GenCon 2019, learned community helplessness, and the benefits of actually banning predators

Important Preamble

Despite the fact that I have been attending GenCon every year for around fourteen years, I hadn’t planned on attending GenCon this year, and was sort of shocked when things ended up such that I was able to go. See, about four or five years ago was when Z, my long-time harasser and a huge part of why I shut this blog down in 2016, began attending GenCon. And despite being a known serial harasser who oozed toxicity and had been responsible for harassing dozens of people out of the games industry and community, for more than a decade people just sort of shrugged their shoulders and enabled his abuse by saying things like “you have to separate art from artist” or “removing Z would be censorship”.

That is, if they didn’t outright deny the reality of those who spoke publicly about Z’s abuse – a feat which required no small amount of mental gymnastics, given that even the people I met who described Z as a friend would always begin their descriptions of him as “sure, he’s an asshole, but…”

Anyway. So Z started going to GenCon, and worse than that, he started winning LOTS of Ennies for his games. (Ennies are like the oscars of TTRPGs, with everything that implies about awards handed out by a community of mostly old white dudes.) I started having panic attacks in the lead up to GenCon, panic attacks that got worse every year. In 2018 Z was nominated for (and won) four Ennies, and I had two weeks of devastating panic attacks leading up to the convention that only partially abated when I promised myself that 2018 would be my last year. I love GenCon more than I can possibly articulate, but the thing that I loved was harming me, and I needed to not repeat the mistakes I made in 2016 by continuing on a course of action that was harming me because of a misguided need to “win”.

So 2018 was the year I said goodbye GenCon.

From 2018: Goodbye you weird fucking UFO-thing. I don’t know why I love you, but I do.

Because it was going to be my last year, I made lunch and dinner appointments with various movers and shakers in the TTRPG industry outside of my usual circles and I told them my story. I told them about how I was being forced out of a community space that I loved because of someone who everyone knew was toxic and bad for the community. And universally, the reaction from the influencers I talked with was sympathetic but bewildered refusal to actually do anything or take a stand.

You see, my story was so sad, so sad. And obviously I didn’t deserve any of what happened to me, and clearly I shouldn’t be punished for my abuser’s actions. It’s just too bad that absolutely. Nothing. Could. Be. Done. Because what could possibly be done about someone like Z? What action could possibly be taken to protect the people he victimized in order to make them feel safe in existing in this community space? What a mystery. What a complete and total mystery. Truly a mystery for the ages that may never be solved.

…if I sound salty about it, it’s because I am.

But then February happened – and four brave women who should not have had to retraumatize themselves in public for us to do something bravely spoke out with credible accusations of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape. And finally. FINALLY. Z was canceled.

So, GenCon 2019 was back in the cards.

At the convention

Coming back after I thought I had said goodbye to GenCon forever was a wild ride. It was a bit embarrassing running into people that I had told about my situation last year, assuming that I wasn’t ever going to meet them again – especially those who weren’t familiar with everything that had happened with Z in February. I was a goddamn mess in 2018, and I even complained to (a really super nice and super decent) publisher from Korea who I met for all of five minutes last year – which made it all the more mortifying when he saw me this year and remembered who I was and was really very nice.

Social awkwardness aside, however, this year was an overwhelmingly positive and recharging experience, untainted by fear, anxiety, trauma, or panic attacks. Not having to worry about Z completely transformed how I experienced GenCon!

In previous years, I spent lots of time and energy making plans for how to avoid the places Z would be, and emergency plans for what to do if I ran into him. I made sure I had refills of my emergency meds for panic attacks. I made lists of names of friends, phone numbers, and where they could be found at the convention if something happened and I needed to be around someone safe. I made maps of the dealer’s room with the booth Z was working at so that I knew which section of the dealer’s room to avoid. All of this was important to help me deal with the anxiety and panic attacks that the idea of being in the same spaces as Z caused, and I got used to anxiety and panic attacks being part of my GenCon prep.

This year, the convention snuck up on me! I’d gotten so used to panic attacks being my “it’s time to think about GenCon GM prep” alarm that I didn’t do any of my prep until about two days before I left for the convention. Neither did I have a single panic attack, although I still had the usual anxiety dreams about forgetting to run my games and getting kicked out of the convention. (Anxiety is a cruel mistress.) And at the con the vibe was so relentlessly, uniformly excited and positive, without the usual undercurrent of simmering resentment about our community’s enabling of known abusers.

…seriously, the number of years I’ve gone to the Diana Jones Awards only to have 50% or greater of my conversations there be about how bullshit it was that Z had been nominated for so many Ennies… The dude occupied a lot of mental real estate!

But none of that was clear until Sunday of the convention, and a pithy observation made by a dear friend who happens to be a cishet white guy over lunch. He quipped that it was great that ‘the toxic cloud had lifted’, and that everyone he talked to had been having an equally positive experience of the convention. The metaphor was so striking, because it precisely described my experience. It highlighted the emotional reality of something that I had always known intellectually: when you remove predators from your community, the entire community benefits.

So why? WHY did it take so long for the community to act when the benefits were so clear and so widespread?

