Brianna Wu Needs To Improve Her Games Collection And Stop Trying To Talk Over Developers
So today on Twitter, a few tweets came to my attention from game developer Brianna Wu. Namely some pictures she took of her game collection, across her many years as a gamer (which was about a couple hundred) which were accompanied by Wu making broad judgments against the game industry based off of her game collection.
“After a lifetime of collecting games,” she writes, “this is the number that star a black protagonist”, with a picture showing one illuminated game. I could make the point that using your own game collection, which would be determined by limitations like personal wealth and personal preferences for certain games and genres, to make a broader statement on the way the gaming industry operates is patently absurd and laughable…so I will. Using your own game collection to make a broader statement on the way the gaming industry operates is patently absurd and laughable.
When I look at those pictures, I’m not thinking “the industry has an issue with making games with black protagonists”, I’m thinking “this woman must obviously have an issue with buying games with black protagonists since she’s been collecting games for years and has a massive shelf of games spanning an entire wall and only saw fit to buy one game with a black protagonist, despite dozens of games having black protagonists”. Congratulations Brianna Wu, in a single picture you demonstrated why the games industry continues to operate in a manner you claim to find so distasteful: at the end of the day, you can say whatever you want on twitter, but your purchasing decisions are saying something completely different to publishers and developers alike. Maybe take control of your own ‘problematic’ purchasing decisions before you criticize anyone elses’.
But there’s additional context to this. There’s a whole 'nother layer of infuriating hypocrisy to these tweets. Brianna Wu is a game developer. She was the lead designer and president of her own studio. She has released a game, a game called Revolution 60. Here is the poster for that game. As you keep that poster in mind, let us together read this tweet.
Brianna Wu, lead designer of Revolution 60, head of Giant Spacekat, is attempting to criticize the games industry at large (through proxy of her own terrible purchasing decisions) for supposed 'crimes’ which she is complicit in. Look through her game and you will not find any black women (or any 'women of color’, for that matter). There are no gay men. There are no transgendered people. No disabled people. And lastly, no people with autism. No, I don’t care if she’s acknowledged that those were indeed problems with
Revolution 60. Someone who’s made that many mistakes should be more
understanding of how tough it can be to develop games with diversity in mind and less quick to point fingers at others when they screw up. I guess asking for sympathy when dealing with other developers in light of your own personal shortcomings is too much.
But to return to the problem at hand, that last bit about the lack of autistic characters stood out to me because I’ve never seen Wu make a call for autistic main characters in gaming before. Most people don’t make that call. We’re kinda left by the wayside most times when it comes to demanding representation and truth be told, most autistic people that I know who are gamers don’t really care too much about the whole issue. They’d much rather enjoy the games they play rather than quibble over characters, one way or another. Like the majority of gamers, their primary concerns are about the game’s entertainment value, not if it represents them or not.
As most of you who are reading this probably know, I am making a game with an autistic main character. The game is called Freak and it was greenlit a few weeks ago. We’re currently working on a demo. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the gaming community but not a lot of buzz from major gaming websites, not that I particularly mind. Point is, I’m working on it.
And yet, me working on it seems to get less traction or attention than Wu yelling from atop her twitter soap box about how important it is that it gets done. This is something I’ve seen happen for years but it’s gotten no less infuriating to witness over time, especially when she decides to explicitly bring up the subject matter of autism representation in gaming. I don’t need her to talk about the subject of autism representation in gaming. I’d much rather her not insert herself into the issue and speak on something when there are plenty of autistic gamers and developers who can discuss it themselves. To be blunt, it deeply offends me that Brianna Wu thinks she has any reason to speak on the subject whatsoever, especially if her only intentions are to use it as a means to raise her own profile while ignoring what actual game developers with autism who are developing games with autistic lead characters are saying. And if I am being perfectly candid, Wu’s continual behavior of speaking over other developers, bullying developers who do try to speak up, and then attempting to incite boycotts against people for not acting the way she thinks is right or not making games the way she wants them to be made needs to stop immediately.
If Wu wants to merely talk about diversity while others actually do the heavy lifting, that’s her prerogative, but at no point should anyone be confused on who is doing what. Wu tweets about how sad it is that there are no games with playable autistic, black women, or disabled characters in games while I’m making a game that has all three as playable characters. I’m by no means alone on this either. I can assure you there are dozens of other developers doing this exact same thing. There are people in this industry who actually do the work that needs to be done and they deserve to be recognized. They deserve to be heard. Not people like Wu who talk a big game but can’t make anything that even remotely resembles what they demand of others.
