[Ground rules: As with the previous post, anything resembling “not all men” is going to get deleted. If this seems unfair, try reading #YesAllWomen or #YesAllWhiteWomen on twitter for a few minutes. People who troll after having their comment deleted will have subsequent troll comments replaced with links to my favorite “male tears” and “misandry” GIFs from Tumblr. (If you play nice after having a comment deleted, your comment can stay.) I am not feeling charitable about this.
Also, I normally don’t do trigger warnings, but TW for misogynist language (not mine).]
The internet has been a pretty fraught place for me the last week. In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings, first there was the predictable backlash of “not all men”, not to mention the reports insisting that the attacks were caused by mental illness, not misogyny. (Never mind the fact that people with mental illness are disproportionately the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.) Then there was the amazing, necessary, but absolutely hard-to-read #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen responses on twitter.
Suddenly women that I look up to and admire were sharing their experiences of harassment and sexual violence. It was a powerful and disturbing indictment of the pervasiveness of our rape culture, but it proved a bit too much for me to deal with. As such, I’ve been avoiding twitter the last few days.
Aside from one comment on facebook, my reflection until now has been mostly private. I have been devouring pieces about Elliot Rodger and his ties to PUAhate and the MRA movement from those media outlets and bloggers willing to actually call a spade a spade and the thing that disturbs me the most about Elliot Rodger isn’t how alien his rhetoric justifying the attack was. On the contrary – it’s familiar. Too familiar. I hear echoes of it all the time.
And these are just examples that I’ve gotten in the last few months – before the long hiatus, I never used to save comments that I deleted from my blog. And none of this includes the awful things that people have said about me on various fora in the past. Nor does it include comments made about me on Reddit that have long since vanished into the moderation ether, but which I still read when they were first posted.
I’ve been called an “irritating dumbass bitch” and a “ignorant judgemental cunt”. I’ve been told I just need to get laid and that no one would ever want to fuck me. I’ve had half an hour of a gaming podcast devoted to me, in which four men talked about my “radical agenda” and why I was arrogant, crazy, ugly, and not worth listening to. And even with all of that, I’ve been grateful that the trolling I get isn’t worse. Because as bad as it is to be called a fat ugly dyke, at least no one has ever threatened to rape me. (Yet.)
But the purpose of this post isn’t to highlight the garden-variety misogyny that gets leveled at me for writing this blog. A lot of people have written a lot of really smart things about the problem of deeply embedded misogyny in geekdom.
Instead, I’d like to focus on something more specific: nerd famous men (yes, men) who use their nerd fame to incite their audience to harass people (usually women) they don’t like.
Using their platform as a weapon
There are men in the gaming community who you don’t criticize publicly; you do that very privately with people you trust, because they are known for riling up their followers and pointing them at people they don’t like (usually women). That way they silence people who would speak out against them because they’re afraid of getting harassed and they get to claim total innocence (well I didn’t harass anyone).
There are some major problems with this:
Problem the first: Harassment is srs bsns
The internet is rife with stories about online harassment against women. Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Jennifer Hepler, Rebecca Watson, Sady Doyle, Zerlina Maxwell – those are just the first six names off the top of my head of women who are notable for having been the target of harassment campaigns. But there are darker examples too. Amanda Todd. Reteah Parsons. Both of whom were young women that committed suicide after sustained and dedicated online harassment campaigns.
How women respond to harassment varies widely – some grow more outspoken, some go silent, and some retreat from online life altogether. (None of these responses is “correct” – every victim of harassment has to deal with it in their own way.) But women who are harassed, especially young women, face lasting emotional and psychological harm up to and including suicide.
HARASSMENT CAN KILL. It isn’t a weapon that should be used against anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be used casually.
Problem the second: Incredibly fragile egos
The reasons that nerd famous men incite harassment against people can often be quite trivial. Like you once criticized an artist that they like. Or you did a re-draw of a piece of art by an artist that’s not them. You don’t even have to criticize them directly to earn their ire. You just have to criticize a thing that they like.
Problem the third: They do nothing to curb misogyny in their followers
At no point during this process of inciting harassment do these nerd famous men ever do or say anything to curb the tide of misogynist sentiment in their followers. So when their followers go forth and bile-vomit, they call people things like feminist dyke cunt. Or feminazi. Or they tell someone they should probably kill themselves.
Having created an echo chamber to insulate themselves from whatever stimulus offended them, they do nothing to prevent misogynists from taking over that echo chamber. And as recent events demonstrate, Elliot Rodger is proof of the danger of misogynist echo chambers.
How It Works
Step 1: Hark! A woman has said something I don’t like! Quickly! To the interbutts!
Step 2: Link to the thing you don’t like. Be sure that you mention how you think the person who did the thing you don’t like is worthy of disdain. Are they stupid? Shrill? Embarassing? Smug? Arrogant? Ignorant? Ugly? Crazy? Choose a few adjectives that appeal to you in the moment and post without too much thought.
Step 3: Your followers all agree with you that the person is a terrible human being. Of course they do. You’re always right. Make sure to make additional assertions of the person’s disdain-worthy qualities. You know, to help build up a head of steam.
Step 4: Extreme voices inevitably chip in. Do nothing to dissuade them. “That person should suck my dick”? Fine. “We should go beat up that person”? Yup. “Bitches be crazy”? A-OK. Make sure to agree with a few of the more extreme comments not advocating actual violence. (Remember, the goal is to appear not culpable.)
