Leading in the Gaming Community

Gamer culture is rich with bright, intelligent, creative, energetic, passionate people. We love our games, love to analyze them, make them, mod them, love to praise them and love creating the forums, wikis, guilds and leagues around them. It is, without a doubt, a culture we want to continue to cultivate, a culture with value and potential. But the amount of bigotry, especially the casual homophobia and hyper-masculinity in the gaming community is a threat to this culture I love. Every time a gamer says “that’s gay”, every time guys get unusually excited over voice chat when they hear a woman, every time we call a woman a stupid bitch, cunt or fake gamer, the community dies a little. If we want to preserve gamer culture, we’ve got to do something about this. We have to change. All of us.

Since the greater part of the problem isn’t these vicious, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, able-ist attacks committed by a hateful few, I want to focus on those of us who are paralyzed by the displays of violence, or those of us fence-sitting, waiting for incidents to blow over, waving them off as insignificant, passively observing, watching as the community is made less. It’s not hard to see that something is wrong with this, but it’s very hard to know what to do, much easier to grow apathetic. Hearing about these violent events can get annoying, if only because they sometimes remind us of our feelings of powerlessness. But we’re far from powerless. To act though, we have to understand the problems. And unfortunately, not enough of us do or even want to. We have tons of excuses to continue with our own points of view, to stay within the confines of our warm and fuzzy ideas, despite any evidence that’s contrary to them – even if we know there’s evidence contrary to them. We’ve got to grow up.

If we really love this community, we’ve got to be willing to change.


For relevance, let’s talk about recent events, though they’re far from the only problems threatening our beloved culture. The hatefulness and bigotry of those who violently attack people for having strong opinions is nuts. The fight to prove who does or doesn’t belong in gaming is positively destroying the culture, preventing progressive game development and killing our communities. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this destruction. Attackers commonly claim to be male in identity and commonly defend their violent acts. Keep in mind violence is much more than physical. Attacking people through insults and threats is possibly more harmful than outright slapping them in the face. While this behavior by men is definitely a by-product of the wider culture, that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with it within the gamer community. I’d argue that’s where most of us need to deal with it, because it’s the community we live in the most. This aggressive behavior is just a symptom of the way those men were taught to perform masculinity, and since group behavior is magnified the larger the group, it rapidly becomes heinous and out of control.

One can never be enough man that one can stop proving their masculinity. Unlike with women gaining the status of woman, manhood is something men believe we can lose. It’s not something we are, it’s something we do. And because we don’t focus on who we actually are, because we’re so hell bent on demonstrating what a man is, the blind and mindless anger and hatred is a really easy thing for us to reach for. It’s so bad men don’t even blame themselves for their bad acts (the nexus of victim blaming). Masculinity is literally a relentless, daily effort that men put into a performance:

Women are only tangentially necessary to prove male heterosexuality, a checkbox on the list of Masculinity. The less like people they are, the better because it’s not about demonstrating our love of women, but our solidarity with other men. Remember: men don’t get points with other men by being loving. We get the respect of other men by being emotionless, hard, tough, and, most of all, heterosexual. Sexualization of women in games is primarily about homosociality among men. Masculinity is a performance men do for other men and in which women are only a prop.

This brings us to the concept of the Man Box. The Man Box, a concept that sociologists and experts on gender studies have coined to describe the construction of masculinity, is at the root of our community problems because many of those lashing out right now are of the mind that gaming is a man’s domain. One of my readers linked me a really great article in the comments of a recent post. The article is by Charlie Glickman and he does a nice job of explaining, in a really light and clear way, the complexities of the Man Box. I highly recommend reading it for anyone more interested in exploring what it is and what it means for men in our culture. But how does this relate to the behavior we see amongst men in the gaming community?

The rabid defenses of sexualization of women, the vitriolic response to Tropes vs. Women, the hatefulness being thrown at Zoe Quinn for her sexual habits (if it were about journalistic integrity, there would have been more attacks on the journalist), are all performances. To be inside the box is to vehemently deny the validity of anything outside of it. This is partly why the issue of sexism in the gaming community is usually so black and white. Masculinity is an either/or proposition. I see this kind of thinking all the time with men. We see this extremism everytime someone suggests sexualization of female characters is out of control (“but censorship is wrong!” and it’s ilk). You’re in or you’re out with these guys.

Here’s an illustration of the box, though if it were a physical thing, it’d be more like a mask or a body suit. It’s something we wear, not something we are.