The learned helplessness inherent in “there’s nothing to be done”

There has been a lot of ink spilled about the problem of Geek Social Fallacies in geekdom, the first of which is that “ostracizers are evil”. And of course, the Geek Social Fallacies are still very endemic in gaming spaces. It creates a reluctance to remove people from communities, even for the best of reasons – because excluding people makes you a bad person. So the focus shifts from removing bad actors to reducing conflict, with the rationalization that conflict is the real problem.

However, this is the logic that inevitably sees abusers enabled, if not rewarded with status and position, while their victims – usually marginalized people – are run out of the community. This happens either tacitly, when marginalized victims “pro-actively” opt not to participate in communities that include their abusers. However, it also happens more actively – when victims of prominent abusers speak their truth and are actively run out of a community for creating conflict. When you make excluding people an unforgiveable sin, the only way to keep a community energized and active is to persecute people who question the unjust structures that protect abusers.

And of course, the people who are most vigorous in persecuting marginalized people who question the unjust status quo are those with the most privilege, who naturally don’t see anything hypocritical about holding the belief that “ostracizers are evil” while actively ostracizing marginalized victims of abuse. Because these “defenders of the community” are inevitably cishet white dudes with an extraordinary amount of unexamined privilege who have convinced themselves that the childhood bullying they experienced for their geeky interests is exactly the same as the experiences of marginalization faced by queer people, women, people of color, and people from other marginalized groups.

These assumptions calcify into immutable laws that create patterns of behavior, patterns that long-term members of the community have seen repeat endlessly, with little to no variation in the ultimate results. And this endless cycle creates learned helplessness even in those who are aware enough to realize the injustice being perpetrated, because it all feels too big to be changed. What could possibly be done that hasn’t been tried before? What could be done to make this time, this instance not another repetition in the endless cycle? People, especially people with privilege, become so mired in that sense of futility that they lose sight of the incredibly obvious answer, the answer that victims of abuse have been shrieking all along:

REMOVE. PREDATORS. FROM. YOUR. COMMUNITIES.

The inability of communities to see this solution is willful blindness. Because when someone is a known abuser, there are always people agitating for that person’s removal.

In the case of Z, we knew what he was. Dozens of people spoke about his abuse for more than a decade. We begged for the community to take us seriously and to stop empowering his abuse. But we were the ones who were prosecuted. We were told we were lying. We were demonized for not being “nice” about our abuse. We were told we were the real problem, because we were the ones creating conflict.

But when push came to shove, when the community finally, FINALLY came together and removed Z, EVERYONE BENEFITED. Not just his victims, not just marginalized people, but everyone. Even my friend, the cishet white guy who was never directly targeted by Z, could notice and enthuse on the new positive dynamic created by Z’s removal! Because removing predators from communities creates a space where people feel safe and included, and safe, inclusive communities attract enthusiastic participation. And when that happens, the community as a whole benefits. How could it not?

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You say hello

I don’t tend to be someone who dwells on my achievements and accomplishments much. In fact, I have friends who like to troll me by telling me statements of fact about myself and watching me writhe in discomfort as I attempt to disclaim those facts. There’s also the issue that I prefer to avoid things that could be seen as gloating, because there are lots of people (dudes) out there who already think I’m “conceited” and “arrogant” enough without me adding fuel to the fire. But today marks the sixth anniversary of my very first post on Go Make Me a Sandwich, which is the sort of landmark that provokes a fair amount of introspection. And while I can deflect compliments with the best of them, it’s impossible to deny that this blog has made a difference, and that I have achieved a number of things through writing it that I will always be proud of.

In the six years since I started it, Go Make Me a Sandwich has amassed more than 2.3 million views. Since ending my hiatus in 2014 and restarting this blog as a Patreon-supported blog, I’ve gone from an initial 17 patrons to a current count of 105 patrons – which puts me in the top 4.7% of all creators on Patron (43,788 total creators at the time of writing this post, according to Graphtreon) by number of patrons. The things that I’ve written here have been read and promoted by a variety of industry thought leaders – publishers, activists, and critics.

The visibility gained through this blog has helped me accomplish a number of things outside of this blog that I’m even more proud of:

  • The things I’ve written here have affected how publishers approach art direction. I’ve worked directly with Paul and Shannon Riddle on improving art for Undying and am currently doing art direction for Katanas & Trenchcoats. I’ve also done consulting work for Wizards of the Coast regarding portrayals of women in D&D products. And those are just games that I’ve talked directly with the creators about.
  • The post that I wrote about my experience of sexual assault at GenCon led to me being able to connect with GenCon leadership, who subsequently implemented a harassment policy. I’ve also worked with Pelgrane Press and co-authored their 13th Age event harassment policy.
  • While I certainly can’t take credit for something that took years and the hard work of many to accomplish, I know that the posts that I’ve made here and the conversations that I pushed around diversity of GenCon’s Industry Insider lineup were part of the reason why GenCon was able to smash the old gender disparity of its Featured Presenters in such dramatic fashion this year.
  • My work here also enabled me to actually be an Industry Insider this year, where I sat on panels with game industry and culture luminaries like Wes Schneider, Katherine Cross, Ken Hite, and Nicole Lindroos.

