So… another week, another story of a woman in gaming being ridiculed, or belittled, or threatened with rape, or just piled on by a horde of people who really aren’t very good people at all. It happens, and it happens a lot.
It makes me pretty angry. I am, of course, speaking only for myself, not my employer. (I’m assuming that most people I work with would agree with me, even if they might elect to be a little less crude about it. I say this because the people I work with aren’t hateful jerks. But I can’t speak for them, either.)
I have two things I’m going to talk about. The first one is the problem and how I think we should start dealing with it, and the second one is how I feel about it personally.
It’s a pretty long post, so settle in. I’m getting a lot off my chest here.
I’m a writer. I love video games. In my job, I write video games, so you can see how I have lucked out. It is easily the most exciting, rewarding, challenging and fun job I’ve ever had. Of course, I have certain advantages in what is very much a male-dominated industry; just by having a Y chromosome, I have a head start, and I can’t pretend otherwise.
That’s changing, by the way — not as fast as I’d prefer, but it is changing. I do a little bit of teaching, and year by year, I see the number of women in the classes increasing. Right now, it seems like we’re getting very close to 50/50 here in Finland, which is great. (I don’t have any statistics about this, this is just my impression from looking at the audience during lectures.) I look forward to that becoming more of a norm in actual development as well. It won’t happen overnight, and it’ll take some kicking and screaming, but we’re making progress. It’s going in a good direction, and I’m optimistic about it.
What I’m not optimistic about is the audience… or rather, a specific segment of it, and the blatantly misogynistic shitstorm it can and will bring in the blink of an eye. To trigger it, all you really need to do is be a woman and work in games, and do anything that might make the audience aware of your presence — have an opinion, announce a game, or just say in public that you are a gamer. (See also “fake geek girls” for another brand of the same bullshit.)
There are countless examples of this. What prompted me to finally write this post is what Zoë Quinn just went through when she submitted a game about depression to Steam Greenlight. Quinn’s experience isn’t atypical, and she’s been treated the usual way — that is to say, very, very badly. The hate pours in, and it pours in hard. And for what? Why?
Because she’s not a guy. That’s really what it comes down to, and most of the people doing it don’t really bother to pretend otherwise. This happens all the time. Make no mistake: Quinn’s situation is in no way unique.
There are people who will say that the audience is tough on guys, too. And there’s some truth to that, but that’s really a distortion of the facts. To believe that, you have to be willfully ignorant of the difference in context. Yeah, I get a hard time sometimes — gamers are a passionate, ornery, and opinionated lot — but the difference is, I don’t have to justify myself the way women do. Nobody’s going to question if it’s all right for me to work in games. If I make a game, that’s just a game. It’s not treated as proof of why men should or shouldn’t be making games. Nobody thinks it’s objectionable that a man would make a game.
But women? That’s a whole another story, because according to a certain segment of the audience, everything they do is about being women — and everything they do is wrong on every possible way; women shouldn’t be working on games, or “pushing an agenda,” or “trying to ruin games,” or really do much of anything other than do that sandwich thing, ha ha. The fact is that Zoë Quinn can’t put a game out without being attacked as a woman. If it had been me putting it out, I’m sure there would be people who wouldn’t be into it, and they might tell me that in no kind terms, but there’s no way it would result in a flood of threats that constantly referenced how I’m a man and how I suck because I’m a man and I’m what’s wrong with gaming today because I’m a man.
While I’m at it, here’s another thing that doesn’t happen to me: I don’t get constantly threatened with rape. I don’t get inundated with online messages (or phone calls!) telling me that the problem with me is that I’m a man and I shouldn’t be in this business. Nobody’s gonna tell me that I got my job just because I’m a boy and someone felt sorry for me or wanted to bang me or wanted to be politically correct. Nobody’s gonna talk down to me, because it’s immediately assumed that as a gamer who works in games, I have a basic understanding of gaming in general. Nobody’s going to make ironclad assumptions about the kind of games I like, or suggest that I obviously want to make all games conform to some (made-up) idea of “guy games.”
