Tag Archives: homophobia

Let’s Discuss: Apologies

Originally posted on Vorpal Bunny Ranch.

Oh no! Suddenly your social media feeds and inbox are full of irate people peppering you with accusations of being insensitive, a bigot, all because you used a sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc. word, image, or phrase. What do you do?! Fret not, I will go through a list of actions you should take and avoid.

DO: Apologize
“I am sorry for <insert thing I did/said/insinuated here>.”

DO NOT: Shift
“I apologize if I hurt or offended you.”

Why?
It may come as a surprise, but people are not always collectively unintelligent. Indicating you are apologizing for offending shifts the blame on the people to whom you are offering the apology: “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those knee-jerky, want-to-be-offended kids! Ooooo!” Instead, apologize for what you did, which can help the conversation move forward.

Note, the longer this process takes, or the more steps you toss in along the way to an actual apology, the more difficult it will be for some to take the apology seriously.

DO: Understand and listen
The world is a big place. You do not know everything. You will make mistakes. When someone is angry, try and listen to the words they are saying.

DO NOT: Think you understand
Making assumptions about what people are saying, rather than actually listening, can cause problems. If you receive a variety of complaints, take a moment to look into the common underlying themes, try searching the internet for resources, and learn what it is that went wrong.

Why?
Very few of us are perfect. When I was a freshman in college, I said some pretty heinous things to a black friend of mine regarding Egypt and its ancestry. I was just parroting back what I’d learned in school, and only a year or so later did I educate myself enough to learn of the historical significance of discounting Egypt as part of a rich narrative of black accomplishments — a tactic often used to belittle African Americans as ‘obviously’ inferior, as they had no culture that was noteworthy.

I felt like a tool. My friend was incredibly patient, and when I apologized, and explained why, he was glad that I had learned from the experience and that I had taken the initiative to educate myself (largely because he realized sometimes we have to come to something ourselves, and he didn’t want to argue over this — it was not his responsibility).

DO: Show consistent actions
It’s difficult, but once you’ve made one mistake, people will look out for others. If you take what you hopefully learned and make sure to educate anyone else on your team about this, slip-ups may still happen, but you can easily and quickly rectify course on the matter in the future.

DO NOT: Apologize and go do it again and again and again
Drat! We totally just did the same thing again a month later. Oh no, now we’ve happened to do this wrong! It’s a cascade!

Why?
Just because you apologized, someone does not have to accept it. By showing consistent actions, you can help repair any harm done. The focus is not necessarily to make sure everyone likes you, it should be to do no harm. That person who won’t accept the apology may never come back, but you can make sure you do not replicate that instance.

Also, whether unfairly or not, the internet is a place that can dredge up past mistakes. If you’ve been suffering foot-in-mouth disease multiple times over a short period of time, it will be that much easier to bring up past mistakes and transgressions. Remember that bit about learning? Please go look over that again.

Again, we all make mistakes. The question is whether you genuinely apologize and see what you did as wrong, or if you dig in your heels and alienate potential customers, friends, users, or whatever your case may be. While the impetus for this is the numerous game companies I’ve seen this apply to, I believe it is much more general than that.

“Not Okay”: MovieBob on Sexism and Harassment in Nerd Culture

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

“Not Okay”

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.

Petition Calling for Bioware to Publicly Support Jennifer Hepler

As Alex mentioned yesterday, over the last week or so BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler has been subject to some pretty vile abuse based on her weight, gender, and for her feelings about promoting inclusivity for women and gay characters (and players) in the gaming industry.

As a fat, female gamer (not to mention one who gets a lot of flack for playing games on ‘Easy’ so I can just enjoy the stories), I can honestly say that I haven’t dared to look at any of the comments that were made about her. In short, I’m not sure I could cope with how angry, impotent and upset it would make me feel. I genuinely cannot imagine what it must be like to have torrents of that kind of abuse targeted directly at you. And so instead I started thinking about what I could do to show her that she is not alone, and that she doesn’t have to feel as though the whole world thinks that she should kill herself just for being who she is, and for standing up for what she believes in.

