Tracer Rounds: Don’t Be An Ass

frontier wars 728x90 KS

The root of the word “harassment” is “ass” ~

Brant, 11 April 2016

As an aside: In case it’s never been clear, let me be perfectly transparent here – these are my thoughts.  This is not the official policy of GrogHeads and I’m not going to put words in the mouth of the rest of the management and staff.

I wasn’t going to write about this topic.  I really wasn’t.  There’s been so many online firestorms over it already that I kept telling myself “don’t get involved, don’t get involved, don’t get involved…” when I finally realized that not getting involved was, quite frankly, contributing to the problem.  And yes, there’s a whole litany of problems. TR-har

A few weeks back, Rex Brynen over at PaxSims (and occasional contributor to our forums and a guest on the GrogCast) did some investigating about the participation of women in the wargaming hobby.  Rex’s focus was rather particular, and at least a little self-motivated, since he teaches these things at the university level.  Additionally, Rex has access to the national-government-level professionals that make policy decisions based on wargaming insights, and the compositions of those audiences are way beyond the concern of the local Wednesday night game group.  Nevertheless, with a rather well-informed and even-handed set of questions wondering why there aren’t more women involved in wargaming, shields instantly went up across the gaming world (including here at GrogHeads) and we started seeing derisive comments about forced gaming and gender quotas and every other over-the-top reaction imaginable.  It was borderline embarrassing, especially when Rex’s follow-up article leaned heavily on negative reactions from here, and one or two other places, and he’s continued to discuss the issue.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, one of the reasons the GrogHeads readership has such sensitive “bullshit antennae” is that at least twice they’ve had to deal with men masquerading as female gamers.  One was doing it specifically to circumvent a ban in an online forum (which took about 8 seconds to unmask), and the other was doing it as a desperate cry for self-serving attention, given the other similar behaviors he’s exhibited around the web in his never-ending quest for ‘thou-shalt-cower-before-me’ personal glory and recognition (which continues even today).  Given the idiotic behaviors of those two individuals coloring the perceptions of many of our forumites, it’s not a surprise that any individual woman registering on our site might experience some out-of-the-box negativity.  It’s not fair, but it is reality (which – this just in! – isn’t particularly fair, either).  And while that was at least partly what happened, the wider pattern of dismissing the concerns of an entire hobby were what bothered me the most.

If only that were the end of it.  About 2 weeks ago, a very provocative, and almost over-the-top, personal confessional hit the web, with the clickbait title of “Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem” (hereafter referred to as the “WMT column”).  In it, the author details her years of perceived abuse at the hands of gamers over several decades, including physical harassment, unwanted sexual advances, rape, derogatory racial statements, and more.  The response across the gaming world was as predictable as it was swift: it’s bullshit, it’s exaggerated, where’s the proof, she’s making it up, that’s not my experience, she’s just a bitch who didn’t get her way, etc etc.  And it was easy to read many of those counter-accusations and think “this does sound way too crazy and she has to be making a lot of this up” except, y’know, where she wasn’t – she actually won a large settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former employer at a game store, and there are plenty of digital footprints of abuse in online message forums all over the web.

What really struck me, though, was how quickly gamers closed ranks to push her concerns aside – “this doesn’t happen with gamers!”  As though somehow gaming is different than any other like-minded group of people that coalesce around a common interest.  Put another way, if her tales of abuse and harassment had been the story of a young girl who loved rock’n’roll and throughout her constant climb to work in the music business she’d been harassed and denigrated and sexually molested along the way, would you dismiss her tale as delusional rantings, or nod knowingly and think to yourself “yep, that’s rock’n’roll for you”?  Would you have dismissed her accounts if she were a PR intern wanting to work in professional sports?  Aspiring comic book writer working in a local comics store?  What if she was a photography nut, and her tale started out with going to buy film at the local camera store at age 13 when the harassment started?

Are we really so arrogant to think that gamers are that high-minded that we can’t behave like intolerable shits at times? Or even often?  Yes, “gaming” is a fragmented world, but how many of us play across a spectrum of gaming?  GrogHeads, in particular, has always attracted strategy gamers who are gaming omnivores, playing computer, console, tabletop, minis, and role-playing games with roughly equal proportions across our community.

