Wednesday, December 30, 2015

an itemized end of the year list

1. i don't care about Undertale. i don't like talking about things just because they're popular.

2. i have accepted that most people don't know, care, or understand how much effort or thought i put into my work. i have accepted my obscurity as an inevitable result of following my own path. in some ways, i'm fine with this. but i'm tired of being walked over and stepped on because i'm so afraid of being an unkind person to anyone. ever since i got into videogames, it feels like everyone wants to step on me, use me, take advantage of me and then throw me away when i'm not useful to them anymore. i don't care if everyone out there hates me, just so long as they know i do what i do for me, because i care about myself and having a positive impact on the world, not them or their expectations. i work harder, am more talented, and care more than almost anyone i know. i'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but it's true. if you don't like it, prove me wrong.

EDIT: an addendum to this. i said this to someone who was upset by the above statement & this article in general. i hope, if you're interested in reading my work, you will consider trying to take what i said for what it is and not take it as a personal attack on you or other people but enter it in for a little longer and think about what i might be trying to say beyond that. i think that policy is generally a good one when entering into any kind of field of criticism. you'll have to take my word for this, but - i'm not generally interested in making personal attacks on people. there are much broader things at stake here. and if you wanna make me look stupid by me saying the above, then please do.

3. i think i finally know how Kanye feels now.

4. early this year i ended up in a bar in Baltimore after a show my brother took me to. a friend of his partner's, after learning i did videogame-related stuff, repeatedly started drunkenly exclaiming to me: "the indie games... these indie games aren't good enough.... they're not good enough!". i know more and more what she means every day.

5. this was as good of a year for videogames as i can remember

6. it still doesn't matter - videogames ARE not good enough. then i think about the most popular/talked about games of 2015 - A Japanese RPG fan-game with slightly cuter dialogue and slightly less annoying battle system (Undertale), self-indulgent 'games about games' that might be kind of neat in parts but are extremely reflexively insular to game development culture (The Beginner's Guide, The Magic Circle), a tool that may be super accessible but locked away and corporately controlled on hardware most people don't own and at risk of disappearing in a few years (Super Mario Maker), more Metroidvanias (Axiom Verge, Environmental Station Alpha) a slightly better iteration of the same bloated open-world soulless wander-fest that's dominated the industry of the past many years (Fallout 4), PG-rated lesbians in a bottom-tier Netflix miniseries-worthy story about the Pacific Northwest by people who've never been to the Pacific Northwest (Life Is Strange), a 3rd person multiplayer gun shooting game branded to look slightly cuter (Splatoon), a kind of cool FMV game with a daytime soap-level story (Her Story), soccer-but-with cars? (Rocket League). and then --- a game with actually socially relevant themes that everyone in their mother shit-talked because the developer has said mean stuff about videogames (Sunset), and a bunch of experimental games no one played or talked about (Rooftop Cop, Anatomically Incorrect Dinosaurs, ENOUGH, Strawberry Cubes, etc etc).

7. at first i thought people in games were just ignorant, or that it was just the cis white dudes who did this - but more and more, i think people in games (regardless of who they are) delight in only being interested in talking about games-about-games, they delight in feeling like they're experts and part of a culture, no matter how insular, and they delight in not talking about or exposing themselves to anything that might ever challenge that idea to its core. they delight in "comfort food" to the exclusion of everything else. this blog post, which exclaims "...but sometimes you don’t want The Seventh Seal or Citizen Kane. Sometimes you want to huddle up with a bowl of popcorn and watch, I don’t know, Buffy." as if it's some kind of revelatory statement to make about videogames. but there is no Seventh Seal or Citizen Kane in videogame culture. it's ALL Buffy - all of it.

