Stormy Waters Ahead.
Here I am, launching my blog-ship into some stormy waters. I am writing about the experience of women in gaming. That’s right, a white, mid
dle class, middle aged, heterosexual man. Only I’m not going to write about women’s experience. I can’t, not with any veracity. But I am going to
write about my feelings and opinions, which I can give with some weight.
It is the first Con season after the Weinstein thing and the #MeToo thing. A shake up and wake up to the male psyche. Secret acts have been dragged out into the open. Previously normalised behaviour is being re-examined. Women seem to have a new courage to stand up and speak out about behaviours which make them afraid, humiliated, endangered. I for one, think this is a good thing. And those who speak up should be supported.
We, the gaming community, have not been immune to these winds of change. We are perhaps sheltered from it a little bit because we’re not, on the whole, alpha-male types. Nonetheless, reports are rising of harassment and even assault at gaming events. This is shameful for all of us and can’t be ignored. No man is an island and all that. That which diminishes one, diminishes all.
I think it is even more shameful for us because we pride ourselves on our inclusivity don’t we? I think of my own observations at gaming meets. People with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, overweight, awkward, a whole rainbow of genders. The geeks welcome all comers. Many of us have experienced the sting (or even the crushing blow) of outsiderdom and don’t want to inflict that on others. The women in our community deserve the same.
This isn’t easy to do of course, we’re good people, we don’t want to have to critiscise or block out other people, right? A gaming friend of mine guided me towards this article which explores more eloquently than I the social fallacies we fall prey to.
The attitude of modern youth
A small aside. Double L Games’ first game, Build, is designed by my 13 year old daughter, Lily. She has accompanied me to almost all of the gaming meets I’ve been to this year. Some of you may remember her from the UKGE. She has her own firm opinions (see the insert bar). When we talked about these issues, she thought that it seemed almost unbelievable that the acts which are reported are still going on in today’s enlightened world. We discussed the context of this. That the world she lives in is very modern, very recently created. You only have to watch an episode of Friends to appreciate how quickly attitudes to difference have changed, or consider the world’s responses to Trump’s anachronistic sexism to triangulate where our current level of normal i
s expected to lie.
We are still building this world, still fighting for the world we want the next generation to live in. We can influence it. My day job is as a teacher. We have a saying that the teacher sets the weather in their classroom. An authoritative leader can define the rules of discourse around them without anyone else even being aware of it. We are social creatures. The unspoken rules of our groups are constantly being monitored by the group’s members, constantly shifting behaviours to fit in. We have a role to play in setting the weather in our game groups: in defining the rules.
When I offered support to the female voices on a social media forum, the greatest quantity of replies were supportive but there were a few who denied the problem, “I’ve never seen this happen so it doesn’t exist”; some who were dismissive, “I’m a good person, so I must be already doing the right thing, I don’t have to listen to this”; yet some – a minority – attacked the victims. This last group used arguments like “toughen up, grow a pair, quit your whining, maybe you’re part of the problem”. Not enormously helpful commentary. I hope that those people aren’t the ones nearby if Lily feels threatened and ever needs backup or support from an adult.
Also, “Be tougher?” It is a scientific fact that on average men are bigger and stronger than women – yes and the beards, skull t-shirts and tattoos are as intimidating as they’re meant to be. Women at gaming events are outnumbered and outgunned. All of us, even the deniers and dismissers need to come out on the side of women here. We cannot afford to allow complacent blind eye turning. Each time the rest of the table says the nothing, the message we give is, “I’m OK with this. I accept this behaviour.” We are a community: we are complicit.
Our challenge is three fold.
On a social media post I wrote that there are 3 things that people like me can do.
Firstly – don’t be a dick. Choose not to make sexist commentary, not to make jokes or comments which might make others uncomfortable; choose not to prejudge; and certainly choose not to harass.
Secondly – challenge others who are being dicks. Every time we allow someone else to get away with it we are complicit (see above).
Thirdly – put the next generation into gaming. Make them wonderful. Make them confident, inclusive, clever, witty. Make them expect and aspire to a better world.
What will be our reward? A stronger community. I recall a post from the incomparable Jamey Stegmaier in which a survey of his customers revealed that only 8.5% were non-male. We games designers, organisers of meets, proprietors of games cafes and FLGS have access to a growing sector. If Jamey’s survey results are repeated across all our businesses (and I suspect they are) we have a lot to gain through inclusivity. Both Lily and I have identified (among stiff opposition) that our favourite local game store (FLGS acronym fans!) is Chimera Games in Beeston, just outside Nottingham. It is open and welcoming, light and spacious. They have a great selection of games and comics, offer informed advice and super organised events. Crucially for the points I’m making here, though, female staff are high profile and front of house. This made a big, albeit subconscious, impact on Lily, identifying it as the sole games shop or club that she knows (and there are plenty) that she’d feel confident to visit by herself. Think about that. How many potential members of our community turned away and didn’t join in?
But more than growing our community, much more. We will be in the right. We will be the white hats. The Good alignments. We will be in the right when all the Lynx smelling locker room banter will be in the wrong. We will be in the right when the boorish loudmouth will be in the wrong. We will be in the right when our friends, sisters and partners need support, and then we, the geeks, shall inherit the earth.