Step 5: Your followers have now gone forth to flood the persons personal internets via whatever channels they were doing the thing you didn’t like in the first place. Make sure to never acknowledge this. Especially don’t acknowledge that a good portion of them are doing so using misogynist slurs.
Step 5a (optional): Has the person you don’t like had the nerve to actually continue doing that thing you don’t like? Even after you told your followers how much you didn’t like them and how awful they were? Time to up the ante. Resort to hyperbole or outright lies about the person you don’t like. They said something critical about sexual objectification in game art? They are now a sex-negative feminazi who wants to censor all sex in everything ever! Or maybe they posted an analysis of the objectification of women in another artist’s work? Lie and say that that person insulted your work. Congratulations! You are so in the right on this one.
Step 6: Use the controversy-generated pageviews to promote your projects to your followers and increase your audience. This is good because you are famous and talented. Unlike that woman who did that thing you don’t like who is just looking for attention. What a fucking bitch.
I wish the above was comic hyperbole. It’s not.
It happened to me
Presented here are three stories in which this has happened to me. In two I will not name names; one person actively generates publicity by doing this sort of thing and I don’t want to gratify his behavior, and one person says that he is experiencing mental distress because of the backlash against MRAs in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree. As much as it is hard for me to have much sympathy for someone who prioritizes their personal feelings about being judged over the lives of the women who died as a result of MRA ideology, I’m not willing to make light of mental health problems.
Some people may know the people to whom I will refer in these stories. I request that you not name names.
The Rebellious Artist
The Rebellious Artist (TRA) is an artist that is well known for his game art, game design, and game-culture-related projects. He is also convinced that I am a terrible blight upon the game community and periodically makes public attacks on me to that effect, all because I happened to blog critically about an artist that he and his girlfriend happened to like. (I was critical of the artist’s extreme anatomy distortions, and in the comments I said that there were trends in the artist’s work that implied problematic attitudes toward consent.)
Somehow he decided that my saying “this artist you like’s work displays problematic attitudes toward women” was the same as “I hate sex and sexy things and sex in any media ever the end”. Once he even described me as a fascist uber-conservative akin to Phyllis Schafly.
His general mode of attack, when he remembers that he doesn’t like me, is to make publicly visible attacks against me attached to my real name, in an attempt to convince people that I’m a shrill feminazi that shouldn’t ever be listened to. Once it happened on a forum that I used to post on but quit three or four years ago – he was banned for that one, but the attack was sufficiently personal that it left me very rattled.
More recently, he attempted to torpedo my reputation in the game design community just as I was getting into doing freelance for some more mainstream projects with Onyx Path:
This is an excerpt of a post that he made in response to a manufactured controversy (that he helped to manufacture) that I commented on. His response was to make this post with many real names besides mine arguing that TRPG industry companies shouldn’t be hiring us to do freelance work for them. It’s worth noting I wasn’t the only one targeted by that one, although I was the only one singled out with a dismissive aside. (Go Make Me a Sandwich girl? Really? That’s super mature.)
And yet despite his bad behavior, and that he is known within the community for his bad behavior (it’s really kind of his trademark), he is still highly regarded by many as a top-level artist, game designer, and gaming personality, which is frankly depressing. Lots of people know about his bullshit and just don’t care.
TEGD has never (to my knowledge) declared being aligned with the Mens Rights movement, but his public social media posts adhere very closely to that ideology:
(For reference, Caroline Criado-Perez is a British MP who had a harassment campaign launched against her for the radical notion of wanting women to appear on at least some of Britain’s currency. (Not including the Queen.))
Hatred of social justice activists, decrying feminism, denial of rape culture. Check, check, and check. TEGD is also notable for his vocal defense of rape as a device in games and for his advocacy against convention harassment policies. Which. You know. Yay.
And yet despite all that, TEGD has a pretty large and devoted following:
So when a gaming organization with a reasonably large following (not huge, but certainly not small) announced that they were going effectively lend him their platform to talk about his offensive views, I was pretty upset.
So I spoke out. I was careful to keep my posts mostly about my feelings and personal experience and how TEGD’s stances were hurtful to me as someone who has been sexually victimized at a gaming convention. I wasn’t the only woman who spoke out either.
But rather than respond to the substance of the concerns that we were raising, TEGD started making public posts about how TERRIBLE we were and we were calling him a ravening rape monster and didn’t we know he is CALM and NICE DAMMIT.
And then men went nuts in the comments about what awful bitches we were, to which TEGD would respond by saying that he just couldn’t understand how people couldn’t see what a GOOD PERSON HE WAS and HIS WIFE SAID HE’S NOT A MISOGYNIST, etc etc etc. Which only got them more riled up, to the point that I got a few private messages from people who were concerned for me about the level of ire happening on his page.
There were other women who spoke out, as well as one man who was as vocal as we were. Yet despite the fact that the one man made harsher, more personal attack statements while the women focused mainly on our feelings and personal experiences, TEDG’s followers mainly got angry about us “dumbass irritating bitches”. Funny that.