8. the whole "wolf vs. the vampire" dynamic i was talking about in my 21st Century Digital Art Manifesto holds more true than ever. the old world (i.e. traditional labels, publishers, galleries) has to rely on predatorily sucking the blood of new artists, scenes, movements, and technological developments to stay alive and stay relevant. the new world (i.e. social media, internet content-o-sphere) is chaotic and cutthroat and relies on luck & ultra-conformity to survive. what's popular becomes so ultra popular it becomes a cultural meme (i.e. Undertale). what's unpopular (most else) becomes ultra-obscure. virality is the only thing that really matters. the old world has some of this problem too, but it also supports a lot more nuance in its discussion and has a much more well-developed dialogue that exists over multiple centuries - but it is extremely inaccessible to most & filled w/soul-crushing hoops to jump through to get your work seen as worthy of a deeper, broader look (that has about 1% to do with the quality of work itself). the new world is accessible to anyone with a computer is always buzzing w/activity but contains many glass ceilings - it cultivates a cutthroat atmosphere of ultra-conformity based on social codes and friendships and virality where most fall beneath the cracks. and even more than in the old world, they possibly fall through the cracks forever.

9. the theme here is - the world is becoming more and more unequal, and it's becoming easier to see how that affects everyday life. people are increasingly retreating into their own spheres and not listening to dialogue, not considering outside views, increasingly insulating their lives with click-baity junk food, are increasingly trying to be objectively "correct" instead of listening to each other, increasingly projecting their outward biases and anger as the objective truth.

10. as much as i love music, i think the music criticism sphere is worse than the videogames sphere, because at least many people in the videogame world will admit that most videogame writing is consumer-based and has never really escaped that. music critics have much more interesting art to write about and hide behind a thin veneer of cultural legitimacy as a place to hide their unchecked, poorly thought out theses and conclusions that almost always come from a place of weird jealousy and outright ignorance. or they write clickbait about pop spectacles that read exactly the same as clickbait about AAA videogames except with some college freshman level terms to go with it. people there understand that they have to like things other than just mass media spectacle, or other than what confirms their own sense of self and identity, but they still don't really want to.

11. this M.I.A. video pretty much sums up 2015:\

12. social media has made me intensely distrust and be more paranoid of people than anything else i have experienced in this world.

13. here's for a world filled with complex people and not brands in 2016. here's for a more just, less destructive system for all people 2016. here's for a world where nuance is recognized and celebrated 2016. here's for no more escaping into "comfort food" 2016. here's for going outside your comfort zone and actually talking to people who differ from you 2016. here's for a death of "correctness" and a life for broader empathy and understanding 2016. here's for breaking down social media and corporate hegemony over our daily lives 2016. here's for no more externalizing your ignorance and emotional weaknesses as objective truth 2016. here's for no more escaping into the false legitimacy of old institutions 2016. here's for death to neo-liberalism and austerity 2016.

here's for a land of no memes 2016.



14. here's a starter youtube playlist of songs i like from 2015:

15. here is an experimental video presentation about the political theory of Neo-Liberalism and how it intersects into the digital realm/the realm of videogames i did with David Kanaga for this year's Indiecade Conference in LA (download to see the whole thing):

16. here is the playlist of all of the Doom Mixtape (playthroughs of individual levels from Doom fan mods i find interesting w/commentary) videos i did this year:

17. i have uploaded a few of my full albums to youtube for streaming. feel free to share them around, and also please consider purchasing them if you haven't & you like them:

18. if you like, you can continue to support me on my patreon. thank you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

healing from past wounds

i didn't want to talk about this in a public setting because part of me wanted to protect the people involved. i was trying to pretend it didn't really happen like i thought it did - that everything was okay, and that i could deal with it. that it was my responsibility. it was personal business after all and i didn't want to bring it public, because of all the other drama in the past that had been made public in the "queer game scene". it felt like it would just be petty, and i should just take the hit and move on. i didn't want other people to see it as just "more drama".

i also didn't want to make a post about this for years because all of the conflict that happened very messily and very publicly in that group of people a couple years ago and onward. i wanted to be a good person and let these things be as they are. but i finally decided that i need to do this for me. this is because i still have nightmares, and suffer from low self esteem and depression. i still feel really upset, and hurt about everything, and like i let myself go out of fear. i really can't seem to move on from all of this or escape it, and everything i do in the games sphere seems pretty tainted by it in one way or another. i want to gather the pieces back together from the wreckage of my life right and to escape with some sense of dignity and self-respect.


