From the mail bag: Mostly fail, with a little win on the side

Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve been lazy this week. After my fast-and-furious post-GenCon posting spree, I needed a bit of a rest. And sure, posts like this are a bit of a cop-out, but I promise I’ll make it up to you next week with a new gender swap.

Anyhow, during the last week people have been sending me a lot of stuff to look at, and much of it was stuff I thought deserved attention and/or ridicule. So let the mocking commence!

In which entitled gamers put their privilege on display

Now it may have escaped your notice – as it did mine – that there is a video game in development called Lollipop Chainsaw that features a scantily-clad chainsaw-wielding cheerleader named Juliet who kills zombies:

Oh, hey look. It’s a scantily clad nubile young woman who will kill lots of stuff while wearing next to nothing. A thinly veiled platform for a combination of fanservice and violence – how original! Unsurprisingly, some people have taken exception to such a ridiculous character and pointed out that this game concept just might be a little sexist. Which is where gamer entitlement comes in.

Sure, Juliet isn’t exactly the most tasteful portrayal of a woman, but who cares? She’s a character in a video game that boasts an absolutely ridiculous premise. Are the actions of a fictitious girl truly detrimental to the image of females everywhere?

Ah, right. The “it’s just fantasy” argument. Yes, because really – everyone knows that humans are completely independent creatures and are never influenced by any of the media they consume ever. EVAR. End of story.

Perhaps we should focus our attention not on a video game character, but on real men and women that are sending the wrong messages, or even parents that let their children leave the house dressed like Paris Hilton. Turn on the MTV, or just about any channel these days, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Video games are the least of our worries.

Yes, because sexism in video games is such a trivial concern and don’t we have more important things to worry about? There are starving children in Africa, people. Since it is inherently true that people are incapable of caring about more than one kind of injustice simultaneously, being bothered by sexism in gaming reveals what a petty and shallow person I am for taking time away from being sad about starving children, war refugees, and sad puppies. Clearly, I am a terrible person.

Moving on…

Exhibit B begins with this article over on IGN by Emma Boyes asking whether LA Noire is sexist. It’s a pretty thoughtful and objective piece, definitely free of the vitriol and hyperbole that I like to fling around over here. She makes some pretty good points, and if anything understates how sexist the game industry itself is. Overall, it’s a pretty solid piece that is only minimally controversial, in that a woman dared to accuse teh awesome menz at RockStar of being sexist.

But you’d never guess that from the comments, which are a veritable tidal wave of scorn and entitlement:

They should have had a main, woman character in LA Noire. Her duty: to better LA from HQ, the kitchen, one sandwich at a time. LOL

its supposed to be a 50s cop show procedural as a videogame. they were sexist back then so YES… is ign writing articles sheerly for the sake of asking stupid questions?

IGN gets more and more retarded every day

who wrote this article? – a women . . .

…and so on and so forth.

But then, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised since this is IGN, the website that has a dedicated “Babeology” section of their site:

Charming.

Stupid visuals

I’ve raged plenty of times here about the stupidity of “play now” advertisements for free MMOs. Well, this one takes that stupidity to an impressive level.

Nothing too unusual here. We’ve got gravity-defying sphere-boobs the size of her head. Her “corset” must also be made of some very hard metal to contain those titanic breasts of hers, because there’s no way that a construction of mere cloth and leather could contain breasts that large and that gravity-defying. Now I will admit that her anatomy (aside from the ridiculous breasts) looks like it might be physically attainable… by a vanishingly small percentage of the human population. However, the ridiculous bikini is… well… ridiculous. And let’s not overlook that the key phrase of the ad describing the game is RIGHT OVER HER CROTCH.

And now for the win

So first up, a bit of visual win to counter the visual fail:

These are character class designs from the upcoming Namco/Bandai title – Dark Souls. And I feel like I literally cannot express how much I love these designs and want this game to be a good game. I mean, holy shit, people! The women are wearing exactly the same outfits as the men. THE SAME. When does that happen? Never. Or almost never. I’m over the moon.

For that matter, I’m delighted that the one class that does run around naked has the male iteration just as naked as the female. Equal opportunity nudity. I love it! So please, Namco/Bandai, for the love of god – I’m begging you! Don’t fuck this up!

Lastly, I’m going to link to my new favorite thing on the internet since Boobs Don’t Work That Way – a new tumblr devoted entirely to pictures of women fighters in reasonable armor. It’s a delightful collection of images of female fighters in totally badass and not sexualized armor. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

[And that’s enough of that. Next time – gender swap!]

Guest Post: A primer on internet anonymity

[I realize I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to finish my series of posts about GenCon before posting thing… There’s been a flap lately over anonymity on the internet – inflamed most recently by Google+’s Real Names policy. This isn’t the first time this debate has erupted – Blizzard’s RealID policy was another instance of this argument. Since anonymity can be important in activist circles, feminism included, I wanted to post about this issue – but I figured that everyone else out there has pretty much said everything I’d say about the importance of being able to choose anonymity in social networking.

