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Monday, July 25, 2011

How not to deal with misogyny, gaming edition

Girls, keep out!
Let's say you're planning a big party. Unfortunately, when parties like the one you have in mind have been thrown in the past, they have tended to attract...well, some assholes. These assholes direct their ire to and about a certain specific group of people, and it can be really obnoxious, making others feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. You want to make sure that kind of thing isn't going to happen at your party. So what do you do?

A) Announce in advance that assholery of any kind will not be tolerated, and enforce it by kicking out anyone at the party who insists on behaving that way.
B) Take note of assholes who have attended such parties in the past, and make an effort not to invite them.
C) Incentivise people of the group targeted by the assholes to attend, so as to create a disparity in numbers which encourages the assholes to keep their traps shut.
D) Some combination of the above.

If you're one of the organizers of an upcoming LAN party in Austin, Texas for Battlefield 3, your answer was.... E) None of the above! Announce that members of the group targeted by assholes are not invited to attend, for the sake of their own protection.

Yes, really. And as you can guess from this post's title, the targeted group is women. From Owen Good at Kotaku:
Enthusiasts of military-style first-person shooters are not well known for their progressive thoughts on the matter of gender. The organizers of a large LAN party in Texas, scheduled to celebrate the launch of Battlefield 3, have decided the best way to deal with any slurs hurled at female gamers is to simply forbid them from attending. 
"Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts," the organizers originally wrote in an event FAQ. "Though we've done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we've certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event. 
This paragraph has since been removed, as the stink over the exclusion went viral, and replaced with: "This event is a 'gentlemen's retreat'; as such we do not allow women to attend." 
Later, they clarified that with: 
"We actively discourage gamers from being the kind of mysogynistic jackwagons seen in the Reddit post, and such behavior should not be tolerated. Frankly, we don't like that kind of player either. So far as this event goes, it is an special event designed specifically for male gamers. Further, it is meant as a getaway designed to help said male contingent become better men both for themselves and for those who love us." 
This is a large, private event and its organizers certainly have the right to associate with whomever they please. But given what I usually hear over my headset in military shooters like Battlefield, I wonder if this party would so outwardly ban any black gamers from registering. Because it would be so, you know, uncomfortable to hear them being insulted. 
Or maybe the answer here is to forbid that kind of obnoxious behavior, and kick out anyone who breaks the rule, $49 registration be damned. Or maybe this event is more about the comfort of the organizers than the participants.
This is not the sort of event I would want to attend anyway, not being big on first person shooter (FPS) style games, let alone playing them with strangers who are known for their propensity to engage in aggressive smack talk throughout the game. That this is the general pattern of conversation for multiplayer FPS games is so well-known it is practically a truism. But as Good suggests above, insults to and about women are not the only kind of prejudice displayed in gamer put-downs. It's not at all uncommon to hear racism and especially homophobia as well-- would the LAN party organizers ban non-whites and/or gays as well, in the name of making those gamers who are allowed to attend "better"?  Doesn't it seem a little odd on its face to keep the assholes and exclude the victims, for the sake of decreasing the levels of general assholery?

The Battlefield 3 party is being organized by Powers Gaming, which is a private organization so of course they get to make their own rules. And I have no doubt that they are genuinely interested in keeping the level of aggressiveness during gameplay itself to a minimum. But their chosen means of doing so amounts to creating a heckler's veto-- an institutionalized means for those who are willing to be obnoxious to penalize those who are not, while escaping any penalty for themselves.