Reading her concerns, I chose not to dismiss them because I have seen many similar behaviors in 35+ years of being around gaming.  As I noted on a now-deleted FaceBook thread (which I copied most of and might post somewhere if I get the inclination), I’ve had to tell at least two grown men to stop playing with the tail of a cosplaying 14-year-old girl, and both men gave me the stink-eye and tried to justify their predatory behavior as “just playing around”.  I’ve called convention security to remove a guy to was walking past a woman bent across a game table to move her miniature on the map when he smacked her on the butt.  I’ve seen it happen plenty of other times, but usually when a group is walking by and it’s too difficult to pick out the exact guy in the pack that did it.  I’ve got friends who run game companies and bring their daughters to game conventions, only to have mouth-breathing neckbeards follow them around the exhibit hall hoping for a cell-phone picture in just the right pose.  I saw one young woman dressed as a mermaid and heard a group of 20-somethings making a comment about a magic potion to split her legs.  I’ve heard the denigrating comments directed at the daughters of close personal friends after the girls kick their asses in the BattleMech pods at Origins.  And the ‘old enough to bleed, old enough to breed’ refrain quoted in the WMT column and rapidly dismissed by a whole lot of  gamers is hardly rare – I’ve heard it not only around gaming, but from people backstage at concerts, in locker rooms, and in comic book stores.  And that’s just at game conventions.  My own daughter is a budding gamer, and I shudder to think what reactions she’s going to get at game conventions in 5 or 10 years.  I might end up in jail, but I’m not going to keep her from enjoying playing games, or the jerks have won.

Outside of a D&D campaign at my old office, I’ve yet to play in an RPG group with a woman in which the other guys at the table don’t try to sexualize her storyline somehow, as though the mere presence of a woman at the table requires part of the game to discuss how she’s supposed to pee in the woods, or how sleeping arrangements are going to be “balanced” at the local inn when we’re traveling, or how alien races are suppose to be OK with inter-species dating.  And I’ve been RPG’ing since 1981.  These are issues that are never even discussed at a table full of guys.  What percentage of RPG figures depicting women include thongs and halter-tops?  What percentage of RPG figures depicting men include well-filled banana hammocks?

These are just my own observations.  They don’t include the overwhelming idiotic reactions of gamers to other instances of questioning a woman’s place in the game world, never mind really pushing the envelope to include any sort of LBGTQ characters.  When Baldur’s Gate 3 included a transgendered character, the internet exploded in an avalanche of negative reviews that included statements like “not being true to the game” despite Ed Greenwood publicly supporting the move.  Yes, the vitriolic reaction was so great that the BG3 developers were accused of ruining the spirit of a game world, despite the creator of said world openly endorsing the move.

During the entire GamerGate fiasco last year, Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech in Utah, because even though the speaker and the venue had both received credible threats against her life, the local police refused to set up metal detectors and prohibit firearms at the talk.  Whether you agree with Sarkeesian or not, the idea that she couldn’t even stand up and talk without a threat on her life is just mind-numbingly idiotic.  And its no coincidence that her topics are heavily-motivated by what she sees as piss-poor portrayals of women in games.  Opponents were so eager to shut down her side of the debate that rather than craft intelligent, thoughtful, supported statements bolstering their own cases that they resorted to threats of violence to stifle the debate.  That’s so completely antithetical to the marketplace of ideas that it seriously makes me reconsider our own self-annointed status as a “smart” hobby.

And here’s the kicker: this behavior isn’t rare.  Given that this column is already going to clock in over 4000 words, I had to edit myself down to only a few examples of it to illustrate my point, which is that many gamers behave like assholes to minority groups and in-game stories that attempt to involve and engage minority characters, and when called on it, scream vociferously in their own defense without even remotely considering whether or not the other side has a point.

cosplayPut another way: if these behaviors didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be an entire public awareness campaign at game / comics / sci-fi / fantasy conventions all over the country reminding people that “Cosplay is not Consent”.

