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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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Respect is earned, not given.
what does that even mean in this context? If one of the jerk who go after women said that you would be livid.

I started this thread skeptical and changed my mind part way through. Since then I have been like 90% on your side and asked since they have policies and someone since posted it what else to do. The policy is failing or I am reading your arguments wrong....
 
Sometimes I wish I could just wish everyone to be nice and understanding...but I can't. Do that policy seems like a great one so we are back to maybe we here at enwolrd (someone less disliked tthen I am) could start some kind of con watch... We have a crime stoped line here in CT that may be a thing to look at or neghboor good watch. We could kick start and get people involved to help the community
 

Taneras

Villager
Like I said, I'm more than happy to give equal time to the harassment of men. We have to be balanced, right?
Who is asking you to give equal time to a certain demographic?

Let's talk about all the victims.
I only see 3 options.

Talk about all victims.

Talk about some victims.

Ignore the problem all together.

So yes, talking about all victims sounds the best. No. Stop. I'm not saying that we can't say that the majority are women. I'm not saying that we can't say that the majority of the harassers are men. That's not it. Facts are facts. I'm just saying that focusing on the fact that most vicitms are women and most harassers are men can leave out other victims (men) and harassers (women) and shift the focus away from harassment being the problem not what's between your legs.
 

ehren37

Villager
Like I said, I'm more than happy to give equal time to the harassment of men. We have to be balanced, right? Let's talk about all the victims.
I'd ask that you go easy on GMforPowergamers. He seems rightfully shocked and horrified by what is happening, and wants to help. He's not terribly great at expressing himself, which he has totally admitted. Lets not cut down people too much who are by and large in agreement. I see a lot of that on social media, where groups tear themselves apart attacking someone who is 90% in line with their views.
 

Mallus

Hero
Then we agree the larger problem is the harassment of women.

Does it matter that most men aren't facing harassment to the few men who are facing harassment?
I can't answer that, it would be speculation. I'd have to find a harassed man and ask him -- search might take awhile, since we agree that harassed men in the hobby exist in an insignificant number.

Does it matter that you seem very interested in focusing attention (and presumably, resources) on the smaller (and at this point hypothetical) problem instead of the larger one? It's kinda puzzling me.
 

Taneras

Villager
Then we agree the larger problem is the harassment of women.
Yes. And the even larger issue still is the harassment over everyone.

I can't answer that, it would be speculation. I'd have to find a harassed man and ask him -- search might take awhile, since we agree that harassed men in the hobby exist in an insignificant number.
I'm willing to bet that the men inside the gaming community would feel the same as men outside the gaming community who are harassed. You're a human capable of empathy, please don't pretend to be ignorant just to avoid your stance being dismantled.

Does it matter that you seem very interested in focusing attention (and presumably, resources) on the smaller (and at this point hypothetical) problem instead of the larger one? It's kinda puzzling me.
What's really puzzling is how "Lets focus on the all victims" turns into "Lets focus on the smaller issue, men being harassed".
 
Focusing on the victim protects everyone, focusing on women (as you've suggested) doesn't.
The second half of your sentence is not true.

Nor does it follow that focusing on the majority of victims (which is also the largest pool of people likely to be targeted for harassment) removes the focus from other groups that may face harassment.

Your argument presents the issue in binary terms, and in so doing you're misrepresenting the issue.
 
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Christopher Helton

Registered User
I'd ask that you go easy on GMforPowergamers. He seems rightfully shocked and horrified by what is happening, and wants to help. He's not terribly great at expressing himself, which he has totally admitted. Lets not cut down people too much who are by and large in agreement. I see a lot of that on social media, where groups tear themselves apart attacking someone who is 90% in line with their views.
This isn't a discussion about who likes what system. This is a discussion about women being harassed, being groped against their will, having their characters gleefully and graphically raped at gaming tables. There is no "90%" agreement on this issue.

Again, this isn't a discussion of hypotheticals or men getting their feelings hurt. This is about actual things happening to actual women.
 

Taneras

Villager
The second half of your sentence is not true.
Outside of asserting that that's the case, can you explain why only focusing on women actually focus on protecting everyone?

The group "women" doesn't include everyone, therefore focusing on women doesn't focus on everyone.

Nor does it follow that focusing on the majority of victims (which is also the largest pool of people likely to be targeted for harassment) removes the focus from other groups that may face harassment.
I'd argue that the definition of the word focus, which was the term being used, necessitates that it does. If you specify you're focusing your attention on women how can you be focusing your attention on everyone?

Your argument presents the issue in binary terms, and in so doing you're misrepresenting the issue.
Can you explain that a bit more, I'm not exactly sure what you're saying. Honestly, I'm not trying to be difficult.
 

ehren37

Villager
This isn't a discussion about who likes what system. This is a discussion about women being harassed, being groped against their will, having their characters gleefully and graphically raped at gaming tables.
If you read him, he does seem against this.

There is no "90%" agreement on this issue.
The 90% comes from how to implement policies to prevent it. For example, some might be a one strike and out, others might say a warning then eject, others might say refund, others might say no refund. When you start getting into specifics of how best to implement a policy to eject people, there are going to be details to hash out. That's where you probably dont want to shut down those 90% on your side of wanting to do something because they dont want to enact the exact same change you do.

He's basically on your side, and has expressed that this thread has opened his eyes to an issue he wasnt really informed/aware of. If you want to browbeat him, I guess that's your call. I totally agree there are some bad actors in the thread, but I also see some people kind of shellshocked about how rampant some behaviors are.

I get it's frustrating to explain the same thing over and over (for example, why it's blacklivesmatter, not alllivesmatter), but unless you only want to preach to the choir, sometimes you have to do just that.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I think this thread is done. It's just a handful of people going round in circles now, and it's getting increasingly hostile. It's certainly not accomplishing anything.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Outside of asserting that that's the case, can you explain why only focusing on women actually focus on protecting everyone?
Females are being focused upon because- to date- they're overwhelmingly the ones being victimized. It is their metaphorical house that is on fire right now.

And, with respect, I don't think anyone has proposed that only women need protecting. As I have stated before, any policy or law directed at the behavior in question will probably be drafted with gender-neutral language unless there are found to be harassment aspects unique to their gender.
 
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