I don’t have sympathy for 101-level questions because men exhaust me

[Hi, folks. I apologize for the radio silence; the start of a new term is always a hectic time. I’m currently finishing up the research for a 2-parter on Curse of Strahd – the republished version for D&D 5th Edition (OMG, folks, I have so much to say about this book…), but in the mean time, I wanted to take a moment to address something that I’ve been thinking about since last week.]

Recently, in an online community that I participate in, there was a post discussing community standards which included the word “trolling” in the list of intolerable behaviors. Someone expressed concern that some people might not know what “trolling” means, to which I replied (rather bluntly) that if someone participating in an online community doesn’t know what a word that has been around so long that it has passed into the common parlance means when used in reference to anti-social online behavior, that’s their problem for not taking the time to educate themselves. (I mean, that’s why Google exists, right?) And apparently, my comment was perceived by at least one person as bullying.

Which. On the one hand, sure. I’m a bitch, and have long since stopped trying to be anything other than a bitch; no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, someone is always going to think that you’re a bitch if you’re a woman, since “bitch” pretty much only means “woman that I don’t approve of”.

And yeah, I don’t have much empathy for ignorance about 101 level issues, which isn’t always the best – especially when I’m dealing with people who are part of communities that I’m invested in. In those sorts of situations, bridge-building is important, and it’s not something I’m terribly good at. While I look up tremendously to the women in my circles who are bridge-builders, I know that’s not ever going to be me. I just don’t have the patience.

On the other hand, though, I’m pretty annoyed that saying forthrightly and without apology that people need to be responsible for educating themselves is something that someone can feel “bullied” by. I have been both 1) bullied and 2) a clueless white person who couldn’t buy a clue to save her life, and I can tell you from personal experience that the pain of learning that you are ignorant about social justice and need to do some work around educating yourself does not even come close to the pain and life-long trauma caused by being the victim of bullying. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT.

Learning how ignorant I was about social justice and the level to which I needed to educate myself? That sucked, sure. It’s painful realizing that you’ve been inadvertently reinforcing systemic injustice, because everyone wants to believe that they’re a good person. Being bullied? Left life-long scars that I won’t ever recover from. Saying that you feel “bullied” by someone telling you to do your own damn work in educating yourself about important issues just shows how much marginalized people are expected to do the work of teaching their oppressors how not to be oppressive. Marginalized people are expected to hold their oppressor’s hand while gently stroking their hair and whispering softly in soothing, dulcet tones about how their behavior was oppressive, but it’s okay because they didn’t know and they’re still a good person.

Which. You know what? No.

Now I am talking generally and not a specific person, just to be clear

It’s no secret that this is and never has been a 101 level blog – it’s right there in the sidebar. I delete comments pertaining to 101-level questions and issues, because there are so many better places on the internet to educate yourself. There are two reasons for this that I give whenever I am asked about the policy:

  1. Something I learned in the first few years of running this blog was that if I tried to answer all of the 101-level questions I got, I would never get any real actual work done. If I did all of the work around educating clueless privileged people that I was expected to do, I would never get to write about the deeper issues that are my real passion and focus.
  2. I am tired of having the same damn 101-level conversations over, and over, and over again. Explaining the basics of social justice 101 is fucking exhausting and aggravating to me, and I just don’t want to do it anymore.

But if I’m honest, there’s also a third reason. One I don’t talk about much, because it’s hard to address it without sounding like a complete and total bitch: I don’t have empathy for the 101-level struggles of men because men fucking exhaust me.

I’m not proud of it. As much as I make jokes about misandry and male tears, I’ll cop to the fact that those jokes are more of a coping mechanism for dealing with the shit I get because of writing this blog than an actual desire to laugh at men’s suffering. I would like to be able to respond to these situations with empathy and compassion, but that’s just not possible, because I have suffered too much from men too often. When my daily life is full of struggles that reinforce the fact that society sees me as less because I am female, I just don’t have the energy to feel empathetic about a man’s pain that a woman is refusing to educate him about the basics of the basics of the basics of social justice.

Specifically, I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that patriarchy exists. When daycare costs in Canada are forcing women out of the workplace and back into the home… When the male-domination of the tech industry means that tech towns are also areas in which women suffer the greatest economic inequality… When, at my last job, I made 78% of what my husband makes, despite having a higher education level than he does… When my life is full of glass ceilings and invisible barriers that I have been beating my head against, with no perceptible progress, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the daily indignities that I face.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that you are accountable for your sexist actions. When I worked for several years for a company at which the sales bros could talk openly in the office about strippers, call women bitches, and engage in other sorts of misogynist language without any penalties or repercussions… When that same company literally broke the law in regards to condoning a hostile work environment and doing nothing to change it when it was reported to them, and I was told that I had no real legal recourse… When I once temped as an assistant to a high-powered real estate broker who was so condescendingly insulting and patronizing that he made me cry on multiple occasions, and I later found out that I was his fifth temp in four weeks… When my life has been full of men who have harassed, insulted, or harmed me with sexist words and actions, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the fact that only you are responsible for your actions.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that the male gaze exists. When IGN had a section of their website devoted to covering booth babes at E3 (before booth babes at E3 were outlawed)… When games like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive offer up sexualized depictions of women who are reduced to a collection of titillating body parts… When Bayonetta is sold as an empowered and liberated “strong female character”… When the hobby that I love reduces women on a daily basis to the sexual pleasure and gratification that they can provide to the only “real” gamers – straight men – I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the fact that objectification of women is a problem.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that rape culture exists. When all the girls I went to high school with wore shorts under their uniform skirts because the boys would flip up our skirts to “see if we were wearing underwear”… When truck drivers coming into the office of the company I used to work for would routinely sexually harass the women in the office… When I have been pursued by men who are only dissuaded by me making a show of the ring on my finger… When literally every woman I know has at least one story about unwanted sexual touching by a man at some point in their life… When there are now 50 women who say that Bill Cosby raped them and there are still people who say those women are just looking for attention… When I have to exist daily in a culture that commodifies my body and tells men that they are entitled to use it for their sexual pleasure, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the ways in which our society excuses rapists and blames the victims of rape for their own rape.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education understand that rigid gender roles are bad. When my four year old daughter thinks that women can’t fly planes… When my daughter wants to grow up to be a princess who gets saved from a monster by a prince, marry that prince, and have babies, despite my husband and I telling her she can do anything she wants with her life… When a friend’s five year old son gets bullied for wearing his favorite skirt to school and cries because of it… When the daily reality of parenting my four year old daughter is trying and failing to combat the social programming she internalized when she was TWO that she is less because she is female, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the ways in which gender essentialism and binarism are harmful.

