[Updated] Uh-oh! The Mary Sue Caught Red Handed
A pseudonymous writer at The Mary Sue has revealed that the website published factually incorrect content, with limited editorial oversight. The only credential they offered? Being a feminist critic.
Update 02/03/2016: In lieu of an official response to my request for comment, The Mary Sue have since retracted both Sandy Beaches articles published, saying:
Editor’s Note: It has been brought to our attention that the personal accounts and opinions in this piece were fabricated, so it has been removed. We apologize for the confusion this may have caused.
Thank you to Reddit user u/SixtyFours on r/KotakuInAction for the heads up. I will continue to post updates as they come.
In the last two months feminist pop-culture and media website The Mary Sue commissioned and ran articles by the pseudonymous ‘Sandy Beaches’, an Australian video games writer by the name of Mark Ankucic. Yesterday Ankucic revealed himself and claimed that his character Beaches was in fact fabricated in an attempt to expose the complete disregard certain facets of the modern media have for fact-finding and ethics. The New York-based website, which describes itself as “A Guide to Geek Girl Culture” has come under fire before for producing sensationalist ‘click-bait’ on video games’ controversial topics.
If you have followed Gamergate closely you may remember Mark as the guy who wrote a Medium blog passionately describing how he was fired for his views on the controversy. According to Ankucic, before he was fired he was “at every gaming launch, had my own fairly successful site (dustycartridge.com), had a team of writers under me, wrote (what I thought, at least) was interesting and unique content,” a pretty average writer’s experience. Since developing his Beaches persona for The Mary Sue, the articles he wrote in “30 minutes” have blown up, receiving over 1,000 shares on Facebook. However, the biggest source of surprise Ankucic says was that people believed his flagrant lies.
Despite the fact I’ve gone out of my way to make every point as ludicrous as possible, there are people who agree with Sandy.
If the fact that a popular website published blatant lies and deliberate sensationalism from an anonymous, un-vetted source, wasn’t chilling enough; they went one worse. According to Ankucic, the editor who responded to him and okay’ed Beaches’ piece titled ‘Can They Remake Final Fantasy VIIWithout the Sexism?’ took issue with one of the articles anecdotes. However, the copy in question was not pulled up for having a logical flaw or poor grammar but was instead pulled up for not going far enough. Ankucic claims that the majority of the editing process was involved in playing up the hysteria in the piece.
Yet the editor asked me to change it, and was delighted at the body-shaming, sexist, flat-out despicable copy I provided in its place. My reaction on first being asked to change it was ‘mildly amused’, and after vomiting out the new work, felt sick, actually sick, at what was to be accepted in its place.
Gamergate has long had a bone to pick with the media. On the one hand, they are frustrated with how unwilling journalists have been to actually investigate the controversy and report their findings objectively. On the other, they are furious with agenda driven commentary on video games. The Mary Sue’s case falls into both categories of grievance. You have a publication deliberately sensationalising its editorial content to further a narrative, forgoing any vetting process when commissioning freelance copy, and publishing work with no fact-finding or sourcing. It truly beggars belief.
Another more contentious grievance Gamergate holds with the press is its coverage of threats made toward feminist and video games icons such as Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Zoe Quinn. Ankucic commented on the fact that his persona Sandy Beaches received no harassment as it would traditionally be defined, but was instead name called and told they were wrong.
In light of how baffling the situation is, I got in touch with Mark and asked if he had anything further to add, and whether he could clarify his intentions in assuming the feminist critic persona. I also asked if he could verify his credentials.
His response followed:
So I did it for the lulz, to see if I could do it, and because I
wanted to leave a flag in the notion that we shouldn’t believe
everything we read, nor assume it’s genuineness, nor let our own
predilections and desires get the better of us in our pursuit of
There was no fallout post my firing. People in the Oz gaming scene
were actually quite supportive.
If I had actually been Sandy, I would not be able to recommend the
editor for TMS more highly. She was lovely to work with.
Aus, sydney, and I just tweeted a photo from Sandy Beaches twitter
account with my face in it.
I would like to thank Mark for getting back to me so quickly and for being so frank. It is refreshing to see activism of this kind targeting journalistic impropriety. The Mary Sue has also been contacted for comment. This post will be updated to reflect any response from their staff.