A couple of years ago I collaborated with Clint McCleary, the game developer responsible for creating the creepy horror game Infliction. He asked me to write a short piece of fiction to expand the world of the game, and the result was The Dark Below, which you can read on the Infliction website.
You may have heard of /r/nosleep, a subreddit dedicated to reader-submitted horror stories that, as per the title, primarily aim to give you trouble sleeping.
There’s a low-level roleplaying-ish shared-world in-character flavour to it, in that the posting and commenting rules state that “everything is true”, even when it obviously isn’t, or the stories are clumsily written or contain massive logical inconsistencies.
Being a public forum full of user-submitted content, the quality level is predictably uneven, but there are plenty of extremely well-crafted tales of horror, ranging ranging across diverse topics such as real-world home invasions, haunted houses, abductions (both human and alien), encounters with cults, narrow escapes from supernatural monsters, and more. The only rules are that your story has to be ostensibly believable to anyone looking out the window or reading the news (so no world-ending catastrophes, for example).
After reading the page on and off for years, I finally started writing a bit over a year ago, and then more recently my brain slipped into a story-writing gear and doesn’t seem inclined to pop back out of it. After writing three stories in the space of a year, I suddenly wrote five just in the past week.
I have been treating it like a writing workshop, challenging myself to write in different styles and genres, picking different narrators each time to keep me on my toes. Many of the stories have been very well-received, and I’m proud of all of them. One or two of them are among the best things I have ever written.
This page is going to be an index for my online writing. For now it’s just /r/nosleep, but I have some science fiction story ides that I’m thinking about that would need a different forum, and as I write new work, it will be added here. I may even get back into writing Black Odyssey, which a few people will be happy about. It petered out after three chapters, and I’ve been regretting leaving it alone for so long (lot least because it popped up on my Facebook memories last week and I realised it had been almost a year since I updated it).
I am also finally getting started seriously on a novel, my first attempt at a novel in over a decade, and one that I honestly feel I might get finished this time. It’s a kind of small-and-personal-but-still-millennia-spanning alien epic, and I am super-excited about it. Having mostly dabbled in horror, I’m a bit shocked that my first complete novel may be science fiction, but life is full of surprises.
Anyway, enough rambling. I have included a rough indication of how nasty each story is so that more squeamish readers can pick out just the ones they think they’ll be able to handle. Note that your mileage may vary: as a horror writer, I tend to write about the things that frighten me. Every reader is different, and a story that appalled me when I was writing it might bounce off someone else without leaving a mark.
A sceptical atheist’s collected supernatural experiences (link)
My first venture onto /r/nosleep, and one of two non-fiction stories I have written there. This isn’t so much a cohesive story as much as a collection of short vignettes, all based around the first flat that my wife and I shared. I don’t actually believe in the supernatural, but that flat was a weird place. Every word of these stories is 100% true. [Edit: I’m told this one leads to a “removed article”. When I get a moment I’ll put it back up somewhere else.]
Nastiness level: Mildly creepy but mostly safe
A Cave in Hungary (link)
Possibly the single best thing I have ever written in any genre. It was based on an idea I had back when I was trying to create an article for /r/nosleep’s cousin-in-user-submitted-horror SCP. Originally written as a kind of simple folk tale, the “this is all true” nature of the forum required me to write a bracketing story to introduce it. It still has a kind of folklore-ish flavour to it, I think.
Nastiness level: A creepy mood and just a brief glimpse of violence
The Thirsty One (link)
This is a nasty one. I wanted to write something based in Australia, and after some brainstorming I conceived a kind of evil drought spirit, a deadly supernatural creature that stalks the parched outback during times of drought, seeking moisture to sustain it. I’m really proud of this one, even though it didn’t click with readers and only got a handful of upvotes.
Nastiness level: Detailed descriptions of some fucked-up shit
Nocturnal Pokemon Go players, look after yourselves out there (link)
Another true story, at least to begin with. This is the one that started my current writing kick. The first half of this article really happened to me a little over a week ago. I got home, feeling very shaken, and decided that it was a tale that needed to go on /r/nosleep. I was tempted to embellish it, add overtly supernatural elements, but in the end I wrote it precisely as it happened. The follow-up story is a work of fiction that I wrote, inspired by my experience.
