Saturday, 25 October 2014

RPGgate - When Gamergate spilled over into Tabletop...

The whole Gamergate thing has been going on for some time now, and it shows no sign of dissipating any time soon, to the point at which it’s spilling over into RPG’s and tabletop games and people are asking what we need to do about it.

I have little experience in online gaming, I enjoy playing games, not seeking with lunatic intent to kill and win against the other players, or building unassailable positions so I can sit behind the shields and laugh, or camp in a tower fifteen miles up so I can snipe at people and send “Lolz” down the comms at them, so I’ve stayed out of Gamergate because I don’t really have the perspective with which to talk about it. 


I’ve been involved in Tabletop and RPG for years, and I do have a singular perspective when it comes to the games I play and the hobby I love.  A lot of the problem with Gamergate seems to be the anonymity with which people can throw nasty comments and stupidity around, if you get banned from a server, you make a new identity and you’re back on in minutes talking the same shit, and you can keep doing that as long as there’s letters in the alphabet.  There’s IP banning and other things that can be done, but for the most part, short of some ethereal Banhammer I don’t know about, the idiots preaching the idiocy can keep coming back (and if there is some ethereal Banhammer, why isn’t anyone using it...).

Not so much the case with Tabletop games, particularly those where you’re all at the same table, because the point of bullying is that you’re going after an easy target, something weaker than you, and you’re not expecting it really to fight back.  Or even better, you’re expecting to say whatever you want and get away with it because no one really knows who you are...

That’s not so easy at a tabletop game when the whole table can see you...

I went to Gencon last year, ran a few games, played in one, and came to the conclusion that gamers are gamers the world over, there wasn’t really too much difference in how people played, only different accents around the table.  When I went to Worldcon, same thing, just more Europeans than Americans, and to be honest, none of us was having a problem, people of every gender, race, and creed all playing together.  In all the years I’ve played, I’ve never seen someone cause a problem at a table by being sexist or racist, I’ve seen people cause problems by being idiots, such as turning up drunk to the table and falling off their chair a few times, or just turning up and being a howling arsehole, but that was to the whole table, not any one person in particular. 

Stupidity exists, but for the most part, it’s like orbital artillery, it lands on everyone and lands equal, doesn’t matter who or what you are, it’ll land on you along with everyone else.  Targetted maliciousness, which is what I feel we’re dealing with here, is something that (for my own experience) doesn’t appear at the table much because a smack in the mouth often offends, and if the person being offended doesn’t do the smacking, someone else at the table or the GM usually does because what we do in Tabletop Gaming is a social activity, and social activities are no fun when there’s an atmosphere at the table.

I’m told by many that there are problems in the RPG world, and given that I’m white and a man, it could be that I don’t see them because my skin colour and gender has blinded me to them, but I don’t think that’s the case (but then I would think that, wouldn’t I?), but when I ask if I can help, I’m told no, that people have to sort these things out and not have me charging in there to “Rescue” them.


I’m lying if I say that, because it’s not fine for people to have problems and not have others on hand to help them, I was brought up in the shadow of the Coal War, when my country was split into factions and everyone was at each others throat and the only thing that we had was our community. 

Our next door neighbours organised a village fair every year and the streets around all came to it and had a good time because that’s what communities do, and I learned that you should help all the people you can when you can, because there may come a time when you can’t, and you’ll be looking to them for help.  This in turn fostered in me a need to help others, and I didn’t always get it right, sometimes I did it for them when what I should have done was just help them to do it themselves, but I was younger then, and I didn’t know enough to know that sometimes people just needed to get on with it by themselves, and stand ready to help them back up if they fell.

Sometimes today I still don’t, because the need to help people is strong for me, it’s one of the guiding principles that I live by, and I can’t just turn that off like a switch.  I was bullied my whole school life, and I can’t stand by while the same is happening to others, even those I’ve never met before.  I suspect the same is true of many who started playing when they were younger, particularly those of my age group, who would have encountered the same sorts of bastardry that I did and in the same quantities because there was no one there to stop it happening to them.

So here’s my quandary, I don’t think there’s too much of a problem in Tabletop, but perhaps I don’t have the whole picture.  I can’t make a good plan without a whole picture, but I’m in a position to make things better at the biggest tabletop convention in England, I can make things better at the biggest RPG convention in London, and as I take on more conventions, I can make things better at them too.

