Why Should We Listen To Anecdotal Evidence Of Harassment In Gaming?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I see far too often now people reading articles like ‘Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem‘ and just going along with the narrative as if anecdote were somehow evidence.”
That’s some random dude’s Facebook comment in response to my “Why I Don’t Play Magic Any More” piece, where I spoke about how I stopped playing Magic because a) I play Magic because I like hanging around with fun people slinging cards, and b) a lot of those people were That Guy who cracked gay and sexist jokes, so c) since I really fucking hate that guy, I wasn’t incentivized to show up.
But he’s got a good point.  Why should we listen to anecdotes when it comes to harassment in gaming?  Why don’t we get formal data?
Why doesn’t this guy ask his female, gay, and minority friends what they’ve encountered to start turning anecdote into data?
What I’ve noticed about the guys who shrug and go, “Well, that’s just anecdotal” is that they never seem much interested in checking to see whether these experiences are common or not.  They have access to friends, presumably, so it’d be as simple as posting something on their Facebook wall: “Hey, my female gamer-friends, have you had similarly negative experiences to this?”
And then you could start seeing what percentage of your female buddies had endured harassment or negativity in gaming stores.  Data incoming!
(Some percentage of those women would doubtlessly tell you they’d experienced harassment and so what, that’s just what happens in gaming, grow tougher skin – but that’s a separate issue.)
But no.  Generally, “That’s just anecdotal” is a synonym for “I’m about to write this off because it seems unbelievable to me” – as, in fact, this dude did later in the same thread, saying, “I find several of the points made patently absurd and quite frankly I see no reason to believe that the stories mentioned are even true.”
I checked his Facebook wall and he didn’t bother to explore the idea further, just wrote it off: This experience of a woman, which I am not, seems hyperbolic. As such, I reject it.
But hey!  I heard you complaining several paragraphs back – the plural of “anecdote” is not data, am I right?  Why don’t we do a scientific survey to find out how widespread harassment in gaming is?
Well, trickier than you’d think.
The problem with trying to determine the levels of harassment in gaming is that the most-abused people are probably no longer gamers at this point.  It’s like taking a survey of people who live in a city and asking, “So how many of you have moved out due to the crime here?”   Sure, if Wizards of the Coast did a big poll to ask about my personal gaming experiences, I’d see that poll because Magic is still my full-time job.  (Buy from StarCityGames.com!)
But someone who’d stopped playing Magic would not see it.  They wouldn’t be heard.
We could use that Very Scientific Survey to convince ourselves that things are just fine.  And if you’re big into honest data, like the dude concerned about this sad prevalence of anecdotal data, then you should be equally concerned about people being overlooked.
And sadly, Wizards of the Coast is about as big as it gets when it comes to gaming.  It’s not like RPGs are this multi-billion dollar industry where focus groups sit down and R&D pours thousands of dollars into scientific polls before rolling out their latest game store chain.  Most card and tabletop games are at best a couple of hundred thousand dollars dropped into Kickstarter, and most of that is covering costs.  Polls cost between $1,000 and $10,000 to take, and again, you’d have to be comprehensive in catching the people who have stopped playing games to know how bad the issue is.  Most game stores are mom-and-pop industries.
There’s simply not the money.
But wait!  What if there was a way – not entirely scientific, but better than nothing – to see whether harassment existed?  Let’s do a thought experiment!
Let’s say I’d written a post entitled “Tabletop Gaming Has An Anti-Vaccination Harassment Problem,” wherein I detailed my endless sufferings at the hands of loud anti-vaccination people screaming at me for my love of medical science whenever I walked into a store.
Or I’d written a post entitled “Tabletop Gaming Has A Suit-And-Tie Problem,” wherein I discussed the scorn I got from nattily-dressed gamers in Brooks Brothers suits mocking me for my incorrectly-tied ascot.