Nastiness level: Nothing overtly horrible, but pretty scary
My uncle’s bizarre encounter in a US intelligence agency (link)
My commercial sell-out piece. Well, no, not really, but the first time I deliberately chose a clickbait-ish title instead of something more “literary”. Between the title and the contents of the story, this one went nuts, scoring thousands of upvotes. Content-wise, it’s a kind of X-Files-like “government agent encounters supernatural entity” story, and is more a thriller than a horror.
Nastiness level: Creepy with brief violence, like an episode of Kolchak
There’s a new party drug out there. DO NOT USE IT. (link)
My first two-parter! This story was written in a feverish daze, mostly during one uninterrupted eight-hour typing frenzy. The initial, very simple idea (“What happens if a new drug lets you see the dead that surround us?”) turned into a massive epic with an ensemble cast that starts off as The Sixth Sense meets Trainspotting but stumbles into a hole and falls into Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. This is also going to be my first story with a sequel: another chapter has sparked in my mind, and it will be written in a week or two.
Nastiness level: I horrified myself with this one
I can’t delete the story I wrote for /r/nosleep (link)
Meta-story! In the out-of-character chat forum, someone mentioned that they had written a story but were too nervous to post it, so they deleted it. This triggered an idea, and a few hours later I rattled this one off at high speed. It’s a horror story about writing horror stories, and I think it’s absolutely terrifying. I don’t think anything else I have ever written has scared me as much as this one.
Nastiness level: Suggests horror and violence without showing it, but very creepy
Sisters in the snow (my grandmother’s tale) (link)
I wanted to write a kind of “creepy story from the old country told by an elderly relative” and this was the result. There is very little that is spooky or supernatural in here, and it ended up mostly being about family, love, and loss. I knew I had hit the mark when it got 50+ comments from readers saying it made them cry. True confession: I cried while editing it.
Nastiness level: Tame, but sad
That’s it for now. As new stories are written they will be linked to here, so if you like my work so far, come back now and then to check for new stories.
And now… I’m off to do some writing.
Update 12 August 2016
The Body Thief (link)
I wanted to write something radically different from my usual style, so I attempted a fast-paced, relatively short (by my standards), action-packed and gruesome as hell balls-out horror story with minimal dialogue. This is horror science fiction in the neighbourhood of Carpenter’s The Thing, with an extremely unpleasant extraterrestrial visitor making a mess of a group of friends’ camping trip. Looks like my worst performing story on /r/nosleep with only 40 or so net upvotes, so perhaps not a successful experiment, but I quite like it.
Nastiness level: Gory as hell
My Kindergarten Teacher (link)
I had been thinking about primal horrors, many of which go back to our childhoods. What are the fundamental fears we had as children? I think one of them is the fear that the people who are in charge of looking after us might not have our best interests at heart. Then I remembered a two-sentence horror story I wrote last year, and thought it would work well expanded into a short story. This is the result.
Nastiness level: Creepy, but not gruesome or horrific
Update 25 August 2016
The catacomb under the estate (link)
This one had a troubled birth. Originally an idea for an SCP several years ago that never got written, I started this in story form several times, throwing it out over and over again. I finally settled on the idea of a team of burglars breaking into an old house, and wrote it in a very clipped and rushed style with minimal dialogue. The whole thing is meant to feel hectic and confusing, and I feel like I succeeded in that. However, the original /r/nosleep post was pulled by a mod because he misunderstood the ending and thought it broke the forum rules, so I was forced to make some edits and repost it. I wasn’t happy with being forced to make the twist more obvious, because I wrote it with the intention of leaving the reader a bit of a puzzle to solve, so they would think about it long after they’d finished reading it and slowly realise the full horror of it. Thankfully, I feel like I managed to make the story better. I barely touched the ending, but put in a few more clues earlier on, so that attentive readers had more to work with at the end. Anyway, see what you think.
