I used to love taking part in online board game community spaces – be it on Board Game Geek, FB groups, or Twitter; even in a variety of Discords over the past few years. It was a great complement to my involvement in the hobby as an enthusiast and reviewer/writer. But those spaces slowly started to drain the fun of the hobby overall, for me.
Tanya Pobuda, a researcher and gamer I admire, published this piece on the “Sinister Side of Board Games” which I encourage you to read and take heed of. As she puts it:
For any who still doubt that board games has deep systemic problems, take it from a PhD researcher who has systematically read board game fora; the problem is deeply rooted, and highly dangerous to people who work in the sector, or participate in the hobby.Tanya Pobuda
As a woman online, it sucks that this sort of thing is “expected” – it doesn’t just suck, it makes me sick to my stomach. When I took part far more in the Women & Gaming forum on Board Game Geek, it was a long time before the moderation tactics had changed there. In 2017 I finally gave up, thread after thread would be brigaded and it was just exhausting trying to justify any discussions about women and minorities in gaming and the nuances within. I will admit that BGG has gotten far better with their moderation, but the sour taste remains for me.
For years I was deeply involved in ‘Board Game Twitter’ – not just chatting from my own account but also running the accounts for the podcast I co-hosted and the site that I contributed to. I was part of board game media on top of a full-time day job most of these years, juggling all of that because I felt passionate about gaming. I wanted my voice to be a part of that space. As someone with strongly held beliefs about a number of things – especially that hobbies aren’t apolitical – I would take part in a lot of back and forth about representation in games and gaming, lifting up minorities and the like. Much of the time I would be critical of bad actors in the space.
After years of harassment and eventual spill-over into real-life threats, I scaled back my involvement on Twitter. I was burnt out and hurt. I eventually quit Twitter overall, not just for the accounts that I had relinquished to friends and colleagues, but also my personal account (started back in 2007). The positives – and the friends and experiences they’d left me with – had eventually been buried by the negatives. And not just because of gaming bullshit, but that was a big part of it.
I continue to see harassment flourishing in online spaces in the board game hobby. I know it’s not representative of everyone who games, but it gives me pause when I want to take part in hobby industry events such as conventions and the like. I know these spaces have these vile people among them, those who still scream at women, BIPOC and the wonderful queer folks I know in board games. They smear them, harass them, enable doxxing and death threats. On Twitter, it doesn’t feel like anything will stop them – again a bit part of why I had to remove myself from that space. I have recently severely cut back the amount of gaming industry people I am connected with on Facebook too (after an initial cull a year or so back after a screenshot was shared with a publisher that led to some nasty words). At least we’re seeing more conventions with smart policies of conduct and behaviour – and I will endeavour to support those where I can. As well as publishers who put in the work to have diversity in their staff and in their games, and those who they reach out to for media coverage.
But I can’t take on the burden of harassment and bullshit any longer. The last time I wrote anything of substance about board games was about a year ago. I’ve lost all enthusiasm and energy for anything longer than an Instagram caption about a game, so I’m moving on from writing and my part in the Tabletop Writers Guild. I see new and young faces and voices in gaming that I would rather uplift and see fill the hobby with their diversity of tastes and opinions. I need my life to have board games in it, but not be about board gaming as it was.
I hope you out there reading this will think about your participation in online spaces of all sorts, especially games if you’re into them. Have diverse voices in your feeds. And remember that criticism of that which we love is important.
I’m sure many of you white folks out there feel similarly to me right now, the frustration at another white person walking away alive after an act of fatal racist terrorism. We can feel sympathy for our Asian friends, but we also have to realize that we are complicit. No matter how much we try, a ton of us are responsible for the acts below that line. We live in a society that thrives on white supremacy, we benefit from it every day. Even those of us who actively work towards being anti-racist benefit from it.
I wanted to share this excellent image because it truly shows the extent to white white supremacy moves our society. I want you to consider this in your every day life. The overwhelming amount of covert white supremacy in our society leads to the acts of terror and violence that we see constantly. Yes, racist mascots and tokenism and cultural appropriation lead to the loss of life. Because we don’t challenge this covert white supremacy we ultimately default to undervaluing people of colour and the more extreme white people take this as implicit acceptance of their actions.
So, we really have to make an effort on this. Understand we’ll make mistakes, but do the work. And try to learn more – this post has excellent resources. As terrified as it makes me, I am going to take the steps to do some bystander training. I remember seeing a video about this at the Immigration Museum in Victoria, Australia – it was so uncomfortable to watch. Imagine being on the receiving end of the racism every single damn day and having nobody step in, though.
Below this image I’m going to dive a bit into the covert white supremacy in the board game community, because it’s really got to change.
Back in 2016, I was part of a vocal group of people who spoke up about a “comedy” video that some folks had made about the Japanese-themed Ontiama. Tropey, cringey and downright racist, the group removed the video after the feedback. Unfortunately myself and a number of other people who were critical of the video were targeted for our “harassment.” Yes, I was angry – but ultimately, I feel like if I can’t call out fellow white people for their racist mistakes then what can I do? If I don’t challenge these things I am complicit in covert white supremacy.
