In another great video, MovieBob at The Escapist has a pretty great breakdown about bigotry and harassment in nerd and video game culture. He debunks a few common excuses for harassment, and points out that, while gamers fear actual censorship from politicians, excusing bigotry just gives folks like Jack Thompson ammunition. You can watch the video below or at this link, and I’ve provided a transcript below the video. Enjoy.
The Big Picture with MovieBob
As much as possible, I try to have a good time doing this show, even though I know for a fact I’m potentially cheating myself out of viewers, and thus also possibly traffic and ratings, by doing so. I know, for example, that the most popular and widely-circulated episodes of The Big Picture tend to be the ones where I take on some controversial position [image: PETA logo] or take one myself. But honestly I have a much happier time at “work” doing shows about weird movies or obscure old cartoons, or whatever. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. I run into something that hits me really, really hard, and I can’t ignore the opportunity to weigh in on it. Particularly when I don’t see my would-be position well-represented or when it brings up a bigger issue that I’ve been ruminating on already. Such is the case for today, which is a long-form way of me saying this probably isn’t going to be much of a fun or funny episode of this show, and for that I’m regretful. Life, unfortunately, is not all fun and games.
So today I want to talk about sexism in nerd culture, particularly in gaming culture, a topic which I am certain will bring about only the most reasonable, thoughtful, and mature responses [images: mobs with pitchforks and torches]. Eh, right?
So, Capcom, a company which at this point must have a small heart attack every time a word ending in -ist is mentioned anywhere near it [image: Sheva from RE5 in her bodypaint and leopard bikini outfit], has been streaming the competitive gaming reality show called Cross Assault as part of the promotion for the new Street Fighter x Tekken game. During a recent online televised match, a team coach named Aris Bahktanians began aggressively berating the female contestant he was supposed to be coaching with what can only be described as escalating sexual harassment. I’m not going to run the video or the audio here because it’s, well, vile [words on screen: Ultimately, the young woman in question chose to forfeit her participation in the event; the situation having become too uncomfortable. If that does not sadden and/or INFURIATE you, check your batteries.], and because I’m sure you can find it around if you want to see what the fuss is about.
Since this is a. The Internet, and b. The Internet is increasingly and thankfully no longer operating under the exclusive control and/or to the exclusive betterment of entitled, socially insulated, angst-driven, resentful young men, when the video of the harassment went viral, Bahktanians found himself the subject of criticism, which, you’ll be shocked to learn, he did not respond to in a manner most would consider graceful. Although, for the record, he did issue an apology, ultimately [screen provides URL for the apology: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/g65iqn]. When a twitch.tv community manager asked him in a conversation about the event whether it was reasonable for the expanding audience and participation pool of competitive fighting games to ask that the general atmosphere of the community not include sexual harassment [on screen: "Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?" - Jared Rea, twitch.tv], he had this to say: “You can’t. You can’t because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community–it’s StarCraft.” Wow.
I think what I like best about that asinine statement is that he had to get the fanboy dig in at a supposed rival part of competitive gaming, using “StarCraft” as a kind of in-community curse word the way American talk radio guys [image: Glenn Beck] use “European.” Stay classy, bro.
I don’t think I need to add anything else to this particular incident; that it speaks to the continued infection of too much of modern gaming by a strain of paranoid male entitlement and a vicious, anxiety-fueled hatred of women, should be obvious on its face. But I am kind of fascinated by the thesis of the guy’s central argument, ie. that his behavior should be acceptable because he considers it to be part of the fighting game community’s identity. Mostly because it’s the same thesis that tends to be used to justify damn near every incident of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, that pops up in the world of internet geek culture, a culture that paradoxically defines itself my a shared experience of social marginalization, but can often be observed practicing just as much insular conformity within its own borders.
How often have we heard that sexism, misogyny, or casual racism in this or that community is just part of how things are there? And how any insinuation that this supposed default status might be a bad thing is violently shrugged off? Particularly, my favorite variation on this theme, “Aw, come on man, this is like the last place where it’s okay for guys to talk like this.” As though some kind of sacred tradition is being preserved by not calling bullies out on their bullying. Hey, uh, genius? Lean your ears up real close. [Through a megaphone:] THERE SHOULDN’T BE ANY PLACE WHERE IT’S OKAY. BECAUSE IT’S NOT OKAY.
It’s not okay to harass women. It’s not okay to “slut shame.” It’s not okay to hurl racist or homophobic slurs as a form of verbal violence. It’s not okay to use rape as a casual synonym for defeat. And it’s really not okay that I have to explain that to anybody.
I do not accept the premise that sexual harassment, misogyny, and bigotry or hatred of any kind is somehow integral to the fighting game community or any other community in video games or anywhere else. But if such a community does exist, yeah, it’s wrong and should be called out as such and disinfected via sunlight.
Of course, this inevitably will draw responses about free speech and the First Amendment from people who do not understand either of those things. Free speech as a legal concept only guarantees you the right to speak. It doesn’t guarantee you the right to be heard, it doesn’t guarantee you the right to be agreed with, it certainly doesn’t guarantee you the right for your speech to not be challenged by someone else’s speech, and most importantly of all, it doesn’t mean you can’t suffer consequences if and when your free speech is used to cause harm to someone. Which is exactly what sexual harassment, racial slurs, and verbal bigotry are. That’s not censorship. That’s fairness.
The only thing that makes me angrier than the continued presence of this stuff in the nerd culture in general and gaming culture specifically is the resistance to having a serious conversation about it. Obviously most gamers are good people, and the bad apples represent a vocal but small minority. But whenever stuff like this comes up, it feels like gaming as a whole would rather just disappear into the memory hole than seriously confront it. “Why are we even talking about this?” being the near-constant refrain. And I understand why that is. Gamers are under constant scrutiny by an unfriendly media [image: screenshot of Geoff Keighley's appearance on Fox News talking about Mass Effect] and cynical political operators [image: Joe Lieberman] ready to pounce on any misbehavior. But you know what? We’re winning that fight. And one of the ways we keep winning is to prove that we deserve the serious, grown-up status slowly being confirmed upon our medium by not letting this crap fester in our ranks. Leland Yee, Joe Lieberman, and Jack Thompson don’t win when we admit that there are problems within the gaming community. They win when we fail to address those problems.
I’m Bob, and that’s the big picture.