Nastiness level: Little overt horror and violence, but deep existential horror
Update 27 August 2016
Lamp Post Man (link)
It’s funny what can inspire a story. I had a desperately full bladder the other night while I was driving late at night, so I pulled over next to a sporting oval and found some relief in the bushes. As I was walking back to the car, I imagined the silhouette of a naked man, crouched down and perched like a bird at the top of one of the streetlights next to my car. Driving home, I realised that this could make a really creepy story, and had the potential to become a cousin of Slender Man and other urban terrors of the internet age. The story took shape over 24 hours and was typed in one big rush.
Nastiness level: Fairly creepy, and deals with themes of suicide at the end
Update 18 September 2016
Cat’s Eyes (link)
Another one over 20 years in the writing. Back in the early 90s a friend and I would take turns late at night trying to scare each other. I came up with this story of a truck driver who once killed a girl in a hit-and-run, who then died when the girl’s vengeful ghost moved all of the roadside reflector posts on a patch of highway. The story was a bit goofy and I never wrote it properly, but I still found the concept chilling. Last week, I found myself pondering that story again, and I imagined how it could work in a nosleep format, and that’s when the story of two young guys buying a second hand drumkit came into my head. When the supernatural twist occurred to me, I knew I had a story I needed to write.
Nastiness level:Supernatural creepiness, but no explicit violence
Update 22 September 2016
The Girl Who Haunted Herself – confession of a retired cop (link)
This one had a long and weird history. One of the first of many novels I tried (and failed) to write in my late teens was the story of a young man who is latched onto by a kind pf psychic parasite that makes a duplicate of his body in order to gain a physical presence and go kill people. He ends up accused of the murders because all of the evidence points to him. The novel never happened, but the images from the story always haunted me: the guy convulsing on the ground while a copy of himself peels away from him like the backing paper off a sticker, and him dreaming of seeing his blood-stained doppelganger in a mirror and realising later it was a window, not a mirror. Ransacking my old story ideas for nosleep stories, I struck upon these images again, but thought of a way to make it seem like a supernatural story, but for the twist to be that it was not, that the doppelganger was real flesh and blood. I started writing it as a teenage girl’s diary, but it wasn’t quite gelling. On a whim I started it again from scratch from the perspective of a cop investigating her case, and everything fell into place. The funny thing is that the whole backstory was left out of the story as written: I know exactly what happened, but the reader can only guess at it.
Nastiness level: Cursory descriptions of fairly horrible violence
Update 30 November 2016
The Room at the Bottom of the Stairs (link)
I’m a little iffy on the ethics of this one. Many years ago a friend of mine told me a story, which he swore was 100% true, of a haunting he and his mother experienced during his childhood. Over the years I have considered writing it up as a work of fiction several times, and actually started a screenplay inspired by his story, but they never went anywhere. A month or two back I realised it could make a good nosleep if I heavily fictionalised large chunks of it, so that’s what I did, and here it is. Many of the big events are close to exactly what my friend told me, but I completely changed the family situation to not resemble anyone I know and filled in a lot of my own background fiction to plaster the gaps.
Nastiness level: Fairly tame, a mostly non-violent haunted house tale
This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
If you have not seen the film and do not wish to have its plot spoiled for you, stop reading right now. Watch videos of cute ducklings instead.
Okay, here we go.
The Force Awakens leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but the primary one is the origin of Rey. While it would be cool to have her turn out to be from a new Jedi bloodline, unrelated to the Skywalker clan (or indeed the Kenobis, as some fan theories have suggested) it would be cool and empowering (hey, maybe she’s good because she’s just that good!) but let’s be honest: this is Star Wars. This is melodrama with spaceships. There’s gotta be a twist, right?
Well, based on a whole lot of wild conjecture, but also a few interesting clues in the narrative, I have come up with a frankly ridiculous fan theory about where Rey came from and how she came to be stranded on Jakku. It’s pretty much baseless, and will almost certainly turn out to be untrue, but I like it.
This is going to be a long one. Are you ready to begin?
Put simply, Rey is Darth Vader, aka Anakin Skywalker.