All of that is great! And incredibly satisfying! But that stuff isn’t nearly important to me as the conversations I’ve had with women who have given me their sincere thanks while telling me heartbreaking stories about themselves and their experiences in the community. I struggle with imposter syndrome and lack of self-esteem, so in my lowest moments I have a tendency to dismiss my own work as angrily yelling my feelings at the internet – which is something that anyone can do. (I mean, just look at Twitter.) But that is doing myself a disservice, because there is something inherently radical about being a woman who expresses feelings about games openly and without apology. I know, because there are so many women who have told me that I have said things that they either didn’t have the ability to say, the courage to say, or the words to say it in. And that means more to me than all the rest, because those big quantifiable achievements feel remote and abstract, whereas the real human feeling behind these conversations I’ve had is something that feels “real” and important.

However.

While it is undeniable that my blog has resulted in positive change in some parts of the games industry and community, that change has come at tremendous personal cost. First and foremost, it’s cost me my reputation; because of this blog, I will always be “controversial”. Go Make Me a Sandwich started as a personal project, something that I started as a hobby because I wanted to write about something that was a growing area of interest for me. By the time it took off, the damage was done; my Google Rank has inextricably tied my name to feminism forever, and that can be dangerous. It’s certainly translated into a level of difficulty in my meatspace life that I never anticipated before starting this blog.

Writing this blog has also taken a tremendous toll on my mental health. The backlash that I’ve faced because of what I do here has been terrifying. When the level of rhetoric being used against you is the same as what was sufficient to launch a hate movement against Zoe Quinn, that is incredibly unnerving. When there are men who seriously argue to their fans that I am a bigoted anti-gay lunatic, that I am literally destroying gaming, that I am an evil cancer on the games industry that no moral person should support… When professional artists sic their fans on me to get me to shut up and stop criticizing a thing that they like and I get 29,000 views in 24 hours from people desperate to tell me what an ignorant judgemental cunt I am… When someone hates me so much that they write 11,000 words in a single week about what a terrible person I am… It’s impossible not to look at women like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and know that however bad what I’ve gone through feels, it has the potential to get a million times worse. And really, there are only so many times that you can read horrible things about yourself before it starts to take a toll – especially when the things people say are so detestable. The misogynist backlash I’ve gotten isn’t the only thing that caused my anxiety, but it was definitely a primary factor in me developing anxiety. Anxiety which I now get to keep, which will be with me for the rest of my life.

For those of you with no experience of anxiety, it would be impossible for me to convey to you how immense a cost that is. Anxiety is a hole I have spent two years climbing out of. It has damaged friendships, tested my marriage, and at times makes me too physically sick to function or take care of myself for weeks on end. I wrestle daily with wanting to get back to the person that I was before anxiety and knowing that person is gone forever. The genie is out of the bottle, and anxiety is my life now.

So the question becomes: how do I weigh the good that this blog has achieved in the face of everything that it has cost me? And increasingly, I’ve been feeling like the benefits that this blog achieves are not worth the costs, and I know that it shows in my work. When I first started writing Go Make Me a Sandwich, I wrote because it was a subject that I was passionate about – and my earliest work, while it reflects a lot of problematic ideas and lack of education around certain issues – reflects an energy and enthusiasm for the subject I haven’t felt for a long time. Over time, however, that passion was eroded in the face of misogynist hatred, and comedy became a tool that I used less and less, because it just got too hard to find the humor most of the time. When that happened, I still stuck with it, because I believed that my blog was important and because I was helping to make a difference. And when that stopped holding water as a reason to keep moving forward, I tried to hang on to my sense of obligation to my daughter – to make gaming a safe space for her to exist in and play games in – as a motivation to keep going.

But the reality is that I’m only one person. The years of sexist abuse for the simple crime of being a woman who has opinions about games have taken their toll, and for the past several months I have been wrestling with the dilemma: do I go or do I stay? Because much as I believe in what I do, I’m only one person, and my resources are finite.

Wrestling with all of this is why I recently observed on Twitter:

Real talk: the gaming community is misogynist. It grinds down women and spits them out. Especially women who do work as creators or critics. The backlash you get as a woman for daring to take up intellectual space is horrific. Inevitably, some women reach a point where they can’t take anymore and they quit and/or leave the community altogether. But it’s not a “loss” when a woman decides to leave. She is not obligated to sacrifice her health for the perceived greater good.

To which I received this incredibly cogent response:

And friends? That is some cold, hard, brutal, honest motherfucking TRUTH right there. And it is exactly why the idea of trying to keep up the good fight feels hopelessly futile. The known abusers? They’re all still here. They’ve harassed people out of the industry, or out of the community entirely – lots of people. Good people, whose voices I still miss keenly and whose absence is a blow to the state of game design. But the abusers are still here. Still lionized, still engaged with, still celebrated, still excused. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard apologists for my primary harasser begin a sentence in his defense with “he’s an asshole, but…” I certainly wouldn’t need to worry about pinching pennies quite as often as I do now.

There are SO. MANY. PEOPLE. Who know that the harassers and abusers are harassers and abusers and just don’t care. Because, you know, they do good work and it’s not a problem that affects them. You have to separate art from the artist and all that. Anything to justify the fact that they are actively rooting for the status quo, and the status quo is one that harms and traumatizes women and other marginalized people right out of gaming.

