[I mean, I say “sub-cultures,” but I know why you’re here. ]
In the previous days the well-read and progressive-thinking ventured to the seediest part of town to catch a dog and pony show. Only a handful know of it, and are privileged when invited. These writing dignitaries stared into a cage rife with filth and a stench that could conjure convulsive dry heaves. When they looked in, they saw a beast that resembled a human, but clearly wasn’t capable of acting like one.
A malnourished, feral child looks back at the visitors through a cage. It's seasoned. It knows what faces to make and what songs to sing. But it also knows that these people are only here to see that one special trick. The freak is the main attraction, and always has been the main attraction for this one trick. When the well-dressed visitors pay their pence, the host hands the freak a whole chicken.
SNAP! Without a second thought, that chicken’s head is off and is making its way through the sharpened teeth of the freak’s foul-smelling mouth. The visitors look in disgust, but they still look. They call it names. They can’t believe its existence. They shuffle and scoot closer. The freak picks the fowl apart meticulously, not forgetting a bone or sinewy tendon. It’s trick is over. A crass belch is let out and for any who continue to gaze, the freak gazes back.
Only this time, the freak threw the bones back. “You’re the freak. I’m the geek.”
I don’t know what came first, my love of fighting games, or my love of the writing about fighting games. What ever the case, I want you to know that I’ve followed and participated in both for quite some time. As you can probably tell, I’m not stellar at either. I make due though, though I'm no pushover.
These past couple days I watched the fighting game community, I’ve so viciously supported for over a decade, expose its freakish underbelly. It made me sad. They were right, this guy is a freak. How could he say such things? There is no way I can condone sexism and misogyny. Aris Bahktanians was wrong. We’ve seen Aris do his trick for years. I’ve met Aris, he joked about the darkness of my skin, I laughed. The situation called for laughter. Under layers of socially unacceptable behavior, Aris read me and knew exactly what song to sing. The joke was private, between two consenting adults and dwelled on briefly.
However, this weekend was the culmination of a lot of questions I had about the fighting game community and the eventual journalism that followed. Why was there a need for Capcom to make a $25,000 reality show? Why would they hire Aris beyond the fact that his skill and voice has been of great significance in the Tekken community? Don’t they know how he behaves? Do you want to put a mic in front of that?
Oh wait, I see.
Then there was this part of me that could see the chicken being handed into a dark cage. There is this part of me that has laughed at Aris, but thinks it’s time for him to see how others see him.
This weekend we all saw it. It was not private. Just because one person laughed doesn’t mean it’s okay. Miranda didn’t laugh. Miranda worked hard, she tried putting on a happy face, but what she went through NO KNUCKLE-DRAGGING MAN will understand. If you are not a woman your words carry minimal weight [even as a man, writing this, I know]. I don’t care if you are a stream monster, a seasoned fighting game player. We should all have the right to choose and Miranda was recorded -- in front of her family, in front of her boyfriend having that choice tampered with.
I will not support any form of what Aris did. If I see you pop-off on a stream, I will confront you and make you uncomfortable. If you come to Season’s Beatings [in my city] and take issue with my words, I will have no problem discussing this with you in person. Period.
Now, the geek.
Don’t think you can come down to our little circus show and point in disgust and think some bones won’t be thrown back at you. We are well aware of how you are viewed in the large pantheon of journalism, and much like our undignified behavior, we hope you get better too.
There is a big difference between the coverage on Shoryuken.com and IPlaywinner -- versus that found on Destructoid, Giantbomb, and Penny Arcade. It makes total sense as to why you don’t see in-depth features on these major sites covering the fighting game community. It’s quite evident after reading glowing reviews of the fighting games your site puts up [for its general audience] that these games are great, but completely inaccessible [to a point] to both your fingers and your minds. We get it, we’re niche and you cater to a larger audience.
However, I’m taking issue with why you’re visiting our “back alley.” I love the fact that you got a hot tip on this juicy story. I like that you felt just as uncomfortable as I did and are working hard to rid all communities of this kind of behavior. My question is, when will I see you again? EVO? Are you even interested in our culture besides one or two in-depth articles a year?
Because I’m just as avid of a reader as I am a writer, I can find people on these major sites that are damn-near historians when it comes to WRPGs, JRPGs, first-person shooters, indie games and RTSs. Sure, they may not all be ex-freaks when it comes to their respective strong suits, but I can at least find them. Whenever I look for someone who is worth their salt in current fighting games, I’m always looking at a dusty review left by Richard Li.
We read your work and we listen to your podcasts. Please read and listen to us. I appreciate 1up for hiring freelancers from the community to write reviews for fighting games. Thank you, but this is not enough. I appreciate Kat Bailey’s recent piece on arcade culture in Wired last week. It was off, but Jared Rea did the best he could in guiding her to where she needed to be.
This is where your reporting and journalism can improve. Instead of visiting our circus to watch us do tricks, and scoff at the members that we can’t even endorse, talk to us. Please talk to us. Think about how much more powerful your piece on Aris’ sexism could have been if you contacted David Graham or James Chen? You could have had Paul Dziuba write the piece. Though things have smoothed over, there is a good reason why Miranda “Super_Yan” Pakozdi wasn’t forthcoming to major outlets. We’ve seen how you’ve edited some of our best and brightest. Why make half-assed attempts at contact when you are more interested in the story than the people?
This is old school journalism. If you’re ill-equipped to handle a story on your own, don’t just try and contact and quote -- get someone on the ground floor to do the communication. Let’s really try and work together in the future. Because I’m sure the next major outlet’s fighting game community coverage isn’t going to be Final Round this weekend, unless some freak does a trick. I love that Ben Kuchera, Patrick Kleppek and Jim Sterling took time out of their day to write eloquently about this issue. I just don’t want it to be the only issue in this community they write about this year. I know they care.
To the freaks and the geeks.
We can have our crass language. We can have our side-bets at major tourneys. We can have our hype and rivalries. We shouldn’t feel threatened and we shouldn’t feel the need to attack someone’s gender. Let more people into the clubhouse. We’ve played three games for almost a decade. We cheered for Kayo Police last year when she walked on EVOs stage. It’s okay if things are shaken up. It’s also okay for others to see us, because we’ve been in this cage for too long. These geeks only come down to our circus when they want to slum it for a bit. Let’s change that too. And trust me when I tell you that my coverage of games journalism is proof that even those guys have bitten the head off of a chicken or two.
Let’s all be better at what we do.
[edit: Thank you Jeff Green for your helpful edits - 2-29-12 4:27 PM]
[update: Emily Chow's take - 3-1-12 11:57 PM]