When I was a child, I lived in a smaller town. We were poor and my mother couldn't go out easily. The curtains were always closed because of the neighborhood we lived in. Other than school and occasionally places to run errands, I wasn't able or allowed to go anywhere else. We didn't have the internet back then at all, and at first there was only even one TV. It felt dark and claustrophobic living like that. I didn't know what it was that I wanted, because I had never known anything else. But even as a very small child, I felt stifled. Besides looking at the sky and my mother herself, I honestly didn't find comfort in that much.

But when my mother would read me stories, these places would appear in my mind, more vivid than any life I had known. It made me feel happy and at peace. Then, I learned to read. And I never stopped. The places I visited, the lives I experienced, the emotions I felt…It illuminated my empty world in vibrant colors. I read and read simply because I wanted to escape my life and experience so many others. I wanted the knowledge as well. I wanted to understand other people and see what they saw.

I learned about people and places and relationships and things I never would have been able to for myself. I learned about the human experience and what mattered to me. All from the safety of my home. Then, I discovered video games, a different and yet also powerful form of the same thing. Anime came along, too. I was able to experience these epic stories and lives and learn about what really mattered in life. I eventually got a little radio for free and listened to it non-stop. I heard music in colors and felt its energy in my emotions, and it also became a comfort.

Without realizing it, I had colored my entire life with the arts. Filled my empty soul with emotions. I couldn't go out or buy fancy things, but I could experience things beyond imagining all because of the arts.

I became interested in playing music, drawing, writing, read up on game development, followed my favorite voice actors. I became passionate about engaging about these things and involved with other artists. Then the Internet came along. I joined my first fandom and met one of my oldest friends. It was so fun and not so lonely anymore, finally having someone to talk to about what I loved.

But I discovered many negative things about the Internet too. I realized that fandom could be fun, but many people ruined the experience for others. I eventually became a moderator on several forums because I wanted to help. As time went on, I saw the Internet change and fandom get worse and worse. It became easier and easier to reach out to artists and tell them how they'd changed your life. But it also became easier for people to be mean to them, or demand them to change their work.

I saw the things I loved and understood get torn about so callously and carelessly by random people on the Internet who could have no idea how hard that creator worked on their work. I saw so many toxic behaviors as small fandoms grew to large ones and eventually I shut myself away in my own corner, just trying to make a few friends and enjoy things by myself.

But then words started reaching creators themselves. They were being pressured into making changes. One of the worst I ever saw was the Blizzard forums and game fan communities in general. It was a nightmare just stepping foot onto those forums full of people demanding change and insulting the creators.

I hated seeing them talk to the game developers any kind of way they wanted, while the game developers were expected to meekly answer back, and fans grew angry if they didn't. I withdrew from all of that until I started my own game company. I began to experience that behavior, albeit on a smaller scale, throughout our individual releases.

Firsthand, I was able to experience how draining it was just to create, and then how people acted as if they owned you just because they bought your work. At the same time, I had just gotten into K-pop. The fandom culture there is entirely another beast in how it's organized and actually a huge thing to the artists too… To the point that fan service is a huge part of their jobs.

But in the same token, I would say it isn't really so different from game development communities. It's just dressed up prettier. In the end, I still saw exhausted people I cared about killing themselves for their art, while having to put on a nice face and speak meekly to their fans.

I didn't think I was going to make it, but we eventually learned to keep some distance between us and fans for our own sanity. Although rare, I saw other artists establishing boundaries and that made me realize we could, too.

And then I got a good look around and realized that a lot of artists wouldn't be able to do this. That they might not make it out of this without quitting or their health failing. That not everyone had the ability to just step back from their fans and say “I need some space.” And it bothered me to say the least. I saw toxic environments everywhere growing more toxic by the day, and more and more artists talking about the toll creating took on their life.

I thought, “If it wasn't for art, I wouldn't be alive right now. So many people wouldn't. Artists bring happiness to so many people, but so rarely are able to find it for themselves. There are so many artists in need and not all of them have control of their own lives. Things need to change or these tragedies will only continue? Who will change things?”

I looked around and didn't see anyone fighting for that change. I myself experienced backlash even trying to talk about it. It became clear to me that this was a mentality deeply ingrained in societies across the world itself. The concept that one with talents should share them freely “for the people.” But art was being manufactured in a capitalist world, being defined under capitalist values. And all of this combined is what was killing artists, figuratively and literally.

“Who will change things?” Change can't be done alone, but I felt it was my responsibility to try and start it. I've had to see people I love suffer endlessly at the hands of this culture, which is perpetuated by both artist companies and their fans. And so, as both a fan and artist, and someone who has loves and works in all forms as art, as well as someone who is passionate about protecting those who need it, I felt it was my duty to become an advocate for change in the arts.

So that's my story, as someone who wants to protect the integrity of all that's good and beautiful in this world and spread understanding. I think these things are all required if we want a world where instead of hate and prejudice, love and acceptance is fostered. I believe art is integral to spreading those positive values and changing society for the better. Let's help support and protect our artists and give them the freedom and environment they need in order create as they were born to do. ‘


- Ajané