So that’s where I set the bar of “you must be at least this enlightened to be worth my time”. Make of that what you will.

In defense of anger

[Fair warning, given the incredibly personal nature of this post, I will be modding comments with an iron fist. Anything that even faintly whiffs of violating the comment policy or duplicating material covered in the FAQ will be removed. Period. My house, my rules.]

I am 10. For an entire school year, all of the boys (and several older boys as well) have been bullying me. The typical small-minded ten year old bullshit, but the isolation takes its toll. I try to report it to teachers (all women) on several occasions. They make comments and give me useless advice that makes it clear that being bullied is my problem.

“Boys will be boys”, “they’re teasing you because they like you”, that sort of thing. They say the same thing even after one of the boys in my class follows me to my babysitter’s and spits on me in the process. Boys will be boys, and girls should be quiet.

I learn to stop asking adults for help. Instead I bottle in the anger, try to hold it in, safely contained, since I know that any expression of anger will not be condoned by those in authority. Two weeks from the end of the school year I snap. I write the worst word I know at the time (“butthole”) on a piece of paper and leave it in the desk of the ringleader of the bullies – the one who instigates the majority of the abuse. Of course I get caught, because 10 year olds aren’t exactly crafty masterminds. And I’m the one who gets suspended.

At the meeting with the teachers, my father is there, and the teachers – again, all women – tell me things like “when I get angry I should concentrate on making fists until I don’t feel angry anymore” or “when I get angry I should take deep breaths and count to ten”. After the meeting is one of the very few times in my life when my father, a product of Midwestern stoicism – a man who never admitted to having negative feelings of any sort – told me that they were full of shit and that I was absolutely allowed to be angry about what had happened, because it was outright sexism.

This coming from the guy who refused to discuss his funeral arrangements, period, and who died (after being terminally ill for five years) without once ever having a serious conversation with his family about his death and what he wanted. He taught me that my anger was real, and valid, and important.


Twenty years have passed, and I’m working for a company that I hate in a job that I loathe.

After being pestered by one of the sales bros for the entire morning about finding a document of trivial importance for the third or fourth time, a task he is fully capable of doing himself as he possesses thumbs and knows how to operate a filing cabinet, while I am busy with critical month-end tasks, I taste bile when he turns up at my desk and all but demands that I find the document for him that instant.

I swallow my anger, forcing myself to maintain a level, neutral, professional tone. I don’t trust myself not to look angry, so I don’t make eye contact, engaging in something that gives me an excuse not to look at him. Filing. Straightening things on my desk. Ostensibly looking for something. “I have told you that I have critical tasks to complete before noon today, and that they are not done. Once my month-end tasks are complete, then I can assist you with locating the document. If you require it more urgently than that, it may already be in the filing cabinet.”

I am firm without being either apologetic or angry. Cool. Detached. But even as I do my best impersonation of an Office Vulcan, my stomach lurches. I concentrate on my breathing to keep it slow and even, will my face not to flush. I am concentrating on the performance of not being angry, because the sales bro is the one with all of the power in this situation.  The sales bro grumbles a response that I don’t entirely catch because I’m too busy concentrating on maintaining my composure.

Resolutely, I ignore him and restart the task that he interrupted. It’s hard, because my focus is shot and it requires a lot of attention to detail, but I do my best. That is until I realize that two minutes have gone by and the sales bro is still standing at my desk, and it doesn’t appear that he intends to leave until I give him the document in question. The document that he is perfectly capable of finding himself.

I steel my nerves, take a deep breath, don’t speak until I know I can keep the tears of anger that I can feel welling up out of my voice. “[Sales bro]. I have explained to you my work priorities and the timeline in which your request will be dealt with. There is no need to stand at my desk and watch me work while you wait.”

“Well there’s no reason to get hysterical,” the sales bro says, huffily, his greying mustache making him look like a grumpy, petulant walrus. But thankfully, finally, he accedes and shuffles off, grumbling.

I turn my chair away from the rest of the office and place my head in my hands, which are shaking. I take care to make it look like I am nursing a headache, since I am prone to those and that is behavior that my coworkers are used to. I feel hot all over, my skin feels too tight, I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I want to scream, throw things. I want to show him what hysterical actually looks like.

