I was a gamer 40 years ago (I wouldn’t call myself one now, unless “plays games occasionally” is definitive of an identity other than “human being”). Back then, games were all played on a table top, with dice or cardboard markers or even miniature painted soldiers. Sure, there was Pong, and a few other electronic games that involved moving dots and squares on a screen, but we thought of those as games in the same sense that War was a card game.
Even then, although I wasn’t really conscious of it, gaming was almost an entirely male hobby. Why, I didn’t know: I’d drop into the gaming shop in North Seattle or the one near the university in Eugene, and all the familiar stereotypes would be there: the blustering neckbeard, the socially awkward obsessive nerd, the middle-class collector, the history buff. They were all guys. People who walked in who didn’t fit into the categories were sneered at and made to feel inferior, which was part of the elite mystique of being a grown man playing with toys.
That started to change with Dungeons & Dragons, which brought in a more diverse clientele. There were girls who liked to play that. I can’t even imagine the tremors that shook the manly enclaves of the local gaming store when Pokemon and Magic, the card games, became popular — my kids were into that and I saw lots of girls joining in.
I moved on from the gaming world after college, so I missed most of the difficulties in the transition from a boys club to a slightly more open environment (which is obviously still going on, and still causing tremendous anxiety among many delicate male flowers). But here’s a woman describing her experiences in this community. It’s ugly.
It is 2009. A man at my game store has been sexually harassing me, talking about how much fun he would have raping me. When no one is in the store, he traps me against a wall and rubs his genitals against me. I call the police.
“This is a matter for your manager. If he touches you on the street, then you can call us.” The officer hangs up.
The owner refuses to expel the creep and fires me instead. Three years later I win a precedent-setting human rights case against him.
What is shocking to me is that I am not particularly visible. I do not create, write about, or otherwise engage in gaming culture. Due to the years of persistent sexual harassment and threats, I maintain an incredibly low social profile and try to avoid gendering myself online. Just think for a moment how fucked up it is that I am not free to post about my hobbies, interests, or day to day life because I am a woman and the gaming community is so dangerous.
Back when I was active in gaming, I was oblivious. I was just having some fun on the weekend; I wasn’t trying to expand the hobby or create new opportunities for diverse people to join in. My girlfriend wasn’t interested in the slightest, and that was just fine, so I didn’t have a personal stake in it.
But then I became an advocate for atheism. I knew women who thought it was important — and in fact, there were women who were leading, like Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Susan Jacoby and Annie Laurie Gaylor — and furthermore, the theocratic right was making it important to expand and make the movement more visible. We’re progressive, right? We won’t lack for enthusiasm in making this movement inclusive and embracing a secular perspective on issues like civil rights!
Boy, have the last few years been an exercise in disillusionment. The Old Boys Club doesn’t want to open its doors, and the deeper cultural issues are pervasive. I read stories like this one, and I just think it’s the same problem everywhere, and it’s disappointing that atheists who pride themselves on their rationality are just as bad.
The response to the rampant sexual assault in the gaming hobby is predictably misogynistic. Women are expected to train themselves in self-defence and anything less is regarded as “irresponsible” on their part. This attitude is illogical, irrational, and deeply callous as it does not address the basic fact that, by the time a woman is forced to defend herself from sexual assault, a crime has already been committed against her person. Worse, any woman who has defended herself from sexual harassment in the gaming community can tell you that her self-defence was a precursor to ostracism as the men in the community embraced the predator and expelled his victim for “creating drama”. As if the perpetrator of the crime wasn’t responsible for the “drama” in the first place!
So what do we do? We keep fighting. And the fighting will never end in our lifetimes. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?