The thing about comics is that it’s not like roleplaying. TRPG game designers can only hope to achieve a moderate level of nerd fame, unless you happen to be Monte Cook or Ken Hite. Comics artists? Their audience is larger. A LOT larger. So literally overnight, my traffic went THROUGH THE ROOF:
You might think that as a blogger that writes a Patreon-supported blog, that kind of traffic spike would be something I’d like to see. WELL IT’S NOT. I found myself obsessively refreshing my site stats, growing more and more worried as the views kept going up by the thousands. That level of attention from hostile, angry sources is just frightening. For the first 24 hours, I couldn’t help but worry that this was going to go viral and I was going to wind up as another Anita Sarkeesian.
Of course, it didn’t help that when I blogged about the negative attention that Campbell and Brooks had directed my way, J. Scott Campbell then lied about my response to his followers:
Which, yeah. That’s not even close to what happened:
Okay, so let’s review. Did I say that they were knowingly using their audience to harass me? Yup! I sure did. Did I say that their behavior is unprofessional and imply strongly that it was also irresponsible? You betcha! Did I say ANYTHING ANYWHERE about artwork created by J Scott or Mark Brooks? NOPE.
Thankfully, the shitstorm died down and things went back to normal. But not before 48 extremely anxiety-inducing hours, during which managing comment threads was occupying a huge portion of my attention.
So what’s the point? Why speak out? Or do I just have an axe to grind?
The reason I’m writing this is because misogyny like that expressed by Elliot Rodger doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Echo chambers like PUAhate reinforce and normalize that misogyny. What also normalizes misogyny is when men in positions of respect and authority engage in the practice of encouraging misogyny and creating misogynist echo chambers so that they can protect their self-image.
The problem is that misogynist echo chambers are dangerous. Never forget that misogyny kills. Sometimes directly, as in the case of Elliot Rodger. Sometimes indirectly as in the cases of Amanda Todd and Reteah Parsons.
Am I saying that people like J. Scott Campbell, Mark Brooks, TRA, and TEGD are responsible for mass-murderers like Elliot Rodger? NO.
What I am saying is that inciting harassment of people they don’t like is dangerous, and turning a blind eye to the misogynist echo chambers that happen in their comment sections (if not actively encouraging said misogyny) is even more so.
We need to stop taking misogyny in the geek community for granted and start holding misogynists accountable for their actions, especially when they are creators who have a large audience that they are willing to weaponize. We need to STOP writing these guys blank checks just because they’re nerd famous. And we need to start calling out misogyny when we see it.
We have to. We must. The stakes are just too high.
[BEFORE I START: I’m going to go ahead and post this, since I got it 80% written over the weekend before I heard news of the Isla Vista mass shooting. I have a lot of thoughts about that and will be touching on that in my next post. For now, as I sit here finishing the editing on this post, don’t be surprised if some of that creeps into this post today.
Also, any comments that even smell faintly of “not all men” are going to get deleted as soon as I see them.]
One of the problems that I’ve encountered frequently while writing this blog, as well as elsewhere on the internet, is the problem of credentials. In any discussion in which a woman expresses something resembling an opinion, it is generally true that someone will challenge what the woman says on the basis that she has no standing to express said opinion.
She’s not properly educated! She doesn’t have relevant job experience! She doesn’t have enough relevant job experience! Her work doesn’t conform to this narrow standard! …Whatever. There are lots of ways that men can and do dismiss what women are saying, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to refer to the idea of credentials as a shorthand for the authority to speak knowledgeably on a subject.
And honestly, that alone is pretty goddamn sexist. Plenty of dudes can hold forth about their opinions about subjects that they know nothing about, but heaven forbid a woman get in on commenting on something that she is only familiar with in passing.
The problem is that the seemingly logical conclusion, saying “I am qualified to talk about this because [pertinent credentials]” is also the incorrect answer. That’s right. No matter what you do, you’re still wrong. Welcome to the internet!
Some Real Life Examples
Two months ago, I did a redraw of an old piece of GenCon art that I’d just discovered actually really bugged me, not thinking anything of it at the time. Redraws are something that the internet has been doing for a long time – it’s a very useful way of illustrating the problems of sexualized anatomy to the lay viewer, as it were.
WOW WAS THAT A MISTAKE.
For two days I got bombarded with nerd rage from dudes who were bound and determined to tell me that I am a bitch who doesn’t know what she is talking about:
(If you haven’t seen it, you should really go read the followup post that I did documenting the horrible things people were saying as a cautionary lesson in just how invested dudes can get in making sure that they don’t have to listen to things that women say that they don’t like.)
So in the face of tons of dudes coming to my blog and DEMANDING to know WHO THE HELL I THOUGHT I WAS, I made another mistake. Mistake #2 was that I actually told them about my relevant experience:
it’s worth pointing out that I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and while my major wasn’t drawing, I took 2+ years of drawing anatomy classes. Also, I have worked as an illustrator in the RPG industry. My education and experience are not irrelevant factors here. (you can see the whole comment here)
It was, all in all, a fairly brief summary of some of the things that give me specialized knowledge when it comes to criticizing game art and culture. I didn’t even mention my long experience with blogging, or my experience as a freelance game writer and designer, or my experience as a small press game publisher, or my long standing friendships with some fairly big names in the indie tabletop RPG industry. It was simple and matter of fact, or so I thought. Who am I to criticize this art? Well here are my credentials, gentle reader.
But nope! That was also the wrong move:
Having actually had the nerve to answer the implied question of “who the hell are you”, I found that dudes were actually more infuriated by that than by the presumption of my lack of credentials. Most of them started finding ways to discount my education and experience. (I say most because there was a creepy exception, which I’ll get to in just a second.)