I think about all of the small indignities. Creepy Sales Bro who talks about strippers at work and asks the younger Sales Bros about their romantic conquests. Awful Sales Bro who makes a point of saying sexist things within earshot of my desk because he finds my discomfort amusing. And Manbaby Sales Bro who is incapable of doing even the simplest tasks on his own. I think about going to my boss and telling him about the interaction I just had, that Manbaby Sales Bro called me hysterical. But I know that I’ll just end up explaining to my boss why calling a woman trying to enforce a boundary “hysterical” is grossly misogynist, and the chances are high that he won’t really understand. My boss likes me, but his response to such things is always “try not to let it bother you”.

I feel weak and small and powerless. I try to make my anger as small as I feel. I fail.


I don’t know what possessed me to follow the link from my blog’s traffic stats back to a forum that I know is full of people who personally wish me ill. But there is a lot of traffic from that source, and I follow it, and what I find isn’t surprising in the slightest. It’s a thread where men are complaining about a project that I was proud to be a part of (that I am still proud to have been a part of), complaining that all of this emphasis on diversity in games is ruining gaming.

The thread doesn’t go on for long before my primary harasser hijacks the thread and makes it about what a terrible person I am. Me. Specifically. Personally. I’m hateful. I’m an abuser. I’m a liar. I harass people. I’m anti-LGBT. I’m crazy, and should be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for my own good and the good of my family. All of his claims laughably transparent and easily debunkable with a few minutes of Googling, though I know that no one there is going to make that effort.

I don’t know why I keep reading, but I do as the thread unfurls over the course of a few days. I feel hot and angry and sick. I feel shaky and tired. I write multiple closed-circle G+ posts about how furious I feel, and how helpless I feel to respond, because I know that any response will be playing into the narrative that my harasser is trying to create. I cry.

I let my anger cause me to be overly harsh in a tabletop game that is being played as a campaign with people that I’ve been playing with for a few months, and I hurt one of the players at the table. Play stops, and I apologize, feeling all the anger again but also helplessness and shame. “I’m in a really dark place right now. I should have told you about it instead of taking it out on you.” To my horror, I start crying. Giving it voice breaks the control that I’d kept over it, and I start talking about the abuse. About the things being said about me. About how trapped and furious I feel and how I have nothing to do with those feelings.

Or at least that’s what I think I say. The memories aren’t too clear.

I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to display this pain, because I’ve been hurt too many times. But my friends listen, and hug me, and don’t judge me for crying. Afterward, I feel lighter, at least a bit. I feel terrible about hurting the other player, but it feels good having my anger validated. It feels good being told that my feelings are real, and that I’m not a terrible person for having them.


It’s not any secret that sexism and misogyny in gaming makes me angry. While I’m perfectly capable of writing Vulcan-level objective analyses of sexism in games, daring to be a woman who publicly expresses opinions about games and who owns her anger attached to those opinions is an inherently radical act. So yeah, I’ll write the data-driven objective-ish pieces, but I also swear and use hyperbole and employ angrily sarcastic memes a lot. Because coming into this space, my personal blog, and telling me that I should only ever talk about sexism in soothing dulcet tones, while I hold the hands of the perpetrators and gently stroke their hair to reassure them that of course they aren’t terrible people… that is the height of bullshit entitlement.

That’s not to say that any expression of anger is automatically okay if it comes from oppression! I’ve written pretty extensively about that too. About how there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to express anger over oppression, and the line always has to be drawn at “will this do further harm?”. I’ve written about the mechanics of anger and how anger is used to create hate movements against individuals or groups. And I’ve written about my own personal experiences of anger, and the necessity of balancing my desire to express that anger with the need to behave professionally and not destroy publishing relationships or friendships out of anger.

So as much as I joke about being an angry bra-burner, or a Social Justice Barbarian, my relationship with anger is pretty nuanced.

Some people who will tell you that anger is never okay. That in order for progress to be achieved, that you must be calm. Objective. Professional. Rational. “You catch more flies with honey,” and the like. I have never found it surprising that the vast majority of people expressing that sentiment to me have been men.

There are many times in my life where I have to swallow my anger. To make my demeanor calm and soothing when I want to rage. To cry and scream and vent my frustration. So here? In my place? And in the places that I have created for myself, the spaces I curate for having the conversation I want to have with the people I want to talk with? I own my anger. I acknowledge that it exists, and I express it – always remembering that even righteous anger can wound. Even righteous anger can harm. But those open, honest expressions of righteous anger… they make me “controversial”. “Extreme”.

Because I am not willing to hold hands and moderate my tone while I talk about how my experiences of oppression affect me, there are those who say that I am toxic. Who say that I should be avoided, that I represent everything that is wrong with gaming. Because I am angry about abuse that I have suffered, I am divisive. I create strife and disunity. In short, my anger makes me “unacceptable”.

And to all of that I say simply, no. I am not extreme. I am not divisive. I am not toxic or unacceptable. I am human. And I am allowed to be angry when I am treated in ways that deny my humanity. And so long as my expressions of anger are centered on self-expression and not on harming others, I am allowed to express that anger. And so are you. And so is everyone.

Where you can, be kind. But when you need to be fierce, be fierce. You do you and fuck the haters.

Indie publishers donate money to Pulse families and survivors [Freebie]

[Edited to add: The total has been updated to reflect a donation at the time that wasn’t reported back to me. Thanks to Emily Care-Boss for contributing and for letting me know.]

It’s been two and a half weeks now since the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, while I’ve seen some good, heartfelt conversations in private channels about the tragedy from those I know in the games community, the largest game publishing companies have been largely… silent.

