May 19, 2024

#TBT Battle Lab ~ Don’t Be An Ass

Brant, 14 April 2016

The root of the word “harassment” is “ass” ~

I wasn’t going to write about this topic.  I really wasn’t.  There’s been so many online firestorms over it already that I kept telling myself “don’t get involved, don’t get involved, don’t get involved…” when I finally realized that not getting involved was, quite frankly, contributing to the problem.  And yes, there’s a whole litany of problems.

A few weeks back, Rex Brynen over at PaxSims (and occasional podcast guest) did some investigating about the participation of women in the wargaming hobby.  Rex’s focus was rather particular, and at least a little self-motivated, since he teaches these things at the university level.  Additionally, Rex has access to the national-government-level professionals that make policy decisions based on wargaming insights, and the compositions of those audiences are way beyond the concern of the local Wednesday night game group.  Nevertheless, with a rather well-informed and even-handed set of questions wondering why there aren’t more women involved in wargaming, shields instantly went up across the gaming world (including where this was originally posted) and we started seeing derisive comments about forced gaming and gender quotas and every other over-the-top reaction imaginable.  It was borderline embarrassing, especially when Rex’s follow-up article leaned heavily on negative reactions from (the original site), and one or two other places, and he’s continued to discuss the issue.

On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue
This was originally published elsewhere in 2016 and has been lightly edited to update some of those time references or to change references to the original publishing outlet

If only that were the end of it.  Some time ago1, a very provocative, and almost over-the-top, personal confessional hit the web, with the clickbait title of “Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem” (hereafter referred to as the “WMT column”).  In it, the author details her years of perceived abuse at the hands of gamers over several decades, including physical harassment, unwanted sexual advances, rape, derogatory racial statements, and more.
The response across the gaming world was as predictable as it was swift: it’s bullshit, it’s exaggerated, where’s the proof, she’s making it up, that’s not my experience, she’s just a bitch who didn’t get her way, etc etc.  And it was easy to read many of those counter-accusations and think “this does sound way too crazy and she has to be making a lot of this up” except, y’know, where she wasn’t – she actually won a large settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former employer at a game store, and there are plenty of digital footprints of abuse in online message forums all over the web.

What really struck me, though, was how quickly gamers closed ranks to push her concerns aside – “this doesn’t happen with gamers!”  As though somehow gaming is different than any other like-minded group of people that coalesce around a common interest.  Put another way, if her tales of abuse and harassment had been the story of a young girl who loved rock’n’roll and throughout her constant climb to work in the music business she’d been harassed and denigrated and sexually molested along the way, would you dismiss her tale as delusional rantings, or nod knowingly and think to yourself “yep, that’s rock’n’roll for you”?  Would you have dismissed her accounts if she were a PR intern wanting to work in professional sports?  Aspiring comic book writer working in a local comics store?  What if she was a photography nut, and her tale started out with going to buy film at the local camera store at age 13 when the harassment started?

TR harAre we really so arrogant to think that gamers are that high-minded that we can’t behave like intolerable shits at times? Or even often?  Yes, “gaming” is a fragmented world, but how many of us play across a spectrum of gaming?  Sites where I’m heavily involved, in particular, have always attracted strategy gamers who are gaming omnivores, playing computer, console, tabletop, minis, and role-playing games with roughly equal proportions across our community.

Reading her concerns, I chose not to dismiss them because I have seen many similar behaviors in 35+ years of being around gaming.  As I noted on a now-deleted FaceBook thread (which I copied most of and might post somewhere if I get the inclination), I’ve had to tell at least two grown men to stop playing with the tail of a cosplaying 14-year-old girl, and both men gave me the stink-eye and tried to justify their predatory behavior as “just playing around”.  I’ve called convention security to remove a guy to was walking past a woman bent across a game table to move her miniature on the map when he smacked her on the butt.  I’ve seen it happen plenty of other times, but usually when a group is walking by and it’s too difficult to pick out the exact guy in the pack that did it.  I’ve got friends who run game companies and bring their daughters to game conventions, only to have mouth-breathing neckbeards follow them around the exhibit hall hoping for a cell-phone picture in just the right pose.  I saw one young woman dressed as a mermaid and heard a group of 20-somethings making a comment about a magic potion to split her legs.  I’ve heard the denigrating comments directed at the daughters of close personal friends after the girls kick their asses in the BattleMech pods at Origins.  And the ‘old enough to bleed, old enough to breed’ refrain quoted in the WMT column and rapidly dismissed by a whole lot of  gamers is hardly rare – I’ve heard it not only around gaming, but from people backstage at concerts, in locker rooms, and in comic book stores.  And that’s just at game conventions.  My own daughter is a budding gamer, and I shudder to think what reactions she’s going to get at game conventions in 5 or 10 years.  I might end up in jail, but I’m not going to keep her from enjoying playing games, or the jerks have won.

