HIGH SCORE 000005525PLEDGES

The Pledge:

As a gamer, I realize I contribute to an incredibly diverse social network of gamers around the world, and that my actions have the ability to impact others. In effort to make a positive impact, and to create a community that is welcoming to all, I pledge to not use bigoted language while gaming, online and otherwise.

Bigoted language includes, but is not limited to, slurs based on race? (e.g, "chink," "nigger," "wetback"), ethnicity? (e.g., "kyke," "polock"), gender? (e.g., "cunt," "bitch," "tranny"), religion? (e.g., "dirty jew," "papist"), sexual orientation? (e.g., "gay," "fag[got]," "dyke"), and disability? (e.g., "retard[ed]").

Read more about the pledge, including what is and isn't included, and the overall purpose here.

Read why you shouldn't use the word "rape" casually here.

Sign the Pledge

Revisiting the “Tropes vs. Women” Series, Videos 2 & 3

In all honesty I find Tropes vs. Women in Videogames to be an entirely depressing series of videos to watch, write, and generally think about. This is not, however, related to the videos themselves but instead the issues they highlight and the more vocal and malignant responses. Of course, not all of the retorts which try and counter Anita Sarkeesian’s arguments are spiteful, close-minded, half-baked personal attacks which are fed by an unfounded fear that Sarkeesian is some kind of crazed “feminazi” on a personal mission to ruin videogames and kill your dog – only most of them. I previously wrote about the responses to the first video in the series which you can read here and validate my existence as a human being.

Shameless self-promotion aside, I was half considering a re-tread of the matter here but two realisations stopped that idea dead: firstly, such an effort was entirely redundant on every conceivable level and secondly that much of the criticism for the second part of Tropes vs. Women in Videogames is exactly the same as it was for the first part. Essentially there are a lot of people who upset that the video didn’t address everything in the entire world ever and is therefore unfair for not mentioning Samus Aran and that one time Princes Peach saved Mario. Therefore I have decided to take up the banner of rationality which has been left by the roadside that is the internet and attempt to wade through all of the self-entitled Men’s Rights Activists and offer some more articulate and balanced criticism of the series thus far.

You may be about to suggest that attempting to cover three episodes at once is just foolhardy, but therein lies the source of my main criticism with the series. While well-presented and articulate, there is a certain lack of weight to Sarkeesian’s argument; that is not to say it is biased or poorly constructed, just somewhat insubstantial. For example, at the start of the first video, Sarkseesian offers up an origin and definition for a “Damsel in Distress” but then spends an inordinate amount of time illustrating how prolific such a trope is. I fully understand that in many ways the unyielding focus on the use of the trope itself is the point, but the problem here is that Sarkeesian is merely showing that it exists and doing little else.

This technique of constantly iterating how pervasive the trope is was used for the majority of the first two videos, and although she highlights some the more common twists on the trope, Sarkeesian is again just pointing at something that exists and saying, “Hey, look at this thing.” Each variation of the trope is noted and a flurry of examples thrown towards the viewer in order to cement the existence of the trope within our minds. While it is important to address such worrisome aspects within our beloved medium, merely pointing and saying they are bad is unproductive. Most of us are aware of how ubiquitous the lazy writing that leads to the “Woman in the Refrigerator” trope is, but what we require here is an attempt to explain why it’s such a noxious element within the industry. Sarkeesian doesn’t hit her stride until over half way through each video, and up until that point it really can’t be considered anything more than a history lesson.

Part one is particularly guilty of this. Of course, it is important for one to cite their sources so as to compound the argument within the viewer’s mind, but, even so, the sheer emphasis placed on such a task is overwhelming to the point of banality. This fault is largely overcome, however, thanks to the wider array of subject material addressed within the second video as she moves away from the vanilla incarnation of the “Damsel in Distress” trope towards the malformed variants of the “Woman in the Refrigerator”, the “Damsel in the Refrigerator”, the “Euthanized Damsel,” and, the old favourite, the dead wife, daughter rescue double act. When addressing these tropes Sarkeesian begins to make some genuinely interesting points as she constructs more of an argument around the trope while simultaneously deconstructing the trope itself. However, as with the first video, it is not until towards the end that we witness Sarkeesian’s rhetoric evolve into something more interesting.

One of the more disturbing observations was how writers, “build a narrative on the backs of brutalised women,” by making the death of a female character more meaningful than their life. This all weaves into the possession complex that is used in order to develop a motive for the protagonist. In most games which rely on one of the aforementioned tropes, the female character is often disposed of within the opening sequence and thus receives no characterisation which would make us want to care about her – the only reason the developers think we should care is because she belonged to the protagonist and was in some way stolen. The crystal skull in 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand gets more characterisation than most female characters before it is stolen in order to spark the arbitrary rampage.

This in turn leads onto another of the more interesting lines of Sarkeesian’s argument which is in relation to game mechanics.

“When violence is the primary gameplay mechanic, and therefore the primary way that the player engages with the game world… The player is then forced to use violence to deal with almost all situations, because it is the only meaningful mechanic available.”

This is so troublesome because of how often such limitations lead to violence against women within the game. You may of course raise your hand and ask about the several hundred guys the protagonist had to kill in order to arrive at the grand finale. While it is a valid query, it is also a rather different beast from that of the stylised, almost romanticised violence we often see against a female character. It is the reinforcing of the stereotype that we all know: women are to be protected and live in deference to men while the men go out and smash things with their rippling muscles and swords the size of cars.

Such storytelling techniques actually make both genders look rather bad, but the difference is that while the former is reinforcing an existing stereotype, the latter is playing into the idea of the male power fantasy. Furthermore, it encourages the perception that a woman’s only purpose is to exist for the man. This is achieved by providing shallow character development for the male protagonist. Women are continually portrayed as weak and pathetic in constant need of saving from themselves and everyone else around them. Whereas men are made to look ridiculous for buying into that – most of us just haven’t noticed that yet. Of course, as Sarkeesian noted, we do not have a, “monkey see monkey do attitude,” and so games which rely on these tropes are not actively encouraging misogyny. More importantly, however, time and time again videogames fail to challenge the idea of the patriarchy and in doing so, also fail to encourage the player to challenge their own preconceptions.

The third video is by far the strongest so far and is why I have the least to say about it. I won’t simply regurgitate her argument here but I will highlight some of the more interesting elements. It manages to avoid many of the major faults with the first two, focusing instead on a well-rounded deconstruction of the issues highlighted within the video itself. Sarkeesian’s look at the inverted “Dude in Distress” is really rather interesting as she adeptly explains why the role reversal is of little real significance. “The Damsel in Distress” is so damaging because it perpetuates a long standing gender tradition in story telling whereas the “Dude in Distress” is, at best, slightly subversive of the trope. It doesn’t encourage any pre-existing sentiments and, especially in the case of Super Princess Peach, is little more than a poor joke or a market novelty; a game designed simply to appeal to the young female demographic which erupted with the success of the Nintendo DS. It does little to think beyond the cliché and does not help counter the pernicious elements found alongside the application of the damsel trope in the first place.

With the indie development scene being so famous for its subversive nature and counter to the bloated and stagnating AAA market, Sarkeesian turns her attention to some of the more popular and successful games in order to see whether they go against the grain regarding gender stereotypes. In short, they don’t. The “Damsel in Distress” trope still rears its ugly head in numerous indie titles, and, although, I would consider it to be the less detrimental incarnation, Sarkeesian would disagree, suggesting that the parody of the trope seen in games such as Super Meat Boy and Castle Crashers is just a shallow Meta commentary used ironically or as homage. They do little to challenge the trope itself. In fact, it actually perpetuates it by lacing it with humour which makes it appear to be more acceptable.