At E3, the only AAA game publisher to address the Pulse shooting in their press conference was Microsoft, who led their event with a moment of silence. (Bethesda’s presenters did wear rainbow armbands, and their Twitter avatar was briefly given a rainbow background – though their avatar has been changed back already.) The lack of commentary from an industry famed for its continued reliance on misogyny, toxic masculinity, and heteronormativity to drive sales was disappointing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any contacts to speak of in the video games industry. But I do have contacts in the tabletop industry. Like, a lot of them. So I did some research and ended up contacting all of the indie publishers I know. Here’s a portion of the message that I sent:

The Pulse Tragedy

The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was a horrific tragedy that has already touched so many lives. But worse than the loss and trauma, there is a real fear that I have heard expressed by many of my LGBT friends about how to navigate a world that hates and fears them when even their safe spaces, their spaces of refuge, are not safe.

There are so many talented and wonderful LGBT people in game development – developers, publishers, editors, designers, writers, that have contributed so much to our hobby. Without their voices and their talent, our hobby would be infinitely poorer. Unfortunately, while there are LGBT-friendly enclaves within gaming, the hobby as a whole continues to be unwelcoming to LGBT gamers. And I think the lack of response by “leading lights” in the gaming industry might contribute to that perception of gaming as an unsafe space.

And I get it! It’s hard to know what to say or do in the face of such brutality! And it’s hard to figure out how to express support in ways that are meaningful beyond “thoughts and prayers” or in ways that center the conversation around your distress and not the real needs of the people affected.

So Here’s What I Propose

I would like to have an informal donation drive, of sorts, to have publishers come together and donate money to a charity directly doing the work of providing services to families and survivors; The GLBT Center of Central Florida is a charity that has already been providing these services – you can read about their ongoing efforts here.

And I’m pleased to be able to report that people stepped up. Because much as I devote a lot of space to the problems that the games community and industry faces, there are a lot of good and conscientious people on the publishing end of things who are trying to make a real difference.

The Outcome: $1173 Raised for the GLBT Center of Central Florida

Indie tabletop publishing is an industry with incredibly narrow profit margins – it’s tough when RPG consumers expect stunningly beautiful, art-rich, 300 page game books for rock-bottom prices. So I’m pleased to be able to say that between the ten publishers who participated, we were able to raise $1173 $1223 in contributions. Here are the publishers (in no particular order) who donated:

The contributions were made individually by each publisher, who communicated the amount of their donation to me, for the purposes of knowing the overall total only. Publishers were linked to the GoFundMe campaign as well as the direct PayPal donation link, so that contributing publishers could use whichever was more convenient or ethically preferable. (Myself, I prefer to avoid GoFundMe whenever possible, because of the company’s problematic business ethics.)

(It may be worth noting that Peach Pants Press (aka me) is one of the listed contributors. I don’t believe in asking people to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.)

I’m grateful for the contributions made by my publishing peers and hope that this can be at least a small step from one corner of the games publishing industry to indicate that we care about LGBT people, and want to continue doing what we can to make safer spaces within the gaming community. All too often, silence can feel like a lack of support and caring. This small gesture can’t possibly erase all of the awfulness that happens within our community, but hopefully we can signal that there are lots of people who make games who want to do what we can to continue making gaming spaces better – more safe, more inclusive, and more welcoming.

“But why does it matter?” Orlando is why it matters.

You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard about the mass shooting at The Pulse – an Orlando LGBT club, which was the largest mass shooting in US history since Wounded Knee. Some great things have been said by some great people. Chuck Wendig’s recipe for a mass shooting is fucking chilling and amazing, as is John Scalzi’s look at the complete and total copout of offering thoughts and prayers without doing anything further.

(Yes I realize it’s a bit sketchy to link to two cishet white guys after a tragedy affecting mostly queer brown people, but both of these pieces are about cishet white guys speaking hard truths to other cishet white dudes.)

And as someone who feels queer-adjacent without actually owning the identity of being queer (at least at present – since I very much present as cishet and 100% benefit from that privilege), I’m conscious of not wanting to take up space that should be claimed by queer voices speaking out on their own behalf. However. There’s a thing that I feel needs saying, and since I haven’t seen anyone else saying it…

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

One of the biggest ways that trolls try to silence me is to say that what I write here isn’t important. Who cares about what I think? After all, it’s just games. It’s not like it’s a matter of life and death, right? It’s all just pixels on a screen / images in a book/board game/card game – right? RIGHT?

IT’S. JUST. A. GAME.

If you’re someone who calls yourself a gamer, or are someone who would say that playing games is a primary hobby, how many hours per week do you spend playing games? All types of games? Seriously. Think about it and come up with an average number of hours per week.

Now think about that as a percentage of your life. How does that number compare to the time you spend, say, at work? Doing housework or other chores? I know that personally, I spend about as much time per week playing games as I do parenting my kid – and I know that I don’t have time to play as many games as a lot of my friends do.

Find something else to do with your time

Now think about the kind of reasoning behind saying that writing about feminism and games is a waste of time because “it’s just a game”. How does that work exactly? If you casually throw around the term “fag” and use the specter of homosexuality and queerness as something to shame the men around you into falling in line with narrow definitions of “acceptable” masculinity? How does being part of a game make expressions of hatred for queerness and queer people somehow magically acceptable?