Outside of a D&D campaign at my old office, I’ve yet to play in an RPG group with a woman in which the other guys at the table don’t try to sexualize her storyline somehow, as though the mere presence of a woman at the table requires part of the game to discuss how she’s supposed to pee in the woods, or how sleeping arrangements are going to be “balanced” at the local inn when we’re traveling, or how alien races are suppose to be OK with inter-species dating.  And I’ve been RPG’ing since 1981.  These are issues that are never even discussed at a table full of guys.  What percentage of RPG figures depicting women include thongs and halter-tops?  What percentage of RPG figures depicting men include well-filled banana hammocks?

These are just my own observations.  They don’t include the overwhelming idiotic reactions of gamers to other instances of questioning a woman’s place in the game world, never mind really pushing the envelope to include any sort of LBGTQ characters.  When Baldur’s Gate 3 included a transgendered character, the internet exploded in an avalanche of negative reviews that included statements like “not being true to the game” despite Ed Greenwood publicly supporting the move.  Yes, the vitriolic reaction was so great that the BG3 developers were accused of ruining the spirit of a game world, despite the creator of said world openly endorsing the move.

During the entire GamerGate fiasco last year, Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech in Utah, because even though the speaker and the venue had both received credible threats against her life, the local police refused to set up metal detectors and prohibit firearms at the talk.  Whether you agree with Sarkeesian or not, the idea that she couldn’t even stand up and talk without a threat on her life is just mind-numbingly idiotic.  And its no coincidence that her topics are heavily-motivated by what she sees as piss-poor portrayals of women in games.  Opponents were so eager to shut down her side of the debate that rather than craft intelligent, thoughtful, supported statements bolstering their own cases that they resorted to threats of violence to stifle the debate.  That’s so completely antithetical to the marketplace of ideas that it seriously makes me reconsider our own self-annointed status as a “smart” hobby.

And here’s the kicker: this behavior isn’t rare.  Given that this column is already going to clock in over 4000 words, I had to edit myself down to only a few examples of it to illustrate my point, which is that many gamers behave like assholes to minority groups and in-game stories that attempt to involve and engage minority characters, and when called on it, scream vociferously in their own defense without even remotely considering whether or not the other side has a point.

cosplay 240x300Put another way: if these behaviors didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be an entire public awareness campaign at game / comics / sci-fi / fantasy conventions all over the country reminding people that “Cosplay is not Consent”.

What’s almost more disturbing, though, is that these attitudes and behaviors aren’t always limited to sexual harassment.  The WMT column includes at least two instances of racial harassment, and there are other columns about gaming with people of questionable racial attitudes.  How often do we see abuses of “n00bs” in online gaming environments?
Snarky asides toward new gamers were so prevalent that at one point, an impassioned BGG writer pleaded with the audience to just stop behaving like dicks.  Locally, at least one good friend has recently contemplating exiting the game hobby altogether because of the cliquish bullying he’s gotten from the game groups that meet at local stores.  Not for nothing, I think he was the only military veteran in the groups.  So yeah, calling the perpetrators of these behaviors “white male terrorists” might have been over the top as a column title, but given the consistently poor behavior toward those that are not white and/or male, are we really going to deny it exists?

Now, if you’re still reading here’s where you’re going to really get irked with me (yay, right?!).  The reactions we’ve seen to these columns online are a predictable stew of fallacies of reasoning, and could easily fill an entire week of lectures in my public speaking classes.  Any when pointing out how dreadful the reactions are, attempts at reasonable discussion end up being shouted down like protestors at a political rally.

I’ve seen people upset about the characterization of gamers as “white male terrorists” (a total ad hominem attack using loaded language) hurl back a counteraccusation at the authors that they’re just a bunch of “social justice warriors” (another ad hominem attack).  You don’t like being over-generalized, but have no problem returning the favor rather than rising above it.

When discussing inclusivity and welcoming other gamers, someone inevitably throws out the accusation of imposing quotas on game tables, which is just as much of a straw man argument as “death panels” were during the Obamacare debates.  Sometimes, just for variety, someone will give us a slippery slope argument instead.