I didn’t know much about Hepler before I got up this morning and saw Alex’s article, but from what I’ve read since, it look as though she’s had a hand some of the things about the Dragon Age games that genuinely gives me back a little bit of my faith in humanity.

Although I’ve written before about how BioWare can make mistakes, I still pretty much consider them to be ‘one of the good guys’. So, I figured I would start a petition calling on them to release a public statement supporting Jennifer, and condemning the putrid, disgusting sexism and homophobia that’s been directed at her by some of their so-called ‘fans’.

I’d ask you all to consider signing it, and passing it on through places Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. If enough of their consumer base starts shouting about it, hopefully BioWare will start thinking seriously about taking a public stand against this kind of prejudice and discrimination.

Sign the Petition

Gamers Launch Harassment Campaign Against BioWare Writer

Concept art of the Gallows courtyard from Dragon Age 2. A tall, imposing wall split in the center by a column of light. From dragonage.bioware.com.

Jennifer Hepler is a writer for BioWare who has worked on Star Wars: The Old Republic and the Dragon Age series. She’s also the latest target of gamers’ misogynist rage for the crime of being a woman with an opinion about video games that some assholes on Reddit didn’t like.

How the whole thing appears to have started is someone posted a combination of quotes from an interview from 2006 that doesn’t exist any more, as well as quotes that were entirely made up, on the gaming sub-Reddit in order to have a rant about how Hepler is “a cancer that is poisoning BioWare.” The thread was eventually deleted because of the attacks and the false attributions. But that wasn’t enough: angry gamers took to Twitter instead, harassing both Hepler and the people who offered support, and apparently even going so far as to make harassing phone calls to her home. Things escalated further when Hepler dared suggest that sexism played a part in the hatred. Right, and sexism played no part in the harassment of Jade Raymond, either, did it?

There’s a homophobic element to the attacks as well, with gamers (TW) accusing Hepler of “screwing up Mass Effect by making Shepard gay.”

The bulk of the outrage appears to have stemmed from two interview answers where Hepler talks about not enjoying playing games and offering up the idea of skipable combat for players who are more interested in a game’s dialogue. Notice the title of the thread where the quotes in question come from: “BioWare aims to get rid of gameplay from games.” Because someone on the writing team is going to have that much control over game development. The outrage here speaks of both jealousy–she gets to make games and she doesn’t even like them!–and a complete ignorance as to how game development actually works.

But more importantly, she’s talking about making games more inclusive and suggesting that people play games for different reasons and in different ways. This is at the heart of why the misogynerds are so angry: the industry is changing, it’s been changing for a long time, and it’s no longer the sole domain of misogynist nerds like them. The sheer entitlement that these people have, that games should cater to them and only to them, is astounding. For them, making games more accessible and inclusive is the exact opposite of what games are for: bragging rights. It’s not cool to tell people you beat a game when the option to skip combat entirely is there, is it? But games aren’t just skill challenges any more; some games are more interested in telling a story with the player, rather than blocking most people from even finishing them.

As Thess puts it:

So … to the immature dipshits: You are going to have to share your toys now. You are going to have to share your video games and your comic books. You are going to have to accept that we like these things, and that they will become more inclusive and not just cater to insecure, homophobic, insular fuck-knuckles on the basis of that liking. You are going to have to go back to fucking kindergarten and LEARN TO SHARE. And if you don’t like it? You can actually ignore the fact that it’s there and play it the same old arsehole way you want to. The potential for story-heavy or story-only play; the possibility of male LI for male Shepard; storylines that actually involve some depth and do not entirely rely on blowing people’s heads off and being lauded as a hero for it? THEY DO NOT HARM YOU BY EXISTING.

To summarise the summary: GROW THE FUCK UP.

This sort of immaturity is misogynist for the same reason people calling The Sims not a real game or talking about how casual gamers are ruining video games is misogynist: it’s based on a fear of girls getting into the clubhouse.