Or because they just don’t have a horse in the race. They don’t want to pick “sides” or get wrapped up in “another argument on the internet”, so they say nothing and their silence speaks for them. My internet is full of the silence of men who can’t be bothered to defend the targets of this kind of abuse. There are so many men in our community who know about the treatment I have received and who have never said anything publicly, not even once. In their ringing silence, I hear only indifference to my suffering and am reminded that I will always be seen as less because of my gender, and I will never be able to change that. And because of that, it will always be my responsibility to fight my own oppression.

There are also those who know about the abuse and choose to believe that the abusers aren’t the problem. The real problem is me: my feelings about my experiences of marginalization and harassment and how I express them. There are many in our community who think that it’s a bigger problem that I’m not nice about my feelings toward my abusers than it is that I’m being abused. So instead of holding the abusers accountable for their abuse, which is known and well-documented, they instead decide to publicly castigate me for committing the womanly sin of having feelings about a thing incorrectly.

All of that shit right there is why writing this blog feels like pissing into the wind. Because for the abusers, there are no negative consequences. They’re able to leverage the controversy generated by my existence into increased sales and awards, while for me the consequences are always negative. There is only ever a progressive, steady toll on my health, sanity, and relationships. I might succeed in changing things behind the scenes at a few gaming companies, or at affecting the lineup of speakers at a single convention, or seeing harassment policies implemented at a handful of conventions and events. But none of that does anything to change the daily lived reality of what it means to be a woman in games.

People have told me more times than I can count that I’m “brave” for writing this blog. I’m “brave” for being open about my feelings and experiences, and I’m “brave” for saying what I think without apologizing or minimizing in any way. And to them, I always say the same thing: I’m not brave! I’m stupid. Doing what I do is like beating my head against a brick wall on a daily basis. Every once in a while, I might knock a tiny chip off the wall, and people may applaud and say, “look! Progress!”. But ultimately, nothing I do is every going to seriously harm the wall, but it will seriously harm me if I keep at it long enough.

Worse than the abusers, the indifferent, and the apologists, however, is getting blindsided by people I trusted. People who I thought had my back, who told me that they wanted me to succeed and then threw me under the bus because it was politically expedient. I’m controversial, after all. And a self-admitted crazy person. And I’m not nice.

At least with the abusers, the indifferent, and the apologists, I know what to expect. After a while, it gets easy to prepare yourself emotionally to read what someone is going to write about you when you know what camp they fall into. “Oh okay, that’s just the abuser party line with a few new tweaks. No big.” Or, “oh look, silence from that whole corner of my internet again, despite everything going down right now. I see where their priorities are, but whatever.” Or, “oh sure, whatever you need to tell yourself to be okay with the fact that you’d rather support a known abuser than possibly maybe have to be uncomfortable or actually do something.”

But when you think you know where someone stands, you think that they wish you well and they unexpectedly side with your abusers… that pain is indescribable. And, unfortunately, not unique. It’s happened many times in the past, nor do I have any reason to believe that it wouldn’t also happen many times in the future.

All of which leads me to an inescapable conclusion: I can’t keep doing this. It is bad for me. I have to stop.

Before Origins, I ended up crying in a bathroom as I chatted with friends online about the vitriolic response to a thing that I’d written. It made me doubt myself so much that I actually wondered if it would be worthwhile going to Origins. Would I even be welcome there? (Spoiler alert: I was.) Fast forward two months to a different crisis before a different convention, which saw me crying for more than a week in the runup to that convention. Truth is, I’ve done a lot of crying about my blog in the past year. But I didn’t let myself think about that, because I had to keep moving forward. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had to keep my head above water and just. Keep. Fighting.

Or at least that’s how I was approaching things until several weeks ago, when the final straw happened. As is the way with such things, it was so small. Such a quiet thing those most community insiders, even, probably missed. Really, it doesn’t even matter what the event was. What matters is that it represented a tipping point – the moment in which I finally had to confront the fact that I haven’t felt passionate about what I do here for a long, long time. And for most of this year, I’ve felt only resentment. That this stupid blog has cost me so much, and I feel trapped by it. A victim of my own success – forever tarnished by my connection to it, and yet dependent on the income it provides, that I require because of the damage it’s done to my reputation. (See what a vicious cycle that is?) The final straw made me realize that I don’t want to do this anymore, and indeed, that I was rapidly approaching a point where I couldn’t do it anymore.

Of course, this is made harder by the fact that I hate losing. And there will be people who will celebrate, people who call this a victory, which only intensifies my feelings of defeat. My feelings of weakness. I feel like I’m giving up, and it kills me because I’m competitive! I’m contrary! Telling me not to do a thing is enough to make me want to do the thing. I don’t give up on things and I hate losing. But in this situation, I have to accept that there is no winning play. No win condition. I’m one person at war with an entire culture, and there just aren’t enough people who give a damn, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing my health and well-being on the altar of moral obligation. If this fight is so important, then let someone else fight it for a while.

I hate feeling like I’m letting my patrons down. My patrons are wonderful, amazing, supportive, generous people, without whose support I never would have been able to accomplish half of what I’ve done here.

I hate feeling that I’m playing into a generational story of defeat. My mother was run out of STEM because of sexism, ruining a career as a brilliant research chemist. She has her name on 12 patents! And the fact that I couldn’t persevere makes me feel hopeless. How can I tell my daughter that she can achieve anything of meaning when I have only stories of defeat to offer her? How can I tell her that she can beat the odds when her mother and her grandmother are both strong women who have been ground down into silence?

