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

Fully Human: What Gamers and Developers Can Learn from the Victory over DOMA

DOMA is dead. And good riddance.

But the cause of death wasn’t caused by a spontaneous, nationwide chanting of kumbayah. It was a hard fought, computer mediated battle to re-humanize the LGBTQ community. Propelled by viral activism, supporters and allies pushed back against the marginalization of the LGBTQ identity as threatening, deviant, and irrelevant to the status quo of “sanctity,” recasting queer marriage as “the same love.” Similar marginalization, albeit more as irrelevant than threatening, is at play in the gaming community where the same tired derisions are trotted out to silence dissatisfied gamers calling for diversity and inclusivity. Chief among them, the gaming industry’s exclusionary “market” that shouldn’t bend to “niche” demands. So long as these gamers (women, LGBTQ, non-white, etc.) are dismissed as “niche,” the industry operates under a one-sided and exploitative “tolerance” paradigm. I.e., they’ll take your money but not your criticism. We can do much better.

While remarkable strides have been made in the last generation of gaming, the industry has failed to commit to a paradigm of inclusivity. Inclusivity, as opposed to tolerance, means industry-wide recognition of the legitimacy, diversity, and humanity of marginalized gamers’ identities as trans, women, color, etc. and their intersections with gaming and the gaming community.  I’ve often seen in these discussions, “Why does it matter that X game doesn’t include Y type of people?” Video games have evolved beyond hobbies or distractions. They’re full blown commitments: social, at times romantic – certainly economic. And no gamer places the medium they love in a vacuum removed from the rest of their life. Video games intersect and impact their lives. It’s unfair for the real, social impact these games have with people to be systematically dismissed because of their “niche”-ness. It’s trivializing and dehumanizing.

The LGBTQ community faced a similar battle for mainstream acceptance, with social media playing a large role in spreading the word. In a report detailing the importance of social media in the repeal of DOMA, Non-Profit Quarterly spoke with Tony Pham, Vice President of Marketing at Life360. Pham said,

“Social media encourages people to create their own editorial, which then allows others in their network to participate in this dynamic conversation. The more that you talk about an issue like same-sex marriage, the more that it’s in the public domain and discourse, and the more that people outside of your own social circles will be exposed to opinions different from their own.”

As Pham states, openly discussing how marginalized identities intersect with the medium adds this issue to the gaming discourse. This normalizes these identities and moves them away from the fringe and into the center. These personal stories form narratives which counter the ones already promulgating in insular gaming spaces, many of which diminish many gamers and trivializes how gaming affects their lives. Consider the “It Gets Better” campaign, which encouraged LGBTQ folks and allies to post reassuring and supportive messages on Youtube to form online support networks for bullied youth. While critics were right to critique the campaign, “It Gets Better” dispelled what I call the “their problem” fallacy. Gay and trans* suicide is the LGBTQ community’s problem, straight folk need not worry. Civil rights are the African American community’s problem, white folk need not worry. “It Gets Better,” a collective of personal stories, dispelled the same notion of “fringe-ness” and re-assigned accountability onto the groups with power. The gaming community is in dire need of similar recalibrations on topics of inclusivity and accountability.

The latter of which is key if “mainstream” gamers are to understand their role in contributing to (and hopefully, ending) systematic exclusion. I urge gamers to evade the “their problem” fallacy and accept personal accountability. A similarly focused LGBTQ campaign, “Think B4 You Speak” records the usage of homophobic slurs on Twitter, realizing the fight for equality isn’t complete until the number reaches zero. This campaign isn’t simply about counting bad words, but about quantifying how normalized oppressive language has become in the culture. Perhaps realizing how immense the problem is would stir in gamers a sense of personal responsibility. Sure, you just used that one word one time as a “joke.” You and 12,000 other people. Video games are an ocular medium and perhaps seeing these numbers would illustrate the connection between individual actions and institutionalized marginalization.

To clarify, I’m not asking for a “shame on you” system of change. Gamers need resources, not judgment. Speaking personally, after reading (the brilliant) Samantha Allen’s open letter, I was compelled to confront my own ignorance and find a network of trans* gamers creating their own editorials about the intersection of gaming and the trans* identity. This proved to be an extremely valuable resource, not just in widening my understanding of (routinely ignored) trans* gamers, but in expanding my knowledge of how video games affect peoples’ lives. Remember the difference between culpability and accountability. I wasn’t pressing a button every day that said “OPPRESS.” But I realized that by choosing not to engage with these editorials, I was tacitly contributing to their “niche” positioning. Knowledge is power.

And all it took was clicking the ‘Follow’ button. Gaming communication is astoundingly accessible. With such a diversity of gaming experiences, knowledge, and resources imagine the information we can make available to each other by sharing these stories. But the end goal isn’t a utopic ‘kumbayah in front of the campfire’ movement. These stories serve a purpose: to grant marginalized gamers their full humanity and recognize the validity of their lives and how their lives are affected by this medium. Whenever lazy dismissals (the narrative, the market, the fanbase) are brought out to say why “X” people shouldn’t be included in gaming, the message is clear: You’re not like us and we don’t want you here. This is an exclusionary and dehumanizing tactic.  Full humanization comes only from diversifying marginalized identities, showing the full (forgive me for this) “rainbow” of gender performances, skin colors, physical and mental abilities and heroic capabilities of all gamers.

Rather than waiting for my humanity to trickle down from the tepid acceptance of developers, gamers must unite and make demands. Because collective action erodes developers’ public image and threatens their pocketbook, they take it seriously. Ideally, continued, informed criticism will engender an ongoing dialogue between gamers and developers, in which they are responsive to calls for equity and diversity instead of perpetually reacting to accusations of racism, misogyny, etc.

Inclusivity goes beyond simply “adding” characters different characters. Diversity isn’t a salad topping. For example, GLAAD posted this image highlighting the increasing visibility of gay and lesbian characters on TV over the past 10 years. While it’s certainly important to look back at characters “paving the way,” it’s also important to think very carefully about what we consider “visibility” and its effect on “tolerance.” GLAAD measured “tolerance” by American support for marriage equality and “visibility” by the number of LGBTQ characters on TV played by a scripted, series regular. Either definition is problematic. A more effect barometer would perhaps be legislative protections for housing, employment, and healthcare. While “visibility” is important, it omits the issues of representation, stereotypes and racial/sexual diversity.

This isn’t to dismiss marriage equality, visibility, or GLAAD, but to say this: “visibility” and “tolerance” aren’t good enough. Not for television, not for movies and not for video games. “Diversity” isn’t about adding; it’s about including. It means removing the barriers that prevent the inclusion of people (within games, within companies, within communities) based on their identity, and then exploring the diversity within that identity. A concrete example would be the call for more women protagonists. Sure enough, we began seeing more women leading games, but critics pointed out  how they were all similarly turned into sex-objects. It’s one thing to add women to video games, and it’s another to include them and then explore the diversity of playable experiences of the identity. I’d argue that hasn’t even been done fully with white men, despite them starring in nearly all games.