Ad ignorantiam arguments abound, attempting to distract from the key point by claiming that “well, you can prove it doesn’t happen”.

There are no end of fallacies of personal incredulity, and of false equivalence, in which people just can’t imagine it being true and therefore it isn’t, or trying to deflect the severity of the argument with the classic schoolyard “yeah, but what about…” argument.  If your rejoinder to someone’s criticism of your behavior is to point at someone else and say “what about him?!” then you’re not only losing, you’re embarrassing yourself while doing so.

What was most galling was seeing comment after comment about how the original concerns should be dismissed just by “applying critical thinking” (a common refrain on the now-deleted FB thread in the Wargamers group).  Hmm…  “critical thinking” tells us that only around a third of rapes and sexual assaults are reported, so the idea that someone is admitting to being raped without having called the cops shouldn’t even remotely be in question.

The comparative evidence fallacy usually comes into play here, as commenters attempt to distract with some meaningless statistic that has nothing to do with whether or not a woman was sexually assaulted.

Now, the original WMT column engages in its own fallacy of logic, invoking the fallacy of division and assuming that all parts of the whole share the same characteristics – that all white men in gaming must be terrorists.  So it’s not like fallacies of persuasion are limited to one side here.  But they certainly seem to happen a whole lot more on one side than the other.

If you don’t agree, then fine, don’t agree.  But you’ve got to come back with something more than misrepresentations of the argument, or broad-brush name-calling even if the other side engages in it.  Be better than that.  Be smarter than that.

Yes, there’s another rejoinder that always comes up: She’s making it all up, just like the Duke lacrosse case.  Hoo-boy do you not want to get me started on the Duke lacrosse case.  The problem with Duke lacrosse wasn’t the false accusations; it was the investigation that bent over backwards in a politically-motivated attempt to substantiate them.  To my knowledge, no one being discussed in any of these wargaming columns is running for public office, much less in a racially-charged environment overlaid with a resentment of privilege like Durham, where a man of questionable morals was running for office and knew he would pick up a crap-ton of votes by supporting the local girl against the preppie kids who weren’t even registered to vote in town.  Moreover, there was an investigation of at least one of the claims in the WMT column, and it was substantiated enough that the plaintiff won a goddamned court case.  So to dismiss the claims out of hand is foolishness in the extreme.

I play in a lot of sandboxes.  I’m an RPG guy.  I’m a wargamer.  I play a lot of tabletop games.  Although I’m not an avid online console/computer gamer, there’s no shortage of them for me to call on, and they get the widest media coverage.  The reactions to discussions like gender, race, stereotyping, and inclusivity in gaming are all very different depending on the audience.

Tabletop wargamers – where I spend most of my time – tend to be dismissive of many of the claims, though less aggressively and argumentatively than others.  My gut reaction (i.e., absolutely no quantifiable evidence whatsoever) tells me that although our hobby is overwhelmingly older, white, and male, many of us have wives and daughters and have friends and fellow gamers in the same boat, and our treatment of those wives and daughters (and other peoples’ wives and daughters) is a bit classier than the experiences I recounted above.  Although wargamers are unlikely to champion the cause of inclusivity for the sake of inclusivity, the experiences we’ve had in wargaming has been nowhere nearly as extreme as what’s discussed in the WMT column.  As such, incredulity is understood as a reaction.  Dismissiveness is not, and should not be.

Role-players tend to have civil discussions, but not always the most civil of behaviors around the table.  As noted above, role-playing groups that I’ve seen always seem to work necessary sexual overtones into games with women.  I realize that my experiences are not universal.  But they are also not made up.  It’s gratifying to see longer and more thoughtful discussions about the role of gender and inclusivity in role-playing, but it would be nice to see that same thoughtfulness manifest itself around a game table.

The CCG guys?  I haven’t been around in 20 years.  I bailed on MtG around the time Mirage was being released, so it’s been a while.  But it’s not hard to find stories of idiots in the system.  Tabletop boardgamers in general seem to have some issues, but it honestly feels like the bigger problem they have is arguing about the behavior, rather than the behavior itself.

