Ways I Have Failed

*It’s 1982. My older sister and I are staying with my aunt and uncle for the summer while my parents go to Europe. I want my uncle to run D&D for us. My sister isn’t particularly interested in playing. I cajole. I beg. I pressure her into playing the game. She hates it. Despite being a brilliant part of fandom, she never touches rpgs ever again.

*It’s 1984. On another family trip, some older kids of friends of my parents invite me into their D&D game. It’s three other boys, and one girl. My character is encouraged by all the boys to rape the girl’s character – because they aren’t allowed to. I refuse, and get kicked out of the game, but tell no one. I don’t even remember their names anymore.

*It’s 1987. The woman who will someday be my wife recounts how her first game group sacrificed her first character to a volcano, then decided to gang-rape her character because their Twilight 2000 campaign got boring. She doesn’t play with them anymore. I never played with them. But it doesn’t even occur to me that *someone* might play with them again, continuing to play out rape with women sitting down with them for casual games.

*It’s 1992. At a live action RPG session, I am asked by still-underage women to stand in front of their tent while they change costumes, so they feel safe. I do. I feel good about myself. I don’t wonder why they don’t feel safe to begin with. I never investigate. I never try to find a way to make a safer environment,. I never even make sure there is someone they trust around in future games.

*It’s 1995. A woman tells me she doesn’t want to play in my paramilitary Hero System game anymore. I am offended. I let her know she is free to not play. I never ask why she doesn’t want to play.

*It’s 1998. I get my first article published in Dragon Magazine. I feel great about it. A woman I know mentions she’s been trying to get published for three years, while I got published on my very first try. I assume it’s because I am better than her. I assume we exist on an absolute level playing field. I don’t even question that narrative in my head.

*It’s 2000. I write my first work as an employee of Wizards of the Coast. My manager calls me in. I have created a damsel-in-distress story. It’s clichéd and, worse, belittling. But he’s careful to make sure I know it’s good, and this is only a small concern. We change the gender of a single character. I’m annoyed my story won’t happen the way I saw it in my head.

*It’s 2002. I am running demos of Forbidden Kingdom at Gen Con. Two women come up and want to play together, but I only have one seat left at my table. There’s plenty of room. I refuse to seat them both. They leave the game room.

*It’s 2009. I’m part of Super Genius Games. I’m not even thinking about the art we use in our all-white, all-male game company, until someone calls us on it.

*It’s 2014. I’m developing an adventure. After I am done, an editor brings up that a major plot point is a concern for her. It involves the best ways for PCs to deal with a ghost is to convince a woman who never loved it when alive or dead to give it a kiss, because it gave her a gift. It’s super skeevy. She has to explain why it’s super-skeevy.
She’s right. We change it.
But she had to do the work of convincing me of something that should have been obvious.

I am sure there are scores of occasions where I was part of the problem that I don’t remember. Hell, in most cases I may not have noticed. And that’s a huge part of why this is such a big problem. I get to live in a safe version of the game world that the women who are my mentors, employers, colleagues, friends, patrons, and employees don’t.
And this is mostly a list of sins of omission, though that doesn’t make them any better. Like full-blown rapists, sexual abusers, and even common-variety bullies, the people who *actively* assault and harass women and minorities are amazingly good at knowing when they will, and won’t get away with those actions.

If you haven’t seen it that’s not because it’s not happening. It’s because they know to stay on the fringes of your vision.

Which means if you are actually dedicated to a safe and fair hobbyspace, not being an abusive asshole yourself isn’t good enough. You have to do more.

About Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is a full-time ttRPG Writer, designer, developer, publisher, and consultant. He's the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, and has served as the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the Editor-in-Chief for Evil Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps. He has a Pateon which supports his online work. You can find it at https://www.patreon.com/OwenKCStephens

Posted on April 3, 2016, in Business of Games, Gen Con, Musings, Retrospective and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. We have a diversity and inclusion manager at work. It’s amazing how she opens up the eyes of guys like me to understand the situations that you outline in your post.

  2. Thanks for writing this. ❤

  3. As a female in general as well as a gamer, thank you.

  4. Loved this post! BTW I think you meant Cliche’d story and not clinched. when talking about your damsel in distress story.

  5. Yes. This.

    Semi-blissful, willful unawareness of what goes on the periphery of one’s own experience doesn’t mean bad things aren’t happening.

    Thank you, thank you for acknowledging this! That honesty is appreciated. It’s a start.

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