There are entire worlds of play experiences the industry excludes, even while lauding its own “evolution.” And while there is no single gamer or group of developers responsible for the overwhelming straight-white-dude-ness of the industry, significant change requires a collaborative push for diversity; ideally involving even gamers who they, themselves, do not feel marginalized, but understand how prejudices limit the medium to a narrow band of playable experiences.

Conscious Consumerism & Penny Arcade: Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room

In 2012 women were a hot topic in gaming – and not in a good way.  Many women were verbally abused and overall women were told that they didn’t belong in the realm of video games.  Events like the abuse of Anita Sarkeesian, the sexual harassment of Miranda Pakozdi by Aris Bakhtanians during the Street Fighter x Tekken reality show, and Felicia Day being verbally attacked by ex-Destructoid writer Ryan Perez on Twitter are just a few of the events that come to mind.  While many gamers came to the defense of women in gaming there seemed to be an overwhelming number of people that promoted and reinforced the male only perspective on gaming.

These events all raised the question – what does it mean to be a gamer and what types of mindsets are really at the heart of gamer culture?

It’s not just individual gamers though.  Companies are a part of the problem as well.  The hashtag #1reasonwhy demonstrated the sexist mindset that is pervasive in the game developer and publisher industries. Jean-Maxx Morris, one of the creative directors for the video game Remember Me, recounted to Gamasutra earlier this year that it was extremely difficult to find a publisher because the game’s protagonist is female.   Anita Sarkeesian has started releasing her Kickstarted video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” and it outlines how storylines overwhelmingly reinforce the gender stereotype of women as helpless creatures who often need saving from others and sometimes themselves.  I highly recommend you watch through Part 1 and Part 2 of the first episode.

The industry provides us with some of the best entertainment available, but it has also continued to be detrimental to minorities and women with both groups being underrepresented.

2013 is turning out to be a better year than 2012, but that’s like describing a game as better than the worst game you can remember playing.   While all of these incidents have continued to raise the question of what it means to be a gamer  there is another question that I think goes hand in hand with that question – “who are we as gamers supporting?”  What kind of individual are we highlighting, encouraging, and giving our money to?  And, just as importantly, does our support continue to perpetuate the mindset that has led to unacceptable incidents such as those mentioned above?

As a community, gamers should be extra sensitive to who they are supporting and what companies they are giving money to; gamers need to be conscious consumers.  With sexist mindsets so seemingly pervasive and overwhelming in the gaming community, the projects and companies that gamers support economically can mean the difference between bolstering these mindsets or fighting against them.  If your goal is to aid true progress within the gaming community you should remove your support from games, developers, and gaming commentators (journalists, bloggers, etc.) that you find to be part of the problem.  Examples such as the controversial Dragon’s Crown show us how games continue to perpetuate these mindsets while games such as Gone Home demonstrate how games can work towards inclusivity by using non-alienating/offensive gameplay and art while still being enjoyable.

The last thing I want to do is weave some fairy-tale that this will solve all the problems – because it won’t.  There also need to be voices actively speaking out and telling developers why their game isn’t as popular as it could have been.
As consumers, we also need to be aware that there are many organizations that create massive cognitive dissonance by doing positive work in the gaming sphere while being harmful in other ways.
Things get even more complicated when we consider the residual effect of our support.  Groups and organizations that work together also support each other.  When we support one group we are also giving support to the groups and organizations that they work with.  If an organization owns multiple outlets for media or products (think Wal-Mart owning Sam’s Club) it gets even harder for consumers to track what goals and ideologies their money may be supporting.

It’s a tricky landscape filled with landmines that is often difficult to traverse.  Penny Arcade is the best timely example right now due to the cognitive dissonance they have created, their recent spotlight in the news, and similar incidents in the history of the web comic.

Enter Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik (AKA: Gabe) has entered into problematic conversations and has taken problematic stances throughout his Penny Arcade career. He has demonstrated both cognitive dissonance in conscious consumerism and why this conversation needs to happen.  Looking at Penny Arcade’s track record, the three biggest transgressions would (arguably) be the dickwolf debacle, the PAX Panel that had to change its description on PAX’s website to exclude remarks about sexism and misogyny (quoted below), and Mike Krahulik’s transphobic tweets.  (All linked and quoted below)  There’s quite a bit to parse out here, and while I won’t go into massive detail I will include links that do.

There was the dickwolf incident that started back in 2010 centered on a rape joke in one Penny Arcade’s comics.  The incident escalated quickly, and when Krahulik was asked how it felt to support rape-culture Krahulik answered that it, “felt pretty good.”  (There’s a great timeline of events here. For the specific quote scroll to January 31, 2011) While dickwolf debates have lulled into a sort of dull buzz, a new problem popped up for Krahulik and Penny Arcade – a panel approved for PAX Australia 2013 whose description read:

“Why does the game industry garner such scrutiny from outside sources and within? Every point aberration gets called into question, reviewers are constantly criticised and developers and publishers professionally and personally attacked.  Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic and involve any antagonist race other than Anglo-Saxons and you’re a racist.

It’s gone too far and when will it all end?  How can we get off the soapbox and work together to bring a new constructive age into fruition?”

 Border House Blog (where I first read of the panel) puts it far better than I can:

“The idea that games as a medium are exempt from criticism because they’re ‘supposed to be fun’ is ridiculous and immature.  This is complete and utter display of privilege and total dismissal of the concerns by women and people of color is awful, but then conflating ‘a new constructive age’ with a time where we disregard the concerns of marginalized gamers is flat out embarrassing.”

While attempting to defend the panel and people’s right to free speech at PAX, the conversation took a turn when Krahulik made several tweets (@cwgabriel) that were transphobic and extremely hurtful to an already marginalized part of our population.  You can check out the tweets and some great analysis from the Border House Blog post linked above and from Rachel Edidin’s article “Why Penny Arcade’s Foot-in-Mouth Problem is Bigger than Penny Arcade” over at Wired.  You can also view the tweets made by Krahulik here.

Since then Krahulik has offered numerous apologies via Twitter as well as the blog connected to Penny Arcade’s main site.  The first of his apologies was a post of a conversation between him and his friend Sophie who is trans.  You can read that here (third post down).  His second apology was posted on June 21st, just a day after his first apology and the third apology the day after that.  Both of them can be read here.

In his third apology, Krahulik announced that he would be donating $20,000 to The Trevor Project.  The Trevor Project is an amazing program that works with youth and offers crisis counseling for LGBTQ youth who are considering suicide. They provide life-saving and life affirming resources to youth who are bullied because of their sexuality and may be considering taking their own life because of it.