Even if you’re not someone who engages in hateful speech or behavior – you don’t call other guys “gay” as an insult, you don’t tell women to shut up and get you a sandwich, any of that stuff. Being prepared to accept hate because “it’s a game” frankly isn’t much better. If you spend half (or more, even) of your leisure hours not “rocking the boat” in the name of “just having fun”, what makes you think you’re going to magically be any better at it when you find yourself around people using gendered/racist/anti-queer slurs outside of the context of games? What makes you think you’re even going to notice, when you’re spending such a huge percentage of your life learning to not see your friends engaging in hate?

What we do in our leisure time MATTERS, because our leisure is a huge part of our lives. And for most people, at least for just about all the Millennials I know, our leisure defines us far more than our shitty, dead-end, low-wage, soul sucking jobs.

Well done… I thought games were suppose to be fun, i am almost sure they’re not political. Because you know why? THEY’RE GAMES! They are pixels on the screen that doesn’t hurt anyone

I have spent a large portion of the last five years writing honestly about my experiences – my thoughts and feelings about the sexism I experience and why that matters. And yet, the thing that gets thrown at me over and over again is who cares. Who cares? WHO CARES?

I care, and you should too. 49 people are dead and 53 are injured because of our culture of homophobia and intolerance. The shooter wasn’t an entirely unique phenomenon formed out of the ether. He was informed by a culture of white supremacist patriarchy that told him that his rights were paramount. That being gay is un-masculine. That people who are women and queer and brown are less and other, and that their feelings and lives don’t matter – not the way men’s do.

While I agree with some of your analysis, I also think you sometimes take your analysis to the extreme side finding bias where it might only exist in the mind of the viewing.

Our culture told the shooter that only his thoughts mattered. That his FEELINGS of disgust were more important than the victims’ LIVES.

Do you ever get tired of being unhappy with entertainment? Have you considered seeking out entertainment that is geared toward women more?

Who cares?

Fuck you. Instead the question should be why DON’T you care? Why are you so prepared to disclaim the hurt of a fellow human being? Why are you okay with drawing lines around what is and is not acceptable for someone to feel hurt by?

for someone who’s not being heard that sure is a lot of words, fatty

It’s just a game?

It’s not a game when the games we play reinforce the stereotypes that caused the Orlando shooter to think it was okay to end the lives of people who don’t meet his narrow definitions of acceptable performance of gender and sexuality.

It’s not a game when the games we play reinforce the culture that teaches men that their masculinity has to fit the narrowest confines possible, that they have to mutilate themselves emotionally in order to be acceptably masculine, that teaches them that empathy is a weakness not a strength.

It’s not a game when the games we play reinforce the idea that we as a community don’t care about the suffering of those who are not cishet white men.

I think whoever wrote this has too much time on their hands and needs to get laid

It’s not a game because REAL PEOPLE ARE DEAD. They are dead for realsies. They won’t get to call pause for a bio break or a snack run, they won’t get to say brb – kid. They’re DEAD.

Also, I realize when you read this rude comment it will set you off and you will rant on twitter. Maybe you should focus on things that actually matter.

It’s not a game because real people are afraid to go to the bathroom in public. To go to work. To leave their goddamn homes. They don’t get to call pause on the hatred, on the wondering if some violent asshole “standing guard” over a public washroom is going to make them a statistic.

It’s not a game because people like the shooter don’t come from a magical thought vacuum. They are created by a toxic culture of hatred, and culture is something that we all create.

So why do I care? Because I can’t not. There’s just too much at stake.

GenCon’s Featured Presenters are 52% female, and that’s a huge deal

[Before I start – full disclosure, I am one of the Industry Insider Featured Presenters for this year’s GenCon. So I’m sure that there are those who will say that me writing this post is self-serving arrogance and/or egomania, but whatever.]

The GenCon Industry Insider Featured Presenters for 2016 have been announced, and holy shit is this year’s lineup amazing! Seriously, take a look:

GenCon-2016-IIFP2
For some reason they let me be one too. Not sure what that’s about. [joking]
That’s right, folks. There are 13 female IIFPs and only 12 men. This means there are MORE WOMEN THAN MEN, and that is a HUGE FUCKING DEAL, because that is a HUGE amount of change in a really short period of time. To prove it, let’s look at the numbers:

That said, while gender parity has been achieved, there’s still some progress to be made on other fronts. While there is increased representation of LGBT people, the lineup is still pretty darn white. Even so, the current lineup is a lot less cishet and is less white than in years past, which is encouraging. To quote Jessica Price, an IIFP and developer at Paizo:

Does this magically fix all of tabletop gaming’s misogyny problems? No. But women being recognized as gaming authorities, our work being highlighted, our input being sought, and just our presence in equal numbers with men helps

And importantly, this lineup is much more reflective of the diversity of activity within the gaming industry as a whole. In years past, in order to get selected you pretty much had to be a cishet white dude working for a mainstream company on trad tabletop games. But this year’s lineup includes a wide swath of thought-leadership in the hobby, including tabletop publishers, LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, podcasters, academics, and community managers. Which is EXCITING! I can’t wait to see what sort of discussion comes out of this year’s panels!

Lastly, there’s one other reason to be excited about this lineup, and it’s a doozy.

GenCon: First Industry convention to achieve parity

GenCon is pretty much THE FIRST major gaming industry convention to achieve gender parity in it’s lineup of guests of honor / special guests / featured guests / featured presenters – from here on out referred to as the GoH lineup, just so I don’t have to keep typing all of that out. (Honestly it would make my life a lot easier if the industry could agree on a standard term, event organizers. Just sayin’.) Don’t believe me? Let me back that up with some numbers.

