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We're All Gamers Together: Why Harassment Has To Stop

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Another piece talking about the harassment of women in tabletop gaming has surfaced on the internet. At least one of the incidents related in that piece has been substantiated as being true, so I am willing to accept that there is more truth in that article. Whether gamers, or geeks in general, want to admit it or not, there are serious issues within our communities with how people act towards women, people of color, and the LGBTQI. We need to knock that off right now. Obviously, this is an opinion piece.
Just as a warning, for those who might be bothered by certain sorts of content, some of the incidents that were relayed to me, the stories that were told, have jarring, uncomfortable occurrences in them. If mentions of rape and unsolicitated physical contact will bother you, you might want to skip the rest of this article. I know reading the emails and PMs from these women bothered me as they came in.

As much as what these women related bothered me, and obviously bothered them as the targets of the harassment, I felt that the fact that it was so uncomfortable was exactly the reason why this current piece needed to be written. We, as a group, need to start looking the people doing this harassment in the eye and telling them that we don’t think it is okay. We need to stop pushing these accounts into the shadows, under the rugs, and pretending that they do not exist. We need to make our communities into better places for everyone, and not just a bunch of men.

I put out a call over my various social media feeds (which was shared a lot), asking for women to share their experiences of harassment in tabletop gaming with me. Anonymity was offered to those who wanted it, and not surprisingly most respondents asked that their names be kept confidential. The reasons for them wanting to be kept anonymous were one of two. First, they were afraid of further harassment within their communities for calling out the bad behavior. They seen how women who tell men to stop get treated in small, closed communities and, for better or worse, they want to continue with their hobbies without additional harassment. The second reason was a bit scarier. Some of these women are professionals, working in tabletop gaming in a number of different capacities, who fear that publicly coming forward would negatively impact their careers within gaming.

I’ll just say that last one again, with emphasis: they were afraid that coming forward about their harassment, or the harassment that they had witnessed, would negatively impact their careers in tabletop gaming.

Because of these reasons, I will be keeping the identities of everyone who asked anonymous. Everyone who spoke with me identified themselves, I am just not identifying them.

One of the common threads through the experiences shared was rape. Most of these women had had characters raped during convention play, online games, or at events at stores. Sometimes the rapes were matter-of-factly introduced into play, others there was a titillating level of graphic detail to the assaults. One women talked about how a regular attendee at a local convention bragged of having a “rape kit” in his car for the women at the convention, and at one point he yelled at her to “find him women to sleep with.” She also talked about the organizers of the convention having a “men only camping retreat” and when she was on the board of the con the only way that she could attend was “nude and wearing a dog collar.” Another woman talked about the GM of her online game suddenly having her character knocked unconscious, taken away on a ship, and then graphically narrated raping her character. All of this occurred on voice chat while using a popular virtual tabletop site.

Another woman told me that her attempts at organizing a couple of women only games for a VTT online convention was met with such vehemence from male gamers that the games were pulled from the schedule of the convention.

People wonder why more and more people think that anti-harassment policies are needed at conventions. After all, even Gen Con has one:
Gen Con: The Best Four Days in Gaming! is dedicated to providing a harassment-free Event experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, or affiliation. We do not tolerate harassment of convention participants in any form. Convention participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled without refund at the discretion of show management.

And an Ethics policy:

All of the following constitute grounds for expulsion from the convention without refund:
  • Violating any federal, state, or local laws, facility rules or convention policies
  • Failure to comply with the instructions of Gen Con Event Staff or security personnel
  • Using anything in a threatening or destructive manner against person or property
  • Endangering the safety of oneself or others
  • Threatening, stealing, cheating or harassing others
  • Failure to conduct oneself in a mature manner

The creators of the 13th Age RPG have anti-harassment policies for their organized play because “Nobody shows up for a game with the goal of feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, and sorry that they came. But organized play brings together many different types of people with different expectations and approaches to play. An anti-harassment policy sets ground rules that everyone can recognize and follow, resulting in better games and more fun.” In the policy they outline harassment as “Everyone has the right to a space that is safe from any type of harassment: physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual.”

Honestly, considering the experiences that have been related to me, these sorts of policies should be commonplace for conventions and organized play. I have heard that Paizo is currently drafting an anti-harassment policy for their organized play, and Ad Astra Games has one in place already.

These are some of the more overt things that women have to deal with in their tabletop gaming experiences, and doesn’t go into the more “casual” or systemic harassment and sexism that women deal with at conventions, in online play and at game stores. One of the women talked about women being a subclass in society, and it being more so in gaming communities. “It sucks for a female gamer, going into a store and having that reaction.”

Men are openly commenting on women’s body parts in a sexual manner. Sexual content is added to games because “that’s the kind of stuff that women like.” Crude sexual references and jokes are made.