Enter my friend, Aaron, who made a comment on G+ about “some day” writing a primer on internet anonymity. Internet anonymity isn’t exactly in line with the focus of this blog, but it’s not completely tangential – so I challenged Aaron to write the primer so I could post it here. Thankfully, he was kind enough to do so.]

I told Wundergeek that I’d whip something like this up because, as she said in reply to a rant of mine RE: google+ and their Real Name policy, it might be of interest to people in activist/feminist circles. I’m a person of limited talents, but I think this can actually do some good for someone.

Intro

So you want to be anonymous and safe online or with your fancy computin’ machine? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can’t. Not 100%. It just isn’t possible for the average person.

*sadtrombone*

However, good news everyone!

You can, with a bit of forethought and some knowledge reduces your risks greatly. Really, when security experts (and leet haxxorz) talk about being anonymous, they’re talking about reducing the risk someone will be caught at thing X as much as possible by controlling and minimizing what tracks they leave and/or by making finding them or their data so ridiculously complicated and expensive no one will really bother.

Warning!

None of my proceeding suggestions are fool proof. Nor do you have to use all of them. I figured I’d give a bunch of topics because it’s all basically related and you can mix and match the suggestions for whatever your anonymity needs might be.

Also, for the other IT folks out there, I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of this. You may think I skip over things or don’t go in-depth enough. To that I say this little article isn’t for you. This is the “good enough guide” if you will. Feel free to disagree with me if you’d like. I don’t really care. I’ll only mea culpa up in here if I’m actually, factually wrong.

The Three Basics

For the average user with access to average user resources, there are three points of anonymity that most people need to concern themselves with:

  • Internet Anonymity
  • File/Data Anonymity
  • Network Anonymity

Sure there are other points to touch on, but these are the big three I’m going to discuss.

Also, there is one BIG FAT CONCEPT that should be understood over ANYTHING ELSE:

IF SOMETHING YOU’RE DOING ONLINE REQUIRES ANONYMITY, ALWAYS TAKE ACTIONS KNOWING THAT NOTHING YOU DO IS 100% ANONYMOUS. I can’t stress this enough. Be paranoid. Always. Assume that you aren’t going to be 100% safe. Always weigh your risks for EVERYTHING. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something online that is sensitive, then don’t. None of the stuff I discuss will totally eliminate risk.

The same can be said about privacy. If things related to your real life need to stay private, don’t risk them online. BE PARANOID! It seems silly and over-blown, but it’s true. No one is going to watch out for you online but you. Period.

Internet Anonymity

When I say that, what I mean are things like; how likely are you to be tracked by your browsing habits? How much of your personal data is online and how easy is it to be discovered? I’ll bet you it’s more than you think. I’ll bet you leave bits and pieces of your personal life and browsing habits all over the place without knowing it. It’s easy to do without realizing it and the deck is stacked against you.

Not to fear. This is probably one of the easier things to deal with.

First and foremost, let’s get social networking out of the way. If you use any of the big social networking services, you’re already opening up a HUGE vector of anti-anonymity. It’s one thing to sign up for a wordpress blog under fake credentials, or start a twitter feed under an alias, it’s another thing to sign up for Facebook or Google+ account under the same. The whole point of Google or Facebook is to share your pictures and links and what not with your friends and family. This of course flies in the face of being anonymous. So, here’s my recommendation:

If you cannot, at all, afford to have your real identity online…don’t use Facebook or Google+ or any other similar social media site.

I know, it’s sucks, but you’ll have to deal with the morass that is social media privacy policy, or lack there-of, and risking a slip up that makes it easy to learn things about you; bad if you’re trying not to be stalked or harassed. Only you can make that choice, but if you simply cannot have your real life online, don’t use them. Even making up fake credentials doesn’t make things much better. Always remember that. ALWAYS BE PARANOID.

However, if you don’t need to go to that extreme and want to utilize social media, then there are some things you can do.

Don’t use your real identity for things like blogging or tweeting. Keep a separate, walled off identity. Don’t mix them up, ever. Only let trusted people in on your persona.
CAREFULLY think about who you “friend”. This is one of the big ones. If you don’t know the person 100%, don’t accept them as a friend flat out. Don’t put them on a lesser list, just ignore them.

READ all the privacy settings carefully. And not just the settings, the policies too. Show of hands, how many people know that Twitter has the right to allow third-party advertisers to use your tweets without your permission? Yah. That’s the kind of stuff you might not know about. There are some interesting things in privacy statements and user agreements. Be mindful of them. And by be mindful, I mean, be paranoid.

Use the concept of Least Privileges when figuring out what people can or cannot access. Only give out the VERY BARE MINIMUM access to people based on what you want them to see. For example, start with the concept that everyone has zero ability to see anything on your account/profile and only give the minimums to those you deem necessary as they need them. Revoke permissions/view options/whatevers when that person no longer needs them. REVIEW YOUR SETTINGS OFTEN.