when i first moved to the SF Bay Area in 2011 from Ohio, it felt a little bit like a dream. it felt like i was stepping out of reality and into fantasy. it felt like i finally escaped a life of mediocrity in the midwest and had started doing something with my life. i was gonna set out on my own and make a career out of doing music for games. i was around other queer people, other weirdos and artists for the first real time in my life. it was so huge. and Anna Anthropy and her ex, Daphny, were a huge part of that.

but right from the beginning, things also didn't feel quite right. i wasn't the biggest fan of Anna's work or ideas about game design, but i was also curious to meet her. the first couple times i hung out with her and her ex, we had a lot of fun. maybe the second or third time i came over to their apartment, Anna said to me "we bought a present for you" and handed me a pair of black thong underwear. i honestly didn't know how to respond, because i had not expressed a desire to be sexually involved with them, and it didn't feel like it was a joke at all. but how often had i got to hang out with other queer people who were kinda famous for doing the things i wanted to do with my life? besides, Anna after awhile appeared to have a sensitive side which made me feel kind of sorry for her. so i kinda just laughed about it and thought that's what meeting new friends with alternative lifestyles was about (they were in dom/sub BDSM relationship and Anna was the domme). but i feel like those kind of interactions defined my relationship with them.

i felt super boxed in, not knowing the ways which it was acceptable to respond without starting a fight and losing friends, so i just shut down. i was amused but also creeped out that Anna had created a fictional character named Star Wench, a skinny blonde girl who was always being bound up or tortured in many different scenarios. there was a poster of her tied up and screaming in their living room that i kept staring at, over and over. and i have to admit, i like weird and disturbing shit and am not adverse to BDSM, so a part of me was intrigued. but i felt kinda like i was being seen as the analogue of that character, as a skinny blonde girl. like i had no real agency, or space to assert my boundaries within it. i wanted to have a distance, but i felt like that's the way i was being seen. and it seemed like much more an idealized fantasy and much less a reality. i felt objectified.

i always thought Anna was good at consent because of how much she made an enormous deal about it, both online and offline. it was her brand, her identity. i initially respected her for that. but i started to see that, outside of very particular contexts, she had no real boundaries. i felt uncomfortably sexualized around her all the time, and i know i wasn't the only one. i felt like the way she treated women she was attracted to was disrespectful and objectifying, like she was entitled to them and she knew what was best for them - better than anyone else. but it was also like she had to be superior to them, like she couldn't let herself be vulnerable to them at all. like they were wax figures or something, not real people. i guess that's part of what the fantasy of being dominant is about, but there was no dividing line between fantasy and reality here. it was completely how she saw herself.

she got a lot of pleasure out of acting like the rules didn't apply to her. she constantly bullied people with her ex on twitter and laughed about, and used her status as a plus-sized queer transwoman to her advantage as much as possible - both for favors and for money. granted, she had some tough times getting by, though i also think she had a lot of opportunities she crapped out on and often made excuses whenever it was convenient, and looked for ways to make her vision of reality appear to be true even if it wasn't. she also used it to take advantage of other people, like transwomen with far less of a following and support network than her. when she spoke on behalf of other queer transwomen, most of the time she was really just speaking about herself.

i felt like i was made to feel shitty about my body because i wasn't sexual enough for her liking, and i had no space to assert my boundaries within it. and i felt like i couldn't say anything because i was depending upon her for support - emotional, and even a space to live for a little bit. i lived with her and her ex for awhile when i didn't have another place to go, and i was extremely grateful to just have a place to stay. but it was in a weird kind of limbo, and i feel weird about it, even still. i wanted a friend and supporter and she wanted someone to flirt with from afar, someone to use to make her feel better about herself. she treated me really coldly and nastily and acted totally suspicious towards me as a result, like i was trying to take advantage of her. she would make reference to me having no real sense of humor and would make me feel like it was bad to like the things i did. like i was weak and a sad, unfortunate person she wanted to have nothing to do with. i felt like all of these were imagined projections she had of me, but i was scared of being homeless so a lot of her fears got to me. she and her ex made me feel like i had to follow their tastes and their friends, and my friends were bad, ignorant people who wanted to hurt me didn't really understand me like she did. i felt no space to be myself, and felt i had to maintain that act to other people i met through them.

