Me Too: Gaming in the Age of Rape Culture
And that's a good thing, in case you were about to decry public call outs on sexual assault. Our community has been one of the big ones for public call outs this week. It turns out the gaming community has a missing stair problem. It's not like hundreds of people have been saying that for years. It seems like a bunch of people posting "me too" has left an impression on those of you who don't suffer as much as the rest of us. Suddenly we're believed. Suddenly our experiences matter.
What changed? Rose McGowan? Was that the line for you? Or was it Weinstein? When pop culture suddenly started to decry missing stairs, was it then cool enough for you to suddenly listen to women when they said "this is happening and has been happening forever"? I don't get it. I mean, sure, it's revolutionary and amazing that these people are coming forward and now saying names out loud. It's incredible.
But I can't help but be a little bitter that all these new found allies couldn't be bothered to step up before. I feel like I've been talking about this for years and now suddenly I'm believed. Or others I love are now believed. Except those that are being called liars, and those who are being denied space, and those who are being told to shut up. Silence is the sound of oppression and control. It's the sound many want those of us saying "Me too" to make.
Yet people are fighting back. I stare in wonder at the women I've seen coming forward to name their attackers, the people I've seen coming forward to say they've been toxic, and the masses saying they've been assaulted and are willing to talk about it. Even more remain silent, still afraid to come forward or unable to for their own reasons that are all very valid. Fighting back has been happening forever. This renewed and open willingness to name names is pretty amazing and I take my proverbial hat off to those willing to do it. I can only hope it makes a difference. Will this be the beginning of an age where toxicity becomes regularly challenged and weeded out?
It isn't. Because even as we see a bunch of allies posting that they see us and that they believe us, as people are coming forward to name their assaulters, those people being accused are posting their stories. They are being offered a shoulder and understanding by men, who just breaths ago, said they would believe women. Four days ago the internet believed us. Today, they know their friends and their friends would never do that. Ah, the smell of bullshit in the morning.
Beyond the open call outs and the toxic push back are the folks who are stunned. They, unwittingly, ask how they can help, not realizing that they're asking for work from those hurt most by these revelations. It's not a bad question. In fact, it's a great question. "What can I do?" "How can I help?" "How can I, as a dude, stop this shit from happening?" It's a strange world to many people in our hobby. And it's the most common question I get across the board.
I've had so many people coming to me this week asking how they can help. Sometimes, they mean me, personally, and often they mean the community at large. Every one of them has been met with a message of me saying I don't have enough to give them right now. It's been a horribly emotional week and I don't have many spoons. I've tried to write this article every day. Today is Friday. So you see how that's been going. But here I am, finally, deciding to provide some ways you can fight back against the rape culture embedded into gaming culture.
This is a list, with a few words about the list. Maybe it's a bunch of principles and moves for you to work with, as though you were the MC of this world. Be the MC of your world, and use these (and other awesome writing by other awesome people) to help end rape culture. None of these are easy. It means rewiring your brain and beginning to see people who aren't men as people. It means literally changing the way your brain sees these people. It will mean changing how you see me.
There's no real way to describe how it feels to be seen as something other than a person. I can't help but feel some rage and disappointment that this Me Too movement means people finally see there's a problem. Hell, I'm still skeptical that anything will change. There are fires all over and abusers are being called out. It feels like change. It almost feels like hope. Maybe I'm just too old and scarred now to buy in. Prove me wrong, will you?
Without further rumination on my personal feelings of Me Too, I give you this handy set of Moves to End Rape Culture.
Step one to ending rape culture is believing what's being said by victims of rape and assault. This means believing even when your friends are named, or the people you've done work with or for are named, or the people you look up to are named. When people talk about their assaults, don't silence them by telling them they're lying, discounting everything they're saying, or ignoring their claims because you know the guy they're talking about.
Shut Up and Listen
While it's important to feel like you have a voice, this is one of those times that victims need to be heard and allies need to stop talking. The space being held by victims doesn't need the opinion of those who aren't victims adding to the noise. This isn't about you. This is about a problem that's leaving so many women, trans, and non-binary folks traumatized and broken. Their pain is more important than your opinions. You want to help? Stop talking. Start listening. And don't interrupt.
