Fanart by naiadestricolor.
Below is the transcript for episode 2 of The Border House Podcast, Diversity, Cohesion, and the Gaming Community.
Huge thank you to the following folks for their help in transcribing this episode: Nymeria815, James Leung, Lucas, ZacMatic, Coribu Geisha, kiturak, Norah, Llama, and Sir Edmund.
If you can donate about half an hour of your time to transcribe five minutes of the podcast, please email alex at borderhouseblog.com and I’ll add you to the transcription team and assign you a time slot. Thank you!
The Border House Podcast
Episode 2: Diversity, Cohesion, and the Gaming Community
MATTIE: Welcome to The Border House Podcast, your resource for smart conversation in a safe place about diversity topics and gaming. This is episode 2, and I am Mattie Brice.
Welcome, everyone. This week’s episode is on diversity, cohesion, and the gaming community. We’ll be talking about diversity topics in our social community, such as articles, comment sections, online multiplayer communities, and everything else you can think of. First we’ll start off with who’s with me today. First we have Anna. Hi, Anna.
MATTIE: So what have you been up to recently?
ANNA: So, gaming-wise, I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls, and a lot of Monster Hunter Tri with friends, which has been really fun. In terms of articles, I’ve been doing the What Are You Playing Wednesdays, which have been really fun to see what different readers are playing, and it’s amazing the kind of diversity in games that we’ve actually been seeing in those posts. I also didn’t realize how many people are playing shooters, so we need to start covering those a little bit more on the site, I think.
MATTIE: Yeah, I was just about to ask, have you seen any trends about what our readers are playing, for the most part? I’m surprised, I wouldn’t have thought of shooters.
ANNA: Yeah, we actually have some people that have started Gears of War and are playing that, and different multiplayer shooters. And in terms of what different people are playing, it just runs the board. We have a lot of people playing a lot of different games. There are a lot of RPGs, adventure games, some games that I hadn’t heard of before, so it’s kind of interesting to get some new games talked about.
MATTIE: That’s interesting because it’s very common for us to be, like, the diversity, you know, with women, and the GLBT, that we are all stuck in a certain segment of games, like casual or RPGs, and we never see shooters. So it’s really cool to hear that we are, you know, as prevalent in everything else, in equal distribution.
ANNA: Yeah, and there’s been disagreement about which games people like a lot or don’t like. We have some players that are not as big a fan of the BioWare games as some of the writers, so it’s been interesting to watch the discussion about those games as well. It’s been really fun, actually.
MATTIE: That’s awesome. And next we have Rawles. Hi, Rawles.
MATTIE: What’s going on?
RAWLES: Ah, well. Article-wise, I’ve been actually writing an article right now about the introduction of multiplayer into Mass Effect. I think it’s pretty relevant to what we’re talking about today because I think that it can be really interesting in terms of the community that will pop up around that. Because online multiplayer definitely has some concerns when you’re a marginalized person, people trying to be… people tend to toss around a lot of slurs and things like that. I’m really interested in, you know, what that community’s going to look like. So I decided to write an article about it.
MATTIE: Yeah, that’s interesting because the first thing I thought about when it came to the confirmation of multiplayer is that all these other people are going to see your avatar. And it will–well, I don’t know if BioWare will include any other details like who you’re romancing, what part of the story you’re at, I don’t know. And it’s interesting to have that information, you know, to think about that because it’s like the multiplayer is going to come to a very single-player experience. I’m so interested in what you’re looking into.
RAWLES: I’m really interested in how BioWare’s rep as a relatively progressive developer is going to interact with online multiplayer’s rep as a very not-progressive environment. So I think that’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out because there are some online multiplayer communities that are actually pleasant, and others that are just nearly unbearable. And I definitely think that taking such a intensely single-player experience, as you said, Mattie, and making that a multiplayer experience is going to have an effect on how people tend to act, as well.
MATTIE: Yeah it’s interesting as well is I find the politics of Dragon Age writers and staff a little bit different from the Mass Effect ones, because whenever you see any of this talk, any talk about diversity issues, it’s always the Dragon Age writers that seem to come up and start talking and then I see almost a reflection, and then oh maybe the Mass Effect team is going to start to take their lead if you will. So it’s strange how that goes so I’m interested in seeing how it all pans out.
RAWLES: Oh absolutely. The Dragon Age team has always seemed much more in touch with social justice issues than the Mass Effect team. So yeah, I definitely agree there.
MATTIE: And last but certainly not least, I have my tech support, Kim. Hi Kim.
MATTIE: So what have you been up to?
KIM: I’ve been playing two games that basically are the total opposite of each other. I’ve been playing Glitch, as have apparently half the Boarder House staff. We found out that we’re all on there. Which is a new kind of social game. There’s no way of putting it that doesn’t sound like bad, but it’s kind of a (browser game’s really really well.) It’s basically like clicking things and making food, but it’s so nicely done, and it’s really big and creative and nicely drawn and cute so I’ve been playing that, either that or horrible online games full of exactly the kind of things we’re probably going to talk about in this issue.
MATTIE: I believe I sort of played Glitch. It’s a browser game I believe?
KIM: Yeah it’s a browser game.
MATTIE: Yeah. I started to play it a little bit because I know everyone’s starting to play it, and it’s really– it seems very innovative. Very like ‘Oh what can all these objects do?’. It’s almost like an online adventure game.
KIM: I’m not sure if it was innovative in any kind of structural way, but the innovation of it seemed to be the kind of really high production values and taking it seriously as a game. I feel like a lot of the game is kind of like Farmville or Mafia Wars and all these Facebook ones that are kind of given that social game category. They’re not well-made games. They’re designed to be addictive, which is something the people specifically design. And they’re designed to be like interconnected, but they’re actually not actually good. Whereas with Glitch it feels like they’ve made something that’s actually good, and the community aspect of it is fun. And also I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that’s quite so, to put a finer point on it…like gay friendly by design. So much of the game is just like cute animals and trees and mushrooms and you can craft things like glitter that all they do is make people’s screens have stars on them, and there’s all this other stuff that’s just so..the game’s in the closet. That’s all I’m saying.