for the longest time i thought she was really right - that she knew what was best. that she was trying to protect me in some way. and that i took advantage of her financially. that she didn't have to take me in at all and i should be thankful about being a huge burden on her. having guilt about needing to stay with her for several months because i would have otherwise been homeless made me feel like i couldn't say anything about my issues with her publicly without being a hypocrite, or very selfish. i thought she always had a trump card on me ever calling her out for anything. and it made me forget about promises she had made for financial opportunities that were broken and never talked to me about or apologized for. when i was still in a dire financial situation and really needed the money. it made me feel like i needed to be her friend, and support her even in tough times after she broke up with that ex. it made me believe it was really her ex's fault that things were messed up and that Anna was misunderstood.

but the worst thing is that is i feel like i couldn't even be her friend. i felt like there were so few contexts for me to express genuine concern or care because they'd be turned around on me to "why are you so awful?" if i wanted to say something about feeling sexually uncomfortable around her or that she might make other people uncomfortable, i was kink shaming.  if i wanted to say something being concerned about her health and diet, i was fat shaming. if i wanted to express a disagreement about something she liked that i didn't, i was a negative person. if i didn't find something funny or was uncomfortable with something she did at someone else's expense, then i had no sense of humor. if i liked something she found questionable, she'd find a way to turn it around and imply that i was a racist. she had a lot of her identity invested in being an ally, in a way that felt objectifying of the people she was supposed to be supporting. i couldn't be a friend - she didn't want a friend. she didn't know how to have real friends. i had to be a follower. i had to listen to her lecture me. i had to subscribe to her views and support her ego and let her insult me to even get support. only recently have i been able to recognize the pattern of so many of the things she did as classic abusive behavior.

it really laid a mindfuck on me after awhile - i started feeling like she was morphing me into another kind of person. i felt like i lost a lot of strength and became totally weak and submissive in her eyes. i felt like it was the only way to avoid all the conflict that had been happening with her and her ex and others and be on people's good side. i felt entirely changing myself and personality would be the only way to reach her. and then i would have to be closer to her weird conceptual model fetishized ideal what a girlfriend should be - someone who was good at looking pretty and being objectified and maybe "important" to her but was ultimately there to be subservient to her and make her feel better about herself. but even that didn't work to reach her, and just made me hurt myself more and more by how much i tried to change myself. she wasn't comfortable dealing with real emotions.

even after i lived with her and her ex, i always felt that she was judging everything i said online and in public in the games sphere. i felt like she was always testing me, evaluating me, waiting for me to say something incorrect so she could dismiss me. whenever i did something i felt good about, i felt this sense of guilt wash over me. every time i wrote my opinion online i was afraid it would cross her, and she'd decide she hated me, that i was "gross" and that she was done with me like she did with so many mutual friends of ours. she took everything so personally and she burned through friends so quickly. but she had a lot of power, both in the trans and game communities, so it felt really dangerous to cross her. honestly i feel like the only reason she never quite burned through me was that i shut so much of myself off in order to stay friends with her, and she lost a lot of her power. but even then, i still felt a need to defend her position. i felt like this was a necessary sacrifice at the time because she was the only real family in the Bay Area i had.