Update Feb 21, 2012: BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka released a statement in support of Jennifer Hepler here. In addition, BioWare made a donation to Bullying Canada and encourage others to do the same.

Anti-Gay Slurs at BlizzCon 2011

The BlizzCon logo.

Earlier today, a reader sent us a link to the Blizzard forums that contained some disturbing news. The closing ceremonies at BlizzCon this past weekend included a performance by metal band Cannibal Corpse; before they started, however, Blizzard employees showed a video of the lead singer talking about World of Warcraft, namely how much he hates the Alliance faction. The problem is, he used homophobic slurs to do so. The video had the swearing censored, but people could still tell what he was saying, and the original uncensored version is available online. GayGamer has both videos and more of the story. Tiny dancer points out,

Many are disturbed that a senior Blizzard employee endorsed a video saying that players of one faction should die – and still more are outraged that anti-gay speech was used in the promotional video, without regard for LGBT players and despite the fact that gay kids are killing themselves.

Blizzard shouldn’t be endorsing this sort of behavior or this sort of language. Blizzard employees are leaders of a very large community, and when community leaders endorse certain kinds of language or behavior, they give license to members of the community to do the same things. It doesn’t matter whether it was meant as a joke; even if Blizzard isn’t homophobic themselves, the community of World of Warcraft is enormous and undoubtedly contains many people who are bigots that hate queer people. And now those people think you, Blizzard, agree with them and are on their side, and that you think homophobic slurs are okay; this encourages them to harass queer players and use slurs that make queer players feel unsafe and unwelcome.

This is absolutely shameful, and Blizzard has yet to offer any sort of real apology. Readers can sign this petition demanding a real apology. Siannan MacDuff, who created the petition, writes in her letter:

But we live in a world where young people are bullied into suicide because of their expressed or perceived sexuality. Many of these young people play WoW as a source of escapism. It is a safe assumption that at least ten percent of your customer base are GLBTQ, and many more of them are allies of those minorities. I myself am a bisexual woman. One of my main characters is a female dwarven rogue that I roleplay as being in a same-sex domestic partnership.

To see Sam Didier up on stage endorsing that kind of language, albeit “bleeped”, was heartbreaking.

Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab’s A Closed World

A screenshot from A Closed World; a person in a white cloak stands before a bridge over a river, their back to a forest.

Over at Gamasutra is an interesting interview with Todd Harper from the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab about A Closed World, a JRPG-style game that was created to address issues of sexuality and identity. The research statement reads:

The goal of this research was to present the design team with the challenge of creating a game that had this compelling queer content, and to observe the ideas and hardships they considered and encountered along the way, so that we could learn more about how to approach those challenges in other design contexts. The project left the ultimate message of the game open to the creators; what was important to discover were the challenges the team faced trying to include queer content in the game, and the strategies they used to tell the story they wanted to tell. The result is a game that asks us to carefully consider what we think of as “normal,” and what is needed to live in the world and be true to one’s self.

In the interview, Harper talks about the various inspirations for the game, which include Earthbound. He says that the goal was to design a game that gave a sense of an experience many queer people have of managing their own identity so closely in order to not be outed, without being too heavy-handed. He believes the team met those goals and hopes that the greater video game industry can learn from what they have accomplished:

“If the industry is willing to look at our process, and look at the difficulties and challenges we had and how we thought them through, it might be something they can adapt for their process, where they have a whole different set of challenges.”

“Eventually, someone is going to have to say, ‘look, we want to tell this story and it’s a risk we’re going to take if we want to tell it.’”

You can play A Closed World here.

Sanya Weathers Pleads for Community Managers to Stop Homophobia

Sanya Weathers is one of the more outspoken Community Managers in the game industry, and she has represented some of the more vocal gaming communities in the biz (DAoC anyone?).  On her personal blog, Sanya has posted an pledge for gaming CMs to stop homophobia on the forums they represent.