Call Shit Out When and Where It Happens
Since you've decided you want to help, it's time to pick up some tools and actually help. When gross shit is happening, like sexist jokes, rape jokes, interrupting a woman talking, mansplaining, condescending tones, sexualizing a woman, hitting on a woman when she doesn't want it, cornering women, touching women when they don't want to be touched, or ignoring women, call it out. Say it's gross. Ask them why they keep doing that. Tell them no. Be an actual ally. And this means at the game table too. See a dude dude-ing all over the table making a woman uncomfortable? Shut. That. Shit. Down.
Hire Women, Trans, and Enby Folks to Work on Your Project (And Actually Pay Them)
There is zero excuse for having a sole straight cis white guy team of creators anymore. Zero. Do the research, ask for connections, reach out, and then hire a diverse team. Then, pay them. The same amount to pay the men. Use your privilege to make space for people not like you, and this means treating them like industry professionals and not expecting them to work for free. If you ever asked a woman, trans, or non-binary person to look at something for you to check if it's offensive and then didn't offer to pay them a consultation fee, you weren't helping. The more these people are in the industry, the less they will be treated as other and thus, treated as an object.
Stop Sexualizing People
Sigh. I don't get why this is so hard for people. Sexy is fine. It's fun. But every woman in your game doesn't need to be a sex kitten. Clothing is great! Also, don't make every woman NPC in your game hawt. Make women just like other people in the world, normal, clothed, capable, and adaptable. Treat women in fictional sources like you would the Rock. Make them awesome. Make them badass. Make them interesting. Constantly sexualizing people who aren't men further normalizes seeing them as sexual objects and not as people. The more you break that belief in gaming, the more women, trans, and enby folks will be treated, as well, people. Also, don't talk about your fellow gamers as sexual objects. Don't look a woman and tell your friend what a great ass she has, or tits, or anything that treats her like a piece of meat. Just. Don't.
Get Rid of Gross Jokes
Y'know that guy who keeps making lewd jokes at the table? He's a problem. Making sexually charged or sexualized jokes at the table, even if everyone seems to be comfortable, may be making someone feel stuck in a gross situation. Jokes are fun (I guess? I don't have a sense of humour) but making a game sexually charged often makes folks uncomfortable and nervous, because it opens the door for further sexualization. And don't make rape jokes or jokes about harassing or abusing someone. They're not funny. And they normalize the idea that rape is a normal part of culture, not something that should be stopped. Never normalize rape. Ever.
Ask Why Only Men Are Around Out Loud
Notice when you're at a con and there aren't any people around who aren't dudes? Or at a game where there are only dudes? Or at a panel where there are only dudes? Or at any gaming event where there are only dudes? Isn't that like, weird? Call it out. Ask why there aren't women there. Point out that you're participating in an all-dude extravaganza. If you have the ability to in the situation, don't participate. Walk away after saying you won't join in an all-boys club. You won't sit on the panel that's all men. You won't play a game women don't feel welcome in or participate in a con that no women come to. Walk away.
Put Your Money Where Your Morals Are
Missing stair a good writer? Fuck 'em. Don't financially support abusive people. By giving them your money you are saying you value their creativity more than you value the safety of women in the community. Is the art all sexualized and showing women as sex kittens or murdered? Is it written by someone who's known to harass people? Do not give this person your money. It's not a hard equation. Buy things written by women, trans, and enby folks and especially buy stuff about their experiences by them. Back them on Patreon. Support them. And don't go to cons that silence victims.
Keep An Eye on the Space You Occupy
You are probably very accustomed to being welcomed everywhere. Sometimes there are discussions going on about the subjects that impact women, trans, and enby folks. While you're welcome to listen, this may not be the ideal place for your opinion. I can guarantee it isn't. Be aware that you're a dude, and that there's an automatic power dynamic between you and anyone not-a-dude because you have privilege. When you interrupt someone, they're going to stop, because they've been told their whole life your opinion is more important. Back off, make space for other people, and don't insert yourself where you aren't wanted.