Or I’d written a post entitled “Tabletop Gaming Has A Vegan Problem,” where I lamented the lack of fatty, meaty foods available at gaming shops.
Can you honestly say that you believe these posts would have been passed around as widely?
Oh sure, there’s always a couple of gullible people who’ll go “That’s horrible” and post any old booshwah – that’s what Snopes is for – but in general, people post articles like this because they match up with their personal experiences.  When I saw people posting “Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem,” it was mostly women and trans people discussing how unwelcome gaming stores had made them feel in the past.
There are plenty of articles complaining about gaming.  Someone’s always got an axe to grind.  Most of these axes are nerf axes.
Whereas this one took off because it sounded plausible to the people who shared it.
If someone wrote about the problems with gamers and their obsessions with tuxedos, that article would have died on the vine because it didn’t reflect a reality they saw.
These articles catch fire because something in them indicates a problem that people have seen with their own eyes.  And again, if you asked the people who posted it whether they’d had similarly off-putting experiences, you’d generally find that most of them had.
(One woman  I saw posted the “Terrorist” article and had an acquaintance comment, “This couldn’t possibly happen, she’s making it up,” only to have his female friend document her history of abuse in gaming, year by year.  He stopped arguing shortly thereafter.)
And, I note, the dude writing about how these things couldn’t possibly exist had to work fucking hard to ignore the evidence in the thread he was posting in, because the friend of mine who’d posted my essay said that he’d seen female-unfriendly stuff he didn’t like, and other people in the thread said “This is what I still have to deal with at my home store(s),” and yet somehow the dude blazed right on past the evidence of people who spoke to him to go, “…nah.”
Keep in mind that it’s entirely possible people are wrong or misguided about what they feel.  I mean, yeah, there are people who post about the War on Christmas, and the very personal denigration they’ve felt from clerks who’ve wished them “Happy Holidays.”  But if you’re smart, you don’t tell those people, “Well, that doesn’t really exist,” but rather, “You’re overreacting to minor incidents.”  Which would be kinda dickish to women who’d complained of being groped in gaming alcoves, but at least you’d be honest about your real viewpoint.
And also keep in mind that gaming does not have to be a universal cesspool for this to be an issue to be concerned about.  Some folks pulled the “Not all men!” canard to defend gaming, and I’d agree: there are a lot of female-friendly, queer-friendly, minority-friendly shops out there.
But let’s say you go to a restaurant you love, and one time in twenty there’s bird shit in your burger.
Is that someplace you’d go to to relax?
Yeah, it’s not quite data, and there’s always going to be someone shrieking about how terrible things are, because this is a big messy world and someone’s going to get fucked over by some insensitive clod somewhere.  Hell, there’s feminist enclaves with incidents of harassment on their records, because the rule is that sadly, someone’s always going to be a dick.  Yet you’ll note a subtle distinction in these sorts of hubbubs, because there’s often a difference between “God, that’s terrible that happened over there!” and “This terrible thing is similar to my experience!”
You just have to pay attention.
And gaming is getting better.  Creators like Monte Cook and Shanna Germain and Mark Rosewater and hundreds of others are trying to create a more inclusive place.  Stores are being opened because the owners hated that old, dingy, hateful store and wanted to create alternatives.  It’s way better than it was a decade ago.
But while the anecdotal method has its issues, the more formal analysis you’d seem to crave doesn’t exist, and really honestly can’t.  Again, it’s really hard to find enough ex-gamers and put them in with gamers to get an accurate picture of things – and even if we could, are you crowdfunding $5,000 to find out?
You’re not, unfortunately.  Because the truth is for this dude, he looked at something he didn’t like and went, “This doesn’t happen.”  And he didn’t really care about the evidence.
He just didn’t like what he saw.

