Male games for male gamers: A case study

By | July 23, 2011

Duke Nukem's jeans-clad crotch in closeup

It's dick-tacular!

Several of you have emailed me about this today, so here you go.

Some dudes are planning a LAN party in Austin, TX to coincide with the release of Battlefield 3. Pretty much every FPS gamer I know is super-psyched for this title, and honestly, the LAN party in question sounds pretty boss. Until you get to the section that originally said:

Are there other restrictions? Yes. Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.

Since it’s been picked up by some blogs, the text has been changed to describe the event simply as a “gentleman’s retreat”, with a link to this site, in an effort to either elicit hilarity (that said men are trying to be better people by playing Battlefield 3 together) or to earnestly reframe the male-exclusive space as a positive thing. There is also some weird drama in which possibly-imaginary female attendees describe harassment at prior LAN parties put on by this group that may have never happened.

Ultimately, the question of whether women have been egregiously harassed at past events — although it would seem to be implied by the original wording — is irrelevant to this post. All I want to unpack here is the original language in the original pre-drama announcement quoted above, because I think it demonstrates a lot of what is wrong with games culture in an especially clear way.

The encoded, indirect message behind that text is this:

We don’t want this to be difficult. We just want to play our games and not have to worry about forcing people to behave. We don’t want to think critically about what kind of ground rules would need to be laid down, how we would make them clear, and how we would enforce them, because that seems like a lot of work without any worthwhile payoff. We don’t want to be distracted by having to police our participants. We just want to play some motherfucking Battlefield 3, and have fun doing it. Because dealing with misogyny, racism, homophobia, or any kind of hate speech? It’s just not fun. So in the interest of making this event fun for the men and safe for the women, we’re just going to require that the women stay home.

The idea that it is somehow “safer” to make the event male-only is problematic in that it reinforces the assumption that men are feral fucking animals who are incapable of controlling their allegedly natural chromosomal need to be assholes. It presupposes that getting dudes to treat women and other non-dudebro people like human beings is, at best, a huge imposition, or at worst, an impossibility.

But even the most rancid douchebag takes his actions by choice — men can choose to be assholes, but being an asshole is not an inherent and unavoidable aspect of being male. Said men can also choose not to be assholes, and can choose to think about their shit-talking before they do it, and can choose to recognize that their words and actions contribute to a toxic game culture that explicitly excludes anyone unwilling to ally hirself with a particular white hetero male perspective.

When men choose NOT to behave like reasonable and thoughtful adults, it’s because they just don’t feel like it. And they can get away with that because men have the option (dare I say the privilege?) to refuse. Because they hold a disproportionate amount of cultural and social clout, especially in games culture.

A woman who engages in misogynist harassment while gaming is also being an asshole, though her assholery is not necessarily a function of privilege, but is rather a matter of internalized misogyny. In so doing, she is allying herself with those who assert that this is just how you talk when you play these games, and the fact that it comes from a woman does not make it any less misogynist. Men don’t own misogyny, and misogyny is not the exclusive domain of men. Misogyny is everywhere. It is culturally ubiquitous, and we are all part and parcel of its poisonous ideology.

As a result, we must all take responsibility for combating it.

I can actually sympathize with the event organizers. I don’t want to spend time and energy nearly every day being confronted with this shit, and I’m pretty bummed when I’m having a good time — playing a video game or doing anything else — and some shitstain comes along and feels entitled to wreck my fun with a specifically sexist or racist or homophobic comment. The difference is, I don’t have a choice. There are no safe spaces for me. I am frequently dismissed for failing to be the mythological dick-worshipping brainless tart some men desire. I am attacked for refusing to see any value in the ability to say “FAGGOT” every thirty seconds without anybody harshing on your savage wit. I am harassed for daring to commit the crime of being a politcally outspoken nerd-lady fatass. And what can I do about that? I can stand up for myself when it happens and I can write on a damn blog about it, but I am ultimately a pebble trying to resist the rockslide.

So while I can sympathize, I can also say fuck you. Fuck you for being part of the problem.

These poor sad boys will still have their LAN party and do their dick-checks at the door, and many of them will be righteously angry that stupid thinky people with their stupid thinky thoughts had to make this into a complicated thing that takes the gloss off their excitement. But that anger will be misguided: the anger should be directed at the minority of men who choose to be unrepentant assholes and therefore make such policies sound like a good idea in the first place.

Why are you protecting the assholes among you, gentlemen? Why do you value their participation so much that it’s worth creating a space so “dangerous” for women that they must be banned from the premises? What do the assholes bring to your experience that is so irreplaceable? Is the game better when you can throw around vicious descriptions of rape and sexual assault? Does winning feel more awesome when you can hammer your opponent with anti-gay slurs? Is your good time dependent on being able to use the word “nigger” without getting your face bashed in?

I’m not the target audience for this LAN party, nor would I be inclined to attend a similar event in my own city, even if it were a multiply-gendered space. That’s just not my scene. But this isn’t about women wanting to attend; it’s about the fact that games culture is an environment in which building explicitly anti-female spaces is considered acceptable and even “safe” for women. Encouraging men to believe that they cannot control their every impulse — indeed, that they are SO dangerous that they need to be isolated from women lest they lose their composure and go on a mad raping spree — is about the least safe idea I can think of.

So way to go, Austin LAN boys: you’ve further contributed to the stereotype of men in general and male gamers in particular as hairy-palmed knuckle-dragging barbarians, all in the name of your good time. I hope you get exactly the kind of monsters attending that you imagine yourselves to be. Maybe then you’ll realize that you don’t create safety by dragging everyone down to their basest urges, but rather by raising the quality of your own behavior, and requiring the same level of decency from those with whom you associate.


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