Achievements Earned: Sexual Harassment, Rampant Misogyny, Silent Complacency

Listen up, gamers! When a prominent member of your community states explicitly that not only is sexual harassment a good thing, but that it’s ethically wrong to try to eradicate sexual harassment from gaming cultures, there is something very, very wrong. (I’m not the biggest fan of PA or this particular coverage, but it’s probably the best and most general overview of the issue.)

The fact that the article goes on to say that the fighting game community is split on the issue is positively frightening.

I’m not even going to address the people who think sexual harassment is okay because you’re morally reprehensible and frankly, you’re not worth my time. But for the people who are worried about the reputation and culture of the fighting game community, the gamer community or even the geek community in general, let’s chat.

First, it may be surprising that I’m not particularly interested in this Aris dude or the apparently numerous gamers who agree with him. At this point I’ve written them off as no-hopers who can’t see past their own egos to understand basic codes of moral behaviour. What I am concerned about, however, is the circumstances where the gaming culture has allowed these disgustingly bigoted views to flourish.

In many other subcultures and communities, people like Aris and his supporters wouldn’t make news or even dent the reputation of the community. Bigots like these people would be dealt within internally, mocked for their views and prompted ejected and vilified (as they should be). It would be clear that they were so completely out of touch with the community standards for good conduct that anyone claiming they were representative of the whole community would be laughed at.

But clearly this isn’t the case. There is a prominent and even normalised trend of sexually harassing women in gaming circles. I’m sure there are a number of perfectly nice gamers who don’t harass people and you know what, I could even believe that people like Aris are part of a small but vocal minority. The problem isn’t numbers, the problem is systematic complacency to bigotry and douchebaggery.

The Penny Arcade article illustrates the point perfectly here:

It’s important to point out that video comes from the first day of the competition. The stream where Aris defends and encourages the harassment of female players takes place on day five. That means this woman may have been mocked and sexually harassed for days without anyone stepping in, stopping the situation, or speaking to Aris. At one point during the stream there is even a conversation about the “Cap cops” coming in to shut things down, but the conversation about sexual harassment continues.

When no one stands up to bigots, then everyone who is silent is complacent to their bigotry because bigots take silence to mean approval. Yes, Aris was the one who was sexually harassing female players, but what of the number of spectators who stood around and just let it happen? This kind of behaviour could have been nipped in the bud if someone had spoken up from day one. Their individual silence is as bad as Aris’ abuse, and collectively more significant.

You might think it’s unfair that I accord this sort of responsibility onto spectators who don’t have control over what Aris says. The fact of the matter is, Aris had enough confidence to let loose his abuse because he’d done it before with no consequences. He’d done it before, might have even been congratulated by a few douchenozzles, but more importantly, he’d experienced no or very little backlash from fellow gamers. The truth is that if you’re silent about bigotry then you are complicit in it – because bigots will assume that, you too, are a bigot.

You might still think it’s unfair that I accord this sort of communal responsibility onto spectators, but it’s also fucking unfair that Miranda Pakozdi was allowed to be abused in this way. You can’t have it both ways; you can’t say that people like Aris are ruining the community image on one hand while having a laissez-faire attitude to the existence of such people within the community on the other.

Hey, gamers? If you’re so concerned with the reputation of the gamer community, you should be less concerned about the effects of media coverage and more concerned with eradicating bigots from your community so the media will have nothing to latch onto. Instead of complaining how the media focuses on the negatives, maybe you should be stating that people like Aris are unequivocally condemned within the community and their presence is wholly unwelcome in your social circles. Just like high scores or impressive chain combos, good reputations are earned by working at them and not by sitting around watching others play.

5 thoughts on “Achievements Earned: Sexual Harassment, Rampant Misogyny, Silent Complacency”

  1. I’m not a member of the “fighting gamer” community, nor do I ever want to be, but I can’t help thinking of the wonderful phrase in Heinrich Boell’s introduction to his book “The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum”: “… neither intentional nor accidental, but rather unavoidable.”

    Fighting as a game (rather than survival), whether in the flesh or in the virtual world, is about domination — that is, forcing, by any means necessary, the object of your dominance into a position where it is clear that you can do whatever you want to him/her. (The image of Achilles dragging Hector’s body around the walls of Troy comes to mind.)

    And, in our culture, that is inextricably bound up with “Masculinity.” Dominance is about being masculine and vice versa, being dominated is un-masculine, etc. It’s what honor, valor, glory, etc., have traditionally been about. Women, being by definition not masculine, automatically have the role of designated dominees.

    Personally, I can’t stand this way of thinking, which is why I, despite being male, reject the whole concept of “masculinity.” But if you’re going to have a community that is all about this sort of masculinity/domination, then it’s no surprise to me that sexual harrassment — or worse — gets to be seen as a virtue in hta community. (I would also expect to see racism and other forms of bigotry flourishing there, too.) It’s why racism and misogyny are so common in the sports world.

