Liana Kerzner has been writing about video games for over ten years now, as well as co-hosting Ed & Red’s Night Party! (CityTV, G4TV, TV4) which finished back in 2008. A former pinup model (Battlestations Pacific), she is a cosplayer and her own YouTube channel. She can be heard talking about video games and other nerdy things on Canada's Top 20 Countdown and her writing appears frequently on metaleater.com. She gave me some of her free time for a discussion on the gaming world and anything else that came along.
Full Disclosure: Some of the answers in this were shortened with Mrs Kerzner's permission and approval.
Q: I was going to start off with gaming, but I see that you were quite the cosplayer as well, what originally got you interested in that?
Liana K: Michelle Pfieffer's Batman Returns Catwoman costume. [laughs] I was a sixteen year-old nerd with a bit of an anorexia problem too, and her arc from mousy victim to independent femme fatale totally spoke to me. So just like in the movie, I ripped apart a bunch of clothes I already had to make the costume. That was for Halloween though. A few years later, I was covering a local comicon, and I didn't want to be boring about it. I'd heard people went in costume, so I got three other women from the TV show and we dressed up like Superheroes – I was Poison Ivy, and the other ladies were Storm, Elektra, and the Julie Newmar Catwoman. We didn't get four feet from the car before we were mobbed by people taking pictures, and I just thought “What a fascinating anthropological phenomenon.” All the social cues change. People talk more freely. It's not really about the attention for me because that's about the costume, not the person in it. What it's about is communication and community. It's a form of shamanism to me, tapping into the totemic quality of the geek community. Which I know is pretty hippy dippie but that's how I relate to the world!
Q: I’ve read in the past that cosplayers have been insulted or harassed at events they have been at, have you experienced anything like that?
Liana K: Oh yeah! I took a break from conventions because I got tired of having my ass grabbed. One guy even grabbed the chain on my Slave Leia costume. That really hurt! The worse though was at San Diego Comicon years ago. Some guy who was still drunk from the night before asked me to take a picture with him. I was dressed as Brandy from Liberty Meadows which is a pretty conservative costume. But her poses are really pinup, so I thought nothing of the guy asking me to pretend to kiss his cheek for the photo. Right before the photo was taken, he grabbed me and forced me to kiss him. I still remember the smell of the stale beer drool. I pushed him away and loudly said “That is NOT OKAY!” but no one, including security, did anything. The guy grumbled at me and walked away. He just got away with it. Haven't been back to San Diego Comicon since. May have to go back this year. Not sure how I feel about that.
Q: Were there any Cosplayers who you admired?
Liana K: Uuumm… I started before the kind of, pro cosplayer and celebrity cosplayer thing started, there is a woman I met through www.leiasmetalbikini.com and she’s what we call a “BBW”, a Big Beautiful Woman called Diana. She does this Lolita style dress crossed with the Leia bikini where the skin parts are covered and are gold and I was just like “that’s so cool!” because I love it when cosplayers adapt something for their own personal comfort, feel comfortable wearing it and still express their love for the character because that’s what distinguishes cosplayer from modelling for me.
Q:What was your favorite costume?
Liana K: That's like asking me my favourite kid! [laughs] As a rule, I'm drawn to Earth Priestesses and characters some people like to call “Fighting Fucktoys”. My Priestesses are Poison Ivy and Cheetara. My kick ass gals are Power Girl, and Ivy Valentine. I also love the Carol Danvers Ms Marvel costume with the Lighting Bolt, but that's a bit dated now. But I'm also drawn to quirky characters. I cosplayed the Mad Hatter from the Alice in Wonderland live action film because I liked his bipolar quality. And I was surprised how much I enjoyed cosplaying Rosalind Lutece from Bioshock Infinite. Cool headspace, that one. I've never been good at picking favourite anything. I'm too over-thinky. Ask me my favourite video game I'll give you a list of ten! [laughs] I really enjoy liking stuff.
Q: When did you first start gaming?
