It’s tedious to even summarize the event. Mattie Brice wrote an article called Would You Kindly, about violence in military shooters and whether or not it’s realistic or fantastic or just go read the damn thing yourself; it basically uses its topic of violence to go on the usual Rise of the Videogame Zinesters spiel of how Videogames Need To Include More Types Of Characters And By The Way Have You Played Mainichi. In response, Jonas Kyratzes wrote Would You Kindly Not, which is an exhaustively detailed deconstruction of Brice’s article, He calls her viewpoint “blindingly self-centered” and more or less proves his case, and yet the more one looks at his piece the more it looks like a case of using a crate of dynamite to dig a fencepost.
Both of them have their points. I’m not the biggest fan of the Zinester aesthetic–or, rather, its pride in its lack thereof–or its economic thoughtlessness–no one seems to have realized that its focus on amateurism leads to a lack of support for professionalism–but its ideals of giving more platforms to different voices is an excellent one. Brice’s points about violence against transgender people are necessary ones to make, and the lack of sympathetic media must be alienating.
But Kyratzes does rightfully point out that in this particular article, she hijacks one subject to talk about another. Brice talks about war games, then dismisses their subject matter as irrelevant because they don’t speak to the particular form of violence that she encounters. War is an everyday reality for many people. Even if a game such as Spec Ops: The Line is flawed, its attempts at satire–at deconstructing the image of the Soldier–can help to give its audience an idea of the everyday violence involved at war. He warns against the hierarchization of oppressions and suggests that Brice is doing this.
Where Brice’s tone is, as usual for her work of late (is this the same person whose work, I wrote in 2011, was “generally well-written, well-researched, well-thought-out–and so academically ivory-tower as to be useless”?), in the register of that general Writing Workshop polished croon, Kyratzes is brutally academic, performing athletic deconstructions of her writing and pointing out hypocritical contradictions and using solid theory to back himself up. As noted, Brice’s earlier work was academic focused, and given that her essay does invoke strong political topics, an analysis of her underlying political philosophy is not inappropriate. If she is arguing for a particular point of view that Kyratzes feels is damaging, it’s reasonable to debate the topic. In an episode of the podcast Dialogue Tree, Kyratzes explicitly stated that sometimes you can’t convert your enemies–you have to defeat them. I don’t disagree that Brice may not be able to be converted.
And yet–I don’t think “enemy” is an appropriate term either. We have–as in the most passionate debates–two sides who generally believe the same things (the dignity of all people, taking a stand against oppression, rights for all, etc.) but who find very different methods of going about that.
One of the central questions is that of empathy. The focus on writing about games from a personal point of view may be a way to use a game to discuss a larger cultural issue–or it may be a solipsist’s inability to find meaning in anything that does not relate to him- or herself. Like any work, criticism can be well or poorly done. To look at any piece of criticism and take it as immediately gospel is extremely and obviously problematic. Particularly when one is dealing with sensitive political issues such as Brice and Kyratzes are, a critic must be held accountable for his or her opinions. Kyratzes challenged what he felt was a dangerous opinion; Kyratzes’s opinion can itself be challenged.
And in an extraordinarily blatant move of bad faith and card-playing, Kim Moss stepped up to challenge Kyratzes, writing the article “Monologue about Dialogue” in response to his piece–and, rather than engage his actual argument, accused him of being a misogynist and transphobe. To this end, she deliberately engaged in some of the very acts of oppression she and people such as Brice claim to fight against; she mischaracterized and misinterpreted his piece in order to invalidate his entire argument and deprive him of his right to criticize; her piece, in short, came from an place of misandry–look no further than the name of her Tumblr, probably named ironically but, like that friend who makes one too many racist jokes, a little uncomfortable nonetheless–and hatred, of a desire not to have varied voices in the community but a monolithic political philosophy.