It’s tiring, but there’s a good number of these covert sorts of white supremacy that turn up in board gaming fairly often. From podcasters putting on accents (“it’s just a joke!”) to tropey racist representations of Asian culture in games (walking a line between tokenism and cultural appropriation) to the tired “Chopstick font” you see on the cover of boxes of Asian-themed games, there are endless macro- and micro-aggressions against folks of Asian cultures. (And I’m using a generic “Asian” term here because that’s really how board gaming approaches it, rather than respecting the specific peoples within that term – I mean, this applies to the world more broadly too, but it’s something I see a lot in gaming.)
These are behaviours and things that can be easily changed. They aren’t just jokes, they aren’t just games. They are everyday reminders to our Asian board game community members that they aren’t welcome. They are slights and they are unnecessary. If you’re critiqued by another white gamer about this, listen and ask questions – I have personally been trying very hard to approach this stuff reasonably and calmly of late. We all have to learn, and keep learning. If you’re approached by one of the Asian members of the board game community because your actions/product/etc causes harm that falls within this very broad spectrum of covert white supremacy, don’t take it personally. Our society has comfortably conditioned us to be this way and (in most cases) we don’t choose to be deliberately shitty. It’s really hard for these folks to even bring this stuff to our attention and we should be thankful to them for the learning experience.
I just want to leave you with this image, as it really gets to the core of what I’m getting at with always learning about ways to improve.
If you live .. well, honestly anywhere not Australia and NZ right now, it’s up to YOU to make smart decisions about how to help this pandemic end sooner.
Our governments and various health authorities are.. well, pretty fucking rubbish right now at having any sort of consistent approach to seriously tackling COVID-19, especially now it’s just gotten to “oh we’re fine we have vaccines now”.
I do not know when I will get a vaccine. Relying on vaccines alone is not an acceptable solution here.
* If you absolutely do not have to, do not fly. (We’ve now got not only the UK variant in Ontario, but also the South African and Brazilian ones). Even if you think you’re negative, you may end up harming someone.
* And really, don’t travel if you do not have to. Do not expect people to put their lives at risk for things that are not necessary – i.e. working tourism jobs. Yes I’m dying for a vacation, too. In the past year I have gone camping and that’s it, because it meant no-contact getting away. If you can do that, super!
* Just because sporting events are running, theme parks are open, etc, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go to them. (That is, just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.)
* Stick to masks and social distancing, and PS. to everyone I pass on the street has anyone even explained to you what 6ft is?
* Please speak out against anti-masking, anti-lockdown and anti-vaxx when you feel safe to. None of that shit is safe or smart.
* And overall, even once this pandemic is behind us, push for better support for essential workers and for free healthcare for all.
Three years ago, a lot of talk about harassment in board gaming was flying about on social. One content creator made a video about it all, which is no longer available. When I watched it, I sat and typed my real-time thoughts into a Google doc. I still have it sitting there because I’m still mad about that video. If I were to get to know this person and trust them as a friend or a mentor, I would hope they wouldn’t pull their victim-blaming grossness if I confided in them about being a target of assault. I’d like to know they came out guns blazing against those of us who spoke out against harassment and its perpetrators. (Like, we did a damn good panel discussion on it, come on.)
Anyhow, have a read! You can probably guess the gist of the video based on my reactions.
I wanted to watch this video to hear from another woman on the issue of harassment in the board game hobby. I believe women are experiencing it – because women experience it everywhere. I do not believe that discussing it is hyperbole, nor creating drama. It’s not pushing a social justice warrior agenda, it’s trying to make women overall feel more welcome at board gaming events, large or small. Every woman has experience at the personal level in the hobby and I don’t discount that in the slightest. But I do believe that overall there are some serious adjustments that need to be made with regard to how women are perceived by men at these events, and how they are treated by men at these events. I’d love equally for men demo’ing games at conventions to speak to women and not just directly to their male partners as well as seeing men behave respectfully when interacting with women in gaming spaces or at events.
I jotted down a few (ummm) notes as I watched. These are pretty much off the top of my head but I also threw a couple of quotes in that I thought made my point hit home. These are obviously very emotional..
- Hearing many voices and many opinions is great!
- Disclaiming – good!
- Speaking up against harassment =/= ruining the hobby.
- Being scared to go to cons is actually what a lot of women experience, legitimately, because of being harassed. Any woman who is speaking out against abuse and harassment is likely to want to engage in a dialogue with you as a reasonable human.
- Men need to learn how to treat women like humans and if they think merely being friendly might get them in trouble they have to take stock of their overreaction.
- “Too much drama to sit down with a woman and play, you don’t know what she’s thinking” — probably I’d love to enjoy this game without being objectified, leered at, or groped. Weird.
- Responsibility and agency is great! People who are going to behave awfully need to learn responsibility. People on the receiving end do not have a role in this.
- I believe that you have experienced this – here’s how you can try and fix what someone else is doing to you next time.
- Agency – how to respond to poor behaviour… surely doesn’t mean everyone else is able to or comfortable to, however?
- Flirting – being playful with someone to indicate sexual interest. Surely I shouldn’t have to be on the receiving end of this simply by playing a game with someone? By merely attending a public event focused on games? Or even stepping by a booth to have a game demo’d to me? There is a time and a place for flirting, and I don’t think these are that.