What I need from everyone else are the things that could be improved, I’m not saying I can immediately do them all, I’m saying that if I know about something, I can try to do something about it.  I don’t want to know what’s happened in the past unless people want to tell me, I don’t want to probe into painful memories, that’s just pouring iodine on open wounds, I want to know what would have improved things, what could have prevented it in the first place, I want to know what would have made it better.  I can’t do anything about anonymous idiots, but in the places where I work, I can make that difference.

I will make that difference

I’ve been hearing about this for weeks, and I want to do what I can, because what I see are a lot of people shouting about what’s wrong and very few asking what they can do, and I can stand here and call the idiots out all day long, but they won’t go for me because I’m no longer the easy target I once was, and because they won’t go for me, it makes it difficult for me to see the problem that everyone else faces, so help me understand what the problems are, don’t look at my gender or my skin colour and tell me that it’s not my problem to solve, give me the same courtesy that everyone else is after, treat me like just another human and let me help...



  1. Some other concrete ways to help, as a con organizer:

    "Gaming for Women" and similar panels tend to be a bit marginalizing, and I know a lot of women who are in the industry get tired of going to them and talking to a room that doesn't have the people who need to hear them. Instead, just invite women players, organizers, game creators, to participate in "regular" panels with everyone else. If you can, fill half of the spaces in your GoH/panelists with women. We're half of the human population, after all. And hey-- while you're at it, aim for more representation by people of color, too; I don't know demographics in the UK, but I'm sure there are plenty of non-white gamers and designers who have interesting things to talk about. (I'm focusing on the issue of including women in my comments, but recognize that's my own privilege blindness here-- PoC, non-binary people, non-hetero, disabled, non-neurotypical, etc. all have voices that deserve to be heard in the primary, mainstream spaces.)

    Train your moderators to listen to and give time to *everyone* on the panel-- that's good advice for any panel.

    If your con is large enough to have a "non-gamer" activity track, do not call it "ball and chain" (as GenCon used to) and don't only focus on "girly" stuff. Spouse tracks should have a wide range of non-gaming activities, including outings, beer tasting events, kid-friendly tracks, crafts/maker stuff that isn't just jewelry, etc. Try putting an arduino workshop on-- it'll be packed!

    Have a couple of gender-less bathrooms at your convention space. Just going to the bathroom if you are a trans* person can be nervewracking. Single-person or "family" bathrooms are great for giving a trans* person a safe space to go.

    If costuming/cosplay is part of your event, have a clear cosplay anti-harassment policy in place, with signs/flyers (the Cosplay Isn't Consent project is great for resources), and don't enforce cosplay or decency rules arbitrarily or based on someone's size or attractiveness (earlier this year, a plus-sized cosplayer was asked to leave a comic convention due to her costume, which was no more revealing than that of a very slender cosplayer.... she was mortified, won't be back, and neither will any of her friends and social media followers).

    These are just a couple of the concrete suggestions for things I've seen that didn't go very well at some conventions, and some that did. I can't address disability issues too much, since I'm not as clued into that community, but I do know that sound is a huge factor for those with hearing issues, having clear signs is a big deal for those who have trouble navigating with lots of distractions, and making sure there is time (and a clear path) between key events for someone in a wheelchair or on crutches/canes to get from one place to another is really helpful.

    1. Thank you for bringing up sounds. I had to stop going to the gaming event I used to help host because they brought in loud music and I couldn't even think while playing much less talk to others (kinda the whole point of why I went :/ ).

  2. Dangit. My other comment didn't get posted.....

    In brief: I followed Graham Charles' link here from G+, and in his link, he said that you aren't keen on harassment policies. I'd ask why not? If I misunderstood, then you can skip the next paragraph.

    I've been sexually harassed/assaulted (grabbed) at a convention and had no recourse-- I didn't go back to that con. If I have a problem at a convention and there isn't a clear policy and culture of "this is not okay," then I just leave that community. There are other cons, ones more welcoming and safe where I know where to go to file a complaint, even if the person who I need to complain about is in a position of power at the convention (such as staff or a GoH).

