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!
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:
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:
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 ofthe 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.
Hey, folks. So you’ll notice that there haven’t been any freebie linkspams for… a while. And that’s pretty much a direct result of #GamerGate, because everything that I would link to could be summarized as TL;DR HUMANS ARE AWFUL. Not to mention that it is not possible to put enough trigger warnings on even the not-terrible coverage of GG issues.
I’ve also been having a hard time finding the bandwidth to write here, despite the abundance of topics that I want to write about. I have friends that I want to interview about their positive work in games, there’s more analysis I want to do of the changing trends in Magic: The Gathering art direction, I’d like to noodle about some thoughts inspired by recent game projects on the intersection between social justice and game design. I mean, I have a fucking Patreon – you’d think it would be easier to find space to write here when I am literally getting paid to blog about the things that I am passionate about.
But friends, it’s been so hard.
We get told “just make games” or “just make art” like it’s supposed to be some kind of panacea. Like “just making games” will enable me to rise above the bullshit and transcend the awful with sheer awesome. And honestly, I would love, LOVE for that to be the solution. Nothing would please me more than being able to post a clever “haters gonna hate” meme and move on with my life.
But how can I “just make games” for a hobby that wants me to stop existing?
How can I “just make games” when “just making games” requires me to engage with a community that I don’t want my daughter to be a part of, and that I will do my best to hide her from when she is old enough to venture into online spaces. (Which, thankfully, is many years away yet.)
How can I “just make games” when hate and terror campaigns created to scare women out of gaming are triggering my anxiety and making it hard for me to just function day-to-day, let alone “just make games”.
For those of you who have never had to deal with anxiety, it’s fucking exhausting. And GG makes it literally impossible to know where the line is between “shut up brain, you’re being stupid again” and reasonable fucking caution.
Is enabling 2-factor authentication on my accounts needless paranoia, or reasonable caution? Who the fuck knows? When a co-worker discovered my blog, was I being an over-reacting paranoid weirdo when I asked him not to link it to a bunch of trolls? Or was I justified? Fuck if I know! When my name pops up on a forum that is well-known as a haven for misogynist tabletop gamers and I am called an “extremist”, am I making mountains out of molehills when that site’s presence in my blog’s referral links for the last month causes a vague, generalized dread whenever I check my site stats? Or is this something that I need to worry about?
I DON’T FUCKING KNOW ANYMORE.
People who say “it’s just on the internet” are not only completely out of touch with the reality of how modern life works, but they’re ignoring the real mental health consequences of these cyber harassment mobs. You don’t have to be directly targeted by them, either. Just the knowledge that they exist is a visceral threat. And when these mobs attack women that you respect, admire, and look up to – there’s a certain sense of inevitability. If I continue to walk down this path, it’s hard not to believe that this is what the future holds for me.
That is terrifying.
And it keeps me from doing the fucking work that needs to get done in order to “just make games”.
I have a KickStarter I need to be promoting more. That I’m proud of! Because it’s fucking awesome! And I have done some promotion work, but I’ve been chasing after “safe” audiences, because it’s not as worry-inducing as chasing potentially-hostile promotion sources for an explicitly social-justice-oriented game product, and hoping that the stats on funding and KickStarter are accurate and that momentum will get me over my funding goal.
The fear, the anxiety, the need to detox and spend time doing and thinking about things that aren’t games – it all gets in the way of “just making games”.
And to those who say that I’m overreacting, that it’s all in my head, that it’s not a big deal, that “no one’s died yet” – that’s bullshit. At least one trans game dev, Kate von Roeder has committed suicide, and a mass shooting threat has forced Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a talk when the local law enforcement was unwilling to prevent attendees from bringing concealed weapons.
Let’s not forget that it was only several months ago that the Isla Vista shooter went on a killing spree after months of escalating online rhetoric about how much he despised and wanted to kill women. And it was nearly twenty-five years ago that the Montreal massacre resulted in the deaths of fourteen female engineering students at the hands of a man who blamed feminists for ruining his life.
So yeah, people have died. And more people might die. And that’s what every woman who works in games and is vocal about feminist issues deals with. The knowledge that speaking out comes with consequences, and it is impossible to know how steep those consequences will be.
So where does that leave me? For now, I’m still here. I’m still making games. I’m still blogging. My anxiety means that I’m not able to sustain the level of output that I know I’m capable of when I’m feeling well and am not having active symptoms, but I’m in the process of getting help and am trying not to beat myself up too much. I’m forcing myself to engage in self-care and am doing what I can.
Maybe some day we’ll be at a point where I can “just make games”. But that’s not a future I see arriving any time soon.
 I’ve heard reports of a second trans dev committing suicide, but the Google search results are too toxic for me to face today. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m just a blogger and not a real journalist or something.