So, speaking of help: Help me, fellow mods and CMs. (And help me, players, by reporting and not responding when you see it.) We’ve got to stop tolerating homophobia in our communities. I’m not saying we have to go and get gay married. You don’t even have to support an agenda of any kind. All you have to do is say that you will not permit one of your customers to call another one of your customers a faggot.

 

Here is my pledge:

 

If you’re young and LGBT, I want you to know that gaming is getting better. In any community that I run, you will not be called names if you choose to be open about your identity and orientation. I will not allow the use of homophobic slurs, either at you or near you. I will not work for an employer who does not have my back on this. My forums are a safe place where you are not “other.” You are not alone. You are, always and forever, one of us.

(Source)

We are often quick to blame the players for the insults they sling at each other without thought of who they might be hurting.  But a big part of the responsibility should come down on the game companies who allow this kind of language to be used without repercussions.  If it no longer is okay for them to post homophobic slurs on official forums and blogs, players will learn to think twice about what they’re saying.

While Sanya’s pledge is very admirable, I’d like to extend this a bit further.  Gaming communities are overflowing with all sorts of hate speech, so why stop at anti-gay slurs?  Let’s do away with ableism (calling things ‘lame’), sexism (insulting the women within game communities), rape culture (no more using the word ‘rape’ as a euphemism for ‘pwn’), transphobia, and racism.  If we really want to make gaming communities inclusive, we need to quit allowing people to insult members of the community through stereotypes, slurs, and triggers.

Vanquish – Using slurs to prove strength

Vanquish is a futuristic, science fiction third person shooter from Shinji Mikami (the creator of the Resident Evil series). The game begins with Russian troops taking over a space station and using it’s weapon to destroy San Fransisco with a threat to destroy New York City next. The enemies in the game are robots created by the Russian military and vary in size: small compact machines, human sized robots, and gigantic building sized opponents. The protagonist is a man named Sam Gideon that is outfitted in a unique suit from DARPA that gives him amazing defensive and offensive powers in battle. The commander in charge of the unit that Sam joins during his missions is Lieutenant Colonel Robert Burns. The commander is a swearing, angry pile of muscles and it is his dialogue that I have the most issues with in this otherwise fun game.

The disappointment with Vanquish comes partially from the fact that the game has some positive aspects. The President of the United States is a woman. The DARPA researcher helping Sam Gideon understand the powers of his suit and also acting as the computer expert/hacker on the team is a woman named Elena Ivanova. The action sequences in the game are great fun! Within the suit, the protagonist can literally slide around the battlefield and slow time to shoot enemies. The sequences are exciting to play and visually entertaining.

The President from Vanquish. She is a middle aged woman with short grey hair standing in front of a seal of the President that is done as a holographic image.

Elena from Vanquish. Shows a character using several holographic display computers. She is wearing a short skirt and a grey top with the camera angle positioned below and behind her.

Despite a female presence in the game, the overall tone of the experience screams that women are not full equals in the world of Vanquish. There are no women soldiers on the field. The game is set in a world where robots are part of a battle, the President of the USA is a woman, DARPA can create super suits for soldiers, and Lt. Cm. Robert Burns has several powerful artificial limbs and implants but women are still not seen wielding guns in battle. If they control anything then it is done remotely; they are hidden far away from the shooting. Even in this future women are considered too frail to be in battle.  Elena, a character that aids in both reconnaissance and battle, is not among the ground troops. Toward the end of the game, she falls from a standing position and sprains her ankle. This just enforces the idea of women as weak in this game setting. As the only woman that you interact with in the game, Elena does not escape being a sexual object.  She wears a short skirt and the camera angle is often directed from below and behind the character. I guess the camera used was simply too heavy or cumbersome to lift up above waist height. Oh wait, there is no physical camera in video game cut scenes…. Then why is the image done as if a camera is dangerously close to an up skirt image? There is no reason to do this other than pandering to a male gaze.

