Fanfic: The Trials of the False Oracle

expecting any art by trans women to present a perfectly sanitized face before it can reach a wider audience is really only holding ourselves back

there’s a difference between oversanitizing art and not publishing corrective sexual assault fanfics

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i wasn’t being flippant about the “we’re all traumatized” thing, i was speaking literally.

carrying trauma is a basically universal consequence of living in this world as a trans woman, and i think a lot of the issue here is the fact that when one of us airs her shit, it feels like she’s airing all of our shit. and seriously, that is hard and scary and i’ve been there. but i also think it’s really important that we remember to take a step back and let each other exist. because like, if we don’t, who else is going to??

I think you are framing criticism in disingenuous way here. This isn’t about respectability politics. I don’t see trans people saying “this is bad because cis people will see it”. I don’t see trans people insisting that this type of fiction can’t be written or must be watered down. I see trans people saying “this was bad to publish here because I feel fetishized and dehumanized by it”.

When you have subject matter that can be fun or painful for different members of a marginalized group, I don’t think the answer is just to shrug and go ahead broadcasting it indiscriminately. If you do that, then the calculus you’re making is that some readers’ indulgence is more important than other readers’ pain. This type of thing calls for a mindfulness toward platform, signalling, and selecting for the right audience, and I don’t think that mindfulness was exhibited in publishing this piece.

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This is precisely the point, and I think the insinuation that this story is just a public display of what every or even most trans women are secretly thinking or feeling is bizzare at best.

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I don’t agree that this is an accurate characterization of the discussion here. Nobody is saying that this makes the author not a real woman or nonsense like that-- on the contrary me and many other trans women in this thread are saying we have similar experiences with gender but, critically, that that does not excuse publishing something that continues the cycle of fetishization and dehumanization that we were subjected to.

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to be clear, there have been several posts in this thread that basically amount to ‘this is bad because cis people will see it.’ but anyway, i’m totally in agreement with you re: broadcasting stuff indiscriminately. like i said, i think there should have been a content warning from the beginning and i’m glad there’s one now. i feel sincere empathy for people who opened it before the warning was added and got triggered. it just feels like those particular concerns have been addressed at this point.

like honestly, i personally think waypoint has cultivated an environment where i trust them to publish a story that critically but humorously engages with a problematic trope from a writer who is part of the affected population. they’ve published and discussed enough thoughtful content about queerness, sexuality, and gender in video games that this story feels contextually appropriate there. obviously that’s just my perspective and we can disagree but like, it’s not like this is the new york times or something.

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Hey gang,
We understand that this is a heated issue and that people are coming to it from different backgrounds and experiences. Please do not make a difficult discussion harder by enflaming it. We would rather not close off a necessary venue for discussion (even temporarily), but we will look into pausing this thread if need be. We hope for your understanding in this, and we thank you for your cooperation.

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I seriously think writing a thread on Twitter and adding a content warning is a subpar response.

Twitter while popular and easy to get your thoughts out on is a bad place to try and make a semi official statement when you could append that to the article itself. I would never have seen that thread unless someone here pointed it out. How many people read this piece and then did not see this thread or the one on Twitter?

If an editor is going to make a statement about content on the site the statement should be visible from the site.

As for the content itself all I will say is it feels like the kind of content that I read back in high school that made me look down on fan fiction writers because it comes across as a kink piece. If something like this shows up on waypoint I kind of would like to see at least a paragraph or two from the author explaining why they wrote it so I could try to understand.

I’ve always been of the opinion you should assume each article is potentially the first article someone reads on your site and will form their first real opinion of it based on that. There’s nothing wrong with fan fiction but if this was the very first thing someone read on this site they would get a really bad first impression I feel.

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I don’t think those concerns have been addressed, because not even thinking about adding a content warning feels as if it was published without thought.

I don’t think a content warning is sufficient in this case. When I go on a site like Waypoint and see a content warning for “forced gender change and gender dysphoria” I don’t expect the piece to be applauding those concepts, and I think that’s pretty reasonable. Furthermore, I would challenge the assertion that the piece “critically… engages with a problematic trope”. Where is the criticism, exactly? This seems like an extremely straightforward example of the trope rather than a commentary on it.

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I suppose what i take issue with is that how somehow expresses their pain isnt good or bad. It can be more or less hurtful to others, but i felt uncomfortable with the idea that we might be deciding what is and isnt ok for someone to say. However i think most of us here agree that our issues with the piece lies in whether or not it was waypoint’s place to publish this piece with no context and no warnings.

invoking m*lo here feels pretty uncalled for tbh

I don’t think anyone here is saying the author literally shouldn’t have been allowed to write this. Really, I don’t think anyone here’s taking that much issue with the author. At least in my case, I just want to know A) why Waypoint published it so uncritically without even a content warning, and B) why they decided it would be an appropriate fit, when every other fanfic published on Waypoint this week has been very light and casual. The author isn’t at fault for writing it, it’s the fault of the editorial staff for seemingly not putting any thought into it.

If anything, my only issue with the author is that she didn’t suggest a content warning herself, but that isn’t really her job.