Well I may have done game art, but I’m not a professional artist. Or, I have a degree in art, but not in Drawing. Or, I took drawing anatomy classes, but only two years and that’s not enough to know what I’m talking about. Whatever reasons I came up with as to why I was knowledgeable enough to provide valuable commentary on the subject at hand, those reasons just weren’t good enough.
And then there’s that one creepy exception, who got weirdly obsessed with learning the exact details of my art education, as though he was trying to find some way to debunk my education altogether. He actually demanded that I tell him where I went to school so that he could verify that I had the education that I said that I had. As I said at the time, oh yes, why don’t I provide you with personal details of my life on the internet. That seems like such a great idea, I can’t imagine any way in which that could possibly go wrong. Here’s what I ended up telling him:
I have no idea why you are so FIXATED on my education. I took drawing classes BECAUSE I LIKED THEM. My parents were paying for my degree, and New Media was a bit more practical than a degree in Drawing. So I majored in New Media, minored in Photography, and took all the drawing classes that I could shove into my schedule. BFA is a five year program – I had LOTS of room for electives.
All in all, I think I preferred having dudes go “lol who is this bitch” to that level of totally creepy scrutiny.
So which answer is less wrong?
Honestly, I wish I could tell you. I honestly thought that me talking about my own credentials on MY OWN DAMN BLOG would be a non-confrontational thing, but apparently there are a lot of dudes who feel differently.
Still, why should I have to pretend to be LESS than what I am in order to make a bunch of dudes feel better about themselves? Achievement is not a zero-sum game, fellas. Me having actually done productive shit with my life doesn’t prevent you from doing things with yours. (Links to an animated GIF)
 What. Like that’s bad?
 Seriously, people. Study anything for two years and you will get pretty knowledgeable, if you’re doing it right.. Two years is a long damn time. Also, it was actually more than two years, but it’s hard to count because semesters are weird.
I want to apologize for the recent lack of posting, excepting these linkages. I’ve been struggling to deal with a toxic meatspace situation that is infecting my “real” life with unpleasant drama. I hate drama. I don’t deal with it well at all and it’s left me too drained to do any serious blogging once my job and parenting obligations are dealt with. I’m hopeful that the drama situation will resolve itself soon, but in the mean time, I’ll work to get a “real” post up this weekend and make sure to get another one up before the end of the month.
Thanks for bearing with me, folks. Sorry that I tend to hermit when stressed. Thankfully, the internet has been super interesting this week!
You are the last of your kind: a real gamer in a hobby that has been taken over by socialists, feminists, liberals, ethnic minorities and pearlclutching fishwives. You’re fighting back now, and you are not alone. You have a multitude of fans just like you, always willing to soothe your ego when people destroy your life by saying mean words at you, or harrass your targets whenever you wish to avoid the flak—after all, it’s just words on the internet, you know?
The Edgy Designer is an edgy, light-hearted satire playbook for the Dungeon World roleplaying game which lets you fulfil your dreams of being an iconoclast game designer constantly hounded by censors and social justice warriors.
It’s an early draft with some naming inconsistencies – it has yet to have an editing pass – but I post it here as an example of how to subvert dominant cultural narratives when writing game material. Further, it’s an example that portraying diversity actually makes your setting more interesting, not less.
[Edited to add: The first link is actually a parody account and not Peter Molyneux himself. However, the post is still worth reading!]
Over on his tumblr, Peter Molyneux – creator of the Fable series – clarifies remarks he made about Nintendo’s decision to disallow same-gender relationships in their quasi-life-simulator, Tomodatchi Life. He responds to the praise of the Fable series for allowing same-gender relationships, and makes the excellent point that from a programming standpoint, an open choice of relationship is the default and hetero-only relationships require adding restrictions to the code. So much for Nintendo’s argument that they only wanted to include “neutral” relationship options.
Oh hey look. According to a report by NDP group, the number of “core gamers” (gamers who play anything but puzzle games or Nintendo games) has fallen from 37.5 million to 34 million this year. Here’s what I think about that.
This story is a fascinating look at the last survivors of the first-ever MMO. (I’d always thought that EverQuest was the first MMO, and I’d never heard of Meridian 59 at all!) On the one hand, I think it’s an interesting look at how toxic communities perpetuate themselves. But on the other hand, I’m super reluctant to crap on other people’s fun. So I’m really not sure what I think about this.
This is a great piece about how in order to change toxic behavior, you actually have to change community standards, not just ban the worst offenders. It’s also super interesting to read about the tactics that Riot Games, publisher of League of Legends, has been using to do just this. My only exposure to LoL is distant and indirect – my brother plays and I’ve watched him play a match or two. It’s nice to see an MMO publisher taking this problem seriously. (Now if only they’d stop with the gender fail wrt female heroes!)
In the comments on my previous post, the following nugget of casual-gamer-hate popped up:
I think that 47% figure is factoring in women that play Angry Birds on their IPhones or something.
I hate it when people hate on casual games, and I ESPECIALLY hate it when people hate on casual gamers, especially given that pretty much everyone knows that casual gamers almost always = women. And yet among a certain set of gamers, the idea of casual gamers seems to elicit the same sort of disgust as would lepers or genuine fans of Rob Liefeld.