Trigger warning: I will be discussing several misogynistic and homophobic slurs used by Burns.  The dialogue in the following paragraph is directly from the game and it uses very strong language.

The idea of women as lesser than the men is solidified by the foul mouthed Lt. Cm. Burns. In both Acts 1 and 2 of the game (there are 5 Acts total) he fires out a number of powerful slurs. The words used by Burns have a mix of misogyny and homophobia that is used by some in society to diminish another as weak. In regards to a robot enemy, he once shouts, “Over here you pansy ass vacuum cleaner.” He is not referring to the robot as a pretty multi-colored flower. Pansy has been used since the 1920s as a slur for effeminate gay males thus blending a negativity toward things coded as feminine and those coded as homosexual. This slur shows a anti-gay and anti-female bias from the commanding officer in that troop. It is enforced again when Sam asks if taking control of a hill in the game will be “strategically important”. Burns responds with “They teach you those big words at DARPA pussy academy?” A brief several seconds later Burns adds, “No pussy footing up here, ladies. We run out and take them down.” All of the troops in the squad are male. The use of ladies here means that female = weak = lesser.  The slurs are used by Burns as a way to show that he is tough and strong, all things that his character presumably does not associate with women or gay men. He is never rebuked or challenged regarding this language. He is in charge of the troop and his voice rules all.  No one questions any of this hateful speech, even Sam whose dislike of Burns is made very clear throughout the game. Because of this acceptance of the slurs, these lines dominate the tone of the game. This is disappointing because the slurs are not used in cut scenes during the second half of the game. It becomes clear that they are not necessary to paint the characters as strong fighters. Since they are not necessary later in the game, why use them at all? They could have been emitted from the dialogue entirely.

Lt. Cm. Burns in Vanquish standing in front of his troops. It shows a strong, muscular man standing in front of a group of men who are all physically smaller than himself.

Vanquish is a game set in a futuristic America. It is a game that still portrays women as weaker than men. It does this both in how it treats the character of Elena and in the slurs of the commanding officer’s dialogue. By never addressing these as negative, it accepts the attitudes as commonplace and acceptable. Even in the made up world of Vanquish, gamers cannot escape misogyny and homophobia.

It’s Not a Dress! It’s Transphobia!

Heigan the Unclean! ...Not sure why he's called that, those robes look pretty spotless, if you ask me. ((Humanoid male with huge bushy beared and purple, red and gold trimmed robes, menacing stare and green-orb tipped staff used to make raids cry.))

Trigger Warning: Homophobia/Transphobia.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I’d brought my main character in WoW back from the freezer and levelled her to the then-level cap of 80; I immediately set about raiding and what not. Indeed, I hit the ground running. I got into a group for Naxxramas, an entry level raid at the time, just after hitting 80 and donning some epic gifts bequeathed by friends. All was going well!

Now you may think this story ends horribly. Fear not, it’s only a bit tropey, if anything.

When we reached Heigan the Unclean the raid leader, a man who’d been quite nice to me and effusive in welcoming me back to the server, was engaged in banter with his compatriots and the subject of Heigan’s clothing was broached. For anyone who’s played MMOs for a substantial amount of time you’ve probably guessed what’s coming: the likening of mage robes to dresses and the mockery that follows. The raid leader said he took pity on Heigan, we’d only make his day worse, he said, because after all… he has to wear a dress.

I mention this because it’s a small, often overlooked in-joke among many gamers that actually betrays deep seated assumptions about gender. At its heart is the essential mockability of anything associated with women being used, worn, or commented favourably upon by a man. Men are often not allowed to touch the feminine, and masculinity is oppositional to femininity in its construction: men are defined by being not-women, and therefore must avoid that which is associated with women. The defensive nature of this masculinity asserts itself constantly in discussions about the cloth robes usually worn by spellcasting classes, especially when their colours are bright.

Its defensive nature is laid quite bare when you find a male player asserting (either jokingly or seriously) in strenuous terms that their robe is not, in fact, a dress.