MATTIE: That’s awesome. Well, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Mattie Brice. I am a writer at Border House, and I also write over at my personal place Alternate Ending. I recently wrote about cyborgs. The fantasy cyborg and passing narratives in Dragon Age 2. I’ve been reading a lot about cyborg theory, if anybody is familiar with Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, which is awesome. And I decided to go and run amok with this cyborg theory. And I really want to talk more about Dragon Age 2 after our last podcast, so we’ll hear more about that from me.
Let’s get on with our scheduled entertainment. So I wanted to open this up with some personal experiences, because while theory and examples of reactions are very helpful, social justice starts with the personal before it gets political. And I would like to start off with my own personal experience when it comes to multiplayer games. I’ve thankfully avoided a lot of discrimination and hate on the internet, but I have encountered a lot of misogyny, especially with MMOs. I’ve been expected to be the healer very often, which was kind of degrading. I wasn’t expected to be very skilled, also degrading. And I don’t know how many times I’ve been hit on. Just kind of milling about, picking some herbs, and men will hit on me. I’m pretty sure people have similar experiences.
KIM: Which games have you played MMO-wise Mattie?
MATTIE: I’ve played mostly World of Warcraft and I’ve also played Dofus, if anyone remembers that game which is now being advertised into Wakfu. I’ve played a whole bunch like, very spotty, like Final Fantasy 11. And it was really interesting how those dynamics come out that are gendered. “Oh, heal or be support or I know you don’t understand games very well because you’re a girl.” Very degrading.
KIM: I know in my personal experience in MMOs—which is basically one game, a free to play called Regnum Online—that was the first nice online community I engaged in before I got really wholesale into feminism and identified myself as a feminist. But I remember it being a really nice community. The funny thing about that game was that it was one server. And I think the “one-server-ness” of it—well eventually they got a couple more—the “one-server-ness” of it made it feel like a much smaller world. The game I played, I never really saw those kinds of stereotypes in the same way. I mean I’ve seen it in other games, don’t get me wrong. It was actually quite interesting in that, as with a lot of these games, there is a male and a female avatar, which is obviously a huge decision to make when you’re kind of trans. And so, the female avatars you would generally presume were guys but not vice versa. So there was this weird situation where actually, a lot of the women in it could choose to be outed as women—which is an interesting thing to be outed as—and if they were, they would do it to their friends. So I think almost that allayed it a little bit. But it was the presumption of a male world that in some weird roundabout way meant that women didn’t get as much harassment because if they saw someone in a woman’s robe they’d just presume it was a guy. I don’t know if that’s something anyone else has experienced.
RAWLES: I’ve definitely heard of that happening. I’ve played a lot of WoW since release so I’ve definitely had a bit of the experience that Mattie talked about of people constantly hitting on you. You’re out, picking herbs or, you know, doing whatever and somebody’s like “Oh hey, hi!”. And you’re just like, “I’m busy”. I think what happened to me a lot more, which used to annoy me a significant amount was this: I was super-into DPS—I just really love melting faces, stabbing things a lot—and I would like to go out into the world and test my abilities. See how many things I could kill, how many things I could chain kill, how many adds I could get and still come out on the other side playing as a squishy or a rogue. And one thing that bothered me so much was that anytime I was fighting guys wandering past would jump in and start helping me. On the one hand it’s nice enough. People might be dying and they might be having a hard time so you pop off a heal and help them out. But many times I would have it perfectly under control and I would think it would be evident to anyone who had spent any amount of time in the game that I had this under control and I wasn’t about to die or anything yet people still felt the need to come in and start killing things for me. And I’m just like, I don’t need you to do that. Then I would also be followed and they would try to hit on me.
MATTIE: Of course. Go ahead, Anna.
ANNA: I also played World of Warcraft for quite a while and I had similar issues to what everyone’s talking about here. Either someone would come in and start helping even though I don’t need any help. I’m just taking on some boars! I understand this is a Cataclysm area and they are a brand new kind of boar, but they are just boars: I’ve got this! Or they would hit on you. *Or* the other thing I would get, which is something that Kim just referred to, is the assumption that you are male. I heard the term “GIRL” means “Guy In Real Life”, and that really bothered me. It’s like you have to prove that you are female when playing a female toon. And people would say, “Well if you don’t show pics, how am I going to know?” It’s ridiculous.
KIM: There’s also MMORPG being “mostly men online roleplaying girls” I think. That’s one heard quite a lot and it drove me insane.
RAWLES: Yeah I also heard “guy in real life” a lot.
MATTIE: Yes, and this is very problematic for trans people. For me, I was very sensitive to that because I was starting WoW around the time I was really transitioning, very self conscious about how I was presented, about how people referred to me, I was very sensitive. And it bothered me whenever people would be like, “well are you really a girl,” and you know that brings up a bunch of horrible, horrible questions.
RAWLES: One of the things I actually saw with regard to the very odd position, or just unpleasant position, that would put trans people in… the whole idea of people going, “are you really this gender or that?” There was also a tendency, sort of in the forums or LiveJournal communities about World of Warcraft, a kind of drama; there was definitely a tendency of people to pick out situations where someone, they felt, had been masquerading as a different gender. And a lot of the time, there would be these supposed horror stories about people who had met girls on WoW, and then oh no, they were actually a guy! And a lot of the time these people would be trans and it was just really really awful because… it was just the worst, basically.
KIM: Were any of these stories true? Or was it like one of those urban myths like “oh imagine how horrible it would be if this happened! Oooh!”
RAWLES: No no it wasn’t— That is actually… everyone of course knows that’s a very common urban myth of the trans woman who will lure poor unsuspecting dudes or whatever. These were actually things that happened. It wasn’t people luring people in, this would be trans women and they would just be going about their business and then they would be targeted for being trans women. And it was just awful. It was ugly, and very very unpleasant, and definitely part of the whole culture where everybody’s kind of interrogating every one else about their gender identity, for usually particularly selfish reasons. Just very very unpleasant.