And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the hate, and I’m sick of the not-really-veiled attempt to define “real” gaming as the parts that don’t contain girls.
So here are some reasons why I think the hate for casual games is bullshit and why I wish the phrase “casual game” would go away forever.
1. Casual games aren’t games? WRONG.
(Unless you’re talking about FarmVille, which totally isn’t a game, it’s a psychological manipulation marketing tool, and not even a well-disguised one at that.)
The problem with saying that casual games aren’t games is that it’s a classic case of moving the goal posts. What exactly is it about casual games that make them not games? The fact that they tend to be addictive? Okay, well by that reasoning you’ve just said that Civilization isn’t a game, because I defy you to come up with a game more addictive than Civilization. (JUST ONE. MORE. TURN.)
Is it the fact that casual games tend to be played on mobile devices as opposed to consoles or desktops? Well by that definition, Pokemon doesn’t count as a game, since it’s played on Nintendo’s mobile platforms, nor do any of the other major releases for handheld consoles that people have played over the years.
Is it the fact that they require no major time-investment to play? You can play a few minutes or a few hours and then stop? Well what about games like Tetris, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc? Hell, for that matter, what about any fighting game?
Face it. The only real distinguishing factor of casual games is that they are games played predominantly by women. Saying that casual games aren’t games is nothing more than a declaration that the only “real” games are games meant for men, because only men are “real” gamers. Furthermore, to say that casual games aren’t games is factually innacccurate. ANGRY BIRDS IS A VIDEO GAME. It is a game that you play on a screen that has objectives that are reasonably attainable and is competitive and some people find it fun. Thus, it is a video game.
2. The false commitment binary
When casual games exploded in popularity, a firm hierarchy was established. There were the casual gamers and the “hardcore” gamers, and never the twain shall meet. There were the lowly “casuals” – bored moms and computer-challenged grandmothers playing endless games of Candy Crush and Words with Friends – and then there were the HARDCORE gamers. MEN! MANLY MEN! Manly men playing Call Of Duty and Battlefield on Xbox and gleefully trash-talking each other because they were REAL gamers who were HARDCORE.
The only problem is that this idea of the “commitment binary” – you are either a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer – is complete and utter bullshit. Sure there are some women gamers who only play casual games or who only play “hardcore” games. But there are also a lot of women who play both, or whose habits and inclinations change depending on mood and current circumstances.
To help illustrate the point, I did an (entirely unscientific) poll of a small circle of ladygamer friends on my Google+. Amusingly, while I got 11 responses (including myself), I only included 9 in the following graphs because one woman said that she only played one game at a time in periodic gaming binges, while the other said she wasn’t really sure which games she played would be casual and which games wouldn’t – which just goes to illustrate how incredibly arbitrary the division between casual and “hardcore” is.
Nope. Sure doesn’t look like there’s any real correlation between amount of time played per week and how much of that time was spent on casual versus non-casual games. But just to make things a little clearer, I sorted the results a bit and came up with:
And then you have the mitigating circumstances. Several women said they would play more non-casual games if their mobile devices were capable of running them. Two women also said that their high hours per week of games played was because of long commutes – although one typically played a non-casual game on her commute while the other played casual games on her hers.
What was even more interesting was that polling the women for their favorite games in each category yielded some interesting results. Casual games cited were: Temple Run, Angry Birds, Pocket Frogs, Mystery Manner, BubbleXplode, Word Welder, Scrabble, Tetris, Bejeweled, Kami, Word Monsters, Pet Rescue, Farm Heroes, Juice Cubes, and 2048. Angry Birds, sure, but not a single mention of Candy Crush! And most of these were games I hadn’t even heard of!
Non-Casual games cited were: Tomb Raider, Lightning Returns, Civilization 5, Final Fantasy (in general), Oblivion/Elder Scrolls, Fire Emblem, Assassin’s Creed, Catan, and The Bureau. So sure you’ve got some RPGs, but you’ve also got action, stealth, and civilization-building, to name a few.
So here’s where I break out the feminist theory. (Bear with me.) Gaming habits, like gender expressions, are a spectrum. The extremes, pure casual and pure non-casual, are comparatively rare, with most people falling somewhere in between. So remember, just say no to false binaries.
3. Casual games don’t discriminate against us
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a male gamer in possession of bro-itude must be in want of a woman to make him a sandwich.
Anyone who’s been paying a modicum of attention to the state of women in gaming knows that women routinely face harassment in most areas of gaming, especially when that gaming happens online. One only has to look at websites like the (now defunct) Fat, Ugly or Slutty to see an example of the ways in which women are disincentivized from venturing into “traditional” (read: male) gaming spaces.
And that’s not considering of the sexism of games themselves. Even if you can carve out a safe gaming space for yourself, all too often the very games you’re looking to play end up reminding you of your “inferior” status through objectified female characters, stories void of any women except sex workers, or stories without any women at all.
But “casual” games like Angry Birds or Words With Friends or 2048? They don’t constantly remind us our our second-class status. No one is there to call us an ugly slut or demand that we make them a sandwich. There aren’t any overly-inflated breasts or teeny-weeny costumes. So is it any wonder that women would flock to a genre of games that isn’t designed to make us feel bad about ourselves? HOW SHOCKING.
So with all of the above in mind, I’m going to issue a Commandment.
DON’T CRAP ON OTHER PEOPLE’S FUN.