- Flirting can be overwhelming, it can be aggressive and lewd: this is harassment.
- You can be fun, playful and jokey without flirting. Unwanted flirting ends up being a microaggression for many women – having to go through your week with people flirting with you can wear you down. I want to have a break and relax when I game – having more of these microaggressions bearing down on me is not helping that.
- Being a recipient of unwelcome flirting happens, and I might not be comfortable speaking up and saying no because there are a lot of women who have been on the receiving end of abuse when saying no. I try to get across my discomfort with body language but people can, and often do, miss that. That issue is NOT on me. If a dude assumes I want to be be flirted with it’s generally not the case and super heteronormative.
- It should not be the responsibility of the person on the receiving end of unwelcome attention to stop that. It is outrageous to expect so. Some people might be extroverts who feel comfortable saying so – but I am an introvert with life experience that leads me to be incredibly stressed by confrontation. “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” ― Margaret Atwood
- “The victim card”? I should play this ONLY when I have made it clear to someone that their behaviour is unacceptable? Tough to do if someone’s following me. If someone pins me into a corner. Or worse.
- Difference between flirting and harassment… how can you possibly know if someone thinks THEY are flirting by being physical or aggressive?
- If someone is flirting using explicit language, that is most certainly harassment.
- Deciding whether or not you feel like what you experienced as harassment is definitely up to you – I think what the overwhelming issue in with board game events right now is that there IS no clear outline of appropriate conduct, what harassment is and what is or isn’t appropriate engagement in an event setting.
- Talking about harassment is destroying the hobby – unfortunately, it’s a difficult topic, however, it’s better than people suffering in silence. This is exactly what the #MeToo movement has been all about. The support to be able to share your experiences and speak up. I believe women, and I want to support them in speaking up – regardless of if I have personally experienced harassment or not. The behaviour of harassers – demographically more plentiful than women in the hobby – being spoken about doesn’t mean it’s just now happening.
- You’re scared to interact with people because you’re not sure what’s expected of you, yet you’re pushing for agency. People speaking about harassment aren’t making a big drama out of nothing, they’re not going to attack you – they are trying to highlight an issue that a number of people have experienced.
- Perhaps there is some sort of privilege here that stops an understanding of a) needing this issue to be talked about and b) that there is crossover with it and this hobby?
- Why do you have to come on here and talk about this rather than playing a game right now? Because people need your support and this is an issue that is currently happening in the hobby – we’d love it to go away too so we can get back to the games. I would TRULY love everyone to feel welcome and not worry in this hobby about their physical and mental wellbeing. Getting through this hard shit is the way there.
- “I always felt like my opinion was valued and I could just play”; I feel like “I have to” and a couple of people are speaking on behalf of all women. I don’t believe that I’ve ever professed that – just that I want to speak about the issue and I want to support targets of harassment.
- Yes men and women are harassed. I feel like it’s disingenuous to put so much emphasis on that, however, when it’s definitely women who experience this the most in the world.
- Agency – having control over your environment. That is a lot to ask of people attending a public event for a board game hobby.
- Why would anyone want to label themselves a victim? Some do, some don’t.
- Being scared to go out into the world as a woman might not be your experience, but there are plenty of women who go through that daily. Having to have a friend to text to escape a situation at a con, always making sure you’re with friends at events, having someone escort you back to your hotel room…. Etc etc. Not to mention women walking home with their keys in their fist to defend themselves, having to call a friend while they are walking home….
- “I have found a way to find myself in situations that I don’t think are risky” I mean, cool for you!
- “You have no control over what someone will say or do to you”… sooooo…… agency? Where’s that help?
- To the best of your ability, prepare yourself for your own destiny – absolutely a great idea if it meant that dudes considered my personal space and privacy and safety.
- You have control over what you’re wearing – I sure do, and it should not fucking matter what I am wearing. Low cut top? Baggy tshirt? Jeans? Skirt? It. Does. Not. Matter. And it sure doesn’t matter to harassers.
- “You have to understand how human nature works” – so I should always expect to get hit on, to have unwelcome advances?
- “When someone has their boobies out or they’re wearing something short or revealing I’m going to look” – sure, glance. Don’t stare, don’t ogle, don’t act like it’s an invitation. This quote says it all: “Women do not ‘invite’ sexual abuse. When one in three women experience sexual harassment while working, it is wrong and it is callous to hold the people who are victimized responsible. They are teenagers in fast food uniforms and grandmothers in scrubs and everything in between. This has nothing to do with manners or the length of one’s skirt,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women.
- “There’s nothing in my reptile brain, my reproductive system”…. This is an extremely heteronormative approach to this whole thing.
- This is all “boys will be boys” talk – men need to take responsibility of their own actions.
- Talking about how to dress for a job interview – this is for sure something that women have to deal with as some bullshit patriarchy rubbish. Ya gotta wear makeup. Ya gotta wear high heels. You have to be gorgeous. It’s all bullshit standards.
- Yes, a job interview is different than sitting around the board game table and I should be able to dress any way I like.
- By dressing to “highlight a sexual part of your body” you will invite attention. “That’s just the way it is.” Hi, we’d like to change the way it is. Every part of a woman seems to be sexualized. I would literally have to wear a sack to hide my breasts…..