Minis wargamers break out into two groups.  The “Cyrano brigade” of Napoleonics-über-alles who are busy filing the round buttons on the overcoats of their 15mm Rososovsky Grenadier Guards of 1813 into squares before painting them copper and then weathering them based on surviving the Winter in Poland that year have more in common with the tabletop wargamers above.  The sci-fi/fantasy tabletop wargamers, though, are like hanging out in a middle school locker room with a stash of Oui magazines hidden in a false locker bottom.  Innuendos are everywhere, as are sexual references, double entendres, and graphically insulting language.  And that’s at the conventions in front of (theoretically) an audience of potential converts and customers.  No, I did not write down specific times, dates, and statements.  I’m not a cop.  But if you want me to start, well… fuckit, I’ve got enough stuff I’d rather do during game conventions that justify my observations to the endless line of critics sure to come out of the woodwork on this one.

But if you want some real fun, hang out with the console gaming crowds.  Wow.  The language on those kids – and yes, I mean “kids” because even the ones who might be 37 still act like they’re 12 – is unbearable.  These are the guys threatening boycotts of publishers whose games might dare to include a woman with her clothes on.  They’re the ones who spiked the BG3 reviews for a transgendered character, and who’ve doxed anyone who dare criticize the tropes of “scantily clad damsel in distress” sexual icons of their afternoon fantasies.  They’ve made and repeated enough threats against critics of the games that some of the critics had to leave their homes.
Think about that for a second.
Someone was so upset at a critique of goddamned pixels on a fucking television that they threatened another person’s life.
Say it out loud.
Say that out loud and tell me there’s no problem.
Tell me – out loud – that you’re OK with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn being threatened into silence with physical and sexual violence.
You say that Sarkeesian and Quinn are full of crap?  OK.  Fine.  Show me.  Craft an argument that demonstrates through the use of evidence, logic, and reasoning that they are full of crap.
Win the battle of ideas, not the battle of assholes.

So yes, there’s a problem.  Is the problem exaggerated?  From your individual perspective, it might be, and we can all only view it from our individual perspectives.  But someone else’s individual perspective is that yes, there’s a problem.  And even if a problem is exaggerated, it still exists, no?  And to say it doesn’t even exist is stupid.  It does.  The question is what to do about it.

First, who is actually in your game group, and how have you reacted to people expressing interest in gaming with you?  I’ve already asked folks to go out and find new gamers, but I am not asking folks to try to fulfill some arbitrary demographic quota in doing so.
Nevertheless, when you’re out looking for new gaming converts, who are you actually talking to?  Are you ignoring a larger pool of potential gamers because of arbitrary demographic criteria?

I’m also not asking anyone to embark on a jihad of inclusivity or undertake honor killings in revenge for the treatment of feminist critics of video game culture.  When you see someone being an asshole, tell them to stop.  It’s really that simple.
Don’t ask – asking implies you’re OK with them saying “no”.
Tell them to stop and report them if they don’t.
Trust me, people have not been shy about reporting assholes in the forums, and when necessary, we definitely step in.  Don’t be shy about reporting it at your FLGS, or at a convention, or in an online group.  But whether someone is being harassed for being a woman, or black, or old, or a veteran, or short, or a n00b, or ugly, or any combination thereof, they’re still being harassed and it needs to stop.

The only time you should ever harass another gamer is if there’s the dire need for a shower before the rest of the table fails their save vs upchuck.  And yes, that happens all too often as well.


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  1. original text read: “About 2 weeks ago”

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

6 thoughts on “#TBT Battle Lab ~ Don’t Be An Ass

  1. Well said Sir.
    I don’t know if there was a particular recent incident that prompted you to repost this seven years after you first wrote it, but I do know that the situation has generally not changed much.
    Some progress has been made in some corners, like the Derby House Principles in professional wargaming circles, but the stupid non-arguments and closing of ranks around the “NO GIRL5 ALOUD” sign on the front of the ramshackle clubhouse in the woods continues.
    It shouldn’t be too much to insist that a 37 year old (now a 44 year old!) ought not to behave like a 12 year old in mixed company (or any company, really) but to some it apparently is.
    I like your line “… or the jerks have won.”
    I just wish it were more amusing to tangle with these sad, toxic little boys.

    1. not going to point to any one specific incident that prompted the re-publishing other than to say it’s been in the works for a while

  2. Great article Brant! While I have not seen anything too over the top I have witnessed a lot of the juvenile behavior while watching some RPG groups at cons. Thankfully my wife/daughters have not run into any overt harassment, however, did have a 50 year old man launch into a long detailed discussion with my then 14 year old daughter about the varieties of Hentai when she casually brought up anime. We all agreed that was super creepy.

    1. that dude would’ve been told to STFU *very* quickly if it’d been around my daughter…. You definitely had more patience than I would’ve

    1. no prob. It’s an older article being reprinted, but sadly I’m not sure there’s been enough progress

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