Talkback Challenge #1: GamerGate
As I mentioned yesterday when I joined the Newbie Blogger Initiative, I already had an idea for a new post I could write. More specifically, I noticed that the first Talkback Challenge had been posted on Sunday, featuring the question How did GamerGate affect you?
Well, I didn’t expect this to begin on such a heavy topic for me.
To be honest, I’ve been thinking about posting something about this for several months but the jerk part of my brain has always talked me out of it by the time I get to a keyboard. Let it be, it hisses, just forget it happened. It wasn’t even that bad. And no one will care about your little story anyways. Well jerkbrain, I’m telling it now and you can’t stop me.
I have to start back before GamerGate actually occurred. At the beginning of summer, I joined an in-person Dungeons & Dragons group filled with relative strangers. The one who invited me had only known me from a few weeks of online chatting but that didn’t seem to faze him much. For me, it was huge. I can be somewhat social and friendly enough online, but in person with a group of people I had never met? That sort of thing was terrifying for me. But I managed to gather up the courage to do it anyways, on the off chance it might be fun. The guy warned me that this group made a lot of sexual jokes and was I okay with that? I had no issue with it, having spent years in my old WoW guild where R-rated jokes were thrown around on an daily basis. Surely I could handle whatever they would throw at me.
If only it were that simple. Slowly, over many gaming sessions, I began to realize that this wasn’t just giggling immaturely at Marrowgar yelling “BONESTORM!” These were jokes about rape. Jokes about gay people. Jokes about non-white people. Somehow they even managed to make jokes about all of those things combined. And it was all the time; every time I was in that apartment, I was assaulted with these horrible jokes.I wasn’t the only woman in the group but she had no problem making jokes along with the guys. Other than that, we were all white and presumably cis/hetero and not victims of sexual assault. What if that wasn’t so? What if one of us had been black, or gay, or transexual, or a rape survivor? Would they still have made the same jokes? Why did they think it was okay to make jokes like that even if they weren’t in the presence of any of those groups?
At first I thought it was the price of entry. In an online game, you can just block or ignore the kind of people who make those jokes. But there was no button I could press to make this stop. And this was what other people were just like, right? So for months, I sat there and listened to it. And remembered that old WoW guild I had been in, that one that was filled with people from all over the LGBT spectrum who wouldn’t have tolerated a word of this in guild chat. People that I counted amongst my closest friends and here I just sat while these jerks made them the butt of their jokes.
I’m not sure what was my lowest point. It could have been when one of them said something so outrageous and surprising that all I could do was laugh nervously because that’s my first reaction to stuff that makes me uncomfortable. God help me, I laughed at some of those jokes. Or maybe it was when one of them went on a 10 minute rant over the two paragraphs about gender/sexual diversity in the D&D 5th edition. Two paragraphs in a 300+ page book. While I just sat there with this startled expression on my face as everyone else agreed with them.
All I know is that it went on for months. I should have stopped going when I began dreading every Saturday. Instead I made myself continue because…well, let’s just say it was jerkbrain again. I began to hate the other players in the group and hate myself for silently putting up with them. I was still going to their games in October when I learned about GamerGate (I’m horrible at keeping up with news). It made me sick to my stomach to read how some assholes were using it as a smokescreen to bully and threaten others, most of them women. How gender, race, sexuality, etc. were being twisted into excuses to try and exclude certain people and groups from being gamers. I love games and I love calling myself a gamer, but this made me ashamed to be a part of the same group as the GamerGaters. But then there were other who were calling them out on their bullshit, and even some of the women who were receiving death threats refused to be silenced. As I read all of this, I realized I had had enough. I was just done with listening to bigoted jokes, done with feeling as crappy as the shit at the bottom of a shit pile in a shit hole.
I wish I could tell you that I told them off with some epic burn and stormed out of there full of righteous fury. But that would be a lie. Instead I sent everyone a text saying that I wasn’t coming to any more sessions because the gay/racist/rape jokes were too high a price for me. Some of them asked why I hadn’t said anything sooner. The guy who invited me said that he “forgot that some people have different sensibilities.” One guy said my text was “accusatory” and wanted to speak to me in person. He hadn’t even said anything outright threatening and I already felt unsafe enough to not respond to anyone. Thinking about it even now makes me anxious and it’s not even a fraction as bad as what the targets of GamerGate received.
I didn’t talk about it on here because I was ashamed for having been silent all those months. I also had this irrational fear that if I said anything even vaguely connected to GamerGate, I would be targeted by harassment as well. I was even anxious that one of the members of that group would stumble across my post about it and I’d suddenly have Mister “Speak to me in person” at my door. So I sat on it for months and stewed until now.
I still hate myself for not speaking up sooner, for not getting the hell out of there once I started feeling uncomfortable. I’m still disgusted at GamerGate when I see games as a means to get away from reality and just have fun. It is just a mound of hate, bullying, and fear-mongering under the guise of “ethics in video game journalism”. But if there’s any good that I took away from it, it’s that I’m now more aware of the harassment, the bigotry, and all the other crap that’s not just in games but in the world in general. While I might not be shouting into a megaphone anytime soon, I want to support the people who do that. I want to become more involved in feminism and equal rights for all. It might only be in small ways but it’s something. One small text is just the beginning for me.