GenCon 2014: The bad and the needs improvement

While I have some posts coming up that are prompted by interactions I had at GenCon, this will be the last post I write explicitly about my experience at GenCon itself (at least for the next little while). I’ve talked about the things that made me excited, as well as specific crappy things observed in the dealers’ room. But I didn’t address negative things outside of the dealers’ room, so here are some observations about things with varying degrees of crappyness.

Bad: Some dude mansplained my shirt to me

One of my birthday gifts this year was a shirt that said “FAKE GEEK GIRL: REAL GEEK WOMAN”. So of course I wore it to GenCon. I mean, how could I not?

Friday morning, I got dressed in The Shirt (and also pants) and headed out to get breakfast, bleary from a late night of awesome awesomeness. As I was standing in line, two guys spotted my shirt. One of them looked excited and said, “oh wow, that’s an awesome shirt! My wife would love that shirt? Where did you get it?”.

Pleased, I said that I did love the shirt but that it was a gift and I didn’t know where it was purchased. And that’s when Complimentary Dude’s mansplainy friend chimed in with, “but you’re not fake”. Which led to the following conversation:

Me: I’m… not a girl.

Mansplainy Friend: But you’re not fake. You’re–

Me: Not a girl. I have a toddler. I pay taxes. I am a woman.

Mansplainy Friend: Yes, but you’re not a fake woman.

Me: Okay, but you’re getting bogged down in the definition of one word. Do you not understand that this shirt is commenting on a larger social phenomenon where women like me have to fight to have our interest in geek culture seen as valid?

…at which point Mansplainy Friend tried to continue the argument, but thankfully Shirt-Complimenting Guy got him to shut up and I collected my breakfast and left.

And I suppose that I really should have expected something of the sort to occur. After all, I did wear the shirt rather expecting that hanging out primarily in tabletop RPG areas would mean that it would provoke some kind of a reaction. Still, in my defense, I don’t think anyone can be entirely blamed for being surprised when someone attempts to mansplain their own clothing to them when they are still in a severely under-caffeinated state.

Bad: I didn’t X-card the jokey sexism in a game that I ran

I was a GM at Games on Demand this year, which turned out to be tons of fun for all of my games except one – a game of Zombie Cinema. (Zombie Cinema is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a fun little game that creates zombie movie plots. It’s eminently replayable and never leaves my bag at conventions, in case I ever find myself with spare time, friends, and desire for a pick-up game that lasts about two hours.)

The problem with that game? There were six people at the table, including myself, but I was the only woman. And three of the six players were, well, the bro-iest of bros. Still, because some of the random character gen options specify gender, we wound up with three female characters, so I was hoping things would turn out well.

Early on in the game, however, the bro players started tossing out stuff about “protecting the women”, which was irritating. I jokingly had my character, a middle-aged mom and secretary, call them on it. At which point it promptly became a running joke throughout the rest of the session. And not the friendly sort of running joke, a “oh this clearly bothers you, so now my character is going to keep doing it” kind of running joke.

At the time, I just thought that it was a B- game of Zombie Cinema. There were some amusing jokes, like how the zombie plague came to be known as “raibola” (rabies/Ebola), but mostly it was a slightly sub-par but still amusing enough for the price of a generic ticket game of Zombie Cinema.

It wasn’t until I ran into James Stuart, the “new” proprietor of Story-Games, fellow GoD GM, and one of the not-bros at the table for the game, that he helped crystallize my annoyance by asking if I was okay with what happened in our game. He said that he was reluctant to X-card them since I seemed okay with it, but at the same time it seemed pretty gross. And at the time I was like, “oh yeah, I was okay, it was just kind of irritating is all”.

But since then I’ve examined that reaction and now I regret not X-carding the jokey sexism once it became a nasty little running joke, because it was a joke that made the game less fun for me. I got trapped in the mindset that because Games on Demand was paying for my badge, I was obligated to provide the players with a fun game. But I forgot that my fun was also an important part of the equation, and the “ha ha girls suck” running “joke” throughout the game definitely made it less fun for me.

And all of this despite an excellent all-hands meeting on Thursday night that stressed that GMs had to consider their own fun as much as their players when deciding what to X-card! So it’s not even like this was a possibility that hadn’t been addressed.

So that’s something I think I’ll need to work on being more aware of next year.

Bad: Casual harassment

I didn’t experience as much of it this year as I have previous years, there was only one creepy dude on the street of the “oh god avert your eyes, don’t make eye contact, stick close to your group” variety that I encountered this year, although he was a doozie. (He started singing at me and pelvic thrusting, although thankfully he didn’t approach me and I was able to give him a wide berth as we passed him on the sidewalk.)

But let me turn that around and say that this year was the best year I’ve had in terms of street harassment. So the fact that I go to GenCon expecting to be creepily harassed and made to feel unsafe by at least one dude while at the convention? That’s messed up.

Another insanely not-cool moment was my very first night at the convention, at a party where I was going to head back to my hotel with my hotel roomie and her boyfriend. On the way out, she stopped at a table to say hi to someone that she knew, and a dude literally grabbed her hand and started trying to pull her into the booth. At which point I started hovering very visibily while wearing my best “we need to leave because I need sleep face”.

And, you know, generally my friend and convention-roomie is a super capable woman and I would trust her to be able to handle her own creeps. But at the same time, Creepy Arm-Hauling Guy was large and I wanted to at least try to shame him into letting go. (Which he did, though probably not because of me, and we made our escape, and that was the end of that.)

And maybe it was because we were at a party? But you know what, fellas? Being drunk is not an excuse for harassing women, even if it’s just because you want to get to know them. Calm the fuck down, and if you can’t behave yourself around strange women when you’re drunk, then DON’T FUCKING DRINK.

Needs improvement: Convention harassment policy signage

One of the things that I forgot to mention in my post about good things about GenCon was the fact that the opening ceremonies of the convention specifically mentioned the harassment policy and that harassment was not okay, and that anyone feeling threatened or uncomfortable should seek out convention staff who would take the situation seriously. WHICH IS GREAT. The fact that GenCon has gone from having effectively no harassment policy to having a well-written policy that staff are being trained on? That’s awesome.

HOWEVER.

The only signs spelling out the complete policy were in the badge registration area. There weren’t any in the dealer’s room area that I or any of the people that attended the Women in Gaming panel had spotted. And I didn’t see any outside of the main convention center, either.

And that’s a problem! If nothing else, there needs to be at least some basic “cosplay is not consent” posters in the dealers’ room, because that’s where a whole lot of cosplay is happening.

The other problem is that a whole lot of people just don’t need to go to the badge registration area. Because I was running through Games on Demand, I picked up my badge from the GoD staff without ever having to go through the badge line. And for the most part, trips to the dealers’ room to acquire specific items were the only trips that I made into the convention center itself. The one panel I was able to go to (all the others overlapped with my GM slots! Curses!) was in the Crowne Plaza – all of which were areas that didn’t have any sort of signage to raise awareness of this policy.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of people don’t attend the first day of the convention, or don’t manage to be awake in time to hit the dealers room in time for the opening ceremonies, or aren’t able to stand close enough to hear what everyone else is saying.

This is something that is important. If you want to change the social norms around toxic and harassing behavior at conventions, you have to change expectations and raise awareness, and signage is an important part of that. GenCon is just too big an event to do it in a more individualized way.

And that’s all I have to say about that

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