This isn’t all encompassing, of course. There’s lots more we can put inside this box and outside. Can you think of any?

Charlie explained that men have to be all of these things to be masculine, and while I’m willing to yield to his expertise, I must say this isn’t how it seems. Men try to be all of these things, that’s very true. But you only need to be as many of these things as possible and make sure that you’re not anything outside the box – that’s the trick. Whatever we lack (such as height), we just over compensate with what we have. Masculinity is more like a critical mass of manliness. Either you’re a real man or you’re not, and there’s no in between.

One of the studies Charlie mentioned asked men to braid hair or rope. As a reward for completing the task they could chose either a puzzle or to punch a punching bag. The men who braided hair always chose the punching bag, and they always tried to punch harder. The men who braided rope didn’t try to punch so hard. This is that over compensation.

Another example he gave was that men acting in groups are far more aggressive than they would be individually, and he mentioned cat-calling is one activity where we see this. The more men doing the calling, the more likely the situation is to escalate out of control. This he attributed to one-up manship. Each man in the group is striving to prove that they’re more inside the box than the other men, and none of them wants to be the guy in the group who’s at the bottom of this competition. I think most men can relate to this experience.

This competitiveness against other men is equal parts performing masculinity and homophobia. Fear of not being seen as a man is also a fear of being seen as gay. All the taunting using fag, homo, gay, etc reveals that fear. We’ve all probably seen men flare up at the mere suggestion that they might like men or act like a woman. Some of us have seen the reaction of men who, after learning that woman was a “man”, wanted to confront that person about being “tricked” – as if his attraction to that woman were based on her chromosome arrangement. This is the flimsy, fragile nature of our model of masculinity.

A strange thing happens to us psychologically because of this mask, this performance. We know there’s a difference between the demands of masculinity and who we are, and I think this is why men are less likely to take responsibility for their own terrible acts. We’re more likely to deny that responsibility and to blame external factors for our behavior. The attacks on Anita Sarkeesian are seen by certain groups of men as her own fault. She provoked this response, she’s responsible for what’s happening. We see this in cases of rape, assaults on transgendered people and other cases where men get violent. It’s always provoked. In a sense, it’s a way of looking at our behavior and saying “I wouldn’t do something like that”, but the man we wear would do that and then some. If men in our community want this hostile behavior to stop, we must re-examine why believe that being provoked is sufficient grounds for it.

A study in the previous article made me consider this connection between masculinity and the fierce denials of responsibility that are so common. Bigots and other hateful mobs who condone this toxic behavior see people like me as the problem, me as someone who provokes the demons out of them. They don’t believe their behavior is a problem. Their behavior, in their eyes, is perfectly sane, normal, and righteous. It’s a proper response to people who are demanding a better community.

There’s no nuance to masculinity. Recognizing the root causes of this behavior is kinda important if we want to be able to do something about it. We can’t be reactionary, waiting to respond only after the fact. We have to accept that these people are among us all the time and all they need is some event to provoke them. So why not think about why we see this behavior and talk about how we can foster better models of masculinity? This is a problem only mean can solve, because we are the problem.


Let’s whip out the ole spellbook on this one.

spellbookOf particular relevance to recent events are Counterspell, Awareness, and Reinforcement. Show your support to people being targeted. There’s always the risk that those same people may retaliate on you, but how is that different than any other day? Those of us demanding a better community have to expect a certain amount of flack for standing up. All the same, know your own limits and give self-care as much priority as taking a stand. Only you know where that line lies and only you, in any given moment, can determine if it’s the best time and place to put yourself at risk.

I’ve been asked to help build an activist group for gamers. The basic idea is that gamers need a place to turn to, a refuge against the hate. We also desperately need a gamer friendly place to get useful information about social issues and pool our contributions to social justice. More on that another time, but if you’re interested in organizing and doing more for this community let me know.

Advice for men in particular:

  • Listen. This is the single most important thing for you to do in the sexism debate. Yes we have feelings. Yes we have things we want to say. But we have to first understand and we can’t do that if we’re too eager to speak.
  • Follow. Read up the issues to give yourself greater context. It’s really not enough to pay attention to the singular incident. The more you know about the wider issue, the better you can respond to any specific one. Follow people who usually have that information or who can help you access it.
  • Care. Give a damn. Never let the fact that REAL people’s lives are literally being devastated by this hateful behavior, whether you believe it or not. Let compassion be your first response to people who feel attacked.

