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

Better Gamers for a Better Community

How can so much abuse happen within the gaming community even as we know so many good people? We all like to think that bigots and trolls are a loud minority, but what can we say about that silent majority? Are they not facilitators and complicit in the abuse due to their silence? Men are especially silent on these matters and that makes matters worse sense men tend to dole out the most abuse. Men have to do more to break the silence.

I’d say it’s been 50/50 split between men being decent human beings to indecent (*). But of the good half, I’d say the majority are silent bystanders. I’ve seen them defend their silence with terrible excuses while a fellow gamer is attacked in some way. The problem is two-fold then: it’s the abusers and then it’s those who silently allow it to happen. Our complicity through silence is a huge problem.

To have a better community requires us to be better men.

A Few Good Online Gamers

There are a lot of good men within the gaming community. The friends I play with at home or that I meet up with throughout the week for kicks are generally good guys. I don’t know a ton of male bloggers personally, but for those I’ve become acquainted with we get to know each other through games, comment sections, forums, and even voice chat on game servers. I consider them friends, but I wouldn’t say I knew them. I’m sure they think the same of me. The truth is I’ve been a silent bystander before. That’s how I know there’s not really any good reason for it; it is defacto support of the wrongs you witness.

Everyone knows that most people are different on the internet than in real life. Anonymity allows us to connect in more personal ways than we otherwise would — at a safe distance. Everyone also knows that the opposite is true as well. Anonymity brings out the absolute worst in many people.

Men on the internet can be predatory, because I’ve seen us do it at parties, at bars, in the night, on corners, on the job. I think this behavior happens 1000 fold on the internet. The bigotry is also constantly on display as well on voice chat, comment threads, “jokes” and everywhere else. Anonymity doesn’t have to mean no consequences, but in today’s environment it does. And that leaves a lot of room for predatory and hateful behavior.

How many of us have intervened for that drunken woman at the bar/party? How about that bully on Ventrilo? How about during a round of DOTA 2? I’m sure some of us have, but here’s the point: most of the time, we just let things happen without intervening at all. It may not be us who commits the crime, but it’s just as bad to standby while bad things happen. Silent men are no better than the perpetrators. Both acts are harmful.

Breaking Silence

In the gaming community, bigotry is a massive problem, but silence is an even greater one. I’ll take overt bigots over silent Good Guys any day, because the latter is a betrayal and is the means to suppress problems. Bigotry in all it’s forms is heinous, but the silence that permits it is an unspeakable evil. Bigotry, even the subtle kind, isn’t genetic. Plenty of men in the community do the right thing everyday and they are from the same general cultural circumstance as the bad ones. Silence is complicity.

That complicity is what allows the gaming community to descend into an ugly, unsafe, toxic state. It’s not the bigots, bullies and predators. It’s those of us who do nothing while the baddies do their worst.

I wanted to write this to implore and encourage other gamers who are silent bystanders to break the silence. I want to raise the percentage of gamers who intervene loudly and reliably. But how do we do it? What do you say or do to break that silence?

Foremost, don’t go along to get along. Let this be your rallying point. You don’t have to be belligerent or unpleasant in order to break your silence, and I know some may have that fear of confrontation. All that’s needed is for you to NOT be silent, whether it’s while you’re gaming, at a convention or just hanging out on a forum. Here’s some things to be avoid.

  • Don’t ignore it. And don’t advise others to ignore it either. If someone you’re playing with is being a bigot, politely point it out to them. It’s not about winning or policing people. It’s about breaking your silence when you see something wrong happening.
  • Don’t call the victim sensitive. This is a cop out for your lack of will/courage to attack the real problem: the perpetrator. The problem isn’t the person being attacked, it’s the fact that they are being attacked.
  • Don’t make excuses. It doesn’t matter how common a bigoted joke is. It certainly doesn’t matter that the perpetrator is angry and is “blowing off steam”. These are all excuses to evade the fact that something wrong just happened and you did NOTHING.

In every case, these things attempt to focus on everything except the abuser and that’s wrong no matter what. On the other hand, here’s some things that might be cool to do:

  • Confront the perpetrator. That’s the first and most important step. “Hey, that’s not cool” or “Hey, knock it off” are great starters. Again, it’s not about engaging in a fierce debate. It’s about refusing to allow bad things to continue unchallenged. They might ignore you, but that’s their perrogative; focus on YOUR part and refuse to be ignored. If this can turn into a civil discussion about it, welcome it.
  • Support the victim unconditionally. It’s about letting them know that the act is categorically wrong and that your support is based on that fact alone, without condition. I think it’s tempting to say/think things like “As long as <insert condition>…” or otherwise putting limitations on your objection. Don’t. If it’s wrong, confront the crime/criminal. Resist all urges to do otherwise.
  • Speak out. This is slightly different than confronting a person. To speak out is to independently call attention to an issue. It’s to call for a conversation about that issue, spread awareness or share information that could help solve the problem.

When all the talk and action is done, one of the most important things you can do is listen. Learn about the problem. Learn it’s history. This is the single greatest contribution you can make to community improvement: gradually understanding the problem and caring about the people directly affected by it. After all, a better community is about fostering better people and that starts with you.

Just first, please, stop being silent.

(*) = Edit for clarity: This refers ONLY to my personal experience and that part of the sentence was accidentally edited out of the original article. This is clearly not a factual statistic, but description of personal experience. Apologies for the mistake.