Some say that the $20,000 donation to the Trevor Project is an acceptable form of apology while others argue that it’s not. With Penny Arcade’s track record it is very likely that there will be another issue in the near future.  On top of it all, in all of Krahulik’s apologies he never makes mention of trying to correct his behavior.  He doesn’t say that he will attempt to correct his actions in the future and, in fact, says that: “I hate lots of people it’s true.  But I’ve never hated anyone for their sexual orientation or their gender situation.  I don’t hate people for superficial shit like that.  I hate people for the way they act and I intend to keep doing that.”  His attempt at apology falls into the realm of the questionable for many.

In light of it all, Penny Arcade has done a lot of good for their communities and has, somewhat ironically, helped improve the situation and view of gamers within overall society.  Supporters can point to the great work they’ve done promoting Indie Games (the Indie Megabooth at PAX), the work they’ve done with Child’s Play Charity, and the work they’ve done supporting other artists with projects like PATV.  It creates such dissonance when, as Wired’s Rachel Edidin put it, “PAX is the largest end-user gaming show in the world… a show that’s built a reputation as unusually progressive, focusing programming on marginalized communities in gaming culture, banning booth babes, and taking a hard-line stance on direct harassment,”  while also having a community that support’s Krahulik and his offensive mentalities (as shown by the dickwolf debacle, the number of people supporting his transphobic perspective on twitter, and the fact that the PAX panel got approved in the first place).

So where does that leave us as consumers?

We have to make a decision about whether continued support of an organization falls in line with our perspective of the world, and if continued support of organizations does more harm than good.  It’s important to note that this is subjective.  What is acceptable for one person is unacceptable to another.  Whether the harm is outweighed by the good can also be very subjective, as many times it comes down to intuition and gut.  There are no hard numbers or statistics that can be put side by side.

Things get tricky in this head space and it’s easy to problematize organizations and companies in this way.  Steam is a great, cloud based way to get games cheaply, but they also support DRM which can be harmful to consumers.  Kickstarter is an amazing way to fund projects and enable products that might never have been possible otherwise, but with projects such as the “Above the Game” project that served as a how-to guide on assaulting women (under the guise of a “seduction guide”) they hover over dangerous grounds (note: Kickstarter quickly apologized and changed their guidelines for submissions to exclude any seduction guide as well as donated 25,000 to RAIN).

The great benefit of electronic media is that there are so many different news organizations and media sites available that, unlike physical products, there are many viable options which we can replace whatever we give up.  For example, if you stop reading The Penny Arcade Report, you can research and find another news source which provides similar coverage but without the Penny Arcade ties.

In the end, we have to figure out what our principles are and stick to them.  Organizations that meet the expectations set by our principles should be supported and organizations that don’t should be left to wither. Making those decisions won’t be easy, although having set principles to guide our purchases and media consumption make it easier.

I want to end this article with a press release from The Fullbright Company.  They were offered a space at PAX in the Indie Megabooth.  They turned it down for numerous reasons.  It’s a great demonstration of being a conscious consumer (companies consume as well) and The Fullbright Company leading by example in this area.

“We made a difficult decision today.

Earlier this month, Gone Home was accepted into the Indie Megabooth [http://indiemegabooth.com/] at the PAX Prime expo.  The Meagbooth is awesome – a huge area of the showfloor dedicated entirely to indie games.  We’ve attended a number of times as fans, and the energy there is inspiring.  It’s wonderful that via the Megabooth, indie games can be such a destination at such a huge event.  We were very excited when Gone Home was accepted by the organizers.

But in the back of our minds all along, we’ve been bothered by the public stances that Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX’s parent organization Penny Arcade, have taken on a number of issues.

First there was the entire “Dickwolves” debacle, during which Mike said that if “felt pretty good” to “support rape culture.”

Then there were the Penny Arcade Kickstarters, one of which offered to let backers pay them $7,500 [http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pennyarcade/penny-arcade-sells-out] to work as a Penny Arcade intern for a day.

When critics recently raised objections about the over-the-top depiction of female characters in Dragon’s Crown, Jerry referred to the opinions that differed from his own as “censorship.” [http://www.penny-arcade.com/2013/04/24/character-selection]

And then yesterday a panel was announced for PAX Australia entitled “Why So Serios?” Its description initially included the lines:

Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist.  It’s gone too far and when will it end?

 Soon after, it was changed to a less inflammatory description [https://twitter.com/henryfaber/status/347722360939491328/photo/1], but the fact that the original panel was okayed by Penny Arcade still stands.

Which finally led to Mike tweeting ignorant dismissals of transgender people, then posting an email chain [http://www.penny-arcade.com/2013/06/19/twiiter-sucks-sometimes] that, as part of a self-serving quasi-apology, includes him attempting to defend his position by saying

I hate the idea that because I think boys and girls have different parts I am “transphobic” that pisses me off it makes me angry and so I lash out.”

So here’s where the difficult decision comes in.

This morning we stopping pushing those long-held reservations about Jerry and Mike into the back of our minds.  We talked to each other and did a simple show of hands- do any of us feel comfortable presenting Gone Home at PAX?

No hands went up.

We believe that people’s opinions and actions on social issues and business ethics are important.  We believe that agreeing to pay the organizers of PAX over $1,000 for both space, and to present our game on their showfloor for four days, provides explicit support for and tacit approval of their publicly demonstrated positions on these subjects.  And we have finally come to the conclusion that we cannot support Jerry, Mike, and their organization by participating in this event.

We know that this will do them no harm; that’s not the point.  Another developer will take our slot at the Megabooth; they won’t lose any ticket sales; we won’t hurt their feelings.  If anything we’re hurting ourselves- our ability to reach new fans who might not have heard of Gone Home, to connect with players, sell stuff, met with press and video crews, and so on.  But this is not something that we’re doing for practical reasons.

We are a four-person team.  Two of us are women and one of us is gay.  Gone Home deals in part with LGBT issues.  This stuff is important to us, on a lot of different levels.  And Penny Arcade is not an entity that we feel welcomed by or comfortable operating alongside.

We wish all the best to the organizers and the participants in the Indie Megabooth, as we really do believe that it is an incredibly positive force for indie games and video games in general.

We just wish it weren’t at PAX.

Signed,

The Fullbright Company

Steve, Karla, Johnnemann and Kate

Life as a Broke Queer Gamer: Why I’m the last person on earth to buy Minecraft

It’s no secret that the gaming landscape is changing. I find myself a gamer in an uncertain world, trying to make my way into a place where I can both feel comfortable while I game, and play something that isn’t years out of date. I recently purchased Minecraft for my partner and myself, and we’re taking up residence on the Skyfall server. The recent* phenomenon of LGBTQ friendly gaming communities, guilds, and servers is great. It’s always nice to know that we have somewhere to go where we’ll be treated to a safe environment to game in.

*Edit: it was brought to my attention that LGBTQ friendly gaming really isn’t a new thing. GLBT Star Wars groups have existed since 1997, and LGBTQ friendly EverQuest servers have since around 1999…So the use of the term ‘recent’ there was incorrect. Wanted to share this with you.