A Spellbook: A Guide to Activism

This is long, long overdue, but fear not. As this is the place of the chronicles of experience, I’ll share with you how I found the Triforce, how I downed M. Bison. I’ll tell you the secrets of mana.

There’s a demand in the gamer community for more instruction on how to stand up for what we believe in and how to be effective while doing it. There’s a few things people demanding guidance must keep in mind before we proceed.

  1. Location, location, location. It matters where you are. Good advice for living in my town is not good advice for living in your town. Every guide of this sort has extreme limitations. To overcome them, readers must do a bit of introspection: What are the problems I want to help solve? Who are those affected? What’s being done in my circle of influence? Start there and work your way outward. I’ll spend the rest of this guide going over these 3 fundamental points.
  2. Audience. Unless you’re actively fighting for equality, you are the target audience for all calls to action. Bigots and those in their camp aren’t going to be swayed so the propaganda isn’t about convincing them, it’s about getting YOU to act. Know where you are on the issue so you can know your role.
  3. Balance. Don’t become 100% absorbed in “the cause”. You can dedicate your life to something and still make time to enjoy your life. Will it change the way you approach life? Yes. But don’t get so tangled in fighting that you forget there are many people like you, who stand with you and that you can do much more than struggling together – you can actually enjoy life with them.

What are the issues I’m passionate about?

trigonYou can’t take up the banner for everything. You’re one person. Most people decide to work on issues that are close to home, issues that are happening right outside their door. This is a good choice. The more invested you are in the solution, the more likely you’ll be advocate for change. As a gamer, there’s plenty of causes that need your support and they are the same ones we deal with in wider society.

This doesn’t mean you should forget about other issues or that you should act as though your issue is the most pressing. This doesn’t mean you can’t go out and support other causes. What I’m saying is to focus on a cause that you can dedicate yourself to. For example, I work a lot on issues of homelessness. When I’m out in the community I’m at shelters, food kitchens or walking Skid Row ( a popular homeless destination in the Los Angeles area). I have friends who throw themselves into other causes, like gay rights and other equality politics. I attend their events and show them support as well, but I don’t organize with them most of the time.

I’m one person. I can only do so much. Still, I have to be careful not to make myself or my cause the center of the universe. Everything matters. You have to try to do the same. It will be hard at first as you begin to learn about issues and that’s normal.

Who are those affected?

When the political topic is immigration, those affected are the immigrants. When we’re talking about women’s rights, those affected are women. Everyone is impacted in some way by inequality, but that doesn’t mean everything is about you. A guy supporting the fight against sexism is not the group affected by sexism, even though he’s impacted. You have to be sensitive and knowledgeable, able to tell the difference between oppressors and oppressed, privileged and underprivileged.

black-crossed-swords-hiThis is the most popular error allies make. It’s an issue of ignorance and insensitivity, something we can fix by actively educating ourselves. You are responsible for your education. Those affected are merely being kind when they answer your questions, but they are under no obligation to do so.

The reason this question is so important is that so many volunteers think everything is about them because they are affected in some way. They get hurt feelings frequently because instead of putting survivors at the center they put themselves there and can’t figure out why people think they are a problem.

Don’t make it about you. Know who the oppressed are, listen to them, and never forget it’s not about you unless it actually is.

What can I do in my circle of influence?

Here’s where the work starts. Here’s where you can go out into the world and make a difference. Everyone can make a difference.

In your circle of influence, your first stop is the mirror. I’m getting a bit of a reputation for saying that, but it can’t really be said enough. People usually think there’s somewhere to go or some master to visit to get a solution. The solution is you.

OK, OK …you’re not going to instantly understand kung fu and start glowing. But the point should be clear: stop looking everywhere for answers and look at yourself first. When you’re asking questions, you’re not really looking for answers, but rather for responses that validate your own sense of things. Worse, you’re not examining what you already know and figuring out how to grow.

Introspection is the most powerful spell in your spellbook, your ability with the highest critical hit, your attribute that increases your chances to always hit your target. Think deeply about who you are and what your role is on the issues. Know that you have done things you didn’t realize you did and that you’re not evil for making a mistake, for being ignorant. Question your beliefs, listen to those directly affected, who have lived experience with the issues. 99% of what you can do involves self-reflection. It’s not terribly exciting, I know. But there is no master out there. There is no magic wand, no genie, no One True Way. There is only your beliefs, your actions, and their consequences. Self-examination is the hardest thing in the world, to be honest. It’s not a small thing at all. There will be pain and anguish. There will be resentment and denials. But if you’re committed, you’ll also amaze yourself with your strength, integrity and ability to do better.

