Monday 4 April 2016

On toxicity

OK, listen. This is the first time I've responded to an external blog post, but there's a post out there and I don't even know the author's name and it's a catalogue of horrible, horrible sexist and racist behaviour and if you are the sort of person who needs a trigger warning then you'd best not click it because, holy God.

Now this post has caused an upswell of outrage, both from people who are horrified and appalled that such a thing could happen, and people who deny that it's even real, including one choice specimen who I suppose is counted as prominent (although people who aren't awful generally wish he wasn't) who described it as "so far from anecdotal, even apocryphal rumour to me, it might as well be in fucking Narnia."

I responded to the whole thing with my unsurprised face. I mean, the thing is, all these guys refusing to believe this woman's account is true (because their anecdotal evidence trumps hers because she's a girl presumably) are missing the point. Because every single one of these things happens. I have heard stories from people I know and strangers alike that match every single one of the things the writer of that blog post says she's been through.

It doesn't even matter if it's not all true because this happens all the time.   

My credentials (although if you bother to read this site, you probably know anyway, but): I contributed, give or take, to about forty books for White Wolf between 2005 and 2009. I wrote some things in that time that were, unintentionally, transphobic and sexist, and I regret them. In 2009 I self-published a short novel called Memory Sticks, which was supposed to be feminist in the good way but in retrospect was feminist in the way that Steven Moffat and Joss Whedon manage to be feminist (i.e. well-meaning and trying to reach towards the right sort of conclusion, but actually somehow failing worse than people who don't even try). If you know what I mean. I regret that too.

Around the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 I dropped out of the gamer community, burning out on it. I concentrated more on the arts. I started performing, writing poetry. I got an artist's residency at my old university. I found some legitimacy. The good people at White Wolf and later Onyx Path asked me back, and I have worked on a few more books, mainly on fiction. But I have flunked out on at least one book and burnt some bridges, and that was because I could not wholly bring my heart back into writing game rules. This was nothing to do with White Wolf and its writers and staff from that period, the majority of whom I still maintain friendly relations with and who are a pretty decent bunch of men and women, all told.

No, it all boils down to how in 2009 I started getting sick of the culture of self-proclaimed gamers. As time had gone on, and I had engaged with gamers online as part of the inevitable process of writing games in the 21st century, I found attitudes that horrified me.

Not one of the stories in that woman's list of horrendous experiences is unfamiliar to me. Not one. Racism, sexism, classism. They are all things you see.

You'd see horror stories about the way people treated women in costume at conventions, or about racist gamers, and then you'd get the fury of people who were somehow incensed that these women would dare to complain that they were touched up, harassed and threatened with assault when they were pretty and wearing sexy costumes and deserved it.

But it was always the little, banal things that stuck with me. The small things, the shitty attitudes, the little throwaways that betrayed horrible, stupid underlying attitudes.

The guy with the double barrelled surname who tried to tell me that no one wanted to read about working class werewolves.

Guys who believed that pretty girls ruled the world just because they couldn't get laid, because hell it couldn't be their fault.

Passionate followings for games defending the Confederacy, or romanticising it as somehow noble. 

Guys who doubled down on calling Rose Tyler (a fictional character, lest we forget) a "chav" despite being informed that it was a slur that applied to my family and it was fucking offensive.

People seeing a picture of an attractive woman on a forum and repeatedly posting "I'll be in my bunk" (i.e. identifying with the thuggish brute off of Firefly who was informing people that he was off to masturbate).

The miniatures diorama someone made with members of one Warhammer (you know, the game kids play) faction raping another and its online defenders explaining that "this sort of thing happens in war."

The talented, smart young artist who'd get "tits or gtfo" or "make me a sandwich" every single time she gamed online.

(Footnote: the degree of illiteracy that causes someone to think "I'll be in my bunk" or "make me a sandwich", both lines uttered in their original sources deliberately to demonstrate the speaker a pig, could out of context be funny or clever, boggles the mind.)

A man setting himself up as some kind of "pundit" (and oh God, the stakes for that claim, the stakes are so very low) fantasising about breaking into the home of one of my colleagues and beating him to death.

Being wished dead because of something I wrote in a rulebook.

Being wished dead because of something else I wrote in a rulebook.

Being placed on a list of people who make everything in the world worse by some guy I had never heard of because politics.

Stupid statement after stupid statement, a drip drip drip nerd water torture that drove me crazy.

It poisoned me on "geek culture". The stupid, bigoted, hateful, joy sucking geeks drowned out the valuable, decent voices. I found that I couldn't read one prominent forum for gamers for more than about five minutes without saying "oh, fuck off" out loud at the screen. And I hit a point where I started to think "why am I even writing for these people?" It became harder and harder to care about these books. Eventually I stopped caring altogether and then the words stopped. After a break of a couple of years, I got asked back, as I said, mostly to write stories, because there are people in gamer culture who are kind and give people second chances.

Part of the thing about Chariot is that it's to remind me why I liked role-playing games in the first place, because almost alone among games, they can be about people, because they can be about caring, and they can be about love. I wanted to remind myself why I loved games.

And I do. 

I have a daughter. She is eight. I actually don't know if I want her to get into games the way things are. She likes Carcassonne, and Mario, so. She might, and I won't stop her, and if she does she will have every support I can give, but I want her so desperately to have chances and be part of communities that give her more chances. And that means speaking out.

These things are still a problem. Like, what about the popular OSR supplement that, among other choice phrases, describes an Eastern kingdom's population as "teeming yellow masses"? That's just one thing. I am still seeing this shit. It's not getting better.

Look, I tend to be quiet about this sort of thing on the social media. This isn't because I'm on the side of the oppressor, it's because you don't really need to hear another white guy. A few internet death wishes don't count for anything. I've been content generally to keep my own comments to "I agree" and reshare the experiences of those who have had real persecution for who they are or because they think they should be allowed voices too. I already have a voice, and I squandered it ages ago.

Except people are asking for men to say this culture – a culture, lest we forget, that is supposed to be about things that are fun – has too much hate in it directed towards women. I mean, I've talked about things other than hateful behaviour towards women in this post as well, but this is what we're mainly talking about here, and here I am saying, I regret running away, and I am here, standing up and saying that it is a thing I will not tolerate, for my daughter's sake, but only until she is old enough to speak up for herself. And then, then I'm right behind her.