MATTIE: Yeah, I’d also like to extend this past social games to forums or also comment sections in articles, how we have a large surgence in game critics and game journalists and reviewers in the comments that come along with them and all these controversies that have been happening—a couple that we’ll talk about. How are people’s thoughts on that?
RAWLES: I think the old internet adage—“don’t read the comments”—is very relevant a lot of the time, frankly. I never listen to it because I just hate myself I guess, I don’t know. A lot of the time, I think, there’s not anything constructive to be found, depending on where you are. It’s just people being awful.
KIM: I think it’s a reminder of how awful the world is, it really can be. It is funny too because the article that everyone’s talked about, “A Letter to My Someday Daughter,” it was really interesting that the comments on that actual article are actually generally quite supportive. And even some of the people mentioning the article specifically responded to it, saying “yeah, you’re right, I hadn’t thought about it this way, I’m not sure I agree with you, but thanks for raising the issue,” those kind of things. But I’d seen it posted on other forums, like most notably Team Liquid, and it was almost on there that the real… there’s almost this whole thing on Team Liquid and I couldn’t tear myself away because there’s like— Oh by the way I should mention that Team Liquid’s a Starcraft 2 forum that’s kind of famous for being the biggest foreigner Starcraft 2 forum. “Foreigner” in Starcraft meaning “not Korean” right.
So, it’s a really big forum with a lot of people on it, like a lot of people read it and use it, and they’ve had some controversies on The Border House before which have been covered. But, um, yeah, so there’s this hundred page thread, and it’s like, a hundred pages of kind of the first few of them being like, “oh no, you know, day9 didn’t really say that–X didn’t really say that. He’s misrepresenting what they said,” and then it turns out that, you know, he actually hadn’t even actually quoted them. Then like another thirty pages of people going “oh, but, it was still wrong anyway. How dare he say this, how dare he, like, slur the name–he’ll have a thousand angry nerds descending on him.” And it’s like, this is the whole point of his article, right? You know? That like, it shouldn’t be this lynch mob justice, which is what it feels like. And then it ended up with just kind of, it just going nowhere, and that was like a hundred pages of comments. There’s obviously, like, that many people that feel, like, that angry about this article, that they’re gonna engage in this debate that’s going no–well, it’s not a debate; it’s just going nowhere. Do you know what I mean? It really confused me why there was so much anger, but on some level, if it didn’t upset people so much, they wouldn’t have responded saying “this is awful.”
RAWLES: Oh yeah, definitely. You know, people will go on, and on, and on in forums about just anything, and definitely, there are certain topics, especially social justice topics, where people will jump in, and they will fight forever, and they will insist they don’t really care, and–who cares what this person thinks–blah blah blah, and then they’re still there fifty, seventy five pages later, still gnawing at that bone, because, you know, it does get to them, and I think, you know, in a lot of ways it’s good. I think it’s good that it’s–you know, it’s getting to them. I think that may be, in some cases, the first step to them getting it, you know?
ANNA: I think that it’s a tough balance to strike between having some people start talking about these topics, and also the, kinda, self-perpetuating cycle of once something really negative gets said, that it kind of lures out all these other people, and feeds them into saying something even more outrageous and more outrageous, and things get very nasty very quickly, and I think it would be nice if more sites had just a little bit more moderation. I mean, it doesn’t have to necessarily be as moderated as some of the sites that are out there, including Border House, but at least some moderation so that when things get really out of control, they put a stop on it before it’s fifty pages of people attacking someone.
MATTIE: What’s really interesting on both of the BioWare social network forum articles we’ll be looking at, it seems like the mods on the BioWare forum tends to cut out a whole bunch of, like, negative name calling. I mean, I just looked at one of the articles that we’re going to be talking about, and we have a whole bunch of people who are part of BioWare saying “look, discuss this intelligently. No name calling. Please be respectful about this, this, and this,” and, I feel like, that helps, when you have, like, these authority figures being like “look, we want you to discuss this, but there’s just no reason for you to be just–no, completely rude.”
ANNA: And in a fourm space like that, it really helps because, like, at BioWare, you can tell that it’s a moderator–the name is different. You see all this, so it’s a voice of authority saying “can we try to be respectful?” and so even without necessarily deleting things, just coming in there and trying to reset the tone really does help.
RAWLES: I think it’s interesting what you just said about the BioWare forum, and their, sort of, moderating efforts, because I think both the things–theBioWare social network forum things we’re gonna talk about are regarding Dragon Age, and I mostly hang out in the Mass Effect section of the BioWare forums, and they’re actually a little bit different in the way they moderate, you know, that sort of thing because I feel like they don’t necessarily encourage that kind of discussion at–in the Mass Effect section, because basically, as soon as you hit on certain topics, they will, if they’re around, they’ll just close it down, like, they’ll delete the thread once you hit a certain point, or a certain point of discussion on certain things, like they have one thread about same-sex romance in Mass Effect games, in the “characters and romance” forum. And people make other threads, usually to like, complain about it, and go “oh no! I wanna make everybody bi,” and “oh, there should be a no-homo switch,” and that sort of thing, but they will tend to shut those down after a couple pages and what will immediately get things shut down is when people go off discussing homophobia and sources of it, discussing the politics of it, discussing religious institutions like that that encourage it and they will close these down. That’s it. Done. And I think that’s a really interesting comparison to the Dragon Age section of the forums where they’ll say “Be respectful, don’t call names” and that sort of thing. And I think that’s another reflection in the differences between the dev teams of those two games.
MATTIE: Yes, we were just talking about how we see this different attitude towards diversity topics between the Dragon Age and Mass Effect teams. It seems that is implemented even more. Kim, you had something to say?
KIM: There was a really interesting article on Geek Feminism blog the other day. We should link all these in the show description. The Geek Feminism site’s really interesting because after pretty much every post, things will descend into where they just say, “these are the only things that are acceptable to have in response to this and possibly this.” And it’s interesting because they had this article about, it’s called, “Online Harassment as a Daily Hazard: When Trolls Feed Themselves.” It’s coverage of someone else’s article, which was great to begin with, and it talks about abuse that women bloggers get on the Internet. They even say at the bottom, “If you’re just an average finger-quotes netizen then don’t suggest anything, you’re not helping the discussion.” I found it really interesting that they’re that explicit about it and I think it’s an interesting approach. With forums, they’re like very different things to tackle and I kind of find it weird that they’d shut down a thread. I suppose from their point of view they’re duplicate threads right? But it doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t have something new to say that’s not within the thread that’s going on.