While some games have broader appeal than others, I have yet to find a single game that has universal appeal. Just because a certain game makes you want to gouge your eyes out doesn’t automatically make it a terrible game, and it certainly doesn’t mean that people who do enjoy that game are objectively wrong and must be taught the error of their ways. All it means is that that game isn’t for you. That’s it. That’s all.
For instance, I have a lot of friends who enjoy Risk. I fucking loathe Risk, or, for that matter, any game where you can know you’re going to lose and still be forced to play for an hour and a half before you’re “out”, and where the game might drag on another 4 or 5 hours without you. But some people enjoy that sort of high-risk, high-reward play style, so you know what? Cool! All I have to do is just not play Risk.
So if someone is playing a game that you hate, ask yourself ARE THEY HAVING FUN? If yes, are they hurting anyone? Like it’s not called Throw Knives at Toddlers or Run Over Puppies with Monster Trucks, right? If not, then CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Even if you have the most amazing rant about how what they’re playing isn’t actually a game, keep it to yourself because no one wants to hear it, and by shoving it in people’s faces you’re making yourself into That Asshole. Yeah, you know the one. THAT GUY.
Nobody made you the Fun Lord. You don’t get to decide what is and is not objectively fun. You don’t get to tell people what they do or do not enjoy. So shut the fuck up.
So after I’d already outlined the post and fleshed out most of the arguments, the commenter who inspired this post decided to prove exactly the point that I making by trolling when I rebutted the notion that Angry Birds isn’t a video game.
What made the trolling more egregious was that his original comment was quite receptive to the idea of women in gaming, if a bit clueless:
… I would think males would be more welcoming to female geeks. I mean…where else can you find women with similar interests? Please continue to try and get more women into gaming in general. The scene really needs it right now.
Because the commenter seemed receptive, I focused most of my response on relating my personal experiences of how I have been made to feel unwelcome (with the added comment of yes Angry Birds is a video game). But apparently sharing my personal experiences and disputing that yes, Angry Birds is a video game, was, I don’t know. Too something. Because he then went off on a bizarre little rant that read like an anti-feminist bingo card and included one of my personal favorites: BUT SAUDIA ARABIA.
So thanks for helping prove my point, troll comment guy, that the argument about casual games really isn’t about the definition of games. Also? It takes a special kind of asshole to ask why women feel unwelcome, and then – after I shared the story of how I was sexually victimized at a convention – accuse me of taking creep shots of women at cons for the purposes of slut-shaming them on my blog. Congratulations! You may be a C+ troll but you are an A+ asshole.
 OH SNAP
 I wanted to make a “just one more turn” joke about 12 step programs, but that would make me a terrible person.
 Sure some of the newer ones (like Soul Calibur) have “story modes” where you can play a campaign to unlock weapons and costumes and stuff. But mostly it boils down to, go here, beat up this character, rinse, repeat.
 As in, why are you wasting your time writing about sexism in games when women are being oppressed in Saudia Arabia?
Hi, folks! A brief note before I get started here.
Unfortunately, you’ll probably see my posting schedule slow down somewhat. We’re into the busy season at the day job, which means I’m working harder and longer and don’t have the time to squeeze in all those little bits of writing that I used to. The day job is in the construction product industry, which means demand is directly related to the weather not sucking. As such, it’s hard to anticipate how long the slow spell will last. But if past years are any indicator, I expect that things will start to slow down late August to early September. That doesn’t mean I plan to stop writing entirely! And to make up the deficit, I plan to start posting weekly freebie linkspams to stuff that caught my eye that week or is otherwise worth checking out.
A mysterious master of ravens must cope with the perils of her heart when two children come to the magic castle bearing a treasure.
This is a hack of A Doomed Pilgrim in the Ruins of the Future by D. Vincent Baker and, like the original game, is intended to be played online. Weave a story with your online friends, who will take the role of your ravens, and see what fate brings to you and the children who have come to the castle.
So if you’re jonesing for a good play-by-post game to play, this is a good place to start!
Game Chef starts TOMORROW! For those unfamiliar with Game Chef, it’s a competition in which contestants use pre-selected “ingredients” (themes) to write a tabletop roleplaying game… in only 9 days. Some really great games have come out of Game Chef in the past, and even if you don’t wind up publishing it’s still a lot of fun!
Granted, I was leery when I checked it out at first. But preliminarily, it actually looks really cool. And it’s worth noting that there appears to be heavy involvement by South Asians and it was created and designed by South Asians. (At least judging by the tiny icons and given names.) It looks kind of Netrunner-ish, so if Android Netrunner and its ilk are your thing, maybe check it out.
I wanted to write a post about why Nintendo’s decision not to include same-gender relationships in their new life-simulator, Tomodatchi Life, was incredibly short-sighted in addition to being bigoted, but the wonderful Samantha Allen said everything on the subject that I would have said. Her piece is well worth a read.
Thanks to the people who helped me vet initial drafts of this post. I had harsh feels and made things tense and I’m sorry about that. Thanks also to Kimberley Lam, who is awesome and you should go buy Atop A Lonely Tower, which is an awesome RPG designed to be played online.