That’s not the point, as great as it may be. Minecraft for two clocks in at about $65 USD. That’s no picnic. To many queer gamers, it’s actually a lot of money. A lot of gamers just don’t have the money to pay full retail price for a game, much less a console or gaming PC. This holds doubly true for LGBTQ gamers. The Task Force reports that 1 in 5 transgender youth are homeless, and other service providers claim that as many as 20-40% of homeless youth identify along the LGBTQ spectrum. Youth of color are significantly more likely to experience trauma at home and at school, and more likely to face an unstable living situation when admitting their sexuality to family.

However, there is hope. How we access games is changing by the day. Steam sales, Humble Bundles, direct access from developers…There’s a lot of ways to get a game for cheap. Steam sales can see full price games slashed to often $3-$10 per game, and Humble Bundles offer a name-your-own-price option. The advent of the Steam Sale, Amazon Video Games, and free-to-play MMO’s offers LGBTQ gamers a chance to play games that are current with friends. This gives us a chance to have conversation which helps to build social relationships, seeing as how we can talk about something current and relevant–instead of a game that’s years out of date. Having a community to support us is wonderful, but if we can’t access the games that community is playing due to their price points, we’re back at square one.

The Steam Summer Sale has your back, for those of us on a budget. If you don’t have regular computer access, some internet and gaming cafes have Steam–So you’d be able to access the sales from there. I picked up four new games for under $10. Castle Crushers was $3.74 (and its DLC only .24 cents per!), Organ Trail (the zombie apocalypse equivalent of The Oregon Trail) was only $1.24, Sequence was $1.99 (an interestingly executed rhythm game.) and Terraria (Minecraft on 2D Steroids mixed with an RPG) was $2.50. I was all over that. I got gifted a beautiful game called Dust: An Elysian Tail (Similar to Tales of Mana), and that makes it technically 6 games for under $10. Add to those Wishlists, you never know who might get you something to brighten your day.

There are a load of Free-to-Play MMOs out there, such as Rift (which went F2P back in June), Dungeons and Dragons Online, Neverwinter Online, League of Legends, Ragnarok Online II, etc. If you really want to support your indie game developers, check out GamersGate and Desura. There are lots of wonderful (and often cheap) games on the Steam-Alternative distributor platforms.

Which brings me to another point. Marketing. I know a lot about marketing, especially for the gaming industry. I do it for a living, as a matter of fact. Most of the advertising that I see caters to the upper middle class. The ones with expendable income. As it very well should, from their standpoint. Why market to an audience you know can’t afford your game? Simple. Those people might end up being lifelong fans, and support your franchise long after the more affluent (and possibly more fickle) fans have left your games in the dust. Rather than finding your game in a bargain bin, a devoted down on their luck gamer will scrimp and save to afford your products at full price if you make them feel valued. There is a certain amount of elitism in the gaming and marketing industry, especially for AAA titles and console producers such as Microsoft and Sony. Products like the Ouya faced some backlash when their Kickstarter backers had yet to get their consoles, but the android-turned-console concept is huge. It allows gamers to access a console that might be within their budget, as opposed to $400 for a PlayStation 4.

LGBTQ gamers have it hard enough as it is. From facing verbal slurs in multiplayer games, to marginalization or outright creepy stereotyping in AAA titles. (Token lesbians for white male gamer enjoyment and no other purpose, typical female tropes, etc.) Being able to afford games should be the least of our worries. Hopefully, technology will continue to improve and allow gamers that are in a less-than-ideal financial situation access to any game of their choosing. Is gaming an elitist hobby by nature? I welcome your thoughts in the comments below!

Communication: A reflection on the Microsoft press conference

The weight of your words impacts others every time you use them no matter where you are or who you are talking to. This includes the internet. There has been the continued belief that the separation of an electronically powered screen removes the impetus of ones words whether you are in the same room or across the world from one another. It isn’t true and never has been.

It was highly relevant Monday during a Killer Instinct promo at the Microsoft Press Conference where what have long been considered “rape jokes” along with blatant sexual innuendos where Killer Instinct Producer Torrence says,”Wow you like this” and Communications Director Ashton, one of the only female speakers at the Microsoft Press Conference says, “No, I don’t like this” then drops her controller down to one hand as he finishes her off. They were feet from each other separated by electronic devices yet, the awkwardness from the “banter” was still visible to me half the nation away in Austin, Tx. Ashtons’ defeat was obviously scripted to showcase new additions to the Xbox franchise. They played again, Ashton defeated Torrence and banter was very light with Ashton saying, “Maybe I should be a producer.”

Gaming is a very influential industry, full of intelligent people. Why have we yet to fully figure out that “rape jokes” are flat out inappropriate? Along with jokes about homosexuality, race, gender, disability, class, and anything that degrades an individual for who they are. Why are we making fun of each other for who we are? We as an industry and as players are and have been better than this since the creation of the industry. Have we allowed our insecurities to supersede our better selves? I have no other answers for why we have continued to allow this to continue to happen for so long other than game play having turned into a community of enablers. It is not and never has been appropriate to do something just because everyone else, your friend, or your icon did it or is doing it.

[Also read: Why “Just Let it Happen, It’ll Be Over Soon” Is a Rape Joke, and Extremely Problematic]

Companies have also long held this belief that if they establish rules in their communities that “clean up” unhealthy behavior to create healthier communities that they will lose all of their players. This is actually not true. Why are you enabling a handful of bullies to run your community? If you create a healthy community for all, by listening to all of your community (including your potential community), after you create a healthier environment you will more than be compensated for doing so, and your community will grow exponentially.

As a female I don’t want to play in a community online where I know I’m going to be harassed. I’d personally prefer a healthy community where I know I’m going to enjoy myself. Companies are responsible for the communities and the environments they create. You establish the guidelines and rules for communication. Having excellent community directors and managers changes everything.

Healthy and positive communities ensure healthy and positive people!

Why “Just let it happen, it’ll be over soon” is a rape joke, and extremely problematic

(Trigger warning: this article contains graphic language related to rape)

If you missed what happened at Microsoft’s E3 press event, you can read this great write-up we posted yesterday, but I want to talk about what I think is the most unsettling thing about this entire incident: the section of our population who keeps insisting “just let it happen, it’ll be over soon” is not a rape joke, or — and this is even worse — that it’s not a big deal because it’s just normal trash talk.

This debate was happening all over Twitter, various discussion boards, and even made its way to the comments of our Facebook post last night.

Let me help: “just let it happen, it’ll be over soon” absolutely is a rape joke, and it is normal trash talk, and that is the problem. Watch the video at Kotaku to get a better sense of the context for what I’m about to talk about if you haven’t already seen it.

It absolutely is a rape joke.

It’s a rape joke because it is a phrase rapists use during rape and is reported later by survivors; it’s used commonly enough that a huge number of people heard him say that and immediately went “WTF” on Twitter, in their minds, and in their stomachs; and it’s a joke because people laughed (is it worth noting it was the only thing people really laughed at in that demo?).

And it is normal trash talk.