- You have control over where you choose to go – I do, and I expect to be treated with respect at a board game event. I’m not going to a bar to flirt.
- Why should we at all feel like there are places we can’t go because it’s not as safe? That should not be the norm. Saying I should avoid walking home alone after dark SHOULD be you saying that a person should not take that as an opportunity to attack me.
- You going to a bar and wanting to chill out and sit with friends and catch up and getting hit on unwanted frequently is harassment. That’s shite.
- Yes, it would be great to be able to act like I do in my house wherever I go.
- “That’s not how the world works” is not a sufficient statement – we need to change that status quo.
- A woman leaving the house and being subject to street harassment isn’t okay. That shouldn’t be just something we have to deal with.
- I think that a person in the board game industry harassing another person in the industry should be taken seriously if it happens at a bar during the spread of the con, ESPECIALLY if that person harassing is at the con exhibiting or running events.
- In her specific example of hearing one story, and then having it clarified later – that is absolutely NOTHING to do with the victim’s actions and everything to do with people who spoke about her experience without her permission, muddying the waters and not being good allies.
- The easiest answer is no, for sure – there’s a good amount of people who don’t listen to that.
- Saying to laugh off dick pics… nope. It’s absolutely harassment and is straight up fucking bullshit.
- A lot of people don’t report to anyone because it’s the status quo that women aren’t believed, told they’re overreacting. This is why we need to change the culture, get codes of conduct out there and make it more accepted that people should be respected at events.
- Earlier in the video – I just say no and then the person just goes to the next girl, it’s fine. But NOW you’re saying that it would be on ME if I didn’t say something immediately after rejecting someone if they then preyed on another person?
- There is an issue in board gaming with women being harassed, they are speaking up – it’s not generalizations, it’s not hyperbole. We CAN get past this by changing our actions, reactions, codes of conduct and the like. That is how we change the culture. No event lists what you can say and what you can’t but it definitely lays out what is respect and use inclusive language to help people understand guidelines.
- The difference between flirting and harassment is a very blurred line, unfortunately. And people who flirt in inappropriate setting are definitely on the blurred line. Keep that shit out of my convention halls and away from my gaming table.
- Nobody WANTS to jump to be a victim. This is a dangerous statement. This is why women aren’t believed.
- Men trying to be bystanders is fine – they need to understand to check in with the target of harassment, and not the perpetrator. There IS a way to do this and do it helpfully. Which is what you said you would do — and why wouldn’t we encourage everyone to do that?
- The people who are talking about these issues still love gaming; it doesn’t mean these discussions are their only interactions in board gaming. We’re passionate about the hobby and the people in the hobby and that’s why we’re spending time on this.
The most effective weapon against sexual harassment is prevention. More men need to be bystanders. More men need to call out inappropriate language and behaviour. Normalize treating every person similarly. This shouldn’t be happening anywhere – in board games, in universities, on the street. People should not harass. It’s really very simple. When you have something like the below, it’s clear you should take a look at that and treat people respectfully at a public event.
I finally just want to end with a note on “callout culture”. I think that it should definitely not fall to the targets of harassment to lead the charge in changing how women are treated. At the same time, I want the allies of those women to understand there is an appropriate way to approach the seachange. Practical things like speaking with event organizers, ensuring that you make it clear that it’s essential to have a comprehensive code of conduct for events, and listening to targets of harassment and abuse helping where you can all make for great actions. Taking to social media to discuss issues of harassment can be useful but can also do more harm than good if they are not a measured discussion with respect. I don’t believe any of us who want to deal with the issue of harassment are deliberately creating drama or wanting to cause trouble, but there is a great need for us to talk about this no matter how hard it can be to hear.
A friend of mine is a video/photo artist and she’s always putting things in front of me that I wouldn’t see otherwise. I’m particularly grateful that she shared with me an issue of PleasureDome that she curated as it speaks to how we see our bodies, especially as women, but also primarily from the perspective of women of colour. I found it really great to watch three especially – Phat Girl, Métis Femme Bodies, and Wash Day.
Phat Girl is a great piece of spoken word performed over and around images of ‘plus-sized’ women. It’s just lovely to see all of these beautiful bodies strutting around. You can view here: Phat Girl.
Wash Day is a lovely piece focusing on three young black women and their feelings of self as it relates specifically to their hair, but generally too. I love the sentiment from the last segment, where the woman speaking says she loves telling her friends they’re beautiful – because it means they have been their genuine and honest selves around her and she wants them to know that. Watch here: Wash Day.
Hope you get a chance to watch these short pieces, and the Pleasure Dome collection is available through Friday!
At the start of 2015, my first written piece on board games went up at the Daily Worker Placement – my top 5 games of 2014 – and I’m surprised it took me that long. I dove into games hard in 2011 and was interacting with all sorts of folks via BGG and social media, but I suppose my efforts were more local. Then I started attending cons and it sort of spurred me to start something up, and my pal Sean had the DWP going (on Tumblr at the time!) so it was a natural spot for me to contribute.