Before reading, it’s super-important for me to note that there are some words and ideas here that aren’t mine. In some cases, where people have commented publicly, I’ve quoted them here. In many other cases, I’m summarizing thoughts and ideas that came from behind-the-scenes discussions on Google+. As incidents like the J Scott Campbell/Mark Brooks-incited hatesplosion illustrate, you should not ever force someone to speak publicly on the internet. Especially when someone is making critical statements about a venerable geek institution like GenCon. When I am quoting or paraphrasing other people, those sections will be clearly marked.
Disclaimers. Several of Them.
1. Everything I write here is as someone who is a long-time attendee of GenCon. This year might be my eighth time attending GenCon. I say might because I’ve lost count, to be honest. Nothing I say here is meant to say that GenCon is terrible and must be destroyed with fire. I love GenCon. I love it and I don’t think I’ll ever stop going. So please don’t flame me. Okay?
2. This is not meant as an attack on or a question about the merits of any of the Guests of Honor chosen for 2014. Wait. That was important so I’m going to say it again. I AM NOT ATTACKING ANY OF THE GUESTS OF HONOR FOR THIS YEAR, NOR AM I SAYING THEY DON’T DESERVE TO BE GUESTS OF HONOR.
I’ll admit to not knowing a lot of people on the list. But the people I do know are eminently worthy of respect – especially the women. When I express anger in this post, it is anger at the big picture, anger at the outcome, and anger at the decisions that the organization made to get to this point. I AM NOT AM NOT AM NOT expressing anger at the people who are choosing to participate in this year’s GoH program. PERIOD.
3. One thing I’m not even going to talk about here is the lack of queer diversity. That’s also a thing. It’s also a thing I don’t feel prepared to talk about, because that gets too much into discussing private things about real people which I really don’t want to do.
Down to Business: The Lineup
GenCon recently announced the complete lineup of Guests of Honor for this year. As someone who has been pushing for increased diversity of Guests of Honor at GenCon, this is something I was very eager to see revealed. So I was pretty disappointed when the lineup looked like this:
It felt like a punch to the gut. How. HOW could this happen? In 2011, a mere 1 out of 16 GoH was female – Margaret Weis. When the GenCon has made noise about wanting to increase the diversity of the GoH program, HOW IS IT that in three years they’ve gone from a humiliating 6% representation of women to a still-pretty-goddamn-embarassing 16% representation of women?
Our Industry Insider Guests are as diverse as the industry itself and have extensive knowledge and expertise.
That’s the part that REALLY has me seeing red. So here’s where I where I start tearing shit down. (But remember #2, folks. This is about the BIG PICTURE.)
Demographics: Why This is Really Not Okay (Gender)
So first, let’s take a look at the gender breakdown of this lineup.
Gender-wise, is this as diverse as the industry itself? Well. Unfortunately. Yes.
It’s really hard to find current demographics of the North American game industry, especially given that it’s so fragmented across different platforms. But this 2005 International Game Developers Association survey pegged the number of female game developers at a mere 11%. And while this post on Gama Sutra collects data about students currently in game design programs, the numbers seem pretty consistent with the IGDA survey, despite being 8 years later. So depressing as it is to contemplate, 16% is probably a pretty accurate percentage when you’re looking at game industry professionals.
Women account for FORTY-SEVEN percent of gamers. FORTY-SEVEN. It is absolutely ridiculous to have this kind of a lack of representation when women comprise such a huge part of the audience that you’re actually attempting to attract. Furthermore, while the percentage of women in the formal game industry is relatively low, there are a lot of fantastic women doing work related to games that would make them worthy of being a GoH.
And of course all of this is ignoring the fact that this year’s lineup is actually less inclusive of women than 2012! What happened? Did they look at 2012 and think, whoa! Clearly too many women up in here. We have to do something about that?
All right. So this is where I’m going to step back and let some other people talk about their feelings on this. I think POC voices are more important than mine on the issue of racial diversity; there’s also the unfortunate complication that it’s not easy for me, as someone who is whiter than white, to decry lack of racial diversity without looking like I’m judging the racial identity of the people chosen to be this year’s GoH, which would be shitty.
So instead, I asked the previously-mentioned Kimberley Lam if she’d be willing to offer comment, which I place here without additional comment of my own.
I am a big fan of supporting self-identification and parsing ethnic backgrounds can be really hard. I’m the kind of person who uses, predominantly, “Asian” or “European” and hopes that the person I’m trying to figure out isn’t offended that I can’t get much more specific than a continent – and even then I stand a decent chance of getting it wrong.
So, saying that the Industry Insider GoH roster isn’t ethnically diverse isn’t exactly something I’m willing to commit to since I don’t know how the Guests of Honor identify. I will say, though, that it’s disappointing (and yet, utterly unsurprising) that there aren’t many visible minorities on the roster. Being able to pass as white, no matter how you identify, can lead to a lot of differences in your experiences. Passing as white affords the privilege of being able to put down the social burden of your ethnicity.
I’m ethnically Chinese. I can’t pass, so I’ve had the pleasure of being complimented on my English speaking skills, asked where I’m from (and then asked again when I answer that I’m from Canada), asked about insulting Asian stereotypes and assumed to have some sort of insight on the inner workings (and faults) of every Asian government or person in existence. I don’t ever get to put that down because I don’t get to decide when these interactions happen – the people who intrude on my life do.
