A Context On Equality: GenCon, Ferguson And One Week In August

This past week in August, I had a lot going on. I returned from a fantastic academic conference called DiGRA in Snowbird, Utah only to take a few days off and then headed to GenCon in Indianapolis. My friends and I drove the twelve hours over two days to Indy and spent “The Best Four Days In Gaming” running Dresden Lives, being on panels, spending time with friends and (of course) gaming. I’m going to post a Top 10 Highlights from GenCon in my next post, but first I had to look at something else going on at the same time as GenCon, a moment in history occurring just a few hundred miles away that echoed a narrative going on in the gaming community with much more serious results. I’m speaking of course about the events going on in Ferguson, MO and the death of Mike Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson.

If you have not heard of the shooting of Mike Brown and the protests going on in Ferguson even as I write this, you must be living under a rock. Yet for the first few days of these events, unless you were keyed into social media, you wouldn’t have heard much about the tragedy. A young man is shot dead by a police officer and immediately questions arise as to the validity of the shooting. Protests break out around Ferguson as it becomes clear the police are blatantly mishandling the investigation. And then the cops decide it’s a great idea to roll in with riot gear, armored assault vehicles, and semi-automatic weapons into the neighborhood. They tear gas whole streets of people of all ages, including young children. People march in the streets of Ferguson with their hands up, crying “Don’t shoot!” The media reports mass violence, a neighborhood out of control. Audio and video on the ground tell a whole other story, spread through social media like wildfire. The whole world is watching. 

I was watching too, from GenCon. I caught news every chance I got at my hotel room, and checked Twitter constantly. I could not forget that while I was having my fun at GenCon, there was a moment in history going on, memorializing this fallen young man who was the victim of ongoing institutional racism. This kind of systematic oppression by the police has existed, apparently, in Ferguson for a very long time. Yet the stories that came out of this tragedy, spread across social media, tell the tale of an America in which people of color are treated deplorably. To many, this was no surprise. You only have to talk to folks who hear stories about PoC victimized by police, suffering aggressions of every kind. This is the world we still live in. We still have to have dialogues about race. 

It’s no surprise then to me that when A.A. George wrote a strong piece about race still being an issue at GenCon, he received a hell of a lot of flack. This article came out three days before the convention and drew a lot of attention to the question of how people of color, women, the disabled, the queer community and pretty much anyone outside of the dominant narrative of the gaming community have been treated. A.A. George joined me at GenCon on a panel called “Why Is Inclusivity Such A Scary Word?” alongside Elsa S. Henry, Jessica Banks, Strix Beltran, and Tracy Barnett to talk about our experiences facing down the battle for inclusivity in the community. The comments section on A.A. George’s post on Tor grew, and got filled with some strongly worded opposition to his opinions about the lack of racial diversity in the gaming community. (If you’d like to waste some of your time you can even check out an exhausting response from someone named Louis Correia who’s willing to tell you all about how these issues don’t exist).  People stood up and said that they don’t see color, that we don’t have to talk about race, that if people of other groups wanted into the community they can just come and have fun because there is no issue. And two hundred miles away from Indianapolis, the events in Ferguson were unfolding, fed directly into our Twitter stream and the slow-reacting mainstream media, all for the world to see.

Please understand me because I am going to be VERY clear here. These two situations are, by no means, equal. The death of Mike Brown and the systematic abuse of the people of Ferguson by law enforcement officials cannot in a million years be put alongside the dialogue about race and representation in the gaming world. I want to say that before someone stands up and in outrage shouts about ‘how dare I’ blah and blah and so on. Yet the fact that so many responses to A.A. George’s article claimed that issues of representation and inequality are non-issues shows a staggering lack of awareness to the national conversation of inequality. And having those kinds of responses when people are being tear gassed and arrested, their civil rights violated, only a few hundred miles away from our safe hotels and gaming tables staggered me. 

There are folks who are far more qualified than I to speak about racial inequity. I toss in my hat when talking about women in the gaming world, about religious representation of Jewish culture at large, of the issues of being bisexual and seeing representation of one’s self and being treated fairly with disabilities. I stand with ears open and mouth shut and support those who are so much more articulate than I about the issue of combating racism. But with those ears open, I hear a lot of talk about a color-blind gaming world, where people are treated equally and it’s all about the fun. That’s what we came here for, after all, the fun. And there’s no need to get our stupid ‘social justice warrior’ stuff into the gaming. 

