One Thought On Porpentine’s Revisions to “7 Thoughts on Women in Games”

Ah, Porpentine, the little scamp. Destroy everything. Logic is bullshit. Fuck you, don’t speak for me. Ah, re/Action Zine, where you’re gonna go if you want to listen to a few Zinesters attempting to make us give a shit about their Problems.

We’re in the early stages of the Criticism Wars being open now, and I love that Porpentine is being called on her shit.

Here’s the story:

Mattie Brice’s latest endeavor–apparently her dream of making videos hasn’t been profitable either, somehow?–has been creating re/Action Zine–a reappropriation as clever and as witty as her infamous Livejournal Edition of Critical Distance. One of the first pieces was Porpentine’s “7 Thoughts On Women in Games“. As usual, it’s Porpentine’s usual exhausting persona shit–that she does not live in Williamsburg is possibly the only reason we’re not calling her a fucking hipster dipshit. Kathy Acker filtered through freshman year. Among other bits was one talking about her experience submitting howling dogs to the Interactive Fiction community. She tells us about all of the harrassing emails she received, calling her submission a “crime”. If Porpentine had a sense of history, she might have noticed that the community, particularly in competitions, is extremely hostile towards non-parser IF. It has nothing to do with being a woman–hell, “Porpentine” is an ambiguous enough name, after all. It’s a definitional argument. Whether that argument is right or not is another story–but as always, Porpentine frames it as an act of hatred because she’s a woman.

In her original formulation, Porpentine takes credit for integrating the IF community which has existed since she was a child:

It was natural for me to approach the circle of interactive fiction. I made games with words in them. But there was nothing for me. I was poor, not middle class. I was queer, not straight. I wrote experimental hypertext, not traditional parser. I was a woman, not a man, and there were many of them, and one of me.

It was intimidating.

Once I did participate, by submitting my Twine game howling dogs, I got harassing emails saying making howling dogs was a “crime”. The public reviews were often angry, condemning, moralistic, censuring.

So I covered Twine games on freeindiegames. I covered them on Rock Paper Shotgun. Others started covering them, making them, talking about them. We kept it up until it became normal to play, design, and enjoy Twine games.

Now interactive fiction is more welcoming to everyone, not just straight white men.


Emily Short is about as legendary a figure as you can get in the IF community. She has been making nontraditional works of IF for many years–one of her most famous works, Galatea, is essentially a long conversation with a living statue, and in fact that period of Short’s career features several “conversation games” which were unlike nothing IF had seen. The raw calibre of her work has led her to be one of its luminaries–she’s much loved for her technical innovations, the quality of her prose, and her personality within the community itself. When Emily Short talks, you listen.

And Emily Short, in a long post which is about the most dignified, elegant, and authoratative demolition of Porpentine’s persona that one could ever possibly read, wrote the following:

First, I do see participation from female and queer authors and from people of color, and not just because I am female myself. Though Porpentine’s perspective was that it was hard to see material by authors other than straight white men, I see work by Jenni Polodna, Lea Albaugh, Carolyn VanEseltine, Katherine Morayati, Emily Boegheim, and Deirdra Kiai, among others; I see Meg Jayanth and Yasmeen Khan writing for StoryNexus and Echo Bazaar/Fallen London, and Heather Albano and others for Choice of Games. I see Aaron Reed’s games, where gender and sexuality are often made a matter of player choice. I see Antifascista.

I remember that when I joined the community back in the late 90s, Suzanne Britton, Kathleen Fischer, Eileen Mullin, Papillon and other women were already prominent members of the community and already writing about female sexuality, self-image, and experiences of power, and that Ian Finley was already writing about gay relationships. Several of them reached out to me and made me feel welcome in the community.


Short was extremely careful not to dismiss Porpentine’s particular experience–and yet, Porpentine is attacking a community that Short has helped to create, and for Porpentine to mischaracterize the nature of that community does merit a response. In response to this, Porpentine significantly changed her article, one which wasn’t a complete, ungrateful slap in the face to Short and any of the many members of the community who loved Porpentine’s work and welcomed her:

It was natural for me to approach the circle of interactive fiction. I made games with words in them. But there was nothing for me. I was poor, not middle class. I was queer, not straight. I wrote experimental hypertext, not traditional parser. I was a woman, not a man, and there were many of them, and one of me.

It was intimidating.

Once I did participate, by submitting my Twine game howling dogs, I got harassing emails saying making howling dogs was a “crime”. Some public reviews were angry, condemning, moralistic, censuring. At the same time, people like Emily Short reached out to me, talked about my work in a different light. I found other reviews that left me teary-eyed, in a good way.

The reality was more complex, both negatively and positively, than my fears.

The point is that I almost didn’t participate at all.

We should think about how permeable we are to outsiders, not just physically but emotionally.

 It’s wonderful that, in the face of inescapable criticism, one that she could not fall back on her usual gender card to respond to, Porpentine revised her thoughts–and yet I have one massive, massive problem with this.

Other than a mention in the comments of Short’s blog, there is no notice that there has been a revision–no disclaimer. This is not a simple rephrase, a fixing of a link, or correction of a typo. This is a significant, significant change, one which takes Porpentine’s original offensively-self-aggrandizing (although what else are we to expect from a woman so interested in herself?) tone and whitewashes it.

If the New York Times were to make a similar change without letting us know, we would immediately be calling for the editor’s head. This is a massive breach of journalistic ethics, and much as Mattie Brice doesn’t want to follow rules, for her to not is to damn her little site from the beginning.

