This will be long but I think it’s important. I hope you read this and share it because I’m really sad to say that I think my experiences aren’t singular. It’s hard being a female in the role playing hobby, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s time that changed.
Yesterday this thread on Dumpshock (A forum for the role playing game Shadowrun) came to my attention via my husband. In the past few years I’ve honestly had little time to spend on forums and browsing the internet in general with my business taking up most of my time. The past few months have been worse, but I’m sad to say I don’t get involved in forum discussions as much as I used to.
The thread started off with a quote about the “Breast Fairy” referring to an underage character in the game and her development in the game. The original poster I’ve found to be rather insensitive and often time says things that are rather sexist in nature. To be quite frank, I don’t think he knows any better just based on his other postings, but my main issue with this is that he is a writer of the game. I think that there is a real problem with your product when a paid writer for your game is discussion character development and using the phrase “Breast Fairy”. There’s a level of insensitivity there that needs some adjustment.
The rest of the thread distills into a discussion of her being able to handle killing someone (a main plot point in the game) and if canonically doing that will “ruin” her. It became quite objectifying in my opinion to say the least.
My opinion on this is that the subject would have never been brought up if the character was a man, but that has been refuted several times. I’m willing to accept that. The part that really bothers me is the lack of understanding in how a subject like this would be sensitive for a woman in the role playing hobby.
Now that the thread is locked there isn’t anything more I can say on there but I’m going to talk about it on here because I can. I’ve never fully shared my experiences in the role playing hobby because, quite frankly, they were traumatizing in many cases, but I think it’s important to do so.
I became very involved in the role playing hobby in the late 90’s early 2000’s and had a part in some of the early Gencon Indy’s as far as close friends and such. I had a tabletop group that I played in weekly but I really wasn’t “involved” until I started hanging around the Gencon circles.
Prior to that I was involved in Anime conventions. I have never had a bad experience at an anime convention. I started cosplaying as a teen when the cosplay fandom was still in its infancy and did so for many years. I many times wore a skimpy costume to an anime convention and *NEVER* did I get accosted by someone.
Naturally I chose to cosplay at Gencon which wasn’t quite as common to do at the time, so I realize that it garnered more attention than it might today but the things I’ve experienced are no excuse for that.
One of my first Gencon costumes was a lovely pink mohawk Shadowrunner and personally, I felt pretty badass in my 20i Doc Martens when I wore that costume. The fun came after the convention when I had come to find out someone had followed me the entire weekend and taken photos of me in every conceivable place. From entering and exiting the bathroom, to the escalator (Thank goodness I wasn’t in a skirt) to following me to my HOTEL and snapping pictures of me going in and out of it. Literally dozens of photos of me were on a website, devoted to, well, me… It was absolutely terrifying to know that someone had been following me and who knows what could have happened if I ended up in the wrong area.
I was still pretty young then and somehow this didn’t discourage me from going to conventions or cosplaying again. I continued to attend conventions, the only other role playing based one being Origins but also continued to take part in the anime and sci-fi circles. I have no stories to tell about those conventions except that awesome MIT party at Arisia one year where I had the best night ever hanging out with smart people drinking rocket fuel.
Now, back to role playing conventions. I had become a pretty big name in the role playing hobby by that point for my costuming and had a little name for myself in the anime circles as well. I wasn’t Adella or anything, but I was recognized. The following year at Gencon I was surprised when I became bombarded with messages and emails from friends letting me know that I was on a “Chan” site. What I came to find was photos of myself had been stolen off of my computer at some point during the weekend and posted to a 4Chan fansite with naked cosplay chicks. These photos were NEVER emailed, they were NEVER placed on the internet, they were a gift given directly to my husband who lived 1000 miles away from me at the time. I later came to find that I in fact had my laptop hacked by a friend of a friend who was in fact, a role player attending Gencon that year. I still don’t know how it was done, I didn’t have anyone in my room that year and I’m pretty computer illiterate but I can only imagine it was shared WiFi? Lesson learned, but still, not OK.
It took a couple years for me to go back to a role playing convention after that but the experiences were still nothing I’d ever like to repeat. Beyond that I’ve been fondled and groped, leered at, told filthy things that I won’t repeat, both in costume and out. I have yet to ever have an experience like this outside of the role playing hobby. I’ve had people discuss me on forums and not just cosplay pictures, normal pictures of me that they’ve found on my Facebook or Myspace (Reason #1 I stay anon as possible now) and the sexual things they’d like to do to me. On role playing forums most of you would recognize. It’s frankly disturbing.
So this is the seed for why this issue is such a problem, these are the experiences some women are having. I *KNOW* I am not alone, I have read dozens and dozens of accounts just like mine and it’s frankly pathetic. Do a google search for “Rape Con” if you’d like to read some horrible things.
The issue is the fandoms, the issue is the “Geek” circles, specifically in my experience the role playing and gaming circles that are absolutely horrible as far as how we treat women. This is a problem, and we need to do something about it. Heck, I used to be a part of the industrial music movement in the 90’s and went to concerts dressed in fsking bondage gear and never got a nasty word or grope. It isn’t about anything but geeks hiding their heads in the sand and pretending that it isn’t a problem.
As women we need to stand up for ourselves. We need positive role models in games, we need to be able to discuss our favorite games without being told we don’t have an opinion. We need to be able to have an opinion, a female opinion and have it listened to because it isn’t always going to be the same for a male, just like it isn’t going to be the same for every women. We do have a voice that needs to be listened to.
We also need to stop the verbal, physical and digital assault that happens to so many. We aren’t asking for it. We didn’t dress this way for attention and we didn’t give you permission because of how we look.
There are many men out there that are allies of women in gaming and I want to take a moment to thank you for all you’ve done for us. There are many great geek women out there that want to have a voice, thank you for helping to make it a place where they can feel safe to do so.
The problem isn’t with how we present ourselves as geek girls either online or in person, we should be able to be women and to be proud of what we love and to be treated with respect and dignity.