Thursday 21 April 2011

Confronting Gaming Sexism

A brief break from the reminiscences (concluding act 3 up next) to scratch a mental itch.

In case you don't think there's a problem.
These here two blogs are trying to make the same point about sexism and other systems of inequality among gaming and gamers via very different tactics.

1. The Border House

2. Gamers Are Embarrassing

I find it interesting that I resonate more with the second approach. Why?

Short answer: I go more for irony than earnestness, though over the years I've learned to write with both hands.

Long answer: I read The Border House as appealing to morality. The emotions that come through are outrage, anger, disgust. There's the care and the desire to be fair, to avoid harm.  When it's seen by the people whose behavior it's aimed at, that moral appeal in theory should produce guilt, through empathy with the people their ways have harmed.

(I also recognize that this may not be the primary function of the blog. Indeed, it says right up front who it's for - the people who are collectively harmed. For them, a moral appeal can energize and give clarity. But inevitably, that style of argument will be exposed to the outside world.)

The problem with this theory is that this kind of guilt response requires empathy. Which is in definite short supply on the internet. The moralizing earnestness they project is a weak attack against a well-fortified place, the caring position easily subverted by mockery. It's only a game. Get a life.

How do you hit someone without empathy? Make it about themselves. This is where the "embarrassment" emotion comes in. If anger is about morality, embarrassment for someone else is about appearance. It's a contemptuous stance that shames the person you're embarrassed of, rather than guilting them. They don't need empathy or even a sense of morality to respond to shame, because it's in their self-interest to improve how they look.

Shallow? Maybe. But a lot of the cheap talk about "fags" or disparaging women out there is just that - people who think it's cool or edgy or establishing to do that, but don't have any real deep motive to. So if the shoe fits ...


  1. The second link (Gamers are embarassing) didn't work for me.
    I don't know if 'gaming sexism' is much different than just 'sexism.'
    I try not to say things that I wouldn't want other people to think represent the way I think and feel.

  2. It looks like Gamers are Embarassing has moved:

  3. This was my argument against Zak, that some things are mock-worthy and that it is a powerful weapon.

  4. @limpey, Jayson - Thanks; fixed it.

    @Greg - Yeah, I am not against sexy women in art but there comes a point when an overreliance on them hobby-wide is a barrier to inviting real women and men with post-adolescent sensibilities. That debate in general needs more "context" and less "absolute."

  5. @Greg

    I wasn't arguing with you about whether making fun of people was a good or bad way to fight sexism.

    What I was arguing with you about was whether half the stuff you were complaining about even -was- sexism at all.

  6. I support the stuff the Border House folks are doing, but that's going to be an ugly,up-hill battle for them. Good luck to them on that.

    As for the second bunch, I've got nothing but contempt for "Gamers are Embarrasing." It's people like that which are why we need "Read an RPG in Public" days. Taunting people for being sexist jerks is one thing, but taunting people for being cosplayers is unacceptable.