Don’t trust the companies, but trust third-parties even less. I’m looking at you FARMVILLE and Facebook quizzes. “But Aaron!” you might say, “How will I water my crops and get my Farmville fix?!” My answer is: Don’t if you value your privacy. These types of things are paid for by mining your data and profiles.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS (xINFINITY) be mindful of what you post and share. I can’t stress this enough. Srsly. Don’t be the person that makes a public post to their tweets that they’re going on vacation. Don’t put your address and phone number in your profile if you have a crazy ex that might try to track you down. It’s not worth it. You might think you’re being extra careful with your privacy settings, but all it takes is one of the famous Zuckerbeast’s changes to Facebook policy to show it all to the world without you realizing it.

Even if you don’t do the social networking thing, there are other things you should be mindful of while using and cruising the ‘Tubes. Things like Cookies and other internet tracking files or your browser history.

I won’t bore you with what cookies are or what their purpose is, nor will I drone on about browser history since most people are probably already familiar with them. I will say, that everyone should at least understand that your browsing history is pretty much slathered all over your computer like butter in a Paula Dean recipe.

“But Aaron!” you may say, “I’m not a durty pervert who searches for porn?! What do I care?”

True, but what if you’re, say, a transgendered teen living at home and your family is full of religious bigotry and you’re looking for support groups? What if you’re in an abusive relationship and are trying to find out information about local shelters? There are many good reasons one might want to clear out their browsing history.

IMPORTANT: I have to take an aside here for a sec. There is one REALLY, REALLY, REALLY important thing you have to know and that is, for all the cleaning of browser history you can do, if you’re online there are always way to see your traffic. The stuff I’m about to talk about will make it so it’s tough for someone AT YOUR COMPUTER to see where you’ve been. None of this will deal with the fact your network connection to your ISP can reveal other things about your internet usage. We’ll deal with that in Network Anonymity.

Anyway, you can manually clear your browser history yourself. Many people have written tools to automate this, but I’m a big fan of any job worth doing is worth doing yourself. That and I’m paranoid. Your call, your situation. I has links for how to do this manually. Let me show them to you:

Also, keep in mind that many of the modern browsers have “secure modes”. All of the latest versions of the browsers mentioned above, at the time of writing, have this. Some call it different things, Incognito (Chrome), InPrivate Browsing (Internet Explorer), whatever. What’s great is these modes make it so the browser doesn’t even collect history and cookies and things of that nature, so you don’t have to worry about clearing them when you’re done browsing, provided you had that mode enabled. Pretty slick!

We also need to have a talk about passwords. I could go on and on about passwords. Other people could go on and on about what makes good secure passwords. I won’t bore you with that argument. With I will say is:

YOU NEED TO USE DIFFERENT PASSWORDS FOR EVERY SITE.

Srsly. I had a good online friend who, many years ago, had his life turned upside down by an angry controlling ex. He left him and the ex figured out my friend’s email password…which was the same as his bank password, and his MySpace password, and the one he used at all the forums he went too, and the one he used at work; etc. etc.

Not a good thing. Make a different password for everything.

Lastly, if you’re doing the whole “persona separate from real life” thing, always be mindful of what you post under your persona. It’s really easy to get comfortable and slip up without realizing it and blowing your cover. Ask every teenage hacker who’s had the FBI come knocking at their door. Most aren’t caught because the FBI used super computer science; they were caught because the brat gave up info without thinking that tied them to their real life. The same is true if you want to separate your private life from your online life to foil trolls, stalkers, and harassers. Double check the profiles. Even things seemingly innocent like hobbies can be a giveaway to someone who’s dedicated time and effort into harassing someone.

File/Data Anonymity

Think your files are safe? Think your data is safe from prying eyes? Think again. You’d be amazed at the amount of data that files hold. Pictures, for example, store all kinds of juicy things as EXIF data, including in the case of some phones and cameras, geolocation. Office documents, pdfs, spreadsheets; all sorts of things can hold data that can identify you. This junk is called Metadata. Not a big deal (it can even be personally useful) until you’re posting information, say, about unethical practices about your boss on your anonymous blog and your employer uses metadata from a posted .docx file to find out it was you. Oops. Now you’re fired. Or worse.

Fortunately, most common file formats have pretty easy ways to remove their metadata. I won’t go into detail since every single format is different, but googling something like “removemetadata” will give you hundreds of results, utilities, and tools.

Metadata isn’t evil really, it’s there to help you organize your data in your OS amongst other neat things, but be mindful that it exists before you share your files online and make the decision if you need to strip the metadata out before sharing.

So, now you know how to strip out identifying information from your data, what about the actual data on your computer? How do you make the stuff you want to keep safe? There are a few things you can do here too.

First is the idea that your data needs to be hidden or otherwise stored in a way that others can’t (easily) get to it. To do that, there’s no better way than file encryption. File encryption is simply the scrambling of data in such a way that without the proper credentials, the data is nothing but gobbledy-gook. Very handy if you have files to store that you need people to not be able to access.