*Liana K: *When I was three. Pac-Man was my first game. My mother had to hold me up to play the upright coin-ops. I called the game “bucka bucka” because of the noise it made. Then Ms Pac-Man came along, and that was bucka bucka too. Space Invaders and Wizard of Wor were other early favorites. My mother liked Centipede, but that game was too pink for me. I hated pink. I had to wear a dress with a pink ribbon on it for my cousin's wedding when I was six and I cried!
Q: What was your favorite console?
Liana K: Oh man, again, tough to say. I guess I believe that a person who's really passionate about games doesn't show favouritism towards a system. The only thing I'll say is that I wish the Xbox controllers were smaller. They kill my hands. I've never really been a Nintendo person, but there are always a few titles per system that I love.
Q: What Games have you really enjoyed since you started gaming?
Liana K: I mean, the Atari 5200 was the first console my parents ever bought, so stuff like Pitfall were staples. But also the much-mocked E.T. game. I was obsessed with E.T. as a kid, so it didn't matter that it was weird. I enjoyed playing it. But I was always envious of the Commodore 64 that the kids of my dad's friend had. It had games like Quest for Tires, Archon and M.U.L.E. that I liked. They also had a better PC with a colour monitor, so we used to look up the answers to the age verification questions to play Leisure Suit Larry when the adults weren't looking. That was around the same time I got into parser-based adventure games like King's Quest. I loved King's Quest. And then stuff like Lemmings, Load Runner, and the Apple i.e. games that I played at school like Oregon Trail, Escape From Rungistan, and Snooper Troops.
Third generation, I was more about Sega than Nintendo. I liked Mario and Zelda when I played them at friends' houses, but the Sega games like Wonder Boy, Gangster Town and Altered Beast... there was something just... whoa... about those games. They were just differently fucked up. I mean, Mario was weird, don't get me wrong, Super Mario 3 is one of my favourite games ever, but the giant ass bosses in Wonderboy were just awesome when I was a kid. And I liked the complexity of the light gun games for the Sega. Safari Hunt was way more fun for me than Duck Hunt, because there was a lot more going on.
But then the PS1 hit and Resident Evil was a defining moment of my generation. If I had to pick a single gaming moment, it would be the first “What... the fuck... is going onnnnn...” reaction I had with that game. That game was the Night of the Living Dead for my generation. We went in not knowing what to expect, and it scared the crap out of us. It seems so silly and cheesy now, but there'd been nothing like those games before. The Mortal Kombat games were other favorites of mine from that time period.
I never really got into the original Xbox, but on the Xbox 360... Gears of War is love, man. That series is just love. It's... okay I'm going to be an asshole for a minute... but that series is a gamer's series. There are just all these little tiny things in the design of those games (pre-Judgement) that just... they get it. The little things in a game like pacing, button prompt sensitivity, reload animations not getting in the way of the gameplay experience... really add up when it comes to fun. I know there are some people that say that no console-native game is truly a gamers' game. To them I'd like to say “fuck you”.
Okay, asshole moment over.
Of course, there are tons of games I love on the PS2 and PS3 as well – God of War games being a big deal for me that way... Raving Rabbids became exclusive to the Wii, and the Xbox One and PS4 are just getting started, so... Soulcalibur is my fighting series. I got burned out on Street Fighter and Tekken and then I discovered Soul. I like the character stories even though fighting games are so not my strength.
Oh, and Dragon Age, although Inquisition made me kind of sad, there was still some good in it. I liked Mass Effect but I like Dragon Age better. I love the Assassins Creed games: I just love the whole “minimizing ludonarrative dissonance” experiment, and they're gorgeous on top of that. Despite the lag I really enjoyed Unity, but Rogue was an amazing story too. Unlike a lot of people I'm not stuck on Ezio as THE assassin. I find that all of the Assassins Creed games are very conscious of what they are. I also liked Splinter Cell Blacklist, Dead Space 1 & 2, Little Big Planet, Uncharted, Alan Wake, and the Civilization games. And South Park: The Stick of Truth! That game was awesome! Oh and Saints Row III and IV. And Skylanders and Disney Infinity! I admit it, I love toys to life games!
