Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Harassment in Indie Games: Part 3 - Where and Why

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, perspective of offender

Harassment in Indie Games: Part 3 - Where and Why

This is the third post (posts one & two) 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 Where (where the events are happening, where are people making efforts) and Why (why do people do these things, why is this happening right now, why is it happening in these spaces).

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.

Find the post after the cut.


Where are these events happening?

The primary locations for these events are: conventions, game tables/larp spaces, and online or face-to-face communities (so either local gatherings/social groups offline or online social groups/gamer collective spaces).

-- Content note for discussion of online harassment in detail --

In the responses and in my own general awareness, online harassment is a huge issue. One example:

- I responded to someone discussing abuse from [an individual] with "Oh yeah, are people not all aware of that guy yet?" and had porn and hate speech sent to me by 200 or so disposable twitter accounts.

Harassment online - including rape and death threats - is extensive. I’ve experienced it personally, though not nearly to the extent of some respondents or those who are well-known who have experienced it. Online harassment is no blip. It can be targeted to force people out of work, or even just to get them out of the hobby. It is known and acknowledged that many people in indie games have left indie games entirely because of the harassment and extensive verbal assault, as well as doxxing and spamming.

-- End content note for discussion of online harassment in detail --

My last note here is that online harassment has left some respondents in therapy, with panic attacks and PTSD, from the extent of this trauma. It is painful and terrifying to not know whether you will be safe from online harassers because they could and often do take the time to find your personal information and use it to harm you. We can’t forget that online harassment is significant, and that it is extensive. Respondents even reported the trauma from this being worse than their face-to-face experiences with harassment and assault.

I want to place a huge emphasis on the fact that a large number of the responses for all genders involved at-table (or in-larp) behavior that was disrespectful, violating, and/or simply inappropriate. People getting overtly hit on, people having their characters raped or assaulted, physically forcing people to touch each other or share space, etc. A lot of people talked about how no one seemed to try to stop things, or how they felt helpless. This isn’t how game experiences should be.

Some things, such as domestic violence, primarily happen in private, but the associated behaviors to domestic violence often spill over into public social interactions. This is the same with people who harass others in private - their behaviors aren’t exclusive to behind-closed-doors. Additionally, some people harm others in public - and as noted in previous posts, with no regard for others, and at times with no one stopping or condemning them.

Some of the locations mentioned were:

  • Convention rooms
  • Online (Twitter, G+, Tumblr, etc.)
  • Convention floors
  • Game tables
  • Larp spaces
  • Parties at cons
  • Private emails
  • Con events

That is a hell of a lot of places to feel afraid in, or afraid of going into. It makes me wonder how many people have left games because someone groped them, assaulted them, harassed them, and one of the most frustrating to me, used the social group’s culture and their social or political influence to make sure that the person had to suffer through long-term harassment or leave. That was in at least ⅓ of my responses. A third. When people mock safe spaces, I don’t think they realize how unsafe the world is.

Where are efforts being made?

There are some people making efforts, and they should be commended. Of the conventions I’ve attended, all of the conventions run by Double Exposure ( have comprehensive harassment policies, and Big Bad con has a great one as well. Both cons encourage the use of safety tools at tables (like Script Change, the X-Card, Lines and Veils, etc., which I’ve seen Big Bad Con includes in their program and on their site). A number of other cons, including smaller cons, seem to be taking action in this regard, too, which is great! This should be across the board, not just by a few cons.

There are also a fair number of people are including or building safety mechanics into their roleplaying games (Kids on Bikes by John Gilmore and Doug Levandowski; The Hour Between Dog and Wolf by Matt Gwinn; Lovecraftesque by Becky Annison and Josh Fox; Bluebeard’s Bride by Sarah Richardson, Marissa Kelly, and Whitney “Strix” Beltrán & others) and speaking about content and consent in them. This is awesome, but it doesn’t solve everything. Table culture is something that we all need to work towards improving, and looking for methods of change are being done mostly by those who have already been hurt or those most at risk. We’re working hard, and we need more people to work hard alongside us.


Why do people do these things?

The respondents didn’t provide much in this regard because I didn’t want to put them in the place of having to interpret the actions of someone who hurt them. However, a lot of the thread of the responses were things like social power, lack of respect of people’s consent or autonomy, promoting the “fun” of GMs or other players over the safety and comfort of the harmed players, and environments contributing to people having control over others.

While it’s impossible, I think, to know the whole of the mentality behind someone deciding they’re going to hurt someone else or the reasons why someone would be careless enough to do so accidentally, I want to offer a perspective.