That entire element doesn’t exist for me. That is a privilege. It doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong (which is something a lot of people refuse to understand when the word “privilege” is brought out), it just means that I’m in a position where I have an inbuilt advantage over others. In this instance, it’s a pretty goddamn nice advantage to have, and I would not trade it away — not that I even could, because it’s such a built-in part of my identity as a man working in video games.
So I get to be a professional who can do creative work. I can work on an entirely mindless action game, or a story-centric, character-driven dramatic game, or just about any other type of game without people deciding that obviously I’m the wrong person for the job because I have testicles. If I had ovaries? Different story.
None of this has anything to do with the game in question. Is the game, Depression Quest, a good game? I don’t know, I have no fucking idea. I haven’t played it (although I look forward to giving it a shot, seeing as it’s about something games usually aren’t about, which in itself makes it worthwhile). It doesn’t matter, though, because even if it was a really badly made crap game, that’s not what the rage is about. When you’re coming out with gems like “all females are sluts and have no right to be depressed” — actual quote, of course — it’s obvious you’re not criticizing the game. It goes so far beyond what is acceptable behavior, it’s ridiculous — it’s like burning down somebody’s house because they don’t like Matlock, and then pretending that it’s somehow justified, or that they brought it on themselves.
In 2013, that kind of crap is very, very hard to swallow.
And I think all of this is especially important, because video games are art. (Of course they are art — I won’t really get into that right now, but making art is the easiest thing in the world. Good art? That’s another question.) What a certain segment of the community is essentially saying is that art is not for women, which is insane. It’s like saying that books or paintings or films aren’t for women, or shouldn’t be created by women. If you subtract art — the right to create it and enjoy it — from the human experience, what the hell do you have left? A life filled with drudgery and boredom? As far as attempts to disenfranchise someone go, that’s pretty solid one.
I think it’s evil.
It’s a weird, fascist stance for someone to take. It’s also incredibly far removed from reality, because it doesn’t reflect the relationship between women and games at all. I’ll be the first person to admit I live in a bit of a bubble; obviously, my sample is skewed, but here’s the thing: I’m fast approaching middle age, and the vast majority of the women I know who are my age or younger play games. Many of them are pretty hardcore gamers, others prefer more casual experiences, but they’re gamers. That fact doesn’t change just because some sad dickhead somewhere feels that his self-esteem is tied to his choice of gaming system and not having to share his hobby with girls and their cooties. Luckily, women’s presence in gaming is not predicated on the approval of said dickhead — but just the same, that mean-spirited and desperate attempt to exclude women is very prevalent. These people are fighting hard, but they’re tilting at windmills.
All this said, I want to be clear about something: I don’t believe this behavior really reflects the opinion of men in gaming. I think most men are pretty decent about this sort of thing — some are more enlightened and accepting than others, but overall, people frown on this sort of behavior. Unfortunately, there’s an extremely vocal minority that has a major presence, and they keep slinging shit at others. The reason they feel like they can keep doing it is because of the tribal mentality that develops among themselves — they keep patting each other in the back, and bask in that sense of approval. They feel safe to do this, because online you have a degree of anonymity and, even more importantly, lack of physical presence — which allows you to be a reprehensible human being and not worry too much about getting your ass kicked.
These are things that contribute to the problem, but I think the biggest reason is that people who are not part of their tribe let them get away with it — because they’re just “trolling,” because it’s “harmless,” but especially because people don’t want to get involved. When not enough people protest, there’s silent approval. And that has to stop.
People need to stop turning a blind eye to this sort of behavior. If you’re a guy, and you see another guy do it, you need to drop what you’re doing and get right in their face, and express your disapproval. I’m not saying pick a fight — I’m saying you need to tell them that what they are doing is not cool, and I don’t mean mumble under your breath or make a vaguely disapproving expression, I mean tell them that what they are doing is stupid and hateful, and makes it hard for you to remain their friend. Don’t do it in private, don’t take them aside. Do it right there in full sight of everyone.
