Archive for the ‘Sexual Harassment’ Category

It wasn’t that long ago that I was an avid player of board, miniature and tabletop RPG games. I’ve largely moved on to the digital market, but I try to make time to play board games of all kinds with my two boys. It’s a blast and a great activity to do together. It’s harmless and fun. Playing the pen and paper games like Dungeons and Dragons, Paranoia, Gamma World and other forced me to read thousands of pages of rules, character enhancements and stories that were written on a collegiate level (usually by college students.) Since I started doing this in 5th grade, it led to me having a huge leap in understanding grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and perhaps most importantly, vocabulary. I went to conventions and immersed myself in gaming, science fiction and fantasy.

Doing so had a big impact in my life. While there have constantly been negative accounts about gaming (specials aired during my teen years about the evils of Dungeons and Dragons and how it was corrupting our youth), most people who actually played the games will tell you that it was about two things – acting and heroism. Such games were just acting with the added props of dice, paper and reference books. In most of the cases, we built heroic characters because it was in our nature – and a key focal point of the game – to act as a champion. Sure, we did evil campaigns from time to time; everyone likes to be naughty at some point. But those days helped me formulate ideals about justice, law and doing the right thing even in the face of adversity. I’ve never regretted those days.¬†I’ll be a gamer ’til the day I die.

One of the things that was rare back then – our White Stag, if you will – was women. It led to a ton of jokes about the likelihood that most of us would never kiss a girl, much less make it any further, but we took that in stride. Until the day we would walk in and see a woman seated at the table, her fair skin glistening like a Twilight vamp, her antlers rising high and majestic…ok, so it wasn’t exactly like that, but that’s what it felt like.

Me: Dude, there’s a chick at the table.

Mack: Yeah, it’s Rob’s friend. She…games.

Me: No way! Is this like her first time or something?

Mack: Nah, she’s…gotten around Greyhawk, if you know what I mean.

Me: Sadly, I do.

NOTE: I never actually had a friend named Mack, but I always wanted one, so this is his debut. His real name was probably Kevin. Or Neil. Or Sean. Or James. Or David. Or Butch, which is almost as cool. But I don’t really remember.

And it would just get more stupid from there, so I’ll spare you that. My point is that we were in awe, and probably really turned on given that we were not only gamers who weren’t often around women, much less one that might talk to us, but teenagers as well. At the end of all of it, though, was respect. She might eventually become part of the gang and we might give her a good verbal ribbing, but there’s was never malice. There was never jealousy and there was never a thought that this woman was somehow ruining the game for the rest of us. In fact, they always made it just a little bit better, even if that was because we thought they were high on the eye candy scale.

And just as a sidenote for all you mundanes out there who laugh at the concept of going to a gaming convention – sure, it’s Nerdville, USA. But let me tell you this – Nerdville has a HUGE population of women, many of whom want to wiggle into spandex or PCV costumes that are – AHEM – on the wee side. But you’ll also find women hotter than Victoria’s Secret models who will not only let you play XBOX as long as you want. THEY. WILL. ACTUALLY. PLAY. WITH. YOU. DUDE. SERIOUSLY.

Which brings me to Anita Sarkeesian. (Yep, totally referenced Wikipedia right there. Take that, college professors!) She’s a feminist author and social scientist who proposed taking a close look at gender roles in gaming. She’s beautiful and I think, given the fact that women in the gaming world were such a rarity until recent years, we’re probably overdue for some serious scrutiny on who plays the games, how they are designed and what the outcomes are for men and women. From a purely marketing standpoint, this kind of research tells designers how to better reel us in. From a purely anthropological standpoint, it’s just a good idea to evaluate the things in which we invest time. That’s what Sarkeesian proposed, and she created a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise the dough for the study.

She didn’t call people names. She didn’t offer to end gaming or other avenues of wasting time as we know it. She didn’t call for a ban on video games. Yet, what she received was digital harassment, death threats, threats of rape and racial slurs (her background is Armenian.) One kid in Canada actually designed a video game in which you could punch Sarkeesian’s face repeatedly to rack up scars. (There’s no link because that’s vile and I won’t support it, even in educating you about it.)

What. The. Hell? This is probably an age-old feminist rhetorical question, but what is so threatening about women joining us in the next iteration of HALO? Or Silent Hill? Or Skylanders, for that matter? What is sop off-putting about women gaming that we, as a gender, would rise up in such a detestable way? The concept is so foreign to me that I was honestly left speechless as a pored over article after article on the web about what she was going through. Plus, Sarkeesian’s GORGEOUS. Why hate on the hotties?

As with many such campaigns (like The Oatmeal, a case in which a website stole artwork and then threatened to sue the artist for calling them on it; the artist attempted to raise $20,000 demanded by the art thieves so he could give it to charity and ended up raising over $200,000) on the web, the detractors really ended up making her case for the study that much stronger and, by causality, helped her raise about 25 times her goal, which was a mere $6,000. She ended up with $158,922, over 2000 supporters and national recognition.

Way to go, Trolls.

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“Suck it, fanboys. Your lunacy made me an extra $150k. Talk about Karma.”

Games were meant to be fun. None of us who grew up gaming picked up a game at the hobby store because we thought we’d have a lousy time. It’s a release, an escape and a fascination all in one. Perhaps the devolution of men in gaming began at the era of video games, where you could wander into an “Aladdin’s Castle” or similar video arcade and find dozens of guys jamming on the games but virtually no women. But gaming has an appeal that is cross-gender, just like the US military has an appeal that is cross-gender. It’s not just for boys anymore. That’s probably why Miranda Pakozdi started gaming in the first place.

Miranda signed up to play in the “Cross Assault” video game tourney, unlikely to win but still willing to give it the ol’ college try. Now, Miranda has endured her share of “trash talk” while playing and I can tell you from experience that this is common between males. For some reason, though, we have learned to devolve into little more than apes when we play and this had led to us saying things that we would never say in a more public setting.

During her competition, she endured her team’s coach ogling her on camera, pointing a webcam at various body parts, encouraging her to undress and talking rather openly in sexually harassing terms. This is not one of those cases of he said/she said or where a comment might have been misconstrued (Thank you, Justice Thomas) but a full-on sexual assault of who she was simply because she was an American with boobs.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE BOOBS. But you won’t find me walking up to random women on the street and loudly talking about the woman’s rack. Why? Because it’s ignorant, disrespectful and you’d have to be a moron to do it. Not only that, but my wife is like a ninja in her ability to whip her purse around and deliver a crushing blow to the head (or sub-abdominal dangly-bits region).There is virtually no place on the planet where respect should take a holiday. That includes the virtual space.

We’ve hounded women for years (there’s a reason that’s a dog reference) in the workplace. They still make less than we do on average. Women are still raped at a level that’s egregiously high compared to men (www.rainn.org), about 80 percent of the trafficking victims in the world are female, and in 250 years as a nation, we’ve yet to have a female President. Given the fact that some men think that’s its a good idea to drug a woman and take her home to rape her, I probably shouldn’t be surprised about what Sarkeesian and ¬†Pakozdi have experienced. But I am. And as men, we have a responsibility to speak out about it. More succinctly, we have a responsibility as men who play these games to speak out against these trolls who believe that harassing women online or in person is a sport.

It’s clear that their manhood is really, really small. Even so, we can’t be silent. Not on this.