The simplest and easiest way to use file encryption (I’ve found) is TrueCrypt It’s free and it allows you to set up encrypted areas of your drive as a virtual drive on your computer for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. When you store things in these areas, the data is encrypted and safe and untouchable unless the proper password is given. How to do that is located here:

BAM (ok, so I nipped that link from Western Washington University…)

Setting up a secure area on your computer for safe storage takes some careful reading of the above link, but it’s nothing difficult. Keep in mind, that the above is for Windows, but beyond the “how to install” sections, the actual setting up of an encrypted space is pretty much the same for, say, OSx.

Alternatively, you can also find little USB sticks that have encryption built straight in. These are nice if you need to travel and use your drive on other computers. Best part is that even if it’s lost or stolen, your data is still ok! Kingston makes the DataTraveler Locker+ series which is very affordable. They’re nice if you’re not comfortable setting up something like TrueCrypt.

Yet again, you may ask, “why is this needed?!” and I’d respond that if you’re doing any sort of activism, there’s always a potential need to have your data confidential. Or if you need to hide information for a good reason; see the person leaving an abusive relationship. Everyone has the right to privacy of their own data so it’s worth having things like encryption, especially when you have the specter of reprisal hanging over your head.

The opposite end of this topic is data destruction. Deleting a file in pretty much all operating systems only deletes the “pointers” the OS uses to show where the file is and just leaves the file in the free space of the drive. Eventually it’ll be over written enough that the file is no longer recoverable, but that takes a long time. A very, very long time. It’s trivially easy to recover newly deleted files and there are tons of utilities out there that do just that, for free.

While it can be argued that nothing short of chucking a drive into a volcano will truly destroy data, you can destroy data enough that recovery will be a pain in the ass and so expensive, there’s no point unless you’re a huge government agency that can toss millions of dollars and years of computer time at the job.

Enter Eraser.

Eraser is a Windows program that will keep over writing files, multiple times, until they’re neigh recoverable without huge amounts of time and money. You can use it on specific files you wish to get rid of, you can use it on the Recycle Bin when you empty that, or you can even use it to wipe all the “free space” on your drive. It’s a powerful tool, but a useful one if you have data you need destroyed.

There are similar programs for Mac, but I’ll be honest that I don’t know much about them. I’ve heard tell that newer versions of OSX have a “Secure Erase” feature for the Trash and that Disk Utility has the ability to wipe free space, but I’m not a Mac anymore, so…

Beyond those things, and I’m sure you’re tired of me saying this; the biggest thing to remember is to BE PARANOID. You’re the only one that can make your data secure. Don’t share it with people you don’t know. Be sure people you share with are who they say they are. DON’T take anything for granted.

Network Anonymity

Finally, we get to the toughest of all; Network Anonymity. By the very act of connecting to the internet, you’re making yourself potentially trackable. Your ISP assigns your computer (or your cable/dsl modem) an IP address. This address can be logged. This log can be read. See where I’m going with this? By connecting, you are leaving a big marker saying, “I was online from this time to this time with this specific IP address!” and anyone that looks can see where you’ve gone.

Now, that seems scary (and it kind of is), but keep in mind that for the most part, the ISP is the only entity that has this data and under normal circumstances, no one else has access to these logs. However, different ISPs have different policies, so you have to make sure you read and understand them. Some ISPs don’t log at all, most do. Some don’t match account information with their logs, some do. Some keep the logs for only a short time, some retain them longer. The point is, they’re all different, and if you’re worried about your ISP tracking your internet usage, you’ll need to bust out the magnifying glass and read the policy for your ISP.

For most of us in the US, Canada, and a lot of Europe, this isn’t a huge deal. ISPs usually don’t freely give up their logs without a legal fight from the authorities, but it’s something to keep in mind. If you live somewhere with a more totalitarian government, they might feed the logs directly to the authorities all the time. Point is, be aware. Do some digging and research.

And it’s not just the ISPs that can hold on to your network data. Right now, I’d wager over half the people reading this are using some sort of network gear on their home network to deliver wifi to their wireless devices. These routers, switches, and hubs can log traffic as well and allow someone to see what and where you’re going online.

“Ok” I hear you say, “I get someone living in a dictatorship, and I was with you on the other stuff, but srsly, this is over the top paranoia! I don’t do anything illegal to warrant this!”

What about a neighbor who’s trying to sniff your wifi network in hopes of breaking into your computer and taking over your webcam to spy on you? Funny? It happens. A dude in California was doing just that so he could look at women in their dorm rooms by taking over their web cams and streaming the feed back to his computer.

What about an abuser who snoops on someone’s web usage using logs from a router? Or intercepts their communications? It happens and it’s not as rare or difficult as most people think it is. With dedication, Google, and a couple hours ANYONE can do this.

Unfortunately, masking your network connections is difficult. There are a couple good ways to go about it however. First, the easiest:

Use a different network.

Go to a coffee shop with free wifi. Go to a hotel. Sit outside a car dealership. Steal it from your neighbor’s unsecured wifi hotspot. There are hundreds of ways to get free wifi anymore in even the most backwoods of towns, many are wide open or can be used with a made up email address.

