Gamers Against Bigotry

Guest post from game design consultant Ernest W. Adams at Butterflies and WheelsA Call To Arms For Decent Men

we need to put a stop to this behavior. It’s time for us to force the permanent nine-year-olds to grow up or get out of our games and forums. It’s not enough just to mute them. We need to build the infrastructure that precludes this kind of behavior entirely – Club Penguin has already done it for children – or failing that, we have to make the bullies pay a price for their behavior. Appealing to their better nature won’t work; bullies have none. We do not request, we do not debate, we demand and we punish.


But this is part of gamer culture! It’s always been like this!” No, it is not. I’ve been gaming for over 40 years, and it has not always been like this. Yours is a nasty little subculture that arrived with anonymous online gaming, and we’re going to wipe it out.

Adams chooses to use rather a lot of “nasty little boy” immaturity-shaming in this piece, which I imagine will not go down well with the targeted bigots. However, his ideas for how game design can be changed to have real penalties for abusive behaviours alongside a requirement to earn a threshold level of points before being able to join voice chat, as part of a scheme of strong disincentives against the serial creation of throwaway anonymous accounts, seem like excellent ideas for wresting control of these platforms away from the delinquents.

A final takeaway from Adams:

I also encourage you to visit Gamers Against Bigotry (, sign the pledge, are share it.

Addendum: as noted in the discussion at B&W, Adams appears to be rather naive regarding anonymity online. He’s being challenged rather vigorously on that.

Categories: arts & entertainment, culture wars, ethics & philosophy, fun & hobbies, technology

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14 replies

  1. A great article. Yes, some problematic things (like the anonymity issue you mentioned) but I like his “WE need to fix this” attitude very much.

  2. Anonymity and lack of consequences are probably the biggest factors. I think whilst its possible for the people who run the games to control outright threats (most online games have facilities to report other players and will ban offenders especially if its done in text chat which is easily logged), bullying is going to be much harder to address because its a lot harder to prove, especially in a lot of PvP scenarios.
    I wonder how much of a problem throwaway anonymous accounts really are. Most online games I’ve looked at already address this to a large extent because of spam problems (people just join to post adverts). And although people are anonymous most don’t want to continuously create accounts because they lose all the in game progress they’ve already established.
    What might help is the establishment of a reputation system that can work across games which allows people to have anonymity but still have established reputations over time. It still vulnerable to group type bullying but your solo obnoxious people will have a harder time.

  3. It’s nice some men are speaking loudly about the problem, and if this advice is followed, it probably will make things better, but eugh, eugh, eugh. Is this what Audre Lorde meant when she said “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”?
    I don’t happen to believe boys are naturally misogynistic (rather, they are taught by misogynistic culture), and I’m not convinced shaming teenagers and adult men by telling them they are boys, not real men will help as much as he thinks. Most male geeks I’ve listened to have told stories of being gender-policed at high school for not being sporty. (Coincidentally, I’m reading a child-rearing book that has shaming as one of its main three-four disciplining don’ts).
    I found the linked article positively painful to read, as it swung wildly from points I could agree with to points where I was head-desking at the privilege fighting privilege.

  4. I suspect the core problem with the whole thing is the Geek Social Fallacies – particularly fallacy 1 (Exclusion is automatically and irrevocably evil in any circumstance) and fallacy 2 (Friendship means accepting me as I am without question) combined. When you mix in fallacy 4 (If I am friends with X and I am friends with Y, X and Y must be friends with each other), a big dose of fallacy 5 (Friends do everything together), season with a pinch of fallacy 3 (Friendship before everything) and then apply it to the sort of individual who hasn’t matured socially beyond about the ages of eight through twelve, you get the sort of problems we’re seeing in gamer culture now.
    Children between eight and twelve, of all gender identifications, play the gender exclusivist games (boys say girls have cooties, girls say boys are yucky) that are so very encouraged by our society and culture. Children of that age also play the sort of social games which involve treating friendship as a tool and a weapon (“you’re MY best friend”, “if you’re friends with me, you can’t be friends with X”, and “let’s cut Y out of the social hierarchy altogether” are just examples). It’s normal. It’s a stage. Most people grow out of it, and as we mature we learn peer approval isn’t the most important thing in the universe. (In some cases, we learn to accept that society at large is never going to accept us for who we are, so screw ‘em!)
    But some people don’t. Some people stay stuck in the pre-teen mindset, and need that definite sense of who their friends are, who their friends aren’t, and what their position is in a rigid, structured social hierarchy. I’m not surprised they gravitate toward the various gaming communities, because things like leader boards, guilds, achievement rankings and so on allow them to satisfy those needs.
    But unfortunately as gamers they adopt the geek community as their “tribe” – and up until fairly recently, they’ve been allowed to get away with a lot of behaviour which would have got them kicked out of other communities (and probably did) because of those geek social fallacies. However, as “geek culture” (science fiction, comic books, etc) becomes popularised, the geek community has widened. I suspect a big part of this is also because as people get older, we start to realise the geekish enthusiasm the “cool kids” in high school looked down on is actually a bit more fun to indulge in than pseudo-jaded ennui. So people who have enjoyed all of these various “geek” markers throughout their lives (but quietly, behind closed doors so respectable folks wouldn’t shun them) are starting to enjoy them openly, in public. A lot of these late-onset geeks don’t share the Geek Social Fallacies – and they’re not afraid to say, up front, out loud, that these charming individuals who are openly misogynist in company are not at all socially desirable.
    What’s happening now is we’re seeing more and more “mainstream” geeks (i.e. people who have been wearing their geek identity for years, and who are accepted by long-time geeks as long-time geeks themselves) coming out and openly challenging these social fallacies in public. It’s now spreading into the gamer communities as people who socialise outside those communities start to point out how much more civilised the outside world can be (where the adult-bodied social pre-teens aren’t dominating the discourse).