The last game I played that I really liked was Sunset Overdrive. I finished that a few weeks ago. I'm still saying “Asshole” like Fizzie. I just got Captain Toad Treasure Tracker so I'm going to try that next. And I still have to play Bayonetta 2.
In terms of indie games, Papo & Yo is definitely a favourite. I liked the Stanley Parable for what it was too. And Quest for Infamy because it was a Quest for Glory spoof. I really liked the Quest for Glory games too... you weren't expecting such a long answer when you asked this, were you? I really really really like games.
Q: What does the term “Gamer” mean to you?
Liana K: A person who really loves video games. That's it. It's not connected to anything else. I consider myself a gamer, so I get pissed off when people call me a “girl gamer”. No. Gamers are not, by default, male. I have as much claim to the gamer identity as anyone, because I freaking love video games! I also get pissed when people equate “gamer” to obese guys, because last time I checked, I'm not one. Also, a lot of guys are. So what? What's with the fat shaming?
Q: As someone who has written about the industry for so long, how do you feel it has changed?
Liana K: Everything has gotten more difficult. You're expected to complete things way faster. We used to get a few weeks to review a game before launch. Now you're lucky to get a few days if you're not one of the big sites. Everything changed when gaming became big money and the smaller studios got acquired by the major publishers. Although I will say that the dialogue about games has, for the most part, gotten a lot deeper, which I like. Developers really think about their products, and I love that. What's disappointed me is that we go into these cyclical periods of dumping on the products we're supposed to enjoy. Too many people think they sound smart by being overly critical, but they just sound bitter. And then critical faculties disappear for certain big releases because no one wants to be the one who gets their access cut or gets dogpiled by an angry fan mob. For the record, I risk the dogpiles, because I think it's more important to be honest about a game than to appease the franchise's most rabid fans.
Q: Problems usually brought up with the gaming world are ones such as Pre order dlc, dlc in general and games being released broken. What are your views on this and what are the worst ones you have seen?
Liana K: I think that these complaints come from a failure of the industry to set reasonable expectations. Back in the 1980s, a game was $50. The cost of games has only gone up by $30 since then, even though they cost twenty times more to make. The extra money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is pricey DLC. For now, games have hit a ceiling regarding how many copies it's reasonable to sell, so the extra money has to come from the same pool of consumers without raising the base price. Most of the preorder DLC I've seen is completely cosmetic. I mean, Dishonored was a great game, but the sheer number of different DLC bundles was hilarious. I don't think extra weapons and stuff is an issue because I don't think anyone is trying to sneak anything by anyone. What bugs me is when critical continuity points show up in the DLC. As much as I love the series, Dragon Age is bad for that. Characters often appear for the first time in DLC, and you don't have nearly the attachment to them if you stick to the main games.
The most annoying DLC for me, and this is totally personal, was the Bioshock Infinite stuff, the Burial at Sea stuff. Firstly, it was overpriced. Secondly, it was the game that fans really wanted to see in the first place. I couldn't justify spending an additional, what was it? Sixty bucks? When I personally didn't enjoy Infinite's main game. I'm sure I'll enjoy the DLC, but I can't reward a mediocre, overrated core product by throwing money at better-plotted DLC.
Regarding broken games? [Sighs] This is not going to be a popular answer. One of the things gutted to reduce costs was the internal Quality Assurance portions of a lot of game companies. But that's not all it is lately. This is a complicated issue. In the past, when a game wasn't ready, developers would delay launch. This would get them murdered in the press. It wasn't seen as a sign they wanted to make sure the product shipped functional. It was seen as a sign that the game sucked. Now, games ship broken, but more often on time. The problems tend to be with online functionality. Online functionality isn't something that reviewers can test easily before the game is released... because the game isn't released so no one is online. So if your online portion is broken but the campaign is decent, you're better off releasing the game broken because you'll get better reviews. I don't know that's why they do it, it's just what I've observed. I've gotten wise to that, so I'll make a note in my review if I was unable to test the online elements for whatever reason. At least then my readers know that it's just a campaign review.