In reflection, her argument is actually very convincing, highlighting how the application of the trope, even done so humorously, should be considered as sexist parody, rather than parody of sexism. The difference between these two concepts is a very interesting one and is illustrated well by Sarkeesian as she argues that the former encourages the player to mock or trivialise gender issues while the latter disrupts the status quo and various gender conventions. While some games are more adept at applying the latter, there are a great many more which are guilty of applying the former. This is largely attributable to the parody and homage paying nature of indie development in the current market. Humour is a stronger force within indie titles than it is in AAA but it must be remembered that humour is a powerful cultural tool, and recreating a damaging trope such as the Damsel in Distress one, even if done so jokingly, does not necessarily excuse its use in the first place.

Sexism is prevalent within our society, but most people view it as entirely innocuous and that such clearly defined gender roles are not only the norm, but should remain that way. I am told on a regular basis that I should meet a nice woman who can cook for me, or that I should help with various “manly” tasks – both of these are ridiculous generalisations. Very few people seem to recognize that, instead they believe that these are simply the way things should be. It is important to address the root of the matter rather than just a symptom, but gender bias within videogame narrative straddles an uneasy line of both symptom and cause. Videogames are a product of our culture and thus mirror it; therefore, in a society in which passive sexism is the norm, they regularly adopt the conventional stance and simply play along, thus perpetuating the cycle.

We must face the reality of the situation. The videogame industry is not some sort of sexist imp resting on our shoulder whispering misogynist poems into our ears while we sleep, but it simply doesn’t know any better. Sadly, this industry is not only lacking in genuine writing talent, it is still reeling from the hangover that was the nineties. It relies on the same outdated techniques as ever. It is almost as if the industry itself is unaware of its own potential as a narrative medium. The majority of the effort is placed firmly into the gameplay department, leaving the story alone in a darkened room where it is only allowed out in order to provide us with a flimsy pretext for the onscreen mayhem.

The issue of videogames being a male dominated sphere only encourages this. Of course there are more and more women gamers, but the industry itself is largely populated by men. While the disproportional male to female employment ratio is detrimental in and of itself, the really pernicious aspects come from marketing side. In recent months we have seen Naughty Dog fight to keep Ellie on the cover of The Last of Us, Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite demoted to the back of the box and Remember Me fight tooth and nail just to publish a game with a female protagonist. This is where the hangover from the nineties comes into its own twisted element; the outdated view that videogames are still exclusively for young males encourages the pervasiveness of the male power fantasy and the lure of subservient woman because the industry believes that it will appeal to that demographic. The industry has run ahead of itself. Its brain is stuck in an antiquated time warp while its potential runs rampant in the modern day.

In part one Sarkeesian is sure to clarify that use of these tropes does not automatically condemn a game by ripping it of all meaning or value. It is important to mention this because, as a plot device, the damsel in distress is not without its merits, but the sheer ubiquity is what makes it so damaging. This is furthered by how the damsel in distress becomes more than just a “synonym for ‘weak,’ instead it works by ripping away the power from female characters, even helpful or seemingly capable ones. No matter what we are told about their magical abilities, skills or strengths they still ultimately captured or otherwise incapacitated and then must wait for rescue.” This again plays a role in the trade-off between female disempowerment in favour of male empowerment and a continuation of the archaic, yet established societal norms.

Sarkeesian is often too busy illustrating a concept or simply criticising the use of a trope to address these wider issues in any real depth, and subsequently leaves her argument somewhat lacking any real drive. Of course, as I have mentioned, it is important to highlight and equally vital to criticise but such methodology provides but the barebones of a polemic. However, I will finish by saying, as I have said before, that Tropes vs. Women in Videogames is one of the most valuable contributions to academic debate surrounding sexism within videogames, the industry, and the culture which surrounds it. While videogames have been in our homes and hearts for decades now, it’s only in last ten or so years that they have been worth taking seriously enough for the problems to actually become so harmful. To point and say, “Hey, look at the terrible sexism,” is insurmountably better than simply ignoring it. We have to start somewhere and Sarkeesian is, in that respect, doing a rather good job.

#GABhangsout 2: Hangout of Horrors!

 

We got together with some awesome people to talk about horror games and their terrifying problem with tropes!

Table of Contents

0:00:35 Introductions
0:06:21 What Makes a Horror Game?
0:14:05 Good Horror
0:18:45 The Asylum Game Jam
0:24:16 Negative Troupes/Cliques
0:35:03 Passive Horror
0:43:32 Negative Troupes 2 (Disability-shaming boogaloo)
0:45:47 Actual Warfare
0:47:05 Mental Illness in gaming as subject matter?
0:54:42 Writing needs Variety
0:57:48 What’re we Playing – and Plugging
1:06:57 ”We Need To Talk” The Game
1:09:00 The End

Roster (left to right)

Alex Steacy @AlexSteacy - http://voxlunch.tumblr.com/
Anjin Anhut @AnjinAnhut - http://howtonotsuckatgamedesign.com/
Harry Bentley @MrHarryBentley -http://sexygeeky.harrybentley.co.uk
John Marquiso @jmarquiso -http://www.youtube.com/LatetotheGameShow
Lucy Morris @lucyamorris - http://lmorris.carbonmade.com/

Links

Asylum Jam Games - http://www.asylumjam.com/submissions
Solenoid Arc - https://twitter.com/solenoidarc
John’s Reddit - http://www.reddit.com/r/pocgamers

Recommended Horror Games:

Fatal Frame 1&2
Resident Evil 2&3
Amnesia
Knock Knock
Outlast
Bioshock 1&Infinite
Silent Hill 2, 3 & Arcade
The Ship
Left4Dead 1&2
DreadOut (Demo)
Alice: Madness Returns
Eyes: The Horror Game
Portal? (Haunted House, really)
Clock Tower 3
WARCO (War Photographer)
Gone Home
Depression Quest
Source Mod: Grey
HL2 Mod: Stanley Parable

Gamers Against Bigotry Awarded “Best Path to Inclusive Gaming”

The Austin Chronicle, as one of their annual The Best of Austin awards, named Gamers Against Bigotry “The Best Path to Inclusive Gaming.”  You can see their official posting here, but it’s also quoted below.

Sam Killermann is one of the LGBT community’s greatest allies with the Safe Zone Project, The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender, and other educational endeavors attributable to him. But it’s the Gamers Against Bigotry initiative that really impresses, setting its sights on a demographic known for hateful speech tossed around cavalierly, especially in online venues. It’s an important early step addressing a largely ignored problem, and Killermann is just the man to bring it to light.

Thanks for the nod, Austin Chronicle! We appreciate the encouragement, and the simple fact that you’re acknowledging inclusiveness in gaming as a worthwhile endeavor.

Moving Forward with PAX: A How-To

Full disclosure: On a personal level, I’ve been boycotting Penny Arcade and affiliated properties since Mike Krahulik’s statements in June, and stated as much in an open letter back then. It’s my feeling that I’ve not let this conflict with my duties as Social Media Director for GAB though, as I’ve stayed true to our mission of education and outreach. I’ve also been sure to pass anything Penny Arcade related through GAB channels for approval, so as to avoid a personal skew when commenting or posting. Besides, it’s very rare to find a closed door at GAB, and I would very much like to consider myself a Penny Arcade fan again, at some point in the future, when I’m comfortable with all that’s associated with.

In Sam’s previous opinion piece, he touched on the debacle that capped off PAX this year. There’s since been an apology issued by Mike Krahulik. I’m not going to deconstruct that apology, or otherwise point out where I think his language deviates from his intent. If that really interests you, you’ve probably already read something like it from better writers than I, and we’ve probably already linked them by the time this gets posted. With the apology made, this is more indented as a follow-up to Sam’s piece, plotting out how Penny Arcade should go about engaging from this point on.

It’s our goal with this article to reach as many people as possible, but specifically those that feel they’re antagonized by social justice advocates like ourselves. Consider this article one of those open doors. We want you to understand why people are bothered, and how you probably aren’t a bad-guy, but can be part of a problem you may have been contributing to without knowing it.