Your bunkmates are already fast asleep when you fall wearily onto the hard mattress; it’s been a long, tiring day of back-breaking labor in the camps. Tired as you are, however, your thoughts are unsettled and sleep seems elusive.
Once, years ago, you would have felt anger about the accident of birth that forced you into this state, but now you accept your fate. You are but a man, and the strength of men exists to serve the greater good. Or at least that’s what they tell you, and who are you to question them?
At last you decide that sleep will not come and reach under your mattress, pulling out the small handheld hidden there. Pulling your blanket over your head to hide the glow of the screen, you turn it on, eagerly waiting to resume from where you left off. But the screen barely has time to flash HITMAN 37 before you hear a tremendous crash as the door to your dormitory is kicked off its hinges. “WE’VE FOUND HIM,” someone shouts.
No time to hide the evidence – the blanket is suddenly yanked from your head and you find two large Gaming Police officers standing over you, your terrified expression reflected back at you in their mirrored sunglasses.
The first officer snatches the handheld away from you and pops out the disc. “Code 37 – no female protagonist,” she grunts, snapping the disc in half in her fist.
The second officer flashes her badge – GAME POLICE: FEMINIST CRITIC, and your heart sinks. Being apprehended by the Gaming Police was bad enough, but that they have a Game Critic with them? This is bad, very bad. The Critic grabs you by the collar, half-choking you as she pulls you to your feet. “Playing games after curfew, huh? Well guess what, bub?” She pulls you closer and the light glints coldly off her earrings. “Games are for women.”
You feel the cold metal of handcuffs snap around your wrists. “We’re taking you in,” the first officer says coldly.
You pray that she only means you’ll be going to a reeducation center, but then she holds a retinal scanner up to your face and it immediately sounds an alarm. “Repeat offender,” it squeals.
You look back to your bunkmates, but none of them will meet your gaze. “You know what that means,” the Critic growls. “Time to go.”
You’re stuffed in the back of a small transport that is packed with other terrified men. Nothing is said by anyone as you are driven out of the camps and into the capitol city itself. Any other time, you would have gasped – while living in the camps, you never would have imagined that such grandeur was possible. But you keep silent, not wanting to make things worse for yourself than they already are.
At last you stop and are unloaded in front of what can only be the palace. It is a place you have heard of but never seen, a place designed to strike fear into the hearts of men.
You stand before the Gamer Gate – which stands open before you. Constructed entirely of bone, it gleams coldly white under the floodlights that illuminate the palace exterior. Lining the walkway to the palace steps are the dread female warriors, said to be able to strike any man dead where he stands with a single glance – the Social Justice Warriors. And there in formation behind them are their male honor guard, the White Knights, proudly bearing the black, white, and red banner of the Feminist Gynocracy.
The Critic and the Gamer Police march you, along with their other captives, up the steps of the palace and into a great hall. At one end of the great hall stands a throne of skulls, upon which sits a woman, who proudly wears the womb-shaped badge of a Game Journalist. Stunned, you find her both beautiful and terrible to behold.
You are thrown to the floor in front of the throne. The skulls leer at you mockingly as the Game Journalist considers your fate. “And just who are you?”
“A gamer,” you whisper. You had intended it as a statement of defiance, but your voice sounds small and frightened. You clear your throat and try again. “A gamer! I am. I am a gamer.”
The Game Journalist smiles, a terrible rictus to match the throne on which she sits. “Too bad for you. Gamers are over.” She snaps her fingers, pointing at the captain of her guard. “Execute him! Add his skull to my throne!”
“Wait!” From the shadows behind the throne steps a third woman who wears the robes of a Game Developer. “You may yet be spared, if…” She smiles like the cat that got into the cream. “…you consent to become my lover and say good things about my latest game.”
You draw back, horrified. “Never!”
A murmur passes through the ranks of the assembled Social Justice Warriors. “He does not consent,” The Critic says sternly.
“It is our highest law,” the Game Developer agrees sadly.
The Game Journalist sits back on her throne. “Then flay him alive and add his bones to the Gate.”
You can only scream in horror as the White Knights step forward to take you away.
[Note: Those of you who read my blog know I love to swear, right? Well I drop the f-bomb a lot in this post, like a lot more than usual. I have zero apologies about it, but still – fair warning for those of you who aren’t okay with profanity.]
I’ve been sitting on this post for quite a while. I wrote out a good half of it months ago, then quietly shelved it because I wanted to start trying to focus on more “positive” things for a little while. It’s hard being that feminist who writes about harassment all the time, and I worry that writing about it too much will cost me readers. Who would want to read a blog about nothing but harassment? Hell, I wouldn’t.
