PAX Prime 2014 panel: Not Us Not Here – Examining Bullying, Harassment and Misogyny

(If you would like to see the presentation from the panel Not Us Not Here – Examining Bullying, Harassment and Misogyny, here is the link to the Prezi!)

In all honesty, this was my highlight of PAX Prime 2014. I met two people online who were interested in contributing to a panel at PAX specifically about the harassment and misogyny in the gaming culture today, and we got to run a panel in the Wyvern theatre at PAX on Saturday evening. My courage turned liquid, and I’m pretty sure I only survived most of the day up until my panel because I had a +5 charisma.

Diversity Programming at PAX Prime 2014

Diversity Programming at PAX Prime 2014 – NOTICE THE LITTLE YELLOW ARROW (I added) WOOOOO

My colleagues on the stage were Josh Neal and Stacey Weber – both clinicians who could speak much more eloquently than I on the science of harassment, and they really classed that joint up around my silly pictures in the presentation! The three of us didn’t actually know we were approved for the panel until about 3 weeks before PAX, so we scrambled and got together half a dozen times to get to know each other, tell our stories, make an outline, make a presentation, and practice. I didn’t even realize until after our panel that we were on the list of diversity panels for PAX! When I saw the banner, I fist bumped some really confused enforcer, and went back down to the expo floor grinning like a fool.

So here is what we talked about, and I hope the lessons that people took away from our panel! Harassing someone online is as powerful as harassing someone in person – it doesn’t lessen any of the effects because we’re separated by the internet or even anonymity. I know people feel like they can turn off the real world and be someone else online – but if that person they want to be is a bully, they’re still hurting real people – not just incredibly elaborate NPC’s. Our online identity – be it on a forum, your un-dead creepy zombie duder in World of Warcraft, your colonial marine in Call of Dudes, your Star Trek Captain, or your brand on twitter – is just as much a part of you as the person others see when they walk into the room and see you playing online. My favorite example, which I might butcher here so I apologize for any philosophy majors reading this, was that of the blind man with his cane; While it is something that can be set aside and put away, it is still very much a part of him, and especially a part of how he sees himself. Our online selves are very much the same.

RealLifeImpactThe part of the presentation which seemed like common sense when Stacey brought it up but still blew my mind, was the effects of harassment. The list of things it could do to people are terrible, like depression, chronic illnesses, and suicidal thoughts – but that the bullies themselves are also at higher risk for depression, suicidal thoughts and more. Think about it, the people harassing people online, are probably in a pretty crappy place themselves. While we want to take swift action so they stop harassing others, maybe it’s time we also turn an eye to them and ask them if everything is okay?  Because the list of effects of bullying are terrible, and they start a feedback roundabout with few exits. When you’re bullied you have the emotional impact from someone harassing you – depression, anger, any number of things. Then you withdraw socially because of the emotional impact, which makes you different, making you a target for further bullying. Wash, rinse, and repeat – like shit shampoo I guess. It’s a vicious cycle that gets worse every single time. And think about it – it only has to happen ONCE for the cycle to start!

When I think of bullying I mostly think of kids on the playground, but it’s more insidious than that. The harassment and misogyny happening to female gamers is pretty awful. Lets not even get into the researchers and developers because those ladies have targets painted on their backs and my heart goes out to them (for another article later!) – the world is a scary place.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of women who just don’t turn their microphones on, or even participate in online matches because of the at best cat calling, and at worse down right HUNTING that happens when they try to play. We tried to figure out why this happens so much in games, because we know it’s still something that happens in person, but it’s amplified in the gaming culture for some reason. Women in games are often portrayed as either the virgin who needs to be saved, or the vixen who sleeps with anyone and therefore is worthy of ridicule and shame. Also, games have heavily pushed the male stereotype! (And yes, I used Duke Nukem as my example picture – the most extreme example possible, but I was going for a cheap laugh! heh) Gaming is still very much a patriarchal society, and our gaming and our hobbies reflect that.

All of that is very depressing. So what can we do about it?

The message that we wanted to come across was empathy. There is no silver bullet, once and done sort of solution, but more of an uphill climb. Because lets face it – we all want to go back to the days of when we were kids and we could play what we wanted and just have fun; but these problems did exist then, we just weren’t aware of it. We are the stewards of everyone’s fun, so we need to stand up and take action. Very specifically, we don’t want to take away anyone’s fun, but make sure we’re all having it! Treat everyone with the basic human dignity we all deserve. If you see someone being harassed, AND IF YOU ARE IN A SAFE PLACE TO DO SO, tell the bully that their actions are not okay. Or even better, say something like “Hey, I noticed you’re being super aggressive to (insert name here), is everything okay?” because the odds are, they might not even realize that what they’re doing isn’t okay, or that maybe they need someone to reach out to them so they can take a step back and examine what is wrong. It won’t work every time, and it takes courage on both sides to do this – but it is worth the effort. And at the very least, you can be an ally for the person who was being picked on. Reach out to the victim and tell them you saw what happened, that it sucked, and that you’re sorry it happened. Having someone on your side in this situation means so much.

So yeah… it’s some heavy conversation. It felt AMAZING to be able to talk to a room of friends and fellow nerds at PAX who wanted to know more! We had a great Q&A afterwards, and Stacey and Josh even got mentioned in a few articles on the topic!!! I couldn’t be more pleased with the results, and I hope to maybe make a repeat performance of it next year at PAX Prime 2015!

And again, if anyone is interested in viewing the presentation, you can see it here!
-> http://goo.gl/nw1zk3