A fairly popular fan-made music video illustrates this trope quite nicely, its creator singing stirring lyrics to bolster the soul of any wearied masculine Mage:

So why, I ask, it just doesn’t make much sense
That a man of my stature should have to wear a dress
I mean what, may I inquire, were you thinking on that day
When you conjured up for a man like me a robe that looks so gay

Ahhhh sit right back and your troubles melt away
Ahhhh he uses fire but his robe looks so gay

Even my old favourite WoW machinima, Illegal Danish, which is otherwise relatively decent on various bigotry issues, does try to extract many laughs from one of its male characters who apparently likes to wear dresses- he’s mocked by one of the other characters as a “crossdressing holy man.”

It’s also worth revisiting the idea that “man in a dress” is one of the transphobic archetypes of what trans women are in the eyes of some cis people.  Just as this clearly imbricates with homophobia (“a robe that looks so gay”) so too does it connect to transphobia, which is in large part a fear of gender rule-breaking. One of transphobia’s sources is, in part, this defensive fear- sometimes expressed through humour- of gender variance. Pity the man who’s wearing brightly coloured robes, because he doesn’t get to be ‘normal,’ et cetera. It’s a reasonably safe bet that the people, men and women alike, who make these jokes would also be made uncomfortable by the presence of a trans or genderqueer person in their guild or Vent server. That day in Naxxramas I had the good fortune of having a voice that sounded normative for a woman, probably part of the reason I was ‘let in’ on the joke in the first place.

Yet leaving all this aside it also represents a particular train of thought that is prevalent among some gamers: that ‘real men’ are strong meleeing warriors, not wimpy dress-wearing spell-casters. In World of Warcraft this is reflected in part in the fact that the most prominent male heroes are nearly always people bashing their enemies’ heads in with hammers, axes, and/or swords, even if their technical class (say, Paladin or Shaman) technically enables them to cast damaging spells or heal, it’s not terribly often you see a male hero taking that role.

Rock on you beautiful pirate, rock on. ((A burly human man looking quite spunky in what is, actually, a pink dress with gold trim- and a pirate hat for good measure and/or awesome.))

To be honest, it never made much sense to me. Mages/wizards/sorcerers are freaking awesome, for one thing, the very nature of the class represents the power of the mind to overcome obstacles and challenges singular ideas of what ‘strength’ is. No shortage of people, men or women, recognise this. Secondly, robes have a long tradition of being worn by men, cross-culturally and trans-historically this becomes even more visible. Religious figures today often wear robes or very similar garments, regardless of gender.

As usual with cultural critiques like these we often find that people will defensively assert “it’s just a joke”- but as I’ve often argued about these things, it isn’t. It is a small drop of mortar that constructs and reinforces an interpretation of masculinity that works to the detriment of everyone; people of all genders are at risk in various ways when we find that even the slightest hint of gender bending is considered mockable. It is a reminder, a subtle warning to the gender variant that they are, at best, derisively tolerated. It’s one of those things that makes me wince with discomfort every time I hear it in a group or read it on a games website (which is, really, all too often) and as the YouTube song demonstrates it is often explicitly paired with homophobia in a syllogism that  goes: being gay is bad, dresses are gay, therefore men in dresses are bad. Robe=dress=gay=bad.

I leave aside the technical, fashionista nitpicking of how robes are decidedly not the same thing as dresses because I think it’s more important to ask why it should be a problem if a man is wearing a dress in the first place.

Images courtesy of Wowhead.com, taken by various players.

An open letter to Day[9] and e-sports commentators in general

Logo for a major Starcraft 2 tournament

Dear Day[9],

First off, I’d like to state  that you’re by far by far my favourite Starcraft 2 commentator. You’re clever, funny, hopelessly in depth, and I can feel the thought and care in what you do. Above all though, one of the main reasons I’m a fan and regular viewer is your professionalism and absence of the bigotry that plagues e-sports commentary and culture. This is why I’m writing this – to tell you what I think needs to change for e-sports to “happen” in a real sense.

