It took me a little while to write this. Why you ask? Because the topic tends to get my blood pressure up. So here goes.

PaxEast was by and large one of the best convention experiences of my life. I got a chance to get up in front of an audience of people and talk about one of my favorite topics of all time: gaming. I got a chance to look women in the eye and say “this is an industry for you and by you” and be supportive of others. I got a chance to talk about representation of women in games and voice my opinions.

It was also my opportunity to get trolled. Very hard.

The forms of trolling came as follows:

First, during the actual panel, we were being live streamed on Twitch.tv. The stream has a chat room associated with it that was live even before our panel’s cameras went hot. As we sat on stage, discussing what we would be saying, text messages began to fly to my phone. “Don’t open the chat!” they warned. “Don’t look at it.” Another told me that everything that is wrong about women’s treatment in geek culture was being spewed into that chat room. To this day, people have warned me not to look at that chat log. Why? Because we got nailed by every bit of filth spewing out of the internet. I’m going to spare everyone the trash because that’s what it was – trash. But there is one thing I’m going to comment on. And that’s how I got smacked around for my weight. So I’ll let folks who haven’t met me in on a little secret?

I’m fat. Heavy. Obese. Whatever you want to call it. I am a nearly six foot tall large woman.

Apparently that point, obvious to anyone with eyes and cognitive function, turned off the hearing receptors in some folks’ heads the minute I started talking at the panel. And suddenly the trolls thought it was amusing to find how many ways they could call me fat. Because engaging with the actual material of a discourse was too difficult perhaps? Who knows. Anyway, I got this told to me second hand because I was too busy, you know, being on a panel to pay attention. Later, I was told to shake it off.

Then someone passed me a YouTube video commenting on the panel. It’s from a woman who decided to spend thirty-four minutes bashing the hell out of our panel for everything from the content to the audio quality (which by the way is not something we have control over?). Now I don’t mind a spirited debate about panel format or content – several blogs commented on the content of our arguments and I’m cool with that. But it was the introduction she gave to each of us that made me sit up and take notice. See, this YouTube responder decided to make little sketches of us and, as opposed to using the internet to look up our names (printed in the PaxEast schedule on their website, given at the end of the panel on a slide or clearly said aloud at the beginning of the panel), decided to give us little nicknames instead. Here’s mine:

Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 6.02.20 PM

Big. Yup, couldn’t even come up with a better one than a three letter word. No complicated grammar here. Just BIG.

What does one say to that?

Well, let’s start here with this:

YES. Congratulations. You have eyes. So, can we move on now?

The internet is known as a place where you need to have thick skin. The level to which people will put their hands on a keyboard and spew the most horrific, rude, ridiculous shit in the world amazes me. What also amazes me is the way people seem to believe that the instant a person who is fat goes out in front of a camera, or up on a stage, automatically the discourse is about their weight. As if there’s no way to restrain from spewing out the obvious as a way to shut them down. Like being fat invalidates who they are.

Hate to tell you, cats and kittens, being fat isn’t who I am. Nor is it what I stand for. It’s a part of my life and it’s my body. It’s a part of what I struggle with every day. But it’s not ALL of me. And it certainly doesn’t invalidate my work, my words, or my existence. And it certainly can’t be used as a way to shut me up or shut me down. Why? Because it doesn’t make me less of a person.

Say and feel what you will about obesity, but being fat does not mean I have an obligation to disappear. That’s the baggage of people pointing fingers and calling FAT the way someone would have called LEPER in a medieval town. That’s their insecurity, their easy way of spewing their angst at a target. Because hey, trolling is just something we accept, and how dare that fat person try to stand up and be something besides a fat person? How dare they have the confidence to be anything except embarrassed or ashamed of who they are? How dare they be a professional or a creative type or anything else besides miserable? How dare they be a person?

Well, hate to say it folks: I’m a person. I’m a fast talking, game designing, story writing, ass kicking female fat person. I write games and fiction, go to grad school, blog, love puppies, have friends and relationships and on weekends I go out and lead battles in which I kick the crap out of LARP zombies. I get up on stage and I speak my mind about the state of women in the game industry, female representation in games, live action games and their place in game discourse, and geek culture. And just because I’m fat does not mean I’ll sit back in a corner and hate myself because you want me to. Ain’t gonna happen. Just because you call me fat won’t ever make me stop. Because until you can bring up your discourse to something that includes disputing my points with an organized argument that can be respected above a fourth grade level? You got nothing on me or anyone else who has the courage to stand up and be counted as a creator, an innovator, a speaker, and a force for change. And that counts for calling someone any other pointless insult that you come up with, be it physical, racial, religious, gender based or sexual orientation bashing. You and your purposeless crap have no place in an actual conversation and until you realize that and step up your game to actual discussion levels? You’re just the sad representation of the worst the internet and this world has to offer.

Haters gonna hate. But they’re going to have to step up their hate to reach me. Or at least step to me with more than the word BIG.

Cuz really. There are thesauruses people.