Moss is best known for her involvement in Ruchgate. (To avoid criticisms that I’m beating a dead horse, I will point out that Moss herself bitterly invokes the controversy, ["Nightmare Mode didn’t often, at least as far as I saw, give platforms to pieces about why a previous piece was wrong, but here this piece was."]) Shortly after Patricia Hernandez relaunched her school project Nightmare Mode into a website for a larger audience–oh, Lord, I’m summarizing a controversy in the videogame community for the second time in a single article!–Moss published an article with the pithy title, “You Know What’s Gross? We Often Play Nice Guys(TM) in Games With Romance Options” in which she discussed some aspects of relationships in games. Writer Adam Ruch had a piece called “Romancing the Silicon Wafer” published at the same site, in which he criticized Moss’s piece.
And suddenly the fledgling site found itself in a firestorm of traffic-generating controversy. Furious responses, many immediately condemning Ruch for being a horrible mean man who was picking on an innocent girl for daring to speak, were written back and forth, comments fired back and forth, I don’t even know where it ended up and I just don’t have the heart to go to Critical Distance right now and see if there was any resolution. “Monologue about Dialogue”, again, takes the opinion that Kyratzes is criticizing Brice solely because of her particular identity and not because Brice may be arguing from an unsupportable position.
One of the major issues with Ruch’s article was his comment that he’d written on this subject before “in an academic conference paper in which I use words like ‘agon’ and ‘autotellic [sic]’ so is probably not something many people have actually read” and noting that his article would take a “back to basics” approach. This was considered to be an insult and a condescending remark–an implication that the site’s audience wasn’t smart enough to understand his paper. More likely, it was a self-deprecating joke–Ruch suggesting that his previous writing on the subject was–what was the phrase again?–”generally well-written, well-researched, well-thought-out–and so academically ivory-tower as to be useless”–that he recognized that this piece was not being written for a specialist academic audience but for a more general audience who may or may not have such specialist knowledge but in any case was coming to Nightmare Mode for something more engaging.
Even without the reminder to not condescend, Moss’s writing itself demonstrates an admirably high level of rhetorical skill. She’s keenly aware of how to write to her audience. Moss, from the very beginning, takes every step possible to dehumanize Kyratzes and devalue his work, for its very existence, while praising Brice’s work and obsequiously framing her as a friend of the reader’s.:
Mattie Brice wrote a thing! Awesome!
Some dude wrote a response arguing with her soon after! …okay.
Several things are going on here. Brice is introduced first as “Mattie Brice” and thereafter referred to as “Mattie”. She is not only implying her own friendship (and ideological kinship with) Brice, she’s drawing the reader into that same relationship. She does not append an occupation or a credential (such as referring to her as “writer and game designer Mattie Brice”), implying that she’s somebody who needs no introduction–she is intimately familiar to the audience already. (I’ve, incidentally, done the same. Let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? We all know who these people are. It’s a very small world we live in.)
Kyratzes, meanwhile, is only referred to as “some dude”. He is never once mentioned by name; he’s only referred to as “some dude” or “a man” or “some asshole”. This is a transparent case of Othering–one is surprised Moss does not go all the way and start referring to Kyratzes as “it”. Not only does this all but completely erase Kyratzes’s presence, it completely demolishes any reputation Kyraztes has. Even ignoring any reputation his games may have, Kyratzes himself has been published on Nightmare Mode. He’s not “some dude”. He’s a colleague. One wonders if mentioning Kyratzes by name would hurt her argument in the minds of her readers who have enjoyed his writing or games, and her solution was to simply avoid his name altogether.
Meanwhile, Brice gets acclaim for the simple act of writing “a thing”–it’s deemed “awesome”. Kyratzes’s response, which is “arguing with her”–not critiquing her piece but having an actual argument with Brice personally–is “…okay.” A flat tone of disapproval. We are two sentences in–Moss has linked the two articles she is writing about–and has already done a masterful job of characterizing Brice as someone we should cheer on, someone bullied by an anonymous nobody.