But here I am, blowing the dust off of this post. Why? Because Anita Sarkeesian wasn’t able to sleep in her own house last night because she committed the crime of Having Opinions About Video Games While Female:
Folks, it’s been a hard few weeks to be a ladyblogger in games land, folks. D&D 5E ConsultancyGate is already the gift that keeps on giving. Then we’ve got the Zoe Quinn “scandal” in which a bunch of MRAs decided to doxx her in the name of “ethics”. (Spoiler alert: not actually about ethics) All this in addition to the “quiet” daily aggressions against ladybloggers and lady game designers that take a predictable toll.
Just recently a woman that I looked up to as brilliant, funny, and a bright new light in game design decided she couldn’t deal with the bullshit and shut down her G+ account. Which I found devastating, but certainly understandable. Still, I couldn’t help but vent my frustration on Twitter:
So all of that happened, and still I sat on this. But then Anita Sarkeesian didn’t get to sleep in her own home because of knuckle-dragging fuckwits decided that they couldn’t handle a woman having opinions and they needed to SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN. And that’s what pushed me over the edge.
I am lucky, insanely lucky, that the only trolls I get are both laughably bad at trolling and incredibly lazy. I have never had any credible death or rape threats. Nor have I had any real problems with sock puppets, aside from that one time a dude created one sock puppet and gave up when I blocked it right away. No one has ever made a video game about beating me up, or sought funding for a crowdfunding project about how awful I am as a human being. I’ve never been doxxed, stalked, or harassed offline.
But these are things that could all happen to me in the future because I am a woman Having Opinions About Games on the Internet.
So the fact that Anita Sarkeesian is willing to stick to her guns, to keep making videos despite facing all of these things? She’s a superhero, people. A MOTHERFUCKING SUPERHERO.
And I realize that all of this is a hell of a prelude to what was originally only 300 words, but I have SO MANY STRONG FEELS ABOUT THIS, YOU GUYS.
The thing I was actually going to say
You know, I feel like it’s pretty obvious to say fuck the guys who engage in this harassing misogynist bullshit. That shit should be a no-brainer, right? If you’re the type of dude who thinks that telling Anita she is a fucking twat because you don’t like her videos? Congratulations. You’re exactly the type of dude who needs to FUCK RIGHT OFF OUT OF THIS HOBBY.
But you know, that’s not exactly controversial. (I mean, unless you’re That Dude. In which case, go fuck yourself.)
No, what I want to add is that it is time to start holding fake “allies” accountable for their bullshit. Allies, if you want to be an ally, then actually be a fucking ally. Or if that’s just too hard, then SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GO THE FUCK AWAY.
Because here’s the deal, it’s actually harder for me, and for many feminists whom I’ve talked with about this, to deal with a fake ally than it is to deal with actual misogynists. With up-front misogynists, they wear their misogyny on their sleeves so you already know it’s not worth investing any emotional energy into an interaction with them.
Fake allies? Man, it can be so. Fucking. Hard. to tell the difference between an ally who needs educating and a misogynist who wants to hide behind the ally label. Sometimes it can take years, years of friendship and regular interaction to realize that an ally who you thought was one of the good guys? Totally wasn’t.
And friends, let me tell you, that will fuck your shit right up. Because emotional investment isn’t a switch you can just turn off. You can’t just say “oh, I was mistaken about the kind of person I thought you were, I no longer give any shits about you or what you think” once a certain level of relationship has been established. Cutting ties with someone who has become toxic is hard once those ties have been allowed to persist, even when we KNOW that cutting ties is what’s best for us.
So these days, the majority of emotional damage I take is from asshole fake allies who want to claim the ally label as a way to stroke their own ego and be the hero of their own story. And I figure enough is enough. So this is me, declaring war on fake allies:
It is time to get rid of allies who…
…occupy more emotional bandwidth than misogynists and anti-feminists
…prioritize their feelings over the well-being of the feminists they claim to support
…brag about having feminist friends but sever all ties with women that tell them things they don’t want to hear
…dominate the conversation
…don’t know how to shut up and listen
…place constraints on acceptable expressions of marginalization
…use tone arguments (“I can’t listen because you’re too angry”)
…want feminists to prove their lived experience
…tell feminists they’re being oversensitive while simultaneous requiring that one walk on verbal eggshells to converse with them at all
…tell feminists they are mentally ill and need help
…make feminists gaslight themselves by making them second-guess their own memories and perceptions
…insist that not all men are like that
…tell feminists they are depressing when they talk about their lived experiences
…say feminists are making everything about them
…support and defend men with proven public records of misogyny
…don’t promote women’s voices
…say that you have to separate art from its creator
…try to shout feminists down when a thing is criticized that they like
…say that a feminists “owes” them for the times when the faux-ally was just being a decent fucking human being
…use friendship as a weapon (“I’m saying this as a friend, but…”)
…call feminist spaces toxic
…don’t understand the need for safe spaces that don’t include them
…attempt to silence feminists by tarring their reputation
…are not willing to consider the fact that they might be wrong
This was going to be a quick link post before I get into my car and drive the waytoomanyhoursthankyou to GenCon, leaving my family and my cats behind to weep over my absence (they won’t) and wail bitter lamentations until my return (yeah right).