i honestly think she felt jealous of me (and many other people as well) - that i had talent in a lot of different areas and i was open to meeting lots of different kinds of people. and i feel like she used that jealousy to keep me feeling bad about myself so i wouldn't ever challenge her ideas, because she felt deeply insecure about her own. so that i'd always be secondary to her, and accept that she was right and i wasn't, because she had so much of herself invested in being right, and i couldn't care one way or the other. and i felt like a total sucker for doing this, but still i basically just ceded it to her and let her feel that way, because i didn't want to create more drama or fight more about it. and it worked, and i began to accept her vision of reality even though i knew it was wrong. i really needed that support, because i never felt like my parents or family ever understood me or were there for me. she was also the one with all the experience, who'd met all the people and done all the interviews, and i was a naive, sad little girl who didn't know anything. so i felt like she must really know in the end.

and yet she was one of the saddest and most unhappy people i ever met. and i never really figured out why, but so much of my sadness came from trying to understand her's. she had so much invested in being "important" on the surface that obviously became less and less effective at masking all the pain underneath. i knew this from the beginning. but i felt so sorry for her as she begun to lose so many friends. i begun to feel like the only person i could trust with my emotions was her. i sacrificed a lot of myself because of that, and i sacrificed saying how i really felt about anything because i wanted to help.

and when i'd go to events, and people responded positively to her work and came up to her and hugged her and said how much it meant to them, i eventually accepted her view of the world as the correct one. that she really was as important and valuable as she made herself out to be. i felt scared to be anywhere around that was not around her, because it didn't feel safe. i didn't want to bring cognitive dissonance onto myself. she knew a lot of other people who were actually good people, and it made me feel like i must be wrong in feeling bad about her behavior, because they didn't seem to have any problem with it. so after protesting a lot, i felt like i was being a jerk and i shut myself off again, trying to support her and her work - especially, again, as she started losing support. she still had so much social capital in that group of people with so many people i respected that i felt like i had to keep supporting her, to support what was left of the queer community i had. but all those people all knew her on the outside - they didn't really know what she was like. and so i felt like i took on the burden of dealing with her despite disagreeing with her because it felt like no one else was.

i really thought i was better than this. that i could deal with it all and move on. that it was mostly all in my head, it was all just from past stuff i couldn't get over. that i was being judgmental because of my past trauma and growing up in the middle of nowhere. that this is just what you had to do to be real friends with someone, and to be a caring and kind person. i had a lot invested in being caring and kind, because of the way my parents treated me - like i was selfish and self-absorbed. so even though i resisted at first, i eventually became the easiest target. i became totally submissive and lost pride in myself and what i was doing.


it's still hard for me to come down emotionally from this. to accept that i wasted a lot of time and energy into something that was really hurting me. i have trouble having any respect for Anna's work because of what she did, the way she made me feel horrible about myself and way she treated other people. i like to pretend it didn't affect me sometimes but it really did, very deeply wound me. i think she is still a deeply mean-spirited, entitled person who believed she was always above the rules. when i did see sensitive sides to her it made me feel like i needed to keep supporting her, and that i could help her heal. and it's my fault for being so naive and thinking i could help change a person.

but i don't care about trying to reach her at this point - i already tried to several times, and i finally gave up after several years. i felt like she kept playing the victim, and blaming everything on her exes and people in the scene - really everyone around her but her. she had a startling lack of self-awareness. and i knew it, and i was deeply bored by it - but i stuck around because i felt sorry for her. and i feel a lot of shame at myself for doing that, knowing nothing would come of it.

i guess i just want other people to know to be careful who they support, and to educate themselves more on the dynamics of these communities. just because someone is big in a community and appears to be doing great work doesn't mean they won't use it to their advantage to hurt other people. if someone uses abusive language a lot of the time to make their points, that's probably not a good sign. just because someone purports to care about a lot of people and be an activist doesn't make them really capable of it, or capable of doing anything but being nasty and hurting other people.

i have plenty of anger at cisgendered white men for hurting me over the years, not to mention disrespecting my personhood and identity. but i also understand that i have to work with cis white men sometimes to achieve a positive shared goal. some cis white men have been really great supporters of me. and of course i often feel anxious around them. but to make something really cool - to show genuine empathy for everyone, you need a lot of different kind of people's help, and you don't always get to pick where it comes from. there's so much good out there, but the internet in this day and age has become so divisive, with so many people willingly retreating and pulling themselves back into their own groups. the amount of groupthink has grown so much, and the ability to escape it has become harder and harder. you end up only seeing the bad, and only getting people who reinforce your own biases.