The reason I’m contacting you is both because you specifically asked for feedback in your video, and generally I think you’re one of the few commentators with both the love and intelligence to take this message seriously. It’s in no way an accusation, but an explanation of why I think the Starcraft 2 community needs to change.

In your recent video on the state of e-sports in general, you state that your resolution for 2011 is to live off donations and make E-Sports a Big Deal. I agree. I’m a huge fan of e-sports and spend a lot of time watching casts, both live and on demand. However, the current e-sports culture is, to put it mildly, racist, misogynist and homophobic. A huge percentage of potential gamers are both actively and passively harassed and excluded from e-sports, and games in general. Of course, I’m not at all saying this is your fault, and I think Starcraft 2 has by far one of the best communities when it comes to general niceness (again – why I really think Starcraft 2 is worth caring about), but I think in a homosocial, androcentric world it’s easy to forget how much what people do excludes others.

Accessibility

In your cast, you mention that e-sports is “finally accessible”, pointing to the number of on-demand streams and live casts now available compared to 10 years ago. You also talk about Team Liquid and GosuGamers as examples of the long term appeal of e-sports and games like StarCraft 2. I agree. These sites are great resources and bring a lot of money into the sport. There’s a lot of knowledge and passion there.

However, I think the key question here is one that constantly comes up in conversations about privilege – “accessible to whom?”. As you have alluded to in past casts, the e-sports community is almost entirely male, and under 30, in stark difference to gamers as a whole. It’s also almost entirely White and Asian. While it’s easy to passively accept this as just the way things are, there are many ways that e-sports in general excludes women, people of colour and LGBT folk. I’d like to cover some of the key areas that put off people who would otherwise be interested in e-sports in general and Starcraft 2 specifically.

How does discrimination happen?

The first one is the storytelling itself. As I’ve covered in a previous article (and also mentioned on Rock Paper Shotgun), the storytelling in Starcraft 2 is certainly racist, more than a little bit sexist, and above all awfully written – relying on tired old hero movie tropes to bolster a hugely cliched and trite single-player plot. While you state that “Blizzard notoriously care about their fans”, I agree – as long as the said fans happen to be 15-30 year old white heterosexual males. There are so many incredibly sexist and transphobic examples of characters in World of Warcraft, for example – it doesn’t really give me any hope that future Starcraft 2 expansions will be any better.

Secondly, there’s the Starcraft 2 community. While this is a lot better than some I could mention, the community still stinks especially when it comes to inclusion of women. The Hathor Legacy covers one example of sexist harassment on the Team Liquid forums. Pardon the colourful language, but I think the author paraphrases it well enough:

Anybody getting any meta-messages here? The response, including that from the administrator, is basically, “Sure, bitch, do what you want, but show us your tits and comply with all future sexual demands from all of us, and once you’ve done those chores you can do your little female only thing to your heart’s content in whatever spare time you have left, only we’ll be cyber-harassing all the other bitches, too, so they’ll probably be too busy to join your little club of whores.

I’m sure you’re used to this attitude, even if you disagree with the specific example. Notably, at least one games developer who’s tried to challenge these attitudes has received actual death threats and cancelled multiple speaking opportunities in fear of her own safety. I know it was a flippant comment in your cast, but don’t you want your daughters to be playing starcraft as well as watching it? Active rather than passive? Do you think that they would, hypothetically, feel comfortable posting in the Team Liquid forums, with attitudes like this flying around? Sure, you can chalk this down to 4chan trolls but it’s missing the point – this attitude is endemic, accepted, and combatable.