As a result of the above, I won’t be lecturing. I won’t be using terms like male gaze, cis-sexism, privilege, or even rape culture. These words and many like them are powerful tools, and I hope this piece becomes a gateway to newcomers exploring and using them in a constructive manner, but one person’s tool is another’s weapon, and as such I understand how some feel they’re divisive, and only used to belittle and exclude. I can assure you that’s not the case, but let’s put that aside for the moment.

As far as the “Sixth Slave” comic, the reactions to it, the merchandising, and any of the twitter exchanges that have happened since are concerned, I won’t be touching on them either. This isn’t critique; it’s moving forward.

What’s to move forward from? Stay with me here. This is about the very real sense of feeling unsafe and not welcome in spaces like PAX. Even if you feel the threat of danger is an illusion, please understand how strong fear is. In the instance of women feeling unsafe around men, it’s often based on experience. That’s not irrational; it’s a survival mechanism. Be it meant to protect oneself from a potentially dangerous encounter, or avoid being reminded of previous encounters, this is to be taken seriously.

Your personal intent really doesn’t matter when you or those around might be seen as a potential threat to somebody. I’m 6’1”, with broad shoulders, and unless I wear ridiculous shades, style my hair, and wear light clothing, I can look intimidating as hell. I’m also a pussy-cat, but the old ladies that avoid sitting near me on buses don’t know that.

Fill an entire auditorium with dudes who look like me, who cheer when they hear something that makes a lot of women uncomfortable, throw in the odd catcall and unwanted sexual advance, cover hundreds of monitors with half naked women rendered with jiggle physics, on a loop, and then interrogate someone who spent three months on a costume about the validity of their fandom, and you’re just barely scratching the surface of why a woman would not feel welcome at a gaming convention.

That’s what we want to move forward from. So, how do we even do that?

  1. Playtime’s over. Be a role model.

    The fact that you’re reading this means the creators of Penny Arcade have a great deal of respect and influence. There’s no debate there. The issue here, is how Mike has mentioned more than once that he has had no interest in being a role model. We don’t all get what we want though, and it’s part of the trade-off in being the foundation of a source of critique and satire read by millions, a charity that raises just as much, and a convention founded on the ideal of opening up game expos to everybody.

    I’m not saying you have to completely grow up, and that you can’t make dick and fart jokes anymore. You just can’t be a dick. You need to lead by example, expect the con-goers to do the same, and lay down the law when they don’t. A well placed “Hey man, that’s not cool”, coming from Mike or Jerry, would have some serious stopping power. It’s easy for someone like me to be dismissed when saying things like that, but nobody’s going to question Gabe and Tycho, and it may get some people thinking as well. The point is: whether you want to be a role model or not, you are one — it’s up to you what you do with that influence.

  2. Do what you say. Say what you mean.

    PAX touts itself as being welcome to everyone, and it’s admittedly made great strides compared to other conventions. The Enforcers are largely lauded and respected for making attendees and exhibitors feel welcome, the booth babe policy tries to make sure women don’t immediately feel objectified on the floor, and there are well publicized cases of more visible harassment resulting in bannings. It’s bothersome then, when a considerable portion of people say they feel unsafe and unwelcome, and the object of that apprehension is met with cheers and applause.

    It doesn’t matter what you find funny or where you feel the lines of taste and free speech intersect; the PAX that welcomes all, and kicks people out for being jerks, can’t be reconciled with the PAX that doesn’t immediately follow even unintended intimidation with corrective language or actions, and places old conversations we were promised were over, above the sense of safety of others.

    Mike and Jerry’s language and actions need to reflect PAX’s values, and they need to be vocal about it. Very vocal. Rosie from MMAS has a great proposal, in which Mike would record pre-scripted PSAs. As a bonus, the Penny Arcade team have the benefit of already being able to expertly write for the intended audience. There are some things that seem too obvious to say, but that’s just the problem. Some people have never been told, by a person they respect, that their behavior is unacceptable. Some need to be told not to stare at a woman’s breasts. Some need to be told they can’t just touch a cosplayer. Some actually need to be told not to rape. Seriously.

  3. Represent all of PAX, not just the “real” PAX.

    There’s a certain divide at events like PAX, between all the talk of shiny new games, and the talk of everything else. When a panel tackles anything outside of specs, features, or dev Q&As, it’s seen as being on the fringe. People are thankful just to have a venue, but it’s easy to get the sense that you’re more tolerated than welcomed.

    Mike and Jerry are busy guys, and it would be mad to think that they can sit in on every panel, but taking part in a panel on inclusivity would send just the message that PAX’s spirit is supposed to exude. These panels, while great, are often preaching to the choir. With the con founders on hand, they could be made more appealing to the broader PAX audience, and be a much more educational and entertaining experience. It would send the message that the presence of such a panel isn’t just approved, but endorsed.

    As a con-goer, you should challenge yourself to attend one of these panels too, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! You’d be surprised by what you can learn.

  4. Brevity is the soul of wit, but we really need the rules to be smart instead.

    The current rules for PAX are comprised of six items total. They cover all the major stuff that should be self evident, but what’s really lacking is a sort of mission statement. This is hinted at all the time when people, myself included, talk about the “spirit” of PAX, or how it’s intended as a safe space, but it’s not actually written down. I won’t argue that this leaves certain things up to interpretation, but a more verbose description of exactly what kind of environment PAX wants to nurture would do well to shape behavior and keep the organizers and participants on a common baseline. It also leads into the next point.

  5. Make people feel welcome by making people feel unwelcome.

    PAX is a great idea, but when you generate the kind of numbers it does, you’re bound to foster some idiots, jerks, and pervs — no question. These are the people that need to be made to feel unwelcome. They are there specifically to ruin the experience for others. Policy alone doesn’t cut it. Enforcers don’t cut it. The buddy system doesn’t cut it.

    There needs to be an overarching culture of acceptance and positivity, to the point that these people simply stop coming. If the last few days online are any indication, the only shortage that PAX will be looking at is women. Say what you will about all the events that transpired, but take a step back and think for a moment: do I really want to be a part of a convention that is actually driving women away? No? Then help fix it.

 

When I was a kid, and I fall within the age bracket of the average gamer, there was nothing cool about video games or the people who played them. Seriously, Johnny Arcade was the coolest gamer we ever saw. Gamers had to stick together, and I’m happy that getting together to share in this passion is something that stuck around, but somewhere along the line, we seem to have forgotten about the path that took us here.

We’ve managed to make ourselves into these fascinating, super specialised tribes. We’ve become experts on rag-doll physics, starship schematics, medieval siege weapons, re-spawn frequencies, non-canon story lines, costuming, digital brush techniques, programming, sound design, and any other bizarre little obsession you can think of. Wouldn’t it be silly if we learned all of these things, only to be seen as bullies from both outside and within?

We can clean up this space. We can move forward. It’s just going to take a little time, and we’re going to need your help.

DO NOT ENGAGE: Dickwolves, Again.

“Why are you going to PAX? Don’t you know what they’ve done?” This is a question I got asked a lot in the weeks and days leading up to PAX, given their history of making Penny Arcade seem like an organization that is anything but against bigotry.

Yes, of course I know about that. That’s why I went to PAX. And the whole weekend I didn’t regret that decision once. I was truly impressed by the con, the people, and the conversations I was able to have (more on all this in a later post) as a result of PAX. It was fantastic. And then Dickwolves: The Sequel aired yesterday and I found myself questioning my place here in Seattle.

This isn’t about “a rape joke” or censorship

As has been discussed ad naseum these past few years, and is ramping up into a fervor yet again, the biggest issue with all of this isn’t the actual “raped to sleep by the dickwolves” joke, but everything that surrounded it. It’s about the defense of that joke, the flippant remarks about the joke, the merchandising of it, and the horrendously uncomfortable, pro-rapey vibe it evoked in a subsection of the gamer community.