On the personal side of things, I was meeting folks around Toronto and chatting more and more with folks on Twitter, back when Board Game Twitter was a wee baby. (Oh those halcyon days). I was in awe of folks who were doing really cool stuff like video and podcast content, but it was really all sorts of stuff that was beyond me at that time. (And, let’s face it, still today.) Eventually, I started meeting all these internet people in real life, forging even more friendships and reaching out beyond Toronto.
Mid-2016 I started up a goofy weekly stream (oh god, weekly, how) with friends. Every Friday night we’d go live on Twitch and have a theme and a themed drink to tie into it and just ramble on about games. It used to start so late for me as I was the furthest east time-zone-wise and I don’t think I could have sustained it if it weren’t for the fact it was a Friday night. Plus, there was little to no prep required as we were all fairly good at chatting off the cuff and we were all fairly in touch with the pulse of gaming at the time. We ended up doing it roughly 30 sessions and they really ended up being further and further apart toward the end, as life got in the way. I think we wrapped up October 2017.
Half a year into that streaming adventure, I kicked off the monthly podcast Greatway Games. A much more manageable schedule! This was the most planned of all my content outlets overall, with episode plans and occasional guests. After a while, we kicked off a Patreon and that honestly kept me busier than the podcast itself, with managing a Slack for supporters and sorting out the occasional mailout of swag and convention meetups. Having the Patreon has been really weird because.. well, imposter syndrome. But it’s let us pay for costs (editing programs, hosting for the episodes), send swag, host the meetups, do giveaways, pay artists and support bursaries for conventions. That has all meant the most to me, and none of us has taken a dime of that money.
Oh and somewhere in there, I took part in the Meatless Meeples project, researching and putting together maps for places to eat for vegans and vegetarians attending board game conventions, plus communications and promotions about that on Twitter.
So yeah, that first half of 2017 – I don’t know how I didn’t just burst into flame. Doing these three weirdly different things that each required a different brain being on for them was a lot. I had also taken on handling the Twitter for DWP & GWG, as well as monitoring emails for both and when it came to convention time, organizing press meetings for DWP. I don’t know if anyone realizes what goes on behind the scenes of someone who writes, podcasts or creates video. They’re all unique in their own way and require effort and time. Time to organize, time to play games, time to create the piece you’ll put out into the world. And for 95% of us “board game content creators”, this is linked to the hobby and done in spare time (lol). It’s been like having a part-time job on top of my full-time one, plus life and all of its.. curve balls.
It’s thankless, and it seems to be leading to more and more burnout for folks. Having to be on all of the time, constantly planning or creating is tough. Especially if you don’t want your quality of life to suffer. I started writing because I wanted to share my enthusiasm for games, and it’s become somewhat of a chore now to get something out weekly. I miss playing games for playing games’ sake. “You can just stop!” I can. But I feel super responsible for what I’ve helped to build up – good ol’ caring too much. And the responsibilities have to go somewhere else, they won’t just disappear.
Recently, I stepped away from Twitter entirely – personal and board-game related accounts – because it’s too much. It’s such a vastly different personal experience now to what it was when I joined in 2007. Everything I say and do is somehow picked apart or critiqued, I can’t seem to have an opinion without it having ramifications, I was harassed to the point of locking my personal account, subtweeted constantly.. the list goes on. I miss a lot of the information I’d see on there, but I really needed to stop. Once that went, I started to consider my other hobby time spent.
Things have to go. I want to get back to playing games again, where I get up from the table when the game is done, and leave, and my responsibility ends there. The process of untangling yourself from social media and friendships and partnerships and business relationships all tied to board gaming is weird and not fun. But when 2020 comes, I want to have my balance back. Write when it’s fun. Not be expected to continue on when I have nothing to say.
I’m small fry really, so I can’t imagine how it is for the folks with much larger profiles (especially those who aren’t paid for their time and efforts) (no, free games aren’t payment) who have woven themselves into positions where they’re lauded for their opinions and content and it’s not easy to walk away from. It’s not better to burn out than to fade away, but surely there’s some in between there. And surely the industry can’t keep riding on volunteer help for much longer. We’re all struggling and it’s a lot to ask.
After all of this, I’m not sure where my point lands. I just admire a good lot of folks in the hobby who are working their butts off for no tangible reward and I don’t want them to burn out for that. I want them to be valued, I want the hobby to stop getting in a flap about “ethics in board game journalism” or payment scandals (non-existent payment..) or when someone says they didn’t like a game. I want things to be reasonable, people to be reasonable, and the hobby to be more welcoming. I’m tired and I’ve reached the point where none of my output is helping and I think that’s where a lot of my burnout rests. Uphill forever.
So 2020 means time to hitch a seat to my backpack as I potter along up the hill, and take a rest every now and then. Maybe you’d like to join me. I’ll bring the tea.
I’ve had this sitting as a draft for a good long while, now. And I just figured I should get it out here and hope it helps. I am not in any way claiming this is an exact, comprehensive guide on dealing with harassment. I do hope it sheds light on things, however.
Alrighty. So you’ve heard about women being harassed and assaulted in the hobby of board gaming, and you might be wondering a whole bunch of things. There are, and remain to be, issues with racism and classism in the hobby on top of this, but I have focused in somewhat on gender-based harassment here. Let’s just get this out of the way before anything else: yes, it happens in this hobby. Of course it does. It happens in the world, and this isn’t a magical bubble that keeps it out. Anywhere that people gather, it’ll happen. Which is depressing, yes, but realistic.
