The Repeater: Gamers Speak

The RepeaterThe 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:

Everyone has spoken since that ghastly term “Gamergate” was first minted. For all it’s scandalous meaning, one thing about this month’s events is that it’s got everyone talking to each other. Players are discussing the issue of harassment, bigotry and ethics. I may not agree with everything that’s being said, but I can appreciate that it’s on everyone’s lips, which means people are being forced to think about this. That’s a total win.

As the repeater is about just being an echo, I present you with bits from the conversation developers are having with their gamers.

Devs Speak

Mostly, devs have just been commenting in the already on-going conversations of various threads. So when you visit these articles, read the comments sections.

Gamers Speak

I didn’t mean to hold a mirror to anyone, but it happened anyway.

[..] And that’s what “social justice warriors”, aka people who give a shit, do: inadvertently or not, they hold a mirror to anyone that chooses lazy complacency. They remind others that there are injustices yet to be fought right under their nose. Defensiveness and aggression are a typical reaction to feeling blame or guilt. Mocking those that care more than you do is a fine diversionary tactic. – Syl

A great discussion was going over at MMO Gypsy but spammers made it impossible and Syl had to shut it down just when it was getting interesting. Thanks spam bots. We love you. Still well worth a read of Syl’s post and the entire conversation that followed.

It’s never too late to discuss this sensitive subject. I think the past week has cooled the flames a bit. I’ve refrained from chiming in on this whole fiasco, mostly because I’ve said enough. It’s pretty well known what I think of things like this and I have nothing new to add.

I spend a lot of time on XP Chronicles discussing men’s issues. That can feel like a laser beam, even for me. My whole goal in setting out on this project was to focus more on those issues and to give myself a space to freely express what I’m thinking and feeling. TR Red Skies wasn’t the place for that. I think this experience has helped me grow. A lot. And it’s been good. As bad  as some events have been lately, it’s nice to see the issues acknowledged and discussed.

Sexism: The Male Experience

Let’s talk about the second side of the same coin, take just a brief moment here to sort at least two sides of the often binary debate on sexism. Do men experience sexism?

Yes. This isn’t news. But we don’t experience it in the way we think we do. The truth is many men have no idea what sexism looks like, we just feel it. Think about how men react when the topic of sexualization of women crops up. There’s always that pack of guys who comes in and says “us too!” They use the images of muscled men in games to prove it.

CVS_ZangiefThe thing is, that’s not sexism. That’s not even sexualization. BUT …men do experience sexism! So, uh …what does it actually look like?

Anytime someone has called a boy a “girl” as an insult. Anytime a male has been accused of being feminine. Anytime a man’s sexuality is called into question when he’s emotional. These are some examples of sexism against men. Men and women have very different experiences of sexism, don’t they?

Sexism against men is about calling our masculinity into question and it usually means showing in some way that the man is acting like a woman. These register as insults because of an understanding in our culture that to be a woman is a bad thing. In a way, I think this sexism is also seen when we encourage men by appealing to their masculinity.

There’s this line in Gears of War 3 where one of the men praises Marcus, the main character, saying “Damn it, Marcus! You’ve got some hangers on ya’!” after Marcus does something very daring and bold in a gun fight. The “hangers” are a reference to his balls. When men do manly things, one way we’re given kudos for our show of strength is by being told we’ve got large balls. It works the other way too: men who don’t make shows of strength are told they don’t have any balls and since women literally don’t have any balls, everyone’s shocked when they encounter a strong woman. It really is funny how we’re often blind to these obvious things.

A lot of the time when men experience sexism, we experience it as a loss of masculinity or a challenge to it. While women definitely do this to men, men overwhelmingly do this to ourselves. Just visit any locker room, playground, or barracks. I dare you to find even a joke that’s not about dicks and power.

The language of sexism is funny like that, full of ironies and subtleties that we’re barely aware of. The symbolism of male genitalia in general is quite amazing for it’s sheer variety! My penis can be used to describe anything that’s awesome and powerful. Anything. The vagina is used to describe everything stupid and weak. That’s why “cunt” is such a bad word and why “suck it” is a statement of power. Test these ideas on your vocabulary. Think of the words for powerful and the words for weakness. Go ahead, try it.

Power. It’s not just having control over ourselves, but control over others. Everything is about power and sex, which is where all the talk of genitalia comes from.  Just think of the ways that we make bodies into objects and symbols of power, and how that language pervades our vocabulary.

Attention to the meaning of the central male slang term for sexual intercourse — “fuck” — is instructive. To fuck a woman is to have sex with her. To fuck someone in another context …means to hurt or cheat a person. And then hurled as a simple insult (“fuck you”) the intent is denigration and the remark is often a prelude to violence or the threat of violence. Sex in patriarchy is fucking. That we live in a world in which people continue to use the same word for sex and violence, and then resist the notion that sex is routinely violent and claim to be outraged when sex becomes overtly violent, is testament to the power of patriarchy. – Robert Jensen

When someone says that women are sexualized in games, and men respond that we are also sexualized, this is that twisted construct we’re grappling with right here, perfectly summed up in this quote. All the power fantasies in games are, in the eyes of these men, sexual fantasies for women. And it’s easy enough to see how these men arrive there: this is how men are supposed to dream of being perceived by the opposite sex, and anything dealing with the opposite sex has to be about sex. All portrayals of power fantasies are necessarily sexual fantasies in the eyes of these men. If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion of that, try this.

It starts to feel like our brains are being warped by our use of language. Funny how that works. Men definitely experience sexism, but many of us have no idea what it looks like because we’ve drilled that bad is good and good is bad (that not crying is good, crying is bad, therefore man good, woman bad). We like to think we’re smart enough to sort these differences out, but we’re probably creatures of habit far more than we are creatures of intelligence. It helps to be aware of what’s going on in the words we speak, but we can’t always understand on our own.

