During the height of the Jennifer Hepler incident, many readers of ours were quick to talk about a culture endemic among “white cis het men” who dominate certain bastions of geek culture. In the midst of attacks with sexist and homophobic overtones, it seemed strange to others that race would be “dragged into” this. The recent attacks on another BioWare staffer, Stanley Woo, reveal why that remains a salient vector of analysis, and why considering white dominance in gaming spaces is as important as considering male dominance.
An alert reader (thank you very kindly!) brought to our attention a recent spate of trolling on BioWare’s forums antagonising Stanley Woo, a QA worker and community moderator who was especially forthright in banning posts that personally attacked Jennifer Hepler. The group of people responsible for organising the hate mail, angry tweets and forum posts attacking Hepler also took to antagonising Woo. The tipster wrote in:
[They were] using stereotypes of Asians to mock him, with phrases like “Ding dong bannu” and “End of rine” becoming common. A day or two after the Jennifer Hepler attacks occurred, there was a raid on the Bioware forums where posters made accounts specifically to mock him which displayed many of these things, to the point that Bioware had to temporarily shut down new poster registration to stop it. For example, replacing Ls with Rs, posting as “Stanley Gook” or some variation which bypassed the censor, speaking of “grorious reader” (“glorious leader”, a phrase that I believe originated in North Korea as applied to Kim Jong-il).
(Our tipster provided the following screenshot as a sample.)
I have often said that prejudice is a continuum, we rarely have the luxury of seeing it confined to a single, neatly bounded issue or group of people. If you scratch an Islamophobe, you’ll find a misogynist, to name an example I’ve seen far too many times in my own work. Similarly, many of the people who attacked Jennifer Hepler are doubtless equally antagonistic to anyone who would defend people of colour against racist trolling/attacks. The toxicity we see here is not something that allows itself to be confined to one axis of injustice. If you are willing to dehumanise a woman because she’s a woman, you’ll do it to others as well. People of colour, people of size, people with disabilities, LGBT folks, and intersections of all the above. What, exactly, is stopping them? If they’re the kind of people who think calling someone a fat bitch who should die in a fire is funny, where is the moral or ethical boundary that will stop them from making anti-Asian attacks, exactly?
Each individual person is different, but the broad trends are there and they do seem to indicate that the same people who engage in misogyny are often the same ones who engage in homophobia are often the same ones who engage in racism. It is a linked series of problems in these communities. That’s why, I suspect, Bioware has come down hard on this type of behaviour without explicitly naming it. On March 2nd they changed their community policies:
UPDATED (MAR. 2, 2012) Important update to site rules & code of conduct :
Effective immediately there is a zero tolerance policy on any form of abuse towards staff, moderators or other Community members.
Anyone posting a personal attack on staff, moderators or other Community members will, at the sole discretion of staff or moderators, be banned from the BioWare Social Network without notice and is no longer welcomed.
We continue to value all of our customers and fans. However participation in the BSN and engaging with staff and like-minded community members is – to be abundantly clear – a privilege, and not a right. Members may continue to discuss and critique our games and products in a civil manner, but any form of discussion targeted at an individual will not be tolerated. New and existing members who cannot adhere to the code of conduct, or maintain a civil demeanor at all times, are encouraged instead to contact customer support for any game related issues they may have.
We have made additional important changes to the Site Rules and Code of Conduct, and recommend that all our users review them by clicking on the link at the top of this notice. By continuing to use this site you are accepting the Site Rules and agree to follow these rules.
Attacks on a person because of their race and/or gender are not just bar-room joshing and gentle ribbing. On some level, we all know that. The attacks on Hepler were so vicious that they prompted a public defence of her by BioWare itself, and the attacks on Woo were trending in the same direction. Each constitutes a basic violation of a social contract that ought to exist between us all. Neither assault was discourse, it was the absence of discourse; a nihilistic vacuum filled only with hatred and the utmost irreverence. Such behaviour is no longer about discussing video games: it becomes a strike against the very bonds of community that are supposed to ensure the basic mutual respect on which civilisation is premised.
This may sound overly-heady and even overwrought, but it is a very serious moral question that we all have to consider when we’re considering questions of community—and that includes the geek/gaming communities of which we are all a part. It’s why Border House has a moderation policy, and why I have long said that major news websites should do a much better job of enforcing theirs. But it’s also tied to other recent incidents that have garnered wide attention, such as Rush Limbaugh’s unprecedented and highly misogynist attack on law student and activist Sandra Fluke. Such statements are not “just words”—no one truly believes in “just words,” not even the most vituperative internet commenter. If words were “just words,” such people wouldn’t be using them. What would be the point, save expectorating syllables into the ether?
They choose the words they know will create unsafe conditions, will actually wound a person, will communicate a central and guiding idea: “you are not human.”
This is not discourse, nor is it debate. It is the irreverent mockery thereof, unto death.
BioWare did not mention prejudice specifically in its policy change (though it is mentioned in the actual Code of Conduct), but I suspect that it came down so swiftly because they saw something very ugly in this recent spate of attacks, words which go way, way beyond the almost adorable “lol u noob” sort of joshing. They saw something that was actually coarsening the working conditions of their employees, that in the case of Jennifer Hepler had actually intruded into her own home. Stewards of online communities do need to start appreciating the reality that not all speech is equal; the very power of words gives them the power to silence, erase, and even destroy. It is antithetical to community itself to allow such things to continue, and to allow the internet’s many bigots free reign without consequence– allowing them to partake without asking for basic decency in return.
Liberal moral philosopher Susan Neiman could just as easily have been speaking of this group of people when she said the following:
Their world is never graced by a shadow of reverence. There’s so much trash—sometimes masquerading as a satire of trash—that it’s hard to say what’s worse: The blunting violence that’s called action? The lackadaisical transformation of sex to commodity? The shows that invite people to degrade themselves for a few dollars or minutes of fame? All of them chip away at human dignity; all of them went further than Nietzsche’s grimmest dreams. He wrote that a noble soul has reverence for itself. You needn’t go that far to believe that a noble soul must have reverence for something.
And we can make a good start of it by having reverence for each other. Bioware’s new policy is a positive step in that direction, and I hope that more policies of this sort will help to make the gaming community a true community for all of us.