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Updated: Laralyn McWilliams recently contacted me to confirm timeline details within this post. The uncensored post was only released after Josh Mattingly publicly apologized for his actions, and to her knowledge nothing was omitted from the conversation in the process of it being passed along to her. The decision to release the image of the conversation came only after a discussion about doing so with the unnamed developer involved. McWilliams also said that the relationship between Mattingly and the unnamed developer was confined to "a couple dev gatherings."
Original: A week ago I didn't know who Josh Mattingly was. I knew of the site Indiestatik, and had even perused its editorial offerings, but I wasn't familiar with him or his work in any way. I still haven't read any of his writing, nor do I know much more about him now than I did before I knew his name. What I do know is I'm rather dissatisfied with the ways in which a lot of people I respect chose to react to the mistake Mattingly made.
Since most people aren't going to be familiar with the story, I'll start by giving a bit of background and do my best to provide only what is known as a starting point. On Jan. 18, Mattingly contacted a female game developer on Facebook looking for a scoop on another studio's project. The conversation turned sexually vulgar rather quickly, so vulgar that I'll refer those interested in the actual conversation to a Kotaku story on the topic and leave it at that. The conversation came into the possession of developer Laralyn McWilliams roughly a day later, and was released via Twitter with the identity of the two parties involved obscured. At some point after the conversation was initially made public Kotaku, or an unnamed third party, confirmed the identity of the journalist as Josh Mattingly, founder of indie game publication Indiestatik. Mattingly responded to Kotaku's request for a response, and later posted an apology to his personal blog in which he cited a combination of alcohol, depression and poor judgement as factors.
A slight bit more information can be gleaned from what we've seen so far, and while none of it can be definitively proven there is at least some evidence suggesting it. Despite McWilliams' claims that her source had no personal relationship with Mattingly, there does seem to be some semblance of a rapport between the two of them - at one point the developer asks Mattingly if he's drunk, a factor Mattingly later attributed to his actions and something that probably wouldn't be caught by a complete stranger in a conversation on the internet.
It's also fair to point out, however, that the unnamed developer appears to be deflecting when Mattingly gets rather vulgar. It's entirely possible that he made her feel uncomfortable and she joked past it due to a desire to avoid conflict. Along that same line, the conversation in question occurred through Facebook's messaging system. In order to obtain images of the conversation, they would have had to have been given to McWilliams by one of the two parties involved. Since Mattingly clearly didn't out himself, that would mean the unknown developer might have felt uncomfortable enough to speak through McWilliams. It's also possible that the conversation was passed on to McWilliams, who then took it upon herself to make an example of Mattingly without the approval of the other person involved.
The responses are also time stamped, and show that Mattingly continued the conversation until at least 6 a.m. the next day. Unfortunately, tracking the time stamps also shows a significant leap in time of about seven hours, making it impossible to tell the extent to which the conversation continued throughout the night leading up to Mattingly's absurdly vulgar final message - if it did at all. If this was the drunken outburst Mattingly claims it was, then it's duration certainly speaks volumes about how serious an alcohol problem he could possibly have. Without a contiguous image of the conversation, it's impossible to tell what may have been edited out by the people presenting the conversation for scrutiny though. If McWilliams did decide to make an example of Mattingly, its entirely possible that the edits the image has clearly undergone were made to remove context that could present him in a less negative light.
The conversation is unquestionably vulgar though and, regardless of the inconclusive information on Mattingly's relation with the other person and his inebriation, it was almost certainly inappropriate for the topic being discussed. Mattingly deserves to face the repercussions of his actions, and shouldn't get to skate out of the public consciousness without dealing with the hole he dug himself. Adam Orth lost his job over much less offensive material. What Mattingly did was unacceptable, and should be dealt with as such.
As a day's worth of tweets rolled in, however, I found myself focusing less and less on what Mattingly had done. My disgust with the content of Mattingly's Facebook messages was replaced with a disgust at how people I respected within the industry responded. I watched as they bashed Mattingly personally, displayed incredulity in responses to his potential alcoholism and depression, and wallowed in backhanded sexism. In the end, I was more upset with the mob mentality of well meaning individuals than I was that Mattingly had potentially acted like a vulgar misogynist in the midst of a night of hard drinking.
There are a few things that I think need to be set straight. Defining a person by one bad moment is ignorant. Mattingly's actions were vulgar and unacceptable, but they do not provide enough information to judge who he is as a human being. Acting as if they do is just as unacceptable as what he said. Few, if any, of the people I saw had reason to be in contact with Mattingly. More likely than not, no one speaking about how vile a person he is have ever met him. As someone who has been the victim of hateful comments made by people who don't know me, people whose only exposure to me was something twisted out of context in an ad hominem counter to an argument someone couldn't legitimate rebuke, I take that seriously. I was sent death threats when someone decided to quote me out of context and suggest I was sexist. I can only imagine the filth that impressionable, overzealous followers of some fairly popular people had to say to Mattingly. It was probably worse than anything Mattingly had to say in that Facebook conversation.
Trivializing his potential alcoholism and depression is also absurdly disrespectful and inappropriate - and I speak specifically on this point because I saw at least one member of the gaming press speaking as if their own personal level of self control while drinking was enough to judge Mattingly's character based on his. Everyone responds differently to something like alcohol, suggesting that one person's level of control over their actions following a bout of heavy drinking can be used judge the moral character of another based on their actions in a similar situation is logically bankrupt in almost every way possible. It's insulting, and to more than just Mattingly.
Lastly, insisting that what Mattingly said is a problem because he is a man saying those things to a woman is dehumanizing and sexist. It degrades both parties involved by reducing their identity to their physical characteristics. It suggests that sexual harassment is only a problem when a woman is the victim. More importantly, it ignores that both parties are people deserving of being treated like people.
I don't want to see Mattingly face the repercussions of what he's done because he is a man who sexually harassed a woman. I want that because he's a person who sexually harassed another person. I don't want to conflate the definition of sexual harassment with the sexes and genders of the people involved, because that would mean confining sexual harassment to its socially normative definition when, in reality, it encompasses so many other types of verbal and psychological abuse committed by and against so many different types of people. I don't want the unnamed developer to be able to go about her every day life, to interact with people who love the games of the industry she works in as much as she does, because she is a woman working in an environment that is often hostile to women. I want that because she's a person, and she deserves to do what she loves without fear of ridicule from other people - man, woman or otherwise.
What the video game industry needs, is to start helping people. Not women. Not gay, lesbian, transgender or *** members of the community. People. It needs to quit promoting people because of their physical traits, and start promoting them because they are doing something unique and special. More than any other medium, video games have the power to obfuscate the identities of the people who make them. If we can't treat everyone in this industry like people, if we get caught up in helping a marginalized person only because of the trait for which they are marginalized, then there's no damn point in even trying in the first place.