An open letter to Jerry Holkins

Subject: An open letter to Jerry Holkins
From: Christine Love
Date: 12 Mar 2015

Dear Jerry,

Thanks for taking the time to stop by my booth at PAX. I was really glad to hear you liked my game. Believe it or not, you were actually kind of a hero of mine when I was a kid, and your writing style was a huge inspiration to me; so hearing that from you meant a whole lot.

Here’s the thing, though: not long before you so cordially stopped by, your business partners Mike and Robert were with you on stage, saying that the biggest mistake they’d ever made was pulling the “Dickwolves” shirt. People more eloquent than me have described what’s wrong with this, but suffice to say, that’s some pretty fucked up shit, man. You said you were happy that I was there, but let me tell you, I was definitely not happy to be there.

PAX is the biggest show of its kind in North America, and by being there, I can reach people who I’d never be able to otherwise, who wouldn’t hear about my work. Making weirdo feminist experimental narrative games is kinda my full-time job, and you know, it’s a pretty good gig most of the time—sometimes you have to do things you don’t like, and be places you don’t feel comfortable, to make a living, and having that booth at PAX was definitely one of those times.

There’s some serious fucking dissonance going on here. On the one hand, I was incredibly impressed by the Enforcers in our area, who put in some absolutely amazing work to make sure we were okay throughout the whole show. They’re basically heroes. And the Indie MEGABOOTH itself was really incredible. There were so many developers showing off such a range of interesting shit, it makes me feel great about what videogames can be; I’m just absolutely in awe at Kelly, Phil, Rami, and everyone else’s hard work involved in making it happen. And I felt proud when they said they were happy I was there, because being part of something like that is really cool. For a brief moment after packing up my booth, before I got home and saw what had happened online, I was actually feeling kind of good about things.

But all of this is in spite of the best efforts of the people you work with to make me feel unwelcome. Like, seriously, Mike basically said “we should have continued to make jokes about rape at the convention, even though we know it makes people feel unsafe,” and Robert said that contrary opinions shouldn’t be listened to. This is literally the subtext of what they said. Maybe you can’t really relate to this, because rape is some sort of abstract concept to you, but to me, rape is what I have to worry about every time I walk home on my street late at night; or when I’m at parties with strangers; or if I ever decide to go on a date with a man. It’d be fucking nice if I didn’t have to think about it while I’m doing my job marketing my games at a convention, you know?

And it’s not even like it’s just about that. Recently he made a bunch of a really gross transphobic remarks, as he’s done many times in the past, and made a shitty non-apology expecting it to make everything okay, as he’s done many times in the past. This constant shit makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. It sets the tone, and it’s absolutely toxic. It tells people that this sort of attitude is okay, that it’s okay to treat people like me without a shred of respect; and the apologies don’t damn well fix anything if he just says something terrible again the next month.

I don’t really care about Mike or Robert. I can’t imagine we’re ever going to meet or talk, so I don’t think it really matters much that they think shitty things. What I care about is that when they said those things on a public stage, an entire auditorium full of men cheered loudly. Like, literally an entire giant auditorium of men got excited at the idea of making rape survivors feel uncomfortable, and the idea of not listening to people when they say they feel unsafe. That is terrifying. It’s not Mike I’m worried about; it’s being in the same convention of that room full of people. They scare the shit out of me, man, and I don’t understand why anyone would want those sorts of people around.

I don’t know what the solution here is. Frankly, man, I’m not smart enough to know what you can do to put this right, nor am I optimistic enough to think that you’re going to do anything just because I said so. But if you really meant it when you said you were happy I was there, what I want you to know is, just because someone like me was there, and smiled the whole time, doesn’t mean it’s fucking well okay.

I don’t feel comfortable attending PAX. If I felt like I had a choice in the matter, if I could reach the awesome people I did while I was there without supporting the other figurehead behind the show, I would absolutely not be there. But I don’t. You’ve made it so in order to make a decent living for myself in videogames, I’m obligated to show up. That’s why I was there. It wasn’t because I felt comfortable, nor was it because I felt okay supporting your organization.

I’m glad you were happy to see me there, Jerry, but please don’t think for a second that my attendance means you’re doing something right.

Christine Love