I don’t know how to pitch. While I have pitched articles in the past, successfully and not, I have found that what usually ends up being sent out reads more like a personal note, introducing myself, and talking about something about which I am super excited. As someone who has never made a successful living wage off writing, I honestly cannot ascertain whether this is an appropriate approach (given that my pitching and writing have often been delayed by both a lack of self-confidence driven by depression), but since my work was recently featured in Five Out of Ten, I figured I would give some insight into what I pitched there, as I find the topic itself fascinating.
So, if you are unfamiliar, Five Out of Ten is a magazine about the culture surrounding games, interested in critical talk about not only the games themselves, but their fit into the society in which they live. From my understanding, it’s aimed to give someone who’s not very familiar with games an entry point for discussion and food for thought. I cannot say whether it’s been successful, largely because those who are my friends and to whom I introduce such to, even if they aren’t people who play games, are interested in that discussion already, and have a place from which to engage.
So, as to what I pitched:
My name is Denis, and I have been writing about games for a few years. Below please find a representative sample of my work (which should tell you more about me than any words I could put here):
The last of those is perhaps of most interest, as I wish to write a feature exploring what exactly gender means in a digital world. When we are given the choice of choosing our character’s creation, gender does find its way there, and it limits us in interesting ways that tell us quite a bit about how we view gender itself. Which is a bit daft, isn’t it? Excepting a few games (and of particular, recently), the gender really seems to have little to no effect. I don’t ever see my digital penis, vagina, or whatever genital configuration I may have, and yet it seems my gender and sex must always align, yet when I am asked my gender, it always refers to my sex. So it seems a bit silly to make me go through these rigid gender binaries.
Which is why I want to write a piece not only exploring gender in a digital age where my genitals don’t matter, but to take it a step further and look at how this systemic boundary frees me in how I can view sex and break those definitions entirely. Who says I am a woman? The fact that I say I am? So do drag queens, and I would write a diary-like feature from the perspective of a drag queen and king (why should only one gender have all the fun?) going through a few character generators, making pointed comments that hopefully illuminate how much symbolism we put in even the most physical of attributes we give our characters. Ideally, it would make a larger comment about how our genital configuration only matters in the rarest of circumstances (depending on how much one enjoys sex with varying partners), and that the entire face of gender should be however the person wishes to express themselves, and how games offer a perfect teaching moment.
The types of games I wish to explore would include at least one MMO (I am thinking either Star Wars or Guild Wars 2), one RPG (one Bethesda and one BioWare, preferably), and then Sims 3. The idea would be to keep it light and entertaining, free of jargon, but still making an overall point of the entire idea of coding gender is very telling of how we see gender in real life, despite the fact that it can be as mutable as sex for some people.
My piece did not really end up like the diary I imagined. One, I had done it with Pokémon and as Erik Hanson of Gamers With Jobs can attest, that was often not on time because it required not only my critically thinking about what I had encountered in the game (viewed through a lens of subverting gender), but treating it as a creative endeavor. Two, the second piece I was being asked to write asked me to contemplate a current issue in games and offer a Player’s Guide, so to speak, to understanding the issue. My pitch for that?
The current games landscape is no the games community with which I grew up. I grew up playing games with my mother, and all of her online friends, who were women, black, gay, bi, and every stripe of diversity you could imagine. We did not call each other faggot, we supported each other, and when I came out, my first forays into such were in an MMO, because I felt safe (further making an argument for MMOs as a place to discover our identities by reinventing ourselves). Depending on how personal a piece would be acceptable, I could trace my interactions with online games, from BBS staples, to MUDs I later dialed into, to the earliest MMOs and how that progression has changed over the years.
This took MMOs out of the consideration of my main piece.
Now, it just so happened that I managed to win a copy of XCOM from Bit Creature around that time, so it was heavily on my mind, especially as I did end up playing it using drag conventions. My male soldiers were named after female games people, my female soldiers named after the male games people. It being fresh on my mind, I used it as a jumping off point, then referenced my experiences with Pokémon, and continued on with The Sims and making larger statements about gender and beauty constructs in games. I addressed both men and women, largely because while I can speak about how we sexualize women, I know from experience how the ideal male shape has shaped my own perceptions, especially as someone who sees his presentation ranging the gamut from butch to femme and places beyond quite frequently (the author picture I provided Alan can be used for reference).
The second piece came out pretty much how I expected, however. In some ways, it feels like pieces I’ve written before, but weaving them together and making an argument from a different angle. EA recently had an LGBT meeting where they discussed, among other topics, how toxic the online environment can be. It’s honestly what keeps me from many games, because I have no patience for others’ obstinance and poor behavior. Therefore, while I discussed gender, and my own love of playing around with it, the second piece is far more personal, as someone who grew up as a teenager playing various games in the BBS/MUD/MMO space. I love the genre, and yet I hate what it can become.
So, there you have that pitch. I like what I wrote, and I feel glad to be featured along some truly excellent pieces (honestly, I had never thought specifically that way about fate, videogames, and tragedy; we do need more pieces exploring gender and sexism in series like Silent Hill; and there’s plenty more to munch and chew on). If you’d like a copy, please go ahead and buy one; the funding model is such that the contributors split the proceeds (minus operation costs), so in a way, you’ll be directly funding my work.