Earlier this week, I sat down with Ryan, Perram, and special guest, Ariadne MacGillivray of Ubisoft, to talk about inclusion in and the state of the gaming community. We recorded our conversation and you can listen to it here. After two hours of talking, there was still much more to say, so this week I’d like to cover some of the stuff we didn’t get to and expand on some of the topics we did. In this article I am directly speaking mostly to allies or people in privileged positions. I speak from my personal experiences and education, if my comments are incorrect or your experiences are different, please leave a comment for me and our fellow readers.
I want to say a couple of things to every gamer, nerd, or geek reading this –
- We have all, to the individual, been mocked, tormented, outed, or otherwise been treated badly because of something we love, probably gaming. If you haven’t, then you are truly lucky. We do not have to level that same kind of nastiness or ugliness on one another. We are all gamers, nerds, or geeks, we are among our own, and we can and should treat one another better than we have been treated in the past. We can make the decision to be excellent to each other. It is never, ever okay to threaten violence on another person, whether it is your intention to do so or not, these comments are never jokes nor are they funny.
- No one, but you, can take away your fun. No one, but you, is responsible for your fun in a game. No freelance writer, game designer, or publishing company has that power over you or your game at your table. If you don’t like a published adventure, supplement, or any other gaming material – don’t use it. Put the book back on your shelf and don’t use it. Give it to a friend. Sell it on eBay or a used bookstore. Stop using the book. See how easy that was? But don’t go to the forums and burn the place down about how this material or writer has ruined your gaming life, because that is not true. If you feel you have a legitimate complaint, make it in the appropriate place and to the appropriate person. Complaining about your organization’s leadership on unrelated forums or social media pages is unlikely to fix the problem. If your gaming life is so fragile that it can be so easily ruined by a single book or writer, you should probably quit gaming, because this isn’t the hobby for you.
- Please do not think that there is nothing in this blog for you to learn. No one, not even me, is perfect. We all make mistakes, say the wrong thing, give accidental offense. Please be humble while you read this, and know that you are not exempt from the issues of a Silent Table – a place where we believe our words cannot be heard – it hurts all of us in our community and we are responsible for our community’s behaviors, whether directly or indirectly.
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
Let’s get some terms defined. These definitions are short, sweet, and paraphrased by me; the things they define are broad in scope and can be difficult, this is a place to start, not the final words the subjects.
- Black Lives Matter – Organization working for the validity of Black life.
- Doxxing – the act of outing the physical location and identifying information of a private individual, frequently used to harass and threaten the individual, who often identifies as female.
- Emasculation – using derogatory words to describe a man as a female slur for the purposes of insulting or hurting the individual. “You throw like a girl”, “Come on, ladies”, “You’re such a baby”.
- Feminism – political, ideological, and social movements to achieve equality between genders.
- Keyboard Commando/Troll – someone who communicates in an aggressive or provocative manner online, but may not ordinarily speak that way in person.
- Mansplaining – When a man explains something to a woman who already knows the information, typically in a patronizing manner.
- Marginalized – a person or group of persons who are disadvantaged and relegated to the fringe of society or the larger group. May include, but not limited to: women, people of color (POC), individuals who identify as LGBTQ, religious minorities, cultural minorities, individuals with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities, and economically challenged individuals.
- Microaggression – intentional or unintentional everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults that communicate hostility toward a marginalized group. This includes racist or sexist jokes or comments, including threats of violence or bodily harm.
- Misidentification/misgendering – accidentally or deliberately not using correct pronouns for a person’s chosen gender.
- Objectification – treating a person as a sexual object or commodity without regard to their dignity or identity as a person.
- Privilege – a person or group of people who are in a majority, positions of power, or otherwise advantaged.
- Tone policing – regulating what and how a person communicates to the comfort of the listener.
- Victim Blaming – what it sounds like; saying “She shouldn’t have dressed that way”, “She was asking for it”, “They should have known better”.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
In short, you should care because this reflects on you and it is the right thing to do. By remaining quiet when someone is verbally assaulting an individual or group of people, you appear to be in agreement with the offending individual, whether you agree or not. This includes at the gaming table, in forums, emails, or any other form of communication. I want to say that again:
When you remain quiet, it is taken as agreement, whether you agree or not.
The gaming community is made up of a broad and diverse collection of individuals who share a common love of games and gaming, and a cross sectional love of comics, science fiction, fantasy, cosplay, movies, cartoons, and all things nerdy or geeky. By identifying as gamers, we place ourselves in a larger community where we will encounter people who do not look like us or believe as we do on all things, but the beliefs or opinions of others should not and do not diminish us as an individual, nor should our beliefs or opinions diminish them as individuals.