26 Comments

  1. What is a Man
    Apr 5, 2016

    You know what, I know this is going to be hard for you to hear, because much like how you want to say “Well he just doesn’t want to see it!” You don’t want to see the other side either.
    You, and people like you are fucking vile. You paint a group of 1 billion people by estimation of the ESA as a toxic environment because you had one negative experience.
    And my experience with people like you? You LOVE to antagonize other people to get a reaction and then bitch about your supposed harassment.
    Sorry, but the reason people won’t listen to you or your lived experiences, is because we have watched people like you. We see how you act, we see how you try to antagonize and bitch about your harassment.
    We see what you are.
    But unlike you, who claim gaming is filled with harassment, we know that the picture you paint is not true, and not indicative of even a small percentage.
    But we know what people like you are like.
    And we know how much people like you, like to antagonize, and like to bitch about harassment when people respond to posts, like this one.
    There is nothing good about people like you in the gaming community, and there is nothing good about what you continue doing.
    The world will be a lot better when you antagonizing idiots fuck off.

    • TheFerrett
      Apr 6, 2016

      Truth bomb: you don’t really think we’re vile. You’re just some sad troll, seeking a reaction. Deep down, you think we’re good people; you’re just angry at the world, and have decided to beat up nice people in order to get your sad rocks off.
      I’m sorry that of all the issues in the world, you chose this one to get your panties in a twist about. Because you’re not really upset about this, are you? You know all the Social Justice Work in the world doesn’t really affect anyone. You just poke bears because you want the attention –
      Oh, wait. Maybe you see how stupid that logic is when it’s applied to you.
      I honestly believe you’re upset this invasion of your space, as stupid as I believe it is. You can’t even get that far; you have to believe that folks are out to get you, as opposed to, you know, honestly being upset.
      Which is a nice idiocy: They’re out to get you as a performative act. You’re legitimately upset. But no. If you’re gonna say my distaste is a faked part of a scheme to tear down your industry, then I’ll accuse you of the same thing.
      Or maybe you could pull your head out of your ass long enough to recognize that yeah, some people are genuinely upset, some people genuinely encounter this stuff, and though maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, others do. It’s fine for you to say that we shouldn’t be bothered by what happens, though I’ll disagree. But to paint it as some form of insidious smear campaign is as dumb as, well, what I accused you of in the first two paragraphs.

      • Peggy
        Apr 6, 2016

        Dude, you are an amazing blogger. Thanks for helping to make gaming safer.

      • P.F. Undit
        Apr 7, 2016

        “Or maybe you could pull your head out of your ass long enough to recognize that yeah, some people are genuinely upset, some people genuinely encounter this stuff, and though maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, others do.”
        No, it is in fact universally wrong. It isn’t a matter of some people thinking it’s wrong, it’s one of the basest forms of bullying. That isn’t a matter of “toughness”. It’s about human decency.

  2. Simon
    Apr 6, 2016

    Happens super often too. Pretty common for dudes to say “This doesn’t happen” when they see something they don’t like. If I had a penny for every time…

  3. Catastrophe Jones
    Apr 6, 2016

    Bravo. Thanks for writing this.

  4. JJ
    Apr 6, 2016

    Thanks, this is spot on!

  5. Bob Castleman
    Apr 6, 2016

    I am sponsoring a CS:GO team to compete in the ESEA league. One of the potential team members basically walked away because she has big boobs and any time other players find out she is a girl she gets too many bullshit comments about girls suck, etc and if she DARES to post a selfie she gets accused of using her boobs as a way of attracting followers.
    But I guess since this is just one guy’s anecdote it must not be real.

  6. Robin D. Laws
    Apr 6, 2016

    “What I’ve noticed about the guys who shrug and go, “Well, that’s just anecdotal” is that they never seem much interested in checking to see whether these experiences are common or not.”
    Very aptly put.

  7. Tye
    Apr 6, 2016

    I hate to be categorized with the troll but… it is possible that you don’t see the other side.
    I’m a middle aged, middle class, white guy. If I have a problem with a guy in a game store dropping f-bombs every other sentence in front of my children, that is a negative experience. I ask him to stop and because he’s wearing a dress, now I’m the “white terrorist” that is making an unsafe environment for LGBT gamers. That’s the problem with anecdotal evidence.
    If a guy groped my wife in the local game store, he’d be going to jail for assault and would have a broken arm to remind him not to underestimate a little girl. However, it is not gong to happen in my local store because the owner has no tolerance for that behavior. That is the solution, we as a local community, stop accepting bad behavior.
    A guy cheats in the game, everyone stop playing with him and he goes away. Guy makes sexist comments, we pick up our “toys” and move on. There are good people to play with, why play with the jerks?
    You will have negative experiences, even a white guy will experience them. The important thing is you make it clear to the perpetrators that it is not acceptable and stop playing with them. (I also can’t think of anyplace I’ve ever been where a woman loudly announcing that she doesn’t want to be touched that way wouldn’t get a couple people to help escortsl the guy out of the place)