-- Content warning for descriptions of groping & predatory behavior including motivations from the perspective of an offender --

I have, twice that I know of, harmed someone in a sexual context. During the times I was in a manic fugue, I don’t know if I did then. It’s obviously not something I’m proud of and I have changed since then (the ones I remember were a long time ago). I’ve made steady efforts to not be that person anymore, but I know the things I was thinking.

[Note: I am not sharing these stories to make anyone feel bad for me, or to focus on the bad actors so much, I am just offering perspective of the bad reasoning for bad acts. I am sharing this so that those who are unfamiliar with or ignorant of sexual harassment and assault can see that people who they know can be bad actors and so they can realize how shitty this is.]

The two situations I recall were both while I was intoxicated, so my memories are blurry. However, the first time I was kissing someone and just took it too far because I was excited and thought they were into it. Eventually I realized they were uncomfortable, but it was too late. I groped them and it was awful that I did. This was me being selfish and ignorant and it was wrong. I wasn’t thinking anything except about what I wanted, and assuming they would be into it, without seeking consent.

In the other instance I grabbed someone’s ass (a stranger) while I was drunk. That might sound mild to someone, but it was wrong and harmful. I didn’t have their consent, and I was just trying to prove that I could do what I want. It was about power.

-- End content warning for mild descriptions of groping & predatory behavior from the perspective of an offender --

Two reasons: ignoring someone’s consent (or lack thereof) because of selfishness, and power. These are pretty common. The second is more common than the first. The second needs to be fought constantly with education and by removing people from the situations where they can be harmed, and by condemning their actions. They need to know they can’t do it and that it won’t be tolerated, and that they need to change and never do those things again.

While there are people who are ignorant, drunk idiots, they are often that way because our culture encourages it and teaches it, and those people should be educated. We are responsible for that, and by “we” I mean “all humans, especially those who have social or political influence.” There needs to be active movement to discourage this kind of ignorance, and we should create spaces safe from the drunken behavior of people who don’t understand or respect consent.

If you have sexually assaulted or harassed someone and want to know how to move forward and make it right if you can, check out this link. It is unfortunately extremely biased towards men being the perpetrators, but aside from that, pretty useful.

Why is this happening right now?

It’s not new, for one. It’s just becoming more well-reported because of the access to communication and media that is allowed by modern technology, even though some of the problem is that technology can make it easier (harassment via IM or email or phone, doxxing, etc.).

However, there are a hell of a lot of reasons why our culture overall is allowing this, most of which involve power. You can look at the US President and see that sexual harassment and assault is accepted at the highest levels of our society, and the recent outings of many, many men who have assaulted people are overwhelming. You hear regularly about police abusing the people they arrest, or those they are just using, and many police are domestic abusers, too. Sexual harassment and assault is a regular part of our lives, and the current climate - one where so many bad actors are in power, in our government, many people have defended a pedophile. Either people want power or they just don’t give a shit about anyone else.

Members of government and various “elites” (rich people, celebrities, etc.) constantly abuse the power they already have, while people who feel they don’t have power - many geeks, those who are insecure, and so on - can hurt people in search of power. Our culture allows for people to more easily hurt women (trans and cis), queer people, and even men because we don’t criticize bad behavior even when we’re considering who among us should be a just enough person to police us, to be in respected, or to be considered a leader.

Why is it happening in these spaces?

Because we don’t do those things, for one. Many conventions lack harassment policies or behavior policies, though some are improving on that. The majority of game tables lack use of safety tools and many avoid the discussion of acceptable behavior in general, and this spills into small gaming communities.

People don’t call out behavior. We don’t stop hiring people when we find out they’re hurting people. We excuse people because of their social, political, or professional roles. We allow community members to continually be predatory towards underage players. We disrespect the autonomy and identities of marginalized community members.

The reality is that we don’t have established boundaries, and we don’t have rules. I imagine a lot of this is in the core of gamer/geekdom - we’re trying to break away from societal rules, we want to have our own worlds, it’s about escapism, etc. and so on. And I get it, right? Doing what you want is fun! Having control of your life and having fun is great. But this kind of culture, the acceptance of ignoring rules that protect people and the use of fiction to abuse people? Not cool, y’all.

This issue is not exclusive to gaming spaces, or even geek spaces. It’s everywhere. But it’s not that this behavior is common that is the issue. It’s that it keeps happening and far too often, no one says a word, even when someone asks for help. We turn away when people are in need because “they’re harmless,” or “they’re socially awkward,” or “they can’t be bad, they’re such a good [designer, gamer, friend, etc.],” or “we can’t kick them out, they’ve always been here.”

We need to step up.

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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