Male games for male gamers: A case study

The following is a guest post from Lesley:

Lesley is a white queerified femmetastic fat lady who enjoys stringing words together and poking at culture with a pointy stick. More information on her antics can be had at twowholecakes.com.

Duke Nukem's jean-clad crotch in closeup

It's dick-tacular!

Several of you have emailed me about this today, so here you go.

Some dudes are planning a LAN party in Austin, TX to coincide with the release of Battlefield 3. Pretty much every FPS gamer I know is super-psyched for this title, and honestly, the LAN party in question sounds pretty boss. Until you get to the section that originally said:

Are there other restrictions? Yes. Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.

Since it’s been picked up by some blogs, the text has been changed to describe the event simply as a “gentleman’s retreat”, with a link to this site, in an effort to either elicit hilarity (that said men are trying to be better people by playing Battlefield 3 together) or to earnestly reframe the male-exclusive space as a positive thing. There is also some weird drama in which possibly-imaginary female attendees describe harassment at prior LAN parties put on by this group that may have never happened.

Ultimately, the question of whether women have been egregiously harassed at past events — although it would seem to be implied by the original wording — is irrelevant to this post. All I want to unpack here is the original language in the original pre-drama announcement quoted above, because I think it demonstrates a lot of what is wrong with games culture in an especially clear way.

The encoded, indirect message behind that text is this:

We don’t want this to be difficult. We just want to play our games and not have to worry about forcing people to behave. We don’t want to think critically about what kind of ground rules would need to be laid down, how we would make them clear, and how we would enforce them, because that seems like a lot of work without any worthwhile payoff. We don’t want to be distracted by having to police our participants. We just want to play some motherfucking Battlefield 3, and have fun doing it. Because dealing with misogyny, racism, homophobia, or any kind of hate speech? It’s just not fun. So in the interest of making this event fun for the men and safe for the women, we’re just going to require that the women stay home.

The idea that it is somehow “safer” to make the event male-only is problematic in that it reinforces the assumption that men are feral fucking animals who are incapable of controlling their allegedly natural chromosomal need to be assholes. It presupposes that getting dudes to treat women and other non-dudebro people like human beings is, at best, a huge imposition, or at worst, an impossibility.

But even the most rancid douchebag takes his actions by choice — men canchoose to be assholes, but being an asshole is not an inherent and unavoidable aspect of being male. Said men can also choose not to be assholes, and can choose to think about their shit-talking before they do it, and can choose to recognize that their words and actions contribute to a toxic game culture that explicitly excludes anyone unwilling to ally hirself with a particular white hetero male perspective.

When men choose NOT to behave like reasonable and thoughtful adults, it’s because they just don’t feel like it. And they can get away with that because men have the option (dare I say the privilege?) to refuse. Because they hold a disproportionate amount of cultural and social clout, especially in games culture.

A woman who engages in misogynist harassment while gaming is also being an asshole, though her assholery is not necessarily a function of privilege, but is rather a matter of internalized misogyny. In so doing, she is allying herself with those who assert that this is just how you talk when you play these games, and the fact that it comes from a woman does not make it any less misogynist. Men don’t own misogyny, and misogyny is not the exclusive domain of men. Misogyny is everywhere. It is culturally ubiquitous, and we are all part and parcel of its poisonous ideology.

As a result, we must all take responsibility for combating it.

I can actually sympathize with the event organizers. I don’t want to spend time and energy nearly every day being confronted with this shit, and I’m pretty bummed when I’m having a good time — playing a video game or doing anything else — and some shitstain comes along and feels entitled to wreck my fun with a specifically sexist or racist or homophobic comment. The difference is, I don’t have a choice. There are no safe spaces for me. I am frequently dismissed for failing to be the mythological dick-worshipping brainless tart some men desire. I am attacked for refusing to see any value in the ability to say “FAGGOT” every thirty seconds without anybody harshing on your savage wit. I am harassed for daring to commit the crime of being a politcally outspoken nerd-lady fatass. And what can I do about that? I can stand up for myself when it happens and I can write on a damn blog about it, but I am ultimately a pebble trying to resist the rockslide.

So while I can sympathize, I can also say fuck you. Fuck you for being part of the problem.

These poor sad boys will still have their LAN party and do their dick-checks at the door, and many of them will be righteously angry that stupid thinky people with their stupid thinky thoughts had to make this into a complicated thing that takes the gloss off their excitement. But that anger will be misguided: the anger should be directed at the minority of men who choose to be unrepentant assholes and therefore make such policies sound like a good idea in the first place.

Why are you protecting the assholes among you, gentlemen? Why do you value their participation so much that it’s worth creating a space so “dangerous” for women that they must be banned from the premises? What do the assholes bring to your experience that is so irreplaceable? Is the game better when you can throw around vicious descriptions of rape and sexual assault? Does winning feel more awesome when you can hammer your opponent with anti-gay slurs? Is your good time dependent on being able to use the word “nigger” without getting your face bashed in?