Probably some of you are surprised that the experience of sexism for men and women is so different. Definitely for those who believed it would look the same as it does for women. But that’s why it’s important to understand the entire conversation about sexism. That’s why it’s not some objective concept removed from gender constructions and assignments in society. In a culture dominated by men, how these things work for us won’t be the same way they work for women.

Maybe I’ll start a community project to get men to tell their stories about their personal experiences with sexism. Maybe. At the very least, I hope this gives everyone something to think about and consider.

Rape Culture and Consent

This is a follow-up to the article I posted the other day about Max Temkin. Some have taken the time to dissect the responses by Max and Magz. But if there’s a silver lining in this, it’s that there’s an authentic discussion happening right now about consent, mostly with ourselves as we try to sort out our past. Many men are asking themselves if they’ve raped. They aren’t sure any more.

I spoke with a number of people since then about the topic and I also got to ask questions and also give answers. I wanted to share those questions and answers in this post to keep the discussion flowing and help make it as productive as possible. While the questions that have been asked seem to mostly come from cisgendered males and females, what follows applies to any human being engaging in sexual relationships regardless of gender. Also, this is going to be a longer post so I’ve tried to break it into sections to make for easier skim reading. Still, context is everything.

What Is Consent?

The question of what consent looks like is popular, especially among men I recently talked to about it. But there were even women who asked me the same question. I think this speaks volumes about the state of sexual relations in our societies that consent can’t be easily known or understood. The answer to the question is entrenched in definitions of manhood and female virtue (purity/virginity). As a society, we tend to view consent as a mystical concept, one shrouded in romance. The man will know when to make the right move, the woman will resist to protect her virtue, the man will persist and eventually win her over. They’ll both find themselves overcome with “consent”, or at least this is the mythology surrounding it.

The problem with a culture as prudish as ours is that talking about sex is never seen as the solution. Men and women are supposed to know what to do, and both of them should know without having to talk about sex. Talking ruins the moment. “The moment” is supposed to just happen naturally. And “natural” is the whole sequence I describe above, where instinct is supposed to dictate what happens next. In this framework, consent isn’t even part of the sex equation. Men have it no matter what, and women are always seen as acting the part of the virgin .

So it’s really no wonder so many people are wondering “well what is consent?”,  so many young men asking “how am I supposed to know?”. It betrays a cultural mindset about sex in which consent is just a discussion to be had after the fact.

But I’d argue consent is essential to sexual well-being, for all of us who want and enjoy sex. For the typical male, it doesn’t feel good wondering whether she wanted it or not. For women, it’s devastating. And all it takes to spare both from this torture is for them to have a conversation about sex. Simple. It erases all questions of consent.

I’m going to go on a limb and state that you can’t have awesome sex without consent. So much of what we enjoy about sex is bound up in the pleasure of the other. In our society, men are raised to be ignorant of this. We are taught that the most crucial elements of sex are hard-ons and ejaculation. If those two things happen, then things went as they should. We’re never told about the pleasures of consent, of being pursued,the sweetness of seduction and the satisfaction of being with someone you respect and who also respects you. These things can never be taken. They have to be given. Sex is infinitely more satisfying when these things are present.

I wrote not long ago about what consent means to me, which you can catch up on here. To summarize,in no particular order, I wrote that (among other things) consent is:

  • Seduction. Wooing and being wooed is a satisfying game of sexual tension. It piques sexual interest.
  • Temporary. Giving consent today doesn’t mean I give it tomorrow. It doesn’t even mean I’ll give it in the next 5 minutes. We’re free to change our minds at any time.
  • Respect. People are moody and consent may not be a simple yes or no. It’s complicated. But if you seek their satisfaction and respect their autonomy, you can’t go wrong.
  • Patience. We’re not always ready to have sex, even when we want to have sex. Just because I want it doesn’t mean I must give it.
  • Trust. No one would give themselves willingly to someone they don’t trust. This can only happen when you value their well-being as your own.

These things are all very inter-dependent if that’s not obvious already. You can barely have one without the others and trust is the main barrier to sexual intercourse.

Part of the excitement of eventually having sex with someone you like is going through these motions with them. You rile each other up, rouse sexual interest, make promises and delay delivery; give and then take, or even just giving (having sex to satisfy your partner even if you don’t crave it yourself). Consent is complicated, but it’s the key to healthy and fulfilling sexual relationships. I’ll take that even further and say that sexual satisfaction is only achievable with consent.

What if She Doesn’t Say Yes or No?

“What if she just let’s it happen, without protest, without physically resisting? Isn’t that the same as telling me to get on with it?” If you’re asking these questions, I’m really glad you’re interested in the answers. But I’m afraid you’re missing the point.

Consent isn’t the absence of no. It’s also not the absence of resistance or protests. Consent also isn’t the presence of a “yes”. Let me explain.

A woman isn’t a prop. You don’t insert coins and wait for a “yes” or “no” to pop up before proceeding. She’s a person. Instead of seeking a yes or no, ask her how she’s feeling. Ask her what she wants to do. Tell her what you want to do, how you’re feeling. Put simply, respect her.

When we lose control of our bodies or our autonomy is being challenged, we’re no longer speaking on behalf of what we want, but on behalf of what we think we need to do to survive a situation. What she might say if she didn’t feel pressured, coerced, or threatened is different than what she might say when she feels comfortable, respected, and safe. Having some guy breathing down her neck and using his strength to gain an advantageous position isn’t the best of circumstances to let him know that you don’t want him touching you. How vulnerable we feel in the moment is kind of important and men who would ignore this in order to pursue a simplistic yes or no are rapists in waiting. They need to re-evaluate their approach. Most importantly, they need to NOT engage in sexual acts until they understand their partner’s wants and needs.