How? Imperfect cloning of damaged DNA.
Bear with me. This is where the road gets bumpy.
Let’s imagine we’re back at the end of the Battle of Endor. The Empire has lost Vader and Palpatine, its two most prominent and arguably most powerful Force-users. Master and apprentice are both gone in one fell swoop, and there is nobody to take their place.
In the aftermath of the Battle, Imperial forces infiltrate Endor’s forest moon, trying to piece together exactly how everything went wrong. They find a destroyed shield generator, a pile of dead Stormtroopers (or at least their armour and their picked-clean bones) and, inexplicably, the cold remains of a funeral pyre with a few scorched remnants of Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.
We know that either Empire or First Order agents were there, because Kylo Ren has Vader’s melted helmet and breather mask. My theory is that this is not all they found: inside the helmet, they also found some salvageable DNA, damaged by the fire, but still potentially usable.
With Vader and Palpatine gone, and with human cloning a well-established technology, some bright spark has an idea: instead of recruiting a replacement for Vader, why don’t we make one?
As it turns out, the process is more difficult than they imagined. It is impossible to find a fully intact DNA strand because of the damage from the fire, so they have to piece together the entire sequence and fill in some blanks. The procedure suffers many setbacks and failures, and many failed clones are sent to the incinerator, but finally, after a decade or more of trying, they finally succeed.
The new clone is not an exact copy – the sex has been reversed for starters – but even as a newborn the Force blazes in her. The baby is raised to early childhood, learning to speak with the British-sounding accent of Coruscant and the other core systems. (Contrast her with Kylo Ren, who was raised by his parents amid other people of the Outer Rim, and speaks with an American-sounding accent as a result. This is not a coincidence: both Finn and Rey are played by British actors, but only one was allowed to speak with her natural accent. This is not an arbitrary choice; it is a clue.)
Just as the young clone grows old enough to begin her Sith training, disaster strikes (from a certain point of view): someone on the other side of the conflict – Rebel, Republic, or Resistance – learns of this top secret genetics project and stages a mission to end it. The plan is simple enough: destroy the lab and all of the genetic material it contains, including any clones.
However, when the invader – possibly even Luke Skywalker himself – meets an innocent little girl, still too young to have been touched by the Dark Side, they take pity on her. They destroy the lab, kill all of the staff, and make it appear that everything and everyone within it have been lost.
Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker finds himself with a new Padawan. She is very young, too young to begin Jedi training in earnest, but old enough to be taught basic meditation. She is taught how to calm her thoughts, find her centre, and to feel The Force moving through her. Luke is disturbed by how powerful she is, and can feel his father’s presence within her, so he is reluctant to advance her training any further. He also never gives her a full name: she remains simply Rey.
What Luke fails to notice was that Rey, bored and lonely, has begun training herself. With nobody willing to train her directly, Rey begins watching her classmates, observing their manipulation of The Force. It turns out that she has a knack for imitation, and can replicate Force-powered feats that she watches others perform. Luke learns of this ability, and it does nothing to ease his worry about what to do with her. Even so, he can’t help seeing her as a second chance to redeem his father, to turn him from the Dark Side before he can turn to it in the first place.
All of this is brought to a sudden, bloody conclusion when Kylo Ren’s seduction by the Dark Side comes to a head and he slaughters all of Luke’s Jedi pupils. Why is Rey spared? Perhaps Luke is too afraid of her potential, of what might become of Vader reborn, and so has not revealed her presence to anybody. Perhaps Kylo Ren feels something in her, a subconscious sense of Vader’s presence, that stays his hand, even as he slaughters her classmates.
However it happens, Rey is the sole survivor of the massacre, and Luke is left with a single student, one whom he is too afraid to train into full realisation of her powers. His Jedi school is in ruins, he has lost all but one of his students, and, worst of all, the entire tragedy has been carried out by his own nephew, the son of his sister and his best friend. Luke needs to get away for a while, maybe to try to track down Kylo Ren, or maybe just run away and be alone, devastated by the magnitude of his failure.