I’m not the target audience for this LAN party, nor would I be inclined to attend a similar event in my own city, even if it were a multiply-gendered space. That’s just not my scene. But this isn’t about women wanting to attend; it’s about the fact that games culture is an environment in which building explicitly anti-female spaces is considered acceptable and even “safe” for women. Encouraging men to believe that they cannot control their every impulse — indeed, that they are SO dangerous that they need to be isolated from women lest they lose their composure and go on a mad raping spree — is about the least safe idea I can think of.

So way to go, Austin LAN boys: you’ve further contributed to the stereotype of men in general and male gamers in particular as hairy-palmed knuckle-dragging barbarians, all in the name of your good time. I hope you get exactly the kind of monsters attending that you imagine yourselves to be. Maybe then you’ll realize that you don’t create safety by dragging everyone down to their basest urges, but rather by raising the quality of your own behavior, and requiring the same level of decency from those with whom you associate.

[Originally posted at Two Whole Cakes]

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10 Responses to Male games for male gamers: A case study

  1. Rob says:

    I agree. I think that if they want to avoid such situations, and they agree that homophobia, sexism., and racism are deplorable (giving them the benefit of the doubt), the question to be really asked is “Why do you tolerate such behavior/individuals in your group?”

    If the choice is between including and protecting bigots at the cost of their victims, or not having a group at all, then gaming is in a much worse space than I thought it was.

  2. Korva says:

    Sadly, many many gamers deserve the bad rep they get, even though that rep is often based on narrow-minded, deliberate misrepresentations. This is just another example of feeding it. How hard could it be to establish some minimum standards of behavior and enforce them? It may be difficult at first, but if you kick out everyone who uses hatespeech, people will simply have to adapt and the event may even attract a wider audience. But there doesn’t seem to be any interest in that. Why? Why is it that the “target audience” of the stereotypical gamer, the hateful youngish white straight cis male with the massive unchecked ego complex, is worth pandering to so absolutely that anyone else — including men and boys who are decent human beings instead of raging assholes — is consciously alienated?

    Makes me wonder if the organizers like to “rape ur faggy ass, u fat retard nigger bitch lol” themselves. If it bothered them, they’d bloody well DO something about it.

  3. Amber says:

    I find it ironic that the image at the bottom of the post picturing the original text is a rather obvious attempt at sex appeal.

  4. Jonathan M says:

    You have to admire the insane troll-logic at work here. I wonder what other social problems could be solved in this manner? Maybe we could solve the problem of famine by simply allowing everyone to starve to death.

  5. Aaron says:

    Why is it that the “target audience” of the stereotypical gamer, the hateful youngish white straight cis male with the massive unchecked ego complex, is worth pandering to so absolutely that anyone else — including men and boys who are decent human beings instead of raging assholes — is consciously alienated?

    Money. They’ve got a lot of disposable income and nothing remotely resembling taste or critical expectations in their media consumption; you can sell them anything you like by appealing straight to their hindbrain. If you’re an amoral corporation that doesn’t give a damn about social justice but needs money like humans need air, why do anything else?

    • Rob says:

      @Aaron, so I figured, but in my experience it’s best to give others the benefit of the doubt and let them answer the question for themselves.

    • Skipjack says:

      while money is a factor, the real reason is more closely tied to social and cultural primacy.

  6. Ivan says:

    I’m not a hairy-palmed knuckle-dragging barbarian, I don’t even play one online – in fact, I’ve been a game developer for quite a while now and while I’d love to be able to tell you that it’s the fans, it’s not. It’s culture in general that perpetuate the stereotypes, and game developers are just as susceptible to cultural programming as any other human. Perhaps if the industry stopped perpetuating stereotypes at the production level there *might* be some small trickle down effect?

    This entire post pretty much summarizes why I cancelled my Xbox live account and didn’t bother to buy a new Xbox when mine finally red-ringed. I’m not going to try and claim that PC gamer’s just as bad, but my experience tells me that there seem to be more critical thinkers among PC gamer’s than within the ranks of the console jockeys.

  7. mim says:

    That kind of reasoning makes me sick. And they can apply it to anything; there is an ongoing debate the surfaces once in a while in my country, and that is that the current school system, with its lessons and homework and whatnot, should be changed because boys are doing worse than girls, and so the system must work better for girls than boys – so let’s change the system! And never mind that the basic forms of teaching has been the same since before girls were even allowed in “regular” schools.

    There seems to be this ongoing logic that to solve every problem in the world that has to do with men, we don’t tell men to act differently, or look at the way we raise our sons, we actually look to change the whole world so that they don’t have to make any effort for themselves. And the sad part is of course that it doesn’t work – there will be sexual harassment, slurs, maybe even hatecrimes at this event even if there aren’t any women there.

  8. Sunflower says:

    This is a great article. The problem here is a result of our society protecting men from actual feedback and consequences. Men are encouraged to run away from their feelings instead of feeling them and taking responsibility for their emotions and actions. It’s a pretty sick and dishonest thing we force on each other–treating emotions as the enemy and desperately looking for a way to avoid them.

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