Fanfic: The Trials of the False Oracle

#81

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.

#82

invoking m*lo here feels pretty uncalled for tbh

#83

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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#84

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

#85

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

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#86

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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#87

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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#88

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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#89

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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#90

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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#91

Exactly what I’m suggesting, or thereabouts!

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#92

Just a note, that two of the three editors on our site are queer (me and Danielle). But that alone enough in this case because, while that personal experience is valuable, it doesn’t explicitly extend to the contexts of fanfic.

If it were, then we would’ve caught this ahead of time instead of letting it slip by.

This does not mean that we will stop publishing work from marginalized creators, but it does mean that until we have better resources in place, fanfic specifically won’t be something we’ll be doing in the near future.

And who knows, maybe a year from now we’ll be in a different position, but I wanted to make it very clear what we would need to have in place in order for us to try this again.

(Quick Edit: My point here isn’t that we couldn’t or shouldn’t have more queer editors, but I wanted to be clear that the problem here stemmed from something else.)

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#93

Well, I said ‘queer,’ but I meant ‘trans.’ I’m sorry for that misrepresentation, and possibly this one, since I don’t know Danielle’s history.

And I appreciate this response as well, thank you.

#94

I get that a lot of people were hurt and stung by this, but this feels like a VERY hasty reaction. I understand the need for more safeguards, but taking down the entire establishment feels like a more emotional driven reaction than something more measured, which might come with time and distance.

I hope this doesn’t sound dismissive, because that’s not at all how I mean it. I just wonder if there might be a way to fix the errors here and still give them this kind of content (goty fanfic stuff) that doesn’t involve just backing away from it entirely.

But I also don’t run a website, so it’s very possible there’s something I’m not considering.

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#95

I think y’all can do fan fiction you just need to approach it in a new way other then just posting a commission with no context. Those that were hurt feel free to correct me but the lack of context seems like what hurt most people.

If this would have opened with an interview with the author talking about the themes in the story, what forcedfemme means to them and what it is, how they came to do fan fiction, etc and then lead into the actual fan fiction I don’t think this would have hurt as many people because there would be an understanding of where the author was coming from.

Again I could be missing the mark entirely but after reading this thread and the ones on Twitter that seems like the common thought.

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#96

I think I could’ve been clearer above, but part of what you’re asking for is tied to the resourcing we don’t have currently. An interview between Jen and I would not have served this story any better because I’m not an expert in the space and would not be able to adequately interrogate her work. It also doens’t solve the problems with surfacing appropriate content.

Those issues require additional resources that we do not have right now. While I want to work towards those over the next year, I needed to write them down here so that we could hold ourselves accountable come next holiday season.

It’s probably also worths saying that for some readers, further interrogation would not have prevented the hurt, and part of the role of a commissioning editor is to know what sort of effect the story will have on the reader. Will they be informed? Will they take action? Will they be well served? After talking with Danielle, this is clearly something that we just don’t have enough shared expertise in to be able to adequately answer during the commissioning process. That needs to be remedied before we walk this route again.

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#97

I understand. Thanks for the clarification, and I hope you do get those resources.

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#98

Here’s hoping that one day Waypoint (or any/multiple sites!) have the resources and flexibility to provide all the necessary stuff mentioned here - editors, tagging and search systems, etc - so people can be paid for their fic writing like this. I think it’s a really awesome idea on paper and, despite everything that’s happened over the past couple of days, I do still think it’s super awesome that a few fanfic writers walked away with a paycheck. I think that might be a first?

But yeah, as is the system just seems ill-prepared and some folks (myself included) got caught off-guard. Until the right tools are in place this is probably the safest course of action. If one day the tools were feasible, I’d love to see another try. I think this thread has shown full well that opinions and tastes and sources of hurt and entertainment vary wildly and I don’t begrudge anyone for feeling differently about that! We just gotta build a video store that doesn’t have the movies all playing on blast as soon as you walk in.

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#99

My favorite video game quote I like to use is, “there is a time and place for everything, but not now.” While I support the writer of that fanfic as well as the existence of the fanfic itself, I do not think that Waypoint was the right place for it. I’m sad that this means the yearly fanfiction will be halted for the time being, but I understand the reasoning- better to wait for the ability properly check and regulate what goes through than let something similar happen again. I thank you for the earnest paragraphs, Austin, and I hope Waypoint gets more resources for things like this. (Also, had no idea you were queer as well, and that’s really rad to know)

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#100

Thank you for the apology and explanation. Waypoint has gained a lot of my trust by elevating works of marginalized writers and journalists. Despite being confident that the matter would be resolved, I’ve been in pain all day and talking here has helped me understand that pain, and allowed me to be part of a conversation to continue to elevate our voices. I want to continue to help building our community and am glad that you are listening and willing to build with us instead of against us.

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