My renewed interest in Alt Games

I made it no secret for a very long time that I hated indie games. I hated the games, I hated the people who made them, I hated the whole obnoxious scene associated with it. I mean, I used to love them way back in the day. The whole idea of video games being something more than what they were did, and still does, fascinate me to no end. I wanted artistic games. I wanted experimental games. I wanted games that subverted old cliches in interesting ways.

What I got, for a long time, was garbage: Barely interactive Braid rip-offs about creepy, misogynist “nice guys” pining over a barista they saw at Starbucks that were meant to be based on the author, and not some heavy-handed take on Pick Up Artists. Indie Game Gate-Keepers throwing temper tantrums and referring to games that had guns or explosions as “not being indie enough.” People continuing to uphold Jason Rohrer as a misunderstood genius after he did an interview in which he nonchalantly admitted to abusing his family and forcing to them to live in squalid conditions. Blatantly ripping off (maybe even recoloring) Cave Story’s graphics, putting them in a shit platformer, and calling yourself an artist. Embarrassing presentations where game designers literally screamed and called for a hostile takeover of the industry because people were buying Halo.

It was obnoxious. I wanted nothing to do with these assholes. So I spent years going in the opposite direction. I embraced the mainstream with open arms. Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty, you name it. If it was AAA, I was all over it. I wanted my shit to be loud and stupid, because hey, even if it insulted my intelligence, at least Cliff Blezinski never told a woman to shut up and give him a blowjob because he didn’t win an IGF award. In a lot of ways, I’m glad I did play these, as it gave me a new appreciation that big and popular doesn’t always mean cynically produced trash (Gears 3 is one of the absolute best games you could possibly play). It gave me a chance to take a look and realize that Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is actually pretty amazing, whereas a lot of folks would (and did) totally pass over it.

So what changed?

Well, funny enough, it wasn’t Gamergate attacking indie developers like you would probably guess. This started a little bit before trying to murder women over video games had an actual name besides “assholes.” Even as recently as this past Summer, I straight up said I didn’t think Twine games counted as “real” games. This was, of course, before I made two of them, with a third one on the way. I associated an entire engine with “indie” and I wanted nothing to do with it.

It was just me growing up a bit. Getting tired of day one DLC and cut-and-paste jobs. Tired of the same old shit. It was the “scene,” as it were, growing up as well. The elitist clowns running the show back then are either gone, went into the woman-hating mainstream sector they always wanted to belong to, or completely irrelevant. In their place are decent human beings with an appreciation for art, programming, music, writing, and many other things that make up a good vid con. Decent human beings that, admittedly, I would never have known about had a couple of them not reached out to me after getting a look at my design ideas. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not some perfect utopia, not with the Roguestars and Destructive Creations of the world running around. And one only needs to look at XBox Live Indie Games, App Stores, and parts of itch.io and see all the shameless clones of pre-existing games still about. But it’s better now. It’s no longer this shameful extension of the same shit plaguing the big time studios. It’s something that I would like to be a part of.

Old Pictures

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Here’s what’s fucked up about looking at old pictures of myself: I know that it’s supposed to me in these photos. But it doesn’t feel like it’s me. I’ve been looking at all these old shots, and it feels like an out of body experience. I hear the sound of my old voice ringing in my head (even though it’s the same voice I have to use in public, lest I get The Looks), and I look at all the details of my face and my hair, and it just doesn’t seem real. Like, who the hell is this guy? Then I remember that’s the body I’m stuck in, and it sucks.

The whole reason I took all these pictures was because I hated how I looked. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin. I always felt ugly, even when I was told on more than one occasion that that wasn’t that the case. I thought that by posting pictures of myself online, I could work on improving my opinion of myself. The whole time, I thought it was just depression making me feel this way. Of course, we all know better now.

It’s been over a month since I came out as trans. A very short time, but it’s felt like a million years. And I haven’t been able to look at old pictures in that time. I’ve just refused to acknowledge them. This post is probably why; it’s fucking weird and terrifying. Before all of this, I would hear trans people talk about not wanting to see their old photos, and how mad they would get when transphobic assholes would post them or make reference to them, and I thought that I understood them perfectly. I had no idea until it was turn. The only reason I posted one here was for reference purposes; I haven’t scrolled up once since I began typing (so I can’t be too sure of any typos I’ve made or anything). It’s just here to make a point, no matter how upsetting it may be for me.

Maybe there will come a day, when I finally look the way I was meant to look, and I can see this and realize how far I’ve come. Probably not.

