Jul 1, 2012

Twitter Knight Gains 50 XP, Still At Level One

Oh man, Twitter debacle last night. Basically, some random guy who happens to be an unpaid intern for gaming site Destructoid had just set up a Twitter account – apparently while drinking. He noticed that people in his feed were mentioning Felicia Day a lot – you know, as you do.

The guy says didn’t know that Day is the writer, director, and star of video gaming web series The Guild, regular guest on the TV series Eureka, Star of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and a voice artist for Dragon Age: Redemption. He’d never heard her talk at a convention so he had no idea how wickedly smart she is.

All he knew was that she was a woman, and that no one seemed to be pointing out that she didn’t belong; so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He wrote her a couple of sexist, harassing tweets demanding she justify her worth to him.
Because he was new to Twitter, he thought he was just sending them to her. He wasn’t, and some people noticed. Gaming has been going through the wringer lately about misogyny in our culture – and a couple of high profile people, including Wil Wheaton, Adam Baldwin, and Veronica Belmont, decided that this might be a teachable moment. They pointed him out to Destructoid, and after many other Twitter users complained, Destructoid let the guy go.

This is not an unusual firing story for a writer. In fact, it happens all the time. That’s not an artifact of the internet age, it’s just the way things are when you have a free press, and overall I think that’s a good thing – especially if it means that there are consequences for harassing people. Double especially if the only real penalty this guy experiences is the loss of a non-paying presitge position. That’s a really mild punishment for starting drunken fights with other people in the industry.

I learned some things about gamers reading the response to this; things I didn’t realize because I stay pretty far away from assholes as a matter of course.

The first thing is that even when naked sexism is right in front of them, some people still don’t get it. I’m slowly revising my opinion on these people. I used to think that they knew what sexism looked like, but just ignored it when it happened because they thought badly of the people who pointed it out, due to their own sexism. Now I think some of them are genuinely stupid, which is more excusable if less flattering.

The second thing I noticed is that apparently gaming has a slur for men who defend women when they’re being treated poorly. The term “white knight,” which I allude to in the title of this post, is an actual insult. I think it’s supposed to be tied to the idea of “reverse sexism”- like if you’re defending a woman because she’s a woman that somehow makes you even more sexist than if you said nothing? I think it’s a motive-questioning insult and basically in the same category as the stuff that the intern was saying to Felicia Day. But the bottom line is that if you see a woman being harassed and say something to support her or rebuff the harassers, gamers are standing by with an insult tailor made for you. This can’t say anything good about our culture.

The third thing I noticed is that somehow, people are still mushy on the role that a web series like The Guild – which is about gaming and gamers – has to play in gamer culture. Just so we’re on the same page, The Guild is playing the same role as Penny Arcade or Jonathan Coulton or Legend of Neil or any other piece of gamer media that isn’t directly about reviewing games. They broadcast and focus game fandom, they provide cultural commentary beyond textual criticism, and build communities. Without fan-created media, game fandom would be so much smaller and less fulfilling. I don’t know whether the main motivation here is sexism or stupidity, but considering gamers are calling Day a “talentless c*nt,” I’m guessing its both.

At the end of the day, I hope gamers can learn to react with the same supportive attitude when this happens to people who aren’t Felicia Day. This type of harassment – the kind where strangers come up to you and demand you earn the right to not be hated – is common enough that even I’ve gotten it, and I’m basically nobody! It happens pretty frequently to women in all kinds of male-dominated spaces, and the people who do it are rarely easily-dismissable interns with no clout. If we agree that this kind of behavior isn’t okay, it has to be not-okay for everyone.

So for those that called out this intern for harassing Felicia Day, but have never or rarely called out people for sexism directed at women with less than a million twitter followers, consider this a practice run. And keep practicing.

Because I’m busy writing ANOTHER blog post today, comments are off. ¬†Feel free to tweet me at @toenolla.

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