Because that’s how you should be reacting to that shit anyway. In the vast majority of the cases, you’re not going to change their mind right there and then. People get put on the spot, they get defensive. That’s fine. They’ll still remember that encounter the next time around, and they’ll think about it. Also, this isn’t just about them. This is about other people, who will be basing their behavior on what they see around them. They see somebody act like a jackass and get approval, they’re gonna remember that the next time they want approval. They see somebody get called on their bullshit in public — how do you think that’s going to stick in their memory? This is typical of how you deal with bigotry — it’s not about convincing the other person they’re wrong (that may not even be possible). It’s about sending a message to everybody else, especially to young people who’re still figuring out how they feel about things.
The same applies to women, too. If you’re a woman and you run into this, don’t slink away, make some fucking noise. And I swear I don’t mean to blame the victim here, I know it’s hard to stand up to a bully. At the same time, I think a big reason this thing is getting so much more attention now is because women who have traditionally been culturally conditioned to just stand there, take it, and keep quiet — but now more and more often they do a Zoë Quinn and go “fuck you, you’re an asshole and I don’t deserve to be treated like shit by someone like you” instead. Which is the right response. The more people voice their disapproval and disdain and disappointment, the better. It will leave a mark.
But I think it’s especially important that guys speak up, because the people who perpetuate this thing are also men, and it’s important to show that they don’t speak for us. Will this solve everything? Nope. But if you don’t let your peers get away with this kind of behavior and police your community, that’s a pretty damn good start. Be an ally, not an enemy. Take a stand.
(…but let’s stay safe, everybody. If it’s some drunk aggressive asshole, for example, maybe skip that confrontation. No point in getting hurt.)
Edited to add this: Also, hey, if you’re not the first person to step up (and you kinda should be, instead of hoping that someone else will), what you need to do is back up the person who does do it. That way it’s not just some random person speaking up, it’s a bunch of people confirming that yes, this is unacceptable behavior. It sends a very different message that way.
My Feelings About the Problem
So that’s one part of this. Here’s another, more personal part: I am so, so sick of this shit, I can’t even tell you.
I make games for a living. It’s my job, and honestly, as rough as it can sometimes be, it’s a fantastic job for a guy like me. I get to geek out and work with amazingly talented people on wonderful projects. I feel lucky — it’s not just luck that I ended up where I did, it also took a lot of hard work, but I had an opportunity many people just don’t get.
I will admit that I often have mixed feelings about our industry. Many of the games have less than enlightened content or attitudes, which happens more often than I’d like. Still, I don’t think every game has to be super smart or some kind of a manifesto for all that is good and right in the world. There’s plenty of demand and market share for light entertainment, and I think you can absolutely make a game that’s dumb and sexy and fun without being sexist and tone-deaf, or treating your audience like idiots — and in any case, we keep maturing and innovating, as proven by the fact that there’s a fairly rich catalog of games out there, and it’s getting richer every year. It’s a process, and an exciting process at that.
But these people sour it, and they sour it hard. There’s all this fantastic creativity and sense of genuine fun — joy, even — that goes into these projects… and then these fuckwits come along. It’s hard for me to remain excited by the cool things in my industry when the specter of these people is always there, ready to unhinge its jaw and vomit toxic bile on everything they can’t deal with.
It’s not much fun, the idea that among my audience lurk these mouth-breathing troglodytes who are so alone and scared and insecure that they lash out at anything that doesn’t fit their delicately constructed little fantasy world. They dwell in misogyny, and racism, and gay bashing, and countless other brands of bigotry; in their lives, everything else may be kind of scary and uncertain, but hey, at least they they’re not faggots or bitches, so surely they are the kings of creation. Anything that doesn’t fit into that neat little world has to be shouted down and belittled and threatened with humiliation and rape and murder. That makes me uncomfortable in ways I have trouble articulating.
The bottom line is this: I don’t want those people in my audience. I really don’t. When I’m crunching, when I’m trying to do my part in constructing this enormously complicated and challenging piece of work, the idea that I’m doing it for them is utterly depressing. You hate women? Fuck off, don’t buy our game. I don’t need your money. I don’t want your money. I don’t want there to be even the slightest, most ephemeral suggestion that I am beholden to you in any way. You know what it feels like? It’s like getting fan mail from Hitler. “Oh, these people are really into video games and they fucking hate women. How nice!”