It’s a rape joke that is a variation the many rape-related phrases and jokes that get used flippantly in games to describe a severe defeat. “You might as well try to enjoy it” or “don’t fight it” or “I wish you had at least used lube” or (the most common) “I/we just got raped.” Some of these are phrases perpetrators of rape use during the act and are later turned into jokes by us, while others are victim-centric and used as a self-deprecating joke to dismiss a bad loss — all of them condone and normalize rape, and they are all problematic.

And that is the problem.

Before you shout “They were playing Killer Instinct! It’s a fighting game where people kill each other! What’s it matter if there’s a rape joke?” read our public stance on rape references, which goes into great detail why rape jokes/references are far more harmful than the “I’m going to blow your head off” type language that gets tossed around. Rape-related threats and trash talk are completely different from general violent threats, but you know that, because you read the article (right?).

Casual rape jokes are normalized far beyond just games culture. Back in the 90s, we (Texans) had a gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams who was asked about rape and joked “if it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” Yes. That’s real life. Several years before that, Tex Antoine, a New York City weatherman (but originally from Texas… damnit) joked, while responding to a story about a 5-year old girl who was violently raped, “With rape so predominant in the news lately, it is well to remember the words of Confucius: ‘If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.'” Also real life. And those are just two examples I knew off the top of my head.

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

A lot of people seem to think that this is an issue of rabble-rousers trying to find something in this language that isn’t there — that it wasn’t a rape reference, and we are creating something out of nothing. To quote someone from our Facebook page “I think things are getting to the point where people are looking for stuff like that, and Microsoft, et. al’s appearance as a yeah-brah male dominated culture lends itself easily to that, whether or not there is anything to it.”

Speaking for myself, I can’t tell you how frustrating this is. I am doing the exact opposite of looking for things that “aren’t there,” because there is so much that is there it gets overwhelming at times. The last thing I need is to create a new fight when there are a thousand other unsolved battles underway.

This wasn’t an intellectual thing where I was like, “Ooo! Someone at E3 said something that we can twist into a rape joke and it’ll be great!” I don’t want that. That’s not great. It’d be a huge win if an event went off without any sort of horribleness.

This was a gut, horrible reaction that hit my heart before it hit my head. To temper my reaction, I even asked one of my roommates (who’s not a gamer or social justice-y person), “Hey, no context, if a person said ‘just let it happen, it’ll be over soon,’ what do you think it’d mean?” The verdict: rape reference. He even got the stomach discmfort, and he heard it second-hand.

Let’s talk about the guy who said it!

Actually, let’s not. It doesn’t matter who said it, if he’s a “nice” guy, if he’s a “great team leader,” if he’s generally “supportive of women” in the industry, or (as the most common narrative goes) if he “didn’t mean anything by it.” Doesn’t matter. None of it. I personally don’t think he’s a bad person at all, nor do I think him saying this makes him a bad person, but it doesn’t matter what I think.

He made a rape joke that he’s been told over and over is an okay joke to make while playing games, because he hears those jokes all the time — in games, on television, around his friends, and hopefully-not-but-likely at his workplace.

He made a rape joke in an extremely public (the most public?) event because he’s been formally and informally told it’s totally cool to make rape jokes.

But one thing that is worth pointing out is this particular joke was far more troubling than the normal “we just got raped” usage of “rape” we hear in games. Why? Because the whole dialogue and situation happened to be playing into a situation where a man was exerting violent dominance over a woman (is it worth noting she was the first woman to speak at the event?), and using a rape perpetrator phrase against her. And the dialogue continued with him saying, “Wow, you like this?” and her replying “No, I don’t like this.” What’s that sound like? Yes, it sounds like a problem.

Instead, let’s talk about what we can do about it.

We can ask for Microsoft or the Killer Instinct Team to issue an apology, beyond the statement (that I hope is true) from a Microsoft spokesperson to Kotaku of “The comments in question during the Killer Instinct demo were not scripted. The demo was meant to include friendly gameplay banter and there was there was no ill intent.” That might be helpful.

But I suggest we stop apologizing, scapegoating, rationalizing, dismissing, and benefit-of-doubt-giving and acknowledge the unfortunate fact that rape is not something that is viewed as a serious issue — not in society at large and particularly not in gaming culture. We can look inside, start to unpack and address why we don’t acknowledge it as a serious issue, have honest dialogues about it, listen to survivors and advocates, and take a firm stance that we will no longer put up with rape being viewed as acceptable in our culture.

That’s my vote, because I, for one, don’t think rape is acceptable in any culture.

[Message Deleted] : Microsoft, Rape Jokes, and the Next Gen of Gamer Culture

It’s often said that you don’t read the comments section of any site for intelligent discourse, and the Twitch stream for Gamespot’s E3 coverage is no exception. What can be gleaned from it though, is just how much of gamer culture tolerates the cancer of hate speach, childish scatalogical humour, and just straight-up, ignorant, irritating showboating. Every few messages in the Twitch streams for the day’s E3 content read “<message deleted>” if you were reading it casually, and were peppered with hate speech and ascii art of ejaculating phalluses if you were fast enough to see them before they were automatically deleted.

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That’s not to say that the industry condones this kind of behaviour, but as we found out throughout the day, and particularly during Microsoft’s press conference, it’s not doing much to quash it either.

The questions that hit me during Microsoft’s event was one of complete and utter confusion. Don’t they get it? Don’t they understand that the status-quo is no longer acceptable? We’ve made a lot of strides this last console generation, both on the dev side, and that of gaming culture itself. The boys club, the petulant trash talk, and the language rooted in misogyny all need to go.

For those who missed it, Rare Inc. took to the stage, to show off a new Killer Instinct, and during a brutal combo in a match between a male producer at Rare Inc., and a female community manager for Microsoft, the producer taunted “Just let it happen. It’ll be over soon.” Original reactions were based on the assumption that the banter was scripted, which would have been an absolutely unimaginable oversight. Microsoft has since issued a statement though, saying it was spontaneous and absolutely not scripted, though it’s still telling. Did the Rare Inc. producer mean to make a rape joke? Probably not, and there certainly didn’t seem to be any malice intended, but it’s perfectly illustrative of the kind of language that’s been normalized in our culture. It’s our job to stand up to this ignorance though, and steer the ship in the right direction. The Twitter contingent of the gaming community made us proud:

AJ says it as well as anyone. The producer should have known better, and the fact that he didn’t perfectly exhibits the kind of misogyny in our culture that we need to stamp out. If that wasn’t enough, the second woman to take the stage, 343 producer Bonnie Ross, got wolf whistled by a male journalist. This particular instance isn’t Microsoft’s fault, but it turned out to be the final strike in an unsettling pattern that only those with their heads planted firmly in the ground could ignore.