TL;DR: Harassment is real, and we need to do something about it for the hobby and the world at large.
What is harassment?
What is the issue in board gaming?
“I don’t see it!”
Where it happens
What can I do in the moment?
What is harassment?
Thank you to my HR teachin’ pal Mandi for providing this comprehensive definition!
Harassment is improper conduct by an individual that is directed at, and offensive to another individual in the workplace/an event/ a location and the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, or any act of intimidation or threat. Based on the prohibited grounds i.e., race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability, pardoned conviction and conviction for which a record of suspension has been ordered. Harassment is normally a series of incidents but can be one severe incident which has a lasting effect on the individual.
NOTE: Harassment is about impact on an individual and not the intent of the other person.
What is the issue that is getting so much attention right now generally, and in board gaming as a hobby?
Of late, following a much larger revelation thanks to the #MeToo movement, issues of sexual harassment and abuse are being spoken about more generally. Within board gaming specifically, women have not necessarily gone public with their specific accounts, but instances of harassment and abuse are certainly being discussed. (These instances are certainly in the spotlight right now, but there are also broader problems of sexism, racism and homophobia and transphobia.)
While there are more women in the hobby and attending events than ever, we’re still seeing a gender disparity in board gaming (not just among gamers, but their representation, too). While this is not deliberate, it can have the effect of making the hobby seem intimidating, or unwelcoming, depending on the situation. Gil Hova wrote an incredibly insightful piece on the issue of “invisible ropes” that keep women out of gaming in 2014, and it’s still relevant today.
So, between the fact that the smaller demographics in the hobby seem to be on the receiving end of harassment and abuse disproportionately and also the fact that there has been a rise in our culture of discussing #MeToo and issues of sexual harassment and violence more openly, that’s why we’re seeing this get so much attention in our circles, especially on social media. I’d like to link to this great little comic that is a great summation of what it feels like to try and talk about harassment – or not.
Let us not diminish the fact that these are just a portion of instances – that generally, women may (and do) experience this harassment elsewhere. More importantly, this is a society-wide issue. It’s a “pyramid” held up by every type of action:
Misogyny isn’t a sliding scale of harm where jokes are situated at the low end and rape at the other. Rather, it functions like a human pyramid, where minor acts support the major by providing, at best, a foundation of blithe indifference, and at worst an atmosphere of amusement at the denigration of women. (Pitman, 2018)
“I don’t see it!” – then you’re not the target (plus: info about false accusations)
While men can certainly be the target of sexual harassment and abuse, most are women. If you don’t see it happening to women, it’s because you most likely don’t recognize the signs or you’re lucky that you run in circles where this isn’t as overt or as present. You might miss it, too, because, based on the Canadian legal definition, consent cannot be given in a situation that involves an abuse of trust, power or authority (among other things) – and there are a great deal of men in positions of power in the board game industry, and there is often a gender-based power imbalance due to the gender disparity discussed above. Consent is frequently missed in discussions of social and sexual interactions – and while the Canadian law of consent is of course not applicable in other countries, the contents still remain relevant.
These statistics for self-reporting and police reporting (which honestly comes with its own issues of being scared or not being believed) are relevant: “Women self-reported 553,000 sexual assaults in 2014, according to Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization. … Although both men and women experience sexual assault, women accounted for 92% of victims of police-reported sexual assaults in 2008.” The person who has been harassed or abused is not responsible for this occurrence – the perpetrator is. And like it or not, due to men more frequently being perpetrators of this harassment and abuse, this means we’re likely talking about men rather than you seeing men do this.
This CNN report on global instances of harassment and abuse breaks down occurrences and statistics and is worth looking at, especially for this quote from the introduction: “It may be the words “hey, beautiful” or “hey, sexy,” or being instructed to smile. It may be more intentional: standing in the way or blocking the path in the hope of some interaction. It may get more aggressive, with hands reaching to inappropriate places. The spectrum is far and wide, with one end harboring the potential for things to become more violent with physical abuse or rape.”
If you’re surprised by any of this happening, you shouldn’t be. If 1 in 4 women in North America are likely to experience some form of harassment/abuse, then it would be highly improbable for this to miss board gaming, as small as the hobby is. If a woman states she’s experienced something like this, it’s unlikely to be a false accusation – this write-up regarding false reporting states, “research for the Home Office suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false. Studies carried out in Europe and in the US indicate rates of between 2% and 6%.”
Where it happens.
It will happen anywhere, anytime – no matter the time of day, or what someone’s wearing. There is no specific venue or event where this is likely to occur more frequently – social dynamics can be different in some venues, and experiences may differ, but the fact remains people are being harassed in these spaces.
At your local game store? Perhaps you’re browsing and receive unwelcome attention, at open gaming and there are sexualized remarks being made over a game.
At a smaller, regional convention? Or perhaps a large, nationally attended convention? The larger numbers of people in an area together and gaming with people you’re not familiar with can certainly lead to circumstances where harassment can fester.
Maybe during demonstrations of games at a publisher’s booth,you’re going to be talked over, or objectified, lose your personal space.