    1. I’m not sure that fighting is fundamentally about domination – if so, you would have to categorise every competitive (as opposed to co-operative) activity as to be fundamentally about domination, and therefore attributed to masculinity. In many other areas competition is friendly because you’re competing your skill against known and well-respected peers. We see harassment and verbal abuse in some sports, but definitely not in all of them.

      And while I’d agree that culturally we associate fighting specifically with masculinity, that doesn’t mean that this always needs to be the case or that cultural norms can never be changed. I think the existence of other competitive games/sports/activities who encourage mutual respect as well as fierce competition shows that this culture is not immutable and not somehow fundamental or inevitable outcome of competitive activities.

      1. In Real Life, when someone refers to “fighting” (as a sport), they’re talking about boxing or cage fighting or the like, not tennis or even baseball or wrestling. These are sports where the point is to beat the **** out of your enemy/opponent. What rules there are are basicly there to keep it from turning into murder. They are not about friendly competition, where everyone goes out for drinks together afterwards. While it is possible to do fighting-style sports in a more friendly-competitive way (the Tae Kwon Doh dojang I used to go to was like that), it requires a carefully cultivated culture of restraint which is foreign to most of USA-an culture, and which isn’t really possible if your goal is to win at any cost.

        I’m not familiar with fighting gaming, but I have been assuming we’re not talking about seeing who gets more points playing Mario Brothers. I’m assuming they call them “fighting games” because they evoke the sort of fight-or-die adrenaline rush that you get from a street fight or a battle in war time. And in that scenario, it’s not about friendly competition, it’s about annihilating and triumphing over the enemy.

        As for the association of this kind of fighting (and war, of course) with masculinity: that is of course cultural. It is, in principle, possible to have war or street fights which aren’t about proving one’s masculinity. Or, to put it another way, it is conceivable to have a notion of what it is to be male that isn’t at its core about who can beat up whom. But IMHO this means entirely throwing out the old definition of “masculinity” and redefining it from scratch.

        It may be possible to have a fighting gaming community where misogyny and sexual harrassment (and other forms of bullying) are suppressed, without completely redefining masculinity. But it’s going to involve an ongoing effort of suppression. It’s sort of like trying to train tigers to pull your chariot.

        1. I actually think that “fighting” as a sport in Australia would more commonly be forms of martial arts (certainly I know a lot more people who do martial arts than boxing or any other type of “fighting”), but that might be an issue of cultural semantics. Certainly I was thinking very much about the culture in martial arts while making post. I agree that the respect is cultivated, but doesn’t that mean the opposite is true of some other fighting sports? (ie. a culture of disrespect is cultivated) What’s interesting though is that many fighting games have characters that are loosely based in martial arts.

          I’m not familiar with fighting gaming, but I have been assuming we’re not talking about seeing who gets more points playing Mario Brothers.

          I think you bring up a really interesting point here. There is really no difference in physical activity between pressing buttons for Smash Brothers and say, Street Fighter. The former has more cartoony violence and is aimed to be “family friendly”, while the latter has more violent images and language (although I’d argue it’s no less stylised). So I can see how a game is marketed might attract certain players and in this case, players who are more likely to think sexual harassment is acceptable. That said, I would call this one contributing factor because it really doesn’t account for the over all trend of harassment in all types of games.

          The second thing we might ask to what extent gaming is so removed from reality that it’s a wholly separate experience. My experiences with actual fighting sports – either watching or participating – is that no one actually ever abuses their opponent (well except for the fake WWE stuff). So you might theorise about the underlying cultural imperative of fighting sports, but the harassment doesn’t seem to stem from trying to replicate the real life counterparts.

          Personally I see the culture of bigotry in fighting games as existing within one subculture from the larger gaming subculture. Gamers are probably more likely to play different genre games than participate in physical fighting, and so this complacency to harassment gets spread around.

  2. Beautifully articulated as always. As someone who is part of the gaming community in some ways and is queer identified, the challenges of dealing with butt faces is varied and complicated. I play Magic the Gathering (a card game, I know, but the culture is comparable) and if I had to count the number of times “fag” and “pussy” are dropped non-nonchalantly, with little to no consequences I’d be tired of counting. The worst part is playing what I call, “The Five Seconds Game” where someone says something insulting, sexist, racist,heterosexist or whatever, and I wait five seconds to see if someone else is gonna step in or if I have to throw on the Social Justice League Queertastic Fabulosity Power Ring(tm) and be “that guy who’s always saying stop being terrible”. I don’t mind being that guy I suppose, but it gets tiring having to feel like I don’t have the support of a community in an activity I enjoy doing.

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