What we can no longer ignore is this: There is an inherent culture of misogyny in gaming, and whether intended or not, we need to speak up and put a stop to it. Bonnie was doing her job, and while cat calling is unacceptable enough as it is, you certainly don’t do it while you’re supposed to be at least putting up the appearance that you’re not a caveman who’s just pretending that you’re on common ground. How amazing would it have been if they stopped the show, or someone had interrupted to put that journalist in his place? We’d all be singing a very different song right now, and Microsoft would be lauded as forward thinking and inclusive. As it stands though, launching a new system, with a new slew of games, in the 21st century, with no female protagonists, is unacceptable. Sexual advances at work are unacceptable. Rape jokes are unacceptable.

Call me a dreamer, but I was expecting much more from Microsoft’s E3 press conference. We’ve made immeasurable strides, and while we still have a long way to go, I figured at least a few things were understood. Among them, that the same old dude-bro killfest just won’t cut it anymore. I’ve nothing against action games, or FPS titles in general, but I was expecting new directions in game design to be brought to the table. I was expecting Microsoft to make an honest effort to reform Xbox Live as the terribly toxic platform it is, and actually make that a main selling point of the system. I was expecting the multifaceted nature of the community to be reflected by those on stage, and most of all, I was expecting at least a subtle hint of a lesson being learned.

Still, I’m left with that nagging question. Don’t they get it?

Must Watch: Extra Credits does it again with “Toxicity”

We at GAB have always been fans of Extra Credits. We’ve cited their “Harassment” Episode from Season 4 many times in conversations with devs. It’s fantastic. Two seasons later, they are still bringing it. Check out the video below about “Toxicity” in the gaming environment (a term made popular in the GDC Presentation by Riot about curbing toxic behavior in LoL, and a term we’ve since embraced).

One of our favorite takeaways:

“Sometimes a tiny bit of empathy, team-oriented phrasing, and finding something other than ourselves or our teammates to blame is all it takes to cool people’s heads and get them back in the game.”

What do you think about the video and, specifically, the onus they place on the individual gamer to clean things up? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

Reconciliation: A roundtable discussion with Chloe and Allistair

This past week was a harrowing one for the video game community as a whole, several members in particular, and for communities beyond. I wrote an article that was met with mixed response due to its vagueness, which was an attempt to not speak on any individual’s behalf. Yesterday evening I received an email from the individuals in question, who wanted to have an open discussion about what happened, and use GAB as a platform to share that conversation with the community.

These are two people I knew as much about as you did (next to nothing), so the conversation that unfolded was one that was as eye-opening for me as it was perspective-shifting. This has been an incredibly volatile issue in the community, but our discussion was anything but, as you’ll see below. We will be leaving the comments enabled on this post to continue the discussion, but will be moderating it with severe regard: if your comment is non-constructive, attacks either party ad hominem, or is the least bit toxic or bigoted, it will be deleted.

I realize that you likely have many more questions for Chloe and Allistair — as do I — but to say this has been an overwhelming ordeal would be a gross understatement, and both have expressed the need to spend time recuperating. Please respect this. Words of support for both parties are always appreciated, and can be shared in the comments below. I’ll make sure the appropriate party sees them.

Finally, because of how loaded this whole thing has been — and just to be safe — here’s proof of Chloe and Allistair’s involvement.

The Conversation

Below is the reply-all email conversation as we had it Friday May 17, from roughly 6pm – 11pm CDT, only edited to remove some additional questions/discussion at the end, mostly involving me making double- and triple-sure people still wanted to publish this. It began with introductions, then I moved into asking questions (in bold).

Chloe:

I am Chloe, an indie game developer, I started a charity with misleading information, and confided in Allistair.  We had a brief chat, and after the charity ended, I grabbed a knife and threatened to kill myself.  Allistair with the help of another friend, Mike, talked me down.  Another party called the police, and I spent the week in a psych ward.  I’ve had no contact with Allistair until today, after being release from the Psych Ward a second time.

Allistair:

I’m Allistair Pinsof. I’m a journalist who revealed Chloe’s identity without her consent — the thing she feared most upon meeting me. I never would have dreamed that Chloe would choose to get back in touch with me, after what I had done. She continues to display strong character in difficult times. I’d like this conversation to show that she did make the right choice and all three of us together can make a positive impact by righting some wrongs.

Sam:

I’m Sam Killermann and I’m the Executive Director of Gamers Against Bigotry. Allistair reached out to our organization to be a neutral party to host this conversation. I’ll do my best to lead this chat, but I want to make it incredibly clear that both of you can drop out at any time, and if anyone changes their mind about publishing this later just let me know. And Chloe, please do not feel like you have any responsibility to your fans, the gamer community, or any community to have this discussion.

First question: what are your main thoughts right now regarding this situation? For one another, and in general.

Chloe:

Well, I for one feel like a moron.  I’m working with Bertie from Eurogamer to release the full story from my perspective, and I acted out of fear, when I should have just been forward with who I am.  I feel like this outrage that is coming at my door was going to happen regardless, and it’s what I wanted to avoid from the start.  I feel hurt, but not by Allistair, he did what he felt was right.  I just wish people would stop fighting the both of us pretending to be doing this on our behalf.  I also feel like I’ve lost something that was my refuge, somewhere I could go and was treated based on what I could do and what I said, not based on who I was as a person.  Most of all, I blame myself for everything that has happened.  I am a terrible person.

Sam:

Chloe, you made a mistake, and you acted out of fear — things we all do. You’re not a terrible person. You’re a person.

Allistair, what’re your main thoughts right now regarding this situation?

Allistair:

Chloe sent me a letter today that could be, more or less, considered her life story. I suspect she shared it because she knew I wouldn’t have done what I did if I had read it prior. To read what she has been put through in life because of other people, from friends and employers to doctors, it suddenly became abundantly clear that society is the problem. The right situation would be one where Chloe wouldn’t need to acquire money to be who she is and one where it wouldn’t matter if people knew who she is. I did a bad thing but I don’t think that should define me as a person. I don’t believe in bad people. We all try our best and sometimes make mistakes along the way, and to define someone by their mistake is not fair. This entire event has informed me so much on people like Chloe. I’ve always been accepting, but only recently have I discovered that that doesn’t mean I can’t still be ignorant on what people go through, who they are, and how they’d like to be treated. I’m learning and I hope this exchange will contribute to that.

Sam:

Allistair, I think many people think that being understanding makes up for their ignorance — it’s great that you’ve realized the former doesn’t excuse the latter. In a lot of the messages I saw you sharing over the past few days it seemed like you were really hung up on that. And it’s also important to realize, as I suspect you do, that Chloe’s story is just that: Chloe’s story, and her life experience.

Okay, moving forward.

You both have something in common now that most people can’t relate to, in that you’ve been targeted by innumerable strangers who have flung a lot of horrible things your way, in many cases not really having an idea of who you really are.

You’ve both already addressed that situation a little bit, but if you could say one thing to the mass of strangers on the internet who were supporting you what would it be?

