After this year's Fantastic Arcade I came away from the event with a lot of clarity. There is something special about not being in a setting that focuses on press, business, exposure, audience reception, and the other things that can distract you from why you make art. It's easy to forget and get caught up in the "competitive" side of games. Wanting your game to be played and "liked" when maybe that's not why you decided to make interactive art to begin with.
(A note to myself that I had posted over my monitor while developing "Everything is going to be OK" and it's going to continue to hold true as I start the next part.)
I've been thinking a lot about how things have been, post release of "Everything is going to be OK". First of all, it doesn't feel like I'm done. I feel like it has upset just the right people, and positively touched just the right people, that there are some important things I want to add to it.
Since its launch I've had this feeling that it's not really "done". I didn't say everything I wanted to say, and I don't feel "free" either from the experiences that this game abstractly touches on. It was a fairly difficult game to make, given that I'm being very vulnerable in something that is largely considered a consumer medium.
There are some portions of it that I left out, because I thought they would be too difficult for me to talk about, and I was afraid of the harassment it would attract.
I've decided that, instead of working on my next game, I'm going to build the next portion of "Everything is going to be OK" and add those missing pages to it. This would be the final installment.
When the internet first exploded over it, and the gross comments started flowing in, I totally melted down under that for a while. There is something really weird about watching players react to metaphors about the worst parts of your life as if they are a mechanic that's up for dispute like loot crates are.
It felt as if these experiences are some sort of object of game design disputes centering around "fun" or "not fun".
It's really such a strange feeling to describe. Like you yourself are an object of entertainment. I'm not sure if I like it, or not. I certainly don't think it's necessary, and people don't need to be mean or derogatory in how they relate to these types of interactive experiences.
It kind of occurred to me how, by this very behavior, the medium is a consumer medium that's largely (mainstream) incapable of art discourse. I realize that the game has an exhibitionist quality to it. I am exposing my own pains, vulnerabilities, and fears, and offering that up for discussion, but the way it was received (in this case) was really hard. Maybe "cruel" maybe "insensitive", maybe I exaggerate and am too sensitive, but it was hard.
I realize that SO MANY people now have said positive things about it, and told me how much they like it, so maybe I'm focusing on the wrong thing (yes, sure I am!).
Either way I'm staying transparent about all this.
It's interesting... Some people have sarcastically commented that they are not sure if this is a cry for help, or a game. Not that I am interested in educating people on what art is, but "Everything is going to be OK" is not a cry for help. It is a declaration of personal strength.
I really encourage people to read the poetry since the messages of persistence, and "I am too strong to destroy" are made very clear there.
This is a difficult thing to communicate within a medium that expects some sort of entertaining twist.
I have been doing stuff like this for 19 years (according to the calculator). I should be used to harassment and mean spirited online interactions. Even in-person physical ones (not virtual). I have enough stories to share, but somehow this really ran me over. Prior to Fantastic Arcade I was pretty burned out.
I still am absolutely exhausted after almost a full career of this being a non-stop reality. It seems like a bottomless pit that never ends.
It's funny how this stuff messes with your head. If you're dealing with this long enough, you come to expect this from other people in your life too. You kind of project that expectation of negative behavior on them, and think that they will also treat you like that. It's such a strangely isolating paranoia.
The thing about things like death threats, rape threats, and general internet hate is that the fear of these bad things becomes all consuming. It's this really threatening "bad thing that will happen anytime now". It's so easy to fixate on it. Check the posts for updates, screen grab, save it, check if anyone else has posted anything new...
Your life starts to exist around managing this type of ugly. It becomes an obsession. This is no way to live.
You have to really get good at managing this information. Negative information can too easily become the only thing you dedicate your attention too. This couldn't be more harmful to yourself. I usually just delete any mail now that leans anywhere near the "bad" direction.
The ironic thing is that I'm more likely to die in a motorcycle accident than by someone online honoring a threat made to me. So fear is a point of perception, really.
I keep thinking that, if games are really art, this should have been easier. Any other medium would have been more welcoming to personal experiences in the form of that art. I guess more work was done in other areas to opening people up to that concept.