The other element is that the version of a game that's usually the most buggy is the PC version. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, if you look at the percentage of sales that come from the PC Master Race, it's a fraction of total volume. Secondly, with PC gaming you're dealing with non-standardized hardware and operating systems. It's a much larger number of variables to test with diminishing returns. There was a time like this in the late 1990s, early 2000s as well, where some PC games would only run on six specific video cards and you couldn't return the games if they weren't compatible. It pushed people toward consoles. It seems we're falling into one of those valleys again with PC games. Sure, the Steam sales are tempting, but I've had more than my share of games that I buy that just won't run on my system, or don't run well.
More than the bugs, the thing that pisses me off most with PC gaming is when a game has a lousy keyboard control configuration. More and more, games are optimized for gamepad even on PC, and I hate that. I used to like keyboard and mouse controls, but it's rare these days for me to find a game that's not a shooter where it makes sense to use the keyboard.
I don't know if that answered the question, but I'm press, not a dev. So I can't really answer for certain why PC games ship broken.
I do know that buggy products tend to be more common in the early days of a console lifecycle because devs are still getting used to the new machines – the debug versions they get don't always match the consumer hardware exactly. So that's part of the reason the last couple years have been weird. It was like that with the Xbox 360 and the PS3 too.
Q: Many gamers have chosen YouTube over reviews from websites as they have been accused of being “buyer’s guides”, is this a fair comment?
Liana K: Some will accuse me of bias on this one, but no. I don't think that's fair. Some games press work damned hard to provide insights in reviews. Others phone it in, but fans look for their biases to be confirmed, so there's no winning. It's important to keep in mind that many Youtubers are paid to promote certain games. Sometimes they're not allowed to show glitches or bugs that they encounter. Some disclose this, some don't. So on both sides of the coin you have reputable professions and people who take shortcuts. Besides, watching a game and playing a game aren't the same experience. I guess the most cynical thing I can say is that Youtubers are getting better access than regular press these days for a reason, and it wouldn't logically figure that it's because they're tougher on the products I have no problem if people prefer to sample games on Youtube. I just don't want them to be lulled into a false sense that Youtubers, on the whole, are more reputable. It's better to find personalities that you trust, whose tastes match yours, and stick to them no matter what medium you prefer.
Q: You made a video on your YouTube channel called “A Challenge to Anita Sarkeesian: Listen & Believe”, what made you do this?
Liana K: I got pissed off? [laughs] I've got a huge article coming out that deals a bit with this, but the short version is this: I'm a feminist, but I'm not an exclusionary one. I don't think men are the root of all evil, and I don't think women are inherently more honest than men. I've known three really good guys who have had their lives massively derailed by false accusations of assault and sexual assault by women. It's really rare for women to lie about that stuff, but it does happen, and a woman who does that once will do it more than once, so a single liar can ruin numerous lives. None of these guys went to jail. Two weren't even charged. But all of them had their jobs affected. One guy was cut from a project because the owner just “listened and believed” without doing a proper investigation.
There's a principle in feminism, originating in second wave, that “the personal is political”. It's a reminder that we should never bow our heads and negate our own experiences because of systemic pressure to silence us. Every person's story matters, and I knew I wasn't the only feminist who felt that the practical core values of feminism were being twisted, sometimes to the point that they were now the complete opposite of the original intents.
Women still often don't get justice in the legal system when they're harassed, stalked or assaulted, but at least we have support systems we know how to access when something terrible happens to us. Men, on the other hand, are expected, because they're the so-called “stronger sex”, to pack down their feelings, hide bad experiences, and they end up totally breaking down in their thirties or forties. So Anita's choice of word, “listen and believe women”, pissed me off, because it's drawing on the idea that we women are natural victims. Pardon the vulgarity, but fuck that. That's rape culture. That's perpetuating the idea that women have something unique and more terrible to be afraid of than men.