Lesley at Two Whole Cakes sums up what is going on:
Since it’s been picked up by some blogs, the text has been changed to describe the event simply as a “gentleman’s retreat”, with a link to this site, in an effort to either elicit hilarity (that said men are trying to be better people by playing Battlefield 3 together) or to earnestly reframe the male-exclusive space as a positive thing. There is also some weird drama in which possibly-imaginary female attendees describe harassment at prior LAN parties put on by this group that may have never happened. 
Ultimately, the question of whether women have been egregiously harassed at past events — although it would seem to be implied by the original wording — is irrelevant to this post. All I want to unpack here is the original language in the original pre-drama announcement quoted above, because I think it demonstrates a lot of what is wrong with games culture in an especially clear way. 
The encoded, indirect message behind that text is this: 
We don’t want this to be difficult. We just want to play our games and not have to worry about forcing people to behave. We don’t want to think critically about what kind of ground rules would need to be laid down, how we would make them clear, and how we would enforce them, because that seems like a lot of work without any worthwhile payoff. We don’t want to be distracted by having to police our participants. We just want to play some motherfucking Battlefield 3, and have fun doing it. Because dealing with misogyny, racism, homophobia, or any kind of hate speech? It’s just not fun. So in the interest of making this event fun for the men and safe for the women, we’re just going to require that the women stay home. 
The idea that it is somehow “safer” to make the event male-only is problematic in that it reinforces the assumption that men are feral fucking animals who are incapable of controlling their allegedly natural chromosomal need to be assholes. It presupposes that getting dudes to treat women and other non-dudebro people like human beings is, at best, a huge imposition, or at worst, an impossibility.
Exactly. Yet again, such a characterization is not doing men or women any favors.

I do very much believe that, in addition to simply being regularly exposed to friendly interaction with members of a targeted group, the next best way to eliminate prejudice against that group is peer pressure. As in, having friends who are not members of that group say to you "Hey, that's not cool. Saying things like that makes you sound like a douche, actually. And I know you're not one, so cut it out." But I'm under no illusions that that is at all what this Battlefield 3 "gentleman's retreat" will be about.  It will be, quite naturally, about playing Battlefield 3. And that's perfectly fine-- that's the reason the event is being held.  But it could still be about Battlefield 3 without preemptively excluding the people who are likely to get picked on while the bullies walk right in the door...presumably to conduct all of the bullying they care to do, since the parties most likely to be offended have been eliminated.

Or have they? How cool would it be if a certain number of guy gamers went to the event to stand in for the excluded girl gamers?  To apply a little peer pressure, while simultaneously not approving of the chosen format which makes it so much more important for them to fulfill that role?

Maybe I'm dreaming, in that regard. But it would be nice.

6 comments:

  1. While I agree that discrimination is wrong, and misogyny is definitely wrong..they had the right to exclude anyone they wanted. They chose to exclude women, for whatever reason (I think it's safe to assume why) and it's their right.

    Just as you can have Ladies of Leet, and GamerGirls and Girls Gone WoW, etc. and not necessarily include men. Not that these shows do, but my point is that it's not wrong to exclude a group, for whatever the reason.

    At least they were honest, until it got picked up by blogs all over the world at least.

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  2. From my post: "The Battlefield 3 party is being organized by Powers Gaming, which is a private organization so of course they get to make their own rules."

    I don't know about the other two podcasts (?), but Ladies of Leet does not exclude men-- it simply does not have a male host. They talk to and about men all of the time, and have had male guests on. Bad comparison there.

    "It's not wrong to exclude a group, for whatever the reason"? What is your basis for this statement? Would you be as willing to apply it if the group being excluded was non-whites, as I mentioned? Given that the entire post was about why it is wrong to exclude a group, and for what reasons it was done, it would have been nice if you had supported this claim rather than just stating it as fact.

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  3. Wow. This is a world (gaming) I know absolutely nothing about, but it would seem like a no-brainer for decent people to exclude the offenders rather than the targets.

    BTW, I've noticed that the word "gentlemen," as in "gentlemen’s retreat" or "gentlemen's club," has become a euphemism for pig.

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  4. Sometimes I have to look at the calendar to REMIND myself that we are in the 21st Century.

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  5. While I strongly disagree Seth above, and find it sadly stupid to exclude participants based on who they are (rather than how they behave), I am glad that the people putting on the party have identified themselves. For the most part, we don't know who the jerks are in this world, because they don't clearly identify themselves as jerks. The world would be such a better place if bigots and misogynists and their ilk all made their feelings known to the public.

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