I’m not saying that there is no place for sexual, or adult themes, in gaming. Just the opposite, in fact. In my personal groups I game with grownups, and we play games that can have adult material in them. We have, however, agreed that content like that is okay in advance, and most of the time we agree that players’ agency over their characters should not be railroaded by the story of the game, or the actions of the GM. There is a huge difference between making awkward sexual comments out of the blue, because you are hoping it will interest a woman gamer, and making awkward sexual comments that people expect in their game. This goes doubly so for games in public spaces, like conventions or stores.

And just because it is okay with your wife, girlfriend or the woman in your gaming group at home, that doesn’t mean that it is okay with all women. If it makes someone at the table uncomfortable, or makes them feel like they are being harassed, just don’t do it, or apologize for having done it.

And, of course, none of them are safe from accusations of being a “fake geek girl,” or being in the store to get something for their husband or boyfriend. Apparently the idea that a woman would want to buy her own dice or miniatures or rule books is alien to some gamers.

As Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, points out in an online essay, there have always been gender problems in tabletop gaming. But he also points out that women have been interested in tabletop gaming for a long time. But, just because something has “always been that way,” it does not mean that it has to stay that way. Even in the 1970s TSR Games employees were taken to task by fandom, and female designers, to be more respectful of women gamers and to stop using phrases like “ladygamers.” Sadly, these attitudes that were considered to be outdated back then are still being perpetuated now…in some cases by some of the same people.

My first AD&D group, back in 1979, had a woman for the GM, and about half of the group were women. Most of my groups since then have had women involved in them. We need to be better, as a community, about these things. We need to speak out when we see women being harassed, online or in person, and we need to tell the people who think that doing this is okay that it isn’t. We need to be active in making the change that creates better communities where we don’t have to worry about our friends being harassed because of their gender, or their sexual preferences, or their ethnicity. We have to convince conventions and organized play societies that having anti-harassment policies is a good thing, and enforcing them so that everyone feels welcomed and accepted is a better thing.

Guys, we have to remember that this isn’t about us. This isn’t about our perceptions of what is happening at conventions, during organized play events and in online games. We sit back, listen and ask what we need to do, rather than try to make the discussion about how it “isn’t all men.” We already know that. We need to not take the focus away from what needs to be done.

There are never going to be completely safe spaces, in gaming or outside of it. However, we can make better places where no one has to worry about their body parts being part of the table talk, or their characters being sexually violated. It is the 21st century, and we should be better about this than we are. We need to stop being quiet, stop facilitating harassment, and we need to start making better spaces for ourselves and our fellow gamers. A group, like nerds, that talk so much about being harassed in their youth for being different should really be more sensitive about harassing others. We can, as a group, be better about this, and we need to do it.
 

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MadAxe

Villager
Glad to see this on ENWorld. I hope more in the community can listen and help make the necessary changes.
 

jamesjhaeck

Villager
Glad to see that this idea is gaining traction and visibility in the gaming community. One big thing that everyone should remember is that discrimination isn't always as blatant and capital-E Evil as the actions described in the Latining article.

One subtle thing I've noticed is that, using the Fake Geek Girl example, most people don't think women are inferior gamers, but there are a lot of "true gamer" types who infer that she's just gaming because she wants attention. Well... yeah, that's probably true. Everyone games because they want attention, just a little bit. Winning a game, making a great play in a game... all of that gets you attention. Attention feels good!

It's not easy to call out big abuses, solely because of social pressure, but it's even harder to call out small things like this. Small abuses don't even require malicious intent, just a lack of critical thought. And when someone who makes little abuses like this (like I have!) gets called out for it, it feels like they're being accused of intentional sexism. Which isn't easy to deal with. It makes people mad and puts them on the defensive. "Why are the feminists saying I'm a bad guy? I'm just a moderate!" This was my defense for a long time. But it's not a defense; it's just a way to deflect criticism and avoid introspection.

Positive change is hard and painful. It requires reevaluation of a lot of "common sense" assumptions that society has taught us, and being able to deal with a bruised ego.
 

Dragonbait

Registered User
I shouldn't be shocked by this news, really, but I am. I really thought that table top gamers were fringe enough when compared to video game players and sports fans that there was some sort of social awareness going on. but then I think back to some of the people I gamed with and those that I had to boot from the group and then I realize how naive I was for thinking this.
 

EthanSental

Explorer
I'm not surprised. Most gamers are a socially awkward bunch with the social skills of a fruit punch bowl. Doesn't make it right to graphically talk about the stuff in this article to female gamers in the guise of it being roleplaying but I can see it happening and happening more often than we think.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
I shouldn't be shocked by this news, really, but I am. I really thought that table top gamers were fringe enough when compared to video game players and sports fans that there was some sort of social awareness going on. but then I think back to some of the people I gamed with and those that I had to boot from the group and then I realize how naive I was for thinking this.
Gamers are fringe, but unfortunately some within our community are pushed here because they aren't accepted in other circles. Our fringeness, our having dealt with social rejection in the past, can make us not want to do the same to others. So people with bad behavior are kept around in our circles. Them chasing off newcomers gets overlooked, because we don't want to chase them away.