I'm tired of living in a world where women are trained to be afraid, and this “harassment of women” narrative is training us to be afraid. I'm well acquainted with internet harassment. There's stuff that's happened to me that I don't talk about in public, but I do talk about in private. And I don't want anyone, male or female, to be shamed into not talking about something bad that happened to them. I think when men hear “listen and believe women”, that discourages them from talking about their own bad experiences. Unfortunately, too often we don't find out how badly a man is suffering until after he's died by suicide.
I know there are some people who think that Men's Rights Movements should take care of these issues affecting men, but oh god no. Yeah that's all we need: a more divisive gender binary. That's not going to help anyone in the long run. I don't believe that women currently have real equality of opportunity in gaming. I'll tell you some of the lame excuses I've been given for why I didn't get a job or a promotion off the record. But in order to get that equality of opportunity, in the short term, we need to be better, smarter, more accountable, and absolutely competent. And verbalizing a double standard the way Anita did is not going to make a male employer who suffers from benevolent sexism more likely to hire a woman in an industry as competitive and hard knocks as video games.
Q: Do you believe Sarkeesian has caused more harm than good, or vice versa?
Liana K: I think it's too soon to say? I think she's done some good in that she's stimulated a dialogue. But she's caused harm too, most definitely, by perfecting harassment pageantry that other women are now copying. It's traumatizing other women who see it, making them afraid to try. I know it made me afraid until I kicked myself in the head recently. I almost quit games writing a month ago because I'm basically a Fighting Fucktoy to women like Anita Sarkeesian. That's what my article on Metaleater.com is about.
Q: With regards to some of the criticism she has leveled against the way women characters in games, do you think it may get to the point where developers may focus less on them to avoid negative feedback and just make games they know will sell?
Liana K: It's already happening. Dragon Age Inquisition doesn't have a character like Isabela or Morrigan from previous games who is what some people would consider “slutty”. The large boobs are pretty much missing from that game. Vivienne's got a low cut dress, but she's sexually and romantically unavailable, so they got around that sexuality issue. So there are now twice as many male party members as female party members, and the game is missing some of the snap that previous Dragon Age games had. I don't blame Bioware for the decision. I just feel less connected to that series now, because I feel like it abandoned fans like me to appease one woman's opinion dressed up like academic theory.
The thing is, hiding away the boobies doesn't make women in the real world safer or more respected. Conceding the point that women with boobs of a certain size are just inherently bad means that women like me will have to cover up because society is sending men social cues that cleavage means “dirty whore”. I don't like the idea that my body type is suddenly morally wrong. I was born this way.
Q: You quite rightly stated in your interview with David Pakman that Gamers have lost confidence in the gaming journalists as a result of GamerGate, what do you think is the way forward or is this now the norm?
Liana K: Well, you said it yourself: gamers are turning to Youtube. I don't want to go fully Youtube, because I want to do in-depth analysis of games and you can't do that in ten minute videos. Let's Plays are not my strength. Digging deep and understanding games is. So I might be screwed professionally. I don't know. The next year will tell. I'm acutely aware right now that I may not still be in the industry at this time next year because websites are shedding jobs due to decreased ad revenues.
I think it's easy to blame GamerGate for this mess, but it's not wholly their fault. Yeah, I could get bitter and curse them for draining the money out of the industry as I predicted would happen when the whole thing started, but the problem isn't angry geeks. The problem is that the video game industry is currently seen as political to a toxic level and advertisers can't win. If GamerGate stops now, the anti-GamerGate side – those little monsters on the gamerghazi subreddit who call people racist, sexist and transphobic for sneezing the wrong way – will have free reign to excommunicate anyone they want. They've tried it with me numerous times. The thing is that GamerGate was a reaction to that type of influence, it didn't create it. I just hate that the spark that lit the tinderbox was a nuclear meltdown of a relationship and the brunt of the anger was directed at someone who happened to be a woman and happened to be mentally ill. It made for very very bad optics, and an influx of too many people who were just looking to get attention or cause trouble.
Q: What did you think of the ABC Nightline segment on GamerGate?