Pro-Dickwolves people are arguing that the joke wasn’t bad and that censorship is bad. Pro-Inclusivity people are arguing that the handling of the whole situation was atrocious. That’s not a one-to-one argument, folks, and it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s like one group is arguing that the Millenium Falcon is the fastest ship in the galaxy, while the other group is on the bridge of the USS Enterprise complaining about how the ending of Skyrim was meaningless.

People saying “it was just a joke” or “if you can’t make a joke about one thing then you can’t make a joke about anything” and any other illogical, derailing argument are really just distracting from the crux of what’s happening.

This is about mixed messages and hypocrisy

In a world where aspects of many gamers’ identities aren’t welcome, aren’t represented in games themselves, and are often dismissed, ignored, and/or targeted with hate speech by other members of the gamer community, Penny Arcade has said again and again that they aren’t going to be an organization that sings to that tune. That they are going to make it clear that everyone is welcome. That PAX is for gamers of all identities.

Those are incredibly supportive things for us to hear– they are exceptional. Most huge gaming megacorps have never said such things, or made an effort to create spaces and experiences that are welcoming and safe.

But you can’t say that everyone is welcome, then do or say things that are exclusionary. Many trans* people don’t feel welcome at PAX, and many of the queer/ally people I spoke with this weekend at PAX had to compromise a bit on their ethics to attend. You can’t say that you want everyone to feel safe, then be pro-Dickwolves, which many people equate with pro-rape (or at least pro-rape culture), and expect survivors, allies, and women in general to feel safe.

Actually, I guess you can say and do all those things, because you have. But it sends an incredibly mixed message — a message many of us are trying to decode in comments, blog posts, and discussions online.

You can make all the rape jokes you want, but you have to be prepared to meet criticism from the people who think what you’re doing is a toxic addition to a community that is already ripe with toxicity. You’ve said again and again you don’t want to do that — you don’t want to add to the pile that’s suffocating so many marginalized gamers. You want to be different. You want to be better. You want to be inclusive. But all you’re being is hypocrites.

I’m starting to get into “open letter” territory here, so let’s just do that…

Dear Penny Arcade, you’ve said you want to be better, be better.

Guess what, guys, you got yourselves into this mess. Not by making a rape joke in a comic several years ago. Not by Mike famously putting his foot in his mouth time after time on Twitter. But by telling us that you want to rise above all the bigoted, exclusionary, boys club bullshit that is still so unfortunately the norm in our world.

We don’t get pissed when the Westboro Baptist Church says the horrible garbage they say every day, because (as sad as this sounds) we expect that from them. That’s their role. They’ve placed their flag atop Mount Doom and made it clear what their mission is. And (as much as I hate to say anything affirming about the WBC) they do a great job living out their horrible, sickening mission. Their [horrible] actions follow their [horrible] words.

You said you don’t want to reaffirm the idea that rape is an okay thing, or that it’s societally okay to make fun of or blame rape survivors. So stop doing that. You’ve said that you want PAX to be for everyone, and that you want everyone to feel safe attending and supporting PA. So start doing that.

Not talking about this isn’t going to help anything

After the transphobic comments and the reaction in the community, Mike said he’s going to stop talking about sexuality, gender, or related stuff altogether. Well, sorry, but that’s not going to help anyone who was hurt feel any better about supporting PA. It’s just going to continue to foster the ambiguity of where PA actually stands on all of this stuff, and allow bloggers and commenters to speak on Mike’s behalf. Not helpful.

When Mike said his big regret is pulling the Dickwolves merch, Robert Khoo reiterated a company policy that they think it’s best for them not to talk about any of this stuff:

“Clearly it would have been better to just not say anything, and that’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it’s just better to not engage, and in fact pulling it was a way of engaging.”

When people were understandably upset about this, because Khoo has for a long time been an ally in this, and standing up against the exclusion, Khoo clarified a bit more to Kotaku:

It wasn’t meant to be a comment supporting rape or sexual assault, but rather one about censorship and the shirt-pulling pouring gasoline on a sensitive discussion. I know we did a poor job of elaborating on that on stage, and as the guy moving the discussion along at the Q&A, I’m really sorry for that.

Sorry, guys, but if your policy is to “not engage” then “shirt-pulling” wasn’t the issue of engagement I would be regretting. That’s not where the fire got its gasoline. Making the shirts in the first place was the resounding form of engagement in this sensitive issue. By making the shirts you were not only throwing your hat into the ring and participating in the debate, but you were pretty clearly taking the side of Team Dickwolf, listening to their pleas, and providing them with a uniform to wear (and, perhaps most problematic of all, you were merchandising the rape debate).

If you’re going to regret anything, might I recommend it be that?

Not talking about this is talking about this

By attempting to stay out of these conversations altogether, you’re making a pretty loud statement: you aren’t interested in engaging with the community that is responsible for making you you.

And when you keep sending incredibly mixed messages that leave your community divided, I think it’s your responsibility to not only “engage,” but to do whatever you can to remedy that divide, make your meaning and values incredibly clear, and follow your mouth with your feet.

So perhaps we can suggest a small revision to your policy: “That’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it’s just better to not engage.”

Talk to us, or tell us to go away

gamers-against-bigotry-penny-picard-arcade-engage
There are so many of us who have been around for a long time, who have affixed ourselves to Penny Arcade because in a world where our passions weren’t always as socially acceptable as they are today, you created a home where we felt comfortable expressing ourselves. And beyond that, again and again you’ve said (in one way or another) that you never want to be the reason someone feels like they are less because of some aspect of their identity.

There is a ton of talk right now (and has been for months, really) of folks bending too far in wondering if PA/PAX is welcoming that they’re finally breaking. But there are a lot of other people who are discussing alternatives, weighing the merits of the good you’ve done against this other stuff, and are unsure of where they stand, exactly.

This is a testament to what you’ve built — the fact that a person can be cut so deep and still find themselves questioning whether the pain is a reasonable enough deterrent. The debate that’s happening, both externally and internally, is a reflection of how mixed a message many of us are receiving.

If you really want PA/PAX to be for everyone, please tell us and show us. Engage. Open up the channels. Allow people into your heads. Make it emphatically clear through action and conversation that there’s no reason any of us should be wondering if it’s still ethical to support Penny Arcade. Or, please — and I mean this — just tell us to go away.

I grew up with Penny Arcade, but it’s days like today that I fear Penny Arcade hasn’t grown up with me.

GAB Heroes: the real-life people who inspire us

We ran our #GABhero campaign for a week, resulting in these images, but we didn’t want it to end there. There are far more than a week’s worth of people who enhance our community, make us proud to be geeks, and set a high bar for us to aspire to. In no particular order…

(Click an image to see it on Facebook and read more about why we chose that person)
patrick-stewart-gab-hero

bonnie-ross-gab-hero wil-wheaton-gab-hero anita-sarkeesian-gab-hero chaka-cumberbatch-gab-hero-2 joss-whedon-gab-hero matt-conn-gab-hero felicia-day-gab-hero

Slipping Down the Slope: A Guide to Common Logical Fallacies

Recently I had an exchange with Sam Killermann, founder and head of Gamers Against Bigotry, where we debated our positions on a hot-button social issue that was on the activist website. I won’t get into specifics, but our cordial and respectful back-and-forth led to a common-ground understanding of not only where we stood (which was together on the same soapbox), but also a request from Sam for me to write an article for GAB. Reasoned and respectful debate leading to a positive outcome? Who woulda thought! I’m very grateful to Sam for this opportunity, as I fully stand with the message GAB is trying to send to the gaming community at large.