Addendum

And while I write about games press failing us all, don’t think I don’t see regular press failing PoCs on an ever grander, shittier scale. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that journalism school and Krusty’s Klown Kollege are one and the same. I just didn’t cover that in my last post, since it was beyond the scope of my subject.

Games Are Dead. All Hail Games.

Last night, a new episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit aired. It was “that” episode; the one focused around Gamergate, and the harassment that women in the tech industry have been dealing with for half a year now. I watched it. It was bullshit. It was an hour-long sideshow of victim blaming trash. The Quinn/Sarkeesian/Wu stand-in brought all the trouble on herself for wanting to make games (this made sense to the SVU writers somehow), then left the games industry after being kidnapped and raped by the not-Gamergaters (and whose fake messageboard domain was legitimately purchased IRL by the not-about-harassing-women members of Gamergate). The lesson for all of us to take away was to just quit. If you’re a woman, get the hell out of games, or else you’ll be violently gang-raped for the internet to see, and it’ll all be your own fault too.

To say that I, and many others, were upset about that was an understatement. I had a Goddamned meltdown over it. The women this show was based on got inundated with even more harassment. The nightmare that minorities have been living was nothing more than a quick ratings grab for NBC.

I’ve been working on games for the last few months. I have wanted to quit every single day. Every day, another reminder that anyone dumb enough to racially identify with a marketing demographic label (gamers) will go out of their way to make your life hell because they can’t get over their high school years.

No, really:

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No, really.

And really, it gets really fucking tiring. All anyone of us wanted was just to play games, discuss them, make them, and just get on with our lives without having to deal with an abusive-ex’s petty revenge fantasy. Yes, Eron Gjoni, my heart goes out to you that you can no longer treat Zoe Quinn like a punching bag. Actually, wait, replace “my heart goes out to you” with, “you’re a worthless scumbag piece of shit and I hate your sorry abusive ass that ruined several peoples lives and set back the concept of video games being taken seriously about ten years because you can no longer treat Zoe Quinn like a punching bag.” That’s a bit more accurate. We (minorities) now have to think super duper extra hard on what we say publically, lest some frustrated Incel take offense and dedicate his life to plotting your murder. And we have to do all this by ourselves.

The mainstream games press. The mainstream games industry. They have not done a single fucking thing in six months. Oh sorry, I forgot: some of them wrote toothless “hey guys harassment is really bad now really c’mon now guys I mean it” articles that didn’t even mention Gamergate by name (that were only written after Anita Sarkeesian appeared on The Colbert Report and the front page of The New York Times, and they couldn’t ignore it anymore), patted themselves on the back, and then went back to caring more about LittleBigPlanet DLC than women’s lives. A woman will probably be murdered over video games before 2015 is out, but hey, wouldn’t you rather hear that you can dress your Sackboy up like Deadpool?

Fuck you.

I was content on just labeling these people cowards. Dickless jabronis who care more about money that comes from a theoretical audience than on being decent people. But between Owen Good’s “you deserve it” comments, The Escapist giving preferential coverage to a Gamergate developer so extreme he was banned from a chatroom dedicated to driving Zoe Quinn to suicide, former Gamefan editors making their own Gamergate t-shirts, and Totalbiscuit…well, being Totalbiscuit, in addition to everyone else’s dead silence, it’s become very clear to me where they really stand. Now call me a conspiracy theorist if you must, but I can only see one thing:

That they’re all a part of Gamergate.

Gamergate is always asking for proof that they’re assholes, even when said evidence is produced and is staring them right in their idiot faces. Where is your proof that you’re not secretly rallying behind it? Was the reason you were all “unsure of what to say” all this time due to you wanting to say that you think women being driven from their homes and minorities being harassed on a daily basis is actually really good, but not wanting to deal with the negative consequences?

This isn’t me talking out of my ass here. Every time some dumbshit says, “oh, I’m neutral. You know, both sides and stuff,” ten times out of ten that person somehow, through some coincidence, ends up supporting every single long-since disproven “Quinn is a whore who slept around for good reviews” and “Sarkeesian is a con artist” accusation and ends up following all of the totally-not leaders of Gamergate and promoting their shitty ideas and bigoted words. There is a precedent here.

People who can make change won’t. They’ve failed us, time and time again. As far as I’m concerned, this is the last time. There is nothing that the mainstream game industry can do to make up for this. I look at a mainstream game press outlet, and I see Gamergate. I look at a AAA studio, and I see Gamergate. The lone exception being, strangely enough, Square-Enix. Mostly because they are the only company that doesn’t give a shit about braying jackasses who think the world owes them sex. The made Lightning Returns (Vid Con of the year 2014). They’re making a new Final Fantasy with a half-naked man as its protagonist. They are literally the only company willing to publish Life is Strange (Vid Con of the year 2015), and not demand that the main character be changed to a man. Every one else can go fuck themselves.