MY WHOLE GODDAMN LIFE I’ve been told that I was “too much”. Too loud. Too opinionated. Too brash. Too arrogant. Too abrasive. Too bossy. My whole life, people have been trying to shove me into a box that I just don’t fit in, no matter how hard I try – the box of proper womanhood. This blog was my place where I could be ME. Unapologetically. Loudly. Defiantly! And walking away from that feels like walking away from part of myself.

It feels like climbing into the box voluntarily.

It feels like capitulation. Like surrender.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be stronger.

Gaming’s misogyny-induced brain drain

I know a lot of my readership is American, and given the American media’s complete lack of interest in, I dunno, your biggest trade partner and the country with whom you share the largest open border in the world (no big), you may not be aware that Canada just had a major federal election that resulted in a new Prime Minister (which is like a President, but fancier) after more than 10 years of having Stephen Harper as our national leader.

If you’re American and have heard about the election results, it’s probably because Justin Trudeau – our new Prime Minister – is young (43) and ludicrously good looking. (Seriously, Stephen Harper’s party actually campaigned against Justin Trudeau’s hair. That’s how good his hair is.) I, personally, have been greatly enjoying the media coverage that has been objectifying the shit out of him, because for once the shoe is on the other foot and it is glorious.

Now what does any of this have to do with games? After all, isn’t this a blog specifically about games and gaming? Well! One of the benefits of having a young PM who is “hip” and “with the times” (as the kids say these days) is that Justin Trudeau is actually up on cultural issues that affect people younger than 50. Case in point, in an interview, Trudeau owned the label of feminist and specifically called out GamerGate!

best-memes-star-trek

GamerGate, of course, being GamerGate, they wasted no time in declaring war on Justin Trudeau in retaliation. Because declaring war on a major head of state because he expressed an opinion about misogyny in gamer culture isn’t a bad idea at all:

TrudeauGG

And because I was feeling good and riding high on the election results, I thought that – hey, maybe I could write a silly post about Justin Trudeau waging war against GamerGate with CSIS (think CIA) and drones and shit, and I could make it dryly satirical and it’d be a funny little interlude after a string of way too fucking many serious posts that I’ve written. I could even put in a lot of jokes about Trudeau’s hair, and how GamerGate is terrified of him because they know their trilbys just can’t compete with the majesty of Trudeau’s glorious mane.

But all of that was yesterday, before a terrible thing happened that hurt some people that I really care about, and I was forcibly reminded that GamerGate is not a joke. Yes the furor may have died down, and most of those who were tweeting under the hashtag have moved on. But those who have remained committed are the extremists, and their commitment to doing whatever it takes to silence people they see as enemies is truly frightening. So suddenly all the jokes I’d been brainstorming about drones powered by hair product, and squirrels and moose dressed in CSIS uniforms storming basements, and blowing up bunkers full of Code Red and Doritos – they stopped being funny.

So because I do legit feel bad about being such a downer of late, before we move on please do enjoy some of my very favorite social media reactions to our new Prime Minister:

 

Trudeau

And now, moving on…

Gamers: we’re our own worst enemy

[Before I go any further, let me note as always that I am taking great care not to name names here. This is not just for my safety, it’s for the safety of others, so for fuck’s sake if you know who I’m talking about DO NOT link to this piece and name names. That is an asshole move.]

This morning I woke up to the news that someone I have great admiration and respect for was closing down his public social media presence because of harassment from gamers. And distressingly, instead of being shocked and amazed that this was happening, my very first thought was “oh Christ, not again”. Because this shit is like clockwork – it’s so regular you can practically set a clock by it.

This time it’s happening to some people that I feel very privileged to have been able to meet and spend time with. People who helped me get started with some of my first “legitimate” work in the games industry, and who helped me find confidence in my ability to write professionally. People who have done interesting and cutting-edge work, and from whom I have learned a lot about the business of being a publisher. And aside from sending some messages of support, I felt angry and powerless to do something, anything to help. Which is what prompted me to take to Twitter with the following rant:

Real talk: There are some terrifying people in our hobby. People I have legit lost sleep over, and people who I avoid talking about. Thing is: I know a lot of people who follow/circle/talk to these people, because they have good ideas, or they like the debate. Whatever.

The terrifying people are obviously problematic, because the shit that they do isn’t okay by any objective standard of behavior. But to the people who KNOW that someone is terrifying and problematic and continue engaging anyway? YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. YOU are the reason why our hobby is having such a brain drain. Why the best and the brightest with the most to offer are leaving. And our hobby is poorer for it. It is less smart, less innovative, less creative.

A lot of people talk big about wanting to make the hobby more diverse. About wanting more women and PoC and LGBT doing the work. But when it comes to being willing to call out terrifying people when they do ACTUAL TERRIFYING THINGS? The silence is deafening.

People will choose content over morality, because it’s comfortable. Because they don’t want to have to sacrifice things they like. Meanwhile there are people who have changed how they live IN REAL LIFE because these people are THAT TERRIFYING.