I like debating. I find the tête-à-tête chess game of valid arguments and objective reasoning to be very intellectually stimulating. But the real thrill comes when your opponent says something that activates your trap card, and you throw down a killer rebuttal with the war cry of “That’s a fallacy!”

Enjoying things that are intellectually stimulating is also why I avoid comment sections like I avoid marathons of The Big Bang Theory. Fallacies, logical or otherwise, are in abundance here, along with generally stupid and hyperbolic emesis. It’s a virtual wasteland of soapboxes populated by the seagulls from Finding Nemo, but what they say can best be written as “&@%#?!!”

What's the shortcut key to insert a censor bar?

What’s the shortcut key to insert a censor bar?

Sometimes you can’t avoid such things, especially as an advocate for social justice pursuits like equal rights. However, as you shudder in disgust and roll your cursor over the ban button, pause for a moment and reflect not just on what the commentator is saying, but what their comment represents. There is much we can learn from mental diarrhea, and I have waded through the thick of it to share some general examples I see far too often when debating social issues. Presented with each example is a breakdown of the fallacies and shaky positions these arguments are based around. Recognizing fallacies and knowing how to deal with them can make you a much more effective debater, and that skill can be an important weapon in the utility belt of any activist.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem!”

Good lord, how many other motivational posters do you have coating the walls of your cubicle? The issues with this oft-heard Facebook reshare from Tumblr are many, but more subjective than logical. Still, it’s worth picking apart more than one of those emails your aunt likes to forward to you. You know the ones.

To start: it’s exclusionary. Right from the get-go it sets up a divisive us-versus-them situation relating to whatever the context of the comment is. And we all know the best way to motivate people is to tell them up front what horrible people they are, am I right? NO, STUPID.

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have called you stupid. And you shouldn’t have assumed I’m a terrible person for being largely ignorant to the nuances surrounding an issue of social reform. Yes, that’s right, I’m admitting to being ignorant on something. PAY ATTENTION: this is your opportunity to educate. Not belittle. Not berate. Not bullshit. Not bully. Not any other negative words that start with the letter “b”. When someone is encountered with new information, or information relating to a subject they have only a scant idea of all that relates to it, they generally listen to someone speaking from a position of authority. Here’s your chance to inform them with the wealth of knowledge you’ve acquired on the topic. To merely dismiss them as part of the problem is wasting an extremely valuable opportunity to sway an opinion. If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s mind before, you know how difficult that can be. The uninformed haven’t made up their mind yet, and that “yet” is your chance to turn a sheep into a wolf.

Now that's a solid joke.

Now that’s a solid joke.

But be cautious: how you present this information, even in a positive way, can be damaging. You don’t want to fall into the fallacy of appeal to authority, like those people in medical commercials that hawk products while wearing lab coats, as if that lends them some legitimacy. Well, to the uninformed, it does lend them legitimacy, enough to make millions. It’s how snake oil salesmen have profited from the beginning of time on up to Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Jenny McCarthy, and all of the other daytime TV “experts.” You must be able to back up your claims with facts, evidence, statistics and other verifiable sources. Asking others to follow you because you know the facts is still an appeal to authority, while encouraging them to follow the facts themselves is an appeal to reality.

“You’re looking for something that isn’t there.”

The human mind has evolved to look for patterns. Our ability to recognize cause and effect, and retain that information, passing it on to our offspring, has made our species incredibly successful. Partly in thanks to this ability, we can comprehend some incredibly complex and abstract concepts. Unfortunately, our gift can backfire just as often, leading us to draw conclusions that simply don’t add up. In a given situation, we see X, and infer Y. Then, in every subsequently similar situation, we assume Y, despite evidence to the contrary, and look for Y until we find it. This fallacy is known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”. It’s human nature, and it takes a lot of practice to recognize and compensate for it.

Amen!

Amen!

 

There are two other fallacies this relates to. The first is the subtly different cum hoc ergo propter hoc, where an inference is made to the cause of two or more factors whose correlations are not clear. This is commonly written as the “correlation proves causation” fallacy (or “correlation does not imply causation” in science writing). The third related fallacy is confirmation bias, which is the tendency for people to value information that confirms their own beliefs. Evidence holds little sway over confirmation bias, especially if it runs contradictory to one’s beliefs; this is why it’s so difficult to change someone’s mind. In my opinion, nothing is more deeply ingrained in the human condition than this phenomenon.

So these things are a part of each and every one of us. But that doesn’t mean we’re indulging these quirks every time we criticize something controversial. Thanks to the wonders of the human mind, we can actually support our own confirmation bias while exposing a problem for what it is at the same time! Of course, once you show that the problem in fact does exist, you’ll likely get back…

“We have bigger problems.”

We certainly do! But can you elaborate further? I’d like to know in what way this issue is less important than some other issue, and what other issues more urgently require my attention.

No caption necessary.

No caption necessary.

 

This is arguably one of the most common dismissals of any sort of popularized movement. To be fair, it can be difficult to distinguish between a valid movement focused on equal rights and an army of PC-happy thugs with a massive case of unwarranted self-importance. And don’t get me wrong, you can debate if nuclear disarmament should have more focus than peace in the Middle East, but that doesn’t mean either one is of no concern or importance.

It’s best known as the informal fallacy of goal post changing, or “raising the bar” (though not as often, due to that phrase’s context-based positive version). Essentially, someone dismisses an argument or the evidence of an argument and demanding greater evidence or focus on a different position instead. It’s like wading through the shallow end of the special pleading pool, but you’re just as likely to drown trying to refute it.

Instead of asking you to focus on another possibly valid topic, you may instead find that your argument is dismissed for a different one that may not even be related to the one you made. For instance, you may be discussing compensation inequalities women face in large corporations, and the other person says something like “men have problems, too, ya know!” Whether or not they do is irrelevant, and even conceding that means you’ve lost. Stay on topic, or else you’ll wind up swimming in a sea of distracting red herrings and lose your way.

Much like communism.

Much like communism.

“You can’t possibly know what X is like, because you’re a Y.”

This one gets right up my ass. It’s a form of special pleading, and may manifest as a personal anecdote, excessive use of an exclusionary word or phrase, or even exactly like the example I’ve provided (solve for X and Y). In this fallacy, the person making the claim rebukes you into taking their statement on faith, hoping to end the discussion there (which, obviously, means it’s not really a discussion at that point). It’s a strange twist on false equivalence, and tends to involve people who are otherwise seeking acceptance instead opting for self-exclusion.

This situation places the claimant in  an untouchable in-group, and, perhaps even more than just making someone come across as a bigoted douchebag, is one of the most effective ways of making sure equal anything never happens that I’ve ever seen. It removes the claimant from criticism, puts the burden of guilt on the other party, ends the discussion, and destroys any opportunity for anyone involved to educate or learn.

Similar to false equivalence, a false dichotomy exists as a comparison between limited alternatives. This is often seen as a forced choice, making the defendant choose between aligning with a negative position or whatever position the person making the fallacy holds. It dismisses or ignores all other possible choices or considerations.

“If I’m not A, I can’t possibly comprehend X.”

or

“I’ve never had to deal with A, so no one else has either.”

An appeal to complexity arises when the arguer claims that if they can’t understand a topic, no one else can either; an argument by laziness follows the appeal to complexity, but tacks on “so my view is as good as anyone else’s” to the end of it. They have many opinions on this subject they know nothing about and refuse to learn anything about, but you can sure as hell expect them to argue those opinions regardless. Just as they’ll expect you to respect their opinions for no other reason than the widespread (and very wrong) belief that opinions are sacred.

A recent real-world example would be when Mike “Gabe” Krahulik of Penny Arcade, in response to a Kotaku article on a game about female masturbation, stated his belief on Twitter that only those who have a vagina are women. He added, in way of clarifying to the flood of criticism that was suddenly engulfing him, that “[he thinks] gender is the same as genitals.” He followed this with, “if you use the word “cis” save yourself some time and don’t bother tweeting at me”.

