As a gamer, both tabletop and video games, I have the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life – men, women, and children of all ages and ethnicities. A new age of social gaming is emerging that includes a safer, better, and more inclusive community, but there remains a dark cloud that looms over our wonderful realm – one of discrimination and harassment – and I want to take this Tabletop Tuesday to talk about it.
I believe that discussion of gender issues in RPGs is important, not only because acknowledgement of trends and portrayals in fiction are a valid form of critique, but because in recent years there is an elephant in the room: portrayal of women and incidents of sexism within the tabletop fandom. While many gamers are decent people, there is a not-so-insignificent segment among the tabletop community which propagates an atmosphere unwelcoming to women and is being discussed in many areas, both among fans and game designers.
2001 – I started playing Dungeons and Dragons around this time. One of my fellow gamers decides to get the barmaid drunk and sleep with her. I cheer when he succeeds and fail to realize just how wrong this scene is.
2003 – My friend’s sister decides to join our ongoing campaign and creates her first ever D&D character, a human barbarian. We make fun of her for it and begin calling her character “Barbarella”. When she finally leaves, we continue to heckle her every time we see her for being “too emotional”.
2004 – My girlfriend at the time is raped at our school Halloween party. She doesn’t report it and asks me not to tell anyone. I don’t and tell her that everything will be fine. A few months later, at a Christmas party, it happens again. She tells someone this time and is put on antidepressants. A few days later, she uses those pills to take her own life.
2006 – I live somewhere new now. One of the girls from school that plays in our D&D campaign ask us to walk her home because she doesn’t feel safe walking home alone at night. We never question why she feels unsafe or investigate further.
2009 – A year after I join the Air Force, I get married and deploy overseas where I meet up with a group of gamers. One of our fellow airman asks if she can join us and talks about how she’s played for years. The other guys make fun of her for non-gaming reasons and she leaves. I apologize to her later, but don’t leave the group or voice my disdain at their actions.
2011 – I deploy again and I manage to set up another D&D game halfway through the deployment. We meet in a place where females aren’t allowed, but a fellow airman expresses her interest in joining. I explain to her where we meet and tell her that she can’t join because of that. I don’t try to find an alternative spot for all of us to hang out.
2012 – I’m GMing a game at Megacon when one of the players at my table has her character die. She leaves upset and one of the other players comments on how “it must be that time of the month”. I say nothing at the time and keep running the game, reminding myself to address the issue later. I never do.
2013 – I dress up as a female for a charity event at the convention. While checking out the prizes for the raffle, a stranger spanks my ass. When I turn around and confront him, he responds with, “I’m sorry. I thought you were a girl.” I report him to security who writes it off as “a simple misunderstanding.”
These are just a few of the times I can remember. I know I’ve made other sexist comments that I’ve excluded because I don’t remember the event or I simply didn’t notice what was going on. Problems like the ones I’ve listed are what continue to make this a huge part of an already widespread problem. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’m sad to say that these have been just some of them. I’m not proud of these moments, but I am glad that I can look back and contemplate the role I played in this epidemic and recognize my flaws.
I am a white male, so I get to live in this safe version of the world that some women don’t. In fact, many men, not just white men, get to live in this safe world where men like to think they rule supreme. However, there are so many other problems at the core of this as well. Racism, ageism, etc. They all need to be looked at. Like some of the cases I mention, others write this discrimination off as “a simple misunderstanding” when it isn’t that in the least. Those who don’t experience the problem are often the ones who are blind to it. I’m working on being aware. I’m angry that this happens in any walk of life, let alone one of my favorite hobbies, but people in all walks of life can be a bully or worse in disguise.
What’s worse is that these harassers who actively assault and harass women and minorities are good at figuring out when they can and when they can’t get away with it. Being a person who stands idly by and says nothing can be just as bad sometimes. In a world where everyone is so easily offended, we sometimes try our best to stay out of situations just like these where we might provoke someone or put ourselves in harm’s way. Nobody wants to put their hands in the snake pit and risk getting bit. Well, some of these women and minorities are ALREADY in harm’s way. The offense I’ve seen the most is that when other people think it’s a joke, it makes these harassers feel welcome and safe in the community and it makes those they harass feel ostracized. This should clearly be the other way around.
Be a part of the solution, ladies and gentlemen. Bring this topic up more and more. It’s a plague on our community and, even though most of us aren’t part of it, we can’t just ignore it. Whether gamer, TVholic, movie buff, cosplayer, or whatever, we have to do something to show these harassers that they’re not welcome.
Respect should be the foundation we build our community on. Thank you.