I find it funny as well because the difference I have between my tolerence for different sorts of games is so huge; in fact I talked to Rawles about this the other day when everyone was gone. In real life my tolerance for sexism, racism and homophobia is not very high at all. I really kind of get wound up about this stuff quite quickly, which is something I’m kind of working on. In games it feels like the goalpost has shifted completely. Especially in multiplayer gaming communities. I think I’ve identified as someone who plays games as social activities. Whether it’s Team Fortress or MMOs or now Heroes of Newerth. That’s always been my scene. I play single-player games but I consume them as I do films; I play them and move on. Whereas as someone who’s had chronic fatigue for a long period of time I really got into online games as a way of passing the time when there wasn’t much else to do. But the kind of abuse you get, just for doing nothing, or being perceived at being bad at the game by somebody else, in something like especially in Heroes of Newerth. It’s just so far and above for so many people. In fact when other people see me playing the game they wonder why I put up with it. In other games that level of abuse would be completely unacceptable. There’s things you can do in HoN that you can’t in Team Fortress. There’s these levels of acceptability really, and I don’t know how other people navigate that. I feel like I kind of have to have a certain level of tolerance to play certain games or I just wouldn’t play them. I don’t know if you play online games much, but I don’t know how you deal with that.
RAWLES: Yeah, I think just from one game to another, I tend to think of it in terms of: “This ain’t what I do in real life from one set of people to another.” I think it’s a really interesting topic and for me I think it relates a lot, or tangentially I think, to the entire concept of coding. Which is a thing, that I’m sure that happens to other minorities as well, but my experience with coding is this idea that as a black person, particularly black women, that if you are in a group of, for instance, predominantly black people, you will interact and sort of even go as far as speak in a different way than you would if you were with predominantly white people or people of another race. And so I actually sort of connect that a lot to the differences in gaming spaces because there are definitely, yes, they are definitely something that would kind of just let go in a sort of competitive online multiplayer situation that you would sort of let go, and a different, you know, gaming community. And yeah, it is, it’s really hard to navigate. It’s just complex and, you know, you can feel a lot of ways about it. Sometimes, you want to say something but you just might not feel like you might not be constructive in that environment or, you know, you–it’s hard and nobody can be on all the time. And you just don’t have the energy for it. And sometimes you just kind of put up the armor and just try to plow through and do what you’re doing.
ANNA: So in terms of you just mentioning the “no one can be on all the time”, I was actually just talking about this, this afternoon: an idea that it’s a difficult mix to have because you don’t want to stay silent when all of this is going on around you and it’s really upsetting you, but at the same time it’s not really the responsibility of people that are marginalized to have to go out there and say that this is a problem constantly.
RAWLES: Oh definitely and especially since, you know, a lot of times you bring something up, somebody will be like “Why? Why?” and they’ll start demanding explanations and try to shout you down. It’s just–that’s just that, like that, in addition to all of the microaggressions or straight out slurs and hatred that they’ve already been sort of throwing around and you just don’t want to deal with that. That’s just chipping away at you. You know, sometimes you don’t want to deal with it. Certainly you don’t want to feel like people are demanding that you explain, you know, their terribleness to them. And, you know, sometimes people should educate themselves but a lot of people aren’t trying to do that. It’s just very, very tiring.
KIM: I suppose in some ways, playing an online game is like reading an online comments thread. [laughs] It’s like it can go one way, it can go another way. If it descends into just horribleness, then on some level it’s like “Ugh, it’s the internet. What can I do?” But on some level, you can’t not get wound up by it. Yeah, it’s funny those two things seem very analogous now that I think of it. Like–and I imagine actually the same kind of people who post offensive comments on YouTube are probably the same kind of people who make ethnic slurs in games.
ANNA: But similar to when we’re talking about moderation in comments, there can be moderation in games. If allies and other people speak up and say “Hey, it’s really a problem that you’re doing this. Knock it off.” It can help in the online as well as helping in the comments section.
MATTIE: That is extremely important. I completely agree. So speaking of tactics, I would like to move on to our selected reading to look at different reactions of how the community has decided to react against hate speech and the discomfort of minority groups in multiplayer communities and such. So, I first would like to look at the–kind of weblog ‘Fat, Ugly or Slutty’ which I’m sure a lot of people now are very familiar with. They recently spoke at… I want to say PAX… I can’t remember but they recently just spoke at a convention and I saw a video they did and it was really awesome. I have mixed feelings about Fat, Ugly or Slutty because I do want there to be exposure. I want people to see how often this happens. But it almost is a big joke, in a sense, because now–now we all know that it happens so how does this help, I guess? Rawles?
RAWLES: I have very, very conflicted feelings about Fat, Ugly or Slutty. My main thing with it–I haven’t seen this video that you said. I don’t really like to look at the blog I remember I looked at it a lot when it first went up. I’ll check that but I kind–I can’t even take it anymore. Like I can’t take it on one level because I just–I don’t–those–the things that they’re posting. The things like, you know, the guys are sending and that sort of thing. Like that. It’s often really upsetting and really triggering for me. But on the other level, it’s like conflict with the entire mission statement of Fat, Ugly or Slutty. And the thing about it is it–that really stands out to me is that Fat, Ugly or Slutty doesn’t identify as feminist, and sort of has in their mission statement that instead of getting offended, they just laugh at the terrible things that people send. And you know, I support people’s rights to identify however they like in terms of words like “marginalized persons” for instance. Like they don’t want to identify as feminist specifically because the movement has let them down and they want to work in their own way against their oppression. But I have little patience for people who sort of seem like they don’t want to identify as feminist because they’re scared of the concept, if that makes sense. Like…
KIM: Why do you think they don’t… I mean, just because they don’t say in their About page that they’re not feminist, do you think that means they’re not? I mean -
RAWLES: I think that they could–I think a lot of times what happens that people definitely hold many feminist ideals and can sort of–kind of run away from the term? But there’s actually on their sort of Author page–I think there’s one guy who works on the site and in his little author bio he says, you know, they’re like “Oh, he’s the token feminist of Fat, Ugly or Slutty.” Thus the implication being that no one else there identifies as feminist.