Granted, I don’t suggest you do this constantly for various ethical concerns, but if you need easy access to the internet that’s not obviously coming from you, it’s an option. Keep in mind, what you do on the internet while connected can still potentially identify you, but you’ll have to weigh your risk vs. your needs.

If you need more than that or just need to straight up hide your internet use in a mostly secure way, then you need TOR. TOR, in a nutshell, is a large network of servers that work in conjunction with a TOR client on your computer. Once installed and configured, when you turn TOR on all your internet traffic flows through the TOR network, over your internet connection. It’s fairly complicated how it works, but the gist is that your data and your locations are pretty well hidden, so it’s pretty freaking hard for anyone to figure out what your traffic is and where you’re going/what you’re doing on line. It’s not 100% perfect, but someone would need a lot of time, money, and dedication (and real compsci know-how) to bust through TOR. For the average person, it’s about as safe as you can get.

TOR can be had here.

Setup instructions and use is here.

The TOR bundle is the easiest and fastest way to use TOR. It’s literally just a browser with TOR preconfigured. I’d go with that if you need TOR but don’t have the patience to fiddle with settings. TOR is very powerful (though slow sometimes) but it’s a way to keep your online activities private and your traffic safe from snooping eyes.

Keep in mind, that in order for TOR to work you need to change some habits/understand a few things. This link explains them. VERY IMPORTANT!

Outro

So, there you go a crash course in basic anonymity. I didn’t touch on email, because frankly, most people know how to set up fake email accounts or use an anonymous mailer to send things (keeping in mind that their browser habits and network connections might still be tracked and act accordingly using this new found knowledge, of course).

These subjects have whole PH.d programs dedicated to them, so there’s no possible way I could be that detailed! However, I hope that the links and the basic concepts will not only help, but provide a direction to more detailed information should people want or need it. Sometimes, just knowing some very basic concepts gives someone enough to now know what to punch into Google.

Anyways, I don’t know how Wundergeek will share this info. I’m assuming on her blog, so I’ll monitor comments. Feel free to ask me anything. I’m an open book.

Also, I do declare all my personal type-y words here-in public domain *poof*

GenCon: it’s time for an anti-harassment policy

A bit of an extended note before I begin here. Due to the extremely personal nature of this post, I will be moderating comments on this post very heavily. If you know, or you think you know, or you think you might have a good idea of who I’m talking about – I ask you to please not speculate. The situation has been dealt with to my satisfaction, and this isn’t about pointing figures. If you happen to think that refusing to point fingers makes me “not feminist enough”, then you can keep those thoughts to yourself. Thank you.

I was sexually harassed at this year’s GenCon, and not in a ‘hey, baby’ kind of way or a ‘guys staring at my tits instead of my face’ kind of way. This was a very serious incident that only just managed not to be assault, one that left me feeling shaken, shamed, and damaged for days. Even writing this now, it’s a struggle for me to maintain enough clarity to keep my train of thought.

The reason I say this is not because I want this to be a confessional post about my experience. Rather, I want to use my experience to highlight the fact that harassment is a very real problem at gaming events and conventions. I’ll admit that the thought of remaining silent had its appeal – in a lot of ways I still feel very shaken and not entirely sure that I want to air my dirty laundry, as it were, in public. But if anything, the backlash that I got on my first few posts about GenCon convinced me that speaking out about my experience was the right thing to do.

There are people within the gaming community who want to pretend that sexism in gaming doesn’t exist, or who would seek to justify its existence, or who seek to belittle anyone who tries to speak out against the sexism and misogyny that is so clear and so prevalently on display at conventions like GenCon. And this attitude is not only wrong-headed, it’s dangerous; When you look at the high prevalence of sexism within the gaming community and the high prevalence of sexual harassment at gaming events, conventions, and other conferences, it is entirely fallacious to assume that the first does not influence the second.

People who sexually harass and assault their fellow con-goers are acting in a environment that condones sexism and misogyny as part of con culture. Just as the characters I mock here don’t spring from a magical thought-vacuum, the actions of people who victimize other convention attendees in such a manner also do NOT spring from a magical thought vacuum. The victims of sexual harassment and assault aren’t “asking for it”, they’re not using some kind of voodoo that forces their harassers to take actions they wouldn’t normally.

But, wundergeek, you might be saying. Just because gaming is sexist is no excuse for such behavior. After all, I would never act in such a manner.

And you’re right, it isn’t an excuse. There can never be an excuse for acting in such a horrendous manner toward another human being. But just because you wouldn’t act this way, can you make that guarantee for everyone you know? This epidemic of sexual assault and harassment isn’t happening on its own. It’s a reflection of the community as a whole, and a clear sign that we need to pull our heads out of our asses and start taking misogynist attitudes within gaming culture seriously.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here? Well, I think that depends on which end of the convention you’re on…

Convention goers: Don’t waste time trying to talk about how women who go to conventions need to be careful to prevent themselves from being victims. That’s victim-blaming of the worst sort. It’s possible to experience harassment or assault even when one is being careful about the sorts of situations one is placed in. Certainly it was my experience that I was in a situation I had judged to be safe and turned out not to be.

