One Word At A Time

After yesterday’s post, I spent the rest of my time thinking how do we fix this problem? Game culture, despite how tongue-in-cheek we might use the phrase, is a real thing now. It’s as real as popular culture in its ability to influence. We have cultural conventions now. We have cultural language.

It’s hard to describe how game culture came to be without resorting to dramatic, overblown language describing the strife that it emerged from. While the “violence in video games” discussion won’t ever truly disperse, I think we’ve come a long way from the days of Jack Thompson and his ilk. They’re not gone, of course, but for the moment, they’ve been defeated. Someone will be along eventually to take his place, but hopefully not for a while.

We won that round, at the low cost of developing a reflexive siege mentality that is one of the causes of the dickwolves thing I wrote about yesterday. We’ve traded one problem for another, which isn’t as cynical as you might think, because that’s basically how progress works. The only people who don’t have problems are dead. Dead people might have problems, too, that we just don’t know about.

So, you know, we’re doing okay, really.

Regardless of my inability to commit to a side on the dickwolves debacle, there are plenty of other instances of misogyny and rape culture in game culture itself. Nobody can rationally dispute that fact, regardless of where you come down on the dickwolves issue. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, as I said above, how do we fix this?

While I’d love to say I came upon the solution in a flash of brilliance, the truth is this was a comment made on yesterday’s dickwolves post. From my friend therationalpi:

Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

This. This is how we start fixing things. Small changes. A piece at a time. I believe this will work, because this is exactly analogous to my own experience.

Confession time: I wasn’t always the male-feminist-ally-vegetarian-idealist that I style myself as today. I was a gamer a lot further back than I was any of those other things. I engaged in my share of smack-talk. I used the word “rape” in video games liberally and I used it as recently as 2005, when I was deep into the PvP scene in World of WarCraft.

I remember the first moment somebody called me out on using that word. It wasn’t much, just an admonishment that what I was saying was pretty insensitive. Because this admonishment came from a person that I admired and respected greatly and because it was done gently, it made me think. It made me reflect on the power of the words that I was using which was something I should have done all along. I was studying Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree; you’d think I would have been more sensitive to the power of certain words and their effects.

I realized what my words had the potential to do to another person and I changed my vocabulary. I stopped saying “rape” in the context of playing games. I don’t use it in any context other than its actual definition and even then, I use it carefully, knowing its potential harm.

It doesn’t take much to change your vocabulary. It’s a small change to start saying “yeah, we owned them” or “we pwned them” or any other permutation. Pwned is nice, albeit in an abomination-of-English-sort-of-way, because it’s a true “gamer word.” It’s part of the cultural lingo.

Why is “owned” acceptable when “raped” isn’t? Certainly, the idea of “owning” another person is offensive, if you really think about it. But that’s the thing about smack-talk in competition, isn’t it? You want it to be a little bit offensive. A polite taunt is no taunt at all. The trick is to find something that can make for good trash talk in a way that doesn’t bring up a real problem that people are dealing with and are dealing with in a culture that doesn’t treat their situation with the gravity it deserves.

Sure, “owning” is offensive. But it doesn’t trigger the same harm, in my opinion, the way the word rape does. I don’t know anybody in my life who has ever actually been “owned.” I know a few people that have been raped. I know that for those people, the former is just a word and the latter can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Choosing the word you uses matters. Telling somebody “hey, that’s not cool” isn’t always going to work. It might only work 1 time in 10, or maybe 1 in 20, or 1 in 100. But it did work for me, as it worked for my friend in the above quote.

It won’t fix the current game culture. But think about how many games of Call of Duty or Halo or StarCraft that you’re going to play in your lifetime. Think about how many times you will make the choice to either use the word “rape” without regard to its effect and thus perpetuate rape culture or choose a different word and enact a small amount of change.

It doesn’t cost much to make this change. It doesn’t take away the games we enjoy or the competition that brings out the trash-talk that’s so much a part of competitive game culture. It does, however, move things ever so slightly in a better direction.

That’s how change happens.