What’s almost more disturbing, though, is that these attitudes and behaviors aren’t always limited to sexual harassment.  The WMT column includes at least two instances of racial harassment, and there are other columns about gaming with people of questionable racial attitudes.  How often do we see abuses of “n00bs” in online gaming environments?  Snarky asides toward new gamers were so prevalent that at one point, an impassioned BGG writer pleaded with the audience to just stop behaving like dicks.  Locally, at least one good friend has recently contemplating exiting the game hobby altogether because of the cliquish bullying he’s gotten from the game groups that meet at local stores.  Not for nothing, I think he was the only military veteran in the groups.  So yeah, calling the perpetrators of these behaviors “white male terrorists” might have been over the top as a column title, but given the consistently poor behavior toward those that are not white and/or male, are we really going to deny it exists?

Now, if you’re still reading here’s where you’re going to really get irked with me (yay, right?!).  The reactions we’ve seen to these columns online are a predictable stew of fallacies of reasoning, and could easily fill an entire week of lectures in my public speaking classes.  Any when pointing out how dreadful the reactions are, attempts at reasonable discussion end up being shouted down like protestors at a Trump rally.

I’ve seen people upset about the characterization of gamers as “white male terrorists” (a total ad hominem attack using loaded language) hurl back a counteraccusation at the authors that they’re just a bunch of “social justice warriors” (another ad hominem attack).  You don’t like being over-generalized, but have no problem returning the favor rather than rising above it.

When discussing inclusivity and welcoming other gamers, someone inevitably throws out the accusation of imposing quotas on game tables, which is just as much of a straw man argument as “death panels” were during the Obamacare debates.  Sometimes, just for variety, someone will give us a slippery slope argument instead.

Ad ignorantiam arguments abound, attempting to distract from the key point by claiming that “well, you can prove it doesn’t happen”.

There are no end of fallacies of personal incredulity, and of false equivalence, in which people just can’t imagine it being true and therefore it isn’t, or trying to deflect the severity of the argument with the classic schoolyard “yeah, but what about…” argument.  If your rejoinder to someone’s criticism of your behavior is to point at someone else and say “what about him?!” then you’re not only losing, you’re embarrassing yourself while doing so.

What was most galling was seeing comment after comment about how the original concerns should be dismissed just by “applying critical thinking” (a common refrain on the now-deleted FB thread in the Wargamers group).  Hmm…  “critical thinking” tells us that only around a third of rapes and sexual assaults are reported, so the idea that someone is admitting to being raped without having called the cops shouldn’t even remotely be in question.

The comparative evidence fallacy usually comes into play here, as commenters attempt to distract with some meaningless statistic that has nothing to do with whether or not a woman was sexually assaulted.

Now, the original WMT column engages in its own fallacy of logic, invoking the fallacy of division and assuming that all parts of the whole share the same characteristics – that all white men in gaming must be terrorists.  So it’s not like fallacies of persuasion are limited to one side here.  But they certainly seem to happen a whole lot more on one side than the other.

If you don’t agree, then fine, don’t agree.  But you’ve got to come back with something more than misrepresentations of the argument, or broad-brush name-calling even if the other side engages in it.  Be better than that.  Be smarter than that.

Yes, there’s another rejoinder that always comes up: She’s making it all up, just like the Duke lacrosse case.  Hoo-boy do you not want to get me started on the Duke lacrosse case.  The problem with Duke lacrosse wasn’t the false accusations; it was the investigation that bent over backwards in a politically-motivated attempt to substantiate them.  To my knowledge, no one being discussed in any of these wargaming columns is running for public office, much less in a racially-charged environment overlaid with a resentment of privilege like Durham, where a man of questionable morals was running for office and knew he would pick up a crap-ton of votes by supporting the local girl against the preppie kids who weren’t even registered to vote in town.  Moreover, there was an investigation of at least one of the claims in the WMT column, and it was substantiated enough that the plaintiff won a goddamned court case.  So to dismiss the claims out of hand is foolishness in the extreme.