When Gen Con touts the GoH roster as diverse as the industry, I’m worried that they’re telling the truth. That the industry really doesn’t have people who might understand what it’s like, even in a general sense, to never be able to pass as white and to have your ethnicity come up in the most surprising and often irrelevant places. People who might understand how hard it can be to feel like I have to represent a whole culture even though the one I grew up with is Canadian (and to feel like I’m never allowed to represent Canadian culture because of the way I look). People who try to maintain their cultural heritage in the face of rampant stereotypes and misinformation.
I’m not searching for sympathy. I’m searching for empathy, and empathy comes from a place of shared experiences.
Additional Context: Some Miscellany Worth Addressing
Note: some of this content will be cited. Some of it won’t, for previously-mentioned privacy concerns. Anything that’s not my words or original ideas will be italicized in green. Sorry for any confusion that might cause.
GenCon’s GoH are not like any other con’s GoH
Now of course, all of this is complicated by the fact that despite the fact that GenCon calls its program a Guest of Honor program, it’s really not anything that most people would recognize as a Guest of Honor program. Travel costs, lodging, food, incidental expenses – none of these things are covered. All that Guests of Honor receive are a badge and some marketing and possibly some other tiny perks.
Now recently, GenCon has started calling it the Industry Insider Guest of Honor program to reflect that GoH are industry professionals who would have attended the convention anyway. But that change doesn’t really go far enough, as “Guest of Honor” is a pretty well-defined thing in convention culture and comes with pretty concrete expectations.
One of the people behind the GoH program said that the program name should be changed further to something like “Industry Insider Select Speakers“, which I would certainly support. If GenCon has no intentions of changing the program, which it really sounds like they don’t, then it shouldn’t be called a Guest of Honor program AT ALL.
But perhaps a better middle ground would be something like having the program split into the Industry Insider track, which would basically represent what the GoH program is now, and adding an actual “traditional” Guest of Honor track for diverse speakers, new voices, and people working to expand the boundaries of the gaming community. Because it is disappointing to look at a program that is being advertised as a Guest of Honor program and see that what is being honored is whiteness and maleness. Such a program doesn’t represent gamers of color, who are made to feel unwelcome and ostracized by things just like this.
Lackluster enthusiasm for diversity of recruitment
Over on Google+, Nicole Lindroos – one of the GoH and also someone responsible for helping run the GoH program, commented publicly on the selection process, saying [emphasis mine]:
I personally reached out to female game professionals this year and last in an effort to get them to submit themselves for consideration. Many of them did not plan to be at GenCon (the first hurdle to participating). Many others gave some variation of the “I’m really not qualified” response, as I’d done myself in previous years (despite over 20 years of working in the game industry). Many very interesting, very qualified professionals aren’t represented because of those first two hurdles. I can’t bring people to GenCon, the participants on the Industry Insider track have to be pulled from attendees. I can encourage them to put themselves and their seminars up for consideration but again, we need to pull from people who are self-motivated to participate, not from reluctant speakers who have to be convinced it’s worth their time. There are enough people who are willing, eager even, to participate to fill the seminar slots several times over.
Here’s the thing. I appreciate where Nicole is coming from, on a certain level. As someone who is working to increase diversity in a volunteer organization that I’m involved in, it’s disappointing when your efforts don’t have immediate results. But “well we tried” is NOT an adequate response. There are reasons, many of them, for why women are hesitant to even attend GenCon, much less put themselves forward as a potential GoH. The overwhelming white-maleness of the GoH program is in itself a large part of that, and if GenCon is serious about meaningful change, they’re going to have to do some serious work to overcome that.
The industry insiders who were going to attend anyway can pay their own way, save the money and support for the people who need the assistance to get there. GenCon is a great convention, but it is also FUCKING EXPENSIVE. And hand-waving and saying “well we have to choose from the people who want to attend” is ignoring the fact that that privileges a certain class of attendee.
One thing that I’ve appreciated about Avonelle Wing and the rest of the Double Exposure crew is that the conventions they run have made a real effort to increase diversity. Their lineup of panelists for Metatopia in 2013 included 4 men, 3 women, and 1 non-binary transperson. Their schedule of panels was very much diversity-focused as well! And if a small convention that’s being organized by a handful of people can manage to put in the work required to have balanced gender representation, what is stopping GenCon from doing the same?
Well, it might be an unwillingness to talk about issues that would be uncomfortable for the majority of their convention attendees:
“One of the GoH sessions I proposed more than once was about tips on including more diverse characters in your games (even historical/medieval-based fantasy ones), which was turned down without comment each time. The only diversity panel was about SFF artists.” –a former GenCon GoH
Now I’ll admit that I don’t know Nicole or the other people behind the program, nor do I have any way of knowing how recently this was supposed to have taken place. But I would hope that a profit motive isn’t preventing these sort of conversations from happening publicly on the part of GenCon organizers, because there is A REAL HUNGER to see that sort of thing.
All right, I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll wrap this up by saying this:
We are here, women and gamers of color and queer people and non-binary people. WE ARE HERE. And we deserve to be reflected.
IT’S TIME TO STOP ERASING US.
 I was quite happy to see Lillian Cohen-Moore on the list. I think her project to collect the history of women in gaming is super-interesting and I’d like to see more of that sort of thing promoted!
 Not to mention that it’d be nice to see some NEW faces as Guests of Honor. Is Ken Hite cool? Yeah. Does he really need to be Guest of Honor again? Nope. Not really. He’s coming to GenCon no matter what, and it’s not like he needs the exposure.