ANNA: I just wanted to say that in terms of that, there’s a wonderful video that was just done by feminist frequency–I just forgot her name, which is terrible, but talking about straw feminists and how when media portrays feminists as only extremist and really bad, then you have a lot of people that won’t identify with being a feminist even if they agree with all of the ideals, which I think may also be part of the problem for some of the people that seem to agree with everything but are just not saying – “Well, I’m not one of *those* people” rather than the ones that actually have a legitimate concern with some of the failings of current feminist movement, which–that, I definitely sympathize with.
RAWLES: Exactly, thank you, Anna, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And the thing about it is, the reason I have a problem with that is because the whole idea of “instead of getting offended” really bothers me, because sometimes that sort of “Oh, I’m not one of *those* feminists, oh I don’t get offended at whatever whatever” can very easily become a dismissal of people who are upset or hurt or offended as being “too sensitive”, and that’s really oppressive. You don’t tell people that they’re being too sensitive if you’ve hurt them or when somebody has hurt them, that’s just wrong and that’s why I always get really sort of just head up about people like “Oh yeah, I’m not like *that*, and “Oh, I just don’t get offended, I *laugh*,” and, you know, you can laugh and be offended, like, my friends and I call the reaction to this sort of the humour and people being terrible, we call it hate-laughing, because of when something is so obscenely offensive and awful that you can’t help but to laugh somehow, but it’s not actually funny at all. So, and just that sort of divide that people sometimes tend to make from the side of “Oh, I *laugh* instead of getting offended” and the side of people who they are implicitly saying are “too offended” or “too sensitive” – you know, it’s not that simple, and you laughing is a perfectly valid response for you, but it’s really really important not to be dismissive of people who choose not to laugh, or who laugh and also then decide to articulate their critique of why this is offensive.
MATTIE: I thought it was very important to include Fat, Ugly or Slutty, because there’s a constant – I have a certain relationship when it comes to having something that’s very niche, something very passionate and trying to reach a broader audience. It seems that Fat, Ugly or Slutty has succeeded in broaching this border of gaming popular culture and, let’s say, diversity topics. Right now, The Border House reaches a lot of people, but there are many many people in prominent positions in the gaming community who don’t know much about The Border House or diversity topics. So, I wonder, what is it that we can learn from Fat, Ugly or Slutty about what is it what we need to do to be more let’s say, more approachable as a movement?
KIM: The one thing I have to say about Fat, Ugly or Slutty is – I can’t remember where I read it, I think it was on Rock, Paper, Shotgun but they were doing some coverage saying that it succeeded in terms of, like, loads of people are on the fence, like you know your kind of typical white liberal guy who’s like, “oh I’m just a humanist, I’m not a feminist, I like people, I don’t see–” There are a lot of people like that going, “I really didn’t realize how bad you had it and I’m sorry.” I’ve seen quite a few comments along those lines. And especially, yeah, like the kind of people who are probably about five, ten years older than the people who are making these comments just saying stuff to that effect. “I didn’t realize how bad you had it, I never get anything like this, I didn’t realize the frequency or amount of the hatred behind it.” And I think what Fat, Ugly, or Slutty do that’s good is they make it short, and I mean obviously the humor is–whether you find it funny or not is kind of irrelevant in a way. They kind of make it short and to the point, and I think one thing that we do is write really really really long articles, which is something we talked about on the email list about doing just a bit more general news, but from a, “oh, this is bad,” or “this is good,” or “look at this thing!” other than these really long articles, which should happen too. But there’s a balance, you know?
RAWLES: Yeah there’s definitely a divide between sort of the avid exploration of these things, and sort of being very advanced with it, and then baser… not baser, that’s not really a good word. More of fundamental level, something like that of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty where it’s just like, yup, here is hatred that’s just being thrown at women for no reason. And that does, like Kim was just saying, definitely reaches out to people. And let me just–I’m not like, “Bring down Fat, Ugly or Slutty!” or anything, it’s just that I wanted to describe why I find it–just, I’m a little bit conflicted about it. Just because of the issue of laugh instead of getting offended thing. But I do definitely recognize that I like anything that makes these issues more accessible to people and I think that my own personal sort of way of going about social justice things tends probably towards a wary kind of radicalism that is not necessarily that accessible. I mean, it varies because I do get a lot of–I mean, I’ve been sort of just posting about these things in various environments for years now, and I’ve gotten many many people to be like, “I never thought about things like this until you said something,” and that sort of thing. So I guess it’s not that anybody who is completely not into social justice things can come in from, you know, a more hardline, I guess, stance. But yeah, Fat Ugly or Slutty does have a better chance of appealing to people who are, like Kim said, white liberal guy who wants to call himself a humanist, that sort of thing. Because you know, it does very much prevent hatred, right there. Undeniable. And that’s valuable. But I think sometimes, in the effort to, I guess, appeal to a wider audience, I feel like sometimes things can get watered down, almost, sort of become like the diet version of whatever sort of anti-oppression it’s trying to be. And I think that sometimes that can sort of push ideas or ways of thinking that are ultimately kind of a little bit destructive, sort of like one step forward but maybe two steps back. And if the end is sort of the intro to some people, but they end up having to, they want to get deeper into it, they end up having to relearn, you know, from what they initially kind of got into it with. Because it was a sort of scaled back version of it that wouldn’t scare them from it. I don’t really have a solution for that.