But what to do with Rey? He uses The Force to place a blockage in her memory. She is still extremely young, so it’s easy to place a blanket over much of her childhood. It doesn’t need to stay in place for long, he thinks – he’ll be back soon enough. Mirroring his own childhood, left in his aunt and uncle’s care on Tatooine, he leaves her on Jakku in the care of a scrap merchant, but also leaves a friend to watch over her. Much like how Obi Wan Kenobi remained on Tatooine to keep tabs on young Luke, Lor San Tekka stayed close to Rey, but never too close. Just in case something bad happens (like, say, Rey going full Dark Side and needing to be put down) Lor San Tekka is given a map to Luke’s location.
(Lor San Tekka is a bit of a riddle. He is a nobody, a completely new character that has come out of nowhere and been presented to the audience as if we should recognise him. My theory is that he was supposed to be Wedge Antilles, and he was included in the hope that Denis Lawson would agree to reprise his role. Lawson has confirmed that he was asked to be in it, but turned it down because it would have “bored” him. I suspect Max Von Sydow’s part was hastily written in as an unsatisfying substitute.)
Here is where The Force Awakens begins. Rey is a lonely junk collector on a floating dustbowl, unusually clever and resourceful for her age, and extremely skilled at taking care of herself. Her “family” has not returned for her (and note that it is always “family” – she never specifies a mother, a father, a sister, an aunt, or anyone else specific, just the nebulous “family”, almost as if she’s repeating a meaningless term that was implanted into her memory).
Encountering the lightsabre in Maz Kanata’s cellar is the event that pokes the smallest hole in the dam that holds back her memories. It is not a coincidence that this is Luke’s original lightsabre, the blue one that was apparently lost along with Luke’s hand on Bespin. The last lightsabre we saw Luke wielding was the green one that he built himself. Had the film wanted us to link Rey with Luke, then this would have been a more sensible choice: after all, a Jedi’s handmade lightsabre is a personal thing, tied in deeply to their use of The Force.
However, the blue lightsabre has a much deeper meaning: before it was Luke’s, it belonged to his father, Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. The lightsabre isn’t calling to Rey because it belongs to Luke. It belongs to her. Clone or not, she embodies the living essence of Darth Vader, and Vader’s personal weapon calls to her.
When Kylo Ren attempts to burrow into her mind, the cap on her memories is cracked, but not entirely broken. Seemingly by instinct she pushes away her fear and anger, tapping into her forgotten childhood training to calm herself, find her centre, and tap into The Force. She not only manages to push him out of her head, but she mimics his mind-reading ability, unconsciously copying his use of The Force, pushing further, inside his mind, reading his thoughts.
The dam is still standing at this point, but it is riddled with cracks and it’s leaking water quickly. Rey uses the Jedi mind trick to force her guard to set her free (once again finding her calm centre in order to tap into The Force) and then gets most of the way out of one of the most secure sites in the galaxy. She probably doesn’t even realise that she’s using The Force to feel the approach of guards or to find escape routes; as far as she’s concerned, it’s just blind instinct.
Finally, she faces Kylo Ren one on one, blade to blade. At first, she has no idea what she’s doing, and simply uses the lightsabre as if it’s the quarterstaff she’s been fighting with for most of her life. Slowly, though, just like in her childhood, she mimics Kylo Ren’s use of The Force. As the fight progresses, while he loses blood and gets weaker and weaker, Rey finds her calm centre and opens herself up to The Force, becoming more powerful, more precise, and more dangerous.
If this theory is correct (and I’m not delusional enough to really believe that it is, despite how much I like it) then Rey will slowly break down the last of the mental barrier in Episode VIII. My hope is that she, along with a disillusioned Luke and grieving Leia, decides that both the Jedi and the Sith are extreme ideologies, and that her way is to walk a path between the Dark and the Light. Rey will walk a middle path, embracing the entirety of The Force instead of carving it up arbitrarily into the good bit and the bad bit.
The beauty of this is that Rey – a reborn Vader, and a second shot at redemption for Anakin Skywalker – would finally fulfill the Jedi prophecy from The Phantom Menace: she will bring balance to The Force.
