Denial of Sexual Harassment in Gaming


I usually tend to avoid the whole debate over sexual harassment, sexism, etc. when it comes to gaming. It’s not that it’s an unimportant (or false) issue; it’s a very real problem. It’s the fact that I’ve yet to meet a person on the other side of the fence in real life. Not a single person, out of the plethora of gamers I interact with on a friendly or acquaintance basis has been willing to spout the counter-arguments against this issue IRL.

That means my sole interaction with the debate is online, and we know how that goes. Most of the people I’ve seen providing counter-arguments are ignorant at best… with the worst being socially-inept, emotionally-immature, hateful individuals few associate with in the real world. That being said, I’ll focus on those “best” individuals and their common arguments about why sexism and harassment are non-existent. These are some basic fallacies in thinking that anyone should avoid.

1) “We don’t do that at our table

Although it is probable the majority commenting don’t practice overt sexism, it is also possible some (unknowingly) practice subtle racism. Sexual humor, rape humor, etc. doesn’t need to be directed at an individual to make them uncomfortable. Our society has become very comfortable with crass and foul language, to the point we don’t always think about others’ perspectives around us.

This is, of course, situational depending on the group dynamics. I use very racist and sexist humor with a friend of mine (who is a different race and gender) because we are comfortable. However, when I am out with other groups or in public I am much more aware of my behavior and others’ body language and limit my humor, language, etc. If you join a new gaming group (or are joined by a new player), maybe you should take a step back and think: is my humor or behavior appropriate for everyone present?

Sadly, I think this is one of the most common errors gamers (and similar ilk) make. As I mentioned, a significant portion of this hobby consists of individuals with low social intelligence and/or emotional maturity. They find it very hard to break egocentric schema or relate to others, thus their ability to recognize their own behavior and its consequences is stunted. Thus, they maintain crass or offensive behavior because they cannot conceive that others might be offended and that they (the offender) should change. Which leads us to…

2) “Why should we change our behavior? People shouldn’t be so sensitive

This plays off the first point about seeing through others eyes. Sadly, it is far easier to place the blame of conflict on the other person than on ourselves. We are, by nature, mentally conservative individuals who prefer to keep with familiar patterns rather than confront ourselves and adapt. A regular defense mechanism is to claim our behavior is perfect and all fault is with the observer/victim/insulted.

Critical thinking is an important aspect that is sadly rarely used. The ability to criticize oneself and look at all sides is not just part of academic or scientific study, it should be used daily. From minor irritants during traffic to political debates, we all need to be open to other perspectives. In gaming, we should use critical thinking to address a number of issues, from edition wars to genres. Sadly, too many give up all logical thought and introspection in the name of lazy, dichotomous thinking… including discussions on women or minorities.

Again, I theorize that limits in some individuals hinder this practice. If individuals are incapable of seeing through others eyes, especially those they have minimal experience with, the concept of empathy becomes difficult. Interestingly, it is this limit that seems so out-of-place in the gaming or “geekery” industries. These hobbies are often stigmatized as for the socially outcast, individuals who should understand the pitfalls of bigotry. Yet here we are with anecdotes of prejudice and harassing behavior. Thus the out-roar from those who are open-minded (or at least claim to be) against those who are more elitist or cliquish (whether subtly or overtly).

3) “We should treat everyone the same, regardless of gender

Although this sounds like a great idea, it falls victim to the same misperceptions as #1 and #2. We are not all the same and our life experiences are far different. Even moving beyond individual differences, certain demographics have faced negative practices on societal levels. We need to be sensitive to these differences and adapt accordingly.

Treating everyone with the same approach is no better than using the same medicine or therapy for a variety of clients. Although it sounds good on paper it’s never that easy and can actually make things worse. Imagine a person of opposite gender joins your group and syncs with their humor and personality well. Unfortunately, one particular subject or use of words upsets them, possibly due to past experiences. Should the group ignore the individual’s apparent discomfort (whether blatant or not)? Should they claim no change is necessary, that the upset individual should adapt or leave? Or perhaps they can look at their own behavior and, for the greater good, accommodate new perspectives and adapt?

Like above, it’s this ability to see through other perspectives that is necessary and hinders some groups. Although individuals claim they support equality, the use of a singular approach to the concept for all is just as guilty as discriminatory practices themselves. In fact, it is this underlying unidimensional approach to others that creates concepts like “men experience sexism too” or “I’ve experienced racism”. Moving into the realm of the philosophical, this “sympathetic” fallacy allows an individual to ignore discriminatory systems in society so they can focus on their individual anecdotes and claim “sympathy” with someone’s plight. It takes critical thinking to break this perspective and recognize individual privilege (whether gender, race, economic status, etc.). By understanding the societal systems in place that hinder or oppress, we can better recognize that promoting equality requires a multidimensional schema that allows us to adapt to individual and demographic needs.

4) “If you don’t like a game or genre, don’t support it and find/make your own

The problem with this perspective is that it reinforces a divisive mindset that suggests others who aren’t like you should “go elsewhere”. That approach underpins everything from segregation (everyone gets their own equal, but separate, things) to multiculturalism (everyone should practice their own culture among themselves with no intermingling) and does nothing toward creating a unified, intercultural, evolving society. By this concept, if I want to spout foul, suggestive, insulting language on a public street corner, your right to prevent your childrens’ ears from that display does not trump my right to “do my thing”. Contrary to what some may believe, being offended can (and does) cause damage on a psychological, social, and cultural level.

Please note I’m not defending every person who takes minor offense to something seemingly innocuous. I’m saying we should take a step back, look at our own behavior or perceptions, and think… “Hmmm, is that really discriminatory?” People may find there are many practices that we accept today that actually are, and we had no clue. This is what empathy, conscientiousness, and open-mindedness is all about; the ability to recognize whether something is truly offensive (from others’ perspectives) and adapt (if necessary).

As for the onus being on the offended, many times they do speak out… and they’re subsequently bombarded by negative labels and attacks. Or perhaps they’ve learned that submission is the cultural norm and to not let on, burying their offense while suffering the psychosocial consequences of their silence. Regardless, it shouldn’t be that hard to take others into consideration and look at our own perspectives and actions.

Critical Thinking

Arguing online is stupid, because most of the time you’re dealing with armchair experts who’ve never been beyond the confines of their limited worlds. Yet they are also necessary to bring into light to these issues and hopefully teach some of these mouthpieces. Just be wary of the fallacious reasoning I’ve posted above and maybe people will begin to look at themselves and say, “Does this fit me? If so, how can I change?”