Here’s a short supplement to The Ethics of Selling Children (TEoSC), which was read by a lot of people. Some of those people approved. Others did a *rollseyes*. And someone scratched on my bedroom window while I tried to sleep… whoa, sorry, was actually channelling Salem’s Lot there.

First, a reminder of what this was all about. Confessional writing has been going on since for-ever and was not invented by folks who like writing about games. However confessional games writing is in vogue right now so TEoSC was about the dangers that stem from how intoxicating such naked writing can be. It was not about confessions being worthless as games criticism, which is an entirely separate topic.

I kept myself out of Twitter combat because a subject this nuanced was not suitable for 140-character transactions. It can smack of telling everyone to put down their pens and shut up with the writing already. And the added bonus is that when you take on personal writing, it can easily look like you’re attacking the writer with some brutal word-fu.

We had some great commentary on the article itself but who else wrote responses longer than 140 characters?

Leigh Alexander: “Snow Cats” Alexander has second thoughts about the importance of personal writing in understanding games, noting TEoSC in passing. (Scroll down to the end of the blog post.)

Amanda Lange: “On Games as A Confessional” Do confessional games have an unfair advantage over non-confessional efforts?

Chris Priestman: “Someone Else’s Shoes: Personal Games vs. Game Design” Does the personal nature of confessional games cripple criticism?

Jonas Kyratzes: “Would You Kindly Not” Referring to TEoSC, Kyratzes went into detail about problems he had with a personal piece written by Mattie Brice titled “Would You Kindly” and, well… things went a bit crazy after that. (Richard Goodness described Kyratzes’ post as “a case of using a crate of dynamite to dig a fencepost”.)

Liz Ryerson: “why we talk about ourselves” A response to the Kyratzes/Brice situation through the lens of personal writing; this is indirectly a response to TEoSC.

Dylan Holmes: “This Is Not a Story About Gaming with Autism” Holmes explains how he chose not to exploit his personal life to boost his writing. (Holmes recently published a book called A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games.)

Lastly, I have no intention to write any more on the subject myself, although I could probably be tricked into a discussion in the comment threads. I get grumpy when I write about writing and Electron Dance is supposed to be about games.

Oh God, now I’m writing about writing about writing.

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14 thoughts on “After the Dust Settles: Ethics Revisited

  1. I wasn’t aware of any bloggy rebuttals out there, so please feel free to dump some links in the comments if you think something valuable has been missed. I’d be happy to extend the list.

  2. Aw, man, I totally understand: I’m not normally a fan of writing about writing…but at the same time I think it’s a necessary evil at this point of time.

    Writer hilarity: The whole “crate of dynamite/fencepost” was kind of a placeholder metaphor–I had wanted to do something more colorful and dramatic but couldn’t think of anything, and with all of the other work my article needed, I ended up completely forgetting to rewrite that line. And now both you and Jonas quoted that one and it seems to be one of the breakout lines of the piece. I bet there’s a lesson to be learned here.

    Anyway great job on the roundup–I’ll let you know if I noticed anything else. I caught on Twitter that Nightmare Mode is planning on doing a followup–not from Brice, who still has not written the response that she promised Jonas, but from a writer I’m not familiar with. Exciting times.

  3. So a week after you announce the retirement of Link Drag, we get a post tagged “Link Drag”.

    Can we ever believe anything you have to say ever again?

    I am shocked and appalled.

  4. I’m glad there’s been interest and attention, but sad so much of it has been acrimonious. Often writers in the same field take each other to task, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong ones; discussions of style and content are okay with me if they’re constructive (which I thought most of this has been) and not meant in a meanspirited way (also the case here). Perhaps because the basis of the debate is “personal” writing, many are taking it personally even though most of it didn’t appear to be meant that way.

    Crap, I’m writing about Harbour Master writing about writing about writing.

  5. @Richard

    It’s not so much that I abhor writing about writing – I used to hang out in writing forums and do the whole mutual critique thing for awhile – but it’s more that this is a house of games and I don’t like to shove something “unrelated” in the audience’s face. Having said that, the stupid thing was how popular TEoSC was. Let’s try this again then… next week: HM on Austerity! Wow, that could also be called The Ethics of Selling Children. I could do series of these things!

    I was amused by the dynamite/fencepost line. I wrote a little more about your piece but snipped it off because I was spending more words on your piece, which is not about confessional writing, than about Jonas’.


    If you think this is bad, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.


    Don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story- wait, yes it is. I was actually looking out for a rebuttal, considering some people got excited, but that never materialised. Maybe it will. While knocking out notes on Twitter is dubbed as “being part of a conversation” I’d be more interested in seeing something in the comments down here or a proper fleshed-out response.

    By the way, Steerpike, I am terrified of reading MrLipid’s article “Discontinuity”. His last piece made me feel horribly mortal and, if your remember, a little queasy.

  6. I think there is a larger issue at play with the response to criticism of personal writing than just the worry of that criticism coming off as a personal attack (and, in coming off that way, serving an identical function to an actual personal attack) – I think there is a big danger of protectionism in it as well.

    There are a lot of doors in the way of being heard, maybe more in games than other places, given the homogeneity of the old guard. Sometimes people get heard when those doors are opened for them, sometimes they kick them down, and sometimes they change the rules and come in through the walls. A lot of times when I see people mad that the rules are changing, what I read behind that is anger that all these new people are getting inside and breathing our rarefied air.

  7. Delighted to be part of the conversation! As Richard said, I think it’s well-advised to be cautious about this much introspective shop-talk, but it’s been the elephant in the tiny room that is alternative games blogging. If that even means anything.

    @Steerpike I think the vitriol has less to do with the subject of personal writing and a lot more to do with the politics surrounding this. Many of the most successful pieces in this arena have been about, or spoken in the language of, identity politics. Critical responses to those pieces are seen as attacking or undermining the political ideology contained within. Of course, that doesn’t require a heated response, but having gone to a college populated entirely by this specific type of leftist (and I point no fingers here – I’m one too, more or less) it’s considered the proper thing to do; ends justify the means, oppressed must use any and all possible means to silence the oppressors, etc. I find it very frustrating, but I also expect it at this point.

    @Switchbreak That’s pretty much it. Once people have gone through the long and arduous process of developing a platform where their voice is heard, they tend to not be too thrilled when some new, alternative voice comes and tries to overtake theirs.

  8. @Switchbreak

    There is definitely an element of that in any transitional period. But how do you distinguish the protectionists from others?


    You’re welcome. If it’s any consolation, I think the last time I talked about writing was Lassie Gets Rightsized in 2010, so I have no immediate plans for writing on writing for the next three years (also I think I may have since contradicted myself on that piece).

  9. @Dylan

    “That’s pretty much it. Once people have gone through the long and arduous process of developing a platform where their voice is heard, they tend to not be too thrilled when some new, alternative voice comes and tries to overtake theirs.”

    Well, Patricia Hernandez is a full-time writer for Kotaku, so…

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