I have begun a new blog, separate to this one, titled Black Odyssey. This is a metafiction project, taking the events that occur while I play the science fiction computer game Elite Dangerous and weaving them into a fictional narrative.
The inspiration for this blog was seeded when I upgraded my starting ship, the tiny Sidewinder, to the much larger and more capable Cobra Mk III. I looked around the cockpit one day, and noticed an empty copilot chair, beside where my own character was sitting. What would happen if someone could sit there? I asked myself, and the whole scenario began to grow.
It is the story of an eager young journalist named Joseph who heads out to the edge of populated space to write an article about miners being preyed upon by pirates, and bemoaning the lack of governing authority to keep them safe. Instead, he meets a foul-mouthed, slightly erratic bounty hunter, trader, and occasional smuggler named Black Marisse. She offers to let him ride along on her travels, while she explores beyond the fringes of civilisation, gets in fights with pirates, and occasionally ships a little cargo around when the mood strikes her.
While I have taken some liberties with the order of events and written in a lot of embellishment, the majority of what you read in the blog is what I am really getting up to in the game. My character in E:D is, indeed, Black Marisse, and she actually flies a purple Cobra that is affectionately nicknamed Coco. All images in the blog are screenshots from my own game.
I’m not sure where the story will go, as I am writing as I play, and the first two episodes have ended up significantly longer than I intended, owing to the need to set up a lot of the scenario and explain a lot of in-universe concepts, like how warp travel and fuel scooping work. Some of it is official Elite canon, but a lot of it is stuff I made up to dramatise the story. If I have any Elite lore wrong, please don’t kill me.
I hope you enjoy it. The story begins with the first chapter, appropriately titled Black Marisse
– DexX aka James J. Dominguez aka Jacob and Black Marisse
Google for “two sentence horror stories” and you will find some great examples, primarily this creepy-as-all-hell Reddit thread. The idea is as follows: in just two sentences, present a self-contained story that is creepy, disturbing, or downright freaky.
Being a big fan of horror, I was inspired to write my own.
“I’m in here!” I said in reply to the knock on the toilet door. It was only when the doorknob started turning that I remembered I was home alone.
Sitting up late at night at my computer, I felt suddenly paranoid, like there was someone behind me. I started to turn and look, but they whispered, “Don’t.”
“Is there a problem, officer?” I ask as I roll down the window. He rests his hand on the windowsill, and I see the blood crusted around his fingernails.
My wife screamed as the rotting, dead thing reached for her throat. I desperately wished I could save her, but those cold, dead hands were mine.
I already felt like a fool locking my keys in the car, but then I noticed the handbrake. Ever so slowly, the car was beginning to roll, down the hill, toward the playground crowded with children.
My first solo flight was going well as I climbed to ten thousand feet, but I was concerned that the fuel gauge hadn’t moved. I tapped it, and the needle unstuck, flicking straight to empty.
It was a relief to know that the mission was almost over, and she pressed the button to fire the retro thrusters and decelerate for landing. Nothing happened.
I hate the way the guy who used to bully me in high school keeps hanging around outside my house. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if I hadn’t attended his funeral last year.
I stared out the window, feeling puzzled, wondering why the moon looked so strange. That was when it blinked.
There was nothing obviously wrong with the photos: an empty old church, a deserted ballroom. How strange that they had been crowded with people when the wedding photos were taken.
“I am going to diet,” I typed into an email to my mother, then paused to take a sip of my tea. I heard the clack of a key being pressed, and looked back to see that the T had been deleted.
“Those pills you gave me didn’t make my imaginary friend go away, doctor. He’s standing behind you right now, and he says he has the right to defend himself.”
She wished she could go inside the church and join her family, but instead she just peered through the stained glass window. Despite the warped glass, she could just make out her own face in the open casket.
I was almost asleep when I heard a man’s soft voice, barely more than a whisper, say, “No, it’s not time yet!” I opened my eyes a crack and saw my three year old daughter, knife in hand, tip-toeing out of my bedroom.
