On tone policing and acceptable expressions of anger

I had planned for my next post to be a post about GenCon as a microcosm for the state of the gaming community. I wanted to write about the things that are giving me hope with regards to GenCon prep and the energy going into the convention, as well as some things that are giving me some trepidation and making me a bit nervous about venturing into a gamer space actually in person. And then life happened. Or rather, the internet happened to a real life thing and it sucked.

The drama, summarized

In a facebook group for a group of gamers who play games together in a consistent meatspace location, there was discussion of a game that was to be playtested that focused on a sensitive subject matter. English is not the first language of the designer, so predictably misunderstandings resulted. In response to these misunderstandings, a member of the group who is marginalized in a way that the game was attempting to explore, jumped directly to personal attacks – first on the designer and facilitator, and subsequently on the moderator of the group who own the space where the games are played. The marginalized person has also tried to get third parties from outside the group to join the group and shout down everyone who agrees with them. These third parties have also sent abusive messages to the female co-facilitator of the game (not even the designer!), which the female co-facilitator finds understandably upsetting and frightening.

TL;DR, there was a controversy and a marginalized person leaped straight to personal attacks and harassing behavior.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Moving on: the dilemma, and why it matters

So why am I writing about this and why should anyone outside of this particular group of people care? Simple. I discovered that I have a lot to say about acceptable expressions of anger versus unacceptable expressions of anger in response to perceived oppression.

Now before I get started, it’s important for me to acknowledge that I am a white middle-class able-bodied English-speaking cishet woman. So it’s easy to look at the above statement and hear “whoa, wundergeek is about engage in some grade A tone policing”. Which. No. Not even. Fuck tone policing right in the goddamn ear.

A lot of what I write here is angry. I refuse to censor my anger in an effort to gain acceptance for my arguments or to make people more comfortable with either my arguments or me as a person. Telling someone that they should talk to you calmly and unemotionally about the oppression that they are experiencing is the height of clueless privilege, and I will righteously tear down anyone who tries to claim otherwise.

HOWEVER, righteous anger about lived oppression IS NOT a blank check to retaliate in any way that you see fit. As an oppressed person, you can’t choose not to be oppressed. But you CAN choose how you choose to express your anger over that oppression. Is anger a powerful emotion that can lead us to make impulsive decisions? Absolutely! But there’s a reason why we don’t excuse murder or violence by saying “well I was angry”; learning how to deal with your anger in ways that don’t harm others is part of living in a civilized society – a skill that you are expected to possess in some capacity in order to be a functioning grown-ass human.

At the end of the day, the person you are lashing out against is still a fucking human being with hopes and dreams, aspirations and struggles, vulnerabilities and insecurities. Your anger about their complicity in systems of oppression that are harming you DOES NOT give you permission to harm them right back. Because guess what? WE ARE ALL COMPLICIT in systems of oppression. Every single one of us. It’s how society fucking works.

“But dammit, wundergeek. That sucks. Let me have my anger, okay, because it is righteous and totally justified!”

Again, I’m not telling you not to be angry or not to express anger, because that way lies tone policing. Instead, here are some ground rules:

Someone was a butthead and you are angry? Cool. How are you going to respond?

DO call out the offending party. Tell them why you are angry and how what they said or did reinforced the systems of oppression that cause you harm.

DO NOT jump straight to personal attacks without even attempting to have a conversation with the person you are angry at.

DO be open to the possibility that part of the inciting incident was a misunderstanding on your part. Human language is weird and imprecise and confusing, even when you’re communicating face-to-face. It’s orders of magnitude more difficult when you’re talking about online or other asynchronous communication, since you don’t have nonverbal social cues to add context to what is being said.

DO NOT use feminist theory as a personal attack to bully someone into being quiet when they are attempting to have a good faith conversation with you. If you don’t have time or bandwidth for the conversation, it is totally okay to say so! I get it. I do! I almost never engage in 101-level conversations because I don’t have the time or patience for them. But if someone is indicating that they are listening to you and you use feminist theory to tell them why they are a bad person and should feel bad about themselves, you are being an asshole.

DO use language that centers on “thing you did”or “the thing that you said”. 99% of the time, you will be angry about an inciting incident and not the totality of the other person as a human being – the sum of their dreams and thoughts and experiences. (And if you find that you are at that level of anger with someone, I would politely suggest that that’s not a healthy place to be.)

DO NOT attempt to win the argument through numbers or brute force by bringing in biased third parties who agree with your point of view. SERIOUSLY DON’T DO IT. That shit is straight up harassment and is NEVER FUCKING OKAY.

DO lean on friends, family, and other members of your support network for support and vent your frustrations. Safe spaces where you can express your hurt to trusted loved ones are important in order to stay sane.

DO NOT trash the person you are angry with to biased third parties with the understanding that these people will then tell the person you are angry with how awful they are. Regardless of who the abuse is coming from, that is harassment and you are the inciting party.

