In addition to publishing The Escapist, I serve as president of the Triangle Game Initiative, commonly called "TGI", a not-for-profit trade association that promotes the video game industry in North Carolina. While as publisher for The Escapist, I largely communicate with game developers, game journalists and advertisers, my work with TGI has taken me into a broader circle of relations - economic developers, politicians, small businessmen and Fortune 500 executives.
Recently I was invited to a TGI business lunch with one of the region's leading sales executive, ostensibly to discuss how the region's game engine sales could benefit from enterprise software sales practices. I asked how he'd found out about my role at TGI and he said, "I heard you speak at the Chamber of Commerce, and you were very articulate... for a gamer."
It's true. I am well spoken. Unfortunately, praise, like everything in business, is often double-edged, and "articulate" is particularly so.
Denotatively, articulate simply means "characterized by the use of clear, expressive language." In recent years however, it's acquired unwanted connotations. It has become a loaded phrase; some even call it a racist phrase. You might recall that Vice President Joseph Biden got into hot water a couple years ago for saying Barack Obama was "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate..." Flumesday explains, "When a white person calls a black person 'articulate,' there is an underlying assumption that this black person is an anomaly or special." In short: Singling out Obama as articulate backhandedly singles out other blacks as inarticulate.
So in being called "articulate," was my lunch colleague singling out other gamers as inarticulate? Well, duh: It's pretty hard to read the "... for a gamer" disclaimer as anything other than singling out the rest of our tribe as inarticulate louts. (Sorry, guys.)
I'd laugh this off, except it's not an isolated incident. In another example, I was recently invited to speak on how video games were contributing to the growth of the creative class in our region. When I inquired as to key points I should touch on, I was asked to "just talk about what gaming is all about. Most people think of dragons, and stuff like that... But you have an interesting background coming from Harvard Law. How did you get interested in gaming with a law degree? You don't have the 'image' of a gamer with long hair and body art."
Unpack that comment and it says "why would someone with a degree from Harvard Law waste their time working in videogames?" It also says "you're very clean cut... for a gamer." (Or perhaps "you're not very cool... for a gamer," depending on whether you appreciate long hair and body art, I suppose.)
Or consider this recent email I got from a fellow lobbyist, telling me that I needed to understand how trivial my industry is: "You really need to understand some cold hard facts. Cutting edge, economy changing technology the game industry is not." (No, my colleague is not Yoda, though talk that way he does sometimes.)