KIM: And there was a thing on that Geek Feminism thread about that thread that covered the story–okay it wasn’t on that blog, it was something they wrote about, there was a comment, there was an author who got rape threats from an anonymous person–it wasn’t anonymous, they sent it from their work email, like wait, what? You’re sending it from your work email? So all she did was like forward it to the guy’s boss saying, “Did you know he’s doing this on work time?” And got a response saying, “Yeah, I’ll look into it.” Then some conference she’s at like six months later the guy’s there speaking on a panel. And it’s kind of like, so she was almost saying, well you do it and you think you get a result and you don’t? And there was no real answers on that thread, either, apart from that it feels a bit damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
MATTIE: Well, looking to an exactly opposite reaction, I want to look at “To My Someday Daughter,” which is written by an ally who’s writing to this figurative future daughter about the life that she will have if she decides to follow her father’s footsteps and go into gaming. It’s the exact opposite, if you ask me, of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. It’s not funny, it’s extremely long, and it takes the point of view of someone who’s seemingly not oppressed and what their take on the situation is. I had read through it and it itself is complicated, at the same time. But it showed how the rabid-ness of the community, the hivemind of “we’re just offended” or “we’re not offensive”, can have an affect on our discussion of diversity politics. And I was wondering what other people thought about this article.
RAWLES: I thought it was very good, actually. I thought it was pretty good. I actually disagree, I thought it was pretty funny in places, too.
KIM: Me too.
RAWLES: I thought it was pretty good. I did, however, also think it was pretty heterosexist, but, you know, what can you do. Not that great on just sort of couple of intersectional levels, but on the whole, pretty good. And I did have a sort of pedantic little disagreement in there, with the bit where he sort of was talking about like women’s history, I suppose, and sort of like, how dudes are like the stars of everything, kind of. Incidentally–and I’m very into media and feminism and things like that–and I disagree with his characterization that he made that women weren’t allowed–that everything’s about dudes, that women weren’t allowed to do anything prior to 1970. And that’s really not true at all. Women’s contributions throughout history have been extraordinarily important. Quite robust. It’s just that they’re not covered. People don’t want to cover them, their stories, to be told by the people in power who aren’t interested in telling them. And so they pretend the stories don’t exist.
MATTIE: What I thought was interesting was the idea of allies speaking–because another article we have is allies speaking out as well, but this one was, like, deeply personal. And I thought it was very touching in the sense of, we rarely get these personal anecdotes from allies saying, “Here’s how hurtful this is and how this hurts me.” And how it hurts everyone. And you don’t realize it. And I’ve become more and more interested in the politics of allies and how they affect our movement. And I thought that maybe this was a good example of an ally taking action and how they can call people out on their behavior.
RAWLES: Oh, I definitely agree there. It think it was a very, very good example of kind of the, this is a good thing for an ally to do, as opposed to a lot of things that you see which are not helpful and tend to be sort of appropriative. Just all kinds of other thorny stuff.
KIM: I think what was so great about it for me was, which you kind of alluded to, is that it told a story. And I think it’s that level of storytelling that made it so genuine. It’s something I’ve come to find out about recently is non-violent communication, which I was still looking into. There’s this whole idea of, you say how you feel, and then what you need, and then act on it. And I think that’s why it came across so well because when he does put himself at the center of the story and talks about himself, his own narrative of how he came into this society that’s incredibly sexist and did it, and then realized what was going wrong, and talked about the people who changed his mind and how he came out of it. And I think that’s really powerful. And in a way I find this question that it’s heterosexist a little bit–I don’t quite ride with that because I think it’s for… I know this sounds really bad, but it almost doesn’t feel like it’s for gay people? Or it’s for heterosexuality? It’s kind of about him and his world, and he’s writing it to people who are straight, male, and possibly white, generally speaking. And it’s kind of like, there’s only space to cover so much when he’s trying to get a very specific point across, which is the way this happens socially and what we can try and do about it.
RAWLES: I understand, I understand what you’re saying there, that what his target audience is. I wasn’t really saying that it was heterosexist in the sense that I think that he should go off on a long thing, because yeah, trying to talk to–let me put it this way, I understand that you can only cover so much in any one sort article or statement or anything and you sometimes have to focus to make that point more clear. When I said that it was a little bit heterosexist, I was just meaning in terms of like the way that he talked about his daughter and…
KIM: [interrupts:] I see
RAWLES: …her future boyfriend and that kind of thing, that’s all I meant. [laughs]
KIM: I get you I get you, [laughs] Yeah true.
MATTIE: Alright, so also from another allied perspective we had a reaction to what is now called THAT panel, which was the panel at, was it GDC Australia? About a comment about the visibility of female game journalists and none of the speakers could name one, they were like “we don’t know any” and what was very interesting was the dynamic of the Twitter feed going nuts about what we all know female or women journalists and game writers and no one stood up to say anything. And it was kind of like a bubbling ,”Oh that feeling”, no one stood up and interrupted, the different reactions of different people–why they did not and the fears of speaking up for social justice in such a venue. And …there was this one article in particular by Ben Abraham which got so many comments it was ridiculous. And I mean, I commented on it myself, it was just there is 142 comments and most of them are wondering why this person, why people are making so much of a fuss that you know, just because they couldn’t name any female journalists, it didn’t mean anything and I thought that you know, I had a much different interpretation and I believe you guys do too.
RAWLES: You know, that… I read a bunch of…I sort of like link jumped through a bunch of like articles on that because I hadn’t heard about that really at all that much…but yeah, I think that this whole the invisibility of women and their achievements [laughs] is not new all like, that’ll happen all the time. Mildly off topic, it reminds me of, there was also a big stink over the summer at San Diego Comic Con about the involvement of women in the sort of major comic books companies and, you know how they had very very few–particularly DC comics have very few women on their creative staff. You can see this through their relaunch of their entire line and there was a woman who was going all their panels and being like, and a couple of other people too, were being like “Where are all the women?” And it was like “Well if you want women to creators where are they? I don’t know who they are, tell me right now you know in the middle of this panel, give me an annotated list of all these great women! blah blah blah.” You know I think that sort of attitude is everywhere. People, especially in these male-dominated environments and professions they see the achievements, the efforts of women just get glossed over and people aren’t paying attention, they don’t think it’s important and then they act like there are no women when there are!