"Due to my limited world view, general ignorance, and inability to entertain an outside perspective, I persist in maintaining my belief that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina."

“Due to my limited world view, general ignorance, and inability to entertain an outside perspective, I persist in maintaining my belief that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.”

I’m sure you can pick out the flaws here, but just in case: Krahulik is essentially exercising the “It’s outside my realm of experience, therefore your argument is unlikely at best” form of the argument by laziness. Further exchanges show his willful ignorance regarding the subject of transgender women, gender identity, and the spectrum of human sexual characteristics. A form of the appeal to complexity exists here as well, though not directly from Krahulik. The last quote I selected was in response to someone who said ”yes you are literally a monster. That is what you should gather from criticism holy fuck i hate cis men.”

“Cis,” shorthand for “cisgender,” refers to someone whose sexual characteristics align with both their personal gender identity and their assigned (for all intents and purposes, by the society to which the person belongs) gender identity. For example, someone who is born with a penis and testicles, displays secondary male sexual characteristics such as being able to grow a beard, has been told growing up that they’re male, and believes themselves to be male, counts as a cisgender person. It’s a complementary definition (not complimentary; this is a neutral term) meant to describe someone who is not transgender. However, it’s often used as an exclusionary word meant to belittle someone who was born a certain way, and views their identity in a certain way; it seeks to create a negative stereotype out of an otherwise innocuous description. Put in that context, it’s not only exclusionary, it’s also hypocritical. Distorting or abusing the intended use of a word in such a way turns them into weasel words.

It's also the only thing that ever comes out of Deepak Chopra's mouth.

It’s also the only thing that ever comes out of Deepak Chopra’s mouth.

Instead of creating an us-versus-them situation, it behooves us as progressive people to break down these walls, rather than create new ones. Maybe forum user BreakingBud420 with the transphobic comment is unaware that gender identity and sexuality are separate things, and that’s why he doesn’t understand why there are transgender people. Now is your chance to link him to some resources, and maybe expand his world view. I grew up in a very open and accepting family, and was encouraged to be curious and question the ways of the world; still, I can remember my surprise when I learned about intersex, and the understanding that came from knowing the difference between transgender and cross-dressing.

Of course, if BreakingBud420 continues to be a douchebag, it’s likely he’s a lost cause and it’s best to move on. But keep in mind that someone else may wander into the conversation, see your measured and informative response, and learn something new.

“You don’t care about your kids if you don’t support this park.”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist stealing that one from Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation. Imagine, if you will, being at a Renaissance Festival, and watching the knights practice for jousting. Instead of attacking other people, they take jabs at fake people made out of wood, or perhaps straw. That’s essentially how the straw man fallacy works; someone takes an opponent’s argument, distorts their position, and re-presents it as a counter-argument. This leads the opponent to having to defend their argument rather than continue to refute the claims of the other person. It can also apply, as in Leslie Knope’s case, when the distorted position is ridiculous enough to be a non sequitur, Latin for “it does not follow.”

Fair enough.

Fair enough.

If you’re well prepared and feeling sassy, you can have some fun with straw men. Let them make their ridiculous claim, then follow that white rabbit right down the slippery slope. Leading someone along their own argument to a ridiculous conclusion can be an excellent way to show how poor the argument is. In rare cases, they may even reconsider their position. However, too often this fallacy is self-fulfilling with an absurd conclusion to which the response is usually “well, duh.” This method is recommended for advanced users.

“You would say that because you’re _________!”

Rather than distort your position, however, you may find that your personal qualities are attacked instead. Just above outright name-calling, this informal fallacy is known as an ad hominem. This fallacy serves to attack the arguer instead of the argument, seeking to discredit their arguments by negatively portraying their character. This is not the same as any other kind of insult, nor is it applicable when the subject of the debate actually is someone’s character. If you’re debating whether or not someone is a bigot, making a case for their bigotry is not using an ad hominem against them. Consider this example:

Person A: There’s nothing wrong with gay people marrying. Everyone should be able to marry the person they love.

Person B: You’re gay, of course you would say that.

Person B is using an ad hominem to avoid addressing Person A’s argument and instead attacking their character. Now consider this example:

Person A: I don’t think women should be allowed in the military outside of a desk job. They’re just not as strong as men and too timid for battle.

Person B: You’re an incredibly sexist person.

Person B is not using an ad hominem, as Person A is presenting a sexist argument as their own belief.

Learn it, recognize it, know how to counter it. Chances are good that you’ll encounter an ad hominem at some point, if you haven’t already.

 

“lol fuk u faget”

Oh please. This is just an insult (not an ad hominem!). Ignore it.

“Something something freedom of speech something something!”

I don’t think there’s an established term for this specific argument, so I’ve taken to calling it the “appeal to liberty.” I believe the heart of this informal fallacy arises from two main sources. First, a largely Western (especially American) sense of self-entitlement. We here in the United States of Freedom have so-called inalienable rights, written in our highest legal document, the Bill of Rights. Many other countries and sovereign governments have similar documents, but at least as many do not, or have foundational legal mandates that are different enough to be viewed as something else entirely. Anyway, we have it, so everyone else has to abide by it. ‘Murika!

This is wrong, of course, but especially when applied to the second source: the Internet is a virtual Wild West, so anything goes, especially when personal liberties are involved. Yes, especially in the early days, the Internet can be a chaotic and anarchistic place. But order arises from chaos, and such is the case with the Interbutts. Websites have terms and conditions now, and users are often bound by these agreements, with moderators on the prowl, ban-hammers ever at the ready. This means what you say and do can and will be used against you. In fact, I would hold that up as a de facto law of the land when browsing the web. If “anything goes,” then you are doubly accountable for everything you put out there.

"Now do you believe in chaos theory?"

“Now do you believe in chaos theory?”

 

Another thing to consider before pressing the submit button is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Sure, you can say something foul and derogatory, completely belittling the person you’re responding to. Freedom of speech is a precious thing, and exercising that freedom is ensuring its power. But there are countless reasons for limitations on the freedom of speech, such as terms and conditions, and mods with ban-hammers, and judicial systems, and top secret clauses, and non-disclosure agreements, and the fact that sometimes it’s best if you just shut your mouth. The immediate conflict of supporting personal liberties in any society is that your liberties will be in opposition to the liberties of others.

So how does this apply to a comment thread? Vitriol begets vitriol, and nothing derails a discussion faster than a slew of personal attacks. Trolling aside, however, realize that what you say may actually cause some amount of emotional or mental harm to someone else. Don’t take that as “be nice to everyone, because you might hurt some feelings,” but that certain talk is largely viewed as intolerable. You can talk about your opposition to something like gay marriage, for example, but don’t be surprised if a mod swoops in and kicks your virtual ass to the virtual curb if you start saying something like “them butt-humping queers shouldn’t be allowed to marry.”

Stupid and poorly informed opinions are the right of all sentient beings.

Stupid and poorly informed opinions are the right of all sentient beings.

On the flip side of that coin, you can respond to “I don’t personally think gays should marry” with something equally nonconstructive like “Well then you must be a bigot.” Perhaps they are, perhaps they are not (note the use of an ad hominem here). As I’ve said before, it’s very likely that someone may be ignorant of the larger issues at play surrounding something like gay marriage, which may be entirely outside of their realm of experience. I’m not saying that everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt, but if you give someone enough rope, rest assured they’ll hang themselves with it, without any need to string yourself up next to them.

To clarify, the former example would be one of hate speech, which you may have the freedom to express, but is still considered detestable and is discouraged. The latter example would be one of silencing dissent; that is, the opinion is different, therefore wrong, therefore an obvious reflection of the most extreme and negative view associated with such an opinion. Silencing a dissenting opinion runs counter to the tenets of free speech, and speaking your mind by spewing hateful rhetoric perverts and devalues the power that freedom of speech permits.

