[Musings of a Game Store Owner] Bullying in the Gaming Community

Bullying sucks.

It is a fact of life for many of us as gamers. Many of us are/were nerds, outcasts, weird, or otherwise socially unacceptable and have been bullied in some way or another throughout our lives.

We have all heard of it and most of us have been directly affected. Many of us have been singled out in some way and have been harassed, shamed, shoved aside or physically harmed because someone somewhere didn’t value us as persons.

Bullying can be as subtle as stating that people that don’t agree with a viewpoint are stupid or it can be as in your face blatant as photographing people for the sole purpose of mocking and shaming them.

While it’s the photography that instigated this particular post, other conversations gave me the idea that it was needed before this week. I recently had a wonderful exchange with a blogger who talks about MtG rather than 40K, Malifaux or Infinity.  In that conversation, we discussed how MtG can be viewed by the miniature gaming crowd, and it was unfortunately unkind.

Prior to that, someone who admits to being isolated, frustrated and stigmatized in the hobby spent quite a lot of time trying to push those feelings off onto others in the scene through written recriminations for not thinking or feeling the things said person found important.

As a woman in a male dominated hobby, I have faced my share of attempts to push me out of the crowd. I have felt the recriminations and heard the digs. The idea that a person of the female variety might enjoy playing with planes on sticks, or might want to pretend to be a muscle bound warrior from Pantha B, or might really like playing a mono-green elf/mana ramp EDH deck seems to be hard for some to accept. The pushback has always been there. from comments such as ” you’re only here because of your boyfriend/husband” to “wouldn’t you rather bake cookies”,  I’ve heard many attempts to belittle my interest in gaming and games in general.

The popular advice is that bullying is about power. In many ways, that’s correct, but it misses a deeper point. Bullying might be driven by power, but it’s definitively rooted in acceptance. a car is run by a motor- but it’s fueled by gas. the same point is true about bullying. It is driven by power, but fueled by acceptance.

For a group of nerds who all know what its like not to be let into the in crowd, we spend a lot of time marginalizing various subgroups in some weird effort to be accepted as better than the others. This is where my pal probably feels most at home- he knows he is an “other”; a stranger, a Xeno; and is ok with it, as long as he’s with other Xenos.

Does it matter what kind of stranger we are? Or does it just matter that we are all on the outside looking in? personal friends in this hobby include a guy who is the model of a frat boy with the goofy bro speak and wild drinking antics and a tough guy from the Bronx recovering from heroin addiction. Other friends include a preppy teacher, with a reputation that exceeds mine for “nice”, and a tinkerer who learns things through doing, a man who taught himself to draw just for fun.

And we’re all in this together, all of us just a little broken somehow.

The tearing each other down and trying to jockey for most important
/best/popular doesn’t do anything except marginalize the people that play games, go to our game store and belong as part of “us”.

It takes a lot to make me mad, make me stand up and say, no more. Many times it takes not just one thing but a compilation of things for me to see a wrong (or group of them) and say I won’t tolerate that anymore. It might make me seem wishy washy or less than principled. It might make me look like a follower rather than a leader. It might make it look as if I will only pipe up when someone else does too. I don’t know what to say to that except that when I hit my limit, that’s all there is, and people know that I’ve had enough. My boundaries are pretty wide, which might make them look non existent, but I assure you, they are there.

I have had enough.

There’s a lot of double speak when it comes to bullying. Even in a group that gets bullied often, there’s a built in, natural tendency to excuse and even explain bullying behavior. Using the recent photography example as a discussion point, friends were posting the link online. A “friend” posted it with a comment that “this is what game stores are like”. I replied in a fairly negative fashion, and thanked her for her support. Another friend posted it discussing how unfair and unkind the photos were, and a thread expanded with multiple comments.  Invariably the conversation would include someone who would say something like 
“this is why there aren’t more women in gaming”
“those Magic players xxxxxx” 
(it doesn’t matter what was said, just that the people were stereotyped simply by what kind of game they played)
“this isn’t harassment or shaming; it’s satire”

“someone has to tell them this is unattractive”
or it’s close cousin;
“wearing properly fitting clothes is not difficult- this display of pictures shows how little these people care about themselves”
and my favorite
“I’m a large person and I would never be seen looking this way”
There were quite a few other comments that were fairly inflammatory and victim-blaming. The long and the short is that for the most part, the people that were outraged at how wrong the pictures were had to fend off comments from their friends and others they knew that were defending the pictures, the person that took them and the act of displaying them in a harmful and shaming way. 
These pictures were taken at a large Magic the Gathering event. This event is on par with NOVA or Adepticon- people come from all over the country to try their talents and skills against each other in a very competitive setting. They PAY MONEY to enter the events, and play in tournaments pretty much nonstop until they are eliminated.

