Friday, December 1, 2017

Harassment in Indie Games: Who, What, Where, Why, and HOW Part 1

Harassment in Indie Games: Who, What, Where, Why, and HOW
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

Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Part 1 - Introduction, and Who

Recently I put out a survey to ask people about their experiences with harassment and assault in indie rpgs and larps, as well as spaces around them like conventions. I wanted to gain some context to talk about it.

The purpose of this blog series is to talk about:

  • Who: who is being impacted, who is taking harmful action,
  • What: what is being done as a harmful act, what the result of the harm is, and what we are doing right now,
  • Where: where the events are happening,
  • Why: why is this happening right now, why do people do this, why it’s happening where it is, and,
  • How: How we can respond to it, how to avoid it in the future.

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.

The first thing about this, which I knew beforehand would happen, is that I didn’t receive piles of responses. While people are fine with speaking about their experiences in closed spaces, or in places where they could easily delete their posts, etc. I am not sharing the exact numbers of people publicly because I don’t want to increase any risk to people who have shared. I also want to point out that what I’m sharing here is pieces of the responses. I had to select carefully because it was, even with the responses I got, a ton of dense and very important information.

Edit for definition: I was asked to give a definition to indie games by a reader. The definition I offer here is just mine and what I used.

I allowed respondents to define it by their own awareness since it is a flexible term, but what I was looking for is primarily independent and small publishers (so as small as a single person, but not really bigger than Margaret Weis Productions) focused on tabletop RPGs and larp, and the spaces where those games are played and promoted (even within larger events, like Gen Con and Origins).

I was made very aware of my own circle of influence during this project, and I know that I actually ended up having to play the dodging game with people who I know have done harmful things.

Full Disclosure

Three of these posts are paid posts on my Patreon (, and I’m accepting support and donations through PayPal ( as I normally do. The final post proceeds will go to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest Network).
Additionally, I want to give full disclosure for my perspective. I have been:

-- Content warning for list of traumatic experiences related to sexual violence --

  • assaulted,
  • drugged and assaulted (to what degree, I actually am not sure...because I was drugged),
  • harassed, stalked, groped, and negged*,
  • recipient of erotic fanfiction about myself and the person in my inbox without permission and also when I was too afraid to say no because the person might kill themselves,
  • hit on and solicited by men at least 5 years my senior up to 40 years even when I was underage, from known ages,
  • recipient of rape (including explicit description) and death threats (of the “raped-to-death” variety) by strangers and by people I knew,
  • emotionally manipulated into sex, and,
  • body shamed in the context of a sexual relationship.

[*Negging is when someone insults you to lower your self esteem so they can give compliments and influence the individual towards them. It is popular with pick-up artists and it’s bullshit.]

-- End content warning for list of traumatic experiences related to sexual violence --

A fair amount of this stuff occurred in game communities, others in adjacent geek communities. I have been sexualized by older people since I was at least 5 (yes, I’m sure of that), online and face-to-face active verbal and physical harassment started in my teens, and so on. I also know personally of two domestic abusers in the community, a few men who have harassed or assaulted people, and multiple people who I wouldn’t want to be alone with because of their behavior, and not all of these identities are known or public.

This context is so people understand, yes, I am biased. I am biased against people doing bad acts. I don’t think bad acts only happen to women or that only men commit it, or anything like that, and I do fully believe that in most cases people can change and stop doing bad things, and try to do better things. That takes work, though, so with no apologies and no change, people remain in a bad spot with me.

I also believe victims. If it turns out someone has been falsifying things, that’s pretty shitty, yes. Most of the time, though, victims are more likely to keep the secret forever than risk the stigma and vilification that most victims experience. Victims are not treated with respect in most situations, and it can be downright dangerous to speak out against people who hurt them.

SO, with that in mind, let’s get started. Follow the cut!

Note: Quotes from the survey may be cropped or have sections excluded to remove names of individuals involved in the situation or to reduce the length of the post - I am doing everything I can to maintain the voice of the respondents and this post is reviewed by the respondents for their approval.


Who is being impacted?

The survey was open to basically any gender, and I received a majority of responses from cis women (less than 50%, but the whole of theirs was larger than any other category), but also from trans women, nonbinary people, genderfluid people, and men. It is pretty well known that cis women are often recipients of sexual harassment and violence, but it is important to me to note that people were being impacted across the gender spectrum. This is not only a “[cis] women’s issue” - it’s an everyone issue.

Keeping in mind that cis men, trans men, and masc people overall are even more unlikely to report their abuse because of the stigma that comes with it, I’m not surprised that I received few reports from those individuals - less than ⅕ of the responses were from them, in part because a couple who responded are being counted as responses from women because some men reported on behalf of their partners. Still, it’s important to note that men did respond - in part because of a comment I got that stuck out to me.

When I asked what could be done to support victims, they responded “I have no idea. Criminalize men?”

Men are significantly noted as the bad actors here, but cis and trans men are impacted by harassment from women as well as others, and this kind of commentary discourages them from being able to acknowledge the harm done to them (by any gender, including other men). I want to make sure we don’t ignore other individuals who are causing harm (including women against women, and so on), and ensure we’re listening to all survivors.

I didn’t ask for participant ages, which I may change if I revisit this, but about a third of the people who responded talked directly about underage people (themselves or others) being harmed by sexually-charged behaviors, whether it was sexual assault or harassment, or manipulation and controlling behavior. Emotional abuse is a factor here across the board, and it really impacts younger people.

One person who responded said that they received a lot more harassment when they were younger, but now nearing age 50, they receive less - but it hasn’t stopped.

I did not include race or disability on the survey, which may be considered if I ever pursue a future survey. I left those out to ease people’s entry into responding and reduce the risk of identification by outsiders who read my article. I hope that’s understandable!

Who is causing harm?

It is unfortunate here that many of the respondents did note that the person who harmed them was a man. However, not everyone mentioned the gender of the person (I didn’t ask in case people wanted to share multiple experiences, which they did), and there were women reported as being the bad actor. People of all genders were noted as bystanders, as well, which was disappointing.

The bad actors skewed adult - almost all of the responses were grown adults, but teenagers were mentioned as some of the offenders, as well. This is important to note because of the age power differential, as well as the spaces where these things happen.

Importantly, not all of these were heterosexual interactions, or done by straight people. One instance has a confluence of issues:

I had a game master/member of a community that I was a part of harass me multiple times over the 2 years I was around in said community. The individual was a cis man who identified as gay, even though I am a woman and was identifying as a lesbian at that time he would constantly make sexual jokes about me. He pretty constantly made these jokes and also would offhandedly talk about wanting to have sex with me/wanting to see me nude even though I identify as a woman AND I was underage at this point (He was in his late 20s). [from a trans woman]

This includes the underage issue, the gender issue, tacks on transmisogyny, and also frames this as within a community. More on spaces soon, but in the next post, I want to talk about what’s being done.

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!

edited 12/1/2017 correcting language re: cis women/women/trans women in paragraph after figure, ditto for cis men/men/trans men. Sorry for the errors!

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