Thirdly there’s the issue of LAN events. I’ve been to one LAN event, the iSeries run by Multiplay. As I covered in a previous article about combating discrimination in gaming (which incidentally contains some of my personal advice on what admins can do), I had my thread on the forum asking to meet up with other LGBT people deleted by the moderators, due to “complaints from parents” (yeah, right). I was told it would be easy to meet other LGBT people at the event and they would be “obvious” (because obviously we all look the same – seriously?). Needless to say, it wasn’t.  I’m not giving Multiplay or any other organisation that wants to erase my existence without a word to me any of my money again, and I’m not going to any LAN events again that don’t have a policy on sexist or LGBT harassment – you can read my other suggestions in the article, if you wish.

Conclusions

Studies show that 40% of gamers are women, but this covers casual games too. Does this mean that women just don’t have the mental capacity to play a game like StarCraft, or does it mean that the scene is institutionally sexist and an abusive place for women to be? As much as the detractors are willing to say “not sexist” at the drop of a hat (like the Team Liquid example), the numbers themselves point to an incredibly patriarchal community. I don’t think there are similar figures for LGBT or gamers of colour, but I imagine the figures are similar.

What does all this mean? It means that a huge percentage of the potential e-sports fan and participant community are excluded through the racist, sexist, homophobic community and practices of both the game developers and gaming community. E-sports needs to shed it’s stereotype of only being for 17 year old acne-ridden angry white boys if it ever wants to be taken seriously as a professional sport. Yes, this is an offensive stereotype too, but there is barely anything happening in e-sports to challenge this in a positive way by making gaming more inclusive. Real, concrete barriers exist for you if you’re not a 15-30 year old straight, white or Asian male. These barriers will stop e-sports being ever taken seriously, for better or worse.

It might sound like I’m just complaining without doing anything. On the contrary, I’d love to be a part of the general gaming community, but at the moment I have to fight for the right just to be allowed in it as myself.  Also, I’m steering away from mentioning specifics because I think a general understanding of the issues is much more important than immediately going out and trying to change things.

I’m not saying there’s any actions you can take, directly. It would be great for us folk who don’t fall into the group I talked about to have an ally who’s respected by the community. I absolutely loved it when you wore a purple shirt for Spirit Day and I’m sad your vlog didn’t have comments at the time to see what people thought of it. On the other hand, the Funday Monday cast you did using the “no women on the Internet” meme I found offensive and damaging, although you did make some reparations in the next episode, which was nice.

However these kind of sexist ideas persist and it would be amazing if top-level commentators like yourself called out the sexism and racism when it happens on places like Team Liquid and in general, supporting women and LGBT Starcraft 2 players. Further, you could even use any influence you might have with Blizzard to encourage non-discriminatory plot lines, although I think that’s unrealistic. You talk about doing a project per month for this year.  It would be great if one or more of these projects specifically looked at tackling discrimination in gaming. For instance,  a competition for women, or a tournament for LGBT people and allies – however this is complex, as roughly 10% of Starcraft 2 players are undoubtedly gay, bi or lesbian, and again the TL attitude stinks in a general sense.

Mainstream sport in general is no better, admittedly. It would be such a tragic shame though, if a modern sport like Starcraft had to start again with an antiquated, offensive attitude that plagues sports like football, even leading directly to suicide when people dare to be out. Great blogs like Geek Feminism already have articles written on anti-harassment policies for conferences, following a series of rapes and sexual harassment at events. I too want Starcraft 2 to be an event on the same level as any major sport, but I don’t want suicide, rape, violence and harassment as the default environment in 10 years time, which is exactly what happened to English club football in this country.  It would be amazing if a modern sport like Starcraft 2 could have a modern attitude to difference and really show the world what sports can be.

Now is the time to nip this kind of attitude in the bud. Please think about the diversity of gamers when casting, and above all, be an ally. If you want e-sports to take off as truly inclusive sports, then much more needs to be said and done to defend and champion the rights of people the community currently does it’s level best to bully, harass and exclude.  To quote your video:  “it ain’t gonna be one of us [to make e-sports happen] – it’s going to be ALL of us”. I really, really hope this is the case, and that ALL gamers feel welcome and comfortable in the Starcraft 2 community by the end of 2011.

Your fan,

Kimadactyl