KIM: I think the flip side really annoys me as well like massive games especially, it’s like a new sport that kind of really getting going the last few years there’s, again I don’t want say there’s no women because I’m sure that I can think of like two perhaps that are involved but it’s almost entirely men, and almost entirely like, white and Asian men. And I think the thing that really gets you about that is no one is just looking around and saying “Hey guys how come there’s no women here or hey guys, how come there’s no like, you know, like black people here?” and it constantly baffles me that people aren’t asking those questions, and it’s something that you never see addressed on the mainstream stuff like State of the Game or the people like Day like you know, there’s no like, there’s an article I published on the Border House and another article, both directly refer to him and he’s not responded to either and I’m sure he knows about them. So why are these people, why do these people just not care? Like I don’t want to live in a monochromatic world you know?
MATTIE: Go on Anna.
ANNA: And it’s not simply just that they don’t realize that they exist but sometimes there’s actively exclusionary things that are happening like, I can’t remember now but it was a Battlefield 3 LAN party that specifically excluded women, it’s something that was written about on Border House I can check what game it was.
KIM: It was Battlefield 3 yeah.
RAWLES: Yeah it was Battlefield.
ANNA: But, so sometimes it’s not just not realizing that aren’t women but it’s specifically singling them out as not welcome.
RAWLES: Yeah definitely and I definitely think about what Kim was saying about people, like how could people not look around and notice that *laughs* that no women, there are just all like white people or like all white and Asian guys and that sort of thing. And you know what? A part of that is definitely, that just a function of privilege like it’s just, I just find it so fantastic that you said that because like you know, when I go places when I’m in groups, that sort of thing I always, I’m always hyper aware if I’m like the only black person there! Because….this is something that I kind of have to be aware of, you know my whole life! That’s just how it is. And one of the functions of privilege is just that you don’t have to think about it. That when you are the default, or at least the default in a specific environment, you are not given any real cause to think about the absences around you. And you know, that kind of thinking in something that people actually have to actively work on, because they have been inundated in messages and everything their entire lives telling them, you know, this is the default, this is what is normal. And it’s the same principle as – like it’s the same thing that sort of causes, for instance, how people will not really pay much attention or make any note if there’s like a TV show or something and there are like five dudes and like one token girl, or something like that. Or there’s like one black person or something on the show and people will not really think anything about it. But if you reverse that, if you make a show where the majority of the cast is female, then all of the sudden everyone’s like “Wow, this is really weird,” just kind of – like it’s abnormal or something. And you know, even if – and it can be like six dudes, one girl, nobody says anything, but then if it’s like four girls and two dudes, which is not as much of an imbalance, everybody’s like, “wow, you know, this is such a – this is an estrogen thing!” You know, it’s just really, it’s that privilege, that conviction that this is normal, and everything else is deviant.
KIM: It’s so deep, too. Like I was listening to the world service the other day of all things, and it’s Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday, and the radio presenter felt the need to say, “People of all races celebrated his birthday.” And it was like, “What? Like, why did you just say all races, like is that important?” And obviously that’s something that’s gone through several editors to get there, and it’s just like, why should – do white people obviously not care about black people by default unless you mention that they were there? Is this to appease people? It was like, “What?”
MATTIE: Yeah. One of the major arguments I found when it came to this post, this thread and this overall topic, is that we – uh, not we, well we yes, and a lot of the people who are for diversity visibility – are making a fuss because people don’t generally look a the name of article writers. I find this very problematic, because how people tend to get a following as journalists and as writers overall is mostly to
have their name known, and usually to have their gender known. And when, off the top of my head, when I think of a lot of journalists that I’m not, let’s say, I haven’t become socially connected to are very often male because their content is more often pushed though the front.
RAWLES: Yeah, that’s definitely true, and a lot of times you get – marginalized people tend to get ghettoized in terms of what people think they’re supposed to talk about and what people think they’re supposed to cover, and that kind of thing. So, that definitely happens.
MATTIE: Alright, and now on our last kind of note, which is, you know, very dear to my heart, is exploring these reactions back on the BioWare network of the “Neglected Straight Male Gamer” post, which I’m sure everyone on The Border House knows about, and now this most recent post about transphobia in Dragon Age II and the newest DLC of Mark of the Assassin. And kind of the conversation that happened there, because I was very interested in the writers’ reaction to all
these complaints and diversity issues, and I thought it was very admirable when we got these reactions that were very pro-diversity and I mean I think my heart stopped a little bit when I saw that because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone from a development team say, “We are trying to embrace diversity.”
RAWLES: Yeah, definitely. I have, on occasion, definitely been impressed with the Dragon Age team sort of reactions to things. I mean, they’re always, you know, things could be even better, but they definitely–they’re clearly making an effort. They’re definitely making an effort to be understanding and to try and be progressive, and that is just really really wonderful to see. I love it. It’s pretty great.
MATTIE: What’s interesting to me is wondering how much does fan reaction matter, and if there’s something I believe BioWare is starting to do, is saying that their methods on either games are questionable, as in we’re not sure where the real results are, but we care what our fans are saying about our games. And we’re going to have a personal dialogue with them, especially in this transphobia forum post, how the writers personally came and apologized, which I have never seen.
RAWLES: Yeah, I’ve only–I’ve never seen that with, like, big-time stuff. I’ve seen it with people, creators who have sort of started out and got a grassroots following, and they’ve sort of come out of that sort of environment. But, you know, I’ve never really seen that much from people are not really connected to that at all. And they’ve only ever been connected to it as they are the developers, they are the creators. And, you know, the audience is over there. I really only see that with people who used to be the audience, kind of thing. That’s very very impressive.
ANNA: I liked the way in which BioWare reacted to the two different types of fans. Because when one fan was saying something genuinely upset them and was problematic, they were listening. And when another fan was speaking from a place of great privilege, saying how there didn’t need to be any diversity, they, instead of listening to him and having a similar reaction of “oh, I’m sorry you’re upset,” they smacked that down and said, “no, really? You’re the one that this is a problem, the reaction that you’re having.” But I think it would be very different from a different company who didn’t have that same ethic. Because it could have easily gone the other way around, where the person who was complaining about a transphobic thing in a game is the one that would get smacked down, and the one saying “I have a problem with diversity” is the one that would get listened to. So we’re very lucky in the reactions that we got here.