But then some stuff happened. Mostly behind the scenes on various social networks, and mostly to people who aren’t me. (Although some of it was directed at me personally.) So I started accumulating crap in this text box to blog about until I realized that I was putting more thought into this than I’d originally anticipated. So newer patrons, I promise my paid posts aren’t usually this disjointed.
That said! On to the good stuff:
The two stories I was originally going to link to come courtesy of The Mary Sue.
FIRST. It seems that the staff of Jezebel felt it necessary to make a post holding their management at Gawker to account for the fact that they are getting trolled with violent rape imagery by anonymous trolls and Gawker is doing… absolutely nothing about it. So TMS had this great piece looking at the thinking behind their moderation policies and how it’s actually fucking worked to keep trolls out of their comment sections.
Which. Jesus. Anyone who’s been to TMS will have seen that their discussion threads can get pretty lively. While I’m not as regular a reader as I used to be, I certainly can’t say that I’ve seen anything other than civil discussion on TMS posts that I’ve read on their site. So can we please let the “banning anonymous commenters will kill discussion” myth die already? Please?
My personal experience is that the opposite tends to be true. Trolls suck oxygen out of the conversation and make people afraid to speak up with their opinion. Conversations here on GMMaS improved about a million fold once I started banning trolls and deleting troll comments, and I get many more comments from visitors “just passing through” that I’ve found really valuable.
So Jesus, Gawker. Get your act together and try to be marginally less terrible, okay?
SECOND. This is so horrifying – a woman, married and pregnant with her husband’s child, discovered that her husband was a horrible, horrible Reddit troll. When she asked him to stop, he lied and said he would then didn’t. And when she demanded that he get counseling or they would split up, he apparently felt that making people feel horrible about themselves online was more important to him than his real life marriage and his real life about-to-be-baby.
And sure, the obvious caveats apply. This could be a fake. But honestly, this is so horrible, so sad, and so utterly, utterly COMMONPLACE that I have zero difficulty believing that it’s true. Which leads me to echo TMS in saying that we have to, have to start holding our friends and family accountable when we catch them doing this shit.
Don’t say “it’s just online” or “it’s not serious” or “he’s just an asshole” or “it’s just a joke”. That makes you complicit in shitty fucking behavior. Say “wow, dude, that’s not fucking okay” and actually stop talking to people who refuse to stop this kind of behavior. Because this sort of behavior LITERALLY KILLS PEOPLE. (And I mean that literally, not figuratively, even though literally apparently also means figuratively now which is just the wooooorst.)
If you discover that someone is being a shitty human being, it’s not unreasonable to say that if they refuse to stop being a shitty human being, you should refuse to keep being their friend.
Here’s a thing that I have been mostly-not-a-target-of-but-still-kinda. Some dudes are attempting to blacklist some people, mostly women, from the gaming industry because of reasons that boil down to a long and really boring story that boils down to the fact that some dudes just really don’t like women having opinions in public on the internet, like, ever.
Anyway, this gave me occasion to post the following on Twitter:
OH NO, random dude I don’t care about! PLEASE NO! Don’t get all those awful dudes that I have blocked anyway to promise not to work with me! HOW WILL MY LIFE HAVE MEANING?? Because my entire life revolved around whether misogynists are willing to throw me a couple scraps to let me write for them!
This got me thinking that really the only way to properly convey this sentiment was with a venn diagram:
(My love of sarcastic diagrams and flow charts knows no bounds. I love them more than misandry jokes, which I also really really love.)
Lastly, I’ve been meditating recently on the block functions of various social networks and how aggressive curating of my social networks has kept my G+/facebook/etc a very civilized place to be, for the most part. But the fact is I have a couple super persistent trolls who just really want to bypass all that and tell me how awful I am. Like, really really awful.
For the most part I think this is silly, since I mostly only find out by accident or when someone in my circles happens to mention it to me. So I drew the following out one lunch when I’d forgotten the book I’d been intending to read (this is ballpoint pen on copy paper in about half an hour, so the quality isn’t the best):
Lastly, a policy note:
Either tonight or tomorrow morning, I’ll attempt to lock down comments on my blog while I’m gone. (Last time it didn’t work, which was irritating). I don’t want to have to watch the comments while I’m away trying to enjoy myself. In the mean time, go hug a kitten?
[Ground rules: As with the previous post, anything resembling “not all men” is going to get deleted. If this seems unfair, try reading #YesAllWomen or #YesAllWhiteWomen on twitter for a few minutes. People who troll after having their comment deleted will have subsequent troll comments replaced with links to my favorite “male tears” and “misandry” GIFs from Tumblr. (If you play nice after having a comment deleted, your comment can stay.) I am not feeling charitable about this.