I play in a lot of sandboxes.GHLogoText  I’m an RPG guy.  I’m a wargamer.  I play a lot of tabletop games.  Although I’m not an avid online console/computer gamer, there’s no shortage of them for me to call on, and they get the widest media coverage.  The reactions to discussions like gender, race, stereotyping, and inclusivity in gaming are all very different depending on the audience.

Tabletop wargamers – where I spend most of my time – tend to be dismissive of many of the claims, though less aggressively and argumentatively than others.  My gut reaction (i.e., absolutely no quantifiable evidence whatsoever) tells me that although our hobby is overwhelmingly older, white, and male, many of us have wives and daughters and have friends and fellow gamers in the same boat, and our treatment of those wives and daughters (and other peoples’ wives and daughters) is a bit classier than the experiences I recounted above.  Although wargamers are unlikely to champion the cause of inclusivity for the sake of inclusivity, the experiences we’ve had in wargaming has been nowhere nearly as extreme as what’s discussed in the WMT column.  As such, incredulity is understood as a reaction.  Dismissiveness is not, and should not be.

Role-players tend to have civil discussions, but not always the most civil of behaviors around the table.  As noted above, role-playing groups that I’ve seen always seem to work necessary sexual overtones into games with women.  I realize that my experiences are not universal.  But they are also not made up.  It’s gratifying to see longer and more thoughtful discussions about the role of gender and inclusivity in role-playing, but it would be nice to see that same thoughtfulness manifest itself around a game table.

The CCG guys?  I haven’t been around in 20 years.  I bailed on MtG around the time Mirage was being released, so it’s been a while.  But it’s not hard to find stories of idiots in the system.  Tabletop boardgamers in general seem to have some issues, but it honestly feels like the bigger problem they have is arguing about the behavior, rather than the behavior itself.

Minis wargamers break out into two groups.  The “Cyrano brigade” of Napoleonics-über-alles who are busy filing the round buttons on the overcoats of their 15mm Rososovsky Grenadier Guards of 1813 into squares before painting them copper and then weathering them based on surviving the Winter in Poland that year have more in common with the tabletop wargamers above.  The sci-fi/fantasy tabletop wargamers, though, are like hanging out in a middle school locker room with a stash of Oui magazines hidden in a false locker bottom.  Innuendos are everywhere, as are sexual references, double entendres, and graphically insulting language.  And that’s at the conventions in front of (theoretically) an audience of potential converts and customers.  No, I did not write down specific times, dates, and statements.  I’m not a cop.  But if you want me to start, well… fuckit, I’ve got enough stuff I’d rather do during game conventions that justify my observations to the endless line of critics sure to come out of the woodwork on this one.

But if you want some real fun, hang out with the console gaming crowds.  Wow.  The language on those kids – and yes, I mean “kids” because even the ones who might be 37 still act like they’re 12 – is unbearable.  These are the guys threatening boycotts of publishers whose games might dare to include a woman with her clothes on.  They’re the ones who spiked the BG3 reviews for a transgendered character, and who’ve doxed anyone who dare criticize the tropes of “scantily clad damsel in distress” sexual icons of their afternoon fantasies.  They’ve made and repeated enough threats against critics of the games that some of the critics had to leave their homes.  Think about that for a second.  Someone was so upset at a critique of goddamned pixels on a fucking television that they threatened another person’s life.  Say it out loud.  Seriously.  Say that out loud and tell me there’s no problem.  Tell me – out loud – that you’re OK with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn being threatened into silence with physical and sexual violence.  You say that Sarkeesian and Quinn are full of crap?  OK.  Fine.  Show me.  Craft an argument that demonstrates through the use of evidence, logic, and reasoning that they are full of crap.  Win the battle of ideas, not the battle of assholes.

So yes, there’s a problem.  Is the problem exaggerated?  From your individual perspective, it might be, and we can all only view it from our individual perspectives.  But someone else’s individual perspective is that yes, there’s a problem.  And even if a problem is exaggerated, it still exists, no?  And to say it doesn’t even exist is stupid.  It does.  The question is what to do about it.

