In Which Aaron Sorkin Is Useful

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They say don’t read the comments, and really, I should listen to whoever they are. But I often find myself on a sleepless night reading the comments on articles that I have written or articles that have been written about me, and I am often made sad by them. It is like watching myself in a car, approaching my own car crash. But sometimes the comments are inspirational. Amongst the bile, RPS has a great deal of commenters that are intelligent and passionate and good at argument, and it is only sometimes that I get to appreciate that. Often, it is in unfortunate circumstances that I get to admire that – such as when I am under intense scrutiny like on this article.

Whilst reading the comments I found this wonderful person, who articulated in so many ways how I feel whenever I write something in a male dominated field.

“MarkN says:

Do you think the blokes writing for RPS sit down and try to write androgynous-sounding copy? Is that what it sounds like when you read it? To me it often sounds like blokes have written the work. I suspect they write it in their own voices.

It’s not targeted at you. You just happen to like it/have gotten used to it/have been given little else.

In which case you’d seem to be asking for female writers to jump through hoops to pander to your expectation levels rather than express themselves freely.

I’d rather read what they want to write, rather than what you’d like them to write quite frankly.”

I just sat there and thought, yes. I do not sit there and try to stylise anything, I just write what I would like to read from someone else. You don’t think that part of my writing about identifying with Rhianna Pratchett was important to humanise her? Why do we have to appraise our developers coldly, and without feeling? Can’t I empathise with her? Bring her closer to us? Can’t I ask her about tea in between questions about the way she sees her work? Don’t you want to see my warmth towards her, and how that affects my questions? She is a person, and part of how she is formed might be important to someone else looking for inspiration, or to write for games. You don’t think my telling you a little about me contextualises why I ask questions, and why she answers my questions in the way she does? Perhaps even what she saw in the background of my Skype call influenced the way she answered me. Perhaps her cats gambolling around in her house distracted her. I don’t know. I just know what I experienced, and what my opinion was, and I tried to report that in an entertaining way. I wouldn’t have felt that I could have been so honest on any other site other than RPS. RPS values my honesty, and I write to that. RPS lets me retain integrity as a writer by supporting my voice. The me that brought you the cynicism at Crysis 3 could not exist without the me that brought you  exactly how I felt about talking about Tomb Raider with Rhianna. I was honest in both of those situations about what I wanted to tell you.

I cannot androgynise my writing, and neither can Jim Rossignol or Nathan Grayson pretend that they are anything other than men when they write their prose. They cannot write like I can, and I cannot even approach writing like them. And I used to try and ignore, even remove the fact that I was a woman from much of my writing (isn’t that sad?), until I realised that it is censoring myself from what I really want to say – and until I realised no one will ever let me forget it anyway.  No one will let me forget it anyway. No matter what anyone does I will always be ‘the girl on RPS’. To that end, I made a decision.

There’s a bit in the fine West Wing episode ‘Game On’, in which Sam and Will are talking about how President Bartlet just fared in a televised Presidential debate. The debate was with a Republican candidate resembling George W. Bush named Ritchie, who hates Bartlet’s ‘smug liberal elitism’. In the debate Bartlet went full whoop ass. He went entirely into “THIS IS WHO I AM” territory. Bartlet rammed what he believed in right down Ritchie’s throat – tax and spend, partisan politics, federal funding. He veered right away from the soft, nice liberal who is conciliatory, and he didn’t agree with anything Ritchie said to score a few points with floating voters. He just said what he thought with passion and charisma.

Sam and Will’s post-debate conversation goes like this:

WILL: I thought he was going to have to fall all over himself trying to be genial.

SAM: So did we. But then, we were convinced by polling that said he was going to be seen as arrogant no matter what performance he gave in the debate. And then, that morning at 3:10, my phone rings, and it’s Toby Ziegler. He says, “Don’t you get it? It’s a gift that they’re irreversibly convinced that he’s arrogant ’cause now he can be.” If your guy’s seen that way, you might as well knock some bodies down with it.

If your writer is seen as a woman, you might as well knock some bodies down with it.

11 Comments

  1. Jon 04/18/2013 / 8:18 am

    Sorry to hear that they’re getting to you (or perhaps more accurately, got to you?). I’m glad you’re steely in your resolve. Look forward to your next piece.

  2. Milpool Dunphy 04/19/2013 / 11:04 pm

    Hi, just wanted to say that your piece in RPS about DOTA 2 and the machine is my favourite games article. Ever. Nobody else writes like you, so don’t change! >:(

  3. fishyboy 04/20/2013 / 1:57 am

    i’m a big fan of your writing, can’t wait to read your next article!

  4. Tim Sell (@timothy_sell) 04/22/2013 / 8:48 pm

    Your interview with Rhianna Pratchett was the best thing I’ve read in games journalism in years.