Liana K: Oooh boy… I liked that they provided balance by talking to someone with a dissenting opinion, it was unfortunate that he was male and a person of color because I have a big pet peeve with minority Thunderdome, I don’t like that! The thing that made me go “this is the disconnect between enthusiast games press and when the mainstream press covers games” is there were three points where it was gameplay footage which I felt was used in a very misleading way and making things look a lot different than it actually is. I remember the one at the end, Dishonored, where Anita is holding the controller, possibly at the request of the camera crew and appears to be playing the game during the cut scene where the empress is murdered. It looks to an uninformed eye that “oh look, here we are as a player slaughtering a woman!”
Constantly going back to the assassination of the empress of Dunwall as a thing of “violence against women”. It always drives me crazy because if that were an emperor, we would not be having this conversation. It’s regicide. It’s an assassination. And diminishing the empress to “oh we killed a woman” to me is sexist, it’s classified as Benign Sexism but it is sexist. It’s like she’s a woman first and everything else second and I don’t like that because I loved the fact that Dishonored takes place in a matriarchy. It really annoys and upsets me that Bethesda is being unfairly scrutinized and their game used in a misleading light.
Q: So what would you say if I pointed out that in an interview with the website Tech Raptor, the gentleman at the end said he was interviewed for thirty minutes by ABC, but what only that small amount was broadcast?
*Liana K: *That’s common in news. I’ve done it, I always feel bad whenever I do it but when you’re interviewing someone you have no idea how much or how little you’re going to use from that interview. It would be great if we all had the opportunity to dump all our raw footage somewhere so people could watch the whole thing, and that is where I think it will eventually go in terms of news gathering. I did a piece for the National Post on Empathy in Video Games and I talked to Jill Murray, who was a writer on Assassin’s Creed Liberation and Black Flag: Freedom Cry. I talked to her for a good forty minutes and I might have used two quotes, but what she told me informed the piece. I also spent half a day at Minority Media up in Montreal and I used five quotes from them and they were the center of the article!
Because the article itself has a word count. There is a hard cap, especially in news, oh my god, they only get like seven minutes to report a story so it does happen. But I don’t think its unethical. I’m glad the guy had the opportunity with Tech Raptor to elaborate on his view point because when I saw his interview I was like “ooooh, good for him, for speaking his truth, good for him, for challenging.” He's going to be the most hated man in America, in some circles.
I don’t think the mainstream press understands what they do to people when they put them in that situation and that is a textbook ethical violation because you’re not supposed to cause undo harm through reporting. I did News Talk Radio for a while and we were on the air when they dis-covered the body of a child in a murder case. The story broke and we had to report it and at that point there were rumours that there were signs of sexual assault on the corpse and we had to choose if we should report that element or not, on the fly.
This all happened in a matter of minutes, I really can’t stress how quickly you have to make the judgement as news moves so fast. We decided to not to report that issue because we recognised the survivors of this vicious thing -- because the child’s head had been caved in with a hammer I believe -- and we didn’t want to put any more on the parents. We didn’t want to pollute infor-mation that may come up at trial and we also didn’t want to be wrong. Other people would have made a different choice and there is no hard and fast, right or wrong unfortunately, it’s an instinct thing, the longer you do it, you get to know yourself pretty well and it becomes a question of “what can I live with?”
With video games, on the other hand, there is this “Oh what harm can it do? Its just video games” and there are people who just don’t know how savage the current climate is. It’s a very powerful narrative, this “woman being attacked and fleeing her home” and these horrible harassments, I’ve gotten this form of harassment myself but I find it the way the media is treating this whole thing like psychological torture porn. It’s playing on those gender stereotypes of women needing addi-tional protections and as a feminist I find that if we’re still there, then we have failed as a movement.
Q: How has this whole situation made you feel? Do you think the gaming press failed the people they were supposed to be writing for?
Liana K: It's made me feel extremely sad. Depressed even. And then there are moments I get angry. I hope this doesn't come across as maudlin, but I feel very alone. A lot of people are doing interviews like this anonymously, but my personal ethics don't support doing that. If I have something to say, I'm going to say it to people's faces with my face visible. Gamers deserve that from people they rely on for honesty.