First, who is actually in your game group, and how have you reacted to people expressing interest in gaming with you?  I’ve already asked folks to go out and find new gamers, but I am not – I repeat, I AM NOT – asking folks to try to fulfill some arbitrary demographic quota in doing so.  Nevertheless, when you’re out looking for new gaming converts, who are you actually talking to?  Are you ignoring a larger pool of potential gamers because of arbitrary demographic criteria?

I’m also not asking anyone to embark on a jihad of inclusivity or undertake honor killings in revenge for the treatment of feminist critics of video game culture.  When you see someone being an asshole, tell them to stop.  It’s really that simple.  Don’t ask – asking implies you’re OK with them saying “no”.  Tell them to stop and report them if they don’t.  Trust me, people have not been shy about reporting assholes in the GrogHeads forums, and when necessary, we definitely step in.  Don’t be shy about reporting it at your FLGS, or at a convention, or in an online group.  But whether someone is being harassed for being a woman, or black, or old, or a veteran, or short, or a n00b, or ugly, or any combination thereof, they’re still being harassed and it needs to stop.

The only time you should ever harass another gamer is if there’s the dire need for a shower before the rest of the table fails their save vs upchuck.  And yes, that happens all too often as well.


This week’s soundtrack: I needed some Black Sabbath this week.  Ozzy fans can call me a heretic; there is no better full album side from any band than side 2 of Heaven and Hell, starting with Wishing Well.


Game that caught my eye:

Giant pile of files from DTRPG and slowly reading a lot of them just to see what I’ve got to work with.  I seem to collect RPG PDFs like the rest of y’all collect Steam games.  Also checking out a lot of Mystara content, like Threshold Magazine


What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:

Reading way too much of the discussions of harassment and bad gamer attitudes


Wouldn’t it be cool if…

I had the time to finish polishing the reboot of the Warfighter series of games?


This week’s poll:


Signing off…   Bayonet 06 – out!

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11 Responses to Tracer Rounds: Don’t Be An Ass

  1. A. Nonymous says:

    Great article. I think you caught on to a lot of ground on what is going on in the convention “scene” these days. I will state that although I have never personally witnessed my wife or any female gamer being harassed in any way that you relate here, I recall that about 30 years ago, when I was in undergraduate school and gaming with older guys, I took a girl I was dating with me to a D&D game, and one guy in particular drooled all over her and completely creeped her out to the point that we had to have words with him. The DM finally resolved to punish his character for his behavior since he didn’t seem to get the message in person. We as a group came up with a rule we called the “horndog” rule, which is what we called it when a guy at the table creeped out a girl when she sat down.

    I’d say that in my experience, bad behavior against women specifically has been rare in my presence, but we have had things happen that required group consensus as to how to address it.

    I will add that it’s not just our daughters who are in danger from this behavior. It’s our girlfriends, our wives, cousins, and anyone you can imagine that we care about. Nobody deserves to be treated badly for any reason, especially not because of their gender, race, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. It’s about respect, and there seems to be less of it floating around in the public consciousness of gaming than there should be right now.

  2. Ken McElhaney says:

    Having been a part of the Facebook thread launched by Rex Brynen over a month ago in the Wargamer group, it was a no-brainer to stay out of the last one that got nuked.

    The issue as I see it is not whether sexual harassment has occurred and will continue to occur at games stores, in gaming groups, and so forth. It’s whether there is any reason to go beyond telling people “don’t do it” and leaving it at that.

    To me, and perhaps my perception is wrong about this, but forums such as Facebook or even blogs like this one are a poor way to discuss such an issue because it gets generalized into two camps;

    1) Sexual harassment is created by the gaming culture.
    2) Sexual harassment is not created by the gaming culture.

    I take the latter point of view since sexual harassment cases have been well documented in virtually ALL walks of life from gaming, social gatherings, at the workplace, and even in religious institutions. To say that gamers and wargamers in particular are more prevalent to cause sexual harassment issues because of what they do has no basis in fact.