  5. 11temporal 04/23/2013 / 7:36 pm

    If you accept that in general males and females have different writing styles (which I tend to agree with) it should be clear it is also highly likely males and females on the whole have different preferences when it comes to reading. For example I prefer reading male writers writing about things from male point of view. It’s nothing personal. The problem for female game writers who want to write in their feminine style and be appreciated for it is than simply the fact the majority of readers in this genre seem to be male.

    One way to try to deal with it would be to establish a female dominated publication aimed ostensibly at female gamers. I have no idea if anyone tried it or how successful it would be.

    Another option is what you get to in the end of your post – accept that you will always (or at least for the foreseeable future) be “the girl on RPS” and simply milk it for what it’s worth. I would likely go that route myself too haha, or at least tried it out. The one drawback is some of us males don’t always appreciate such efforts. We are somewhat bitter about how nature sets us up for manipulation with sex drive and so some backlash will inevitably be present. Another drawback is there won’t be any way to abstract your gender from the reaction to your writing.

    The last option (I can think of atm) is to simply not take writing as personally as the talk about “having to censor oneself” implies, adapt a separate persona for writing and learn to write what the majority wants to read. I suspect many professional writers (of both genders) have to go that route whether they like it or not.

    • Cara Ellison 04/23/2013 / 9:26 pm

      I don’t think that men and women have different writing styles – I think everyone has a different writing style from each other. But if you accept that one of my biggest influences has been early 90s PC game writing like Charlie Brooker’s stuff, then you might accept that the way that I write is sort of similar if slightly watered down. One of the differences between that journalism and mine is that where that era writer might make scatological jokes I’d probably make a sex joke instead.

      I am not sure that you’d characterise my writing as being ‘feminine’ in nature, as really at its worst it’s a sort of boys’ locker room style.

      Where it strays into my talking about issues that might only happen to a woman that would be the only time you’d realise you were reading a woman. So I don’t really accept that men don’t like women writers. And I have been reading men write about games for decades, and it never really bothers me that I am reading a man’s point of view like it bothers you that you are reading a woman’s point of view – I would just like to see more of a woman’s points of view in the mix as it’s interesting to have varied reading. And I think most men think the same, otherwise I wouldn’t have three quarters of my twitter followers and their soup-related punnery.

      It’s interesting that you think that my conclusion was that I am going to ‘milk’ being a woman: there really isn’t much to milk about being a woman in this industry, unless you think that the reaction that I got for posting a fuzzy picture of myself with some soup was a positive for me as a writer. The responses a lot of my female colleagues get just for mentioning their gender, or being visible online, is deplorable. The only reason that I’ve avoided such a negative reaction for so long is because I don’t write much editorial about gender issues, and I write mainly for RPS, which is generally quite an enlightened community.

      My conclusion was much more about deciding just to be myself. Because that is really what people want to read: writers with integrity, who really articulate with honesty and intelligence what it is they have experienced, in an entertaining way. If I think it’ll be funny to articulate this one time I was painting my nails in a DOTA 2 lobby punchline punchline, I’ll do it, because sitting around worrying about the flak I’ll get for signposting that I’m not a man is worth *less* than the amusing anecdote itself. And of course, I’ll bring the women readers with me too. And the dudes who paint their nails. It’s all about inclusion and not exclusion. It’s about embracing those people who have been lost in the internet the whole time. I spend a lot of time trying to extend a hand to people who haven’t been talked to by journalists before.

      God I hope this makes sense

      • Anduiln 04/25/2013 / 2:46 pm

        I makes sense! And I really want to read more of your stuff on RPS ^^ Any chance of that happening in the near future?

        Also, completely unrelated but I was curious, how exactly do you work as a freelance? Do get commisioned for specific articles, or for a period to do general stuff, or do you submit articles yourself? Or all of the above? I’m just curious because of the varied ways you’ve ended up writing for RPS (the “Gaming Made Me”, the random articles from time to time, and then sometimes longer stretches (like the week before that particular article when you were writing loads every day which was amazingly awesomely great).

        Anyway, great article an comment, but I just wanted to point out that you appear to be contradicting yourself a little bit. In that you seem to imply, in your article, that Jim’s and Nathan’s gender shows in their writing, and even that yours does. Of course, I think you mean by the content of the writing rather than the style, but it does sound a bit contradictory.
        Regardless, Keep writing what you want to write, it’s great fun to read!

      • Anduiln 04/25/2013 / 2:48 pm

        I makes sense! And I really want to read more of your stuff on RPS ^^ Any chance of that happening in the near future?

        Also, completely unrelated but I was curious, how exactly do you work as a freelance? Do get commisioned for specific articles, or for a period to do general stuff, or do you submit articles yourself? Or all of the above? I’m just curious because of the varied ways you’ve ended up writing for RPS (the “Gaming Made Me”, the random articles from time to time, and then sometimes longer stretches (like the week before that particular article when you were writing loads every day which was amazingly awesomely great).

        Anyway, great article and comment, but I just wanted to point out that you appear to be contradicting yourself a little bit. In that you seem to imply, in your article, that Jim’s and Nathan’s gender shows in their writing, and even that yours does. Of course, I think you mean by the content of the writing rather than the style, but it does sound a bit contradictory.
        Regardless, Keep writing what you want to write, it’s great fun to read!