Chloe:

I would say, if you want people to take you seriously as a skeptic, then do not run your mouth without having all the information, people have been doing this the whole time and it is just a shame.  If you just want to yell and scream and crucify someone, then by all means, keep sending me your hate, I will be your whipping post for whatever problems you have in your life, and if it makes you feel better, then at least one of us is happy.  I’ve survived killing myself twice now, it’s safe to say that I really don’t want to die, and I have a strong support group that is willing to help me when the time comes.  I may slip up and actually get away with it if this continues this way, but I’m just one person, I don’t matter.  I am not the victim in this scenario, I am the cause, I am to blame.

Sam:

Chloe, what thoughts do you have for the people who were acting on your behalf and leading the hate campaign against Allistair?

And Allistair, what thoughts do you have for the people who were acting on your behalf and leading the hate campaign against Chloe?

Chloe:

I would tell them that you shouldn’t blame Allistair for what he did.  I don’t think he should have lost his job, either.  I know he really wouldn’t have done it unless he really felt like he had to, and to be honest, I did make it seem like I had a vendetta against IndieGoGo.  Just leave him alone, he’s a good guy, and he’s been trying hard to make things right, even though he really doesn’t have to.  Do you really think you are going to teach him a lesson?

Allistair:

Well, I can tell that neo-nazi guy I blocked on Twitter I won’t be replying to his job offer. Jokes aside, these people make it so much harder to do the right thing once the person decides to do the right thing. For example, when I pointed toward you on Twitter as a source to send Chloe support emails. Just by associating your name with mine, both sides instantly hated you when it’s your job to help trans* community. It’s so silly. It’s complicated and people have no time for complicated issues on Twitter.

In a strange way, the emails supporting my actions helped me realize faster what I had done was wrong. These aren’t people I want to associate with. I have so much respect for the trans* people and others who wrote me saying they can’t agree with what I had done but they could understand that I’m not a bad person. Those emails meant so much to me. I hope Chloe gets lots of emails like that and this can be one of them: I can’t agree with holding a false charity but I can understand that you’re not a bad person.

There will be people on both extremes who will never forgive me or Chloe. I always turn back to a Dr. Suess quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Sam:

Dr. Seuss is always a great place to turn. I’ll get back to him later. First I want to ask you both a question that you might not be able to answer, so please do not do so if you’re not comfortable doing so:

What’s the one thing you most want to hear from the other person right now?

Allistair:

For clarification, I still have my job. Not sure what the details are. My head is a mess and I’ve been concentrating on Chloe today but updates will probably go here. I don’t know how to fit that into all of this but it needs to be said somewhere.

Chloe:

I am glad about that.  As far as the question is concerned: nothing. Allistair has already said some very nice things in this past hour that have made me feel like everything is going to be okay.

Allistair:

I’d like to hear Chloe say “I’m going to make it through this.”

I’ve been in a position in life that affords me a certain amount of freedom. Losing my job (which I’m not) was a reality I quickly accepted. But for Chloe, she has been put through so much that I can’t fault her for lacking strength at times. Through my interactions with her, I can see she tries so hard. That mass of anger and refusal to accept I faced this week on Twitter is the noise she must face everyday; to find courage to go on with that is remarkable. She can’t simply walk away from anything. She can’t just walk away from who she is or change herself to be what anyone wants her to be anymore than I can be a stand-up comedian. Chloe takes negative remarks to heart and there will always be negativity directed at her online. I want her to be strong and to tell herself she’ll make it through. I believe she can and I’m not the only one.

People can say I’m full of it for saying the above. After all, I put Chloe in direct harm and pushed her off a cliff that there is no getting back from. But even when I made that awful choice — which I’d like to apologize for again: I’m sorry, Chloe — I still believe Chloe is a good person and that she needs and deserves the surgery.

Sam:

Wow. Can I just take a moment and say that I am incredibly floored by the direction this conversation has gone in, from both of you — that I’m really impressed by both of your strength and honesty and really just want to group hug right now? No? Sorry. Moving on. One more question from me — inspired by something said earlier — then I’ll open it up for questions from either of you:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” So, where do you go from here? And where should we go as a community?

Chloe:

A group hug would be nice.  There was a no touching rule in the psych ward, though we had one patient that just kept trying to touch everyone, and it annoyed everyone.  But he put his hand on my shoulder when I was crying.  It’s very rare to have anyone comfort me like that, and I try to remember the experiences.

I can’t suggest anything.  I have no idea what to do, I’ve been punching blind through this whole ordeal, and going about everything all wrong.  I don’t know what to do, and I can’t say I know what I will end up doing.  All I know is I’m way to stressed and I shouldn’t be at the helm of anything, especially the direction of an entire community.

Allistair:

Hugs. Hugs. Hugs <3 I’m glad I can continue to keep my job while miraculously not ending the world. I enjoy helping tell stories from perspectives or places you don’t often see. One thing I greatly miss from my days at my college paper is making a difference in people’s lives. Giving a game publicity isn’t quiet the same, though enjoyable in its own way. Supporting Chloe gave me so much satisfaction when I first met her. I hope I can continue to support her. I’d like to add-on the trans community to that and invite anyone to share game-related things going on in the trans community I can write about. Part of me is afraid that my name will always be associated with “does harm to the trans community” but I shouldn’t let that fear drive me away from doing good. And if people don’t want my support, that’s fine too.

I’m incredibly grateful for this education I received on ethics, the trans community, and who I am as a person. Knowing what I know now, there are many things I would have done different. I can blame others for my ignorance — and did at first — but it’s more satisfying to focus on informing others. I’m too close to Chloe to tell her story, should she want to share as it develops, but I’ll continue to support and help her in the way she thinks best.

There will be many people who will walk away from this with nothing learned. Your blog, Sam, will undoubtedly receive hateful and ignorant remarks, but if we impact enough people that doesn’t really matter. I’m like Chloe in that I always focus on the negative comments in my articles, never realizing that those comments don’t matter. What matters is knowing we try our best, learn from mistakes, and listen to others who mean well. If me, Chloe, and everyone closely following our story does this, we’ll have a better world to wake up to.

Sam:

Chloe, you don’t have to worry about taking the helm, Starfleet Regulation 619 precludes you from command in that you’re emotionally spent, and that’s good enough for me (: … and you have a team of 20+ people from all over the world in the GAB staff who have offered their individual support, so don’t hesitate to call on it if you need it.

Allistair, if you’re sincere in that offer to take up trans-related gaming issues, I know a lot of folks who will want to take you up on that (some of the GAB team included), and if your actions follow your words I don’t think you’ll have to worry about your name hindering things.

Moving Forward

I’m going to leave this blog post as it is, and not include any more thoughts from myself. I still need time to process everything that happened, but I will be writing a reflection soon. In the meantime, I want to point everyone to a wonderful organization that is dear to my heart: The Trevor Project.

From their site: “The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.”

If you need help, there are a ton of ways they can be there for you. Below are some links you’re encouraged to check out, as well as the number for their 24/7 lifeline where trained counselors are always there to support you.