So, no. Take responsibility, do some self-examination. Be aware of when you are in situations that might become sketchy and if you are ever unsure of how you are being received, ASK. Never just assume. For that matter, never assume that silence means assent, because silence can often mean dissent, fear, terror, or anger.

As for people who find themselves uncomfortable and/or threatened, always remember you’re allowed to feel that way. Don’t second-guess how you feel, don’t apologize for their behavior. If you can tell them no, then do so. Even if you can’t find the words in that moment, remove yourself from the situation and confront them later.

Convention organizers: It’s time to start taking the threat of harassment and assault seriously and start implementing clear, consistent,  and enforceable anti-harassment policy. Convention organizers can’t continue to pretend that it’s a problem that doesn’t exist, or that it won’t happen at their convention, or that they can’t be expected to assume any responsibility for incidents of harassment that happen at their convention.

The closest thing that GenCon has to an anti-harassment policy is a small phrase buried within their policies for ethics and conduct:

All of the following constitute grounds for expulsion from the convention without refund:

Threatening, stealing, cheating or harassing others

That’s just not enough. There needs to be a clear policy defining harassment and setting out clearly who harassment can be reported to and how harassment situations will be dealt with. It’s not enough to shove your head in the sand and hope that some vaguely worded phrase in your ethics policy will prevent harassment. Real, serious, and thoughtful policies are needed – policies that have teeth to them.

If GenCon LLC is serious about being a family-friendly space, then this is something that they need to take real action toward addressing. It’s not enough for a subset of convention attendees to try to raise awareness. There needs to be a clear signal from convention officials that harassment and assault is not acceptable convention behavior if this disturbing trend is ever going to see real change.

GenCon: Spousal Activity win, mascot fail

There were two points that I wanted to make specifically regarding trends, both positive and negative, I’ve noticed from my long-running attendance. Since neither of them merit a full post, I’m combining them into one.

First off, the Spousal Activities track, which actually gets a partial WIN.

In the past few years, GenCon has been trying hard to market itself as a family-friendly convention by offering services like childcare and an activities track for non-gaming spouses. Now yes, it’s true that the acronym used for the Spousal Activities track was SpA – not an accident. And the activities were definitely female-oriented, like yoga, massage, and other typically “female non-gamer interests”. But the important thing to consider is that the Spousal Activities track USED to be represented in the program by this icon:

That’s right. Activities for non-gaming partners were represented in the program with a ball and chain.

If memory serves, the SpA was introduced in 2009, and despite complaints about the icon (I know people complained – I was one of them), they used the same icon AGAIN in 2010. Thankfully, women weren’t the only ones who complained. Critical Hits had an awesome open letter to the GenCon organizers called “Save vs. Misogyny” in which they explained why this was such a bad idea.

So I was very pleased to see that this year, the SpA icon had been re-designed:

Now is the logo still problematic? Sure. Because it still clearly demonstrates that GenCon is operating under the assumption that non-gaming spouses will OF COURSE be female. And that’s kind of sad, because it disrespects the large number of gaming WOMEN who come to GenCon every year because they have a genuine passion for gaming.

However, I’m still calling this a partial win, because the idea of yin and yang is a much more positive way to approach the divide between gaming and non-gaming partners. It’s a way of treating non-gamers are compliments to their partners, rather than obstacles to the GAMING AWSUM that is GenCon. So while it’s not perfect, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Which makes things like this year’s logo a little more disappointing:

Wow. I mean, yes they’re very vector-ish and stylized, but this is pretty much everything I bitch about here on my blog. You’ve got your nubile, not-terribly-clothed woman versus your completely-completely covered man. Not that I suppose this should surprise me. GenCon manages to have some sort of cheesecake mascot every year. It’s just that I haven’t really been paying a whole lot of attention until the last year or so.

Logos from previous years are pretty hard to find, but take a look at these logos from 2009 and 2010:

Why is it that every year GenCon’s mascot is a cheesecake female character? Now yes, this year’s female mascot is more covered and less sexualized than either the valkyrie or the vampire chick. But she’s also shown in stark contrast to a fully-covered, not-at-all sexualized male character, which is actually a bit of a step backwards.

Both the mascot choices and things like the SpA make it very clear that women still aren’t considered “real” gamers by the GenCon organizers, and it’s this more than anything else that I’d like to see GenCon’s organizers work toward changing. There are so many vibrant, passionate, brilliant women doing fantastic work in the gaming world that this casual disregard for their existence is very saddening to see. GenCon is supposed to be a showcase of everything that makes gaming great – after all, it’s the best four days in gaming. And yet how can it be the best if it continues to focus in on only what a very small segment of game devs, designers, and artists are doing?