DO hold people accountable for harm that their words or actions have caused.

DO NOT insist on continuing a conversation when it is actively harming someone. I’m not saying that their guilty feeeeelings need to trump a real conversation – not in the slightest, because guilt and lived oppression are not even remotely equivalent. However, if a conversation escalates to the point where it is triggering someone’s mental health issues (say because of volume or unintended fallout or personal attacks) and you insist on continuing that conversation, that is not okay. If you find yourself in such a situation, back off and suggest a resumption of discussion once feelings have had a chance to cool.

DO remember to hold on to compassion even when angry. Is it hard? Sure. But we’re humans – we are capable of feeling conflicting emotions. Embrace that capacity and use it.

Lastly…

DO remember to consider the context of the situation when deciding how to respond. Where did the inciting incident take place? How did it happen? Who was involved? What is the history of the people involved wrt your oppression? Are there reasons why you should be inclined to read/listen charitably?

In dealing with buttheads here on my blog, I’m often quite prone to not thinking of them as humans, because that just occupies too much bandwidth that they don’t deserve. Often, deleting their comments and replacing them with a sarcastic meme or male tears GIF suffices, and I move on with my life. But that level of dismissive pithiness would not be appropriate in a disagreement with someone in meatspace, and it would be especially inappropriate with someone I was closely connected to or someone that I knew had a proven history of trying not to be a butthead.

Of course, the existence of things like facebook groups for real-life groups of people complicates matters. Often it’s easy forget that the words on a screen attached to an icon are also attached to someone you are personally connected to in real life. Be conscious of that fact and choose your words with care, if you feel the need to tell people they are wrong on the internet.

Lastly, be aware of potential mitigating factors that might cause misunderstandings. Read and listen charitably, and ask for clarification when something bothers you. Returning to the actual incident that generated this post, if someone you know does not share a first language with you says something that you find harmful or offensive, it’s actually pretty damn likely that they were actually trying to say something different from the thing you took offense at. Attempting to converse in a language that is NOT your native language puts you at a significant disadvantage in any conversation; jumping straight from statement to personal attacks makes YOU the asshole because you are holding them to a standard that you know they aren’t capable of meeting.

This might be too personal

[Note: I am the literal worst at titles. After staring at the title box for half an hour, I finally gave up and typed the first thing that came to me. I’m aware that it’s an awful title, but I give up.]

This post is actually one of the “big things” I’ve had in the works for a few weeks now; although it’s more “big” in the amount of work that went into it than in the “super-exciting” kind of way.

…I’m not really sure how else to introduce it, so I’ll just say that it’s a pretty personal comic and save additional commentary for the end of the post. The images are large and weirdly shaped, so I’m placing the rest of the post under a jump so that it doesn’t screw up formatting for people reading on mobile. (The resizing might make the text a bit hard to read, so you can click on the image for a larger, clearer view.)

Continue reading

Friday Freebies: the apology edition

Before I get started, a few notes:

So here’s the deal: we’ve just entered the busy season at my day job. More workload means less time and bandwidth, means less ability to post here. Go Make Me a Sandwich is going to be my first priority when it comes to writing, but I still have to go to my job and be a mom as well as all that other stuff. Not to mention that this is convention season, and I’ll be attending a couple of those. Lastly, I just signed all of the paperwork to start a big, really exciting project that I’m super excited about. I think it’s going to be a really good thing for tabletop! Unfortunately, it’s on a deadline and it’s not something I can really talk about until after it happens. So that will be a factor too.

My goal is to get one paid post up per week, and I will try to get freebie link posts up as well. Realistically that may not happen. I promise things will pick up again once we get into late summer, and I do have some cool stuff in the works. Thanks for bearing with me.

And now on to the linkage!

Leigh Alexander is totally killing it

Over on Offworld, a new BoingBoing affiliate, Leigh Alexander has been totally killing it with a ton of interesting articles. My favorites lately include: A look at the disturbing trend of bootleg Frozen games, a really interesting profile of indie game developer Nina Freeman, and a piece about Holly Gramazio’s absurd game Pornography for Beginners which lampoons the UK’s new anti-pornography laws.

I would say that OffWorld is definitely worth subscribing to.

Noelle Stevenson, similarly killing it

Noelle Stevenson, the creator of Nimona and one of the writers for Lumberjanes, is one of my favorite people on Twitter.

Recently, she did a series of tweets about the lazy trope of introducing a male antihero by having him wake up to a beautiful woman he clearly has just slept with, suggesting possible alternatives which are all brilliant:

 

antihero
CLICK FOR LARGER MORE READABLE VIEW

 

anti-GamerGate awesome meets GamerGate shenanigans

Recently, ABC did a radio story about GamerGate that characterized it as, you know, what it is – an abusive hate group. Predictably, GamerGate responded with complaints about biased coverage and ABC responded with actual, journalistic integrity! Who knew?

