Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Being A Marginalized Content Creator On The Internet

The house Notch just bought for seventy million dollars
It's that time of year again, when I scramble to follow the tacit assumption that I need to sum up my work of the past year. But my problem is my sense of individual years as disparate units inherently separable from each other has all but disintegrated. I don't think we're necessarily any closer to answering the questions that have been posed around the games or social justice twitter debates of the past few years. More voices are popping up to the surface than ever before - people of color in particular, and while some issues (like harassment) may have finally broken into the mainstream consciousness - most big videogame press outlets like Polygon or Kotaku or Giant Bomb have consistently shown that they're not really interested in engaging with or even trying to have a real understanding of discussions that are happening in these communities. Videogame culture, whether it stands for or against a thing like Gamergate, is still not a welcoming place for, or particularly interested in hearing the expression of most marginalized people.

So marginalized people who exist in the game world are put in an awkward place. You're supposed to stick around making stuff, and perform that action of being an important voice of outrage whose existence offers comfort to other people - and you might receive some kind of material or social support for that. You might even be asked to speak at conferences. But never is your voice seriously entered into any kind of lasting or larger debate. The reality is that Polygon or Giant Bomb or Kotaku aren't particularly interested in hearing your voice. And don't hope, by the way, that your work will seep out into other, potentially more welcoming, spheres of the internet - because the reality is that they're not particularly open to or interested in any of the work being done in games, let alone yours.

That's not to forget that, of course, Patreon is a lovely thing that has allowed people like me to survive and be able to overcome issues like homelessness. That has been a major positive development of the past year. But sometimes it's hard to decipher whether someone is funding my Patreon because they want me to keep talking, or if it's that they think the money will finally satisfy me enough to shut me up from being challenging to my audience, or talking about issues that make them uncomfortable.

There are these unwritten rules if you want to be a successful content creator on the internet: Making scheduled announcements & holding to them, always keeping your following organized and up to date on whatever you're doing next, being present on all forms of social media, playing to your fanbase - these things are expected of you to be successful. But what this really means, in this day and age, is - be safe and reliable. Don't rock the boat. Follow pre-approved methods of distribution and dissemination of your work. Don't challenge your audience. 

Mainstream press outlets act as if someone as popular as PewDiePie has done a great and amazing new thing by finding the following he has, but the reason he's been so successful is exactly because of how much he plays to his audience and does exactly what they expect of him. Success on the internet is, without a doubt, inherently tied into endlessly stoking a certain kind of predictability and formulaicness to your audience. No one who really wants to foster new and interesting expression could truly argue for this. This is not any kind of admirable model for an artist who cares about the uniqueness of their work to follow. We are always, always destined to fail when put up against someone like PewDiePie.

So we must fight for whatever scraps we can get. We must write our articles to be viral, frame something else we want to talk about around whatever is the latest hot-button issues on our social network, if need be. Just get noticed. And when we do, don't expect that it's anyone's real obligation to follow or engage with our work beyond the week or so that we put it out into the world in. If we don't consistently and predictably do it completely for other people and play 100% into their biases, then we can't expect or feel obligated to their attention.

But it's okay. You can do it for yourself. Keep making stuff, keep being present, and maybe some people will be into your work! But don't feel that anyone is obligated to engage with your work, or respect what you have to say. You have the freedom to do whatever you want! You have the freedom to do whatever you want -- as long as you understand that you're disposable, and if you don't walk exactly in between the lines painted for you, someone else will. And he might be the next Notch or PewDiePie.


The world we live in is unstable. I guess there's nothing new about that. The difference is that we're beginning to see that more and more clearly now. 2014 was a particularly intense and upsetting year for a lot of people in many ways. Maybe there was nothing new, but the fact that the world was watching was new. Ferguson is not new, but the twitter discussion and protests around it are. And that's comforting. Things move forward and change because they should move forward and change. There is still plenty of time ahead for us. And thank God for that, because we've only just begun. And we will find our voices. Wherever and whenever and however that might be, however, still remains a mystery.

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