RAWLES: Oh, definitely. I’m almost at the point where I just expect that the opposite thing would have happened had it been Mass Effect instead of Dragon Age, same company.
MATTIE: Yeah, I find it rather interesting in, how can we foster those–I mean, I’m not sure how much education the writers have in diversity topics, or how much knowledge they have. What I saw was just kind of pure compassion. Trying to balance that compassion with–what is a practical parts of the job that they’re working, like how do they balance their job with the fans? Which is a strange dynamic, once you think of it. You have this job that you’re entitled to perform for, but you have to keep up this ethic standard of being empathetic to your fans. And I thought it was a good display. I don’t know if BioWare received that much backlash, if any backlash, on David Gaider’s reaction to these posts and also all the other writers. And so it’s just interesting to me to–I want to put these forward because I want to say, look, companies, if you’re thinking these things, and you want to say these things to your fanbase, you have supporters. And you also have people who want you to say these things even more, and you don’t have this huge backlash waiting for you.
RAWLES: I think the key to everything you just said is compassion. Just the word compassion, that’s it. What you said about you don’t know what kind of education in diversity topics they have, or what any activism they are involved in, when it comes from a place of compassion, I think it all starts at compassion. It all starts with understanding that other people have been harmed by things that you either did or things that you were complicit with, by action or inaction. That compassion for other people, I think is where all anti-oppression begins, and I think it’s a great place for it to begin.
KIM: Hear, hear.
RAWLES: That’s what drives you, that’s what drives you to want to be better and make things better because you don’t want to hurt anyone.
MATTIE: Well, I hope that we can, let’s say, bottle these events, because I want–I mean, we all want these sort of reactions to keep going, we want the compassion to become more prevalent. And I hope that we can all think of a way, and people who are listening who run their own forums, who moderate their own comments, or post their articles, if we can find a way to reach through compassion and, you know, we don’t need the sappy music or anything, but it’s the true connection of one human to another. And knowing that you hurt someone, and just the thought of you hurting someone should give you somewhat of a pause.
KIM: It’s quite interesting because there is a sense of an idea of like “trolling for the lulz,” which is like a 4chan or those other pretty obnoxious boards, and I’m wondering if that’s kind of the tool that a lot of these people who write horrible comments use as an excuse for being nasty to people.
RAWLES: Definitely, I agree.
KIM: Because it’s like explaining away, it’s like saying, “I don’t have to care about you because it’s just a joke! Hey!”
MATTIE: Go ahead, Anna.
ANNA: In terms of “it’s just a joke,” I have recently written that blog post about how you react when someone says, “I’m really hurt or offended by something that you thought was a joke,” and in the end, it’s pause and listen. You may agree or disagree, but if we have some compassion, we actually listen to people when they say they’re hurt, it makes for a much better world than just a reactionary thing that usually ends up happening online.
RAWLES: Yeah, absolutely. The whole “I did it for the lulz” is just a no for me. For me, 4chan is, like, the gutter of the internet, so…
RAWLES: So yeah, that kind of mindset is just so awful. Yes, it does come from–it comes from a dissociation, I think, with the idea that at the other end of the computer, or at the other end of the internet connection there are actual living people. And I’ve seen so many people just kind of take that attitude of “oh, it’s just the internet!” Well, what is the internet but a bunch of people interacting with each other? There is no *just* the internet any more than there’s just, you know, talking to someone in real life. It’s everything. It’s the same thing, ultimately. Just because you can’t see the person, just because they’re not sitting right in front of you doesn’t mean anything, really.
KIM: On a philosophical level, I have this slight worry that people don’t really like other people very much, and the internet’s kind of making people talk to each other more than they want to, and everyone’s going to end up hating each other.
MATTIE: Well, there is a great deal of misanthropism, if that’s a word, in the world. I think that the connection of other people forces you to be in conflict with others who are different from you. And you might have not been psychologically ready to deal with these people because you don’t agree with them, you don’t know anyone like them, etcetera etcetera. And the internet is a very easy place to let go of responsibility. And that’s what makes this sort of activism for diversity in these social areas and treating each other with kindness so hard because we all want to respect our First Amendment, which we benefit so much from the First Amendment, we can do this because of it. And we don’t want to become a dictator in telling people what they can or cannot say. However there has to be a way to motivate others to want to be inclusive and kind to one another. And I hope it’s certainly fostering a sort of compassion.
RAWLES: Well, another thing with the internet is it’s global. And the First Amendment is very US-American. That’s not everybody’s First Amendment, you know, it’s different people, different things happening there. And I think one thing that, the internet is a very global community, and I think that a lot of US-American people will go, especially a lot of times when they’re saying offensive things, “oh, First Amendment! You can’t take away my freedom of speech!” Because they’re kind of missing the idea that first of all, it’s the internet, so that doesn’t really count. [laughs] But Freedom of Speech is not really freedom from response. It’s a big thing that people decide on a lot.
MATTIE: Way to go, ethnocentrism on my part.
RAWLES: And I think that whole inability of people to just, when they’re on the internet–”just” air quotes–to understand why the oppressive things they’re engaging with, how that all interacts with the entire culture, is that there’s a lot of time the inability to perceive that this is not something that’s only happening to people on the internet. Marginalized people experience all kinds of microaggressions every day. I mean, that’s why people invented the word microaggressions. Just the ways that the world just kind of dully keeps beating at them over and over again. And when somebody is on “just” the internet, doing these exact same things, and somebody goes off on them because they’re upset, it’s because this is the same thing they have to deal with in real life, which is supposed to be the prime, important thing. It’s all connected, you know. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
MATTIE: Anyone else have anything to say?
KIM: I just–I agree.
ANNA: Yeah, hear hear.
MATTIE: Well, on that note, we are going to wrap things up. I thank everyone again for joining us today, and all of our speakers. We hope that you’re enjoying our podcast, and we will see you in another two weeks.