Girl Gamer: The Path of Perfection
Well, spoilers, he did. I was so excited. I had enjoyed gaming with Jason and had never entered an online gaming space. There were so many cool people who were already supporters of mine that existed in the Gauntlet community that I couldn't help but want to dive in. When I began to tell friends and community members about joining the Gauntlet, I didn't get the response I thought I would. People I thought valued me and my voice told me I was being added so that the Gauntlet wasn't just full of guys. The same was told to me by the one person in the Gauntlet who was running around calling it a boys club. People I loved told me I was just a token, I was just there so the Gauntlet could look more inclusive. I wasn't really important, just my gender was.
Now, this wasn't coming from assholes who wanted to hurt me (I mean, it was also coming from them but that's not the important part). It was coming from people who thought they were helping, who considered themselves close to me and who, inherently, wanted to do right by me by warning me that perhaps Jason didn't actually value me, but that he just wanted a woman on the show. And obviously people said the same to Jason, because at one point, he reached out to me talk to me about that, to ensure I knew that he valued me. Not my gender.
But it made me enter the Gauntlet with a sense of unease. It made my imposter syndrome flare up and it made me feel unwanted. I was waiting for the bottom to fall out as I talked to people in this space and was given, to some degree, a modicum of platform to organize and jump in as someone more on the leadership side than listener side. I was afraid that these people would be toxic. So I laid traps. I went from chat to chat dropping little feminist bombs, daring the members to push back against me by being confident and sure of myself. Instead of screaming me down they listened and considered and changed their behaviour. The community didn't just grow. It flourished.
The person saying boys club then began to publicly smear me because I didn't... I'm not sure what, to be honest. I didn't run around screaming fire, I guess. I supported them as best I could and tried to validate their feelings even when I saw things differently. When they felt I wasn't decrying the Gauntlet publicly to their liking, they brandished me a bad feminist, part of the problem, and began to subpost about me on G+. This wasn't the first time my choice to engage in something got me the label of bad feminist, but it was the one that came from someone I cared about and someone I respected. It was the first one that really hurt.
And now that I have more of a voice and more of a name and more of a reputation, I'm faced with a path I don't think I can follow. My policy around gaming politics has always been to be an outlier and to try to see things from the outside while offering emotional support to those who needed it. I have complicated thoughts on ostracism (that will come another day) and generally I'm not a fan of pushing people out of communities unless serious on-going abuse is happening. Yet it's become very clear to me that our gaming community isn't on the same page as me.
They want to get down and dirty. They want to ostracize, to prioritize their experiences above other peoples', and to conflate conflict with harm and abuse. I found myself caught up in this world up until a few days ago. I was constantly enraged, watching people throw privilege around like it was going out of style in the name of being "woke" and "good" and lay down lines in the sand that they took it upon themselves to make me very aware of. Who I spoke to and who I support was called into question. Who I know. Who I have as friends on Facebook. Who I invite to game with. All of it. I have been punished for calling people my friends.
It's fascinating, really. This need for our community to banish those with the least amount of power from our world because they have upset someone with more privilege and power. We lash out with words like "harmful" and "toxic" and "problematic" at people with less privilege, tell them to behave better, act nicer, say it sweeter when our culture is criticized. We punish their friends and acquaintances. We weaponize ourselves into a militia to gatekeep our community. The people I see leaving the most? People of Colour. Transpeople. The people whom we exclude the most already are being driven out.
These behaviours I was supposed to exhibit became a language in themselves. I knew the game so well that I had forgotten what was me and what was the woman just trying not to be hated on the internet. We've all had our moments of giving in though, and there were times I got a little salty when I couldn't keep up to what the path expected of me. Those were the times I was heralded as the worst thing to hit gaming, hysterical, toxic, and crazy. Those few times when I stopped being nice are when things got harder for me. This was fine. I could walk the way they wanted me to walk (most of the time) and I could say the things that couldn't be slanted as attacks and I could do the work of calling in and being kind to those who were being hurtful. I could do it.
But what I didn't expect was that these expectations were mirrored and nuanced on the side of those I considered allies. When I joined the Gauntlet, I was told by people who wanted to hurt me that I wasn't wanted and that my voice had no meaning other than my gender. They didn't want me there. Even more surprising to me was the number of well intentioned, supposedly woke people, who warned me that I wasn't wanted there and inherently told me they didn't see value in my voice on the Gauntlet or at all because I was only being added as a girl. They probably didn't mean to tell me I was worthless, but they certainly did.
It wasn't there that it ended. It isn't in the soft reinforcement of bullshit that I struggled. It was in the policing of behaviour by people supposedly in support of minorities, women, trans, and enby folk. There was a line on the side of the path that none of us were to cross. We couldn't disagree with people in power who were "woke". We couldn't see things from a different angle or call gatekeeping and other toxic behaviour out when we saw it because these woke people had built a fortress of power around themselves. We couldn't make mistakes. If we did make a mistake, we had to apologize. Even if we didn't mean the apology and even if we didn't think we were wrong and even if we weren't going to change the behaviour, we had to apologize. Because without the apology? You're kicked out, kid.