Most importantly, no matter how bad things may get, no matter how badly I want to quit, no matter how fucked up I get over my gender or my depression, I’m not going to give up. I’m not making games to please shitheads. I’m making games because I want to. Playing Final Fantasy VII as a kid and thinking, man, I would really like to make one of these someday, is what made me want to get into design and development in the first place. Telling The Man to suck my fucking dick, make all these strong women getting put through this nightmare feel like they’re not fighting for nothing, and do my part to bring about change in a septic tank of an artform is what’s getting me to stay.

Today’s Problems

I had a really bad episode today. The worst I have ever had. All of my depression and dysphoria came bubbling to the surface in a terrifying two hour stretch. Just so much rage, fear, sadness hitting me all at once, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I have never felt so helpless, and so alone in my whole life.

But I’m still here. Whether it’s out an animalistic instinct to stay alive, or just cowardice, I’m not sure. And I’ve calmed down greatly since (please do not worry about me, although I realize that by posting this, it’s unavoidable). I just know that now, I need to use this time to do something positive. Something creative.

As silly, and as, I don’t know, flippant or disrespectful to my situation as this may seem, I’ve been thinking about the game I’ve been working on all this time. Wanting to die is a strangely inspiring thing (don’t think for a single second that I’m trying to romanticize this). I don’t like my game. I don’t think it’s as good as I can make it, and as I said in my last post, if you’re a woman in games, you have to make something worth dying for. I’m not willing to die for this. I need to scrap this, and start over. I’ve been so focused on “mechanics” and “design” and making everyone else happy, that I didn’t stop to think of myself; what I want. I think it’s time I focused on me.

But that’s for later. I’m just tired right now, and I have a lot to think about.

Games

Will games ever get better? Ha ha ha ha ha ha

No.

We can all laugh at that guy who tried to murder a woman over games, but failed after rolling his car- sorry, I meant his mom’s car (even when being horrifying criminals, they still can’t avoid falling into every gamer stereotype). But that won’t happen twice. The next time, a different gamer “vigilante” will come along. He’ll be able to drive better, aim better, be far more inconspicuous, and we’ll have our first (human) murder on our hands.

The industry does not give a shit about us. They never have, and they never will. If you do not “fit in” then you are not welcome. You only have to look at the last seven months of dead fucking silence, if not outright support, for this group of unhinged misogynists. People like to say that there’s always the Indie Scene, but it’s only a matter of time before the concept of striking out on your own and making what you want, free of societal obstacles is taken away by the same hate machine that is running the big show, too.

My only advice to any ladies out there (as well as myself) is this: if you’re going to make games, then you had better pour your heart and soul into it. Make it the absolute best game you can possibly can, because you may very well have to, quite literally, die for it.

Late Summer Night

7 P.M. A blazing Summer day was giving way to a cool, breezy night. My partner and I were sitting in the parking lot of a greasy burger joint, watching the sun set in between bites of processed meat. I go to reach out for our box of fries, but instead, I’m stopped. My girl’s head rests on my shoulder, and I respond in kind, meeting my head with hers. We sit and watch the sunset, wordlessly.

We’ve been on the road for the last three days. Two girls on a trip to some convention half a country away. The destination was irrelevant. What really mattered was the time we were spending together, free of all our responsibilities. No more having to fit time for each other in between work. No more having to go into a different room so we didn’t have to hear each other yell at our families over the phone about our “degenerate lifestyles.” It was just the two of us, listening to loud music, driving fast, and making sure that we fucked at least (but certainly not limited to) twice a day, every day, during this trip. This was our time, now.

The sun has finally set. A cool breeze blowing up the legs of our shorts is the signal for us to get out and get out again. We’re only a few hours away from our destination, anyway. If the traffic is good, we should make it by the end of the night.

We passed the time chatting endlessly about whatever came to mind: other drivers picking their noses. The names of small businesses we passed. Literally anything and everything to pass the time. As much as we were in love, being in a cramped vehicle for hours at a time could get awful boring. My girlfriend also began doing this thing where she would grab my right breast and make a “honk” noise at every red light we hit. I’m sure any other woman would find that annoying. But we’re not regular women by any means.

Our hotel is in sight. We pull in, get our room keys, unpack, and get settled. We lay together on the bed, just relaxing for a few minutes. We had all night to ourselves.