Also, I normally don’t do trigger warnings, but TW for misogynist language (not mine).]
The internet has been a pretty fraught place for me the last week. In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings, first there was the predictable backlash of “not all men”, not to mention the reports insisting that the attacks were caused by mental illness, not misogyny. (Never mind the fact that people with mental illness are disproportionately the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.) Then there was the amazing, necessary, but absolutely hard-to-read #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen responses on twitter.
Suddenly women that I look up to and admire were sharing their experiences of harassment and sexual violence. It was a powerful and disturbing indictment of the pervasiveness of our rape culture, but it proved a bit too much for me to deal with. As such, I’ve been avoiding twitter the last few days.
Aside from one comment on facebook, my reflection until now has been mostly private. I have been devouring pieces about Elliot Rodger and his ties to PUAhate and the MRA movement from those media outlets and bloggers willing to actually call a spade a spade and the thing that disturbs me the most about Elliot Rodger isn’t how alien his rhetoric justifying the attack was. On the contrary – it’s familiar. Too familiar. I hear echoes of it all the time.
And these are just examples that I’ve gotten in the last few months – before the long hiatus, I never used to save comments that I deleted from my blog. And none of this includes the awful things that people have said about me on various fora in the past. Nor does it include comments made about me on Reddit that have long since vanished into the moderation ether, but which I still read when they were first posted.
I’ve been called an “irritating dumbass bitch” and a “ignorant judgemental cunt”. I’ve been told I just need to get laid and that no one would ever want to fuck me. I’ve had half an hour of a gaming podcast devoted to me, in which four men talked about my “radical agenda” and why I was arrogant, crazy, ugly, and not worth listening to. And even with all of that, I’ve been grateful that the trolling I get isn’t worse. Because as bad as it is to be called a fat ugly dyke, at least no one has ever threatened to rape me. (Yet.)
But the purpose of this post isn’t to highlight the garden-variety misogyny that gets leveled at me for writing this blog. A lot of people have written a lot of really smart things about the problem of deeply embedded misogyny in geekdom.
Instead, I’d like to focus on something more specific: nerd famous men (yes, men) who use their nerd fame to incite their audience to harass people (usually women) they don’t like.
Using their platform as a weapon
There are men in the gaming community who you don’t criticize publicly; you do that very privately with people you trust, because they are known for riling up their followers and pointing them at people they don’t like (usually women). That way they silence people who would speak out against them because they’re afraid of getting harassed and they get to claim total innocence (well I didn’t harass anyone).
There are some major problems with this:
Problem the first: Harassment is srs bsns
The internet is rife with stories about online harassment against women. Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Jennifer Hepler, Rebecca Watson, Sady Doyle, Zerlina Maxwell – those are just the first six names off the top of my head of women who are notable for having been the target of harassment campaigns. But there are darker examples too. Amanda Todd. Reteah Parsons. Both of whom were young women that committed suicide after sustained and dedicated online harassment campaigns.
How women respond to harassment varies widely – some grow more outspoken, some go silent, and some retreat from online life altogether. (None of these responses is “correct” – every victim of harassment has to deal with it in their own way.) But women who are harassed, especially young women, face lasting emotional and psychological harm up to and including suicide.
HARASSMENT CAN KILL. It isn’t a weapon that should be used against anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be used casually.
Problem the second: Incredibly fragile egos
The reasons that nerd famous men incite harassment against people can often be quite trivial. Like you once criticized an artist that they like. Or you did a re-draw of a piece of art by an artist that’s not them. You don’t even have to criticize them directly to earn their ire. You just have to criticize a thing that they like.
Problem the third: They do nothing to curb misogyny in their followers
At no point during this process of inciting harassment do these nerd famous men ever do or say anything to curb the tide of misogynist sentiment in their followers. So when their followers go forth and bile-vomit, they call people things like feminist dyke cunt. Or feminazi. Or they tell someone they should probably kill themselves.
Having created an echo chamber to insulate themselves from whatever stimulus offended them, they do nothing to prevent misogynists from taking over that echo chamber. And as recent events demonstrate, Elliot Rodger is proof of the danger of misogynist echo chambers.
How It Works
Step 1: Hark! A woman has said something I don’t like! Quickly! To the interbutts!
Step 2: Link to the thing you don’t like. Be sure that you mention how you think the person who did the thing you don’t like is worthy of disdain. Are they stupid? Shrill? Embarassing? Smug? Arrogant? Ignorant? Ugly? Crazy? Choose a few adjectives that appeal to you in the moment and post without too much thought.
Step 3: Your followers all agree with you that the person is a terrible human being. Of course they do. You’re always right. Make sure to make additional assertions of the person’s disdain-worthy qualities. You know, to help build up a head of steam.
Step 4: Extreme voices inevitably chip in. Do nothing to dissuade them. “That person should suck my dick”? Fine. “We should go beat up that person”? Yup. “Bitches be crazy”? A-OK. Make sure to agree with a few of the more extreme comments not advocating actual violence. (Remember, the goal is to appear not culpable.)