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I agree, this isnt a commentary or a criticism. Its fiction that wasn’t intended to engage a dialogue, and now it has. It took on a face waypoint and the author never intended and now lots of people are being hurt.
That being said I know that no one intended this to be a discussion but I feel like we can give waypoint an out while raising the voices of other trans/nb experiences by engaging this discussion on the same forum. If waypoint were willing to publish a piece where we discussed this I think a lot of healing could be done. If our intention isnt to hide from cis people’s eyes, maybe this could be the time to have this discussion. Many of us are clearly passionate about trans representations in media, this is a media we care about. They may have made mistakes and we may have to act in good faith, but if they are listening maybe this is a chance to sort out feelings and celebrate each other while respecting each others pain, while also educating and engaging those who are ignorant of our pain and experiences

im using “good” and “bad” specifically to refer to more/less hurtful

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Hey everyone, Austin here. I’ve been reading this thread, speaking with folks both publicly and privately via Twitter, DM, and email today, and the vast majority of people have been helpful and generous with their time and energy. And the majority of those who were very angry were speaking from a place of hurt, reflecting a history of pain and marginalization, which shouldn’t be ignored either.

The long and short here is that I fucked up here, and that I need to own up to that and do better, not only in terms of an individual instance like this but by putting in place protections to assure that this doesn’t happen again. I’m also adding a link to this apology at the top of the story, so that we are both not erasing our mistake so that we remain accountable (a VICE-wide policy), while also providing context for our culpability.

I want to start by giving some transparency into how this happened, because I think it helps explain where the gaps were and helps answer one of the biggest concerns I’ve seen (whether this was negligence or malice).

About little under 13 months ago, we began to prep for Waypoint’s first “Game of the Year” package, a collection of content that would be prepared in the weeks leading up to the holiday break, and meant to span the week between Christmas and New Years, so that Waypoint’s staff can take a few days off with the knowledge that we still have material going up on the site.

Because it was our first effort, we wanted to do something really unique, so we thought about giving “senior superlatives” instead of traditional genre awards (like like “life of the party” instead of “best action game”). Soon, we were imagining all of these characters together in a fictional high school; these awards were so evocative, especially once we started imagining the art we’d commission.

So Waypoint High was born, and soon after, we realized we wanted to commission fanfic to be part of this package too.There were three reasons behind that:

  1. We wanted to offer a chance to writers we loved a chance to write the sorts of fiction they already wrote privately for a public audience.

  2. We wanted to bring Waypoint High to life by imagining vignettes of our favorite characters of the year hanging out in this world.

  3. Most importantly, a key part Waypoint’s mission had always been to highlight incredible parts of games culture that often went under-explored or ignored by more traditional outlets. We saw fanfic as a core pursuit of games culture, just like modding, fanart, and cosplay. But it’s also a cultural product that is regularly dismissed, diminished, or totally disregarded as an artistic practice–often across gendered lines. We felt that trying to address this by highlighting fanfic alongside criticism and art was a productive use of our platform.

The response was largely positive. Though some folks rejected the idea that a games site could or should run fic, most people were on board, and I’m really proud of the stories that we published during Waypoint High.

A number of you have wondered what happened in the discrepancy between last year’s efforts and this year’s. I can answer that, but I want to be clear right now that the story of how “The Trials of the False Oracle” was published does not excuse the hurt it’s caused, nor does it account for the whole of my fault as Editor-in-Chief of Waypoint.

Big picture, the largest difference was in time. Last year, by the time we reached the friday before Christmas, the bulk of our stories were submitted, edited, and prepped to be laid out and published. A few were running late–like my own top ten list–but nearly everything was prepped and ready to go… until we hit a snag: Our art assets had all been sized according to a false assumption about our site’s header templates. So we spent a TON of time troubleshooting, re-sourcing, and re-sizing images. The result was a week that felt hurried, but still resulted in high quality material because it had largely already been edited carefully.

Coming into holiday 2017, with all of those bugs worked out, I was confident we could make things go more smoothly. Plus, I thought, we have an extra resource in a studio space and a part-time video producer, so we should really push the amount of material we put out. So we commissioned a full slate of content, including fanfics.

But by the time the end of last week rolled around, we’d had less time to spend on this material, not more. Access to studio space, major developments in some ongoing work we’d been doing, and other unpredictable issues ate into our time and led me to deprioritize work that absolutely needed to be prioritized if we were to pursue it.

Here is major issue number 1: If we aimed to highlight the importance of fanfic, then we needed actually to treat fanfic like it was important. Last year, we did this in two ways: 1. By recruiting fic writers not only from our regular columnists and writers, but also by reaching out to fic writers we loved. While we did reach out to those same folks this year, we wound up focused instead on journalists and critics writing fic. To be clear, I don’t think that undermines their work, but there’s a meaningful difference here, one that I should’ve insisted on correcting.

As importantly (and still part of major issue number 1): By deprioritzing fanfic, we ran the risk of commissioning work that would, at best, require a heavier edit than what we had resources for and, at worst, publish something that hurt the people in our community. And both of those are what happened.