    Yes, there are sexual harassment issues that happen and it is true that they tend to occur more often in environments that have traditionally been male-dominated. That is not regulated to gaming, but areas such as chemistry professors for example where studies have shown women face greater stress, sexual harassment, and the like … and this is in a strict academic setting.

    So, if the academia world is subject to the SAME issues as wargaming because of traditional male dominance, then trying to limit the discussion to a single group only creates backlash and nothing gets accomplished.

    You are right the people should not be asses. And that’s about all that needs to be said. Cite the examples of when it occurs, list the indications that someone is committing sexual harassment and that’s about it. To try and expand the discussion further as some type of indictment of the gaming community will, in my view, not be productive.

    I learned my lesson in the first discussion with Rex which is why I stayed out of the second one. From that first discussion I’ve already been labeled by some as a sexist or enabler since I personally have not witnessed any sexual harassment in various forms of gaming I’ve participated in since the late 1970s and I included positive examples of women being encouraged to join the gaming community. So, I hope that whatever opposing point of view I see here will hopefully not include another label or two, but perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

    • Brant Guillory says:

      I can agree with you that this is a problem beyond just gaming. But the last time I checked, public critics of treatment of women in academic chemistry departments weren’t being threatened with death for speaking out, nor were chemistry lab coats for women being cut almost exclusively into bikini shapes.

      The level of threats and violence leveled against women and minority critics of the status quo in gaming is appalling and far exceeds anything I’ve seen in my years in and around the military, heavy metal radio, comic books, or soccer, all of which have their own mysoginistic behaviors to deal with.

      • Ken McElhaney says:

        And my experience over 30 years in gaming that includes regular events and tournaments in game stores and convention halls across three states has been the opposite. While I have seen bullying and threats between men on rare occasions in these venues, I have not seen one instance of sexual harassment or threats by a man made against a woman. I have not heard of one instance while attending any of these events that a woman was sexually harassed.

        To be fair, most of the events I’ve attended have had very few, if any women at them. And most of those who did attend were the siblings, girlfriends, wives, or daughters of male gamers who also attended. So there was very little incentive to step out of bounds as it would not only result in being tossed from the event, but getting beat up in the parking lot by the spouse, boyfriend or relative.

        Again, this is not to say that sexual harassment doesn’t happen. But it does suggest that far from a pandemic of harassment across the country, that instead we are dealing with incidents that occur in places where it is allowed to happen.

        One game store I frequented for over a decade until a couple of years ago is run by a FEMALE owner who has very strict rules about what people could do in her store. No swearing, no bullying, no harassment, and the list goes on. Needless to say, I rarely saw anything less that good behavior by adults and teens whenever I was there. Imagine that, teen boys that are well behaved. Well, when the price is being banned from the store, it does work.

        So, it appears at least from my view that this issue should be handled store by store, group by group. To try to elevate it to “it happens everywhere” basically says that the female game store owner is NOT doing her part to stop it which would be flat out wrong and frankly insulting.

        If gamers are seriously interested in stopping sexual harassment at least in the game stores and groups where they play, a no tolerance policy that is enforced is the first step. Otherwise, I would agree that gamers are not serious unless that type of action is taken.

      • Brant Guillory says:

        Ken – it’s great to hear that there are places that keep the games clean. I hope it catches on! 🙂

  3. J. R. Tracy says:

    Well said, Brant – thank you for taking the time to lay all that out.

  4. […] had to take a few weeks off.  Sorry.  The fallout from the last Tracer Rounds column cost me a good friend who thought I was (indirectly) taking shots at him and I hope that in time, […]

  5. Jason says:

    Good read. No time for homophobes or misogynists. Also know what it’s like to be harassed online over a period of time with derogatory comments being made about myself even when any issue I may have had is long forgotten about. I too have been guilty of having disagreements and posting negative comments about someone but that’s in my past and I keep my head down now. I’m happy now and I think if you having nothing good to say then say nothing at all the best policy online. As for homophobes and misogynists I steer clear from. My daughter is attracted to girls so have a fair understanding about the LGBT community.

  6. Brant Guillory says:

    Here’s another very disappointing report about the results of GamerGate

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