Digital Changeling

August 23, 2014

Gamers, You Disappoint Me

Filed under: Feminism,Games,Racial Equality,Sad — Eva @ 11:44 am

Right before GenCon this article was published on Tor. I know the person who wrote it and he spends a lot of time doing outreach to the gaming community on race.

I was deeply disappointed to see that several people have taken this article as some sort of personal affront… including at least one person who I had a lot of respect for because of her work on advancing feminism in gaming circles.

Folks, I appreciate the knee jerk reaction that many of you feel. There aren’t a huge number of people of color attending GenCon (this isn’t up for debate, we white people currently far outnumber them), but the number has been growing. I understand why as a white person it is easy to see that and think “well the problem is slowly solving itself, I’m sure it’s fine.” And then get upset when someone calls gamer culture out about the topic.

I think the important things to remember are: 1) We do not live in a magical post racial society. Sorry, we just don’t (this also isn’t up for debate). I wish we did, but no. (I mean come on, this is not a subtle problem!) And 2) If you are not a person of color it’s harder to see the problem. The smaller signs that show up for white people are easy to forget as “unimportant” because we’ve been trained to see the status quo as ok.

When people bring up race in gaming, the first thing that comes to my mind is the many marginal experiences I’ve had as a white woman in gaming. Like the year when my husband came back from a WWII supers game and told me how extremely uncomfortable he was with one of the other players playing an Asian-American hero as a blatant Asian stereotype. Or how I’ve only been offered an African-American character at a con once, for a demo of Steal Away Jordan… and how acutely uncomfortable I was playing that demo and watching one of my white male friends try to behave as if his white-male privilege still existed in a setting where it did not. Or how this year at GenCon I was asked to play an overtly racist character in a historical setting… at a table with a player of color. Or when I wrote a LARP with an Indian immigrant character (who was a highly educated doctor and prided himself in his correct English) and I got to watch a player play him with an Indian accent consisting of mangled, broken English. Or how every con I wince when I see white people dressed up as Drow in full black-face makeup.

I could go on… this stuff happens and it’s awkward and uncomfortable even for white people.

I’m not asking anyone to jump up and become a crusader for people of color in gaming. I’m asking that we give people like A.A. George the benefit of the doubt when they come to us and tell us that there’s a problem. I’m asking that we pay attention to things happening at future cons and remember the marginal and creepy stuff that we see.

I’m also asking that people recognize that “racist behavior” and “behavior that makes people of color uncomfortable” are not the same as saying “gamers are racist.” Most gamers are not overtly racist nor are they trying to be horrible to people of other races. It’s easy to do something that hurts others because it’s a common thing in the mainstream (and as previously stated, the mainstream is not post racial!), without realizing that what you’re doing is hurtful.

It feels super easy to write a con-game with all white characters (I’m white, I know what that life experience is like and no one will yell at me for messing it up!), but when the vast majority of games do that it means that there are few minority characters available. Their stories aren’t told (some of which are quite interesting!) and we don’t have the opportunity to develop empathy for people who are different than ourselves by playing them. This mirrors an unfortunate trend in media, where we have few to no darker skinned actors to watch, even though non-white people make up a very sizable portion of the population in the US.

I’m not saying that people who write all white PCs for a con game are being racist. I don’t think they are. I’m saying that it’s easy to go with the way things have always been and it’s hard to include people who aren’t like you. It takes work and forethought. It requires us to care about an issue that probably hasn’t been important in our lives.

Again, I’m not asking people to leap up and start doing this work. All I want is for us to be more open minded to understanding there is a problem. To take time to see the problem and be patient with people who are complaining about it. I am especially asking that feminists in gaming try to be understanding as we’ve suffered similar ills because of gender, and have every reason to empathize.

Gaming is not a utopia. None of us live in a utopia. We can make gaming a better and more accepting place for everyone by working on the problems that the culture has. If we ignore the problems they aren’t going to magically get better on their own.

If you don’t see the problems, that’s ok. You don’t need to become a Super Justice Warrior to be a good person, just be nice to people who do.

June 4, 2013

Why is the spectre of rape invisible?

Filed under: Feminism,Sad — Eva @ 11:36 pm

When I was in my first year of high school I remember clearly having the teachers quote the “one in six women is raped” statistic to us. They had us seated at grouped sets of five or six desks and the teacher did the whole “look around to the people in your group… one of you is likely to be raped” that you hear about. I’m not sure if they expected that to make it more real for us or what they expected us to do about it. No one wants to be a statistic.

The first time that I had a friend tell me about being raped was in middle school. She wasn’t a particularly close friend, just another outcast who had no one else she could sit with at lunch. But people get lonely and in retrospect I think she felt that terrible pressure to talk about an experience that she desperately needed therapy for. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t even really understand what she was sharing with me and I had no idea how to help her. All I could do was listen.

I grew up in a happy home, was never abused or mistreated… and until that point, rape had no reality beyond the “scary thing” that happened off screen on TV or in backstories in books. After that, I’d been given a different narrative: one where the heros don’t help the innocent in time, terrible things happens just because terrible things happen, and then the victim had to live with the consequences.

Since then I’ve had three other people tell me the stories of how they were raped. Every story was different and terrible in it’s own way, and I’m not sure I was more help to these people, all of whom I care about deeply, than I was to that first lost girl. I could listen, and with each story the spectre of rape became more real to me.

Most of my friends are middle class with college degrees. I can’t fool myself anymore with the lie that rape is a thing that only happens to “other people.”

I asked my husband recently, “how many people have told you about being raped?” He looked at me a bit confused and replied, “None.” That was when I realized that not everyone hears these stories. Unless a rape strikes those few people who are the closest to them… how can I blame my peers for not seeing the spectre as looming or terrible? Why would it feel real at all? Maybe for some people rape feels more like far off lightning, hitting people who happen to stand stupidly on golf courses during rain storms, but not a thing that could hit them since they stay inside when it rains. Stay inside and don’t drink and don’t walk alone at night and have large dogs and have a black belt in karate, or are male and not in prison….

Is this why there are so many denialists out there? You can read an infinite number of stories on the internet, but if you’re already determined not to see the spectre of rape, it’s easy to dismiss imaginary internet people as liars, sensationalists, and fear-mongers.

It’s harder to dismiss a friend sitting next to you reluctantly telling you in a quiet, calm voice about a terrible, evil thing that colors their past… recounting their feelings and how bits of it still hang over them, changing how they live their lives to this day. It’s harder to dismiss someone as a convenient liar when there’s no public accusation and they’re someone you already love and trust… someone you wish you could help with more than just listening.


I know it’s pretty useless to tell everyone to listen in order to understand, because if people aren’t already telling you their secrets… you might not be the sort of person they’ll ever approach. But if someone you love starts talking, try to hear them out. Their pain may teach you something painful but important about the world, and if they’ve started to tell you it’s probably because they need you to listen.

I’m also not trying to imply anything about how often people are raped based on my own experiences. The things that I learned had more to do with how rape can hurt people and that rape has hurt people I love who aren’t so different from me. There are lots of groups out there collecting statistics if you want a more numerical view of the problem.

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