I am so tired, so very very tired of people that I look up to leaving gaming because of toxic entitled assholes who harass them out of loving a thing that they used to be passionate about. Gaming has lost so many voices, rich, vibrant, brilliant voices that contributed so much – people that moved the state of game design in new and fascinating directions. And our hobby is objectively poorer for it.

And yet this behavior is tolerated, even tacitly encouraged, by so many. People who say they want to separate the work from the creator, or that “sure [Person X] may be an asshole, but…”. Whatever the reason they espouse, the people who continue to engage are a huge part of the problem, because they are creating a space in which harassers and abusers are tolerated (and sometimes even celebrated) while those same harassers and abusers victimize people with impunity. So people leave. Brilliant, funny, talented, passionate people whose contributions can’t be replaced, and they will keep leaving as long as this is the case.

A lot of people try to stay away from these discussions, saying that they don’t want to “choose sides”, but that is the coward’s way out. A vote for neutrality is a vote for the status quo, and the status quo is a culture of misogynist and racist harassment that drives the brightest and best out of our hobby altogether. Not to mention the fact that there is no such thing as “sides” in a hate campaign, because the idea of “sides” implies that the parties involved are somehow equal, that there is somehow an equal amount of wrong being committed.

But the only wrong being committed is that people are daring to express opinions about games and gaming that someone else doesn’t like. And gamers, largely, are perfectly fine to sit back and watch other gamers harass and abuse them for the crime of saying things that someone didn’t like. (Or making a game that someone didn’t like. Or simply existing in a gaming space in a way that someone didn’t like.) And until our hobby steps up and starts taking this sort of behavior seriously, starts making gaming as unfriendly to harassers and abusers as the harassers and abusers have made gaming for smart and progressive voices, this will only continue. And many brilliant and innovative games will simply never get written.

So, gamers. If you can’t find it in you to act out of altruism, consider doing so out of enlightened self-interest. It’s a numbers game. The content being produced by harassers and abusers is greatly, greatly outweighed by the content that would have been produced by those who have left, or who are trying to leave. But please, for the love of god. Say something. ANYTHING. Because the silence of good people hurts even more than the abuse of people who are objectively terrible anyway.

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.)

Tuesday freebies: the useful stuff and weird crap edition

Before I get started, a self-promotion sidebar:

Last week I launched a new Patreon with the goal of being able to write serial fiction. It’s gone pretty well and is a little under 2/3 of the way toward my initial milestone goal that would let me start working on the project. (I’m not looking for much to get started; my initial milestone is about half of what I’d ever accept for freelance work.)

What is the project? In From the Cold is a novel that I have been planning for the last few months, based on a long-running campaign of Apocalypse World set in the Canadian arctic – albeit with many liberties taken and changes made for the needs of a different format. I have an experienced editor on board to make sure each chapter will be polished, and my goal is to publish chapters approximately once per month.

The Patreon is here, and you can read the first chapter for free here. Any help in sharing or tweeting the link would be greatly appreciated.

And now on to business

Things that suck

Today’s freebie is a a bit of a mixed bag. I have some useful things, and some… well… not so useful things. So let’s start with the useless and go from there.

First! This screenshot got shared on my Google+ and I am resharing it here with permission, simply because this is so stupid I can’t even:

femalebreadtagonist

What the actual fuck. I don’t know if this is a positive reflection on the desire for more female protagonists, an indictment on the overall LACK of female protagonists, or an overall indicator that the human race is just doomed. Of course, the saddest part is that even these stupid pieces of bread are still probably better designed than the vast majority of actually human female not-bread characters out there.

Next, a behavior protip by way of Twitter:

wtf

WHAT THE FUCK, INTERNET.

I never thought I would have to say this, but don’t fucking do this! Don’t do it! It is insanely creepy and makes you a terrible human!

Things that make up for the suck

I generally try to avoid feminist theory here on my blog, preferring to use language that is accessible outside of social-justice circles to the social-justice layperson. However, the idea of intersectionality is something that I try to strive for in my own feminism. So I am delighted to be able to link to this delightful video that uses pizza to explain intersectional feminism. It is both highly informative and very entertaining, so do go take four minutes to watch it.

Game Developers Conference happened recently, and at this year’s GDC there was a talk on how to deal with online harassment that was given by Neha Nair, Elizabeth Sampat, Zoe Quinn, and Donna Prior. There is a great overview of the talk here on Venture Beat, but really I recommend watching the entire talk itself on the GDC Vault. There is a lot of really great information presented by some really smart ladies who, unfortunately, have become experts through hard experience.

Have you been watching PBS Idea Channel on YouTube? No, well here are two videos that you should definitely watch, and then maybe scroll through their (LARGE!) list of videos to see what else jumps out at you.

First, this video uses the Sims to explain gender performance and the gender binary in an informative, really accessible way. It’s definitely the best explanation I’ve seen in quite a while. (Don’t be fooled by the long play time – the last 6 minutes are Q&A about the previous episode.)

You should also watch this video about how to create responsible criticism that honestly, I wish I could shove into the eyeballs of every person who claims that offensive shit is “just satire”. NO IT’S NOT. MINDLESS REPLICATION IS NOT SATIRE. WATCH THIS AND SHUT UP FOREVER.