I’ll go further and say that not doing so shows a criminal mindset, no matter how benign the intentions may seem. If you’re thinking of the situation as “what can I get away with”, consent doesn’t matter to you. If you’re playing the consent game with “what if” scenarios about dubious “yes” or “no” responses under varying situations, you’re missing the point. Consent is about taking care of your partner by respecting their vulnerability and not putting them in a difficult situation. It’s your responsibility to seek consent throughout the process, not just at the start.

On the flip side, it’s important for the woman involved to communicate her wants and needs as well. As long as both parties have control of their bodies and their autonomy is not being threatened, they have an equal responsibility to communicate their wants and needs to one another. But once one begins to dominate the space of the other, putting them in a position where they feel pressured or insecure, that person loses their ability to act autonomously. If you’re asking for sex from a position of advantage, whether apparent or not, you’re doing it wrong. Start over and balance the situation so you’re communicating as autonomous equals.

To give an example, I’m not a huge guy, but I’m tall. I understand that my height dominates intimate spaces. So I try really hard to make myself less imposing as the situation requires, knowing also that women are taught to make themselves smaller in the presence of men. Recognizing these kinds of things can help you safely navigate intimate spaces with one another, so that you’re both feeling empowered by the sexual encounter, not disempowered. This makes room for mutual consent.

But She’s Teasing Me!

It’s your nth date with a woman you find fiercely attractive. You’ve been seducing each other for weeks and you’ve even fooled around on a couple of occasions. But whenever comes to sexual intercourse, she turns you down. Then one night things are getting hot and heavy at your apartment. It’s 1 in the morning and all signs seem to indicate that she’s there for sex. But as soon as you try to advance it, she seems to lose interest. In fact, you can tell she’s trying to keep things right where they are – just some heavy touching and kissing. But you want more and you feel like she’s been leading you on. Besides, IT’S 1 AM.For what other reason could she be there? She knows you want to have sex …right? I mean you haven’t outright said it but IT’S OBVIOUS …right? Should you get more aggressive? Maybe that’s what she’s waiting for! For you to take charge, maybe that turns her on. You decide to try it and while you meet a very faint hint of resistance, overall she seems to give in to you. You never hear a no and while she’s not resisting, she’s not exactly prying your pants off either.

This is dangerous territory and this guy may well be on his way to raping. If you’re wondering abut the nature of a sexual act after it happens, then you’ve probably done something wrong. But could this have gone differently?

You notice she’s not quite embracing you as you advance to undressing her. She’s not saying no either and overall she’s not pushing you away. It looks more like hesitation, but you can’t be sure. Even though it’s 1 am and even though you’re both laying in the dark together in your bed, you’re not feeling your passion returned. Instead of advancing the situation, you ask her what she wants and you let her know what you want. You decide that unless she shares what’s on her mind, you should just keep things where they are without advancing to intercourse.

Consent should never be ambiguous. You should always know with certainty.

Yes, teasing can leave you frustrated and horny. Some people will lead you on and never deliver. That’s their perogative. At no point does teasing and leading entitle you to sex. Never.

On the upside, teasing can be exciting, even if she never sleeps with you. The key is for you to accept that sex is highly unlikely, and then move on.

Consent in Hook-up Culture

Consent is complicated. There’s no 10-step program to achieving consent from your partner. I think when we look at it as a means to an end, nothing good or fulfilling can come of it. In some cases, it can be devastating. Even when hooking-up for a single evening, it doesn’t require disrespecting your partner. People can be sexual creatures, they can want sex without wanting anything else from you. Plenty of people have learned how to have sexual relationships without betraying trust or disrespecting their partners.

Consent is intuitive when you think of your partner as a human being and respect their autonomy. Objectification makes it difficult to see each other that way. In our culture we look for exterior details to turn us on, so maybe a typical guy is only looking for women wearing clothing that grabs his sexual interest. When he approaches her, he’s less likely to care what she says unless her words are “let’s have sex”. He looks at her clothing as an advertisment of availability. We’ve all heard the horror stories that result from this mindset.

At the same time, men and women are allowed to dress sexually provocative, are allowed to send messages with their clothing. The problem is that we look for clothing to do all the talking, to do all the messaging. We forget there’s a human in there and that we should talk to them first. There’s nothing wrong with liking what she’s wearing – but you should respect her all the same. She’s not her clothes.

People hook-up all the time, so it’s not like people can’t pursue sex without a permanent relationship. But even temporary relationships require trust. Any kind of relationship requires trust (and there are many layers of trust, which I won’t get into here).

In the end, we’re dealing with people and we shouldn’t forget that.We have to treat consent with the same high regard that we treat our desires for sex. I think so much of the ambiguity of figuring out consent is the implicit assumption that we’re not dealing with a person who can talk to us and explain their sexual wants to us. If you’re not sure, it’s as simple as asking and starting a conversation about what you both want, need and like.

Scree Tags: #sex #rapeculture #consent

Sexy or Sexist? Both …and It’s Awesome

Going over some pictures of scantily clad and/or suggestive popular images in geekdom with my wife, I asked: can’t any of these characters be both? This then raised the question: is it sexism if the author is aware that they’re using it?

The question seems, at first brush, obvious. Of course it’s still sexist. But that’s not exactly what I meant by it. I’m asking if sexism in games is always problematic. And I think that depends entirely on the abilities of the designer. Not all sexism in games is bad or equal, and we miss something about the piece as expression when we dismiss it offhand. When critiquing things like sexism in games, the real question is why it’s being used. Most of the time is completely arbitrary or reflexive, which damages it’s value and leaves it open to critique. There’s a few examples out there of sexism in media that’s used well.