14 thoughts on “One Word At A Time

  1. I have a much simpler much faster solution to the problems you Identified with both DickWolf and Video game smack talk. We have identified safe spaces where paying attention to peoples feelings and emotions are paramount. We have normal society where it’s impolite to completely ignore peoples feelings, but feelings are not the first priority. Instead of trying to “fix” smack talk, lets just contain it. We can label pvp video games as “Dickwolf” space and be done with it. Just as safe spaces prioritize emotions, in Dickwolf space, you emotions don’t matter a good God Damn. Enter at your own risk. It is much better faster easier and more appealing to larger audiences to identify spaces where the emotionally fragile probably shouldn’t go. You are not in a position of trying to change large numbers of people. Let Penny Arcade, PVP video games and a few other spaces be Dickwolf space where the Dickwolves go to hunt. With a designated hunting ground, then we really can get upset when they interrupt normal society.

    1. I mean, that sort of happens to an extent already. People don’t go to 4chan expecting beautiful social tolerance, and people don’t watch the evening news expecting a racial slur. And I’ve actually heard people say that 4chan is great because people can just be huge jerks there.

      But ya know what? I don’t think being a huge jerk is something beautiful that should be protected. It doesn’t deserve a national park to roam free. Dark humor probably deserves some respect, because sometimes the only way to deal with something awful is to laugh at it. But just being an asshole should only be protected by the first amendment, and admonished by society pretty much everywhere it chooses to crop up.

      If I’ve gone through an awful experience, and it carries bad memories for me, why should I be restricted from going places and doing things that I like because people are assholes there? What is intrinsic about Call of Duty that makes misogyny, racism, or verbal assault acceptable there?

      It just sounds like jerks looking for justification for being jerks.

      1. Supporting a space where “your feelings will not be considered” and is therefore to harsh for some people is a very Very VERY V E R Y different proposition than supporting a space for women to express their feeling, and men will be kidnapped by other men with guns if they dare enter because “penis”

        Recognizing that assholes exist and giving them a wide berth is a very different proposition than enforcing gender segregation (safe spaces)

        Also, keep playing Call of Duty. It isn’t the game that is the problem. It is the players. Just don’t join public voice channels in game and there is no problem. People can be as misogynistic, misandric, racist, homophobic, and all around bigots as they want. But their rights end where yours begin. If they ACT on these thoughs in a public sphere, they are violating the rights of others. If they deny service on the basis of race or gender they are legally and morally in the wrong. O, and there is not right to not be offended or insulted.

        Like wise your rights end where theirs start. You don’t get to play thought police on what others are allowed to say. You being offened is not cause to impede their rights.

        1. It’s not about rights. We’re not talking about censorship, and we’re certainly not talking about getting the government involved (which would mean bringing the first amendment into this). It’s about having the decency to self-police when in unknown company, and building the cultural expectation that such self-policing is a good thing.

          If you were around a friend whose mother was dying of cancer, would you make a joke about cancer or his mother? Probably not, because it’d be in poor taste.

          And when you are around people you don’t know? Maybe you should be more careful what you say because they could have their own issues to deal with. That’s what being “politically correct” is all about, knowing where the boundaries exist when in mixed company. And since you’re always in mixed company on the internet, it makes sense to expect people to behave civilly.

            1. I’m not sure where this commentary about “being arrested for having a penis” is going, but it’s wandering away from the main topic about changing language and its effect on gaming culture. Let’s keep things on track.

              1. “safe spaces” are women only spaces that in many places are enforced by law. You can be arrested for having a penis in a “safe space”. I’m using this acceptable apartheid as an example and support for my idea of unenforced DickWolf space.

  2. To some extent, this idea has been attempted in a few areas. Xbox Live users on the Xbox 360 were asked to choose their “Gamer Zone” and had the option of choosing whether they wanted to be Recreation, Pro, Family, or Underground gamers. Underground was the zone where trash talk was alright (it’s also the zone I picked for myself, incidentally). I’m not sure how well it worked out since I never conducted any experiments to see if changing my zone changed the kinds of players I encountered.

    As a counterpoint, however, what would we do about large events like PAX, E3, and SDCC? The problem with creating separate domains is that it’s not feasible to create two of each such space. The big appeal of a convention like PAX is the size and scope of the event, getting to see all the panels, developers, and events. Splitting everybody up into separate camps would harm the appeal of the event. It would also be very difficult to create two “separate but equal” events. Indie developers who depend on PAX to generate attention for their products would feel compelled to go to the larger event, regardless if it was the “safe PAX” or the “hunting ground PAX.”