And we used that night to its fullest. Spending each precious minute admiring and exploring each others’ bodies in a way that only two people madly in love could. Running fingertips lightly across flesh, using our lips and tongues in unique and creative ways, loving the soft feeling of hair and skin, getting lost in each others’ eyes all the while.

We held our naked bodies very close that night. My partner was already asleep, her face nuzzled close to my neck. I closed my eyes, wishing, if only to my inner voice, that this vacation would never end.

The Last Day

Today is James’ last day in Verdite. After this, I’ll be starting up a new game of Animal Crossing. I grew tired of a boy named James dressing up and acting like a girl. I want to be me, even in the fictional video game world.

I took some screenshots, hoping to get some funny quips from the villagers. Unfortunately, they only wanted James to catch bugs and shit for them. Joke’s on them: he won’t be around to catch them.

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I put James back into some guy clothes for his last day.

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I have to say, it felt a little sad playing today. Not because of anything within Animal Crossing itself. I mean, it’s just a video game. I’ve been in such a rush to change everything; to just dive head-first into my transition and be a woman already, that I didn’t stop to realize that James is going away. He’s a guy who has been around my whole life, and a part of me will miss him. I feel like he’s dead. He’s not, though, because he never lived. He was just a mask; a role that I played up until now. And now I can’t wait to be the real me. This game was a (hokey, let’s be real) way of saying goodbye.

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Goodbye, James.

Late night rambling

January 2015 will probably go down as the most important month in my life. Mostly just the whole “oh shit, I was a woman this whole time” plot twist that I’ve gone through. It just feels like I’ve been asleep my whole life, and I’m finally waking up, and my life is really going to begin. Just a lot of stuff opening my mind. I’ve found myself looking at women and finding them just as attractive as all the men I’ve been lusting over and jacking it to on Tumblr. Like, if I’ve been missing out on so much by fooling myself into thinking I was a man, who is to say that I haven’t been missing out getting down with the ladies, too? An opinionated, bisexual, trans woman making her own game. I’m like a gamer’s nightmare come to life. All I need is to turn black and become bound to a wheelchair and I’ll hit some jerk-off’s “anti-SJW” bingo card.

I’ve just been spending these last couple of weeks buying women’s t-shirts (and getting to deal with bullshit at the cash register over it), and changing my name in all of my vid con things. No more “James;” that guy is a million miles away at this point. There’s only Ramona. Unless I need to deal with a legal/business document or make a trip to the bank. Although, someday (soon, I hope), that will change too.

My biggest problem has been dealing with the one-two combo of depression and gender dysphoria that like to kick my ass and make me feel like absolute shit. Before, I just threw all of my mental problems into the blanket term of “depression,” not really bothering to look harder to see what the problem was (the problem was I was not happy being a man). Now that I know what the problem is, it tends to suck sometimes. And while I have people I can talk too when I’m feeling down, none of them are trans. Without sounding like too much of a moody teen, they don’t really understand what I’m going through. I can’t help but feel alone sometimes.

Like, how can I go to someone and tell them that when I feel the stubble on my face each morning, I feel as though I’ve just woken up in a shitty hotel room and I’m covered in bugs? That I try my best to sound feminine in my day to day life, but if I have to raise my voice for any reason, I slip right back into my shitty man voice and then I have to spend a few seconds talking to myself like I’m unhinged, trying to get back into the right shift in tone? That there are times when I can only look at my reflection out of the corner of my eye, because I hate the look of my own body that much? That when I look at clothes when I’m out shopping, I feel like I’m about to commit the crime of the century. And whenever I end up grabbing something (I just calm down and remind myself that store employees don’t give a fuck; they just want your money), I end up getting weird looks and “you know these are women’s clothes, right sir?” in that fucking voice. The voice that you use when talking to a room of 1st graders. It sucks all around. Doesn’t help that I also maintain a Tumblr blog about games, and am currently developing two games of my own, all while this Gamergate bullshit is going on and a bunch of pissed off incels who think a lady on YouTube is going to take their toys away are doing their absolute best to ensure that if you are a trans woman, you will pray for death, because they will make life unbearable. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a slight bit of regret, or even outright fear, for coming out at times.

But at the end of the day, I don’t regret my decision. And no matter how shitty I feel, I never will. It’s a tough road ahead of me, and I know that it will only get worse from here. But the end of the road: me being the woman that I was too foolish to realize I always wanted to be, will be oh so sweet. Whether or not this really is a journey worth taking, or if it’s just something I’m telling myself whenever I go through an episode of anxiety is up to you, the reader, to interpret.