One example is the Ghost in the Shell anime series. The incomparable Motoko Kusangi of Section 9, better known as The Major is the typical femme fatale, but with a purpose. The series takes place in the year 2030 (?). In short, cyborgs are common and The Major is a full-bodied cyborg in all but appearance. In the series, she dresses very provocatively, sleeps with women, and leads like a man according to her peers. The remarks her colleagues make are always insinuating that on the inside, she’s truly a man and that she should switch over to a male body so she can have more authority. There’s a classic scene in the first episode of season 2 where they’re all waiting on the command to raid a hostage situation. There, she suggests they go “drown our sorrows in a nudy bar” if things don’t go as planned. The Major is an unrepentant sexist and so are her creators.

The way the show plays around the issues of sexism is quite charming to me. It’s clear the authors are very aware of sexism and it’s wider social implications, and they question it hard throughout the series all the while entertaining us with sexualized bodies, misogyny, and the objectification of women (literally: the play on man vs machine gives it a special subtlety). The series allows space for them to express their sexuality as authors while also calling it into question, creating a space to discuss the problems with sexism without defending it. I think this is what makes its use as a narrative device interesting. They open it to discussion in a non-controversial way. It just shows that sexism isn’t the controversy at all. The controversy is how people react to it being pointed out. In the gaming community, that reaction is usually defensive because we don’t want to be judged. The act of denial is often an admission that something is indeed wrong with what we just saw, and a way to distance ourselves from it. Sometimes that means denying it happened at all and others it means pretending the act wasn’t so bad.


Yep …that’s The Major ripping open a multi-ped robot with her bare hands. Seeing the bare rippling muscles of a woman’s body almost never happens anywhere.

The authors of GiTS don’t make excuses for sexism and they don’t deny it. For them, sexism is just another messed up part of our world that Motoko and her team have to navigate. They critique it without waving banners. They introduce it without making viewers feel bad. They assume the viewer is a sexist and welcomes them to the discussion in a fun way.

This might be part of what rubs gamers the wrong way about sexism in games. The designers’ denial and defense of it erase any possibility of discussion. We also lose an opportunity to make the game interesting. It puts catharsis out of reach and I think gamers secretly want that. To be rid of those feelings of guilt, anger and shame about it. GiTS shows us that you can be sexist, have sexism in your media, and still have a sane, fun, interesting discussion about something you love.

Now this is my subjective opinion on the matter. I have to mention that not everyone has been a fan of the portrayal of women in the series and have taken the main character, Motoko, to task for her blatant sexism and self-objectification. But I’d counter argue that these things are central to the story and the philosophy. We’re left with questions, not answers.

With that in mind, why don’t games seem to get this right? I think the regional differences count for something. The west is pretty different at storytelling from the east, specifically America and Japan. Totally different, could not be more different. Ideas of sexuality, while rigid in Japanese culture, are still extremely liberal compared to it’s American counterpart. I think there’s no country in the world more prudish than Americans when it comes to discussing sex and sexuality. Oh we’ll publish tits and ass everywhere, but it’s always with a wink and a nod – not a discussion and an exploration – and always passed off as merely adding “realism” and being completely message neutral.

There are many genders in Japanese storytelling. Who are men and who are women isn’t always clear in the stories, deliberately. Trans-sexuality and asexuality are common for the characters. In America, we tell stories almost exclusively one way: men are badasses and women are sexualized. One way or another, our game characters can be reduced to these two categories with rare exception. Degrees of sexuality go unexplored most of the time and heterosexuality is emphasized almost every time. Still, japanese games can often be far worse than sexist – they’re no angels. They don’t always get these topics right, but I credit them for being unafraid to explore them. That exploration leaves room for works of art like Ghost in the Shell, famed as much for it’s philosophical framework as for it’s highly sexualized and sexy women.

Could you imagine if Blizzard wrote Motoko? I laugh and cry to think of it! But to be fair many western developers would struggle with her. In all likelihood, she would never be conceived of to begin with.

The first female badass I ever encountered in movies was Ripley from Alien. In my mind she’s an archetype that’s rarely used …and that’s just insane! Ripley is sexy, smart, brave, and AWESOME. Would love to see game developers borrow from her. When I think of standout, incredible women in media, Ripley is easily my number one pick.

I’ve had a lull the past couple years in mainstream gaming, so I’m afraid I don’t know of more recent heroines who fit the bill. But maybe you do.

Who are some game characters (in recent years) you feel are sexy and sexualized and awesome?

Scree Tags: #sexyavatars #gamertalk #sexualization

There and Back: The Big Lie or How the Gaming Community Got Dirty

Another article I wrote almost 2 years ago which bears special relevance today. I’ve edited it down, but also linked to the original article. I plan to explore this topic once again in the near future, just as I plan to do with all of the There and Back articles you find reposted.

Malcanis over at The Mittani wrote a brilliant article last week about how the player community in EVE interacts. In it, he invoked the ideas of Hitler’s Big Lie to explain how the community deceives itself into taking sides and demonizing others. Malcanis gave a very eloquent summary of the principles as follows:

Ideally, when you’re telling a Big Lie, you tell a lie that fulfills three important criteria

  • i: That the listener’s problems are not his fault. They’re caused by a malicious and irredeemable Other. And they’re going to keep on getting worse.
  • ii: That if this Other weren’t up to those shenanigans, the listener would be recognized and rewarded for being the superior person that he is
  • iii: The implicit, but unspoken solution is to do the thing that the Big Liar wants to happen. And just in case, make the solution explicit and speak it loudly.

Directly before reading that article I had been browsing the comments over at Iron Ribbon and Disqus recommended me another article over at The Mittani which spoke about sexism. It’s not that Hitler’s theory here is always true. But I think it’s true among people with certain values, chief amongst them any -ism. If a person already believes there’s such a thing as a better race or sex, then they already believe the premises of the Big Lie. Having a leader come forth and personify it, and institute it as  law and order is merely taking those values to their inevitable conclusion.