Step 5: Your followers have now gone forth to flood the persons personal internets via whatever channels they were doing the thing you didn’t like in the first place. Make sure to never acknowledge this. Especially don’t acknowledge that a good portion of them are doing so using misogynist slurs.
Step 5a (optional): Has the person you don’t like had the nerve to actually continue doing that thing you don’t like? Even after you told your followers how much you didn’t like them and how awful they were? Time to up the ante. Resort to hyperbole or outright lies about the person you don’t like. They said something critical about sexual objectification in game art? They are now a sex-negative feminazi who wants to censor all sex in everything ever! Or maybe they posted an analysis of the objectification of women in another artist’s work? Lie and say that that person insulted your work. Congratulations! You are so in the right on this one.
Step 6: Use the controversy-generated pageviews to promote your projects to your followers and increase your audience. This is good because you are famous and talented. Unlike that woman who did that thing you don’t like who is just looking for attention. What a fucking bitch.
I wish the above was comic hyperbole. It’s not.
It happened to me
Presented here are three stories in which this has happened to me. In two I will not name names; one person actively generates publicity by doing this sort of thing and I don’t want to gratify his behavior, and one person says that he is experiencing mental distress because of the backlash against MRAs in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree. As much as it is hard for me to have much sympathy for someone who prioritizes their personal feelings about being judged over the lives of the women who died as a result of MRA ideology, I’m not willing to make light of mental health problems.
Some people may know the people to whom I will refer in these stories. I request that you not name names.
The Rebellious Artist
The Rebellious Artist (TRA) is an artist that is well known for his game art, game design, and game-culture-related projects. He is also convinced that I am a terrible blight upon the game community and periodically makes public attacks on me to that effect, all because I happened to blog critically about an artist that he and his girlfriend happened to like. (I was critical of the artist’s extreme anatomy distortions, and in the comments I said that there were trends in the artist’s work that implied problematic attitudes toward consent.)
Somehow he decided that my saying “this artist you like’s work displays problematic attitudes toward women” was the same as “I hate sex and sexy things and sex in any media ever the end”. Once he even described me as a fascist uber-conservative akin to Phyllis Schafly.
His general mode of attack, when he remembers that he doesn’t like me, is to make publicly visible attacks against me attached to my real name, in an attempt to convince people that I’m a shrill feminazi that shouldn’t ever be listened to. Once it happened on a forum that I used to post on but quit three or four years ago – he was banned for that one, but the attack was sufficiently personal that it left me very rattled.
More recently, he attempted to torpedo my reputation in the game design community just as I was getting into doing freelance for some more mainstream projects with Onyx Path:
This is an excerpt of a post that he made in response to a manufactured controversy (that he helped to manufacture) that I commented on. His response was to make this post with many real names besides mine arguing that TRPG industry companies shouldn’t be hiring us to do freelance work for them. It’s worth noting I wasn’t the only one targeted by that one, although I was the only one singled out with a dismissive aside. (Go Make Me a Sandwich girl? Really? That’s super mature.)
And yet despite his bad behavior, and that he is known within the community for his bad behavior (it’s really kind of his trademark), he is still highly regarded by many as a top-level artist, game designer, and gaming personality, which is frankly depressing. Lots of people know about his bullshit and just don’t care.
TEGD has never (to my knowledge) declared being aligned with the Mens Rights movement, but his public social media posts adhere very closely to that ideology:
(For reference, Caroline Criado-Perez is a British MP who had a harassment campaign launched against her for the radical notion of wanting women to appear on at least some of Britain’s currency. (Not including the Queen.))
Hatred of social justice activists, decrying feminism, denial of rape culture. Check, check, and check. TEGD is also notable for his vocal defense of rape as a device in games and for his advocacy against convention harassment policies. Which. You know. Yay.
And yet despite all that, TEGD has a pretty large and devoted following:
So when a gaming organization with a reasonably large following (not huge, but certainly not small) announced that they were going effectively lend him their platform to talk about his offensive views, I was pretty upset.
So I spoke out. I was careful to keep my posts mostly about my feelings and personal experience and how TEGD’s stances were hurtful to me as someone who has been sexually victimized at a gaming convention. I wasn’t the only woman who spoke out either.
But rather than respond to the substance of the concerns that we were raising, TEGD started making public posts about how TERRIBLE we were and we were calling him a ravening rape monster and didn’t we know he is CALM and NICE DAMMIT.
And then men went nuts in the comments about what awful bitches we were, to which TEGD would respond by saying that he just couldn’t understand how people couldn’t see what a GOOD PERSON HE WAS and HIS WIFE SAID HE’S NOT A MISOGYNIST, etc etc etc. Which only got them more riled up, to the point that I got a few private messages from people who were concerned for me about the level of ire happening on his page.