    • Alexis
      Apr 6, 2016

      I’m glad that you would be an ally for your wife, but women shouldn’t have to be married to a man like you to brave a game store. I’m married to a great guy, and I love games. We go to comics stores together, but I never go alone. What’s more, even my husband has been creeped out/made uncomfortable by nasty behavior from other gamers, and he’s a white dude.
      My husband actually started a blog on gaming. He posted an article titled “My Wife is My GM,” about how we played D&D with a bunch of other marrieds and at the time I was DMing. He told me later he was shock at how much hateful comments he got on that article. He stopped blogging after that.
      The vicious hate some people direct at anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a “gamer” seriously drives people away, or at least underground.

    • Zander
      Apr 11, 2016

      Asking someone to refrain from dropping f-bombs in front of kids is not “white terrorism” by any reasonable standard, no matter who they are. Referring to a woman as a “man in a dress”, however, totally is.
      I think the point is that for those of us unfortunate enough to be either obviously or, over time, outed as not white/male/heterosexual/etc, the bullies and jerks are not being ostracized or punished when they bully and misbehave; instead, traditionally, we have been. What remedy do you suggest for that, beyond publicizing it, as folks have done?

    • Anon Adderlan
      Apr 12, 2016

      All those situations you mentioned? They’re all hypothetical, and made up stories very quickly become about made up problems.
      And yes, the ‘other side’ engages in exactly the same nonsense, but anecdotal evidence is different in that it’s about something which actually occurred interpreted through the lens of personal experience. So by nature it’s biased and unreliable, but it’s not meaningless. And the more anecdotes from independent sources you have, the more reliable the conclusions you can make.
      But again, that becomes difficult when people make up hypothetical situations which only might have happened.

  8. Bryanna Hitchcock
    Apr 6, 2016

    Thank you. My life would be so much bleaker without the awesome people and experiences of tabletop RPGs. There certainly is a lot of acceptance and openness in some communities. But there is a problem and it’s going to take all of us to make the hobby bigger, more inclusive, and better than ever.

  9. Carmiel
    Apr 6, 2016

    Suggestion to add a point to your article. When someone tried to do a scientific survey on how women are viewed/treated in video gaming, we got Gamergate, death threats and doxxing. So, even if somebody wanted to do the scientific research on table top RPGs, odds are these same men would rise up to suppress the project the same way. Because many men like the way things are.

  10. Glenn
    Apr 6, 2016

    We condone what we allow. As such, my game store has a visibly noted code of conduct. Gaming is for everyone, and if someone is doing something to turn other people away, that person has two choices, clean up their act or go elsewhere. Things like this will continue as long as members of the community allow it to continue, and that is on all of us. Women are roughly half the population, which means a potential additional 3 1/2 billion people I can enjoy my love of games with. If you want to threaten that, I don’t need you as a customer in my store.

  11. Deanna Long
    Apr 7, 2016

    I am not an online gamer but this “only anecdotal” argument sounds suspiciously like the argument SOME men use when women complain about being sexually harassed on the streets. They don’t believe it, think the women are exaggerating, think they’re too “sensitive” or one of a myriad other things that translated still all mean: “You are a whiny female who cannot take a joke”.

  12. Icehawk
    Apr 7, 2016

    My only complaint with the article was that the title was pretty clickbaity. I think saying that gaming has an asshole problem would be more accurate.

