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March 24
2014

Pro-Tip: Progressive Advocacy in the Games Industry is DIY

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You read about something. You get mad about it. Then, you are doused with a heavy cold shower of, “why complain now? We’ve been doing this shit for years!”

Turn now to the blog of Melissa Bennett, M.Div. In a recent entry, she posts her correspondence with Gary Lin, CEO of glispa GmbH. Mr. Lin’s company is a “performance marketing platform” with clients such as: Nexon Europe, InnoGames, Kongregate, Gaijin Entertainment, Hasbro, Wargaming.net, Konami, Warner Home Video, Toys R Us, Kabam, DeNA, Sega, Riot Games, and more. The issue at first glance is a culturally insensitive display at GDC, which leads to a deeper discussion of appropriation throughout the culture of glispa itself.

Bennett identifies deeply with the diverse range of Native American cultures her family represents. So, a fire to write is rekindled in her when she spots a Facebook post from her friend, Elizabeth LaPensée. LaPensée is an industry professional whose “work addresses Indigenous determination in video games, animation, and web comics.” In the Facebook post, we see a picture of the glispa booth at GDC with a tipi. In front are two attractive women striking a pose in traditional Halloween buckskin attire. They’re all smiles, and why shouldn’t they be? The multicultural team of glispa represents 33 different countries and 23 different languages. Despite the fact that none of the corporate offices listed on the company’s website are actually in the United States, you’re welcome to call, email or send a “smoke signal” their way.

YetiZen's avid gamers who just happen to be models

YetiZen’s avid gamers who just happen to be models

Presumably, neither Bennett nor LaPensée carry the weight of industry veteran, Brenda Romero. Romero aired a complaint against YetiZen, last year, which had such gravitas that it launched a mass exodus from the IGDA. In that case, YetiZen, which is headed by Sana Choudary who is a female immigrant from Kuwait and Pakistan, infamously produced a party featuring avid gamers (who as a matter of fact happened to be models). It was the second time YetiZen ran afoul of Romero. Choudary recalls Romero’s response to the first incident, the previous year:

“After our party last year Brenda Romero personally called us and threatened to Personally call all of YetiZen’s mentors, advisors, and investors and tell them to quit their support of YetiZen. She did not attend the party last year or this year.”

Following Melissa Bennett’s submission of her grievance to glispa, CEO Gary Lin responds with an almost form letter defense. Lin is Chinese-American from the midwest with many Native American friends. He is “surprised” that no one is complaining about other GDC attending companies who depict nations tearing each other apart with war. Despite having founded glispa over a decade ago, Bennett’s is the first complaint in kind that he’s ever received:

“Hi Melissa,

I founded the company in the US over a decade ago and this is the first time I have received such a complaint.  I am a Chinese-American and understand the sensitivities around race and culture fully.  I was born in the midwest and have many Native American friends.  The name glispa comes from Navajo mythology and we have adopted many of the values of Native American culture in our company philosophy.  In the beginning some of these teachings were the driving principles behind the company philosophy.  We had no intention of offending anyone and “racist” is a strong remark.  While the depiction may not be accurate, we all stem from indigenous people and cultures.  Our company currently has over 35 nationalities and teams recognize the tribes from where they were born.  We celebrate the differences as well as the blending of these roots.  I apologize if this has been misinterpreted and I wish you would have formally contacted us before spreading your complaint around.  I’m surprised that no one has complained about the other companies at this event who show scenes of different nations killing one another in war depictions – but I guess this is a gaming conference.

Gary (Gary Lin CEO glispa GmbH)”

Excerpt of glispa's "six commandments"

Excerpt of glispa’s “six commandments”

Ten years and Bennett’s complaint is singular among all the eyes that have passed over glispa’s website. Her complaint is singular among all the companies that have shared correspondence with glispa. These companies include start-ups and industry giants as listed in the lead. The corporate culture of glispa is guided by six commandments, which are quote nebulously attributed (if at all) to tribes or the proudest nation of all, “Unknown.” The tag line for glispa is that the company is your “online rainmaker.” The analogy it draws is that Native Americans have a sacred ritual for rain to ensure crop growth. Well, just replace scared rituals with “talent and technology” and crops with profits. And what a rain dance glispa does for itself, January of this year heralded record growth for the company making it #1 in performance marketing in Germany. It’s curious to me that with the 33 countries and 23 different languages his team represents, Lin would choose such a Frankenstein creation of Native American culture to be the core of his company for over ten years.

My response to this as a Native American who has worked with my Tribe for cultural and historical preservation is one of intense frustration. As a member of this community in general, my take away is that despite the number of friends and advocates we have in this industry; it’s not enough. We continue to learn more about the world and how it works. Each day brings a revelation of how much wrong there is. We can’t rely on a small cadre of progressive individuals to constantly carry the banner for us. Native American representation needs to pass through Native American eyes, ears and voices. The same rule applies for each community: women, gender and sexual minorities, nationalities, ethnicities, and so on. And it should all happen on an individual level. It is your choice to respond to problems either as a consumer or a professional. Don’t be afraid to be the first to speak, or you may spend your life waiting.

Melissa Bennett, M.Div. and Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D.

Melissa Bennett, M.Div. and Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D.

At the end of Bennett’s post, she opts not to reply to Lin’s “unapologetic apologies.” Instead, she writes to me and the members of Indian Country. Her message, however, is one that I would share with all of you.

I want you to know I love you because we don’t hear it enough. Because we don’t feel it enough. Because too often we find ourselves frustrated, angry, disappointed, and broken-hearted. Because too often, in this world where once we were the majority and now we are less than a minority, our voices are lost.

We all feel, at one time, down or lost. We feel that our voice does not matter. We all wait for at least one person to say, “I love you.” And I want to say to Melissa and Elizabeth, I hear you. I love you for your work. And, let us all stay vigilant in fighting for ourselves and our communities.

Via: Dear Indian Country

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About Jean-Luc Pierite

People from gaymer boards usually know me as Neshoba. I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and my life started in front of a Commodore 64 keyboard. Through the generations, I carried his love of gaming on through a Game Design degree from Full Sail in Orlando, FL. After graduating, I freelanced as an interface designer in the SF Bay Area. In between playing, reading and writing about games, I'm an Internet Marketing Specialist. Likes: ninja turtles, handheld gaming, and Olive Garden.

2 Responses

  1. avatar The_French_Guy says:

    Eeech… yeah i despise Cultural appropriation. A case i saw way too many time that makes me cringe is With the Sak Yant Tatoos (sometimes jsut called Yantra tattoos). It’s a Thai Buddhist tattoo that protects you from evil spirits and bad luck harm that requires a pilgrimage and to be marked by a monk after performing a mass ritual. Some people in Thailand do it just once in their life, others have their entire body covered from head to toes. It’s really is part of their culture there and cannot be mocked that easily.

    …then i moved in SF and there it was… on display in a regular old tattoo shop in the missions owned by piercing white tattoo parlor-men. I just can’t describe my anger…
    White liberals, man. They hurt a lot!

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