At events held on-site or even off-site during conventions there really is no telling what sort of behaviours will rise up, especially if there is an imbalance in gender and potentially if there is alcohol involved.
And let’s not forget: the internet. Monolith of anonymity. Amnesty International has written how toxic Twitter can be. There’s no doubting that women are harassed and even doxxed due to their visible participation in board gaming on social media.
What can I do in the moment? Be a bystander who can and may intervene.
Be aware of situations around you – body language/physical signs or social cues that can show something is wrong. If you’re not sure, discreetly ask! Don’t engage the perpetrator. If you haven’t discussed an “escape plan” with friends before an event, subtly mention something in conversation to give them an excuse to bow out of a situation if necessary. If you check in and someone would like a companion to walk back to their cars/to the subway/their hotel rooms – if need be, in a smaller group – offer that up!
If you hear someone using sexist, sexually inappropriate or misogynist language – respectfully tell them it’s not welcome in this hobby. We have to start the seachange of attitude somewhere and this is the most basic start to levelling up respect.
Do not speak about anyone’s experience of being harassed or abused unless you have explicitly been given consent to by the target of said abuse. Listen to the experiences of women, and try to not take things personally – this is not about you.
The Step Up program has a great run-down for bystander intervention (especially their 3 “Ds” – direct, distract, delegate. More info in this (very PSA-ish but still clear) video (CW: suggestions of suicide, sexual assault)
Being engaged and being part of the change
It is great to be there for a friend in their time of need or worry, to be there with them if they need support – listen to their needs, and respect their requests. But it’s certainly not enough to just triage problems as they occur – we have to start more broadly bringing up the topic of respect towards women and other minorities. We have to change the idea that men acting a certain way, and that being “the way the world works” is why women are harassed and abused – that’s not fair to men, and it’s not fair to anyone. Changing the status quo means that people can start to feel welcome in spaces where they may not have been previously.
As mentioned above, listen to people and don’t take things personally when the general topic of harassment is discussed, pertaining to the bias of it happening to more women. Believe women and men, and especially trans and non-binary folks, when they speak of their experiences of harassment and abuse. (Terry Crews has been an incredible advocate for male survivors of harassment and abuse if you’re interested in looking into that further.) The stigma of coming forward to discuss traumatic experiences is a huge barrier, and we have to make it a safer environment for speaking about this – should survivors wish to.
This article is an incredibly useful and enlightening read – 101 Guide to Allyship (in coffee and in general). There are many, many people in board gaming who have good intentions and need some gentle guidance and content to help them in their ally journey. If we are to get past simply the discussions and revelations of harassment and abuse and move toward doing something about it, we must all work together. Help people be mindful of their actions. Encourage those who host conventions to have adequate codes of conduct and anti-harassment guidelines so we can move toward an industry standard. All of us in the hobby don’t have to be lost (there are many refrains of “how do I know how to act around women now?”) – it might seem hard given the spectrum of human behaviour. However, we can generally aim for deliberate respectful treatment of each other and reduce the objectification of women, the targeting of minorities and make gaming somewhere that we can definitely sit down and forget our worries and have fun.
I just want to leave you with this, as some food for thought, from the Dandelion Initiative here in Toronto.
Here are some things that y’all cis men need to start doing.
- Don’t just tell us that you support us; tell the world.
- Start interrupting other men who are shit talking women, making inappropriate advances, generally being shitbags.
- Write your reps about abortion rights. Abortion access is health care.
- Raise the bar up from “well, at least they didn’t try to rape her” to “let’s all treat women as humans rather than sexual objects”. Let us live.
- Actively make spaces welcome for cis- and trans-women. By default, they are not.
- Share your emotions. Feel them publicly, if you are able to. Fuck the patriarchy, you’re allowed to feel.
- Realize that supporting women does NOT equal not supporting men. We can all do both, but we have to realize there’s some more effort that needs to go into lifting women up.
- Clap back at dudes who talk in stereotypes about women. And honestly, anyone who talks in stereotypes about anyone.
- Treat women for who they are – singular human beings. Not if they’re a wife, mother, daughter, and the like.
- Don’t judge women by what they are wearing. It’s got nothing to do with anything. And if you hear other people doing it, nip that shit in the bud.
- Let cis- and trans-women be angry. Let us show a range of emotion outside of “soft and feminine”. We deserve this much.
- Take the time to learn about massive issues facing women – and especially trans-women of colour, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, refugee and asylum seekers, and women of religions other than Christianity. Share these issues on your social networks. Talk about them with friends. Make it the norm to discuss, so we can get on with fixing this.
- Please learn how periods and vaginas and pregnancy works.
- Understand your privilege and the biases that benefit you in every aspect of your lives, including your hobbies.
There’s probably more, but I’m tired.
Note: I have edited in a section about the Neil Gaiman message board because I wrote this very off the cuff and my brain is full of holes.
This morning I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and the internet, thanks to this tweet. I think I might have to back this one. I was going to write a big ol’ Twitter thread about this one, but it ended up being.. well, blog length. So! Thinking back over my internet-using years and holy damn, I’ve met so many people via the internet. For – good lord – over 20 years now I’ve been talking with folks on the internet.