I went looking at the GoH lineup for every convention in the United States and Canada with attendance over 10,000 that included gaming (of any kind) as a primary or secondary focus. (Sourced using Wikipedia, here)

This means that conventions without a GoH program were excluded, such as BlizzCon, Minecon, and PAX. (Although to be fair, PAX might have a GoH program, but their website was terrible and I gave up looking after twenty minutes.) I also didn’t include Game Developers Conference, despite being one of the major industry conferences, because they have a list of speakers with hundreds of people, but not a list of GoH, and given that I’m in school right now I just don’t have time for that shit. Lastly, E3 was also not included because they have industry partners and sponsors, but no GoH.

That left a list of 10 conventions. Most of them, finding a roster of 2016 GoH was easy, but for whatever reason I had trouble with IndieCade, so I counted their lineup for 2015, figuring that was a good enough approximation. And here’s what I came up with:

graph
CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW

Out of the ten conventions surveyed, only MarCon had more representation of women. However, while MarCon does include gaming as a secondary focus, it’s primarily a sci-fi and anime convention; it’s gaming presence is very small, and it’s not one of the major stops on the typical gaming industry convention tour. (I say this not to knock MarCon – it’s quite lovely, and I’ve been several times, before I left the US for Canada.)

So out of major gaming industry conventions? GenCon comes out clearly on top. The next-most even gender split of conventions that are more than just video games is Momo Con, which is still nearly two thirds male and has Totalbiscuit – one of the big names of GamerGate – as a GoH, for fuck’s sake.

Reactions to the lineup

There have been some encouragingly positive reactions to the announcement of the IIFP lineup. Both The Mary Sue and BoingBoing have highlighted the lineup and what it means for the industry.

But of course, there have also been those who are… less pleased with this development. Both Jessica Price and Whitney “Strix” Beltran (who was an IIFP last year, but not this year) have faced sexist backlash about the composition of the IIFP lineup – despite the fact that one of them is not a current IIFP and neither of them have anything to do with the selection process. Some of the “arguments” being presented are:

  • Old school RPGs are the only “real” RPGs
  • Mainstream trad games outsell indie games, and thus indie developers don’t matter
  • Indies chosen as IIFPs were selected because of pretentious identity politics and not merit
  • The current lineup is a result of “SJW gatekeepers”

Thankfully, the amount of obviously sexist MRA garbage has been fairly small as of yet. However, there are those who have reacted by expressing puzzlement about why GenCon would select such an “obscure” lineup, or by speculating that only “unknowns” must be applying to the IIFP program.

Which. Ugh. There’s not as much gross sexism in that sort of response, but it’s still pretty insulting hearing people imply that the obvious increase in diversity must be as a result of an overall decrease of merit. And I could write a couple thousand words on that alone, but I think I’ll let Elizabeth Sampat and Jessica Price take it from here:

ESampat

JPrice
This isn’t actually a reply to Elizabeth’s tweet, it just amused me to place them this way

Mic. Dropped.

Monday freebie: Shit you need to read about harassment

Hey, folks

Last week saw a ton of amazing pieces about gendered harassment online. At the time, I didn’t have bandwidth to do more than hit reshare, but looking back at the wealth of well-researched and written articles that shed light on a phenomenon many people would prefer not to think about, I’m retroactively declaring this required reading. These are long pieces, so save them for when you have some bandwidth to process – don’t just skim them, because these pieces all deserve more than just a perfunctory read.

First, this actually dates back a couple of weeks, but if you haven’t seen this piece by Tumblr user latining about the white male terrorism problem in tabletop gaming, then go read it right now. Don’t let the strong headline put you off, because the experiences that she recounts in stark detail are not all ones that I’ve had personally, but many of them are. And the ones that I haven’t experienced directly, I’ve seen them happen to other women, or talked to other women who have had those experiences after the fact.

Second, The Guardian did a week of pieces about gendered harassment last week, and each one of them hit it out of the park. The first entry in the series was this post where they talked about the trolling that happens in their own comment section, their moderation policies and process, and how it can be difficult to apply in real life. But more importantly, they also have a lot of great interactive graphs which show the data of which writers for which sections face the most harassment, so you should make sure to read on desktop rather than mobile.

The next piece in The Guardian’s series is this look at how, in the face of indifference and lack of action on the part of major social network companies like Facebook and Twitter, women are starting to build their own tools for fighting back against online abuse.

Following that was this piece by Jessica Valenti, who has the unfortunate distinction of being the most-harassed writer for The Guardian, about why writers shouldn’t be expected to put up with insults and rape threats as “part of the job”. (It sounds like stating the obvious, but I promise it’s an excellent read.)

Last in the series was this piece that takes a look at the current state of laws and company policies that are supposed to deal with cyber-harassment, and the gaping holes in those policies that prevent them from being anything resembling useful.

Third, this long read by The Atlantic looks at how concerns over “free speech” have been used to turn social media into a space where harassing speech by users becomes the default, and is seen as worth protecting – moreso than the feelings of safety of those whom the harassing speech is directed at.

Last, make sure to read this piece on Broadly about why nerds are so sexist, especially as it features male tears about how Star Wars is being taken over by women.

Go! Read! There may be a quiz later.

 

Epilogue: On “KickStarter Diversity” – problems, but not many potential solutions

[Note: I know I’ve been a one-note blog these last few weeks. This is going to be my last post about KickStarter for a while, promise.]