The judges (who are volunteers) vie to be selected, take time off from PAYING JOBS, shell out loads of cash to fly across the country, and view this event akin to the Boston Marathon; they take pride in “finishing”. This event is HUGE in the Judging community, and days without sleep are like badges of honor. 

And somehow, someone thought it was ok to take pictures of the players for no other reason than to make them look bad, and then publish them on the internet. 
The comments defending these actions need to be addressed just as much as the act itself does. The act got the person banned from large scale MtG events. In my opinion, this is good news. 
“This is why there aren’t more women in gaming”– What a bunch of shit, if it is purely based on the idea that women are repelled by the presence of large gamers. This idea gives the impression that women are immediately superficial and will be repulsed by large persons and turn away from gaming because of them. I call shenanigans and say that’s a pile of crap. The women that are turned away by people of size are crappy judgmental people and would eventually leave for some other minor but perceived slight anyway.
In fact, what happened should be evidence that women are WELCOME in gaming. 
Women need to feel comfortable and welcomed in gaming circles. If people are taking pictures to shame others, it stands to reason that women may not want to be involved, as body issues are HUGE in the gaming and sci/fi communities right now. However; the authorities at this event saw the offense and took immediate action. They removed the person from the premises and made it known he was not welcome. In short, they took their harassment policy seriously. This is probably the most overlooked aspect of the entire conversation- it showed that there were policies in place and they were intended to keep EVERYONE feeling comfortable; and thus, women are welcome and should feel safe. 
“Those Magic players”– a divisive, exclusionary, inconsiderate and bullshit attitude. These pictures could just as easily have been taken at a roleplaying convention (GenCon); any NUMBER of miniature conventions (look around at Adepticon this April 3-6) or even at a comic book convention. The “problem” of large people exists everywhere and cannot be restricted to one type of subculture. This comment represents the laziest possible types of thinking, but the easiest to correct. 
This isn’t harassment or shaming, it’s satire” – I would almost buy this; IF and only IF all the persons in the pictures had agreed to the idea and were involved in the production of the commentary. If the pictures had been posted by “MtG Community” or some obvious group entity, and all the persons had been credited as authors/creators of the content, I would MAYBE go along with this. The persons in the pictures did not and probably never would authorize the use of these pictures and didn’t know they were being critically lambasted until they hit the internet. This defense is just hollow and weak- it completely misses the point and makes the people IN the picture seem less capable of being agents for their own persons. The people in the pictures had their agency taken away, and thus, being a satirical look at being a member of the Magic community loses its standing. 
Someone has to tell them this is unattractive“- I can’t even begin to tell you how offensive this is to me. This is exactly what offensive means in my book; it is harmful to others. Why would anyone ever think this is ok? What possible concept gives you the right to insult someone based on YOUR IDEALS of acceptable appearance? Where does it ever say that you have the right or responsibility to instruct someone on common decency? Because if it ever existed, it would say that it isn’t decent to do this! It is NEVER decent to talk to someone about their appearance in a negative way. Even a close friend wouldn’t say something negative if they were decent! Decent people would be considerate and talk about behavior, not image.

Wearing properly fitting clothes is not difficult- this display of pictures shows how little these people care about themselves”– How the hell do you know what these people think of themselves or how much they care about their appearance? where are you perfect? Judging people based on their meeting (or not) your personal appearance standards is crappy. Don’t do it.

There are always questions about what constitutes bullying. Here it is.

being cruel to someone that is weaker than you. 

Whether that weakness is perceived or real doesn’t matter to me- bullying is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated by any of us.

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t done everything I can to stop bullying behavior. I’m not certain that I understood specifically what I was doing, but I am done making excuses. I welcome everyone in my store, and that means people that don’t fit into some shitty idea of “appropriate” appearance. It means people that need clothes that fit well, or don’t have holes. It means people that are outside the norm, and needs friends. Isn’t that all of us? 

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