How utterly, utterly absurd and totally absent of any world context.

Just because we step up to the gaming table, grab our dice, and sit down for some Pathfinder, or for a good game of King of Tokyo, doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly divorced ourself from issues of inequality. It doesn’t mean that the people who have faced racism or any other -ism suddenly forget that the world can be a hostile place if you aren’t normative. And it’s not as though gaming culture isn’t rife with the same problems of inequality as the rest of the world. We all want it to be a magical, fantastic, utopian world where we play out our fantasies and don’t have to worry about real world concerns.

Guess what? The world doesn’t work like that, and neither does the gaming world. You can’t just shuck the concerns that exist out there and pretend they don’t exist. And the folks who usually try tend to be the ones for whom those problems won’t really BE a problem. They’re the ones who are willing to ignore issues for the sake of the status quo being perpetuated.

The gaming world is a normative one, built on a history of a pretty single-group kind of community. And now, in a time when that normativity is being questioned, the backlash is staggering. It mirrors a conversation that has been rumbling up across the country about equality on a larger scale. Equality in gay marriage, in classist economic issues, in the fight for feminism against a torrent of hate, and especially in the issue of race. And just when people want to shut their ears, ignore the problem, or abuse those who would stand against such inequality, they would also turn a blind eye to the tragedy that took a young man’s life for the fact that he’s black in America. Worse, they’d scream their heads off to the sky about how we’re making an issue out of nothing. That we should just calm down. Get a thicker skin. Get over it. 

Or in the context of the games world, stop trying to ruin their fun. 

Once more I will say, these two situations cannot be considered equal. By comparison to what happened in Ferguson and what is STILL happening in St. Louis, the problems of the gaming world are miniscule. Nobody is losing their lives over inequality in the art in a game master’s guide, or dying for being excluded from a gaming session based on their identity. I’d be a damn fool to put the two on the same level. But there are those suffering from professional backlash, harassment, trolling, doxxing, death and rape threats, and other such tactics because of the inequality in our industry. And that provides examples that we are, despite all our claims to be colorblind and welcoming, NOT over issues of bigotry.

The events in Ferguson brought me to a place of humbled, terrified certainty that we have all missed the point. While we’ve worked hard to create fictional worlds and fun experiences, the world outside has been experiencing upheavals. Some of us have been interacting with it, but the trolls and hatred of internet tough guys and self-appointed social justice warrior bashers have distracted from issues far larger than issues in the gaming world. It gave me the context to say that while we must continue to stand up for representation within the gaming world, for inclusivity in all spheres, the attacks of the haters is almost laughable in the face of the repercussions of such hate elsewhere. True, harassment hurts a hell of a lot and no one should ever have to put up with the trolls – I stand by my previous statements regarding a zero tolerance policy on trolling, bullying and harassment. Those who choose these roads must still be confronted and rebuffed. Yet the actions of those who WOULD harass seems so small now, so petty.

Issues of inequality everywhere are serious topics, meant for serious people. They are not the place for internet tough guys who use their online anonymity to discount the experiences of others in favor of narrow thinking. And placing their behavior side by side with the events going on in the outside world put their relevance to the bigger picture in context. 

I am tonight in solidarity with Ferguson and my hopes for justice for Mike Brown and his family. My solidarity also goes to those like A.A. George, who are getting hate from the outraged haters out there, and to anyone trying to bring up issues of inequality in whatever their community is and in whatever capacity. There are serious issues going on and they require serious discourse to work them out to build the communities and the overall world we’ll want to leave as a legacy. Haters and unethical harassers need not apply. 

PS: Included below are links to places that you can donate to help the cause of Mike Brown’s justice fund or even to help the protesters down in Ferguson. Consider donating if you can.

GoFundMe – Justice for Michael Brown 

Campaigns for #MikeBrown #Ferguson

Ferguson Support – Ways To Support The Fight

1 comment

  1. just wanted to preempt any question of suffering olympics by pointing out that while the problems in gaming are dwarfed by problems like the ones behind the Mike Brown issue, that doesn’t mean that we should just ignore the problems happening right in front of us. Gaming is mostly recreational, and that’s just all the more reason to make it a comfortable, “safe” space for as many people as possible.

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