And, finally…

“Can’t we all just get along?”

If only!

If only!

 

I could leave it here, but I think there is something to be said about this, as a continuation of my earlier points. This phrase, while incredibly optimistic, and not exactly a fallacy, is pretty meaningless when tossed into an embittered exchange. It’s hopeful fluff, and emptier than the calories of the marshmallow spread. That doesn’t mean that the sentiment is entirely worthless, though; I do believe we can all get along, or at least most of us. But it’s something we have to work for, and everyone has to be involved in the process.

Here is a short list of guidelines, not rules, that I think can help.

  1. Do your research. Facts, statistics, and other forms of evidence are the only sure foundation of any argument.
  2. Learn how to recognize a poorly reasoned argument and how to react to them. Knowing logical fallacies is a must.
  3. Foster discussion. Listen, think, speak. Educate where and when you can.
  4. Choose your battles. Not everything has to be a debate. And most debates aren’t even worth engaging in, especially if the other person isn’t acting on similar guidelines.
  5. Remember that even if you’re not getting through to someone, that you have an audience beyond that person, and you might get through to them. Recognize trolls, or when someone is a lost cause, and move on with dignity.
  6. Accept valid criticism. Admit when you are wrong. A tall order, in most cases, but at least try. It can be a rewarding experience.

And while you’re at head, scroll on down below the comments and sign the pledge!

Conversation with Not in the Kitchen Anymore’s Jenny Haniver: A look back at #MicrosoftUnsupport

GAB: Can you give our readers (who don’t know you already) a quick overview of what you do at NitKA?

Jenny Haniver: Not in the Kitchen Anymore is a growing collection of audio clips and transcripts showcasing the reactions (largely related to my gender) that I receive while gaming online. They range from the bizarre, to the humorous, to the downright disturbing.

You’ve been in the nat’l gaming news this week due to a particular incident. What happened?

JH: I received a rape threat over Xbox LIVE, reported it, and 16 days after initial complaint I filed, the user was still active. I decided to escalate the situation by directly questioning Xbox LIVE about why the player had not been banned from the service, and various influential people and news sources started picking up the story and Xbox’s seeming reluctance to do anything about it. Most everything has been summed up here.

What were your first steps in response to the rape threat?

JH: I immediately filed an in-system complaint using Xbox LIVE’s ‘file complaint’ function. I also sent an email to an Xbox related email (that I later found out was only there to deal with forum specific harassment, and couldn’t address my concerns) detailing the voice message I had received.

What reply did you get from Xbox LIVE initially?

JH: Nothing. I tried again the next day, piggy-backing on a @FemFreq tweet, and received a canned response.

What inspired you to take this incident and reach out to your following for help?

JH: When I looked up the user on Monday, August 12th and realized the player who sent me the message was still active as of Saturday, I was completely fed up. I’ve been gaming on Xbox LIVE for almost six years now, filed a multitude of complaints, and I was just sick of feeling like my complaints weren’t being treated seriously. I was tired of being ignored. Similar incidents had happened in the past- for instance, I received an equally upsetting message in early 2012, and as of April 2013, he was still active.

How did that go? Both in terms of your interactions with people who took up your cause, and Xbox’s response to your (our?) pleas?

JH: The outpouring of support from the people around me has been fantastic. I never thought things would blow up as much as they did. People started spreading the word soon after I began my Twitter “campaign”, and in turn reached out to others they had connections with, and it grew from there.Despite the onslaught of tweets from people seeking information (and by information, I mean the simple reassurance that Xbox was taking this seriously, and looking into the situation), Xbox Support continued to give generic and non-helpful  (sometimes snarky) responses. They couldn’t point myself or anyone else towards someone who could actually supply us with answers.

What were you looking for in a response from Xbox?

JH: Simple reassurance that they take rape threats and the like seriously. I did not want any personal information about the player in question – just to know that he was being dealt with. I wanted to be notified when he was suspended or banned. Apparently Xbox sometimes sends you a message if a complaint you have filed has been acted on… But only sometimes.

How are some ways Xbox LIVE (and other hubs) can improve their service to help victims of this type of behavior better feel like they’re being heard? And how about preventing this behavior from happening in general?

JH: One of the major things they can do is notify you if you file a complaint, and it is acted on. This is massively reassuring to people, and lets them know that the report function actually functions. Otherwise, it’s all just guesswork. You can file as many reports and complaints as you want, but as of now, there’s no real way to tell if they’re effective.Honestly, Xbox also needs to expand the number of options they give you when you file a complaint on another user. The broad categories they have now seem to be part of the problem when they have to wade through thousands of complaint reports- how are you supposed to effectively separate out the rape threats from something much more innocuous (like a player calling another player an asshole in a voice message) when they are both technically filed under the same categoryText and Voice Communication – Voice Message is not descriptive enough. Where is the category for sexual harassment? Racial slurs? Or even things like virtual stalking.

A lot of people have commented along the lines of “All I need is a huge internet following and a national campaign to get Xbox to act upon my report.” What are your thoughts about this? What is your advice for individual gamers (who may not have teh interwebz in their corner)?

JH: In a lot of ways, I am a very privileged person in the exact right situation to take this stand. I know people who know people who know people, and my connections helped this story spread far wider than I could have ever gotten it on my own. People stepped up and showed they cared and were angry about this issue by sharing my story and asking Xbox LIVE questions. The average gamer does not have a support system like I do. All they have is the tools Xbox LIVE gives them to report harassment- and those tools are not currently effective enough.

What can the gaming community as a whole do to learn from this and improve?

JH: Companies need to be held accountable.  If something happens in game that is against their terms of service or code of conduct, report it. If you witness another player being harassed, speak up. If you can’t speak up, file a complaint yourself. If that report is not followed through, try contacting them through every avenue possible. It’s an unfortunate truth that we have a finite number of tools at our disposal right now, and the tools are, to be frank, inadequate.But if you don’t try at all, nothing will ever change.

Any final thoughts?

JH: Gaming is meant to be fun. At no point during a gaming experience should you feel targeted over something innate about yourself that you cannot change, and that has no bearing on your skills as a player. Gaming has the unique ability to be the great equalizer- almost anyone can play a game. So we need to stop acting like it’s some elitist club where if you don’t fit the “normative” description of “a gamer”, you deserve to be attacked and harassed. We need to stop saying things like, “Well… What do you expect? That’s just how gaming is.” Change is a very real possibility, as long as we prove that we want it and can get gaming companies to realize that moderation and enforcement is a necessity to protect their player bases.If you enjoy games, and you’re having fun playing them, you’re doing it right. It’s that simple.

Thanks for your time, Jenny, and for taking a stand to make things better for the rest of us! Jenny can be found on her website or on twitter

Dear Straight Male Gamer

The following article was written by Tauriq Moosa for Big Think on August 13, 2013. It was reposted here with Tauriq’s permission. You can view the original article on Big Think here and follow Tauriq on Twitter @tauriqmoosa. The story he links to is an old one, but (unfortunately) not much has changed since. We are sharing Tauriq’s article here as a humorous piece about a serious and relevant subject: straight male gamer privilege. <satire>…

Background:

I came across a remarkable story, from some years ago, where someone was rather upset with Canadian game developer Bioware for including an optional homosexual element in a, now fairly old, game.