What do we tell ourselves as a gaming community about sexism and racism? The primary sides involved are usually posed as males versus females, white versus non-white, because they’re rooted in our very bloody and barbaric past. Adolf was no fool, but the people to whom he told the Big Lie were at least paranoid enough, lacking in the courage and fortitude required to reject those values. And if not those two reasons then they followed because they believed in the Big Lie.

First, a relevant statistic:

There are scant statistics of any sort about the ethnic demographics of the gaming community at large, but if I find any in the future you can be sure I’ll write an article about it.

Point 1: The Big Lie to Yourself …Responsibility

It’s very hard to admit something is wrong that you’ve done out of habit for years. This is my personal testimony, not to be read as a cliche of do-gooders.  I’ve been a sexist and racist for most of my life. I wasn’t the overt belligerent type nor someone who literally hated or disliked groups of people. I was a pretty nice guy by normal standards, but just somewhat ignorant or aloof. I wasn’t aware of how my behavior patronized females/non-whites, how it insulted them in my gestures of goodwill, or how it oppressed them in what those gestures assumed about them. I was just ignorant, like so many of us. It wasn’t intentional and for those who have been where I have, we’re not evil people at heart. We just picked up some very bad habits and behaviors from our environment. At some point in our lives we simply didn’t know something until it was taught to us or until we were made aware of other things.

When first confronted about being sexist, I was horrified. Being called a sexist isn’t a good feeling but if you’re just willing to listen and try to understand why someone could possibly perceive you that way, then you’ll get over it. Else you’ll likely be defined by how you reacted to that accusation.

The point here is that when you’ve been doing something wrong for a long time, it’s pretty terrifying to learn that it’s been hurting people. It goes beyond just admitting a wrong; it’s a confession that you’ve negatively affected dozens of people, misjudged them, made their lives harder, or scared them away from pursuing something they cared about. That’s offensive to those of us who believe we’re good people and especially offensive to those people who aren’t willing to listen and consider that they might actually be doing those very things. The first stage is always denial and the one that follows is always anger and resentment. This is a pattern of response many of us should recognize in all these discussions at our age. Many people, guys and girls, instantly jump on the “nuh-uh” argument and paint plaintiffs as bra burning feminists, reverse racists, or sex-pandering men. They say women are sexist for making exclusive groups which men cannot join. They say most gamers are majority men so women should learn to accept the way things are, that men are by nature gruff, brutish, and insensitive. Both sides rarely admit to building up the Big Lie which allows them to feel justified in their views of the other. Often when we’re denying the other side, we’re doing so to protect ourselves from the accusations. We’re doing so to dodge responsibility for the way we’ve been behaving, because of what the accusations might suggest about us — which aren’t flattering. At some point, though, we have to admit these things and be free of them. While the process of changing is difficult, the steps towards it are simple. Either you believe a person when they tell you you’re being hurtful or disrespectful or you pretend that what you’re doing isn’t hurting anyone and that your behavior is fine. We have to remember: it’s not the racist or sexist act which will necessarily define you, but how you respond when someone points it out to you. There’s no harm in letting maturity guide our reaction by admitting you might have erred.

Point 2: The Big Lie …About The Other

When you’re the Default, it’s impossible to see that. Impossible. You rely on the feedback of others to alarm you of the injustices that come with having a Default and Other. The bad thing about being the default is that it’s extremely difficult to get past the denial stage; because you can’t see the unfairness because of your perspective, you’re far more likely to believe nothing is wrong at all and that others are simply delusional, or making a fuss out of nothing. That’s doubly true in the 21st century where people, despite national (and global) conditions, believe the -isms to be relics of the past which no longer exist. People are so ready to just be over that stuff that in their haste they dismiss anyone who would dare remind them of our horrible track record with it.  No one wants to have the same fight in 2012 that people were having in the 1960s USA. Yet all of those oppressive values from the ’60s are still wide spread and deeply rooted in our cultural values (albeit in subtler ways, which makes it a greater threat now than it ever was then).

When comment and forum threads in various gaming communities repeatedly host discussions about sexism and racism, I think that’s a sure sign that this is still a problem. But when you believe the Big Lie or when you’re so committed to self-deception on those issues, you’re likely to draw battle-lines in which you stand on one side and everyone else becomes Other. We do this almost instinctively to discredit people, to make them seem ridiculous and to paint ourselves as idols of rationality. The actual topic gets abandoned in favor of bickering about who’s less crazy — which is just crazy.

There is no Other. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good about ourselves.  It’s a lie we tell to prop up our egos, to make us feel better. After all, you can’t be the best unless there’s someone who is worse than you. What we ought to value about success is our own personal growth, not our triumph over others. In the gaming community, where competitive relationships are part of the landscape, that doesn’t mean we can’t see who’s the better shooter in NBA 2k. It means that you aren’t being better or making yourself look better by calling people fags, suggesting they’re gay, or telling sammich jokes. You aren’t looking more manly by demanding to see boobs (becuz real men luv boobs, rite?). You’re just celebrating being the default and ridiculing others who aren’t like you.

Point 3: Believing the Big Lie

Sometimes people tell lies for so long or hear them so often, that they believe them and begin to base real decisions on them.

Even military psychology …hesitates to make the distinction between true and false, between the “produced” and the authentic symptom. “If he is this good at acting crazy, it’s because he is.” – from The Procession of Simulacra byJean Baudrillard

Jean was explaining here how we cross over from pretending something is real to simulating that which isn’t, and how in the end it becomes irrelevant. In the process of simulating, we produce the symptoms of the simulacra. At that point, the difference between what’s real and what isn’t becomes incredibly difficult to discern, if possible at all.