I would be remiss if I did not mention the tremendous response that I got to last week’s post. So thank you to everyone who said positive things in response, or who offered words of comfort, or who tried to offer assistance.

Thanks also to people who bought one of my games, or who became a patron. Not gonna lie, I’m feeling a bit guilty about the spike in sales that I saw – it wasn’t my intention to guilt people into buying my games or becoming patrons, I can understand how me opening a window onto some of the harsh, ugly feels that I’ve been having would seem like me yelling at you, my readers, which wasn’t my intention.

Of course, not all of my responses were that friendly and receptive. Like these, for example:

comments

There was also someone who popped up on my G+ and commented using the hashtag for GooberGate, which freaked me the fuck out for a few minutes when I saw it. (Thankfully that crowd doesn’t seem to be very active on G+?) So that was fun. Nice to know that after all of the word count that I devoted to gathering data on proving how fucked women publishers are, talking about feelings in gaming is still the biggest sin you can commit when writing about games while female.

Lastly, I feel like it’s worth addressing that a lot of people had questions about how I handled The Starlit Kingdom specifically, when honestly the second half of the post was by far the more “serious” of the two situations. The lack of response to TSK was an irritant, not the crushing disappointment and maddening frustration of being able to prove that people don’t buy games by women and still trying to find a way to be successful anyway. I lost a lot of time and effort, and that sucks and is discouraging. But it seems like that’s what a lot of people focused on because that’s the part that could be “fixed”.

So, you know, yeah I acknowledge there’s more I could have done to promote TSK. I probably threw in the towel a bit too quickly. But it’s also important to remember that the best places to promote an anime-themed game (Reddit, YouTube, and 4Chan) are virulently unfriendly to women and my anxiety just couldn’t deal with venturing into those spaces. As I pointed out in a comment:

There’s a REASON I never approached 4Chan. The NICEST thing anyone from 4Chan has ever called me when linking to my material is a “jealous lesbian”, so you’ll understand that sort of reaction isn’t exactly motivational for me to engage with 4Chan. Likewise, given the shit that gets leveled at me here on my own blog, the idea of putting a demo of play up on YouTube gives me HIVES, given the things that people say about women there. Likewise, I never did an AMA on Reddit because Reddit is where men call me things like “ignorant judgemental cunt” and compare rape to a sport in threads about things I’ve written.

So that’s a thing. Moving on.

In which I disclaim:

(It’s important to note here that I am going to talk about this in terms of women, but this goes double for people who are visible minorities, queer, disabled, etc. It just gets a bit laborious trying to include all of that, so please just remember that we’re not just talking about white ciswomen like me here.)

(Also I’m perfectly aware that I am presenting problems without solutions. I KNOW that. With the huge volume that I have written in the last month+ about the complexity of issues surrounding being a female publisher, this isn’t something where I can write a 2000-3000 word post about “here are the problems and here are the solutions”.)

(Also, I just KNOW that some people are going to read this and say “she doesn’t think white men should make money on games!” or “she thinks that recruiting diverse teams for game projects is bad!” or “she’s saying she should get more money just for being a woman!”. Which. Um. No. I am talking a problem that exists at a SYSTEMIC LEVEL. It’s important not to get bogged down in specific examples, even if specific examples are what I’m using to illustrate my point.)

KickStarter Diversity

Okay. So basically what we’ve been covering here for the last month and a bit is that being a female publisher sucks. And part of the reason you don’t see many female-fronted KickStarters is because of all the structural and cultural barriers that are placed in front of women designers and publishers. The result is that the games publishing industry tends to look a whole lot more homogeneous than their customer base actually is; it doesn’t matter if you’re looking at the big companies or at the scrappy indies, the tRPG industry is overwhelmingly white and male.

Now this is something that certain publishers are starting to be aware of. It’s also something that tRPG gamers are beginning to care about. As a result, it’s becoming more common to see efforts to have diverse creative teams for KickStarters. However, all too often the “diversity” that you end up seeing is what I think of as “KickStarter Diversity” – it’s disappointingly shallow at best, and outright deceptive at worst.

What do I mean? Well, here are two of my personal experiences that I feel serve as pretty solid examples of what I’m talking about.

Case Study 1: Deceptive Diversity

Pretty early in my game writing “career”, I happened to sign on as a freelancer to a pretty mammoth project – I was going to be one of a large number of co-authors writing a monster game book for a Really Big Name Publisher. The lead developer (who, I want to be clear, was also a subcontractor and not employed by the Really Big Name Publisher) wanted to put together a diverse team of writers to do a truly inclusive project. I was really excited about that! And it was early enough in my efforts to be a “real” game designer that the “legitimacy” of being able to say I’d written for Really Big Name Publisher was appealing.

And in the end, the work that I did for RBNP was some of the best work I’ve ever done. I’m proud of the work that I did, and of the book that we created. But here’s the thing, RBNP’s terms were outright abusive.

First, they only paid 3 cents per word. Even for small assignments of 1000-2000 words, you end up being underpaid when you do the math of how long it took you to write those words versus how much you’re getting paid. But when you’re talking the massive wordcounts that most members of the team were pulling in order to put together this mammoth tome? 10 thousand, 15 thousand, or even 20 thousand word assignments require time, research, and planning. A lot of it! Even with the advantage of plenty of my previous writing experience, with the amount of time that I spent on my assignment I miiiiiiight have gotten (American) minimum wage for it. Barely.