As a white woman, I'm allowed to hurt people. I'm allowed to be an asshole on the internet, as long as I say sorry. It'll be fine. Or I play the victim. As long as I behave as you want me to, I can push against the fence just a little. Even then, it's only a little, tiny bit. I can't be too angry or too crass or too sad or too logical or too rational. I can't prove my point with screen shots of what's happened. I can't call in friends for backup when I'm tired, I have to endure on my own. I can't get offended. I have to use my patient voice, my loving voice, and I have to accept the admonishments I'm given from on high by Better Feminists and Better Allies. But I can get away with it, for the most part, as long as I say I'm sorry. But people of colour? Trans people? One strike and they're out.
There's this habit, you see, of "woke" folk seeing themselves as the guardians of all that is Good and Righteous. Needless to say, being a Good Feminist requires that I listen to those who have more power, even when I think they're not acting with good intentions or with the community's best interest at heart. There's an imagined war out there that people have built trenches for. Their weapons are ostracism, gossip, and shaming. This tactic, of shouting down those with less power, is being used constantly to create impenetrable communities within the indie gaming community. It's used to dismiss the concerns of minorities, people of colour, and disabled people and subsequently drive them from the community.
It took me several months of being pulled into this bullshit before I realized I was covered in as much mud as everyone else. I heard story after story of people I valued, loved, and called friend. I listened, made my own choices, and moved forward. I examined the behaviours of people I've only met once or twice or perhaps never and laid down judgement on them. I perpetuated those stories, talking to others about what I was hearing from the dark underbelly of the gaming community. Inherently, I became a toxic person. I was hurting people and they didn't even know it. When I finally felt my heart breaking from all the horrible things, I stopped and looked around at the people who are amazing, who have wounds, who have dirt on them, who had dirt in their hands. This was their war. Throwing pain at each other like weapons, more concerned about their lens of truth than in trying to step back and see how the community could be made better.
These were people who would die on a hill to defend someone from racism but would in turn demand an apology from a PoC or ostracize them from the community. The same people who would let white women move around freely, hurting people as they went, and then patting them on the head when they apologized, even when they did it over and over again. Yet when a WoC hurt people, her behaviour was analyzed, called into question, and she was shouted down until she left the community. Is this our community? When we have people of colour and minorities bowing out because of the scrutiny of the supposed good guys?
My core values, the ones where I want diverse voices in gaming and I want them to be safe and feel like they have a space here, the ones where I believe I, as a white woman, have a responsibility to dismantle the power structures that support my being able to make mistakes but no one else, these values dictate I can't participate like how you want me to. I know in my heart that to act in this community with love and compassion is the way forward. I know reconciliation and harm reduction comes from conversation and connectivity, not from ostracism and silence. I know that this war is in people's heads more than in reality and I can't help but want to cry from all I've seen. If this is what it means to be in the scene, I don't think I want to buy a ticket.
I love you all so very, very much. And I support you. I urge all of us to remember that our truth is a lens and to contemplate stepping back and thinking with a level of removal of what our actions look like from the outside. Are we just in what we are doing? Are we acting with the absolute best of intentions and with absolute love and compassion? It's a different path. It's a path that's absolutely full of mistakes and blunder and hurt feelings and harm and so many conversations. It's a path with a lot of thorns and brambles, rocks in shoes, wolves on our heels, and whispers of fear in our heads. Ultimately, we can choose the path of least resistance, go with the flow, and agree with the idea of punishment and ostracism instead of evaluating what good a person is doing in the community.
Or we can put on our gumboots and wade through the mud to try to shield those who need it. We can call for a cease fire, demand people communicate, talk, and work together to do better, and to call for an end to the building up of walls and the creation of paths for all of us, but especially for minorities, for PoC, for trans and enby folks, and for disabled people. White women are the weapons of white men, all calling themselves woke or allies or soldiers in the war. We can't let our love become a weapon. We can't let our passion for betterment be turned against those we say we're trying to include and create space for.
So today I'm done. I won't walk down your path anymore. There's no part of me that can proceed that way in good conscience and still call myself an ally or still say I'm doing my part to dismantle the power structures I benefit from. I'll go down the shitty road and I'll keep kicking pebbles out of my shoes. I'll get cut and bruised but I will continue to do what I believe is absolutely necessary and important. I will keep asking questions, listening, and trying to make this world better wherever I can and wherever I am welcome to. Please, please, please... come with me?
But if you want to come for my blood and my name because I'm going to choose love and compassion over hate?
Go ahead, be a wolf of the apocalypse.