There are levels of self-deception which we engage in on the issues of sexism and racism which amount to us pretending such a thing just doesn’t exist. And this is made possible by just acting like everything is fine, denying things very loudly in an effort to drown out any reference to the truth. But at some point we begin to actually believe the lies and the truth falls away. We’ve made such a convincing show of all the falsehoods, that they start to appear authentic.

So let’s gradually back out of the philosophical woods here. Sexism and racism are extremely real and they pervade our social institutions as they dictate our culture. It’s dangerous to suggest people who point it out are “them”, the crazy, delusional, conflict-seeking whiners who just can’t handle the real world. The irony is that the most fervent deniers (who are usually self-professed racists/sexists) themselves can’t handle the real world, where there really is no such thing as “better” races or sexes.

It’s also bad that some of us want to sit on the sideline and wait for change. It’s those people who say yeah, sexism and racism are bad, but the people complaining about it shouldn’t make a big stink about it; that since complaining won’t change anything we should just be quiet; that games have always been this way and we ought to accept it. All of these responses fail to acknowledge that no change in the history of anything has ever happened by humans standing idly by waiting for it to happen to them. This line of thinking is potentially worse than being the sexist or racist yourself, because it confirms their existence but advocates silence. Dr. Martin L. King spoke out decades ago about these moderate types and how their neutrality is more dangerous than the belligerent offenders.

Getting Clean

So now that we’re dirty, now that the gaming community knows we’ve got some filth to deal with, we come to the part where we must confront the Big Lie and so much more. It all starts with owning your actions, taking responsibility. This is the cornerstone: eradicating a community of difference in order to erect a community of commons. It’s been hard and often un-fun for me personally, but immensely rewarding to make that private change. I began to realize one day that I was looking to gain something at the expense of others which wasn’t mine to gain; that the real value in being a non-shitty person is feeling good about myself and knowing that I’m not hurting other people. The prize for me is a clear conscience, more success, and making a world I can trust with my children. We have to admit to our complicity in the system. Every time any of us has listened to racist rants on vent, or sexual demands from guild mates in chat and said nothing about it, we might as well have said the words ourselves for all the damage our silence did. None of us is untouched, not even women and not even non-whites. We’ve all been soiled, even when we didn’t want to be and didn’t intend to be. That doesn’t absolve us of responsibility. It just means that we were blind to it before, that now we see it, and we will use that knowledge to speak out and act against it.

Next is to stop looking at the difference between you and others because it’s insignificant compared to the similarities. If we view the gaming community as a place full of different people, we will breed a community of conflict. If we view it as a place full of people just like us, we’ll make a community full of cooperation. I know that sounds very idealistic, but it’s just the plain ole’, unstyled, no make-up, hairy truth. Self identified whites, males, blacks, gays, and all other descriptions are fine, but they shouldn’t be used to to differentiate. Identifying and differentiating are very different things.  The former allows us to be unique and the latter creates situations where everyone has varying quality, allows us to create Others.

Finally, we’ve got to grapple with our common reality. We have to accept that one person’s experience of you isn’t going to line-up with who you believe you are all the time, and that this doesn’t mean you’re irredeemable or wicked; it means you made a mistake. We have to be willing to believe that there really is a lot of unfairness out there, that people are wrongly discriminated against on the basis of skin color and genitalia, and that it happens often enough to spawn dozens of organizations dedicated to addressing those problems. If we’re so willing to consider that these people might be crazy, we must also be willing to consider they’re perfectly sane, correct and perfectly capable of identifying a problem when they see it. Listen to them and, if you can, support them. They are you and if you try to keep them down for their difference, someone will try to keep you down. Reject both instead of making space for them in our reality. Things don’t have to be that way.

If Hitler understood the power of the Big Lie, and we believe he was Satan incarnate, then let’s reject the Big Lie forever.

Original Article:

Scree Tags: #gamertalk #community #activism

There and Back: Gamer Spaces for Men

This is an article I wrote a long time ago (almost 2 years ago!) that I think is worth revisiting. After reading it again, I realized some of my ideas about gamer spaces for men have changed. For one thing, I’m no longer sure I believe we need a new space for “good” men. I’m more of the mind that we need to reform the current one claimed by “real” men — which includes shrinking it down, filtering the harmful from the beneficial and then dealing with things from there. In other words, there is a vast gamer space for men. We just don’t want to clean up all the garbage laying around …but that’s the only way to reclaim ourselves and our community.

Without further ado:


No, I haven’t turned my blog into strict social commentary. It’s just that, as they say, I “can’t unsee”. Once you become aware of something you start to recognize how much of it is around you. In my case, blogging about it is simply a recent thing; for years I’ve kept out of these discussions, relying mostly on others to do the hard work of speaking up. I also don’t expect I’ll keep talking about games the same way I did when I was 24 (I’m 33). I’m pretty sure I’ve done a lot of growing, learned a lot of things, and have changed. Plus, there’s no games out right now that are worthwhile to write about. That makes it a good time to focus on what we’re doing as gamers other than playing games.

As a male, a white one, I hear others making statements all the time about how things are made for me, for my “type.” And I get that. I totally get that and I understand what’s being said and I completely agree; it’s the truth. The irony though is that there actually don’t exist any gamer spaces for straight white males who despise the societal privileges we receive. There’s no safe space where we can express ourselves in the same way people of the margins do (people of color, homosexuals, transgenders, women, and even children). I’m not glorifying their position in this: there’s a reason they speak from what is referred to as the margin. They don’t get the same attention nor audience being a straight white male allows me and, at best, they are believed to actually play games. That’s part of the irony. Men like me, once we’ve been given our audience, if we dare speak out against traditional masculinity, the silencing begins along with the shaming. There are no safe places where we can speak the truth. We’re not acceptable because even while men are criticized for not changing their ways, very few men find people willing to accept a changed man. This includes women (even some feminist women) and probably especially so. Yet, it’s not anyone’s fault but our own that we have precious few spaces or, depending on your geography, none at all. We haven’t dared to create them. That’s hard work.

