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On San Francisco Pride Weekend: Thoughts on Being a Gay Video Game Critic

Most critics are no stranger to mean words directed at them, their families, their significant others, their pets, their stuffed animals, and their hopes and dreams. I have received my share of death threats and bizarre conspiratorial accusations--the "you were paid off"s and the such. I even had a reader create a hotmail account called "killkevinvanord," so vehement was his anger.

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This is the bear flag, a variant on the usual rainbow flag. What is a "bear" in this context, you may ask? Let's discuss that another day. Or Google "gay bear," at your own risk!

You can imagine, then, that I had brief pause when deciding just how "out" I should be when I joined GameSpot's editorial team. I have always been relatively open about being gay, and that openness has usually served me well. Sure, there are exceptions. There was the time my grandparents asked me and my partner to leave their Christmas celebration because I "brought sin into their home," and the time hoodlums accosted me, crowding around me and my car (which I had locked myself out of) and threatened violence--though they fortunately never acted upon it. (I did have my comeuppance, however, taking them to criminal court for their actions and having $300 fines visited upon them.) But I am so lucky that those moments were exceptions, and that my family, my friends, and my acquaintances have been supportive and, frankly, blase about it all. And that's as it should be.

The general games audience? I wasn't so sure what me being gay would mean to them. I am hardly the only gay game journalist (though I am not sure I identify as a journalist, though that is a subject for another day.) But I am already a target, simply because sometimes I say things that people don't like to hear, and the vocal audience has become less respectful in my experience, and not more so. And I have never dealt particular well with the kind of mean-spirited, rather disgusting comments I receive. I didn't want to hide this aspect of me, but I didn't know if I should make the target even bigger and brighter. And surely, being an openly gay critic for a large, mainstream games publication would make me that kind of target, or so I figured.

But I painted the big ol' target anyway. And it was the right thing to do.

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Re: my Resident Evil 6 review, the GamesReflexoes gang informed me that my gay brain worked differently than normal ones, so obviously I wouldn't like this masculine game. 

That doesn't mean I haven't gotten my fair share of homophobic vitriol. Most contemptuous was the hate campaign served up by the Brazilian blogger that runs GamesReflexoes. My Twitter and email were overrun by this man, his alternate accounts, and his followers, first after my review of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and then in full force after my review of Resident Evil 6. I had never had so much gay-hate dumped on me in such a short period of time, to the point where I worried just how far these people might go to injure me.

But more frequently, I get Facebook messages, emails, and Twitter messages from young men and women that are in the process of coming out and need a kind word, or advice, or a show of solidarity. Sometimes, those men flirt with me. Other times, they tell me of the terrible social conditions in the countries in which they live, where they can't come out for fear of being ostracized or jailed. A reader in Croatia told me about how the populace petitioned the government to make being gay a crime. Another in Puerto Rico told me how he was forced into a marriage he didn't want after his mother threatened to kill herself because a gay son couldn't give her grandchildren.

I don't share these stories to be depressing, but rather because it is such an unexpected honor to somehow be a small inspiration to people wouldn't otherwise reach out to me. I am really not special. I was just there. They knew me on the Internet, and knew I was gay, and that was enough for them to reach out. And God knows my life is better because of them. I don't have enough ego to think I am changing anyone's life, but I am humble enough to know they have changed mine.

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I wonder: what would "Sid Meier's Butt Pirates" play like?

More interestingly, people still find plenty of reasons to say nasty things, and every so often one of them drops in a "cocksucker" or a "butt pirate" comment for some extra zing. But most people direct their hate in the usual ways: by suggesting I don't know what I am talking about, or accusing me of taking bribes, often from indie developers that can barely afford to make the game, let alone shower critics with cash. That doesn't sound like much of a reason to rejoice, but they hate me for the same reasons they hate any game critic: because I didn't say what they wanted to hear, not because of the way I deploy my genitalia. And for that, I say "hurrah." 

This weekend, we celebrate LGBT Pride in San Francisco. There is so much more to do. There is still so much hatred in this world--so much abysmal cruelty focused on our community. We're "different" and "godless" and "destructive" to so many. Some people believe that because I love another man, that God would punish the world with natural disasters because the world allows me to exist. Some people's passion is to make me feel like less of a human being by limiting my rights and condemning the very person that I am. This weekend we say: those people are wrong. This weekend we say: we're not just OK--we're awesome.