Many people don’t believe they can change so they say things like “the world will never change”. They are right. If you don’t change yourself the world will always look like an unchanging place.

A Spellbook for Your Journey

These 3 things are where we can start to begin to affect change. I think these are the three most important questions to ask yourself and your strongest starting point. Once you feel confident you’ve nailed down these three questions and feel that you’re a good work-in-progress, here are some baby steps you can take with you. Doing things will empower you and build camaraderie with those you stand with on the issues. These things will help you network and build relationships so that you can do more together. Think of these as the attunement process for the endgame.




Scree Tags: #gameractivism #activistspellbook #beinganally

Talkback: The Fallacies of the End Game

Talkback IconTalkback is a feature for cross-blog dialog (where one blogger writes an article and response articles are published by other bloggers). Join the conversation with your own talkback article if you’re a blogger or hit up the comments section of the participating blogs.

Settle in for a long read. This talkback began with a recently published article here titled “Better Gamers for a Better Community”. One response came from Roger at Moderate Peril who seems to agree with the thrust of my article, but disagrees with it’s delivery.

J3w3l penned a really nuanced response yesterday about her personal experiences and understanding of what it means to be a gamer confronting the toxicity. She made a strong point that when she’s blogging about games, it’s often the time she uses to get away from abuse or to take a break from activism. I think she’s right that many game bloggers feel this way. I completely agree and I just want to say I think that’s a totally valid stance to take. It was the stance I took when I created T.R. Red Skies (and subsequently why I have changed blogs). We all have to take care of ourselves first and championing your favorite cause cannot be a 24 hour affair. It’s emotionally, psychologically and physically draining. In the original article, I called strongly on men to get more involved but I do want to make it clear that I understand and agree that we’re not duty bound to be on patrol 24/7. I think for my part, I just want gamers to not go quiet in the face of abuse and I still think more participation from men in the community is sorely needed.

Then there’s the response article from Tobold, ever the champion of strawman arguments, extremism, distortions and omissions. He wants to change the topic of discussion to that of political correctness and use ideological framing because, depending on whether you’re a “ultra-liberal” or a conservative all bigotry is/is not a problem. Apparently, speaking up in the face of abuse and bigotry is vague and fascist. I’m satisfied that there has at least been active engagement by bloggers on the topic, many of whom have responded thoughtfully, even when they disagree. This was not the case.

I’ve discussed in detail this year the problem with such terms as political correctness and the purpose it serves for those who use it. As I’ll discuss here, that’s just an argumentative fallacy. It conveniently shifts conversation to something respondents are more comfortable with. And it’s OK, we all get uncomfortable. But derailing discussion isn’t helpful. Political correctness is a coded phrase we use to dismiss each other’s experiences and concerns. It’s not useful to throw this around and you can read this article for details about why I think so.

The end game for all of us should be addressing the issues that plague our communities. I would think this is something we can all get behind if we believe change is required. Change is the end game.

Cognitive Dissonance

The general concept of cognitive dissonance is that we ignore, assimilate or accommodate conflicting information in ways that affirm our beliefs and behavior. Pointing out that there’s something wrong with our behavior causes our minds to work to decrease the dissonance, make it resonant with our current beliefs and actions (or else block it out and ignore it). We all experience cognitive dissonance. In order to mediate the dissonance, we have consciousness. Without consciousness, we are slaves to our psychology.

Consciousness is awareness. It doesn’t mean we will act on information, but that we are capable of being self-aware. Think of consciousness as a way to monitor your own thoughts, beliefs and behavior.

Awareness is part of the solution to cognitive dissonance. Another part is personal will. When it comes to activism, I see my role as a source of awareness for those unaware of the issues I work on. My role is not to effect change, but to make change possible by increasing awareness of problems in my circle of influence, problems the people around me may not otherwise see or understand.

“Moral Superiority” Fallacy

The “moral superiority” claim against those who point out or who want to discuss those problems is a textbook ad hominem fallacy. It’s consequence is to circumvent or dismiss the subject by refocusing discussion on the person bringing it up.