In the weeks since PaxEast I debated whether or not to write about the trolling that occurred. I questioned whether or not the negative feedback I received deserved even an ounce of my recognition. After all, this is the internet and we are taught on a regular basis not to feed the trolls, not to read the comments, not to care about their responses. We’re taught to ignore, ignore, and keep on keeping on. This time, I won’t keep my mouth shut. Why do you ask? Because last night a friend of mine went on a YouTube interview and got trolled about his weight too. And I realized that this is just going to keep going on until people kick back and say “Hey, jerks? I get that you want a forum for your angst against the universe. But take it somewhere else. I’m busy with being a professional. Go be something besides a professional asshat.”

And since PaxEast, I’ve been busy being a professional – writing a book, organizing the company I run, planning large scale LARPs, interning, doing grad school classes, working on a video game, preparing for an awesome trip to Norway to Knutepunkt, talking about whether or not I want to do a PhD and spending time with loved ones. And that’s what I’ll keep on doing, despite the trolls. But I won’t be silent about them again. I won’t sit back and say ‘trolls will just be trolls’. Or ‘you just have to put up with them’. I’m forced to interact with them. But I don’t have to condone garbage behavior. And neither do you.

This past weekend, the Boston area hosted thousands of gamers rolling into their fair convention center for PaxEast, a major east coast gaming convention. Triple A companies to Indies in video games and tabletop brought their best to show to consumers and panels were held on every subject imaginable. This might have been enough to bring a gamer like me to the Boston area for the con, but I was lucky enough to be involved in one of the panels this year. And let me tell you, it was a heck of a time.

First let me start with saying that as a convention, I found PaxEast to be really enjoyable. The Expo Hall is chock full of video games to try from every company imaginable. I particularly enjoyed discovering a few new independent video games that I am looking forward to, like Red Barrel’s terrifying Outlast and Compulsion Games’ Contrast, both of which I wrote up for Tor.com this week. I also got the chance to get a look at Transistor from the creators of Bastion and I’m going to love putting my hands on it. The Indie Megabooth section was a chance to straight nerd out on great independent companies that are doing stellar work that, I dare say, is competitive with the quality coming out of the Triple A’s.

That, however, wasn’t even the best PART about the convention. PaxEast fostered an open gaming section where you could turn in your ID and take out whatever board game you wanted to try out. This section was open from 10AM until nearly two in the morning, letting gamers just get together with their friends for a good time. I had the privilege of spending most of that time with Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks from Evil Hat productions, and we got to try a few amazing games that I never would have checked out otherwise (Cockroach Poker, anyone?) I could wax on about the convention, but let’s talk about the major event for me that weekend: the panel.

photoI was privileged enough to be invited by Anja Keister of the D20 Burlesque troupe to come in and speak as a game designer on a panel called “You Game Like A Girl: Tales of Trolls and White Knights.” The idea of the panel was to tackle the fraught issue of women in the gaming and geek community, spanning from the treatment of cosplayers to the representation of women in video games. We had a one hour slot on Sunday morning and the panel featured Susanna Polo from the Mary Sue, Stella Chu (professional cosplayer and burlesque dancer), Iris Explosion (burlesque dancer and sex educator), Anja Keister (founder of D20 Burlesque) and myself. For those who missed the panel you can find it on Twitch.tv here (hint: our panel starts at 3:05:00 – that’s hour three folks!) and check us out talking about the issues facing the female community.

From my perspective it was a surreal day. I got to the theater to see a line of people in the room next door. I asked what they were waiting for, and the Enforcer at the door said: “That’s the line for your theater. It’s already out the door.” I was positively floored. We got into Naga theater and set ourselves up on the stage and they let our audience in. And this? This was our audience.

The audience at "You Game Like A Girl"
The audience at “You Game Like A Girl”

I cannot explain how honored I felt to be in the presence of EIGHT HUNDRED of my fellow gamers who came to hear us talk about the topic of women in gaming. It was an incredible experience as people came up to the microphone and asked us questions or lit up Twitter on #Paxlikeagirl to express their support. A tradition was started too when Iris Explosion got so mad at misogyny issues that she launched a plastic cup off the stage, inspiring others who came up to the microphone to throw cups too. Soon we had the ‘we hate this!’ cup launching going on, which was hilarious and light fun.

The panel went off beautifully with only a modicum of trolling (which I’ll address in another post coming up soon), and the experience was overall super powerful and empowering. After the panel people came up to us to share stories and ask questions. I personally got to meet some women who are going into game design and who had questions about how to engage with problematic team situations or content. I’ve never quite been so humbled to have women ask if I’d be willing to mentor them going forward.

photo copyPeople brought up their badges and had us autograph them and asked us to autograph cups that had been thrown! It was a strangely surreal experience for me in general and we stuck around to talk to people as long as we could before we ran off to head back to New York.

From a game designers perspective, the kind of things  we spoke about were just the tip of the iceberg of issues I wanted to talk about. But you only have one hour sometimes! I was really glad to be able to bring up the way men have been spoken to in the ‘fake geek girl’ debate, about people raising children to be the next generation of gamer girls, and about pushing back in unhealthy/uncomfortable situations for women in game teams. There was only so much time and so much we each could have spoken about from our particular specialties, but I think it was a great start. And it will be just a start, because there’s plenty of other opportunities for conversation.

Meanwhile, back at home, there’s more game design though to be done. So I’m back into writing and doing work. PaxEast, was a pleasure, hope to see you next year.