    For multiplayer games, I think that the idea of different zones has potential. Allowing people to customize how they want to spend their leisure time is something I do support, because it gives players the tools to craft their own experience. I think that’s a good thing.

    I’m not sure, however, that it would solve the larger issue which is what I think the core dickwolf controversy is really about. PAX is styled as the convention for everybody, but some people don’t feel like that’s the case due to what’s been represented by the pro-dickwolf camp. Ultimately, changing language and reconciliation might be the longer, slower, and more difficult solutions but I think they represent the best chance of improving the quality of gaming culture as a whole, since it entails integration rather than segregation.

    1. PAX isn’t “safe space” or Dickwolf zone. It is every day polite. It is a large gathering of people. The apartheid of “safe space” would be just as inappropriate as letting the predators rome unchecked. Setting aside a “safe space” room for girls doing Cos Play and feeling harassed would be good. Similarly setting up a room that is Dickwolf Zone where you can march in circles screaming “Rape, Rape, Rape” or whatever you want to blow off steam after getting you ass kicked in whatever game would be a good idea. The main spaces are shared spaces that need to conform to every day rules of decourm. Having a space that’s free from judgments is a good idea for both Girls and Asshats.

      1. I don’t think segregation is really the answer, because it creates a double set of standards for those that would choose “the dickwolf zone.” “In this place, you are allowed to do whatever you wish, but in this place, you are not.” If people want to be assholes, they can do so already in the privacy of their own homes or their private game rooms or parties or servers or websites like 4chan. The Internet asshole is not a persecuted demographic.

        Ultimately, I believe that most people are basically good and the majority of vitriol of the Internet is a combination of anonymity + audience. Most people want to be decent and will be if corrected in way that doesn’t provoke hostility, which is the point of this post.

        Not everybody will respond that way, of course; the dickwolf controversy itself is proof of that. However, I think that if the majority of gamers begin to speak up and say “this language is not okay,” that in itself is comforting to a group of people that otherwise tend to be isolated and ignored by the way society currently addresses this issue.

        I also want to point out that this isn’t a male/female issue. It’s not an issue between “girls and asshats,” nor is it a “men vs. women issue. Men can be victims of rape and be affected by this language, too; the only reason it’s not presented as such is because women are disproportionately represented in the victim statistics.

        1. “…women are disproportionately represented in the victim statistics.”

          I just want to point out how hard this sort of statement is to either contextualize or prove. Something like 1 in 7 cases of rape for females go unreported, and maybe as few as 1 in 10 case of rape for males go unreported. Naturally, it’s hard to pin down those numbers because unreported crimes aren’t reported to be tracked. Also, prison rape is a big portion of rape, and there are vastly more men in the prison system. I’ve seen estimates that conclude that if we conclude prison rape, more men are raped per year than women in the US.

          Similarly, little boys are more commonly the targets of pedophilic rape than girls precisely because the perception is that girls are more at risk than boys; in truth, both boys and girls are equally powerless in the face of a grown adult.

          I think this actually further supports your argument that it’s not a “Men vs Women” debate. Rape is a crime that can happen to anyone.

        2. I disagree this is very much a girls vs assholes problem. I don’t know a single male that stood up and said this is wrong before the feminists started becoming shrill over the fact that there still existed somewhere a male dominated space, and that space wasn’t catering to the emotions of girls. Now that we have feminist histrionics over “rape culture in gaming” there are legions of white knights jumping at the opportunity to show their manliness and win the girl. So not really girls vs asshats, but feminists vs asshats.

          1. I understand the point you’re trying to make, but you are couching that point in very borderline-insulting language. Let’s keep things on the level here so I don’t have to put my Moderator Face on.

            1. There is no way to make my points without using borderline or even crossing the line of insulting language. Given that any questioning of feminist dogma is borderline insulting, and I am questioning feminist dogma, any points I make on the topic will be borderline at best. I do have to give you props. You didn’t ban me at the first hint of dissent and you are giving warnings about borderlines. You are doing it right, and that deserves recognition.

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