And the worst part, the part that makes me seethe with anger to my core, is the knowledge that because I have voiced support for Gamergate, Wu will never publicly support our game despite it doing exactly what she just demanded of the industry.
I spoke out and Gamergate supported me. They sympathized with my problems. They listened to what I said. They supported my game on greenlight. They gave us critique when we needed it. They have been fair and compassionate to us.
Meanwhile, the supposedly open-minded, progressive gaming elite have made no mention of us. They didn’t answer our emails. In October, myself and two female coworkers did an interview with the Escapist pertaining to Gamergate. This interview was one in several, which were all published under the heading of ‘What Developers Think of #Gamergate’. Some people (including at least one game journalist, specifically the managing editor of the now-defunct Joystiq, and several other assorted ‘games media’ personalities), seeing that most of the interview subjects were male in this series, took offense at the implication that male developers were the default, and female developers the deviation. A valid concern…except, again, I had done the interview with my two female coworkers, meaning that the interview series had taken input from both men and women and that the gender-neutral approach was completely justified. The Escapist explained this at length to the people complaining, but they either didn’t listen or didn’t care, because they continued complaining until the Escapist caved and changed the title.
As to the reaction to the interview series itself, I know that having those interviews be posted made Jim Sterling pretty upset. It’s pretty disquieting to learn that if a person you admired had had their way, you wouldn’t be able to speak up on matters that concerned you. I watched the Jimquisition pretty regularly for at least two years and never once tried to get his show shut down or express disapproval that he was able to speak his opinion. I’d expect at least comparable courtesy when doing a single interview, but that’s just me.
But that’s not all. I try really hard to avoid tweeting when I’m emotional, since…ya know…internet is forever and internet never forgets and all that. But one day I slipped. One day I was really, really worried about what the future would hold for me, and I did a series of 13 tweets regarding my fears. It made the rounds among Gamergate circles and ‘anti-Gamergate’ circles. Among the Gamergate circles it elicited genuine sympathy, and for months afterward was cited as an example of why it was important that Gamergate continue fighting to ensure that game developers got an even shake from the gaming press (for which I am incredibly grateful). And the gaming press themselves? Well the Gaming Editor at Badass Digest (sorry, ‘Birth.Movies.Death.’) posted the tweet series and publicly mocked it, at which point others gathered around and started making fun of it too. Because these are the compassionate people who care about making sure smaller developers wanting to make games about personal issues get an even shake, right? You can laugh at those tweets all you want, I don’t really care, I just think it’s funny to see this behavior come from a journalist. Silly me, assuming there were standards after nine months of #Gamergate.
My patience for people who talk sweet nothings but leave people who are struggling out in the cold is over. I’m tired of people demanding the industry do things that they themselves won’t do. I’m tired of people who claim to care about getting new developers with new perspectives into the industry, but don’t actually help promote anyone. Most importantly, I’m tired of people who use social justice in gaming as a platform to elevate themselves and not to promote actual change. All of these people exist in greater numbers than most would like to admit, and it’s their turn to get called out.
But by all means, continue. Keep bullying people on social media who are simply trying to voice their concerns. Keep using pressure to blot out the dissenting voices of people you disagree with even when they’re struggling to get a foothold in the industry just like the people you claim to support. Keep talking over developers who are trying to actually make change. Your hypocrisy only shows more each time you do it and eventually, just like today, people like me will snap. They’ll stop listening to what you have to say and start doing what they should have been doing all along: speaking for themselves.
Brianna Wu does not, and never will, speak for me as a developer with autism. Neither does the gaming press. Neither do any of the progressive-minded gaming elites who preach the importance of diversity but seem reluctant to ever celebrate or promote it when it happens. When myself and my team try to talk about our problems, we’re either mocked or ignored. The Gamergate community has done more in these last eight months to ensure that Freak got made than anyone else. To my immediate knowledge Freak will be the first game to have a playable autistic protagonist. When it does get released, and Wu adds it to her little game shelf to mark some nonsensical forward march of what she arbitrarily deems to be ‘progress’, that victory will not be hers. Nor will it be a victory for the progressive gaming elite who ignored us and mocked us. It will be a victory for everyone in Gamergate who looked at Freak and said 'this game sounds cool’.
Reflect on that as you go out and actually add some diversity to your game collection instead of pretending these games don’t exist just because you can’t be bothered to put your money where your mouth is.