    • Megpie, I love this comment and wish that the blog felt the same. I have no idea why you’re suddenly being auto-moderated all the time.

  5. TT, I suspect it’s because I’m going on (and on) at length.

  6. I’ve been in the geek community for a long time (attending Cancon in the mid-eighties, when there was less than 10% women) and my personal experience does not match Megpie’s description. There were a few men who didn’t want women there, who seemed to me to be looked down on by the other men, who covered the entire range from awkward to gracious.
    I’m not denying it’s not wearying to be chatted up dozens of times in one weekend because the gender ratio is so out of whack, but it ain’t misogyny, and it’s not fear of girl cooties either. The men who were attending cons in those days (I think you had to be over 16?) are not, as far as I can tell, the bulk of the current problem; they’re actually younger.
    I think part of the problem is that the marketing for “geek interest” items (games, movies, books, etc) has become more objectifying of women, more likely to put scantily clad contortionists on the packaging than they used to, and less likely to show any other women.
    I also think that as various geekish areas have solidified into socially-recognised things (the experts can tell me the correct name for this process) they have become culturally coded as masculine, rather than just being stuff more men are interested in (or in the case of computer programming, passed from something women do to something men do to masculine). I think there’s a difference between an interest a man has, that mainly other men do (eg photography) and something that helps reassure him he is a man, and gaming has definitely crossed that bridge.

  7. However, as “geek culture” (science fiction, comic books, etc) becomes popularised, the geek community has widened. I suspect a big part of this is also because as people get older, we start to realise the geekish enthusiasm the “cool kids” in high school looked down on is actually a bit more fun to indulge in than pseudo-jaded ennui. So people who have enjoyed all of these various “geek” markers throughout their lives (but quietly, behind closed doors so respectable folks wouldn’t shun them) are starting to enjoy them openly, in public

    Since geekiness became popular everyone is now claiming the geek tag. Its so prevalent that the label is pretty much meaningless now. I don’t think its an age related wisdom thing that have made it popular (geeks have always been around), its just trendy now so a lot more people want to be seen as one.
    There have always been many different (and quite isolated) geek communities but back when geek was seen as a derogatory term I think the one common factor between them all was that members of the group were ostracised from other groups because of their geeky interest and so there was a culture heavily influenced by that sort of experience.

  8. I do wonder if the wider acceptance of geeks has come from the realisation that there is money in those occupations? I suspect that the dot com boom went some way to making geeks cool because suddenly it wasn’t just a weird hobby anymore, it was something saleable and valuable. That is not to say that geeks are universally accepted and cool or that money is the only reason for the wider acceptance of them now. Just a factor I wonder about.

  9. Mindy – my observation was that during the dot com boom there was a much higher percentage of people in IT who were in it because it can be lucrative career rather than because they loved the work they do. Back then there was a lot more of “I’m in IT, but I’m not a geek/nerd though….” because it wasn’t actually really trendy yet.
    One other thing I noticed back then was that being an adult geek was a lot more socially acceptable (as was tolerance/patience for those with poor social skills) in the US than here in Australia. At least in the IT concentrated regions. Could be more of a critical mass thing than increasing geek acceptance though.

  10. I worked in silicon valley briefly and in that respect it bears no resemblance to non-IT oriented parts of the US, in my experience. It’s the critical mass thing, as you say.

  11. I was having this thought over the weekend but forgot to come back and write it down: a lot of the geek-policing seems to be just another round of Lumpers vs Splitters. Scalzi is obviously a Lumper, while Peacock appears to be a Splitter.

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