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A Journalist “Outs” a Trans* Person, Gets Eviscerated Online: How we are missing the point

A few disclosures from me upfront:

  1. I’m not going to be naming any names in this article: I don’t want to contribute to the public outing of a trans* person (who is being continuously outed again and again in all of the media covering this story), and I also don’t want to contribute to the public torch-mobbing of a journalist who screwed up
  2. I don’t condone “outing” anyone, and can’t think of an instance where it’d be helpful for a journalist to do so
  3. This is an incredibly personal issue for me, so I want to say that while I am the Executive Director of GAB, this is coming more from day job Sam.

What happened?

In general, what happened was a person with a public platform screwed up and the internet reacted. As it always happens in situations like this, one part of the internet was angrily, aggressively, and [no joke] death-threateningly “WTF?!” while another part of the internet was angrily, defensively, nothing-wrong-happened “WTF?!”

Specifically, in this instance, the screw up was in outing a trans* person in the video game community who had recently attempted suicide. One angry part of the internet (which included myself) was all “WTF?! It’s incredibly damaging to a trans* person to do that! How could you be so insensitive?” Then the angry part of the internet reacting to my angry part of the internet was all “WTF?! It’s the job of a journalist to report accurately. You people are way too sensitive.”

Why does it matter?

This situation can be viewed as a case study for how things like this keep happening, and why they’re going to keep happening until we grow as a community (community = both sides of the “WTF?!” coin). Why? For a few reasons.

1. We can’t be sensitive to issues we don’t understand

To a lot of people, gender = penises and vaginas. It’s not that. In fact, it’s so not that that I’ve written an entire book about gender and given a TED talk that distills the major themes of the book down into 16 minutes. Remember when I said this was a personal issue? This is why. This is my life.

The point is — and this applies to all social justice issues, not just gender — we can’t be supportive, inclusive, and health-focused about things we don’t understand. But it’s hard (if not impossible) for us, as a community, to learn because…

2. People won’t feel comfortable talking about these issues until they feel safe making mistakes

We can’t move forward until we can have a calm, safe conversation about sensitive issues. And it’s impossible to have calm, safe conversations about issues like these when every time someone screws up they are immediately vilified. The way things work now, a person’s best bet after making a mistake isn’t to ask “how can we do better in the future?” but to apologize, then never breach the subject again.

Not okay.

We need to take a more educative approach to missteps, instead of a punitive, threatening, and eviscerating one. We need to temper our emotional outrage and exchange accusations for questions, focusing more on the future and less on the past. Above all, we need to realize…

3. We can’t expect love and understanding until we’re willing to give love and be understanding

I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the hypocrisy in viciously attacking someone for not being empathetic and inclusive. But realizing this doesn’t mean I don’t still have that knee-jerk reaction (just like I never don’t use double negatives). It’s hard not to lose sight of the big picture when your blood is boiling. But that’s when we need the big picture the most.

I had a professor in grad school who would say “We’re all hypocrites, I just try to limit my acts of hypocrisy to three a day.” Let’s all agree to stop letting this be one of our allowed hypocrisies, and start holding ourselves to the same standard to which we vehemently hold public figures. The best way we can start doing this is by realizing…

4. It’s more productive to focus on actions than actors

Our organization is called Gamers Against Bigotry not Gamers Against Bigots because we believe that the vast majority of people who add to the toxicity of the gaming environment are generally good people, but they are generally good people who sometimes use bigoted language, or sometimes make mistakes. Yes, that’s a thing that exists. Life isn’t as polarizing as we sometimes want to see it.

In the situation that inspired this article, it’s my belief that the person who misstepped is a generally good person who made a mistake, then got pinned in a corner and didn’t see a good way out. To help make #1, #2, and #3 above possible, we need to start focusing more on the mistake and less on the person who made it.

How can we make our community safer for trans* people?

This is the question we should be focusing our energy on. So let me talk about it for a bit, then let’s keep talking about it in the comments below.

For the most part, the same things that we-at-large can do to make the world more trans*-friendly apply, but the video game community presents a few particular cases. Here are a few of the gaming-specific things I suggest:

  1. Recognize that a gamer may be out in games space but not in meatspace: games (specifically MMORPGs) present what can be a uniquely safe space where trans* gamers can publicly identify as their gender without the same likelihood of recourse as in the “real” world
  2. Use the pronouns gamers use for themselves in games when referring to them to other gamers (and ask when you’re not sure what pronouns to use): when you’re unsure of what pronouns to use for a person, ask, but keep in mind those are the pronouns they gave you in-game
  3. (added from FBDon’t ask someone if they are a boy or a girl: that’s a personal question, and you don’t need to know the answer; if you’re unsure of pronouns, see #2
  4. Know that it’s never your place to out someone: while you may think you’re doing them a favor (“allowing” them to be their true gender in the “real” world, like they are in games), outing someone before they are ready to come out can be a dangerous, harmful experience; you’re not doing anyone a favor by making this decision for them, and you’re only making other trans* people afraid the same thing might happen to them

Why is it “dangerous” to out someone? Beyond the social and emotional damage you might do, there is the simple and unfortunate fact that transgender people are far more likely to be targeted and become victims of violence, both verbally and physically. Depending on the study you look at (there’s a lot of disparity), trans* people are eight times more likely to be murdered than cisgender people, or — even grimmer — the lifetime odds of a transgender person being murdered are commonly cited to be 1 in 12.

We live in a world that places an extreme amount of pressure on people to fit one of two gender molds. That pressure can have a serious negative impact on many individual’s emotional and psychological health when they don’t fit in the mold they feel they are being smashed into. Games can be a space where that pressure is released, or at least lessened.

Let’s work on making that happen. Comment below to show your support for trans* gamers, and to suggest ways we (GAB, games journalists, gamers, etc.) can make this space safe for trans* people.

INTERNS WANTED: Announcing Summer 2013 Gamers Against Bigotry Internship Positions

Gamers Against Bigotry is excited to announce our first ever summer internship positions: The Inclusivity Guide Project Lead and The Apparel & Merchandise Design LeadCheck out the at-a-glance descriptions of the roles below, click any of the links on this page for more info, and be in touch if you think you might be the droids we’re looking for. Also, please share this post with any friends who are awesome!

View the full position descriptions and apply here.

Inclusivity Guide Project Lead

GAB is looking for a self-directed, passionate individual to take the lead in the creation of GAB’s Inclusivity Guide (working title), a project that will be used by game developers looking to make their games more inviting and welcoming to gamers of all identities, and their characters more well-rounded, relatable, and diverse.

LEARN MORE

Apparel & Merchandise Design Lead

GAB is looking for an artistic, driven, creative individual to take the lead in the creation of GAB’s line of apparel and merchandise, to be released in Fall 2013. The designs created will be featured on clothing, posters, mugs, stickers, and other miscellaneous items, and will also be featured electronically in various places around the web.

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More Opportunities

As always, check out  the Volunteer Page to see the more long-term roles we are looking to fill, or if you’re a writer or programmer (looking for both!).

GLHF,

Gamers Against Bigotry