Monday, December 4, 2017

Harassment in Indie Games: Part 2 - What

Content warning: sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual violence, threats, online harassment, threats of violence, harassment and assault of minors, statutory rape, rape, mental illness, anxiety, social ostracizing

Harassment in Indie Games: Part 2 - What

This is the second post (post one) in a series about sexual harassment and assault in indie RPGs, larps, and spaces. I put out a survey to ask people about their experiences. This post is going to cover What (what is being done as a harmful act, what the result of the harm is, and what we are doing right now).

As I said before, this has not been an easy task for me or, especially, for the people who shared their stories. I am incredibly grateful to the people who responded. Whether they chose to be anonymous or to share their personal information, I think it takes a lot of fortitude to talk about our experiences.

Follow the cut for the post.


What is being done to harm people?

There are actually a ton of things that are happening. Sometimes, reading through these was really hard because of the things people have done. To protect the emotional safety of my readers, I’m going to be vague with some of these things, and other things may be paraphrased to protect the respondents. Others I may have to discuss in more detail, so I will try to provide adequate warnings.

It is important to note that some of the responses features things that were done to players’ characters either by someone exercising power, trying to break the in-character/out-of-character boundary and violate the responding player, or out of general disregard for agency and autonomy. Even in more casual games, our characters can be an avatar for us, and insisting that our characters are raped, sexually objectified, violated, or otherwise often appears to be just a way to mimic doing that to us as players. Responses included people openly hitting on them, pursuing relationships after they were turned down, and so on, even beyond fictional scenarios.

One respondent spoke about an experience in a group of queer women,

I played in a group limited to queer women, because they claimed men were toxic and dangerous, and it ended up being the worst experience of my life. One player was forced against her wishes to roleplay naked mud wrestling. Tons of sexual comments were made in and out of game, despite me making it clear that I was uncomfortable, especially because I am a sex-averse asexual. We had a female character who slept with anything that moved and had a bra of holding... exactly the sort of character the DM claimed was offensive when men played it, but somehow it was ok for a woman?

People being inappropriate at the table is a pretty common issue, and players, even from marginalized groups, ignoring intersectional identities while pursuing their own enjoyment isn’t acceptable or okay.

Most of the responses for both fictional and real life interaction included some variety of verbal violation. Some of this was unwanted flirting, some of it was derogatory language or categorical dismissal (women aren’t “real developers” language by Mike Mearls on Twitter, regarding a panel at Gen Con 2016 - reported by two of my survey respondents), or threats of rape or violence through verbal means. Beyond these verbal violations, others went farther into groping and physical threats.

-- Content warning for sexual harassment and assault --

A respondent spoke about going on a radio show that was held at a con while wearing a dress. When they went in, they said “...the DJ groped my breast and laughed about it on the air. … There were several people, mostly men, in the room. They laughed, especially when I got upset and left. They should not have laughed.

-- End content warning for sexual harassment and assault --

A respondent talked about how a man they knew offered a comfortable space in a hotel room at a con, knowing the respondent had back problems.

-- Content warning for physical threat but not rape or invasive assault --

The issue was, however:

What I didn't find out until I got there was that the bed that was available was his bed. A double sofa bed. I should have left, but felt too awkward. From there, things escalated way past what I was comfortable with. He didn't rape me, but I don't know how many hours I spent trapped with his arm wrapped around me while he spooned me from behind and I prayed that nothing more would happen.

-- End content warning for physical threat but not rape or invasive assault --

Physical threats like these are a serious issue, and this is not the only instance of deception for unwanted physical intimacy I saw. This is about control in so many ways, and one of the ways it appears is in where these things happen. I will note that I also received response outside of the survey (for greater privacy) about instances of domestic violence, and how it impacted the individual’s ability to participate in the gaming community. One thing abusers can do is try to groom others into being their victim, and as someone who was a target for this in the gaming community, I can tell you that domestic abuse doesn’t stop with their partner.

What is the result of this harm?

The immediate harm done in these situations is enough reason to make changes. However, it goes even further than that. It is rare that harm from sexual harassment and assault ends with the initial incident, something I am aware of as a survivor who has to be treated for PTSD from sexual assault piled onto childhood trauma. Below are some of the responses to the question of what has happened as a result of the harm.

-- Content warning for discussion of results of trauma after sexual assault and harassment. --

- I had to have a year of therapy to stop having panic attacks, and even now I don't fucking trust men who are too nice to me at cons.