  13. Sheri Briley
    Apr 7, 2016

    I’m part of a very multicultural community, and our gaming groups have ALWAYS included a variety of races. And while our community has gone through race rioting several times in the past few years, racism never seems to affect our groups. Hell, D&D is all about making the most of our racial differences, right?
    I’m about as straight as they come, but I’d imagine our groups have included alternate lifestyles….but since we’re not there to find dates, or to score, that’s not been much of an issue. Yes, there’s been an occasional name-calling, but as far as I can remember, calling someone a prude, fag, slut or queer has had nothing to do with their sexuality, and more about their stupid character’s next move.
    What I can speak to is the gender bias
    I am a gaming gal, and have been for more than 3 decades. Has it been easy? Hell, no. Have I felt comfortable that whole time? NO.
    When I started playing D&D, my HS boyfriend LET me roll his dice….after a while, I got be the semi-sentient familiar…..I was new to the concept, and the guys were clueless–baffled with the idea that I WANTED to play.
    After we split and went to college, I found another gaming group at school. I was the only girl once again. The DM pitched the game against me, subtly, but it was there. I was frozen, stunned, webbed, paralyzed almost as many turns as I attacked. But that didn’t stop me….I figured after a month or so, they’d relent…I was wrong.
    When you put borderline pornographic female images in front of hormonal marginalized teen boys, things get rough! One girl against 5 guys, is a bit of an unfair fight, and, well, I pressed charges against the 3 that violated me….then I quit gaming for several years.
    When I got back to it, I again was at my boyfriend’s side….face it, after the last experience, I needed a chaperone/protector. Things were pretty mellow by then. But I still was tired of getting groped at the taverns, oogled by the other players, the double entendre was non-stop. But I don’t generally let stupidity of others stop me from doing what I like doing. Now, I’m the really cool mom*, with my own grown children gaming with me. (*or whatever they say these days)
    I’ve shown then how women/girls can be non-sexual friends, allies, partners, and how to listen to and respect everyone.
    Our gaming group is multicultural, inclusive, broad-minded, accessible, and welcoming.
    Instead of whining about being insulted, grumbling about what was, I work to make sure my grand-daughters (eventually) will be able to play and not understand the struggles I went through.

  14. Antonia
    Apr 7, 2016

    Thing is, the harassment doesn’t always happen at game stores. It happens at conventions, in private homes, and sometimes even public places.
    As a female, I have been sexually harassed by other gamers. Heck, the week I started playing a mobile app, one of the players asked me to suck his d@#! and I had to block him because he persisted after I said no.
    And I did attend a convention where they had a lady gamers tra, and harassment was discussed.

  15. Brant
    Apr 11, 2016

    FWIW, a possible way to get at the data and study it might be to partner with an academic institution and work with some gaming-inclined grad students to gather the info. We did a pretty large study about games and motivation in 2006 when I was at Ohio St and partnered with GAMA to do it (easier to do since they’re also in Columbus, like Ohio St)

  16. Gareth (from Ottawa)
    Apr 12, 2016

    The “What Is A Man”-troll couldn’t have been more wrong.
    I have had the incredible luck to have never knowingly witnessed the bestial acts (and comments) that have driven so many women & LGBTQ folk from our ‘community’. I have had games with respectful GMs / Storytellers and (mostly) respectful players. I have had crass comments tossed my way by other male players (as some guys do) but retorted with my own, knowing this as simple bravado. Despite all this, however, and being a man, I do not doubt that the ‘scummy’ side of gaming exists – I do not doubt that many of the ‘horror-stories’ told are real – and NO, it is not some ‘conspiracy’ to knock down the estimated 1-billion-strong gaming community.
    No, the gaming community is not “filled with harassment,” yet we do know that these blogs and comments reflect upon “a small percentage” — a percentage, no matter how small — of beasts who like to enjoy abusing and harming others, and keep getting away with it because they always have, like the bullies they are, and keep doing it to more people. … We know they exist because ‘they’ are a part of ‘us’ … We know because we’ve seen them and heard them and experienced them in countless other ways in our lives … We know because they are men, and as real men we recognize the predatory beastliness of that hateful portion of our gender.
    The troll typed : “But we know what people like you are like. — And we know how much people like you, like to antagonize, and like to bitch about harassment when people respond to posts, like this one.” — It’s quite clear that it is the troll who seems intent on antagonizing, ‘bitching’ in advance of the ‘harassment’ he expects to receive.
    He goes on :”There is nothing good about people like you in the gaming community, and there is nothing good about what you continue doing.” — “The world will be a lot better when you antagonizing idiots fuck off.” — And he finishes up with statements more appropriate to himself and the ‘white-man-terrorists’ that have been the problem for society since time immemorial.
    It is we, the decent gaming community, that are far better-off without the type of gamer who sexually-aggresses others; who trolls upon others who are trying to make gaming more accessible to everyone; who makes no attempt to see how ugly and hateful he and his bully-kin are.
    I know that there are also women & LGBTQ-folk who are equally as monstrous, but we men have been such out of proportion to our gender. Thus, it is we men — we real men — who must make the efforts to do what is right; to make gaming inclusive instead of exclusive; to ferret-out those trolls and bullies and perverts and shun them if they cannot redeem themselves; and to oblige the people we pay (be it the gaming stores or the game-makers) to do as we do, else they too shall be shunned and wither when none will pay them.
    Waxing poetic & Biblical aside, we know this is happening and troll-boy is a part of the problem. It’s about time we put our money where our mouths are and take concrete steps to purge the ‘community’ of the jerks and trolls who can’t seem to grow up and be mature and respectful.
    Many thanks for your blog; your support of ‘disenfranchised’ gamers who haven’t deserved the assaults and hatefulness aimed at them; and your time. Here’s to hoping people of all genders & races & orientations can enjoying playing games together for a long, long time to come.