I first discovered Newsgroups when I was a novice internetter; I never really found a community there. Not long after, in 1997/1998 I had a friend introduce me to a MUSH (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUSH) that was hosted by the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, but used by folks from many places. It was such a fun interface. Text-based chat, but all sorts of weird stuff you could code, little bots to interact with, creating “places”, etc,. I ended up visiting Armidale for the first time to go to the annual party held for the UNE MUSHers and met SO many friends IRL!
It was a wild experience. I would stay close friends with so many of these people for years; I met my BFF (former BF) through there. My good friend Sarah who I lived with in London for a while. An absolutely wild thing, to have these people in my life, from the screen. At the same time as this, I was also playing/admining a MUD (RPG version of a MUSH). I wish I could remember ANYTHING about it there, other than my username (Illyria) & when that character turned up on Angel, I got a lot of people asking why my pic showed up in image searches. WELP.
For many years, that was my internet space. Well, and a little on ICQ as well. But as I moved away and got busier with Uni, I had less time for it. Hilariously, I ended up spending a semester doing an anthro subject on internet communities. Rather than being in an online community, I was studying it all; I ended up putting my thoughts on a personal site in what was a sort of proto-blog. A little while after that, I ended up shifting to Livejournal as I’d been following someone there anyhow & figured why not!
This was a ~whole new woooorld~ of internet culture and community and fandom and I spent SO much time there. Bursting out of just a text-based interface, this was somewhere I could blog, and comment, and use images and have user icons and project myself online far more than ever. With a much larger user base, I ended up interacting with a lot more people throughout the world, as well as folks in Australia. I found horror film lovers, comics people (oh the golden days of webcomics), vegans, fanfic writers – it was a plethora of content and friendships. I even met a boy I thought I liked (oh, hindsight) which prompted me to visit Toronto – and without that visit, and getting to know other people here, I’d have never moved here 10 (!) years ago. LIFE. It all intertwined with my life in Brisbane too – uni, D&D, music…
After a good few years, Livejournal (with all its ups and downs) ended up changing a lot, and I ended up falling out of the habit of blogging a lot, too (nothing has changed, there). Many of us ended up jumping ship to Dreamwidth – but I eventually just gave up on it all. At a similar time as shifting from LJ, I had transitioned to spending time on a forum set up by Universal Australia to shake up some interest for the Firefly follow-up movie Serenity. That fanbase was strong, and our community flourished – “Serenity Oz”, or “SOZ” as we affectionately called it, made us all many friends. Not only did we have meetups and screenings in Brisbane where I was, but even after the movie was out we started to have larger meetups around the country. We’d travel to Sydney, or Melbourne – and we even hosted one in Brisbane – and spend time with our strange forum pals.
To this day I am still very close to a good number of those people. Many have gotten married, had kids, and their lives changed fundamentally as a result of having been part of SOZ. Not too long before I moved away from Australia, we lost one of our core group to lung cancer, and it was an emotional experience, unlike anything I’d gone through before, because of the support of the folks spread out around Australia. When we couldn’t be there for a big life event, there’d be a webcam, or many photos shared. Eventually, Universal shuttered the site but passed us on an archive of the forums because even they realized it had been something special. Most of us just keep up via Facebook and Twitter now – which comes up below.
After LJ died down for me, and SOZ was still a big part of my life, I’d been shifting focus to Twitter, as of 2007. A lot of my LJ and SOZ pals were here, and we could have the casual conversations and stupid image sharing and all of that here, and LJ/its ilk became a bit unnecessary. It was new and fun! (Oh, the days of yore.) I could write swathes on how the community has evolved here and my experiences of how it’s become somewhat of a strange habit. Most importantly for this overall blog piece, it was a place that I started finding new people and things, and as the site grew, so did the people in my hobbies and interest areas to interact with.
Along with Twitter, there was a little nook that I found myself in for a bit — the Neil Gaiman message boards. During my time in London I met some people in the real world who were on the board and so I joined too. I was active a couple of years, and met all sorts of folks in the UK and the US. The year I moved to Canada, I road tripped to San Diego Comic Con with some friends in the “real life but also on the board” category and we stopped off and visited with so many of these internet people! Just like SOZ before it, I mostly see these people on Twitter and FB now, as I have pretty limited forum time.
My last big dip into internet friendships came out of board game Twitter, overall (there have been a few other folks here and there, but as a whole, it’s been this group of nerds). I’d chat with folks about gaming, I ran the social media account for a game cafe here for a good chunk of time, and ended up becoming friends with some amazing ladies in this hobby. We’d meet up at gaming events or cons and when we were apart, it was Twitter or FB chats that sustained us. We started creating content together – RIP Games on the Rocks – or even starting up little weird Slack communities around the content we made (I love you, Greatway Games). Twitter’s even led me to meet folks at conventions not because we chat online, but because they quietly watched along as I ramble and just wanted to meet. These people are my friends and my family and it’s weird to go a day without talking to them.
It must seem so strange for you normal folk out there, reading all of this. Yes, I have met friends without the internet, thank you very much. But I find it hard to make the distinction between the realness of either friendship. And as someone living distant from so many friends, it’s strange for me to not think about the ways that having the internet facilitates friendships, and sustaining them. Sometimes it’s just better than IRL for us hobbit-ish introverts.