Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hey folks, let's talk

So within the last week a bunch of things happened in the tabletop fandom. Instead of replying immediately I thought to wait and give the issue some time so as to formulate my responses.

Then another thing came up, which is a separate issue yet reflects the greater issue at hand. Again I thought to revise my post and possibly tie in the two together. And so I waited. I did the same thing several times the past few months, worried about kicking the hornet's nest.

Back in 2013 I used to be a poster on Giant in the Playground, a rather large community of folks with a shared appreciation for Dungeons & Dragons, Order of the Stick, and similar things. It was a good place, full of homebrew and neat discussions; the moderators kept the peace by putting a lid on controversial topics such as politics and religion. This is a reasonable thing, not at all uncommon on most message boards.

Yet there was a troubling trend I saw board topics revolving about gender and women in game of an oddly regressive nature. They were springing up every week or so; the most blatant I remember was a player asking for help in a campaign where his adventuring party saved a baby from an evil cult and were now hiding out in the woods miles away from civilization and being hunted by said cult.

His major concern? The adventuring party was all-male, and thus wouldn't be adequately suited to taking care of the baby and wetnursing it.

Then another thread followed about Strength caps for women, and whether you'd tolerate a group whose DM mandated it. Sadly, there came many board regulars rushing to the defense of said hypothetical DM as though those people who stuck to such a regressive rule were being unfairly attacked.

This kind of shit was going on GiantITP for a while, and prompted me to write up a large post about it. At first restricted to said site, I decided it was a larger issue and reposted it on as many message boards as I could find. I did my best to word things in a calm way, in a way which wouldn't condemn a person for enjoying games with problematic material.

I got many people agreeing with me. But in spite of all that, in spite of being a male poster with no visible indicators of belonging to a minority group, there were gamers who got very, very angry at my post. I was told that I was a hyperactive woman who nursed a vendetta against the entire male gender, was told I was starting up a witch-hunt even though I named no names in my post, and accused of trying to force irrelevant political issues into a gaming forum.

It's been 3 years and the dialogue hasn't changed. But even more so outside media is focusing upon us due to the most recent incidents. And regardless of our desire to wash our hands and stay out of the way, such things have an effect on us all. Like it or not, tabletop gaming and broader nerd fandoms are engaged in the middle of a culture war, and the more reactionary elements are paraphrasing any criticism of troubling behavior as an outside attack against nerddorm from barbarians at the gate.

Look at this response to Ed Greenwood's Facebook post regarding a transgender NPC in Siege of Dragonspear. Just as importantly, look at the amount of upvotes his post got:

There are jerks in every hobby; there are bigots in every hobby; there are people who style themselves as 'open-minded' and 'liberal' yet who interpret greater attempts at inclusiveness as a zero-sum game which will somehow hurt the end product. These aren't fringe voices, either. They're trolls whose sole purpose is to get people upset, but they're also folks with years-long membership in communities and who can be completely reasonable when talking about other issues.

They're folks who won't out-and-out say that they want gaming to remain the domain of a "guys' night out" or get uncomfortable when gay and trans* NPCs show up, but will rephrase their opposition under the guise of something nobler. That it's about freedom of speech, or opposing Cultural Marxism, or something which sounds better than "I don't like X people and I don't want them showing up in my escapist fantasies."

Sometimes they're a great homebrewer with a 10+ year membership on a popular messageboard, a man married to a wife with three daughters, but who says that women gamers should put up with sexual harassment due to a "boys will be boys" attitude.

Sometimes they're folks who are kind to you, offer you advice and help spotlight your product on the Internet, but whose social media posts expressing extreme hatred towards Muslims makes you realize that associating with them won't be a good idea for publicity or one's own scruples.

Sometimes they're CharOps folks who contributed a lot of value to their website with useful Handbooks, but unironically calls someone a "vagina-fearing sissyboy" in an argument about healthcare.

Sometimes they're bloggers who have a lot of creative ideas, but interpret a self-publisher's hiring of cultural consultants from non-European societies as being discriminatory against whites.

Sometime's they're a third party self-publisher who sells a product for Pathfinder but includes a tentacle rape feat with no hint of forewarning to readers that his sexual fetishes are present in the book.

The thing about tabletop is that those with such views rarely take pains to hide them, and can easily be spotted if you know what to look for. Their boldness is in part due to common Geek Social Fallacies. It's easy to imagine us going "fuck you, get out of here" to one of these folks if they're a total stranger or act like jerks all the time. But when they're fixtures of their small communities, or people you know and shared fond memories with, or who the moderators won't bother to sanction, it can be harder for a lot of people.

Refusing to say or do anything never fixes the problem, but at the same time I understand why people are afraid to go forth. It's these voices in our hobby which make it a worse place, who cut off so many potential new gamers who are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. Some people don't want to get caught in the middle of drama, receive hatemail, or creeps stalking them and their friends on social media for speaking out. Some are worried about weighing in prematurely and end up tainting someone's reputation.

I get that.  The claim that "to be silent means to support" is a statement I never agreed with, for not everyone can be a crusader when it means risking their own mental well-being and that of their loved ones.

But you can help in your own way.

You can show support to companies who take a stand against the regressive elements in the hobby, like Posthuman Studios and Paizo. And at the same time you can tell gaming companies who reinforce and defend toxic voices that they just lost a customer.

If you see a fellow gamer who's given shit because of an aspect of their identity they have no control over, you can let them know that there's a gaming table with an open seat for people like them.

You can petition the moderators of message boards overrun in prejudice to enforce the rules they have against "racism, sexism, homophobia, etc" by reporting the many troublemakers. And if they don't enforce their own rules, point the victims over to message boards and circles you know are more inclusive and tolerant.

And lastly, whenever you see a Gaymer X convention or Female Pathfinders group, instead of waxing despair over "unnecessary divisiveness," instead ask about the circumstances which led to their creation and what we can do as a community to make them feel like comrades in greater geekdom once again.