This issue of resourcing also meant that this piece failed to get the attention they needed from the commissioning thru the publishing process. So much of this comes down to my belief that I could make it work, by hell or high water, even if it meant doing all the editing myself.

Which is major problem number 2 in the process: My desire to fill out the week with content overrode my ability to be critical. When Jen pitched me a Nier-focused retelling of the Tiresias myth, I was excited by her ability to tie our silly setting to a specific, historical myth. But my excitement about having her write an in-theme fic for us should not have been more important than carefully considering how, despite her best intentions, that fic would hurt people. There is no excuse for that.

Which leads to major problem number 3: My failure to anticipate these issues reveals a major blind spot for me. A few people have written that they are shocked that I couldn’t have seen this coming. They’re right. I should have seen it when I was commissioning, and I didn’t. I should’ve while I was editing, and I didn’t. It doesn’t matter why I missed this, it matters that I missed it. In terms of personal failures, this is the largest.

And that leads to problem number 4: Because of the three above problems, I failed to ensure that Waypoint as a platform was the right fit for this or any other fanfic that deals with disputed and deeply hurtful topics.

After speaking with a number of you today, it is impossible not to see the things Waypoint would need to have in order to safely publish fics: 1. A dedicated fanfic editor with a deep pool of potential freelancers and an even deeper knowledge of the space, its history and contexts. 2. A more complex tagging, search, and content warning system. Waypoint as a platform just doesn’t offer the tools that real fanfic sites do. Those features aren’t just conveniences, they let interested users safely and consensually explore the boundaries of their taste and interests, and establish a certain atmosphere and tone for reading. 3. Absent 1 & 2, every fic should be heavily edited by multiple people.

None of those reflect Waypoint as it is. And at this level, it isn’t about whether or not a games journalism site should feature fanfic or not–I still believe it has a place in mainstream games culture. But sites like ours aren’t built for it as is, and editors like me–with my blind spots–cannot safely be primary editors for fics like this.

All of which has made me rethink my initial belief that we should be pursuing this. Because while I still believe that while publicly publishing was a productive use of our platform last year, this year has proven that it was not a responsible use. And it is imperative that the former of those–the desire for productivity–not make us forget that the latter must be the most important part of our ethos.

We have one final fic coming this year, which we will not run without additional editorial input. After that, barring the changes I’ve outlined above, we won’t be returning to fanfic outside of editorial coverage. I’m also going to ensure that we all even potentially sensitive material needs a full edit from multiple senior editors, and always from an editor (whether from Waypoint or otherwise) who has a specific expertise or experience with the subject matter at hand.

If that means a story gets pushed by a couple of days, that’s fine. We’ll live. Because the alternative is putting our readers at risk, and avoiding that has to be our top priority.

I’m deeply sorry that I squandered your faith and good will, and that–whatever my intentions–led some of you to be hurt. I also need to apologize to the incredible moderation team both here and on the Discord, who have created safe, constructive spaces for conversation. While understandably heated, the conversation in this thread has been instructive and humbling. So thank you, mods, and again, apologies for threatening these spaces you’ve built.

I understand that this has led to a major loss of trust for many of you, and that no apology can bring that back. My hope is that over the next year, I can begin to rebuild that trust.

-Austin

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I, and I’m sure everyone else in this thread, appreciate the response, and thank you for your time.

However, is not publishing fic at all really the right response to this? Maybe I’m misreading what you mean, but it seems like a backdown on the format entirely just because of one stumble is just something that hurts both the site and the marginalized creators you seemingly wanted to help. Fanfic is a big part of the queer communities, and I appreciate it. In terms of suggestions, I think reading lists for fanfics editors and contributes to the site have liked could be a useful compromise, since the fics themselves would have tags and content warnings.

And ultimately, while this is a good response, it doesn’t really cut to the core of the issue - why did you feel like content like this would go by totally fine without harming anyone whatsoever? I think rather than a dedicated fanfic editor, this speaks to a problem with a lack of queer editors, or editors who are aware of things that might harm queer people.

Again, this isn’t meant to be an attack or insult, and I appreciate the response. There are just a few things I’m uncertain about, and I think you’re missing the forest (queer people) for the trees (fanfic)

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I think the point is that, without resources like a dedicated fan fic editor, there’s not a good way to guarantee this sort of thing won’t happen again, and at this time those resources just aren’t something that Waypoint has at its disposal. I enjoy the fanfics that have been published on Waypoint too (with this notable exception) but I think this is the responsible choice.

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I can understand that, but like I said, I do think the readings list thing would be a good compromise, combined with more minding of potentially troublsome issues. Ultimately, I wouldn’t want waypoint to lose a platform for marginalized or obscure voices just because one thing got criticized - they’ve published articles that have gotten criticism in the past, and obviously they didn’t stop publishing articles.

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I think it’s also somewhat regrettable, but there are other and honestly more appropriate platforms for fan fiction right now. Perhaps a good solution would be republishing fan fiction published elsewhere (with permission of the author of course) or a regular column that critically engages with a work of fan fiction.

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