i feel sick to my stomach being on twitter now. i only feel like the divisiveness is getting stronger. and i don't trust that people who are popular on there aren't just taking advantage of their status to use other people. no matter who they are. the more that i try to censor myself in order to support other people, the more i feel like those people just get angrier and angrier and i'm just hurting myself more and more. i don't feel like i can be myself online anymore. i don't feel like i have that space anymore, but it's so hard to find in the flesh too. and my feelings about this are coming out in ways that are really bad and self-destructive. my health has declined a lot in the past year or so, for one.

the language these days seems to become more and more violent, more and more favoring abusive behavior to get attention and exposure. i think this is no secret - i think social media, and our world, favors this sort of behavior to get ahead and get noticed. and it sucks. i know we live in scary and confusing times in many ways, and that a lot of people have pain. but think we need to be both smarter and kinder to ourselves and others. speaking out is important - being angry is even important too sometimes. but we need to find a way to speak out that actually allows us to grow, and be angry in a way that makes us realize and heal from the source of it. we need art, and compassion. we need to be able to acknowledge and face the reality of our lives, and be able to find a way to move on from it and still be human. that's why i'm in a creative community, and make music, and write, and do stuff with games. it helps me heal. we need to not let the angry monster inside us always do the talking. those who can't find a way to move on from hurt, just hurt themselves the most. it creates a toxic atmosphere for all of us. we need to all find a way to live with each other - and it is totally possible, and i've seen it happen many times.

right now i am more scared of some fellow transwomen than basically anyone else in my life. and that's a weird place to be - isolated from and distrusting of a community i wanted to be part of. and i don't really think that's internalized transmisogyny on my part - that's my self-preservation. that's recognizing those people i was around in my community turned out to be kind of dangerous and bad to be around. does that mean most transwomen are this way? of course not. there are so many different kinds of transwomen, and queer people, and women, and people of color, and cis white dudes even. and there are so many who also want to make a genuine difference in their life and make something positive from pain. i have met some of these people. and there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about these people. but oftentimes the people with the biggest platforms and power - the ones you're most likely to see from the outside on places like twitter, tend to be the ones who use it to their advantage, and at the expense of others. oftentimes you see the pain ahead of everything else, and the healing gets ignored. you see the negative stories make headlines, but all the positive work being done day to day is erased.

i just want to clarify - this isn't a thinkpiece. i'm not interested in trying to join the twitter debates about abuse or "callout culture" or whatever else. all of those are super abstract ideas that have no real resonance to me and take away from the reality of the individual situation. this is something that happened in my life. this is an intense personal thing that's hard to talk about. i still feel afraid to talk about it. it feels like everyone is either pissed off or checked out on these issues and doesn't want to have anything to do with it. it feels like i'm reaching hardly anyone with anything i'm saying anymore. but maybe that's ok, because i'm doing it for myself and not anyone else.

i'm not a perfect person by any means, and i have a lot of regrets. one of the biggest one is spending so much time invested in understanding other people's feelings and not exploring my own. one is letting other people's negative views of the world get the best of me, and not focusing on the positive. another is being afraid of confrontation and hurting people's feelings so much to where i hide my own. i'm still naive in a lot of ways. but it's something i'm working on. i've moved on from a lot of really bad shit in my life, and i plan to move on from this one too. i hope this situation is another opportunity to start being true to myself again. in the deepest despair there is always the best opportunity for positive change. and because of that, even though i really feel like i'm in the hole right now, i'm still genuinely optimistic about the possibilities. and i think other people should do it too. try it out - it might make you feel better.

these have been rough times, and i'd appreciate any and all support you can give. thanks so much. and thanks for your continued support online, in person, and on my patreon - it's what's keeping me going.


- liz