I admit, I'm not looking forward to E3. I'm one of the lone members of the actual gaming press who hasn't completely denounced GamerGate, and even though I don't consider myself “pro-GamerGate”, I know there's a cost for not going along with the crowd. The gaming press has always been cliquey, and I've already heard stories about a notably anti-GamerGate vibe in GDC circles. Apparently devs themselves just want it to be over, but I don't blame them for not wanting to piss off some influential members of the press.
So I'm mentally aware that it would be much more politically advantageous to me to follow the crowd. I mean, look how much money people are pulling in on their Patreons. But I've always had this bad habit of telling the truth, even when it means I cut my own throat. It drives my husband crazy. I have no ability to deliberately bullshit. It's like I'm missing a gene.
So I know what I saw and I know what I heard. And because of that, I know that the mainstream narrative of GamerGate as some “hate group” that came out of nowhere is wrong. Yeah, some GamerGaters made some threats against me, but they were, frankly, pretty pathetic – channers going overboard on shit posting, saying ludicrous stuff they had no intention of actually doing. I've had far worse threats that came before GamerGate.
I want to believe that there are still some honest people out there like me. I want to believe that people will eventually start standing up for what's right instead of what's easy. But I don't see too many signs of that yet, because unfortunately, there aren't that many templates for what ethics and consistency look like. The Escapist has made a good first step announcing that they're moving to an enthusiast press format and away from a “curmudgeon” perspective. I hope people support that and don't call it a... how did you describe it? A buyer’s guide? It's not about that. It's about remembering, as professionals, that we got into this because we were gamers first. That we love games. If something sucks, well it sucks. But there's more to a game review than a bug report.
To more directly answer your question; do I think the gaming press failed gamers? There are hundreds of people out there writing about video games. Most of them are passionate, get treated like crap, and do it for free. Those folks didn't fail gamers. A dozen journalists just said some epically dumb stuff, then didn't have the good sense or self-esteem to apologize for stuff said when everyone was freaking out because a mentally ill woman was getting bombarded with hate online. No one knew what to do. No one wanted to do the wrong thing and possibly make things worse. So people panicked, did the wrong thing, and made things worse. That's what happens when people panic. I don't think people have had enough of a period of quiet to even realize they panicked.
A lot of journalists I know were initially on side with the concept of improved ethics. Then the Game Journos Pros thing happened and people got dog piled just for being on a list, whether they actively posted or not. It was bad. It was a complete mob, which is probably where the perceptions of a hate mob come from. No one likes being falsely accused of unethical behavior when all they did was join an online group that wasn't even a secret in the first place.
Furthermore, people who don't understand chan culture couldn't figure out why they were being condemned for what they said in communications that were supposed to be private, when channers do and say things that are way worse.
That turned a lot of journalists who were previously sympathetic, and I can't blame them even though I don't share their views. I don't blame the vast majority of GamerGate for that either, for the record. They were played by a very savvy manipulator, well-versed in making things look as bad as possible for clicks.
Hell, I wasn't on that list. I got dog piled for three straight days because I wrote one article for polygon. The funny thing about that was I wrote the article in response to a thoroughly negative one I'd read on that service and I wanted to provide a counterpoint. Now I get why more people don't do that: the brands of these websites are so strong that people assume you share a certain political perspective if you contribute. That shouldn't be the case.
But let's face it, we're not talking about something that just happened, right? Gamers have felt like something has smelled funny for a while. It's my belief that what seemed like collusion was actually just incompetence, then guilt by association. I mean, seriously, when did Buzzfeed become a gaming site? The number of actual gaming sites involved in the “gamers are dead” thing could have, at first, been counted on one hand.
It's what's ensued after that that's made me feel like GamerGate might have the right instincts, even if it lacks finesse. Part of me feels like gamers are my customers and the customer is always right. That keeps things simple. Then I have to check myself and remind myself that gamers expect me to give my honest opinion, not just tell them what I think they want to hear. While that's scary sometimes, it's not hard. Then again, maybe it's easier for me because I actually consider myself a gamer, not a “gaming culture critic” or whatever snotty term other people make up to avoid feeling like a loser. I have embraced my lose. I have never been a cool kid. But damn it, I know about games.