Moss then goes on to introduce the central conceit of her piece, one from which she derives her title:
Some people like to frame events like these as a “dialogue”. They are not. I even double-checked. A dialogue is a conversation between two or more people. These are two monologues side-by-side!
Let’s take this a bit further.
Monologues are very common to plays. So, let us imagine that Mattie’s monologue is taking place on a stage, as a play would. The stage in this instance is the internet as a platform. She delivers her piece, but then something unexpected happens. A man stands up in the audience, walks onto the stage, and delivers his own monologue. His monologue is all about why hers is wrong.
If this is actually written as a piece of the play, it’s a brilliant piece of fourth-wall breaking writing. However, in the real world, it’s just some asshole going onto the stage because he doesn’t like what she said. No brilliant writing to be found here. It’s just rude as fuck.
There are several issues with this metaphor. Perhaps the most obvious one is its provenance: Neither Brice nor Kyratzes frame their articles as a “dialogue”. I even double-checked. The concept is Moss’s. If Kyratzes had, indeed, included something in his article where he called it a dialogue, or a response, Moss would have a point. However, the metaphor is inappropriate and the conclusions that she goes on to derive from it are specious and borne more of smoke and mirrors than of anything tangible.
Crucial to Moss’s point is the notion that Kyratzes’s piece somehow interrupts or supercedes or takes over Brice’s piece. It’s a particular bizarre concept considering that it seems to misunderstand the very point of writing to an audience. As she continues:
As I mentioned earlier, the people who do this like to imagine they are contributing to a dialogue, but if they were interested in doing this they’d actually talk to the person they were responding to. Pieces like this ignore the original writer and talk solely to the audience. They don’t open up new conversations. They don’t contribute to any dialogue. They are nothing more than a man walking up on stage because a woman said something he didn’t like.
The issue is, while certainly Kyratzes would like for Brice to consider his opinions, but his article is not aimed at her and it’s not intended to be a next step in a dialogue. Brice, you must remember, approaches her articles from what Kyratzes feels is a solipsistic political philosophy. Brice has had her say, and her audience has tacitly accepted her viewpoint. Kyratzes is, indeed, speaking directly to the audience because he feels that there are some errors in her writing–just as Moss is speaking to Kyratzes’s audience and I am speaking to Moss’s. For Moss to feign surprise that Kyratzes did not quietly and deferentially approach Brice not only incorrectly treats a critique of writing as a personal issue between the two of them–which it is not–and also depends heavily on Brice responding to Kyratzes. Hands up everyone who’s had emails ignored or overlooked on them.
I won’t make Ruch’s mistake and assume that my readers–and Moss–are undereducated; I will assume they’re all extremely familiar with deconstructive criticism. And so it is even more disappointing that Moss, confronted with Kyratzes’s disclaimers that he is simply performing a thought experiment ["(Caution: the following sentence is a thought experiment, not my opinion.)...(I am not defending this person’s cowardly behaviour, but I am arguing against overgeneralization.)], simply lops them off and misinterprets his piece as being actively transphobic. What he is doing is not, as she accuses, saying that
making a cis person be seen in public with a trans woman they are dating would be horrible. He then says that it doesn’t matter that it’s not as bad as making a trans person pretend they’re someone they’re not, because it’s still bad.
What Kyratzes is actually doing is suggesting that the reality of transphobia may be more systemic and all-encompassing than Brice realizes. Remember, he has read her article and judged her to be extremely self-focused. For Brice to not see similarities in oppressions, to understand some of the more insidious ways in which power and discrimination are used, Kyraztes is saying, she has an incomplete view of the situation.
Had he pursued a dialogue with Mattie, an actual conversation, maybe he could have written something less disgusting and bigoted. Ideally he would have realized that when people who are oppressed are talking about their experiences, people like him should shut their fucking mouths.
So, if you’re a dude, the next time you read something from the experiences of a woman or a trans person or a person of color, and you disagree with them, please remind yourself of this and shut your fucking mouth.