There were other women who spoke out, as well as one man who was as vocal as we were. Yet despite the fact that the one man made harsher, more personal attack statements while the women focused mainly on our feelings and personal experiences, TEDG’s followers mainly got angry about us “dumbass irritating bitches”. Funny that.
The thing about comics is that it’s not like roleplaying. TRPG game designers can only hope to achieve a moderate level of nerd fame, unless you happen to be Monte Cook or Ken Hite. Comics artists? Their audience is larger. A LOT larger. So literally overnight, my traffic went THROUGH THE ROOF:
You might think that as a blogger that writes a Patreon-supported blog, that kind of traffic spike would be something I’d like to see. WELL IT’S NOT. I found myself obsessively refreshing my site stats, growing more and more worried as the views kept going up by the thousands. That level of attention from hostile, angry sources is just frightening. For the first 24 hours, I couldn’t help but worry that this was going to go viral and I was going to wind up as another Anita Sarkeesian.
Of course, it didn’t help that when I blogged about the negative attention that Campbell and Brooks had directed my way, J. Scott Campbell then lied about my response to his followers:
Which, yeah. That’s not even close to what happened:
Okay, so let’s review. Did I say that they were knowingly using their audience to harass me? Yup! I sure did. Did I say that their behavior is unprofessional and imply strongly that it was also irresponsible? You betcha! Did I say ANYTHING ANYWHERE about artwork created by J Scott or Mark Brooks? NOPE.
Thankfully, the shitstorm died down and things went back to normal. But not before 48 extremely anxiety-inducing hours, during which managing comment threads was occupying a huge portion of my attention.
So what’s the point? Why speak out? Or do I just have an axe to grind?
The reason I’m writing this is because misogyny like that expressed by Elliot Rodger doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Echo chambers like PUAhate reinforce and normalize that misogyny. What also normalizes misogyny is when men in positions of respect and authority engage in the practice of encouraging misogyny and creating misogynist echo chambers so that they can protect their self-image.
The problem is that misogynist echo chambers are dangerous. Never forget that misogyny kills. Sometimes directly, as in the case of Elliot Rodger. Sometimes indirectly as in the cases of Amanda Todd and Reteah Parsons.
Am I saying that people like J. Scott Campbell, Mark Brooks, TRA, and TEGD are responsible for mass-murderers like Elliot Rodger? NO.
What I am saying is that inciting harassment of people they don’t like is dangerous, and turning a blind eye to the misogynist echo chambers that happen in their comment sections (if not actively encouraging said misogyny) is even more so.
We need to stop taking misogyny in the geek community for granted and start holding misogynists accountable for their actions, especially when they are creators who have a large audience that they are willing to weaponize. We need to STOP writing these guys blank checks just because they’re nerd famous. And we need to start calling out misogyny when we see it.
We have to. We must. The stakes are just too high.
So here’s the story so far, for those of you who haven’t been playing along at home thus far. I did an anatomy correction of a piece of art by Jonboy Meyers. Apparently that made a lot of comics fans really, really mad. So since they found this link, I’ve been enjoying a nice little hate-a-palooza from my least favorite segment of the internet.
Because it’s the way I roll, I then posted a response to all the haterade highlighting the good, the bad, and the stupid. This has had mixed results. I got several new patrons from all this extra traffic (hello, you beautiful, wonderful people, you!) – which is pretty cool. So thanks for all the extra traffic, haters. You actually did me a favor there. But responding to haterade is like kicking a hornet’s nest. The results are eminently predictable and never pleasant.
Now, in my previous post I called out J Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks, who are themselves well-known professional comics artists, as being the instigators of a very large portion of the internet bile that has been rolling downhill in my direction. (I can’t know what portion because the trackback doesn’t break it down any further than “facebook.com”. Thanks for nothing, trackback.) Here, apparently, is what they have to say for themselves.
I’m including transcripts below each image since the screen grabs are hard to read. My comments are inserted bolded in brackets.
Mark Brooks: Hey, look at us! We got picked out in her nonsensical rebuttal! [Because any time you don’t like something a woman says, you can just call her crazy and problem solved! True story.] And now we’re apparently bullies too! I guess when you get any modicum of notoriety you’re not allowed to have an opinion anymore. Go figure. [Come on. You draw comics for a living. “With great power comes great responsibility” ring a bell at all?]
J Scott Campbell: Wait a second… So Mark and I get shrapnel kickback, and [anonymized] get’s [sic] away untarnished…?! No fair!!
[anonymized]: I’m apparently not a big deal like you two, and that hurts.
Mark Brooks: It’s official, [anonymized], you’re a victim.
[Okay, so I know they’re joking here. I do get that. But it’s a little troublesome that they’re willing to brush aside their role in stirring up this flood of bile in the first place as, you know, no big deal. Hey! We’ll just call her crazy! No need to actually reflect on the implications of my actions. Nope! Not at all.]