I think every member of the games press has to decide for themselves whether they failed their audience. I don't believe I have. I've stayed the course and taken my lumps. That's all I can control.
Q: What was your reaction when the GG Block Bot came into place? Did it get in the way of working things out via debate?
Liana K: When talks break down, it's always bad. Blacklists are always bad. The GG Block list, once it was adopted by professional organizations like the IGDA main chapter, was, in essence, industry censorship.It was also a form of thought policing, because all you had to do to be on it was follow certain people on twitter. Hell, I follow some people on twitter to laugh at them, because they're friggin' train wrecks. Following someone doesn't mean I agree with them! Sometimes I like the challenge of being confronted with opinions I feel are revolting.
I never thought I'd see the day when people actually took seriously something that Orwellian. Sure, twitter isn't the only way to get hold of someone. But what's the message this block list is sending? Now that this genie is out of the bottle, how can it be misused further? Maybe I've watched too much Person of Interest, but this idea that software can solve problems of human failings? Nah man, that's Samaritan in the making.
For the most part, GamerGate is fine with me now, and I didn't have to mass block anyone to get that peace. I just had to affirm the humanity of people who felt rejected. Yeah, I blocked some assholes. A LOT of assholes. But each of those assholes earned that block. It wasn't guilt by association. But, okay, sure, my twitter feed has been useless at times because it explodes. But all I do is just post an apology in case I missed someone's tweet. I don't know, if you're going to mass block people on twitter it kind of misses the point of having a twitter account in the first place.
Q:What games are you looking forward to in this coming year?
Liana K: The Order 1886, I know that’s an unpopular choice but I’ve been around long enough to be ok with going “No! I don’t care if everybody is dumping on that game! It looks awesome!” and the benefit I’ve had that other people haven’t had is that I’ve touched that game, it had a playable demo at E3 and kudos to Sony for having that playable because a lot of games at E3 are not playable, you sit there and watch a developer drive it, and that to me is always a “hmmmm”, because that’s a red flag. We didn’t see a shred of Destiny except the multiplayer that we could touch our hands on and look what we ended up with, right?
I’m looking forward to Gat out of Hell, the Saints Row expansion as Saints Row is the only game that has convinced me to run over pedestrians with my car, so kudos to Saints Row, you made me an asshole, good on you.
I’ve got Captain Toad’s Tracker now, I own the game but I haven’t played it yet so I’m looking for-ward to that, Spattoon is another one I got to play and am looking forward to. Rainbow Six Siege, holy crap that was fun! I don’t know if that’s coming out in 2015 but that multiplayer scenario that they demoed at E3 last year? Its exciting as its co-op competitive four on four and it was so cool.
Kings Quest was announced and I’m super excited to see that franchise come back and I don’t care if it crap, I’m just glad to see it come back, Uncharted 4, I am very stoked for as I really like Naughty Dog and those games draw on those old adventure films.
Q: On a final note, what is giving you reason to be happy this year?
Liana K: I'm trying to tell myself that my life right now is like being in a video game where I've been wrongfully accused of a crime I didn't commit, or I'm in Alan Wake's dark place, or I'm a Dark Witch, or something like that. I'm gamifying my struggle, which is pretty hilarious, but it keeps me functionally insane. We don't play games about people who go with the crowd. We play games about people who defy expectations, fight their asses off, get shot a lot, heal, and keep going. Video games have taught me how to face struggles with dignity, and I'm grateful for that.
And my cat, Momo, has a lot of new people who think he's cute. I really didn't expect that from a bunch of people who originally thought I was a lying shill. The Daily Momo brings people together.
A very big thank you to Liana Kerzner for her time. As well as writing for www.metaleater.com she has a religion in science-fiction in fantasy anthology she co-edited, Wrestling With Gods, available on Amazon here.