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More Ways I Have Failed

I have, far too often and far too seriously, failed to use my position of privilege, protection, and visibility to improve the hobby I love so much. These are completely true examples where the fault is entirely mine. The list began here, but it’s not like I magically stopped failing people in this industry when I listed just the examples that leaped readily to mind.

It’s 2015. I am asked to suggest some freelancers who have done good work for me. Instead of going through actual notes or records, to create a list from complete and factual information, I rattle it off from my impressions, allowing all my biases and failings to color that list, instead of being diligent about at minimum making sure it’s robustly considered.

It’s 2016. A woman asks if she can get my opinion on the behavior of her superior in another company. I happily agree. She is being emotionally abused. I point this out, and act as a shoulder to cry on as she realized how terrible her situation is. I knock ideas around on how she can maybe eventually escape or at least mitigate her situation, since financially she can’t immediately leave it.

I do nothing to warn the next woman he might hire. I do not follow up with her. The abuse–which I entirely accept as real and serious–is out of my sight, and falls out of my mind.

It’s 2017. An industry professional at a casual gathering dismisses a broad category of claims of unsafe, biased geek behavior. I am too tired to argue, or even mention I disagree. I leave, with no suggestion I took issue with the statement.

There remains terrible, focused, often premeditated prejudice, bias, and actual abuse in my hobby. Not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not creating it yourself does not protect those who are vulnerable.

No One Believes Us

I always have a lot of projects going at once, with a lot of different people. I work for three game companies, and still do a little freelance on the side. So I am always talking to someone about fixing an old project’s error, someone else about hitting a deadline, other folks about scheduling upcoming books, and so on.
today, one of those communications included a note from one of the women involved that she was managing her part (admirably, I’ll note) without all the things she *should* have for it, because she didn’t want to communicate with one of the other people involved any more than absolutely necessary.
Nor did she want to publicly call out the other participant for not doing his part, or for being unpleasant to work with.
“I don’t need that drama either. It’s why we all stay quiet. It’s easier than no one believing us.”
I believe her.
Issues discussed publicly become shitstorms of denial and second-guessing and outright insults.
Issues discussed privately generally either become private shitstorms, or nothing ever happens so why bother?
Then people later claim if there was really a problem, why doesn’t anyone say anything.
Well, they do. And are punished for it, and nothing improves. Why would they keep punishing themselves.
Even having to deal with this shit in the first place is a cognitive tax that leaves them less time and energy to handle the (plentiful) normal crap of the game industry.
In this case, I can just take care of the lack myself.
But that doesn’t actually level the playing field. Some people must choose between dealing with people who make their lives more difficult, working harder to avoid having to deal with those people, or dealing with drama of pointing out they are stuck with the other two choices.

Fandom’s Acceptance Problem

I think fandom has an acceptance problem.
I know, sounds weird.
At least when and where I was growing up in fandom, it was the place I felt accepted. I was fat, precocious, a thinker and dreamer rather than a doer and builder.
I was also a self-important little shit.
But fandom accepted me, at least insofar as it accepted anyone. My weird preferences, my social awkwardness. I meant no harm, though I sometimes did and said harmful things.
And I found my flavor of geek, and we hung out, and became friends, and grew up.
But for decades, when I saw someone saying or acting in appropriately, if they weren’t causing immediate harm, I was inclined to leave them alone. After all, they were clearly outcasts too. Awkward. And surely they meant no harm.
A wildfire means no harm. You still need to takes steps to prevent it from ravaging town.
So, I think too many of us ignored the problems of the misogynist few for too long. We allowed ourselves to be drawn in by people who liked military fiction, but were also racist, or transphobic. We overlooked their flaws at moments when we shouldn’t, and now they are a cancer growing among us.
I got used to accepting people in fandom, because where else did they have to go? And I never considered that accepting them meant condoning them. And it does.
I hate confrontation, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.
I dislike personal interaction with anyone but close friends, but I’ve gotten used to it.
And there are things I can’t just mutely accept anymore. Especially now that I have seen what that acceptance leads to.

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.