When “It’s Just A Joke” Doesn’t Come Close

Before I begin, I just want to apologise for the extended absence and lack of new posts. I was out of the country on holiday for three weeks, during which I spent copious amounts of time at the beach, enjoyed copious tanning sessions and drank copious amounts of alcohol. All in all…I did a lot of stuff, including working as a volunteer for the 2013 Caribserve Video X Games. Then when I returned, I was stuck in that post-vacation rut that causes one to neglect work and all things fun because after all, you were just sipping an ice hold Heineken on a white sand beach. I’ve finally pulled myself out of that deep, dark place, and even so, this post is going to be shorter than most. I mean, come on…it’s Saturday night! Anyway, I thought I’d take this moment to weigh in on something that’s been bugging me and that some have dismissed as just harmless trash talk.

Earlier this week, Jennifer Hepler, a BioWare writer attached to the Dragon Age IP resigned, citing a desire to expand her horizons and be closer to family, which I completely understand. But she also discussed her experience with harassment from “fans” of Dragon Age on the BioWare forums and, shockingly enough, in her personal Inbox and via the phone. The month before, it was poor David Vonderhaar with the literally unnoticeable changes to two bloody guns in BLOPS II, and of course, Phil Fish and Fez 2. Look, I have taken a crack or two at Anita Sarkeesian because I think she finds sexism and misogyny in places where it doesn’t actually exist, but what I do agree with her and several others on is the harassment people, whether male or female, gamer or developer, encounter on forums, XBox Live etc. Obviously, I am a woman and gamer, and I am guilty of muting my mic so people won’t know I’m a woman or won’t engage me in conversation. Though I have had more positive encounters than negative, the bad ones always left me with a bad taste in my mouth for days afterwards.

To learn that Hepler faced death threats against her children, of all people, was very shocking, at least to me. I was raised to voice displeasure at things that I did not like, but in a respectful manner. It’s no surprise that this doesn’t exist on the Internet, but I suppose I never imagined it would go so far as to threaten someone’s child. There is no stronger word for it than reprehensible, and this is something that has been thoroughly discussed and dissected both in online forums and games journalism sites. I am more inclined to talk about the silent majority that continue to just brush this kind of harassment off as harmless trash-talk. There needs to be more pride in calling yourself a gamer and I don’t particularly feel anything but shame when witnessing or experiencing that level of cruel. Additionally, this type of behaviour stopped being harmless when people gained the ability to discover not only personal phone numbers and emails, but home addresses as well, all with a few well-clicked buttons and search terms. Damn you Google algorithms!

Whenever something negative pops up anywhere and in any context, sweeping generalisations are made about the group to which the perpetrator(s) belong. It happened to Germans (for obvious reasons), Muslims (also obvious), blacks, Asians, gays and lesbians, and even some whites (but rarely). So it should be no surprise that the actions of a few special and possibly psychotic gamers darken the landscape we all stand on. But as I say when any group is placed in the same Crazy Town slot as their less-than-stable peers, the silent majority fails by staying mum on what is happening. In no world is it right that Phil Fish chucks it all in the bin because he’s tired of the never-ending stream of criticism. If there’s anything to be learned from the corporate world, it’s that constant stress and nonconstructive criticism only leads to one of two things and one of them involves a semi-automatic weapon and a CNN special focusing on “where it all went wrong.”

I know it can seem hopeless. The voices of the ignorant are sometimes much louder than those of sense, but that shouldn’t mean the sensible let it slide. All in all, instead of relying on Microsoft et al, who seem to have no clue how to fix this problem, start speaking out a bit more. I was being bugged in a Halo match and at one point a member of the opposing team told his buddies to shut up and stop being bitter because a girl was owning them. And no, Anita, this doesn’t mean a man had to rescue a woman again. It means that a member of the larger, more sensible majority chomped back at the dimwitted minority. No change ever happens unless that takes place first, and we’ll be better for it. That’s all.

I might have some pretty cool news to share in the next two weeks or so, but in the meantime, I’m going to figure out how one goes about selling a kidney on the black market, because the Fall release schedule is looming and it is PRICEY. If you’ve any tips, send them along. Seriously.