There’s also the issue that RBNP’s contract terms were (and as far as I know still are) half on acceptance (which I’ll come back to) and half pay-on-publication. Given the length of time that your average game book spends in development, this means that writers are putting in time and effort without any guarantee of payment; books do get delayed, and even canceled. Not often, but it does happen! Now yes, game development is an expensive process; there are illustrators and layout artists to be paid, as well as production and shipping costs to consider. But given that KickStarter is now the default publication model for any seriously large game book, it’s even more abusive that a company would still make their payment terms pay-on-publication, because a few weeks after the campaign ends, they already have all that money sitting in the bank.

In the case of the project that I worked on, it broke six figures on KickStarter, and yet I didn’t get the second half of my money until eighteen months after I’d completed and turned in my drafts. And don’t even get me started on how hard it was to get a copy of the book, which was also in my contract.

The whole experience left a sour taste in my mouth, because again – I truly believe in the product that we made and am grateful to the lead developer for his hard work in putting together such a wonderfully diverse team of writers and in pushing some hard conversations to make sure that we got things right, from a standpoint of being inclusive. But the fact is that the lion’s share of the profit from the six figures that were KickStarted are going to owners who are white and male, whose business model seems (at least from the subcontractor end of things) to  to revolve around getting marginalized writers who crave legitimacy to sign on to projects, because they don’t have expectations they should be treated better.

It is great that RBNP is publishing games that are inclusive, and it makes me happy that that is something that audiences are excited about. But when their business model is predicated on achieving that inclusivity by getting a diverse team of writers, treating them like shit, and then stuffing all of the money into the pockets of some white guys? That sucks. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the owners don’t deserve to profit! Publishing is a fucking huge job and it’s expensive. But it is possible to be a publisher AND treat your freelancers well, which they are not.

Case Study 2: Shallow Diversity

After my experiences writing for RBNP, I swore off of spec writing for big game projects. Especially when I ended up making more money per word on SexyTime Adventures, which isn’t even a real game, than I did on my writing for RBNP. And I definitely earn more money per word here on my blog, even on the long posts. The return on investment just wasn’t worth it.

However, subsequently a friend of mine contacted me about a KickStarter for a game by Another Big Name Publisher that was written around themes of diversity and inclusion that was looking to put together a diverse team of stretch goal writers to reflect the themes of the game. Because of the reputation of the game in question, and because the request came through this friend who had done a lot to support me as a publisher, I decided to sign on. But unfortunately, I wound up regretting that decision.

To be fair to Another Big Name Publisher, their terms were objectively better – 5 cents a wordand pay on acceptance. However, “on acceptance” turned out to be unexpectedly vague – the contract didn’t specify what “on acceptance” actually meant – on acceptance of my draft? On acceptance of everyone’s drafts? How soon after “acceptance” would we get payed? And how was I supposed to know when “acceptance” had happened? None of these questions came up until after I turned in my draft (on time) and… then didn’t see any money. It ended up being three months between the deadline for drafts and the date that I actually got paid. When I started asking about payment and timelines at about the two month mark, it was generally a week between emails. All in all, it was not a happy freelancer experience.

Now admittedly, 3 months is still a hell of a lot better than 18. But the amount of money that I was owed didn’t even break 3 digits, and again, this was for something that already had many thousands of dollars in the bank thanks to the KickStarter.

There’s also the problematic element that ABNP is a company that is mostly male and almost entirely white is using diversity as a selling point for this game. Given that the diversity of participation was through fairly small stretch goals, it makes sense that the profits would go to the company (and the writers) making the game. But as with RBNP, you have the very people who are contributing the diversity that is desired being the people who are least compensated.

Case Study 3: The Forgotten – Progress!

Andrew Medeiros is the co-designer of Urban Shadows and, in the interest of full disclosure, my co-designer on The Watch – recently finished his KickStarter for The Forgotten – a card-based LARP about people trying to survive in a city under siege by doing whatever it takes to stay alive. His second stretch goal (also full disclosure, extra photography by me was the first stretch goal) was actually to commission Kira Magrann to write a variant game based on The Forgotten that would be available to backers.

I found that idea hugely interesting! Because it goes beyond the standard approach to diversity of “if we get $4000 more we’ll add $100 worth of cost and maybe a bit more in terms of development costs for a stretch goal by a not-white-guy”. Because that model of KickStarter diversity is only ever going to be shallow by definition, and the demographics of game development logically dictate that shallow models of KickStarter diversity are always going to funnel the most money to white dudes. Which, you know, fuck that. Diversity should be more than just a wallpaper selling point!

Instead, what is happening with The Forgotten is that the designer is taking a share of his games profits and saying to a not-white-dude game designer, “I want you to create a game”. It represents taking a share of the extra profits earned by male-fronted games and funneling toward a female creator in a way that results in MORE compelling content, not less. (Kira’s variant game is going to be about patriarchal dystopia, a la The Handmaid’s Tale, and I am RIDICULOUSLY excited to play it.) And of course, the devil is in the details. The game hasn’t been written yet, and there are lots of details to be ironed out. But the potential for this sort of arrangement is HUGE.

And sure. This sort of arrangement wouldn’t work for every KickStarter. It would be a nightmare for something the size and complexity of 7th Sea (which also just ended, and raised 1.3 million). But part of why I’m writing this is to start a conversation. Publishers are a smart lot, used to solving a lot of complex problems. So, publishers, what can we do about this? How can we start creating meaningful diversity in publishing that isn’t just wallpaper on a mostly-white product?