“You weren’t supposed to see that,” said her kindergarten teacher, as she locked the door to her office. The girl jumped in fright, then looked back to the corpse stuffed into the cupboard, the one that looked just like her teacher.
“Darling, why did you leave me?” I cried as I knelt on my wife’s grave. “I didn’t,” she whispered into my ear.
“Your mother needs her rest now,” said the nurse as she ushered my family out of the room and closed the door. “Sleep now,” she whispered with a smile, and turned off the life support.
Ahead of her, she heard whispers, and a soft voice said, “Shh, she’s coming!” She stopped, frozen with fear, with her hand resting on the door leading into the morgue.
These two-sentence horror stories are pretty creepy, right? You’d be even more frightened if you could see what was reading them over your shoulder.
That’s all for now!
So it turns out my first proper post on my new blog is going to be all touchy-feely politically correct sociophilosophy crap. So be it. Nerdery and gaming obsessiveness will come soon, I promise.
Brianna Wu, the third big target of GamerGate, tweeted about one of the benefits she enjoyed as a child of what would appear to be wealthy parents:
When I was 20, my parents handed me $200,000 to start an animation business. I learned more from that experience than anything in college.
— Brianna Wu aka LW3 (@Spacekatgal) January 13, 2014
Being someone who now has a gigantic target painted on her back at all times, the backlash was immediate, with the following tweet being typical of the responses she received:
Steve Wright, owner and namesake of video games blog Stevivor, also added his thoughts:
This has to be a joke, right? https://t.co/jb7sLcxE8L
— Steve Wright (@stevivor) November 18, 2014
— Steve Wright (@stevivor) November 18, 2014
Two things were clear: Brianna Wu’s detractors wanted her to check her privilege, but none of them actually understand what that means. Wright even stated as much:
Okay, so I might have been
a tiny bit far too passive aggressive and snarky with Wright (I’m not proud) but hey, I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to educate. If people still don’t get privilege, despite there being countless brilliant explanations already on the internet, then fine, I’ll write my own, and you – lucky little weblog guinea pigs that you are – get to read it.
Having privilege means that something about you – your gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, or whatever else – gives you a specific advantage in life, or at least shields you from a specific type of disadvantage. There are lots of different types of privilege, and people will typically be privileged in some ways and not in others.
Look at me, for example. I’m a white man living in Australia, which automatically places me into one of the most privileged groups of human beings who have ever existed. I’m also bisexual, which would have potentially been a major disadvantage in my life a couple of decades or more ago, but it now pretty passé. This means I kind of have straight privilege and kind of don’t – being bi is a grey area in more ways than one. I’m lucky that I married a woman; if I wanted to marry my boyfriend, then things would get tougher.
The only real lack of privilege I have in my life is wealth, and even that is relative. Despite coming from a large family with little money, I still got to attend private schools and go to university. Sure, I can’t afford a fancy car or a holiday house in Byron Bay, but I can feel comfortable that I’m unlikely to be sleeping on the street any time soon.
It might sound like I have a pretty sweet deal, and I do, but I don’t feel guilty. You know why? Because privilege is good. There is not enough bolding or underlining in the world to stress that point.
Having privilege is great. Being in a position of privilege does not make you a bad person. Privilege is not something you should feel ashamed of. Hey, most of the types of privilege we have are just built-in and we couldn’t change them if we wanted to.
Having white privilege means that I won’t have racial abuse shouted at me from a passing car, or be turned down for a job because the boss thinks I look untrustworthy or that I will lower the perceived status of his business. Having male privilege means I’m far, far less likely than my female friends to be sexually harassed, raped, have my opinions ignored, be treated like my spouse is the important one and I’m just in their support network, and so on.
Now, let me be clear: being white gives me advantages in life, but it does not make me superior to non-white people. Being a man is great, and makes my life way easier, but it does not make me better than women.
How could these things make me better or more moral or admirable, though? It’s not like I chose to be male or white or cisgender. If I had the option, I certainly would – like Louis C.K. says, “If it were an option I would re-up every year!” – but the mere fact that I belong to these groups doesn’t make me a good person or a bad person. It’s just how the numbers came up in that big celestial dice roll.
