Good afternoon everyone! Your Editor (that’s me, that is) has COVID, and frankly I’m flagging a bit right now, so this is going to be a relatively quick Rice Digital Friday Letters Page today. We did receive a great letter, though, so I wanted to at least acknowledge and answer that one before collapsing into bed and enjoying the repeated coughing fits I will doubtless be experiencing for the next few days.
Anyway, stay safe, wash your hands, mask up, get injected with suitable things that are supposed to stop this sort of thing from happening, and above all, don’t let me breathe on you for the next couple of weeks. Let’s get straight on with this week’s letter, because it’s a meaty one!
Ew, male sexuality
Male sexuality is just disgusting, right? That seems to be what criticism of games like Gal*Gun Double Peace boils down to. And a big part of the reason why people who like games like this suffer abuse, and a big part of the reason why attempts to defend them are brave. Because in the last few years, western society has been radicalised, including games journalism.
It’s not a matter of progressivism “going too far”, either. We didn’t one day wake up and realise we’d advocated for too many marginalised people. It’s purity culture, descended directly from the American Evangelical purity culture a lot of these people were raised in, which is inherently sexist and racist. It’s the environment a lot of young LGBTQIA+ (and ally) English-speakers were steeped in, and it’s the values that are getting transmitted to the new generation.
I get where it comes from. I’ve experienced catcalling, harassment, having my projects and ideas claimed by other people, and sexual assault. But my occasional venting about “men” or “heteros” or even humans in general is not a good basis for a political ideology, and the reason for that is because it does nothing to address those issues.
Men who want to get away with that shit still do, all the time, and society at large is still toxic as hell.
What condemning men and male sexuality has done is hurt marginalised people. Men who are sensitive, who are autistic, and who actually care about the effect that they have on others. Children who are still figuring out their gender and sexuality. Lesbians like me who suddenly have to police ourselves, and justify everything we like as “not gross” or “not porn” so we don’t get attacked. And men who are actually women, but who don’t realise it yet, and are just hurting very badly at being reduced to the one body part they most wish they could change.
Basically every straight, abled man who’s been “cancelled” or exposed as a workplace abuser is still around, making money. But the online queer and ally community has become a pot of crabs pulling each other back in, calling each other “perverts” and “degenerates” for liking the wrong kinds of media. And they don’t understand that they’ve helped create the environment that’s slowly boiling them alive, even as their own talking points get recycled as justification for new laws that ban books. And teaching. And transitioning genders. And simply existing while queer.
No-one gets to call themselves feminist if they’re someone who automatically condemns a game based on the heroine’s bust size or outfit. No-one gets to call themselves anti-racist if they think Japanese games are for “perverts”. No-one gets to call themselves if they attack and suicide-bait queer kids for liking the wrong ship. And no-one gets to call themselves a fan of “fluffy” and “wholesome” games if they’ve never touched the Neptunia series.
Hi Tama, it’s great to see you again, and I’m super-happy that you feel empowered and comfortable enough here on Rice Digital to be able to express yourself so freely.
That’s a big part of the culture we’ve been trying to quietly build and encourage over the course of the last couple of years since I took over as Editor. We want the site to be truly inclusive, and that means striking a good balance between acknowledging the concerns of marginalised people while simultaneously ensuring that a sense of “overprotectiveness” — which is where I think a lot of this stuff stems from — doesn’t cross a line into outright Puritanism.
I feel almost certain that I’ve told these stories before on these pages, and definitely elsewhere on the Internet, but for some context, and to hopefully back up what you’re saying, I’d like to talk a little bit about the journey that eventually led me here to Rice Digital.
I’m 40 years old now, but I’ve always struggled with anything “social”. Back in my youth, I simply attributed this to being an awkward nerd; for sure, I certainly wasn’t the only one who experienced such difficulties in my friendship groups. In more recent years, however, I discovered that the undercurrent of social anxiety which I experience on a near-constant basis stems from Asperger Syndrome. This is a condition on the autistic spectrum that, among other things, causes those dealing with it to have difficulty in social situations, as well as having trouble processing sudden and unexpected changes in situations.
Prior to my diagnosis, it’s fair to say that I did what I could to try and “conform” as much as I possibly could, and this included attempting to engage with the forms of media that I felt I was “supposed” to be involved with. Triple-A games, big-name TV shows, the big budget movies of the era. And for sure, there was some enjoyment that I derived from some of these things, but there was also a kind of emptiness about it all. I remember feeling it in a particularly pronounced way around the turn of the 2010s or so; I was playing Gears of War, repeating a particularly difficult bit over and over and realising that I wasn’t actually having any fun.
At the time, social media was yet to get its hooks into every bit of society, and so “private friendship groups” online were still a bit of a thing. For some years prior to this realisation, I’d been part of a small but close-knit group of gaming enthusiasts from all over the world (though primarily the US and Canada), and we’d taken great delight in exploring games that were a bit off the beaten track — the early days of highly creative digital-only indies, retro games that people had forgotten about, obscure games that had reviewed poorly but actually had something to say — all that sort of thing.
It was great. I derived great comfort from that group, and we were close-knit enough to meet “IRL” on several occasions, both at one another’s homes and at public events like PAX East. It was one of those situations where I felt like I had some friends for life — and that those people really understood the sense of… I don’t know what I’d call it. Unease, I guess? Anyway, I felt like these people really understood what I was feeling at the time about feeling an odd “disconnect” with the hobby that had been my life since I was old enough to read, speak and work the keyboard of an Atari 800XL.
