well, why don't you just go somewhere else?" or "Contact us by e-mail instead and we'll maybe respond to you someday if we feel like it." And I say to that: I'm a commenter. And as a commenter, I believe in open discussion. I don't just want a one on one. This is about the community. We are all human beings, but we are all human beings at a disadvantage next to the authority of staff members. The only way to truly protect ourselves is to conduct conversation in public; otherwise, we may just be dismissed in silence. At least here when an editor gives a dismissive reply, people will see it, and they'll have a chance to respond. I need my fellow commenters to share in the discussion, as I am only one man. Together, we must demand things improve.

Though, as the head of Gawker, Nick Denton, has made quite clear: we are quite replaceable. When faced with people fleeing following the poor handling of the redesign, which could have been weathered with simple communication and at least the artifice of listening, the staff stayed firm in only defending the site and demonizing those who would find fault with it. There was no appeal to people to stick around; instead, that fell to commenters such as myself, reassuring confused or angry commenters that things will probably get better. We care about Kotaku, and we want Kotaku to be great. But when the staff seem incapable of even discussing improvements or maintaining consistent communication, there's no way for us to truly work together.

I do think there is more to this than just editorial direction fostering feelings of an unwelcoming boys' club. It is the editorial staff's boys' club, and they always know better than the uninformed masses. If it hasn't already become clear to many, it should be known that this style of community leadership is simply not working. Kotaku -is- alienating people of differing viewpoints and preferences. And it is even alienating those who are willing to come here every day and try to add more to this site. I was once told that the commenting system was becoming a bigger part of the site, as it adds a unique flavor to the site itself; yet, with increasing emphasis, there has only been lower and lower emphasis on the commenters themselves. Unfortunately, good comments don't spring forth from the ether; they come from good people taking the time to actually add something to this site. Sure a lot of it isn't winning material, but a decent bit of it is. Certainly better than a lot of commenting communities around the online game community. I appreciate the many contributions I see everyday from commenters here on Kotaku, and I only wish they felt like the staff appreciated their efforts, as well.

Kotaku can be a place of welcoming. But we are told by staff "This is a place of welcoming, and... you should just get the hell out of here." heh. It's just backwards. The only people with their faces really out there(the writers) have little power to actually change things, and then the people who do have the power to change things seem to take any opportunity to dismiss concerns in the comments. Kotaku -does- have problems, and a welcoming atmosphere is one. Joel Johnson's new effort for more "progressive" topics is nice, but when the site itself consistently goes against those values, it should be no surprise when people call foul. You can't be unwelcoming and open-minded at the same time. That's just comes off as shallow. And I believe that's how many see Kotaku. Shallow. And that's sad, because I know various staff do care. And I know a lot of commenters are far more varied than the staff give them credit for. Sure the site isn't playing to the commenters; it plays solely to the unique page views drawn in by sensationalism and the fostering of this environment that led to this article.

Kotaku, as it is now, does not represent gamers. Kotaku represents a kind of gamer. And while that is certainly a lucrative kind of gamer to appeal to, if the staff want to believe that Kotaku can be something more, perhaps even something progressive, things do have to change. As a commenter, the best I can do is write a good comment or two each day. As a staff member, they can actually change things that affect us all. I hope they will seriously consider the reality that there -is- a problem with how much Kotaku's editorial choices and lacking communication lead to feelings of exclusion and isolation in many who attempt to enjoy Kotaku. This can be improved if only it is actually accepted and taken seriously. Please, any staff who may ever see this, look into how to make Kotaku a more welcoming place, because, right now, it is only welcoming to a select portion of the gaming community. That is what leads to complaints like this article, and it's why you'll still see complaints like this in the future if things don't change.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to my thoughts. Mattie, I hope you'll stick around. Try talking a bit in the comments; we're generally nicer and more varied than we may seem at first glance. And don't let the occasional jerk get you down. May the staff take yours and others' concerns seriously and look into what can be done to improve the current state of things around here. If we set our minds to it, any problem can be solved. I and many others will keep doing our best for this fun site. So, "hi". Welcome to Kotaku; I would love to talk with you further on everything and anything gaming. :)