So, then, what is the problem with privilege? Why do people go on about it? It’s simple, really: not everyone has it. Women don’t get access to male privilege, the vast rainbow of non-white folks don’t get access to white privilege, many trans and intersex folks miss out on cis privilege, and queer people on straight privilege.
This is why it is so important to be aware of the privilege we have. Other people who lack your privilege have had stumbling blocks thrown under their feet that you can’t even imagine. When people say “check your privilege” they are simply saying “remember”. They’re not saying your life was easy and you’ve never suffered, but simply that others may not have the same privileges you have.
This brings us around to Brianna Wu. In her $200,000 tweet, she makes it pretty clear that she enjoyed wealth privilege in her youth, at least to some degree. There’s nothing wrong with that because, that’s right, privilege is good. But why is she being told to check her privilege?
If she was being explicitly ignorant or insensitive about the challenges faced by people who had a less privileged start in life, or telling struggling start-ups to “just get money from your parents, d’uh!” then sure, she’d be ignorant of her privilege and deserving of being told to check it.
The simple fact that she enjoyed that privilege, however, and no doubt still enjoys ongoing benefits from that start in life today, does not mean she has anything to be ashamed of. God, imagine how good it would be if every talented tech start-up could get access to that kind of money. So many of the hugely talented people I know could quit their day jobs and pour their passion into their amazing projects full time if they had access to that kind of cash. It would be awesome. Note
They don’t, though, so they have to work on their amazing video games and mobile apps and other funky projects late at night or on weekends while they work jobs they hate to keep the bills paid. It sucks, but this doesn’t mean that the lucky few with a financial advantage are lazy or hypocritical or strangle kittens or whatever.
So there it is: privilege is great, but not everybody can access it, so if you have it please be considerate toward those who don’t.
Better yet, as a friend reminded me today, why not work on making everyone privileged? The more we eradicate sexism from tech and gaming, for example, the fewer barriers women working in the industry and participating in the community will have to push through.
If you’re sick of hearing about privilege all the time, that’s the one surefire way to shut us up.
– James “DexX” Dominguez
Note – I was worried this aside was going to detract from the main points about privilege, so I’ve stuck it down here in a footnote.
I’m pretty sure Wu’s tweet was simply referring to the total cost of a Bachelor’s degree in the US. Instead of dropping $200,000 in tuition and rent and textbooks and whatnot over several years to send a student to a top university for three to four years, she suggests that a lump sum to start a business may be an alternative to consider. The outlay would be similar, but Wu’s opinion seems to be that the real world experience she gained in her unsuccessful start-up was more beneficial to her than what she learned in her degree.
If my interpretation is correct, then that means the same anger being directed at Wu could justifiably be directed at anyone who got an Ivy League degree in the US. Regardless of how or where the money was spent, it was still spent on setting them up for the future. So go on, go yell at your tech heroes for daring to have degrees.
So, here’s the new site.
A tad plain, isn’t it?
The reason this blog is so spartan is that I decided the right time to launch my own blog was right in the middle of video game peak season, when I have absolutely no spare time at all. I should be playing a game right now. Hear that low buzz in the background? Shh, listen… there… hear it? That’s my constant background guilt for not doing the things I feel like I should be doing.
Truth be told, launching my own blog (and my own brand, if you will) is an important job that, quite frankly, is at least three years overdue. I’ve had friends urging me for years to launch a central repository of my writing – links to my work published in other sites, news about appearances in print media, and maybe the odd original post from time to time.
That idea has evolved into the blog that you, one of the six people in the world who are interested in the things I have to say, are reading right now. I will certainly be linking to work published elsewhere, but this will also be a convenient place to publish work that simply didn’t work for other outlets. I will also publish long-form work that was edited into shorter forms for other publications.
In addition, as a special treat, I will be dumping stream-of-consciousness rants on whatever topic has me riled up today. Politics, religion, art, culture, whatever catches my fancy, all will be fair game.
Oh, as this is my site and I don’t have to adhere to others’ editorial standards, I will probably say “fuck” a lot, too. You have been warned.