As part of my time with this group, we’d get together (virtually speaking) and all play the same game at the same time, then discuss it “book club”-style — initially on forum threads but subsequently as a podcast. That all went very well for a while; not everyone jumped on every game, but that was fine — everyone accepted that different people were into different things and so people just stepped in when they felt like they had something to contribute.
That changed in 2012. Katawa Shoujo had just released, and a lot of us thought it was an ideal topic for a new podcast. So, as usual, a bunch of us jumped on board and started playing through, ready to talk about it at great length — which we did — but something was different this time. Two of our number decided to abandon us completely because they weren’t comfortable being associated with something that could be looked on as “porn” — and porn featuring young-looking characters, at that.
It was also around this time that the whole “progressiveness” push in games journalism had started and, alongside this, games journalists had started being actively hostile towards their audiences at times. I remember the most vivid example of this being the controversy over Mass Effect 3’s ending — it was the first time I’d seen what appeared to be genuine hate between the people writing the articles about games and the people reading them.
Battle lines were being drawn, and what we now know as a fairly significant “culture war” online kicked off — and our little group of obscure game enthusiasts weren’t immune to this, particularly as we had been suffering repeated ejections as a result of communities we’d been relying on closing down or, at the very least, making ill-advised decisions. A lot of us joined Twitter around this time, and with retrospect I’m sure we all know what a terrible idea joining Twitter is.
Anyway, amid all this — and inspired by my enjoyment of Katawa Shoujo — I’d been starting to explore games further off the beaten track than I’d ever been before. I knew at this point that I had an inherent feeling of “attraction” towards anime-style games, so I decided to start exploring them, screw whatever Metacritic said. A friend of mine recommended me the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, and another recommended the Ar Tonelico series; I played both and damn, if those games didn’t “speak” to me like nothing else I’d ever played.
This wasn’t my first contact with anime-style games with suggestive, provocative or explicit content; as I’ve previously talked about on The History of Lewd, I’d previously encountered a number of 18+ visual novels such as Ring-Out!! and Paradise Heights back in the late ’90s, but I’d never really felt able to talk to anyone about them. The slightest glimpse of hentai on my hard drive had led some of my friends at the time to mock me for having “manga porn”, so I kind of clammed up about it, despite finding it all thoroughly intriguing.
Now, as you’ll know, neither Hyperdimension Neptunia or Ar Tonelico are particularly “explicit” — discounting the innuendo-filled translation of the Ar Tonelico games, of course — but there was definitely a distinct vibe to them. A feeling that wanting to explore sexy things was okay, that it should be encouraged, that it was even healthy. These games were filled with amazing female characters and a wonderful sense of positive energy to them; it’s not an exaggeration to say that playing them really made my heart sing like nothing else I’d ever played.
And yet when I tried to share them with others — even those with whom I had previously discussed all manner of weird and wonderful games — I found myself rebuffed, even insulted. These games were “creepy” and “pervy” and “disgusting” — though it was abundantly clear anyone who used words like that hadn’t looked beyond the games’ artwork.
I won’t lie, it kind of sucked. But rather than feeling deflated and beaten down by all this, I simply came to the conclusion that I needed to be someone who made a bit of a difference, however small.
During my time working on a (now-defunct) relatively mainstream games journalism site, I made a point of posting plenty of inclusive pieces about “otaku games”, as we called them.
Following being laid off from that site, I established my own website, which still enjoys solid traffic to this day despite me not really actively updating it much now I’m here at Rice.
And, not to let you peek too far behind the curtain, but I’m at least partly sitting here typing this to you right now because a reviewer on a certain mainstream publication wrote a pretty obnoxious screed on the subject of what was, to all intents and purposes, a fairly tame fanservicey game — Gun Gun Pixies, if you were curious — and I stood up to them, pointing out that it was perfectly cool if you weren’t into what the game was offering, but what was emphatically not cool was casting extremely unpleasant aspersions on people who enjoyed this sort of thing.
The demonisation of male sexuality by a lot of the more mainstream, wannabe “progressive” sites out there is not just annoying and insulting, it’s often downright hypocritical. There’s more than one publication out there who has rolled its eyes and yelled “perv” at fanservicey games with cute girls in, but has then promptly turned around and posted article after article about sexually explicit games that are specifically aimed at the western LGBTQIA+ community.
In most cases, these publications are completely ignoring the fact, of course, that not only is male heterosexuality completely valid (albeit part of a broad spectrum that we have today rather than the “only” option — that much is absolutely true) but also the fact that there are an awful lot of gay women out there who like looking at cute anime girls, particularly in inherently LGBTQIA+ series like Neptunia and Senran Kagura. Hell, plenty of these sites aren’t even the slightest bit aware of the huge and increasingly thriving otome market!
I went off on a bit of a rant of my own there, didn’t I? Blame the COVID. Anyway, long story short, you — and anyone who has ever felt similar things, regardless of your background and any aspects of your identity — are welcome here at Rice Digital.
We joke about the things we love — and your point about people describing themselves self-deprecatingly as “perverts” and “degenerates” is a whole other issue that we should probably get into another time — but at heart we’re here because the things we enjoy have, in one way or another, touched our hearts, minds, and souls. And no joyless puritanical games reviewer considering downing a bottle of Jack after writing their fifteenth tedious SEO-optimised Elden Ring guide that week will ever be able to take that away from us.
Right. That’s that. I am die, thank you forever. Or perhaps see you on Monday. Either way, that’s your lot for this week. Have a lovely weekend! And think of me lying in bed for the next couple of days. Not in, like, a sexy way (unless you really want to) but in a sympathetic “I hope you don’t have COVID for too long” sort of way.
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