- I fear my career in this industry may suddenly end without warning if it hasn't already due to the level of influence this small abusive group has within the industry. [referring to coordinated online harassment]

- I never again felt safe at a con, and as soon as I could, I made sure I never went to one again.

- ...I have been diagnosed with panic disorder. I cannot see a [person who resembles the bad actor] without becoming hyper vigilant. I cannot see the type of car he drove or smell coffee (something he brewed all the time at his house) without getting anxious. I have managed to only be able visit conventions he might be at twice in the past 10+ years and both times I rushed around and never felt comfortable.

- This happened very early on after I came out, it had a very serious impact on how I perceived my body and my sexuality at the time. The fact that he was never questioned on this made it feel like maybe I was wrong for not feeling fine with this, that I should have been fine with this kind of attention. The fact that he was very clear about his sexuality also caused a lot of trauma for me about people only being able to see me as a man in sexual situations which I am still having trouble with 2 years after this all happened. [The respondent here is a trans woman talking about an openly gay man who harassed her in and out of character. Transmisogyny is a significant issue!]

- ...For me, personally, it made me less trusting of a community that I thought was better. It made me not able to participate in a live-action game the next day, because I was hyper sensitive to people swinging boffer swords near me. It solidified my feeling that I would never be able to participate in boffer combat, an opinion I have formed due to many such incidents in the gaming community. It distanced me, once again, from a community that I feel I could contribute positively to. [referencing threats of real-life violence related to participation in a boffer larp, including the bad actor negging the respondent.]

- I'm more cautious about where I go at parties in general, but especially at cons. I don't leave younger friends to wander around on their own-- I look out for them, whether it's at a convention or a work event.

-- Content warning for discussion of results of trauma after sexual assault and harassment. --

A number of respondents explained that the events they experienced made them uncomfortable attending events, playing games, or being around people who were involved in this community. Many, as these quotes show, have experienced panic, anxiety, fear, and the mental and physical impacts of those experiences. It is clear that these traumatic experiences are significantly impacting people in games.

What are we doing right now?

Frankly, in a lot of cases we’re doing shit diddly. By which I mean: many people responded with statements that no one helped them. When I asked “What did those involved do to help with the situation or protect you, as a victim?” I heard a lot of variations on that theme:

- Not a damn thing. [from two different respondents! One was in regard to online harassment, which is a significant trend - the lack of action for online harassment was well-noted as at times being worse than face-to-face.]

- The groper in question was with other people helping him. I was too shocked to do anything at the time. Afterwards I didn't bother. It was Gencon. Gencon doesn't give a shit.

One respondent explained that they were told the offender was “mostly harmless” when the respondent asked for someone to be removed from a group for repeatedly pursuing underaged people. The responses continue:

- My attacker tried to come to dinner with me and some friends. I panicked and told a second make friend he had to tell my attacker he couldn't come. A third male friend showed me pictures of his kid and chatted about inconsequential shit while I cried while second male friend talked to attacker to tell him to fuck off. We went to dinner and I pretended to be normal and failed. At some point I told second male friend what happened, and he told me what happened was sexual and not okay, which I hadn't realized before that.

- I questioned this at the time and was ignored. [in response to a GM allowing players to “roll for sex” after declaring a player’s cleric PC was part of a faith that practiced “ritual prostitution.”]

- Nothing. They blamed me for being a girl, saying I shouldn’t have acted/dressed/been that way if I didn’t want the attention. I stopped turning them in after a while because it brought up all of my shame from earlier assaults. [when the respondent raised questions over adult men pressuring younger women (including the respondent) for nudes and oral sex.]

-- Content note for mention of statutory rape --

- ...No one cared that a 25 year old was sleeping with a 15 year old.  The two people I told he had forced me (I told them I had been uncomfortable with continuing to do stuff) within a week or so of it happening (two members of the gaming group we were in) did not care.  
-- End content note for mention of statutory rape --

- The other people in this community didn't really do anything, a few times one person was like "Oh he seems to be going a little far" but never did anything about it. [in response to an adult gay man harassing an underage trans girl.]

- Nothing. I was seated with a large group of people, of mixed gender. But they were the employees of the person harassing me. He is an indie game publisher. I'm sure they felt pressure to assume that nothing was wrong, or, if they could see what was happening, to ignore it. Although I know some of them casually (online), none of them has ever said anything to me about this incident afterwards.


- Absolutely nothing.

US Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
- Chat

US Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
- Worldwide chat:

US Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255
- Chat

I apologize for not having non-US numbers at this time. The chats should be accessible for anyone, and if you still need help, please contact me directly via I'm sending good vibes to you as well as I can. Thank you!

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