Twitter unveiled some new policy updates regarding harassment, which look promising! However, in the same week they also unveiled a “let any old rando direct message you whenever” feature that left most of my Twitter feed asking WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WHO WOULD WANT THIS? (Thank heavens it is opt-in.)

The Verge had some great coverage of an awesome story: Zoe Quinn spoke to Congress in a congressional briefing on online harassment and cyberstalking!  It should be noted that The Verge is an example of how to correctly cover such an event, while Polygon’s coverage gets everything so wrong I can’t even. Brian Crecente does some amazing verbal footwork to completely dance around journalistic responsibility; not once does he mention the fact that GamerGate is an actual literal hate group. Worse, he falls back on false equivalence in attempting to present “both sides” which is both reprehensible and cowardly in the extreme.

One of the things that I have been interested to see is how the internet community has been responding to GamerGate as a new reality by creating new tools and platforms to help targets of abuse deal with that abuse. I’ve linked to Crash Override and the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative before, but now there’s an awesome KickStarter by the creators of iHollaback! to fund the creation of HeartMob:

WHAT: After 18 months of planning, collaborating, and creating working prototypes, Hollaback! is launching HeartMob, a platform that provides real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment – and gives bystanders concrete actions they can take to step in and save the day.

HOW: HeartMob allows users to easily report their harassment and maintain complete control over their story. Once reported, users will have the option of keeping their report private and cataloguing it in case it escalates, or they can make the report public. If they choose to make it public, they will be able to choose from a menu of options on how they want bystanders to support them, take action, or intervene. They will also be given extensive resources including: safety planning, materials on how to differentiate an empty threat from a real threat, online harassment laws and details on how to report their harassment to authorities (if requested), and referrals to other organizations that can provide counseling and legal services.

Bystanders looking to provide support will receive public requests, along with chosen actions of support. You can “have someone’s back” and know that you’re helping them out in a time of need while directly contributing to safer spaces online. HeartMob staff will review all messages and reports to ensure the platform remains safe and supportive.

They’re currently $2000 shy of their goal with 21 days to go. I hope they meet all kinds of stretch goals because this seems like it will be a really great tool.

[Trigger Warning: Harassment and pedophilia]

Okay, this last one’s a bit convoluted so bear with me.

Last week at Calgary Expo there was a booth funded by Honey Badger Radio – a GG/MRA-affiliated group – which was selling GG merch and sending MRAs to troll panels. Calgary Expo, thank god, took swift action and booted them from the convention.

Enter Anne Wheaton (yes that Anne Wheaton), who blogged about this in light of her attendance at Calgary Expo. Predictably, GamerGate didn’t take kindly to that, and started flooding Anne Wheaton’s mentions with harassing messages. So she announced that for every harassing message she got from a Gator, she would donate $1 up to a cap of $1000 to Feminist Frequency. John Scalzi jumped in and said that he would match, and unsurprisingly they got to $2000 in pretty short order. Go Anne!

…unfortunately, GamerGate – ever eager to prove that even when you think you’ve hit bottom there is always another basement where the internet is concerned – responded by saying they were going to donate a matching amount to NAMBLA. (I hope to god that this wasn’t serious.)

Claustrophobia: a Twine game

I just published Claustrophobia – my first Twine game!

What is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a Twine game (my first!). It is a mostly autobiographical game (some details have been changed or vagued up) about the difficulty in being someone who Makes Games While Female.

Some caveats:

  • If you’ve been harassed online, or someone you love has been harassed online, or you have significant anxiety about being harassed online, this might not be the game for you. Play with care.
  • This game contains profanity. Partly because I like profanity, but partly because that’s kind of unavoidable given the subject matter.
  • Obviously this isn’t intended to be any sort of universal statement about This Is What Harassment Looks Like. This is just my experience of it.
  • If you are aware of who a particular passage is referencing (I’ve tried to prevent this), for God’s sake don’t point at my game and name names. This isn’t about pointing fingers, so cut it out – you make my life worse when you do that.
  • Yes I am aware that I don’t have it “as bad” as other prominent female gaming culture critics. That’s not the point.

Play Claustrophobia

You’ll note that I made this post a patron-supported post[1], so that I could release this freely. (I put a lot of time and effort into this, not to mention the emotional labor of putting myself in this kind of headspace.)

So if you are finding this by other means, play the game. If you like or appreciate it, you could throw me a dollar or two (there’s a Donate button in the sidebar there – it’s new!) – that will make it easier for me to do such work in the future. But no need to feel bad if you don’t.

[1] I know I said I was going to work on more fun things, but this was something I’d been working on for a few weeks already! Fun stuff after this! Promise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threatening, stealing, cheating or harassing others

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

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