Mind Your Manners and Your Vocabulary
Don't talk over people, don't interrupt them, don't take over a conversation, don't disrupt people to add your two cents, don't talk down to them, don't ignore them, don't insist you're right or that your opinion is more important or more valid. Don't use slang that treats women as inferior. Don't use derogatory terms that refer to others. Don't infer that girls are lesser. Don't believe or say that anyone owes you anything. Don't be entitled to anyone's time or body or attention. Don't say stupid shit about someone's gender or how that is related to who they are. Don't mutter women under your breath. Or worse. Slut. Dumb bitch. Whore. Just don't, okay? We're people. Treat us like human beings.
Stop Making Excuses
Don't say "he's such a nice guy, he would never do that." Or "well, she was flirting with him. She wanted it." or "She was drunk, what did she expect?" Or "Well, we don't know the full story." Or "It's so hard to tell what happened." All that shit? Stop it. Victim blaming (where you blame the victim for their assault) and making excuses for predator shit bags isn't becoming. It's bad for us and it's bad for the world because this is a huge proponent of rape culture. The idea that victims deserve it. It's so toxic. And it needs to stop yesterday.
It isn't just women who are suffering. There's a huge intersection in looking at how women of colour suffer more than white women. How trans and non-binary folks are harassed more than cis-women. These intersections of suffering (and privilege) require you to know more than just how rape culture hurts women. It's time to start reading. Check out blogs and writing by minorities. Read up on the issues at hand by authors who are impacted by the issues. Don't rely on minorities to tell you what's wrong. Do the actual work of it yourself. And the work is never done, so always keep learning.
Want to touch someone? Ask. Want to hug someone? Ask. Want to see if someone is okay with you flirting with them? ...Ask. Want to kiss someone? You better fucking ask. Want to play a sexist prig in your game? Ask. Want to explore abuse and trauma in a game centred around women? Seriously ask. Don't dive into rape culture without asking if everyone's comfortable playing that. Get consent, for all the things. Always. If you're at a con, it's the optimum time to check on consent. Not everyone wants hugs. Women don't automatically want hugs. Shake their hands. Like they were a professional. Because they are. Obviously.
Don't Ask For Cookies
When you do something you should, like these moves tell you to, don't ask to be rewarded for it. All these moves are for is being a decent human being. You don't get a pat on the head for just being a good person. If you stop watching a sexist show because, well, it's sexist, don't tell your feminist friend you did it and then get angry she doesn't validate you for doing it. We fight the good fight every day and no one thanks us. No one cheers us on. We do it because it's what's right and it we do it so maybe one day we won't be afraid. You don't get cookies for being a good person.
Own Your Shit and Drop the Defensiveness
People are gonna call you out. Don't do the knee-jerk reaction of disclaiming responsibility and then attacking the poor person who points out you have privilege. Listen, and then own that you are privileged and you fucked up. Don't be defensive. Apologize for being offensive and learn and do better. It's not that hard. Own when you suck and learn from those moments without making someone else suffer because you decided you didn't like being called offensive. You don't get to be angry that you were harmful.
Accept That You're Part of the Problem
Guess what? None of us are exempt from the problem. We're all perpetuating toxic culture in our own ways. You are not a paragon and you are not excused. As soon as you realize that you're part of this like the rest of us, the sooner you're going to realize it's your responsibility to help make it better. This is where you accept that you have more privilege than others and that you have a responsibility to use that privilege for good. Don't pretend that you aren't sexist. You are. We all are. Time to figure out how and own it and stop it.
Don't Think This Doesn't Apply to You
Seriously. We just talked about this. No matter how good you think you are, you aren't perfect. Read this list. Hell, carry it around with you if it helps. Use it. Keep it in your mind. And for all those moments you think "I wish I would have..." when something gross was happening, swear to never have those moments again. Fight back against your instinct to say "I'm perfect and none of this applies to me" because I assure you friend, it fucking does.
When you use these moves (and others that you learn along the way) to fight back against rape culture, mark XP. Advance after you've stopped rape culture in its track five times. You can do it. I believe in you. If you need help or are struggling to apply them, ask someone for help but remember they may not have enough spoons to help you out. Don't get angry they won't give you their time. It's not on them to fix you. Only you can fix you. And if you don't want to? Well, that makes you one of the bad guys.