Like you all, I’ve been reading a lot about this recent uptick in discussion about the misogyny endemic to the field of gaming. There was the hash tag, then the response, then the blogosphere (is that still the proper term for this thing?) exploded, and then Forbes posted something about it. While I should’ve been preparing a lesson for class, I decided to finally weigh in on the subject.
As someone who is only slightly further removed from the industry than my overweight cat, I didn’t feel like I could properly speak to the issue. Yes, I have spent the last few years laughing at misrepresentations of gender in games, but all the crap going on behind the scenes? No idea. Being a white male PC gamer who can’t hit the mute button fast enough when he does venture into the wasteland that is Xbox Live, I had no clue about the kind of virulent hate that was being spewed through that lime green medium. I mean, it’s really bad. Like, ‘probably wouldn’t even make the cut in an episode of The Sopranos’ bad.
It sounds like the stuff my students say when they think I’m not listening (or staring over their shoulder while they post on Twitter.)
Not to sound dismissive, but this whole thing isn’t new. It’s been going on for centuries, we’ve just developed new vectors of delivery. As a teacher, it’s always in my mind, something I’ve always got one ear to the ground about. It’s in our staff meetings and district trainings. The constant specter of lawsuits haunts every hallway of every campus, reminding us to report everything, no matter how menial.
If I sound bitter, it’s mostly because the role of a teacher in the scenario is entirely that of damage control. We aren’t the figures to stop the behavior (no more than the parents or administrators are) just like how bosses and moderators aren’t able to stop the harassment going on in the greater gaming culture. It’s like a weed of hate. Sure, you can pull out the plant, but under the dirt are three times as many roots. For every whispered comment or nasty message you squelch, there are five more direct messages or Instagram comments, far beyond your reach. Sure you can reprimand your employee for an inappropriate comment, but the sentiment is still there, lurking behind every glance in the hall or across the meeting table.
Ask Senator McCarthy about how fighting a shadow war against thoughts and feelings worked out (he did get an –ism named after him though, that’s pretty boss.)
There was a film about this whole conflict that got a little press not too long ago, the documentary ‘Bully.’ It followed the story of a few different kids alongside the repercussions of a student who committed suicide. It’s a damn fine film and, even if you haven’t been anywhere near a teenager since you were one yourself, it’s worth struggling through. It’s more upsetting than an episode of Animal Hoarders and as endearing as a Taylor Swift acceptance speech, but even it has a hard time coming up with a concrete solution to the issue. It points out some pretty egregious missteps and villains (seriously, that principal?) without being able to declare victory.
What it does say is vital though. It attempts to reclaim the social power that drives the entire bullying thing, the desire to belong and fit in, by demanding that people stand up when they see bullying happening. It says that the students who the bullying is meant for, those standing around doing nothing, have the power in the situation. If they speak up, the bully is neutered.
That’s a new one right? When I was a kid it was always “Go find an adult and tell them what happened.” Now it’s “Man, fuck those adults, they’re half of the problem. Tell that kid what he’s doing isn’t cool.” Since the film came out, the idea of student driven anti-bullying movements has exploded onto the scene.
Now our staff meetings are filled with student made videos, set to catchy pop songs, about how bullying isn’t cool. We take them into our classrooms and show them to uproarious laughter. “Man, what a bunch of fags, do you seriously expect us to do this? Was that fucking Call Me Maybe?”
If one of the kids gets the idea to stand up to a comment, he or she gets blown out of the water quicker than a submarine in the middle of a Battleship board. They’ve become a mouthpiece for the Man, a complete NARC and utter tool, just doing what the teacher says. In attempting to give them the tools to resist bullying, we’ve just shown our hand. The same thing happens on the internet. Try and stand up against the unrelenting tide of rape threats and fat jokes and you’re dismissed as a ‘white knight.’ Just another word for a tool.
Therein lies both the solution and the problem. The most powerful moments in my classroom are entirely student driven. When we’re reading Night and a kid makes an anti-Semetic joke to utter silence, or when a student looks at him and just says “Man, I’m Jewish,” those are the interactions that click. Genuine and personal, in the words of the students themselves, completely removed from the mouthpiece of the administration. The kind of moments that make me want to run over and give the kid the most righteous high-five imaginable.
But I don’t, because rewarding the kid ruins the experience. As far as that kid is concerned, the battle has already been won. The expectation is in place. Just like you don’t have to reward someone for breathing, you don’t have to reward someone for holding somebody else to a basic level of human interaction. The more it becomes a “thing” the less likely people are to jump on board for it (or to ‘white knight.’)
It’s this underlying expectation that will kill the problem of hate. Once we, as gamers and professionals, can get to the point where misogynistic comments simply earn you an incredulous look or dismissive sigh, we’ll have won.
Do I have an answer for how to do this? No. The #1reasonwhy movement is great, but it isn’t enough…not yet. What I can say is that as long as we keep telling stories and showing unity, we’re making steps towards crafting a culture that doesn’t need to fight bullying, the intolerance towards it will be so deep seated.