Scree Tags: #breakthesilence #gamerculture

The Repeater

The Repeater

The Repeater is a feature in which important discussions are highlighted and linked from other authors to help the information get around to as many eyes and ears as possible. Relevant to video games? Maybe. Relevant to gamers? Definitely. Let these be your food for thought. (Image Source: http://www.devcom.com/)

I have to first thank Trudy from Gradient Lair for providing the article which lead me to some of these links that make up this first issue. Gradient Lair is a fiery blog with a wealth of information on socio-political issues, especially race, gender, asexuality and intersectionality.

On Being an Ally

A wonderful article was written over at Black Girl Dangerous about how to be a better ally. I know the word Ally is very loaded these days, but it’s one of the ways we describe people who show solidarity in the realm of political activism. Anyway, Mia McKenzie gives us four ways people like me can do better.

I’ve often said that it’s not enough to acknowledge your privilege. And, in fact, that acknowledging it is often little more than a chance to pat yourself on the back for being so “aware.” What I find is that most of the time when people acknowledge their privilege, they feel really special about it, really important, really glad that something so significant just happened, and then they just go ahead and do whatever they wanted to do anyway, privilege firmly in place. The truth is that acknowledging your privilege means a whole lot of nothing much if you don’t do anything to actively push back against it.

I understand, of course, that the vast majority of people don’t even acknowledge their privilege in the first place. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to those of us who do. If we do, then we need to understand that acknowledgement all by itself isn’t enough. No matter how cathartic it feels. – CONTINUE READING …

There’s just two sexes ….right?

Nope. And someone took the time out of their day to address a reader who thought they would educate us on the fact that there are just two: men and women, and those are based strictly on genitalia. Here’s what the antagonist stated which was responsible for the response article:

do you know anything about biology? the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ literally mean you have either a penis or a vagina respectively. this has nothing to do with the words woman or man. anyone with a vagina is female, regardless of gender. same with males.

The reply said reader received was golden and it came from Tumblr Rapeculturerealities. Aside from shutting down the bigot (benign or not) the author gave a quick and valuable education on exactly how many sexes there are. Here’s a taste:

In our society sexing is based on 5 criteria:

  • genes – XX or XY chromosomes with variations happening for XO, XXY, and XXX
  • gonads – ovaries or testes except that people with vaginas can have testes, people with penises can have ovaries, and people can be born with both ovaries and testes
  • genitalia – a penis or a vagina except that people can be born with both and men can have vaginas and women can have penises
  • secondary sex characteristics – in theory men are supposed to have large amounts of thick, coarse body hair, a low waist/hip ratio, broad shoulders, undeveloped breasts, and deep voices while women are supposed to have small amounts of fine, light colored, soft body hair, a high waist/hip ratio, petite shoulders, developed breasts, and high voices except that in real life it’s entirely possible for people to have combination of those characteristics or for men to have “feminine” secondary sex characteristics and women to have “masculine” secondary sex characteristics
  • hormone patterns – in theory men are supposed to be high testosterone and low estrogen and women are supposed to have high estrogen and low testosterone but in reality there is far far more variation within “each” sex than between “each” sex including women having “masculine” hormone patterns and men having “feminine” hormone patterns all without those people having any sort of “disease” or “disorder” or anything being wrong with them at all.  – CONTINUE READING …

There are 2 things I took away from these articles.

The first is that the best way to support something you believe in is to be part of it. Like the legs of a chair support the seat or the framework of a skyscraper allows it to stand. That’s support. If I can keep that vision in my mind before I act, I can be supportive in the ways I am needed. It’s not about individual voices being heard, but ensuring the message is carried as far and wide as possible in order to affect change. A singer can send a song far enough to reach many ears if they sing loud enough, but a choir can be heard throughout the county when their voices unite to amplify the song itself. It’s not about a single voice. It’s about the song. However, that doesn’t mean the singers are irrelevant. Afterall, there would be no song without them.

The second thing I learned is that too often I fall back on science, not as a crutch, but rather because I know that a certain audience will not hear anything else. Science is legitimacy, it signifies that you can be taken seriously. And that’s the problem. Legitimacy is something only select groups are deemed to have access to; if a white male announces a problem then its legit, but if a non-white and/or non-male announces the same problem, it’s discredited as biased and not based on scientific fact.

I think this is what happens when allies don’t examine our own motives. The biology explanation is sound and it’s brilliant. But the person to whom it was directed tried to use science to defend bigotry …and that’s exactly the lesson I pulled away. As wonderful as science is in explaining these things, and as comforting as it can be to point to concrete concepts, it cannot be the reason we act against this sort of discrimination. Because if we’re only acting on scientific ideas, we’re prone to all sorts of terrible twists of logic. Just think about all the science Hitler used in Europe. It’s true that a lot of it was psuedoscience, but a lot of it was not; it was sound science used to justify the destruction of human lives. Falling back on science to explain to someone why sexism is wrong can backfire and fail. Everyone can use science, because it ultimately does not tell us how to act toward one another. Men especially like to use science to defend their behavior, because it means we can feel less responsible and accountable for how we act.

I hope you all enjoy these two reads, if only to see a different perspective and add a new idea to your mind. If you know of some great articles you think I should read, please post them in the comments or email me.

Scree Tags: #therepeater #allies #sexism