Over the last couple of years, the skeptic/geek/science culture (as well as other subcultures) have been exposed for sexist tendencies
that occur within them. As more bad behaviors surface, people become more outspoken about their experiences and we find even more horrifying things underneath. The conversations that I have with my peers are no exception. The more I work toward raising awareness and addressing sexual rights issues within the community, the more I hear about more injustices.
I’ve been given permission to write about my friend’s experience. Her story is the third one that I have heard that is like it. This particular friend was getting ready to game with a new group, one she was connected with via another friendship, and within the group were people she trusted. She went to their first session and rolled up a character to her liking. Much like myself, her characters are pretty atypical. She likes to break stereotypes with her characters. Thus, this character was of a squishy background, but somehow came out of it equipped for ass-kicking. She had skills for battling and weaponry suited to the task. During the second session that she went to game, though, she quickly learned that her new gaming group, one that was all men, other than herself, was actually not so trustworthy afterall. The Gamemaster of her group had arranged for her character to get separated from the group, to lose her weaponry and to get sexually assaulted by the creature that the group was to battle that day.
This friend is not the only person that I’ve heard of this happening to. She’s the third person I’ve heard about experiencing this in only one year. Another girl who had an experience similar to that, in gaming, was told by her GM that he was “advancing her story.” Gamers usually create their story on their own, within the context of the game and story-making in gaming is a group effort. So, his explanation is fucking bullshit. These cases are not about someone advancing a story, this is about someone taking a fantasy that they are supposed to build and turning it into an expression of their own personal, real-world fantasy. If it were about advancing a story, why would it be that the only female in the group was the only one who experienced this? No man in the group was forced into this situation, not even the man who had a female character. This incident was one that targeted the only female gamer in the group who also had a female character. It wasn’t about the story, it was about her. For people who already have experienced real-world sexual assault, this can hurt pretty badly. Of the three stories I mentioned, two of the women were previously victims of sexual assault and at least one of them was triggered by the experience.
In the gaming world, the GM is generally a person who is entrusted with your own fantasy. They are supposed to entertain, help you along with your own story and build the world in which you are adventuring. However, along with that trust comes the belief that the GM will respect your boundaries. One of the women that I talked to was already aware of the problem of games going that way and she explicitly told her GM that she wouldn’t tolerate sexual violence in-game. The very next gaming session, he had her character sexually assaulted.
The thing is, there is nothing about sexual assault that makes it necessary in order to make a story good. Lots of fantastic stories are created without having to include sexual violence. That doesn’t mean that all sexual violence is banned from all creative acts, either. But, the whole point of gaming is to cooperate to make a story and forcing your own sexual fantasies onto another, without their consent, in one of these cooperative efforts indicates that you completely forgot about the cooperation part. Any person who takes on the role of Game Master or Dungeon Master is put in a position where all those present are trusting him with their character’s future, and they’re also trusting them to provide entertainment and guidance. They aren’t expecting that person to spring something damaging onto them, they aren’t expecting to be forced into being victims, even in a virtual world. It is important that gamers understand that this is also a form of sexual harassment. It is a sexual interaction without consent. It is not OK.
The fact that this seems to be some kind of trend makes it even worse. This is a problem that is driven by the same attitudes that led to a comic book artist acting like a dick to female cosplayers, people sexually harassing cosplayers, the problem of putting female characters in the refrigerator and the issue of harassment in online RPGs, within online activist groups and for female scientists (examples are also here, here, here and here). This isn’t just a problem for women to deal with through complaining, either. This is a problem that those who perpetuate the harassment are responsible for and it is your job to help change it.