After some thinking it almost feels as if the art isn't only the game I made, but the fact that I chose that game medium as my outlet is also some sort of statement. I feel like I'm partly doing this just to make some sort of statement about games. Negative comments are almost part of the commentary here.
I feel so strangely motivated by all this tho. It's funny, because if you really wanted me to "stop", you could just ignore me and I'll burn myself out. I'm good at that. Attacking me just adds fuel to the fire, so I'm really not going to stop.
When I set out to make this it felt like I HAD to say it. I had to put this all into some sort of creative expression. I still feel like I have to, but it also feels like a moth attracted to a fire. If this doesn't liberate me, I have a sense that it will crush me.
To me, making art out of these difficult situations is some sort of effort to be freed from them.
I have been debating making a new game, but since I feel like "Everything is going to be OK" isn't done yet, I am going to add some more things to it. There are a hand full of pages that I omitted because I felt like they where too difficult for me to touch on. Specifically about sexual assault, and sexism. I didn't think I could handle the negativity it would attract.
What I'm going to do now, instead, is use this "game" to talk about the experiences that I've never really shared with anyone. I never shared them mostly because of shame, fear of judgement, and all the other emotional rollercoaster associated with such experiences. They are going to go into "Everything is going to be OK", as further social commentary. I'm going to talk about the past decade or so of my professional life as a woman, fight to exist, and my own assault. I posted a vague meetoo on Mastodon, so this is the direction these will take. I'm going to go there 100% without holding back.
I'm doing this because I want to contextualize the emotions, struggle, and fight to realize self-worth in a setting that encourages overcoming. I want to celebrate the strength of surviving this. I want it to really be a statement about an individual's personal courage. It can't be that if I'm too afraid to say something.
I have a lot to say, and I've created the environment for me to say it in ("Everything is going to be OK" is built for this), so I should finish this.
There's something that appeals to me about surrendering your agency, or in this case vulnerability, to a sea of strangers. On the internet, and in games, that's different because the attitude is hostile to begin with.
I cite this performance art experiment a lot.
I'm attracted to this because it's brave and you can't see any kind of social change, or make a space for bravely personal art games, if you're too afraid of being this vulnerable and the consequences. I want art that is brave and vulnerable and viciously honest. I want it to be terrifying to make because I want to push these boundaries.
I'm going to put these remaining parts into "Everything is going to be OK", with this subject matter that is really hard for me, because I want games to support this. I also want to be free, and I don't think that will happen if I live my life afraid of talking about it.
The toxic interactions surrounding art, and harassment, aren't easy. I couldn't stress louder that this is such a consumer medium. People expect to be entertained, even if it's an experimental game.
If you don't entertain, then what is it? The definition of "game" is certainly not ready, but part of me feels like this is exciting. This is really something uncharted, that actually takes courage to chart. Saying it's "uncharted" isn't just a marketing ploy because there kind of isn't a massively welcoming market. You have to do this to define your own voice, as well as space.
One thing I do have to take away from all the negativity is that people that dislike something are REALLY fast at saying so. I would even go so far to say that they don't have to dislike it... being angry, mean, and destructive, is kind of a past time online.
Unfortunately people that like you, what you do, your work, etc... rarely say so. At least not at the same rate, and aggressiveness, that negative people do.
You can so easily get inundated by the negativity that it's easy to forget that you matter to people. I think I forgot that before this Fantastic Arcade. That festival was such a balancing experience.
I really think that, if something touched you, or you like anything, you should tell the person responsible how much what they have done means to you. NO, REALLY TELL THEM GODDAMNIT!
Stop worrying about being cheesy, or weird, or whatever insecurity you may have, because mean people don't worry about being mean.
We really need to create positive noise at the same rate that negative noise is generated.
If you like itch.io tell the people that build it how much you like it. Tell your favorite artist how much you like their work. Email your favorite indie developer about what their work means to you... It's unfortunate that it's more OK to say something critical than it is to say something nice (if you examine social contexts).
At any rate, you can follow development of the rest of "Everything is going to be OK" on Twitter.