Last September, noted game journalist and reviewer Jenn Frank became a primary target for Gamergate, the small but zealous "activist" group generally seen as a reactionary backlash against feminist and socially progressive elements in the game industry. After writing a Guardian post on being a woman in games which attracted their hostility, Frank was deluged by vicious harrassment, and subsequently quit the industry. Now, however, Jenn Frank is back, writing about the virtual world Second Life for this blog, and about games for a number of well-known media outlets -- year-end round-ups she describes as "cameo appearances".
"Despite my trepidation with the audience and subject matter -- despite my fear and actually a lot of grief -- it's an honor just to be asked," Jenn Frank tells me. "And I would not accept just willy-nilly. This was always my dream, you know? To write a list for the one outlet, or to be part of a chorus on this other one. Being 'pitched' is not something I take lightly, and I accepted with the same degree of gravity. I take video games, and writing about them, hilariously seriously."
Below, as an introduction to New World Notes readers, she explains her fascination with writing about Second Life. - WJA
Three months ago, I retired.
I'd been, however briefly, drawn into the Gamergate conversation. This, for me, was the sum of all my worst nightmares, realized. I cannot begin to articulate the emotional tax.
Now, I've always been a little anxious, a little frantic, but the experience has piqued my anxiety in a fresh and new and lasting way. (In anticipation of my upcoming coverage for New World Notes, editor Wagner James Au has been republishing a 2011 Kill Screen Magazine article, printed here as a series of posts. It describes, among other things, my 2008 agoraphobia diagnosis. So I would warn that, not only does not everyone seek "attention" -- a claim Gamergate often bandies -- "attention" is, for some people, the worst thing humanly imaginable.)
I really, really do not want to write this, do not enjoy addressing it -- but it's the elephant in the room, isn't it? And if there is any truth to allegations about my integrity, there must be a shadow hanging over my byline, besides.
I'm terrified of writing, not just this, but literally anything. And how, exactly, is one supposed to explain her return to tech writing? How is writing for New World Notes any different from ordinary games writing? Mr. Au and I have discussed these very questions at length.
One salient difference, I would assert, is Second Life itself:
Second Life is, even to this day, a tremendous achievement. It allows space for investigating certain taboos (when the land parcel's owners permit it!) and is, in the most literal sense, a "safe space." All writers, all Makers and Doers, seek a safe space for their creative work -- an experimental soil -- and Second Life is especially fertile. Anytime I venture in-world I find myself at no loss for things to write about.
My avatar is named after me, and she looks rather like me, although I suppose she doesn't have to be named that, doesn't have to look like me (and does not always, in fact, look like me, because sometimes she is dressed as Ultraman). What I'm saying is, Second Life affords me a type of anonymity my "first life" does not.
Second Life is a welcome respite from the din and clang and exhaustion of real life. And the metaverse, for me, is at its very best when it mines the ordinary, the mundane for inspiration. Will that make my writing, in turn, ordinary or mundane? (God, I almost hope so.)
I'm looking forward to doing some writing for you, NWN reader, that evokes the feelings Second Life inspires in me: a type of languid stroll, an everyday sort of tourism.
SL photo by Hamlet Au in Insilico. More writing from Jenn Frank on Second Life coming very soon!
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