The greater issue is that some individuals feel that they are superior to others, that their opinions do hold a greater weight, and that their needs are above the needs of others. These individuals say and do things that are toxic and disruptive. There are good reasons to address toxic people in your life and remove them if they are not interested in adjusting their behaviors. Being exposed to hate or toxic rhetoric without confrontation gives the appearance of acceptance or agreement with the speaker and emboldens them.
I DON’T AGREE WITH THE TROLLS, WHAT CAN I DO?
It is my personal belief only, that most people are intrinsically decent human beings that simply want to be allowed to live and let live. That when they are faced with something that is outside that parameter of existing, they aren’t sure what to do or how to engage the offensive matter effectively.
This list is far from inclusive, but a place to start:
- First and most importantly, be brave. If you think it’s scary to confront a bully, imagine how terrified the individual target may feel. You aren’t in this alone, but right now, they are. Get them and yourself to safety, if you are physically in a threatening or dangerous situation.
- You can and should speak up and directly identify that what is being said is not acceptable.
- If you are on a forum, flag offensive comments and comment to that effect.
- Be prepared, because it’s going to happen and you need to get over the shock of it fast to address the problem in a timely fashion. Here are a couple of handy videos to help you out by Jay Smooth – How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist and his TEDx Talk
- Educate yourself on what feminism and Black Lives Matter really mean. Here are some sobering statistics:
- 1 in 5 women are the victim of rape – you know at least one person who was raped.
- 3 women die daily as a result of domestic violence in the US. 4,000 women a year and women are more likely to be murdered by their current or former domestic partner.
- Black Americans are EIGHT times more likely to be the victim of homicide than white Americans.
- A woman is beaten every 9 seconds. That is 400 women beaten every hour.
- In 2015 21 (or more) transgender people died violently. 23 have died as of 10/2016.
- Remember the person you are addressing is also a person, even if they are speaking disrespectfully. Challenging their beliefs without demeaning or dehumanizing them can be difficult, but don’t become the thing you’re fighting. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.
- Don’t judge anyone on appearance. It is worth noting that many gamers have been outcasts of one kind or another and goes hand in hand with treat another like human beings.
- Don’t make it about you – marginalized individuals become fatigued and for some, hopeless to the possibility of the abuse and attacks ever ending. When you step in in support of a target, remember that this is not about you, this is about them and supporting them while they are attacked, especially if you are coming from a position of privilege. You may not get a thank you for your effort, but you should still step up.
- If the leadership of your group will not step up to address negative speech, or they are the source of the problem, there are fewer options – you can go to the organization that runs your group (if such an organization exists), or you can leave. If you are going to leave, make sure to report appropriately to the leadership that you are leaving due to the hostile gaming environment.
I’VE SAID SOMETHING OFFENSIVE, WHAT DO I DO?
Accept that you aren’t perfect, that is is possible that you have said something that upset another person. Take responsibility for your words and your actions. Give the person in question a sincere apology. A sincere apology is one where you own your actions, not make it about the other person, and sounds something like this – “I am sorry my words or actions hurt you. I am sorry for that injury. Please forgive me.” Then consider learning more about why what you said was offensive and work to not say things like that again.
At least in the US, there is a belief that Freedom of Speech also includes freedom from repercussions of speech. This is a misconception that needs to go away. If you say things that are harmful, hateful, or otherwise offensive, those words reflect on you, whether you meant them as a “joke” or not. Speaking poorly of others will not endear you to most people. While you may speak however you wish, be aware that publisher run forums, gaming stores, and social media sites are in no way obligated to permit you to speak however you wish in their spaces. Terms of service frequently forbid hate, bullying, or threatening speech.
When in doubt, you can follow Wheaton’s Law – “Don’t be a dick.” Or Thumper’s father’s advice – “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” You are not on a reality show, there is no laugh track. Saying hurtful or demeaning things isn’t clever or funny, it’s hurtful to everyone involved – including you.
It is a rare gamer that never games in the presence of others, sitting at a Silent Table. We share our gaming space for the mutual enjoyment of everyone gaming with us. If someone isn’t having fun, it might be a problem they need to deal with personally. However, if it is a direct result of aggressive comments made by someone else in our space, it’s everyone’s problem. Our community is losing good people – gamers, designers, industry leaders – because of trolling toxic behaviors and aggressions in gaming spaces. Forums are being shut down across all subject matters due to trolling and keyboard commandos – it is a liability for companies to have to patrol their forums 24/7 for hostile communications. The gaming community may have once been mostly white men, but that time has passed. Women, people of color, all minorities have always been here and we are going to stay. It is time to accept that more chairs can be brought to the gaming table, that the inclusion of diverse voices enriches us all. Gaming is about exploring imaginary options that may not exist in our world, inclusion shouldn’t be this hard to imagine or enact.