Monday Freebie: the entitled douchebro edition

Well, folks. I had intended to start working on a new post today, but the world’s worst headache has reduced me to pasting links into a textbox, so I’ve given up and decided to do a freebie linkspam instead.


 

The incomparable Jay Smooth talking about beating what he calls the Little Hater – the voice that tells us that we are not good enough and no one could possibly find our art valuable. This is something that pretty much every creative person I know struggles with, myself included.

 

25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male. This is an excellent, excellent video about the kinds of privilege that male gamers experience in gaming spaces, and is an excellent resource if you find yourself getting into an argument with someone who confuses privilege with special treatment.

 

Okay, this has nothing to do with social justice – it’s just really flipping cool. Are you the kind of nerd who has ever wanted to create a planet, only it seems like too much work, and then you find out that someone wrote a free planet-generation tool that does all the work for you and you get super excited even though you don’t really know what you’d use such a tool for? …I mean. [cough cough] Not that would ever be that nerdy, but I hear that some of my readers are. Nerds.

 

Congrats on your opinion. This excellent post by Prolost’s Stu Maschwitz is a thing that should be enshrined in geek canon forever. In particular, it’s written about lens flares in JJ Abrams’ Trek movies, but it could just as easily be about women having Patreons or really whatever nerd thing it is that you happen to get in someone’s face about. GO READ IT.


And now a thing that requires a little background.

So over the weekend, the somewhat-infamous James Desborough – a game designer who has been a vocal supporter of #GamerGate and who even tried to make #tabletopgate a thing (yes really) – published a particularly tasteless #GamerGate card game in which one has to battle unethical SJWs by stalking, harassing, and doxxing them. The venue he chose to do this on was Drive Thru Cards, which has an automated publishing process for publishers who have previously published titles with them.

Considering that a lot of publishers who use Drive Thru Cards/Drive Thru RPG/One Bookshelf to publish their content are also people who have been the targets of #GG’s harassment and doxxing, naturally there was swift and immediate backlash against the game; many publishers sent complaints to DTRPG saying that they would not continue to use DTRPG’s services if the game wasn’t pulled – which it was, and quite quickly. (Kudos to DTRPG for dealing with it so quickly over a weekend, no less.)

Of course, a lot of people got terribly upset about this awful, awful ceeeeensoooorshiiiiiip. So here are some things that summarize the situation better than I could in my be-headached state. (No, YOU’RE making up stupid words on the internet.)

First, Matt McFarland knocks it out of the park on his blog in explaining why DTRPG pulling the game IS NOT CENSORSHIP ZOMG READ A DICTIONARY. Also, he talks about why the response by some people who actually harassed and doxxed the owner of DTRPG was not fucking okay. (Spoiler alert: DOXXING IS NEVER FUCKING OKAY)

Second, this post by Fred Hicks is worth reading as a response to the fallout from the game being pulled. Apparently, because some of the Evil Hat crew had the nerve to talk publicly about how – hey, if this stays up we should evaluate if we want Evil Hat’s brand to be tarnished by association, a bunch of anti-SJWs got all het up and decided to harass Fred Hicks, because clearly this was solely his fault and CENSORSHIP and also BULLYING. So then they got a bunch of people to harass Fred when he was just trying to do real life shit, because ETHICS. Or something.

…I’m going back to bed and coming out never.

On being a “professional victim”

I’ve been pretty quiet the last two weeks, and I apologize for that. I meant to get one more post up in November, but, well, that didn’t so much happen. Partly it’s because I was pouring a lot of writing energy into finishing a first draft of my current game project! Which I am excited about! But partly it’s because I’ve found myself second-guessing everything I’ve wanted to write about.

Writing about Bayonetta because a bunch of dudes got mad about me having opinions on Bayonetta was an easy choice. I mean, oh, you don’t like me writing about Bayonetta? Well here, have some more unsolicited opinions about Bayonetta, since that’s how I roll. (I’m contrary like that.) But how to move on from there? Well… that’s more difficult.

The problem is that I actually read about 19 pages of this weird anti-me hatefest (which was a terrible idea, seriously, don’t ever do that. What were you thinking past me??), and since then I’ve felt stuck as to how to pick a topic for a new post that wouldn’t play into the narrative that has been constructed against me, which has gotten so sprawling and disjointed that literally anything I write here can be co-opted as ammunition.

It can be pretty unnerving knowing that anything you write can then be twisted to support someone’s arguments that you are a: homophobic, anti-feminist, sex-negative, compulsively lying, egomaniacal, unethical feminazi fascist who harasses people and is so delusional that someone should really have me involuntarily committed for my own good. (To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t been accused of being racist yet. Although given that my first published game, Thou Art But A Warrior, is about Muslims, I fully expect that to be added to the litany at some point in the future.) Seriously, how do you keep that level of bullshit from messing you up once in a while?

But in the end, I have to choose between giving the trolls new ammunition (everything is ammunition. Everything.) and remaining silent, which I’m not willing to do. So instead, I’m going to rant a bit about Patreon, and about my least-favorite new slur being hurled at women, queer people, and PoC with Patreons – “professional victim”.