I say all of this with the deepest and utmost love, but seriously – get your act together, guys. I want GenCon to be a convention that I can be PROUD of going to – not something that still makes me embarrassed to call myself a gamer openly sometimes.

The Rules

Okay, folks. Since I keep getting questions on the new policy, this is a little overdue. I’m essentially using a super-simplified version of the policies in place at The Border House and at GeekFeminism.org, albeit a bit simplified into a few easy to remember rules:

1) NO INSULTING OTHER COMMENTERS.

I don’t care if they deserve it. I don’t care if they insulted me, or if they insulted you, or if they came over to your house and kicked your dog. Don’t do it. If you come along and see an insulting comment, don’t get bent out of shape and insult the other commenter. That will just get both of your comments deleted.

Keep disagreements civil. You are welcome to argue with other commenters as long as you are arguing with their points and not resorting to polemics. That goes for BOTH sides.

2) NO DERAILING

I’m not opposed to the odd off-topic conversation that springs up in the comment threads, but there’s a difference between that and actively wasting everyone’s time and energy so that no one ever gets to discuss what we’re here to discuss. If you’re not sure what constitutes derailing, please go read Feminism 101 or Derailing for Dummies.

If something gets to the point of derailing, I will post a bolded comment in the thread to the effect of:

[This is derailing]

Any comment after that that continues the conversation will be deleted. Yes, even those comments trying to explain why the original derailer is derailing the conversation. Talking with someone trying to derail the conversation is like punching a tar baby. It’s best just to not get involved at all.

3) MY HOUSE, MY RULES

I get to decide what constitutes insults or derailing. Don’t argue with me for deleting your comments. If you’re really, genuinely puzzled as to why your comment was deleted, feel free to ask in a civil manner. But don’t tell me that I’m being wrong-headed or stupid.

GenCon’s Guests of Honor: Unless you’re Margaret Weis, forget it ladies

Oh man. After the response that I got last week, getting ready to write this post feels like walking back into a biker bar and punching someone in the face again. So let me disclaim by saying that my criticisms are in no way intended to dis the people that GenCon DID select as their guests of honor. I don’t know who most of them are, but I’m sure they’re infinitely more awesome than yours truly. Having met Will Hindmarch in the past, I can attest that he not only flies but can shoot lasers out of his eyes while reciting pi to 1000 places. (It’s true! Would I lie to you?) And the other 2011 GenCon Guests of Honor are EVER MORE AWESOME than that, I’m sure.

For those of you who didn’t go, here’s the list of 2011 GoHs:

  • Wolfgang Baur
  • Jeff Neil Bellinger
  • Ryan Dancey
  • Jack Emmert
  • James Ernest
  • Matt Forbeck
  • Mike Gray
  • Will Hindmarch
  • Brian Lewis
  • Gary M. Sarli
  • Stan!
  • Greg Stolze
  • Daniel Solis
  • Margaret Weis
  • Tracy Hickman
  • Jeff Miracola (Artist Guest of Honor)

Even so, I was disappointed when I was flipping through the program to note that of the 16 Guests of Honor, only one GoH – Margaret Weis – is a woman. And I can’t help but ask myself – where are the women?

BUT WUNDERGEEK, I’m sure you’re saying. BUT WUNDERGEEK – GAMING WAS INVENTED BY MANLY MENZ AND THE GUESTS OF HONOR ARE GAMING PIONEERS AND THUS WILL BE MENZ AND NOT WIMMINZ. THAT’S NOT SEXIST, IT’S JUST THE WAY THE GAMING INDUSTRY IS.

And, sure, it’s hard to argue with the facts that the pioneers of the gaming industry were mostly male. Certainly one would expect a convention as large as GenCon to honor early pioneers, and it would be reasonable to expect a roster of Guests of Honor to skew in favor of men because of this. But I think it’s a little disingenuous to claim that a list of “pioneers” would be exclusively male. What, then, of Margaret Weis? Is she an anomaly? Is she the noteworthy exception? Is she the Betsy Ross of the gaming world?

Furthermore, the GenCon GoHs are not just people selected for their role as pioneers in the creation of the modern gaming industry. Some, like Gary M. Sarli and Brian Lewis were honored because of their recent and/or current work for mainstream game/toy companies. Which begs the question, again, where are the women? I’m quite aware of the low numbers of women working in the game industry, but they do exist. The big players like Wizards, Fantasy Flight, Hasbro, etc, can’t be exclusively staffed by men. And unless these companies are hiring women solely on the basis of their looks, it stands to reason that that at least some of the women within those organizations have to be doing work important enough to be recognized by being named a Guest of Honor. (Hell, even if they WERE hiring based on looks, they’d still have to have some stand-out female employees. Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that hot = dumb.)

Others, like Will Hindmarch, Greg Stolze, and Daniel Solis are writers and designers who have been working in indie RPG design and indie publishing. And if we’re going to open the doors to indie publishers, then the question becomes even harder to ignore. Where are the women? As someone who has dabbled in indie game design, I can tell you that there are A LOT of women doing fantastic work over here in indie game land who are all more than sufficiently awesome to be a GenCon Guest of Honor. Meg Baker, Emily Care Boss, Julie Bond Ellingboe, Elizabeth Shoemaker, Willow Palacek, Giulia Barbano – these are just women I can think of off the top of my head who would be good GoH choices, and just for indie RPG design. I know that there just have to be women working in other areas of gaming that I don’t participate in who are equally excellent in their own areas.