J Scott Campbell: Again, I made my original post having absolutely no idea of her gender, only that her artistic working knowledge seemed extremely flawed, uninformed and incorrect to offer any legitimate lectures or critiques to working published artists. So if she’s blustering on about this being part of some anti-female bla-bla-bla, I think her argument in [sic] unsound.
[OH MY GOD. “Anti-female bla-bla-bla”?? I’m not making this stuff up for shits and giggles. Sexism in the comics industry is very well documented. READ A BOOK. Or, you know, talk to any woman who’s worked for DC for more than five minutes. Or just tell yourself that I’m just craaaaaazy. Whichever. That works too]
J Scott Campbell: I mostly feel sad for her. She appears to go through life seeing only the bad in other people and their work. Seems like it’d be a tortured existence. And immediately going after mine and Mark’s artwork the very next day only adds to the appearance of her biased and emotional filled knee-jerk thinking that has little to do with legitimate art critiquing, and more to do with attempting to save face. I hope for her sake that she can pull herself out of this self-destructive mindset and work on bettering her own artwork rather than grabbing at fleeting internet fame by tearing down others more successful than her. [Italicized emphasis mine]
Okay. We’re going to take a break from screen caps for a second to respond to that last one in particular.
So, first of all, claiming that I “went after [your] and Mark’s artwork” just proves how incredibly little effort you put into ACTUALLY READING WHAT I WROTE. Here’s what I actually said:
Which. You know what? In what universe is it okay to use your very large platform to encourage your followers to harass someone? Adria Richards and Anita Sarkeesian are only two of the most recent and prominent examples of the effects that online harassment can have. There is a long and sad history online of women being harassed for DARING to commit the CRIME of HAVING OPINIONS WHILE FEMALE.
And for people who’d say “well they didn’t actually tell their fans to harass you”? BULLSHIT. They made posts in which they called me things like “laughable”, “embarrassing”, and “smug”, then continued to encourage the anger in the thread that resulted. Nor did they make any attempts to dissuade potential harassers, or tell people who made threatening comments to back off. These are grown-ass-men who pointed their very large audiences at me and told them what a terrible person I was on the internet because they want me to shut the fuck up.
Going through these threads is, of course, about as pleasant as drinking a tuna and brussel sprouts milkshake, so I’m not going to go through all of the comments that have been made so far. I have better things to do with my time than marinate in internet bile. But here are some highlights taken from J. Scott Campbell’s hate-fest before I got too tired of humanity to continue.
(SEVERAL of whom I should note are professional comics artists. I’m not going to name all the names here, because I don’t actually hate myself. But it is worth asking that HOW is any of this anything resembling professional behavior? But then, given that the mainstream comics industry is happy to regularly re-affirm how much it hates women, I guess none of this should come as a surprise.)
Got it? Okay, so let’s review. Did I say that they were knowingly using their audience to harass me? Yup! I sure did. Did I say that their behavior is unprofessional and imply strongly that it was also irresponsible? You betcha! Did I say ANYTHING ANYWHERE about artwork created by J Scott or Mark Brooks? NOPE. Go ahead. Re-read that. I’ll wait.
And of course, the “I feel so sorry for this poor bitter tortured sadsack” tactic is just a fancy variant of the “bitches be crazy” defense. Except, I’m sorry, how is it that I’m the nonsensical crazy one when I’m not the person who is saying straight-up NOT TRUE STUFF? Oh right. I’m a woman, and women who say things that people don’t work are crazy. Right. The ancient Greeks even invented a term for it – hysteria. Somehow that slipped my mind.
Also, you know who hasn’t (to my knowledge) participated in these threads? JB Meyers. You’d think the way J Scott Campbell is reacting that I went and personally kicked his puppy. But nowhere did I ever say anything about his art, or about Mark’s art. So I’m really not sure why J Scott and Mark are getting so wound up about this when JB himself seems to be restraining from participating in this disgusting vortex of internet hate.
Okay. Sidebar over.
J Scott Campbell: I also welcome counterpoints and as long as they’re civil and respectful (more or less) and I wouldn’t delete them just because the opinions differ from my own. That’s where we are different as well.
[Pretty classic form on the tone argument there, although the equivocating means he doesn’t stick the dismount. B+ effort.]
Okay, I’m not going to transcribe this, but this is basically Mark Brooks plugging all of his portfolio sites. Because when I get traffic from a storm of internet negativity, that’s bad. But when Mark uses a storm of internet negativity to advertise his professional services, thats’… um… good?
Anyway. That’s all I have for now. Since I don’t have anything more clever to end on, please enjoy these links to my favorite “male tears” GIFs. May they brighten your day. (I do apologize to my regular readers for the lack of actually important contact. But hey, you know how it is.)