First: Patreons by women, queer people, and PoC are the devil

When Patreon was just starting to develop a head of steam among my indie game design circles, the earliest adopters that I saw jumping on board were predominantly white and male. To the point where it initially made me pretty uneasy as a new thing that was happening, as I was afraid that it was going to turn into yet another way in which the voices of white men were going to be privileged over other voices:

plus

However, after a while I was able to get over the idea that I didn’t have anything of worth to offer potential patrons and I put up a Patreon of my own. As did other not-white-dude creators that I knew! And much to my delight, Patreon became a vital platform in enabling otherwise marginalized voices to create things they were passionate about and receive the support that they needed to do so.

Which is naturally about when there was a bit of a paradigm shift in how individual Patreons were talked about online.

Now instead of being universally lauded as a “revolutionary new crowdfunding model”, very often the reaction to an individual Patreon depends greatly on the identity of the person running it. Are they white and male? Excellent! Carry on! You use this new crowdfunding tool to make the things you want to make, you bold and visionary content creator you!

But wait! Is that Patreon being run by a woman? Or a PoC? Or a queer person? Or – gasp – someone who represents a combination of some or all of those traits? Then it is a TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE! Legit just the worst! Because mumble mumble ethics and mumble mumble other reasons!

Seriously, it’s a little baffling how incredibly offended some people get about the fact that this blog is Patreon supported. Despite the fact that everything that I accept Patreon funds for writing is published free of charge here on my blog, which means that anyone who cares to can read my blog without needing to contribute a single red cent, it’s somehow the absolute worst that I have sixty seven whole patrons who contribute varying amounts of money per unit content generated. THE WORST! How dare I take people’s money in return for expressing opinions! FACISM.

… [ahem]

The fact is that I use my Patreon money to justify the time and energy that I put into writing content here, time that could otherwise be spent on other paying projects. And I fail to understand just why that’s such a terrible thing. Despite that my average monthly revenue has increased about 50% from when I first re-launched GMMaS, I’m still not raking in huge butt-piles of money. On average I’m making about 2/3 of what it costs to keep my kid in daycare – which is only one of many new, exciting, and completely non-optional child-related expenses.

And for the most part, that’s the sort of shit that a lot of Patreon dollars get used for – the daily shit you have to do just to stay afloat. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but being a Millennial is fucking hard. We don’t have any careers, housing fucking sucks, we’re going bankrupt getting the education we need to compete, and the Boomers are never, ever, ever going to retire. (Never.) So anything that allows people the breathing room they need to make art instead of spending potential creative energy just fucking surviving is something that we should be celebrating!

But of course, since the success of Patreon as a platform means the increasing prominence of female, queer, and minority voices… WELL. We can’t have that, now can we!

Second: “Professional victim” is so fucking silencing I can’t even

When I started hammering out the initial outline for this post, I knew that I had enough content to justify making a paid post. And yet, the idea of making a paid post taking on the idea of Patreon creators as “professional victims” was pretty terrifying! Because of course, the two biggest targets of this new “professional victim” label are Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. Both of whom are women I admire tremendously and look up to, but whose example I desperately do not want to emulate. So when “professional victim” was recently added to the constructed narrative circulating against me, it was… unnerving to say the least.

I was sufficiently aggravated that I took to venting on twitter:

tweets
Tweets are in reverse chronological order, because twitter is dumb

There is a huge problem with calling women like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (and, to a lesser extent, myself) “professional victims”. When you extend that logic to its natural conclusion, that means that the moment any not-white-dude has the temerity to accept crowdfunding monies in exchange for a good or service, they automatically forfeit any right to speak openly about the abuse that they receive as a result.

Which is, of course, complete horse shit. Not to mention that “professional victim” is a term very often hurled by #GamerGaters, or at least people who support #GamerGate – despite their claims of being concerned primarily about “ethics in game journalism”. (But then, #GamerGate has always been singularly blind to the hypocrisy displayed by a campaign of harassment designed to silence and discredit women that simultaneously purports to be about ethics.)

However, just the very idea of “professional victim” is very toxic, and can very often be incredibly silencing. I know it’s something that I wrestle with all the damn time in writing this blog – the fear that I will drive away patrons if I write “too many” posts about gendered harassment. When deciding what topic to write about next, in the back of my head there is always the calculus of “how many posts have I written about a specific game or piece of game art since the last time I talked about this” and “should I set this aside until I’ve put more non-harassment-focused stuff out there?”. Despite very much wanting to speak out against the sort of harassment that Zoe and Anita (among really so many others) have faced, it’s hard to for me believe that me talking openly and honestly about my experiences is something that has any real worth.

“Professional victim” is a term that is also brutally effective in dismissing someone’s worth, not only as a creator but as a human being. When someone is a “professional victim”, literally any sort of behavior against them is okay, because any abuse perpetrated against them is something that they were asking for in the first place. “Professional victim” is the “what were you wearing” or “how much did you drink” of the internet – a blanket permission to engage in toxic misogyny without any real fear of negative consequence.

So the fact that I have written paid posts in the past about harassment I’ve received, and that I am writing this post now, and likely will do more such posts in the future? That’s a hard, scary thing, friends. Because that only reinforces the “professional victim” aspect of the constructed narrative against me, and as Anita Sarkeesian has excellently discussed, once the narrative that has been constructed against a person reaches a certain critical mass, it no longer matters what the facts are because the myth attains a life of its own and nothing you say or do can ever slay that myth.