There was never any argument here that Brice should not have the right to speak about her own experiences–in fact, she may even have a responsibility to. Were Kyratzes doing that, Moss’s points would be valid. It’s heartbreaking every time a particular personal narrative is questioned that this is interpreted as a suggestion that nobody should write personal narratives. Kyratzes was suggesting that, for this particular topic, her personal narrative actually trivializes violence rather than giving a different perspective about it. That Brice, normally so careful to argue for the legitimacy of different viewpoints, is arguing for the irrelevance of war as a topic of violence.
That, not Brice’s gender identity or sexuality or right to speak, is what Kyratzes is critiquing. For Moss to argue that Kyratzes is coming from a place of misogyny or transphobia, and to be unable to support that conclusion without resorting to misquoting and trickery–devalues everything she supposedly stands for. Kyratzes did not invalidate Brice’s article by pointing to any identifiers; Moss commits a betrayal of the respect every writer is owed by attributing his criticism to a place of bad faith and failing to demonstrate that bad faith, simply figuring that if she tells people to shut their fucking mouths enough times, that they will. To look at Kyratzes’s article and find that his conclusions are unsupportable or that his read of Brice’s work was in correct, that’s a way to defend against his work. That Moss does not makes one wonder if Moss cannot.
As I said: Tedious to summarize. I’m a slow writer: These events all happened almost a couple of weeks ago. Forever, if you’re one of those people who believes in Internet Time. The three articles–Brice’s, Kyratzes’s, and Moss’s–are mere steps in yet another one of those little flareups that happens from time to time. None of it is particularly interesting and, most likely, no lasting consequences will happen as a result. No one needs to have learned anything; Brice, who through Twitter claims to intend to write a followup, has not, as of the time of this writing, done so (she has, however, worked on a game called Destroy All Men–apparently she is learning her humor from that racist friend that I alluded to earlier.)
To bring up the name of a segment from my old podcast Cartridge Blowers: Why is this important?
The issues that the Zinesters and the Border House and anyone interested in identity politics–those are important issues. Sexism and homophobia and transphobia and racism–those are all elements that we would like to see fought out of our community. But to fight fire with fire, as Moss and Brice are doing, to use the master’s tools to attempt to destroy the master’s house–to declare that certain categories are privileged in order to overturn privileges is an extreme act of hypocrisy. For the Border House to feature Moss’s sad Twine autobiography while ignoring that she is wantonly attributing sexism and transphobia to someone for the mere act of critique is for the Border House to not actually want to end discrimination but to end certain types of discrimination.
I cannot pretend that certain categories–the cliched litany of “straight, white, cisgendered, male” that everyone seems to say as a swear word–have not historically and traditionally held more privilege than others. (And that word–privilege, it’s so overused that I’m losing all sense of its meaning; Moss’s use of the term is so broad that it seems to signify nothing beyond “a lifestyle different than hers”.) And yet to ascribe power and privilege as an inherent part of these certain categories–and to state that power and privilege only belong to those categories–is to hold an extremely unsophisticated and simplistic idea about the nature of power and privilege.
What Moss is attempting to do–and what Brice and the Border House and the Zinesters and everyone who sees no issues with Moss’s philosophies–is to take the concept of power and privilege and not broaden them, not give them to more people, but to create new categories of privilege and oppression. This is the exact opposite of the values she claims to have.
Look: Any disagreement between Brice’s and Kyraztes’s arguments is philosophical and academic in nature, and while it relates to certain deep categories of identity and the daily lives of actual people, it is a disagreement of competing philosophies and it has been conducted with the respect that such a disagreement deserves. Whether or not Kyratzes or Brice is “right”, has written the better piece, or better knows what they’re talking about, that’s extremely irrelevant. It’s up to the audience to judge whose argument is better. But to suggest that this argument should not exist because one of the participants fits into a different identity category than the other is to advocate for separatism. The tacit acceptance of Moss’s viewpoint is the tacit acceptance of the idea that some people, by simple virtue of who they are, have less of a right to speak than others.
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