    • Anduiln 04/25/2013 / 2:27 pm

      I don’t understand how anybody could think that men and women have some sort of general difference in their writing style… Boggles the mind, really.
      How would you even describe such a difference? Would it have to do with the use of hyperbole, alliteration, puns or some such? The description of the personal, of feelings, of thoughts? I don’t see how any element of style is more feminine or masculine or whatnot.

      When I read articles (of any sort, and anywhere), I tend not to check who the author is at all (since I’m more interested in the content). And the vast majority or the time, I leave the article with not an inkling of what gender the author is, only what thoughts they had on a subject, whatever information they sought to convey, and a touch (sometimes even a dollop) of their personality.
      Only if the particularities of the article mean that the gender of the author is obvious (whether mentioned in passing or actively discussed) does a thought pass through my mind about that fact.

      So let’s ignore your “men want to read what other men write” almost-statement, and assume you mean “people have different preferences as to what they like to read”. Sure! Of course they do. But how does that spur the choices that you give? The choices are then to either writes write what you want to write, as you want to write it, or to try to conform to some fictionalised ideal of what “the majority wants”. Gods know the second option would output some tedious rubbish.

      Finally, as to the idea of a “female dominated publication”, again, I do not see that making a difference in style. It could lead to a difference in content (as the perspective might shift due to different experiences in gaming and in the industry), though, and that could only be a positive thing. But the need to make it “female dominated” is nonexistent. It only needs to be open. And there are such publications. RPS I would consider is an example, as illustrated by their fine writers (freelances included, of course ^^). The Border House is another, more overtly, and with a more specific purpose. And I’m sure there are many more, and they make the world a better place.

      Sorry for rambling… ^^

  6. Gloomy 05/14/2013 / 11:53 pm

    I don’t necessarily agree with the above assertion that women innately don’t write differently than men; the way we write is naturally informed by our life experiences. Women confront different (and all too often more) challenges than men do, and that trickles into each’s writing, even if only in the subtlest of ways. I don’t think you can necessarily say that it only applies when issues that effect women come up. I’d be willing to bet that if you put people down in a blind study and asked them to identify whether pieces regarding gender neutral issues were written by a man or a woman, a statistically significant number of identifications would be correct.

    I also think that the above poster is correct in saying that the general gaming audience is uncomfortable because they are used to a male worldview informing the game journalism they consume. It’s the classic ‘othering’ scenario. However, I think that THIS IS A GOOD THING. I remember discussing with a TA during my undergrad years how I was incredibly uncomfortable reading and analyzing a book written from a female view of growing up in an intensely Catholic family. As a guy who was in a similar situation, it made me actively uncomfortable to read because it was so similar but from a completely different angle. An uncanny valley of identification, if you will. This challenged a lot of my entrenched ideas and forced me to be more empathetic to a different view point, and to focus on the commonalities to more fully recognize the injustices of the differences.

    Basically I guess what I’m trying to say is fuck the haters. It doesn’t matter whether or not women write differently. I think they do, but regardless more exposure to women’s voices in game journalism is a good thing. Banishing female writers to a ‘women’s only’ outlet seems like banishing their voices to a ghetto, and is only going to further entrench the othering that’s going on in the community. I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with such closed minded dicks (I can’t think of anything nicer to call them), but I’m glad that you and other female writers are doing what you’re doing. Even if you (and they) don’t realize it, you are subtly challenging their world view. It makes them uncomfortable, and THAT is why they lash out. Keep it up, even if it’s hard, because it’s good for all of us to understand others’ points of view and be more empathetic human beings.

    And goddamn I loved that Crysis 3 piece. I literally laughed outloud on my initial reading, and may have had further dramatic renditions to friends. You could have seven vaginas and that would still be an incredible, funny piece layered in subtext.

    • Anduiln 05/15/2013 / 7:42 am

      I agree, of course, with all of the second part of your comment ^^ It’s very important that we are confronted to other points of view, whether they be women’s or anybody else’s. Empathy is the best characteristic of humanity, and it requires regular maintenance to really be effective ^^
      But I do stand by my point about the writing styles, as opposed to the content or point of view, not being different. The experiences of the writer will inform content, and the angle they take on certain types of content. But their style, their way of writing, the rhetorical devices they employ and the such, those come out of their personality, their choices, and to a large extent what they read ; and this varies between people with wild abandon, disregarding sexes or genders or whatnot. Cara’s exhuberant writing style is definitely a style I have seen before in many people, men and women (though her does definitely have a feel of its own that is immensely enjoyable and guffaw-inducing).
      I would, in fact, argue that in terms of the usual articles a journalist, in particular a games journalist, writes, even the content won’t necessarily give away their gender ; but of course, that will depend on what the articles are about, and I do agree that in a number of situations, the point of view can drastically change the content of the writing. But still, not the style! ^^

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