However, this is not about games, alone, but a broader topic.

~~~

Dear Straight Male Gamer

Firstly, congratulations on your role as spokesperson for heteroNORMative (totally not gay) persons (i.e. men); a role that no doubt you achieved, after a majority vote by fellow Straight Male Gamers at the Straight Male Gamer convention/conference/tea party/dance off. It is good to know that a voice such as yours can have an impact in one specific forum, for one specific developer, about one old game. We need this, due to our long-standing, unending oppression as a misunderstood species.

Second, we are very glad you expressed your discomfort with “the homosexuals” on a public platform, from whence you proceeded to claim discomfort on every non-homosexual’s (i.e. fans, i.e. normal, i.e. REAL men’s) behalf.

Good. Let us show these “homosexuals” that they will not and cannot force their agenda on us. (We have no idea what their agenda is – something about “equal rights” or some made-up oppressive goals which harms us because the personal, consensual love of two adults has magical, necromantic powers.)

When we of the CSEMWCSAMDBWWTMFU – Coalition of Self-Entitled Men Who Cannot Stand Any Measure of Discomfort Because The World (And Everything in It) Was Totally Made For Us (Including “Females”) – saw your message, we were very glad our egg avatar on Twitter appeared on all three of our Followers’ feeds. Indeed, @SEO_Guru1243, @Sexxyygrrl557 and others responded with such unprecedented enthusiasm, they sent us Tweets comprised solely of URLs to “get more followers” because of how many agree.

You pointed out to those “homosexuals” and “females” at Bioware that you should never be made to feel your sexuality has been examined. Indeed! As you so eloquently said:

“Its ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans”.

Because who else – aside from what data indicates are large demographics of players who are not men or REAL men – plays games?! How dare they FORCE their homosexual agenda down our throats!

This is a man’s place, a man’s world. We are the target audience and we should get what we pay for – not some hysterical flubbering from the terrifying mass of pink pride that threatens to consume our children. How oppressed can they really be when they’re the ones being catered to! Think about all the gay couples or lesbian couples and trans people on advertisements or popular campaigns around the world. We can’t think of any, but we’re sure they’re dominating – not the heteroNORMative, nuclear two and half children and wife that is the desired aspiration of all Straight Men.

If we don’t point this out to companies like Bioware, who will? Our majority way of life is being threatened by this gay agenda or whatever.

The feminists are trying to force us to play women (Tomb Raider), the gays are forcing us to have sex with them (an optional part that might not happen in Dragon Age 2), Russians are forcing us to play Russians (Metro 2033)! I am neither a women, a gay, nor a Russian and I should be appealed to as the person I am. Sure, that would mean every game is set around a comfortable suburban, upper-middle class, middle-aged completely 110 % straight man – but that would mean games are finally appealing to REAL fans, not the celebrated, perfectly protected, never targeted marginalised people of different races, sexes, etc.

And we know that we kill, maim, and make hard moral choices that go against religious convictions and other deeply-held beliefs all the time in games; that’s their nature, to challenge us.

Or that’s what the pink mafia want you to believe! In actual fact, it’s indoctrinating us to become a “homo”. Next thing you know, games will be in Japanese with subtitles or something!

The idea that fiction (like games, novels, etc.) are an avenue to explore “different dimensions” of “different people”, to see the world “through different eyes”, is just a cover for misandry and oppression.

Difference is dangerous. Difference is death.

Never stay silent, brave spokesperson for Straight Male Gamers. For we will not be silent, since we have all this free time to not worry about being able to: donate blood, adopt, get married, get into various jobs, obtain job security, enter the military, find schools for our children or have our children bullied because of who we love, ousting from family, expensive operations, inability to reach different levels of buildings which only have stairs and no lifts, going into bathrooms without being attacked for not looking enough like our perceived sex, being catcalled and physically assaulted and blamed for those assaults because of “what we wear” or “how drunk” we are, being sexually assaulted by people we trust and being reminded of rapes and being blamed because we think our bodies are our own, lacking proper representation in media, walk alone, have respect as a colleague or politician or scientist instead of merely a sex object, and maybe, probably, one day, love others and ourselves as we want without being arrested, beaten or murdered for it.

We have no idea what these others are about, but thank goodness we don’t (really) have these issues! Let us continue searching for all the other ways the world targets and ignores us.

Yours in brotherly – no homo – strength.

CSEMWCSAMDBWWTMFU

Image Credit: Sanzhar Murzin / Shutterstock

…</satire> Use the comments below to discuss the underlying themes of this piece!

From Jenny Hanniver: Lots of Words [UPDATED]

Note: we are hosting this blog post here at Jenny’s request due to an overwhelming amount of traffic on her site that brought it down (the original link for the post was http://www.notinthekitchenanymore.com/lots-of-words/)

On July 26th, I was playing Black Ops 2 on my Xbox 360. Another player in the lobby took issue with me being there, and basically started attacking me over my gender. He kept asking if I was on my period, implying that I was fat or a lesbian, and making jokes like “Hey, ya’ll know why uh, women shouldn’t have drivers licenses? Cuz there’s no highway between the bedroom and the kitchen.” It’s all documented in this entry.

After the match concluded, he sent me a text message that said “slizzy” (which is, apparently, slang for “slut”). I replied, “Keep digging yourself into a hole dude.” He then proceeded to send me a voice message that said, “I’m gonna impregnate you with triplets and make you have a very late term abortion. Strict mental abuse. Hahaha.”

You can find a recording of the voice message here.

I filed a complaint against the player using Xbox LIVE’s in-system setup. I believe I also reported him through Treyarch’s report system as well.

I let it go, because I thought they had to act on something this gross and creepy. I check Call of Duty’s ELITE website about a week later, and saw that the player in question was still active on the game. I tweeted at Xbox and Xbox Support, sending them the link to the video and saying again that I was upset about it. They just restated that I should file a complaint.

Fast forward to today, I check ELITE again and see that the offending player was still active in game as ofSaturday, August 10th. I tweeted at Xbox again, because I was shocked that seemingly nothing had happened two weeks after I received the message. They essentially replied that they couldn’t give specific details on any case, and that was that.

I tried contact Activision (parent company of Treyarch, the makers of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2) to see if there was anything they could do on their end. One of their agents I contacted through text chat support seemed honestly appalled, and even went so far as to recommend that I contact the police.

I called Activision customer support as well, and they said that they can only handle in-game harassment (which there was), but it can sometimes take them a few weeks because of the volume of reports they field.

I guess I am just super frustrated by Xbox LIVE’s seeming lack of attention to this. For all I know, the guy is being banned this very instant, but from everything I’ve seen, action hasn’t been taken yet. All I want to know is that this kind of thing is taken seriously. I love gaming, but this sort of incident and seeming lack of response or concern about issues like this is really starting to wear on me. I do understand that they’re fielding a large amount of reports and complaints, but I wish serious issues like this were addressed in a much more timely fashion. At this point, the best I can hope for is maybe getting a notification that action has been taken on a complaint I filed.

Ideally, Xbox will work even harder at moderating their player base and insure that gaming is a safe and fun experience for everyone involved. I know things will never be perfect, but they can certainly be better.

Edit: This is starting to get some attention, which is great. You can follow me on Twiter- @Nitka_Official andFacebook to keep updated on this situation as it unfolds. Thank you all for the support.

UPDATE 5pm CST:

This kind of blew up today. Through the actions of a lot of really awesome people on Twitter, noise was made, and people started paying attention. There was a story done on The Mary Sue, and the Xbox twitter people were likely made very miserable. #MicrosoftUnsupport was officially a thing.

Some of the notable things that happened along the way: Xbox Support said I should contact law enforcement “if necessary”, and after that point couldn’t really tell me where else I could go for information from Xbox LIVE. It turns out that the Xbox Support on Twitter is only able to give tech help… But if the only option you have for reporting users is to press buttons on the console, isn’t that a tech issue?

HOWEVER… There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Looking at the offending user’s profile now, everything has now been marked CODE OF CONDUCT. I unfortunately don’t have a screenshot of his profile beforehand, but I remember that there was nothing offensive about the content, which leads me to believe that he has either been suspended or banned.

And all it took was 24 hours of shouting so loudly no one could ignore me.

Thanks for the support throughout this ordeal, everyone- it’s been real.