Editor's Note: In March of 2018, Emma contacted us asking us to place a notice on this article stating it no longer reflects her views.
Breaking Arrows is a Soapbox series published by Highland Arrow relating the views and opinions of smaller developers, independent journalists, and gamers, related to the GamerGate movement. To read more about it, read the lead article here.
Some elements of wording in this article were changed from the original version at Emma's request.
For those that don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Emma Maassen, though I'm better known as Eniko. I run my one-woman game development studio Kitsune Games, and I try to make games which are inclusive. I'm a woman and a lesbian and I often feel like there are very few games with characters which for me are relatable. That's why I made inclusiveness part of my studio's mission statement. My most well known game is MidBoss, a roguelike where you possess the enemies you defeat in order to learn new abilities, which is currently available as a free alpha.
How long have you been in the games industry?
I started being serious about it two years ago, but I've nominally been a part of the indie dev community for over 15 years.
What brought you to be interested in games? And the game industry?
Some of my earliest memories involve my father and computer games. He was one of the earliest programmers, back when "code" meant an endless stack of punch cards. So we've always had computers in my home growing up. I'll never forget playing Ultima IV, and being so engrossed in this virtual world. I don't have a lot of fond memories of my father, he was an emotionally abusive alcoholic, and maybe because gaming was the one positive thing he brought to my life is the reason why I clung to it so tenaciously. It also just runs in the family, my brother is a salaried game developer as well.
So I grew up with these amazing worlds out of Ultima, Little Big Adventure, Crusader, you name it, and all I wanted was to create worlds of my own so that I could share them with others and bring them the same joy and solace I experienced from gaming. I won't lie, I've had some pretty low points in my life, and at times gaming and the friends I made through gaming were the only thing that kept me holding on. By the same token I've endured a lot stigma and harassment from non-gamers for being a gamer, so it wasn't all good. But this stuff and people I consider more family than most of my blood-relatives made through gaming are why I consider myself a gamer, why "gamer" is an integral part of my identity, because it's an integral part of my history.
Over the years there have been a series of scandals in the games industry. Does any particular one have meaning to you?
One that stands out was Hold the Line, the consumer collective that formed around the end of Mass Effect 3 being absolutely ghastly, and being exactly what Bioware had promised it wouldn't be. What struck me was the way the gaming media turned on the consumers; calling them whiny, entitled, and perpetuating a lot of the anti-gamer stereotypes that the industry and community as a whole had fought to dispel for so long. That's the narrative that was chosen, ME3's ending was art, and gamers were self-entitled, whiny nerds. Even faced with the fact that the vast bulk of people in Hold the Line were eminently reasonable, when writers who had worked on the game came out to denounce the ending, saying it had been done without their input, the media stuck to their narrative. There was very little fair, non-heavy handed coverage. People felt betrayed by games media.
Sound like something else going on recently? It should. Everyone knows about GamerGate by now. I won't say I have a personal stake in GG and their cause like I did with Hold the Line, but I am getting increasingly frustrated at how the games media has handled the subject. Again, they picked a narrative. This time it was "gamers are dead", and a flood of articles came out declaring gamer as an identity over and done with, and reaffirming harmful, anti-gamer stereotypes. And again people felt betrayed. I'll admit I feel betrayed. I'm a woman game developer, and I'm a lesbian so I'm a double minority, and I still get stigma and hostility in the mainstream for even being connected to gamers and gaming by profession. Then when I and other industry minorities for whom gamer is a part of their core identity bring this up our voices are overshadowed by people who are telling us to just be quiet, because they're doing all of this for our sakes. And thinking your voice as an ally is more important than the actual voices of the minority you claim to represent is one of the fundamental no-no's of feminism (yes, I'm a feminist as well).
So yes, I'm angry. I'd like to scold these people and teach them about intersectionality, because having gamer as a core part of your identity and being afflicted by the stigma that carries is not mutually exclusive with being in one or more minorities. I've seen other minorities, female devs and journalists from disabled/LGBT minorities get black listed for presenting a dissenting opinion. And why? All because they used what I've come to refer to as the Hashtag of Ultimate Evil. That's not how that works, that's not how that should work.
Am I appalled at the behavior of some of the people in GamerGate? The threats, the doxxing, the harassment? Yes, that should go without saying but apparently doesn't. The difference between a GamerGate internet troll and a games journalist though is that the latter has a responsibility to their entire industry, because they were given a platform by the rest of the industry and by gamers. Do you honestly think the mainstream is going to give a flying fuck if I call myself a gamer or not now that vilifying gamers is in full swing again? Of course not. I'm a game developer, ergo I'm guilty by association as I've always been, even without making a direct claim to the gamer identity. That makes my life harder, and I think playing into that narrative is harmful to everyone in and around gaming.
Do you think the industry needs to improve? If so, in what areas?
I think there are issues with representation of women in the games industry. I think it's sad that the only time I hear about other women in my field is when they're being victimized or controversial in some way. I know women ranging from small indies to journalists to AAA professionals, and I don't hear about any of them. Why?
What would you say the games industry does right? Wrong?
If you want to help women in this industry, signal boost them when they do good shit. Don't go around thrashing the gamer identity and the entire industry as a result, then tell me it's for women. Even if it's genuine, you're being a piss-poor ally and hurting more than helping. I've heard stories from plenty of female devs where the media reached out to them and lost interest when they had no harassment to report.
On the other hand the focus on indies is nice and should be upped, because the only way to get a more diverse industry is to divide the spotlight up between more voices. I also think game developers are starting to be more aware of being more inclusive in their narratives and not be so tunnel-visioned, trying to cater to one dominant group in gaming.
Where do you see the industry, moving forward?
I don't know and it worries me. A lot of developers I know are hiding, waiting out the current raging storm. I can say that more than a few are quite sick of all sides involved. They just want to make games and bring joy to people like games brought joy to them at some point or another, that's all I want to do too. Hopefully we can go back to that, soon.