(And it’s not just video games, of course. You get that in pen-and-paper RPGs, and comics, and scifi fandom, too, that insane free-floating hostility that bubbles up whenever there’s a hint of new idea — and if there’s a woman involved in there, it’s rape threat time all over again. Geek culture has a nasty streak of aggressive insecurity running through it, and people cling on to it like they were drowning.)
I’m not kidding about this, and I’m not being hyperbolic. If I had to name the worst thing about my industry, it would absolutely be this. It’s a cancer within, and it’s worse than all the other problems we have, and it makes me angry and ashamed. I don’t want to look at it anymore. We need to stop pretending that it’s nothing, that it’s just some kids letting of steam, or whatever nice little comforting story we tell ourselves that lets us gloss it over time after time. It needs to stop. It really needs to stop. These assholes aren’t making games, they aren’t contributing anything. They are dependent on us for their fix, and I think we should tell them in no uncertain terms that our respect, friendship, and loyalty is for the customers and fans who make a basic, rudimentary effort to behave themselves like people worthy of those things. That it matters to us.
Because you better fucking believe it matters to me.
I don’t much like labeling myself, but I’m sure as hell a feminist, and if you think people should be equal, you should be one too. And if you think even for a moment that the word “feminazi” is a relevant part of this discussion, that’s either because you’re ignorant, or because you have a vested interested in pretending to be ignorant. If you think feminism is about subjugating men, what you are really thinking is that you don’t want women to treat you the way you’ve been treating them your whole life. (And yes, yes, there are women who are complete assholes in the name of feminism, but what’s that got to do with anything? We’re talking about an ideal, not what happens when somebody falls short of it. Jerry Sandusky calls himself a Christian, but I’m pretty sure his career as a serial child molester says a lot more about Jerry Sandusky than Christianity. It’s a facile argument.)
Just, gah, I don’t know, I wish people just tried to be something other than assholes of truly gigantic proportions. There’s no glory in acting like a colossal dick. If you’re one of these people who’re so incapable of dealing with the concept of women as human beings, you’re not striking a blow for anything. I know that in your head you’re putting somebody in their place, but all you’re really doing is running around and declaring yourself to be afraid and small and stupid…
…and never mind, here’s the fucking point: try to understand that nobody’s trying to take anything away from you. Nobody’s asking a lot from you. Really, all you need to do — all you need to do, I swear on my life — is stop thinking that your rage somehow makes you less alone and afraid. Because it won’t. All it does is make you a person that no one will ever want to approach, except other people like you.
Just don’t be such an asshole. Okay? Just stop.
A final thing: Be nice in the comments, you. Yeah, you. I mean it, be as nice as you possibly can. This ain’t YouTube. You come across as a hateful dick, and I’ll violate what you have misconstrued as your freedom of speech in a heartbeat, and feel good about it. I don’t care how deep your entitlement runs or how firmly you believe that the “friendzone” is a thing you can talk about without sounding like a pathetic whiny jerk who thinks women are slot machines that will dispense exciting sexy times in exchange for insincere compliments, or whatever grievance you have with ladies — be polite, or I’ll demonstrate my double standard which looks an awful lot like a delete button. What, you think I haven’t seen what you do to any discussion about this topic on the internet? No, no. Let’s skip that bit this time around. Just be nice.
Edit: You know what, I’m just gonna close the comments. I can already see how it’s getting into an exciting debate about what feminism is or isn’t, which is so not the point of this thing, and I’m also seeing recon trips into that whole weird “this isn’t really a problem or it kinda is but really there’s nothing you can do about it” excuse territory, and I just don’t think we need it. You want to get into these things, maybe write your own blog post somewhere or something, I think I just want to let this one stand as it is, with a signal-to-noise ratio that is not completely screwed up. You want to talk to me about this, please e-mail me or maybe hit me up on Twitter. Sorry and thanks.
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