Consider all that any one of us has seen or experienced from the shoes of the straight white male gamer.

Sexist, racist jokes are, as many among us would say, par for the course. Expectations of female sexual fantasy characters are also normal. There are those of us who sit in these groups of “dudebros” quietly, not quite thinking the jokes are funny but knowing we aren’t supposed to object. We’re supposed to accept that this is what “guys” do. We talk about women as though we date so many and revel in dick jokes and talk about how gay something, someone, or some event is. And we all quietly accept this.

We tell ourselves things like “this happens to everyone” and “no big deal” and “it’s common” and “welcome to the internet” and other things which suggest there’s nothing to be done about it. The underlying attitude, the underlying value that’s being asserted in most cases is that this is how men act. And that we’re supposed to act this way, supposed to be stoic, uncaring, or hard enough that such things don’t matter to us. The truth is that it burns. It makes many of us madder than hell to feel so powerless in the face of such ignorance. We don’t speak because we fear being emasculated; being called soft, weak, or gay. We don’t want to be the object of our own ridicule. And we want others to laugh as though something’s funny about this. We don’t question “normal”, straight white male. It’s too hard. And truthfully, a lot of us believe in it and would die for it.

It’s a vicious cycle that ensures we never have a safe gamer space to truly be ourselves without pressure or rejection. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because we continue the same choices out of sheer fear.

What Brought About this Article

Izzy Sparks in 2 different costumes. Epitome of cool.

The other day I gathered with two of my best friends for a round at Gears of War 3. I, personally, really only enjoy the single-player campaign, but I do appreciate time with friends to compete for sport. Once we were done with Gears we put on Guitar Hero 3, a classic favorite of us all. I always play Izzy Sparks. For those who aren’t aware, he’s by far the coolest rocker in the whole franchise! He’s a glam rocker and his costumes are second to none! Hair, boots, make-up, tights, and a sassy guitar …fun as all hell for me. Now that you know how hardcore a fan I am of Izzy, you can predict the feedback I get from “the guys”. It’s all in good fun, friendly jests that none of us take to heart. But the predictable comments are “you’re a closet cross dresser” and “you like men?” and other jokes about how feminine Izzy is and how feminine I must be. I don’t mind the teasing to be honest because I am fascinated with my obsession with Izzy. I haven’t understood why I think he’s so damn cool, but it’s actually quite simple: he’s expressive. He’s free to be whatever he deems himself to be, just as old 80’s glam rockers were. If he wants to doll up and rock out, he does it. Gay jokes don’t get in his way. If he wants to wear purple, lace, polka-dots, and eyeliner, he does it. And when he does it, it’s mega cool to me!

I am learning everyday to be that guy in my personal life. No, I don’t enjoy polkadots and lace; I’m not what anyone would describe as fashion conscious. I just want to be able to feel and be felt on a genuine human level, to be me without strings attached. I strongly dislike what’s expected of masculinity. It’s damning and the pressure is relentless when every male in your life, even the ones you don’t know, assume things about you based on your sex and sexuality.

However, in my own life there are no gamer spaces (other than this blog) where I can be that expressive without ridicule and shaming. Sure, I and other guys like me, can shrug it off and continue to do what we want, the way we like it. And for the most part, we do. That doesn’t mean the ridicule doesn’t get old, unfunny, or even irritating depending on the circumstance. In all cases, there’s social, systematic pressure present to get all men to conform to a certain standard. The standard is the problem. It’s hard to believe more men don’t reject it because it’s so very limiting. I can tell you, we don’t benefit from it in the ways we think we do.

The Manly Standard

What’s a 21st century man? This can’t be it …

I’ve gone over this in some detail in the past, so I won’t rehash too many of the details here. The short of it is that to be manly is to be unaffected, distant, tough, cold, and (when appropriate) angry. Manliness is defined by our ability to dominate. We do this through coercion of some sort. It’s not always physical. Coercion can be incessant teasing. Shaming is the most common form of coercion we use to get males to act a certain way.

It’s undeniable. I ask any one of you males who are reading this who are prone to disagree: what does it mean when people say “man up” or “be a man”? It means exactly the things I’ve described above. I know why we try to deny it though. Because we’re caught up in it without a lot of spaces where we can legitimately break away. There are no acceptable spaces in our gaming community (or society at large) where men can feel, be real, expressive, soft, feminine, emotional, and honest. We live the lie that we’re unemotional biceps. Sure, we can break our individual selves free of it like most people of the margins do, but unlike them we have no solidarity outside of traditional masculinity. Rarely, if ever, do we seek solace in community, a fact that allows us to continue to hold on to traditional masculinity by convincing ourselves that by acting independently, we’re “strong men”; that philosophy adheres to the tradition. But we feel trapped in the lie. Society doesn’t accept us. It only accepts manliness and deviations from this sacred mold are chastised literally to death. There’s no scarcity of murder against homosexual men, no small amounts of abuse hurled at men deemed too feminine, wimpy. There’s no playground any one of us can visit at this very moment where we won’t see little boys acting out against others who “act like girls”; no little boys who believe they can safely play with a barbie doll. There’s a reason for that.

The Manly Standard is that reason. It’s this unrealistic standard that all men are expected to live up to. That counts doubly so in our gamer spaces, where fantasy and acting out is supposed to be welcome. Men aren’t allowed by their peers to choose Izzy Sparks in the pink and purple garb, lace gloves, knee high heel boots, white hair, and sparkly white star guitar (my favorite get up!). I was surprised in my google search for images of Izzy in his various costumes to find that the most popularly posted image was not Izzy the Glam Rocker. It was Izzy in black leather attire with the spiky cuffs, football pauldron, and black sunblock under his eye. It was the “manliest” Izzy available.