  17. Anon Adderlan
    Apr 12, 2016

    Can you honestly say that you believe these posts would have been passed around as widely?

    No, because none of them used Race + Gender + TERRORISM in their titles, which is a formula that will get any post shared if not deleted for violating community standards first. And I’m genuinely sick that people are defending this choice of words just because of who’s saying it and what it’s being used for.
    I don’t care how noble your cause is, because if you have to engage in rhetorical tricks like this it can’t be that noble.

    Whereas this one took off because it sounded plausible to the people who shared it.

    Anti-vaxxer arguments sound plausible to some. Creationism sounds plausible to some. And sharing something just because it sounds plausible is great for building community (and isolating the people who don’t agree), but not so good when it comes to finding the truth because people typically don’t verify the things they find plausible. That the difference between a scientist and everyone else.
    You also realize that the core of your argument is essentially that certain people were dismissing anecdotal evidence because they didn’t find it plausible.
    The time we should be most careful about assessing the truth and considering our actions is when something we’re emotionally invested in sounds plausible, as it’s when we’re most vulnerable to manipulation.

  18. Tony C.
    Apr 12, 2016

    Long time gamer and love this post. Can’t believe people are disputing sexism and racism happen in gaming communities.
    I reckon I haven’t heard the worst of it directly because a) I’m a guy and b) I used to wear “Queers Bash Back” on my t-shirt when I gamed which I guess intimidated some people.
    But then I left gaming for a while. When I returned to a new club where I had no reputation there they were – the old attitudes – but without any restraint around me.
    I’ve met the best people in the world in gaming but its also where I’ve needed to step up for victims of mysogyny and homophobia, and where I’ve met people who think trolling is an acceptable way to have fun. Maybe sports is worse, I don’t know.

  19. Tony C.
    Apr 12, 2016

    Long time gamer and love this post. Can’t believe people are disputing sexism and racism happen in gaming communities.
    I reckon I haven’t heard the worst of it directly because a) I’m a guy and b) I used to wear “Queers Bash Back” on my t-shirt when I gamed which I guess intimidated some people.
    But then I left gaming for a while. When I returned to a new club where I had no reputation there they were – the old attitudes – but without any restraint around me.
    I’ve met the best people in the world in gaming but its also where I’ve needed to step up for victims of misogyny and homophobia, and where I’ve met people who think trolling is an acceptable way to have fun. Maybe sports is worse, I don’t know.

  20. Philippa
    Apr 27, 2016

    I hate to necro this thread but I think it’s really important.
    If you have a large amount of anecdotal evidence unacceptable behaviour It’s your first indication that you have a problem and you need more, structured information and, if you find it’s a significant problem you need a game plan. We need to look into this. We don’t want to lose our players. Sexism, discrimination and harassment happen in the wider community and the chances that it isn’t present to some degree in the gaming community seems unlikely. It’s wrong and it strikes at our community root and branch.
    There’s already been one survey sent around and it’s already been dismissed. I’m prepared to work on another with some professional help and I’d be happy to work with others on this.

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