    When someone says "don't speak up," or "don't White Knight," ask yourself if they're actually an ally of equality, or if they're trying to silence you from helping ("don't White Knight" is often the rallying cry of the misogynists, you know). If the former, is it because what you're trying to do is counterproductive or marginalizing to the person who is most affected by the problem?

    It's a tough line to walk for those who are privileged but want to be supportive allies, but the best advice I have is to evaluate the situation. Sometimes, it's best to step back and tell the person who is fighting the fight that you are there if and when they need you to be there, and then listen to what they tell you they need. When you are mid-fight, it can be very comforting to have one or two or two dozen people stand up and say "we got your back."

    Sometimes, it's good to step in-- usually when the behavior is happening in a space where no one else would speak up, or there isn't a clear target (for example, rape jokes in an all-male group-- are they acceptable then? I'd say probably not; men are also affected by rape, as victims, partners of victims, or as rapists themselves-- making clear it's not okay even when there aren't women around reminds everyone that, no really-- it's never okay.)

    Men are the greatest ally for women in the fight for equality, because misogynists don't listen to women.

    As a woman and a role-player, I welcome you as an ally to women and as a fellow person who is trying to make the world a better place for everyone.

  3. Good Evening Mortaine

    I've got no problem with Anti Harrassment policies, there's one in place I helped with at Dragonmeet, and I believe in doing everything I can to make sure the places I run are excellent for everyone, not just the majority. Very well thought through points and useful to have honest feedback from someone without being told I'm just adding to the problem. We've got a few of the suggestions already in place and I'm certain we can get the rest looked at. Thanks again for taking the time to comment :)

  4. Thank you, John! I'm glad to hear you've got them in place at your con. I hope my comments were viewed in the constructive spirit they were intended.

  5. I really appreciate you posting this - it's a subject that I'm thinking about a lot at the moment, and I think there's a plenty that can be done to make a very big difference for very little difficulty.

    In fact, as luck would have it, The Twitching Curtain podcast spent an episode on this very thing less than a month ago, and there's some seriously good experience to draw from here that touches on gender, race, disability, and more:

    My big piece of advice is to start making changes, and be prepared to make changes even if the main demographic currently attending the convention might make fun of them. Make changes and stick by them to make it clear that you believe they are important - don't just make a token effort. Your regulars will keep coming to the convention if you implement an anti-harrassment policy that they think is kind of silly, but to a less secure demographic group it could be the difference between wanting to attend and feeling too insecure to actually come. There have been several conversations recently that made me feel totally helpless, as the people to whom the convention circuit caters perfectly well right now rejected and derided small changes to the status quo that could make outsiders feel considerably more welcome. It's really not a huge ask of GMs to make sure that their pregenerated characters aren't mostly straight white dudes between the ages of 18 and 50, but the hostility towards suggestions like that has been palpable and is extremely off-putting.

    Actually, that's a great example of how sexism comes across in tabletop gaming even though outwardly sexist remarks are extremely rare. I genuinely believe that most of our community would indeed oppose any kind of overt slur, because the vast majority of them are good people who don't know that what they're doing might be having a negative effect. But here's a situation I encounter a lot: I sit down at a table of five players, and there are five pregenerated characters, and one of those characters is "the girl". There are four other players at the table, all male, and I'm immediately in a situation where I don't get to choose my character. All of the others have a selection of the four remaining characters, but because none of them want to play a girl, and I'm a girl, I get "the girl" - and a lot of the time she's deadly dull, because being "the girl" is her only defining character trait. Make two of those characters girls, and suddenly it's not mandatory that I play her because one of the male players is going to have to play a girl too, and at that point why shouldn't two of them play female characters and let me play one of the male characters? I try to play male characters about half the time, but in games with pregens I hardly ever get to.

  6. To speak to some of the things already being discussed here, this is a great example of an anti-harrassment policy at work:
    It's short and clear enough to fit on a poster, hugely visible because they put that poster everywhere, and includes examples of things that fall way short of what some people might consider harrassment that still feel very much like harrassment if you happen to be the victim of them, to make sure people know it's okay to report them.