And if we’re going to include artists as possible Guests of Honor, then – DUDE, WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? There are a lot of fantastic male artists out there, sure. But I saw tons of women in this year’s art show whose art just knocked my socks off. If you’re going to pay someone’s way to GenCon, why not pay Sarah Frary, whose art totally and completely rocks my world? Or Stephanie Pui Mun Law, whose art has been a mainstay in the fantasy world for many years, even if her usual subjects are stereotyped as “female”. I’m not saying that OMG JEFF MIRACOLA SUX, here. I’m just saying, man. There are so many female artists whose stuff is just as good.

It makes me sad because a convention as large and as venerable can be seen as affirming the status quo of a male-dominated games industry. Even worse, it seems to lend credence to the idea that women just aren’t doing work worth honoring in the games industry, which isn’t true – though there are (I’m sure) plenty of people who would like to believe that’s the case so that they can continue to justify the sexism that runs rampant in game marketing and development.

Now I don’t think that any of this was intentional or malicious on the part of the GenCon organizers. But the problem is that gaming is a subculture that is steeped in sexism; being inclusive of women is something that takes effort and conscious thought. I’m sure they didn’t consciously decide to exclude women – it’s just a side effect of the fact that the gaming industry tends not to pay attention to those parts of gaming that women do get involved with. (Seriously, watch what happens in almost any gaming forum when the subject of casual gaming comes up and people rush to proclaim that casual gamers aren’t “real” gamers.)

The few women that do get attention are those who have become SO AWESOME that they simply can’t be ignored, like Margaret Weis. And even then, much as I think Margaret Weis is a badly needed role model, how much of her fame is due to being half of the Dragonlance Chronicles, rather than – at least in my opinion – the far more interesting game design work she’s done on her own post-Dragonlance?

I guess it goes without saying, but this is something I’m hoping to see the GenCon organizers work on improving for the future. Yes having a more balanced roster of Guests of Honor takes more work, but it’s something worth doing. GenCon has made noises about wanting to be more inclusive, and choosing to include more women in the lists of Guests of Honor would go a long way toward putting their money where their mouth is.

New comment policy is coming

I’m losing the battle against Con Crud, so this will be a very brief post.

Month over month I have continued to set new traffic records to the blog. As time has passed, comment volume has increased and trolls have started to take over the conversation here – to the point where I get semi-regular emails from people who want to add to the conversation but who no longer feel that the comments here are a safe space to do so.

I want this to be a place where people feel they can have a productive conversation without worrying about being dogpiled or insulted by people whose only interest is to derail the conversation. I want this to be a place where people who have honest disagreements with what I write can come and discuss those disagreements in a civil manner, because I’ve never claimed that everything I post here is right. Nor will I claim that anyone who disagrees with me must be wrong. But most of all, I want this to be MY PLACE, which it hasn’t been for quite some time.

It’s not my place when I feel constantly challenged to assert my expertise on the matters I’m discussing, when I feel that I must always re-affirm my credentials.

It’s not my place when people come here to tell me that I’m crazy, ugly, irrational, stupid, ignorant, or a fascist.

It’s not my place when they tell me that harassment against women doesn’t matter.

It’s not my place when they tell me to lie down in front of a train rather than continue to speak out.

I can’t handle the volume of negative comments that I get anymore – it drains my energy, wastes my time, and sucks air out of the conversation. This was never intended to be a forum for other people to vent their hatred, and I’m tired letting toxic comments stifle real conversation in the name of welcoming free speech. Fuck free speech. This is not a democracy, and I am not obligated to give you a soapbox.

Starting now, you’re going to start seeing comments being deleted. If you insult me or another commenter, your comment will be deleted. If your comment reads straight from Anti-Feminist Bingo, your comment will be deleted. If your comment is intended to intentionally derail the conversation (and believe me, after 8 months I can spot ’em a mile away), your comment will be deleted. If any of this makes me a man-hating feminazi, here’s me not giving a shit.

I promise that next week I’ll set out some consistent guidelines about what will get a comment deleted; for right now I’m making this declaration so that I can enjoy my weekend and not think about the bullshit that’s been happening here this past week.

I tried to make this an open space where people who didn’t identify as feminists could have conversations with people who do identify as feminists. This being the internet, that didn’t work out so well. They say that insanity is repeating your actions and expecting a different result, so clearly it’s time to make a change.

There’s only so much time I’m willing to devote to this blog, so I don’t think I can turn this blog into a completely safe space. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to continue to tolerate the kind of bile that I’ve received in the last week. Anyone who wants to discuss things in a civil manner is welcome to stay. The rest of you can either clean up your act or get the fuck out.