Bad behavior needs to be stopped whenever it occurs. As a transwoman, I am not comfortable playing at my local store just because I'm afraid of putting myself out there.
 

Dragonbait

Registered User
Bad behavior needs to be stopped whenever it occurs. As a transwoman, I am not comfortable playing at my local store just because I'm afraid of putting myself out there.
It's a shame because the groups that game in the store would be the first group that people often see and set the bar for all other groups.
Well.. There IS YouTube now. Perhaps there needs to be more gaming groups willing to record and show themselves on the internet? There probably are a myriad of them and I am just unaware of it.
 

Uder

Villager
I never have understood the ill will towards women in this hobby. I also don't understand the need to label people "white terrorists." Blech. Guess I'll just go hide my head in the sand some more and be glad I run a home game. People suck.
 

Jester David

Villager
I never have understood the ill will towards women in this hobby. I also don't understand the need to label people "white terrorists." Blech. Guess I'll just go hide my head in the sand some more and be glad I run a home game. People suck.
The "white terrorist" label is pretty much hyperbole, associating harassment with such an emotionally loaded term as "terrorist".
Which is likely the point: by applying the definition of the term terrorist to abusers it's meant to get us to really think about the behaviour and the people who do it. It's not an inaccurate usage of the term and makes us wonder how it can be ignored, let alone condoned.
 

EvilPheemy

Villager
I have known too many gamers who don't attend conventions, play in public spaces, and go through an extensive vetting process for groups they wish to join for *precisely* this reason. This state of affairs is no longer acceptable. So many of us who came into gaming in the 1980s were bullied, harassed, belittled, sometimes to the point of physical abuse, all because of the games we played and the stories we told. It was not right for us to be bullied then, and it's sure as Hell not right for any of us to be bullies, (or stay quiet when we witness it) now. (Gods help me, I'm preaching again.. forgive me.. but passions run high). Our community, the gaming community, has so much promise to be a force for change. In our shared imaginations we can be whoever we see our ideal selves being. Stores, Conventions and Game tables can be a place of refuge for ALL of us, regardless of our circumstances, from the struggles we all face in our regular, day-to-day lives. I'm begging all of you.. please.. be a Hero, Stand Up, Support one another, Love one another. We. Can. Be. Better.
 

hardvice

Villager
Honestly? Some of this behavior is expressly intended to scare women out of participating. I have zero problem with calling someone using fear to modify somebody else's behavior "terrorism", because that's what it is.

If the use of that term errs, it's in that it also includes conduct that's merely disgusting and sexually entitled along with conduct that's intentionally threatening and exclusionary.
 

werecorpse

Villager
I am glad you wrote this article. I am also glad the White male terrorist article was written and have no issue with the title. I am shocked this stuff happens, it's appalling. Bringing it out so its more widely known is a good thing. I will try and be more alert to it. I have generally been unable to get to conventions and almost always game with people I know so this is unknown to me. It makes me concerned about letting my daughter cosplay.
Btw IMO from what I read, the finding by the tribunal isn't the same as the harassment being "substantiated as being true" - unless there was a witness, an admission or some other evidence. (Not doubting it happened - just not 'substantiated')
 

Christopher Helton

Registered User
It's a shame because the groups that game in the store would be the first group that people often see and set the bar for all other groups.
Well.. There IS YouTube now. Perhaps there needs to be more gaming groups willing to record and show themselves on the internet? There probably are a myriad of them and I am just unaware of it.
Our group uses YouTube off and on, and has for years. Here's my channel.

Here are some of the videos for the online parts of Contessa.
 

RotGrub

Villager
The unspoken truth is that D&D is a game that can, like poker night, be played by a rabble of men, for which the only membership requirement is the freedom of vulgarity.
A safe space like a men's only pub might be a better venue for such games
 
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Wolvercote

Villager
Sorry, but it's hatespeech she's selling here. I've been gaming in public stores and at cons for 30+ years and I never heard of anything remotely close to any of this going on. In my experience, if a female is present, behavior improves overall. I've gamed since the early 80s when D&D was new, I'm not buying this at all. Pandering to this is silly. I'm saying enough.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
Sorry, but it's hatespeech she's selling here. I've been gaming in public stores and at cons for 30+ years and I never heard of anything remotely close to any of this going on. In my experience, if a female is present, behavior improves overall. I've gamed since the early 80s when D&D was new, I'm not buying this at all. Pandering to this is silly. I'm saying enough.
Please don't dismiss other people's experiences because you haven't seen or experienced them.
 
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