    Also, "Gaming for/as Women" pannels can suck for women who feel confident gaming. Women absolutely should be on other pannels, all the time, no exceptions. BUT events aimed specifically at minority groups can be a great safe place for people in those minority groups who might feel marginalised or intimidated in more mainstream events. It can help them to feel like it's okay for them to be involved in this world of gaming and act as a stepping stone to let them build friends in the environment before they take on the big wide world, and that shouldn't be dismissed.

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  8. It is absolutely _fantastic_ that you are asking this! Thank you!

    Here are my recommendations:

    1. STAFF TRAINING re: harassment, taking a report, supporting the victim, the range of victim behaviors. Victims may or may not appear shaken; they may be too afraid to report right away and delay for any amount of time; it is a victim's prerogative to report to whomever they wish to--this is not appropriately the con's decision; the victim badly needs to be in control--do not make decisions for the victim. If the victim appears supported instead of doubted and "investigated," your con is less likely to have bad PR after the incident regardless of what you end up doing about the reported harasser. Make the reporting experience as comfortable as possible for the person making the report.

    2. Ensure staff know they MUST STEP IN if they can do so safely when they are asked for assistance, see problems, or hear harassing comments instead of standing there and laughing or doing nothing. I've heard about staff doing this at conventions. Training and clear expectations are key!

    3. CLEAR ANTI-HARASSMENT POLICY, prominently posted, easy to see on website, prominent in convention program booklet.

    4. Encourage attendees to speak up when others are being harassed. At game con after-parties, I've had a guy stand up on a chair and yell at me to find him someone to sleep with after I turned him down. A guy and his friend told me about the guy's "rape kit" and then he yelled "it's RAPE time!" as he was getting ready to leave. Both rooms had a number of men and only one or two women, and none of the men said anything to these folks. Make sure people know they are encouraged to intervene assuming they think they can do so safely--that it is not "white knighting" to speak up against shocking speech/behavior. (I did address the comments, but one woman did not have an affect--I was laughed at by the guy and not backed up by other men in the room.)

    5. If panels for other subjects are recorded and published online, be sure to record and publish the ones addressing issues regarding women and minorities as well.

    6. Publish the names and industry connection for all panelists.

    7. IMAGERY: Pay attention to the vendor room and other publicly posted imagery. Women should not have to ask a staff member to take down highly inappropriate images--female nudes being tortured, for instance (as I had to ask about in a vendor room). It gets frustrating for many women when imagery of women is overwhelmingly highly sexualized--make sure there is more imagery of women focusing on their effectiveness rather than their sexuality. I would guess a majority of us want women to be presented as effective adventurers rather than as though the only important thing about us is our sexuality. I'm not condemning sexualized imagery here, but am advocating for a _variety_ of imagery. A variety of imagery in terms of age, size, race/ethnicity, and level of attractiveness should ideally be present--not only women who are young, "conventionally" gorgeous, and stacked.

    8. I like the idea of encouraging a variety of pre-gens and making the female pre-gens as interesting as the male ones. Having a number of pre-gens that could be any gender would be the best option.

    9. Read up on/frequent sites that discuss issues re: transpeople, people with disabilities, racial/ethnic minorities, and women at conventions, in tech circles, in gaming, generally. Watch for what they are complaining about. Make yourself more aware. Find out what language changes can be helpful.

    10. Disabilities: There is a lot that can be done in event management that makes things go more smoothly for people with disabilities. Find someone who can help you with this if you are not already addressing it thoroughly.

    1. 11. You've addressed this very nicely via this blog post, but I'd like to state that it is incredibly frustrating to keep hearing "I haven't seen sexism/racism/harassment." Folks who don't experience it often don't see it when it is right in front of them. They need to start asking, looking, listening, and believing people who tell them about it. I don't at all blame the folks who haven't been sensitized enough to see it, but I would _really_ like to encourage them to talk to folks who have been targeted and to start paying attention. Again, no bad feelings about folks who don't see it--just want to encourage them to start looking, listening, asking, speaking up, and acting. Think about what you should do when someone shocks you--in cases I've talked about above, I think everyone was too shocked to speak or act. Encourage folks to think about what they would do or say, and envision themselves doing and saying it, when other people are behaving badly or using harassing language.

      12. BY FAR the majority of men in gaming have been awesome to me!!! I would not attend conventions if this were not the case. Pointing out problems caused by a small number does not reflect on how fantastic the rest are!!!