Values = Choices

…same goes for looking/acting “manly.”

How did we get here? How did I arrive in a culture where my friends and I can’t share a session of gaming without talking about our manhood? If I’m truthful, I’ll have to admit that we rarely discuss much else and especially not how we feel. Over the past year, that’s changed somewhat as we’ve all been asking ourselves the hard questions about our identity (thanks to other strong, persistent people in our lives who love us). But in aggregate, what we mostly talk about boils down to 3 things: work , women, and dicks. These are our chosen values.

We talk about work because work ethic is highly prized as a sign of manhood in our culture. It symbolizes our independence and power. A working man is a real man, this value is unmistakable. We know this for sure by the evidence: men everywhere believing that men who don’t work aren’t real men. Furthermore, work is defined by hard work, industrial work. Iron Chef’s are definitely not what your average guy would consider manly work. Male gamers are also considered “weaklings” of some type by men who don’t play games.

We talk about women because that’s what men are supposed to do in our culture: obsess about sex. And we don’t talk about actual women, we just talk about whether there’s sex involved. “Oh the wife is holding out” we’ll say or “you need to get laid” we’ll chide or “<insert latest porn>”. Worse, we’ll talk about one of our sexual adventures, careful to describe only tits, ass, and positions. We’ll discuss how long we did it to her, how potent our erections are, how and where we ejaculate. This is the stuff of men.

This leads directly to dicks. Once the sex talk is over we’ll move on to some other insignificant topic, like sports or games. We’ll talk about Mario Brothers and why Princess Peach is named Peach (wink, wink). We smile and giggle at Aphrodite in God of War. We call Anya Stroud a “stupid bitch” while grabbing our dicks and criticizing how she handles a gun. Name a game and “guys” will find a dick joke in it. For a bunch of so-called straight men, we sure do love talking about the penis. There’s a reason for that as well, but it’s outside the scope here.

The choice is yours. Don’t be a Troopa.

So many make statements to the effect that this is normal for “guys”. “Guys” are born this way, it’s nature, what do you expect? We’ve all heard this tired excuse. As a guy, I feel embarrassed and insulted when other men boil our sex down to well-groomed monkeys who aren’t able to think, feel, or act any other way. As if there’s no choice involved and we’re slaves to biology, creatures who don’t have agency in our daily lives. Few will acknowledge TO THEMSELVES that these are daily choices we make. The cumulative effect of continuing to “act like a man” is the current state of affairs: men everywhere trapped by living the lie. Trapped into not creating spaces where we can express ourselves without shame.

Stranded in the gaming community with no spaces to truly indulge our greatest fantasies of self expression.

The key here though is the choice. Yeah, it’s a sucky situation. Yeah, to a greater or less degree we’ve been groomed for this role since boyhood, something that was beyond our control in our youth. But as grown men, we can make a different choice. Victims we may have been, but continuing in this way doesn’t make us continued victims. It makes us apologetic fools. Once we know the situation, it is up to us to turn it around, to make different choices, to create these crucial spaces. Without them, we remain bound in the web of Man Standard, unable to express, not allowed to show our full humanity, repressing our true spirit.

Making Choices in Modern Times

Too many of you are preparing a retort which will go something like this:

“You should be comfortable enough in your own sexuality to play Izzy,” or ” You shouldn’t worry what other people think,” or “Real men do exactly what they want,” (never questioning why they believe this or why this is true) or “You should be happy with who you are, forget other people,” or something similar.

These are convenient statements. They completely ignore what’s actually being discussed, which isn’t my comfort with Izzy or his sexuality. The topic at hand is the Man Standard and what’s wrong with it. We can hem and haw about how this doesn’t exist, but we know that’s a lie. Again, what do we mean when we say “be a man” if the Man Standard doesn’t exist?

This angers men. It’s one of our many secrets. It angers us because we feel a total lack of control and, as we understand it in our culture, men are supposed to be totally in control. That’s our M.O. We’re the creatures god made who can control our emotions, control our actions, control other people. But we discover more and more each day that we don’t actually control any of this. It’s an illusion. To chose things other than what is defined as masculine, is to blatantly state you’re not man enough, to open the door to rejection, and to face ourselves. It’s scary.

Still, despite lacking spaces today, there’s a brilliant horizon in our near future. I don’t believe all is lost; not in the slightest. Despite all these awful barriers to creating spaces many of us are trying and, though few, succeeding.

In modern times, things are a lot better than even 10 years ago. Everyday I see men making choices to reclaim themselves from the Man Standard. They are choosing everyday to reject conventional masculinity. This ought to be celebrated more, but it’s so very difficult to get men to even admit that this exists. That adhering to the standard is extremely problematic and traumatic to ourselves. That there is something very wrong with acting like humans who don’t feel, who can’t respect individuality, who are so angry that they get joy from shaming and ridiculing others. It’s far, far easier to let the dick jokes prevail, to denigrate homosexuals for a laugh, and pretend we’re laying different women every weekend; if everyone else is keeping up the ruse, then admitting the truth has no known rewards. There is a horrifying problem there that we, men, don’t dare discuss because it’s scary to imagine that’s what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.

We can all chose to make spaces for ourselves outside the Man Standard. Society doesn’t want us to and has succeeded in many ways in preventing it. For some reason, the gamer community seems notorious for sexist and racist behavior, yet I have known far too many awesome people to believe this is all we’ve got. As the years wear on, more men awaken to this reality and challenge it. It’s slow and painful, but it’s progress.

As far as gaming with friends go, at least 2 other friends of mine are open to the idea of having a space where we can establish continuity; a space where we don’t have to change gears and hold our dicks to uphold the Man Standard. We can just be ourselves, exactly as we are. We can laugh AND CRY. Wow!
Scree Tags: #trredskies #gamertalk #sexism