The Zinesters are very good at crying Privilege. They are very good at crying Misogyny, and Transphobia. A word that does not seem to be in their vocabulary is Responsibility. The Zinesters must not expect to be listened to if they’re so unwilling to tell the truth. Logic may be bullshit, but doesn’t it begin to seem that every word out of Porpentine’s mouth is as well?

Special thanks to Konstantinos Dimopoulos for his assistance with finding the cached version of the original article. Disclaimer: This link was added after the fact.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Anonymous Girl says:

    I agree with a lot of the sentiment behind this article, but I’m afraid to publicly agree with you on Twitter for fear of being destroyed by the people you’re talking about.

    • Richard says:

      I don’t mean to belittle your fears or nothing, but check out the comments thread on the other article. That plus some super-meano tweets has been the whole response.

      These people are paper tigers.

      Don’t be afraid of bullies, okay?

      • Anonymous Girl says:

        i know, i saw the tweets. porpentine misquoted me as saying “i literally want porpentine to die,” which is nowhere near what i said. i don’t agree with some of the harsher words you chose to describe her with, they’re not things i’d personally use to reference her, but i agree with the general sentiment that her and her network of followers need to understand what it means to take responsibility for things they do and say. you cannot ask it of others if you don’t do it yourself.

        porpentine, if you’re reading this, i’m sorry that you took my words to be some kind of death threat, but they weren’t. i’ve been a fan of your games and a long-time twitter follower, but i don’t like your attitude. you’ve hurt my feelings, as a lover of games, as a queer woman, and as a human. just because somebody does not worship your every tweet, your every word, or that of your friends, doesn’t mean they want you to die. things are not black and white. your friend liz ryerson wrote in her latest blog post about how disturbing it is that everyone in this community knows each other and how there’s no criticism because nobody wants to hurt their friends. please think about this. “the queer twitter mafia,” really? please think about how this makes you look, and how this might have made me feel. i’m sorry to have hurt you, but i get the feeling you’re not sorry to have hurt me.

        • Richard says:

          Well as you might have noticed, I’m moving on. This situation was the main catalyst but it’s been time to leave this scene for a while. I’m sorry you’re doing a bit shitty.

          There are other scenes besides the Scene, you know. Hopefully you’ll land in a good one if you decide to go.

          Drop me an email if you like. I’m not super interested in talking about This Particular Situation very much, as you might imagine, but, I dunno, I just think it’s cool you reached out to me. Thanks.

  2. Silver says:

    I have some problems with this post and want to attempt to politely address a couple for some reason.

    I think you do a disservice to Emily Short’s post by referring to it as a “demolition of Porpentine’s persona”. I don’t think Emily Short would appreciate this.

    You encourage readers to think of ‘The Zinesters’ as a unified opinion which should be ignored or discredited. I think this group features a lot of prominent women and trans voices that should be heard, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. I find it hard to believe there is no bigotry in this, but either way this is not constructive.

    You may wish to deconstruct this. I am aware that I am not good at arguments. I also do not think I will return here to see such a reply.

    • Richard says:

      Those are both excellent points, and I’m sorry if you’re not coming back to see them–well, even if you don’t, at least they’re there for the next person.

      That was my personal take on Short’s piece–I can fully accept that I took it in a different direction than she may have intended. That said, I find that in Porpentine’s accusations of sexism, many times she and other writers cry oppression where there isn’t a genuine case. If you want an example, please check her tweets regarding Dimopoulos (gnome), where she accuses him of hating women, and when he asks for proof, accuses him of hating women a little more loudly.

      I agree completely that this group needs to be heard, and I’ve spilled some ink about writers like Liz Ryerson, who I think are accomplished, interesting writers. Trans voices ought to be heard. At the same time, I think Porpentine’s bile is an extremely, extremely poor representative of the trans community.

      And for the record–this is a tangent that I’m reminded of by your point–I have not attacked solely female writers or solely trans writers or solely queer writers or any particular group. Look through my backlog: I’ve been particularly horrible to Destructoid and Kotaku. More recently I’ve also included writers such as Tim Rogers and Tom Bissel in my critique of the personal. Yes, it’s true that I have written no long-form critiques of either of their work, but that’s largely due to SQ being a one-man venture that I run out of my apartment when I’m not at work or doing band shit.

      Frankly, I’ve been writing a lot more articles about women than I was a few years ago simply because there are a hell of a lot more women writers to write about at this time. I’ve always kind of snarked on bad writing, and I’ve gotten sucked into this kind of identity politics world as a result of writing that piece about Patricia Hernandez last–I think that was December. Stuff has just kind of built on that–one article usually tends to lead to another.

      I do agree that “Zinesters” is a shitty term. I use it mostly because there needs to be *some* kind of term–it’s just marketing, really. I have a loose working definition, but at the end of the day I actually don’t genuinely see this as a “sides” thing–or at least, it’s not my side vs. Zinesters. Generally I reserve my ire for works which are all about solipsistically portraying the Self without any need to filter it into a more universal experience. I’m really writing against narcissistic, self-involved articles which use legitimate issues–mental illness, sexism, etc–in ways which seem to paint the writer as a tragic suffering victim. I feel that the work of many of these writers glorifies the issues involved. If my critique is passionate and emotional, it’s because I’ve been through self-hatred and depression and self-loathing and Cass Stage 5 and internalized homophobia and I’ve seen the way that a lot of writers talk about their own issues, and I see it as perpetuating cycles of hatred and violence.

      Anyway–thank you again for your comment. Hope I’ve clarified; these two points were worth discussing.

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