I write from experience. When I write about bigotry, it’s because I’ve been a bigot. When I write about sexism, it’s because I’ve been a sexist. I’ve also been a racist and ableist. I’ve been a silent bystander and it seems overwhelmingly likely that I have been part of every kind of bigotry (I’m not immune to socialization). Anyone who knows me would never, at any point in my life, have described me as any of those things but my behavior has spoken for itself on those matters, despite my beliefs (dissonance). I write because I am now aware of the harm I have done to others (experience) and the harm I can do (education). All of these experiences make me more like everyone in my communities, not less like them (superiority).

We’re all products of our experiences and education. Our growth is based on our willingness to change and striving to do better while inviting others to the same is NOT an act of moral superiority. The moral superiority response is an attack on the character of the speaker and is a tactic used to silence, discredit, and derail. We should, as the saying goes, attack the content not the author.

“Sugar Coating” and Vanity

Something else I have to deal with often is being told that my message isn’t sweet enough. Somehow, I’m the reason others will not listen about problems or change. Somehow, the “actual” problem is the messenger. I’ve noticed that we sometimes have a tendency to externalize problems, to distance them from ourselves. This is why awareness of the problem alone isn’t enough. We have to be willing to change. And that requires a desire to listen deeply and think deeply, to entertain the idea that you could be part of the problem. If we’re not willing, there’s nothing to talk about. 

When we think that it’s the task of others to “sugar coat” their words in order to make someone willing to listen, we propose two things which I think are harmful and counterproductive to addressign the real issues. The first is pandering. Pandering to the vanity of the audience is disrespectful to that audience. It implies that they must be lied to in order do what’s right, that they should be manipulated by the speaker, that the audience cannot cope with the raw information. Pandering is patronizing breeds contempt of your audience.

The second problem is that “sugar coating” puts the onus on the speaker to inflict change on their audience. The person speaking becomes responsible for whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) next. This is where pandering is usually proposed as the solution. This shifts ultimate accountability for the resolution of the problem to the messenger. Ordinarily, we’d call this scapegoating but in these instances it becomes magically appropriate.

Individuals have to change themselves and this task cannot be assigned to the speaker in any way. If a person’s willingness to listen to issues or their willingness to change hinges on superficial pandering; if they’re waiting for a message that makes them feel good about themselves in order to act, then they’re not committed to change in the first place. They’re committed to something else that only they can interrogate through self-awareness. Accountability for change begins and ends with the man in the mirror.

Interrogating Our Beliefs

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates [1]

I am aware that my articles may feel harsh to some. I’m always grateful for constructive criticism. I sometimes vet my articles by fellow readers and bloggers in order to take that feedback to heart and action. I think my readers have seen me evolve my writing style the past 5 years. I’ve come a long way. I strive to improve every time I sit down and write. I’ve kneaded my messages, moderated their tone, modified their vocabulary and learned when and how to use pronouns best when speaking to an audience. I do my very best each and every time. But I equally understand that the message itself isn’t usually the problem. For some in the audience, it is the fact that I deliver it at all.

You can imagine how tricky it is to navigate such an audience who is ready and waiting to conclude that the message and it’s messenger are the actual problem. I have to balance my decisions to speak out with the knowledge that some listeners have no intention of discussing the subject on it’s merits. They prove it every time by leaving the message unexplored while they deconstruct what they think is wrong with me and my approach. To an extent, I get it. It can feel personal and like we’re under attack by social calls to action. But at the end of the day we must understand that that kind of reaction is about YOU (individuals), not the messenger or the message.

Even messengers have to heed their own advice, walk their own talk, and do their own work. Instead of imagining the messenger as shouting from a pulpit, see them instead as doing their best with their own personal struggle to heed their own message (I can’t ask you to speak out if I don’t). I work and care very hard. The extent of the work I put in precedes and supersedes this blog. I’ve been participating in consciousness raising and support before I decided to include my blogging in it. Usually by the time I publish something here, it’s after I’ve had a related experience with the subject matter in the real world.

The end game is personal change. It’s commitment to change. If we’re really concerned about tact and pleasant experiences, then let’s turn our discussion to the issue at hand and away from one another. Let’s talk about all the nuances of our ugly problems, the research involved in their resolution and the outcomes of our efforts to make a change. Wouldn’t that be more pleasant? Wouldn’t that be the end game?

Scree Tags: #gamerscandobetter #gamertalk #activism