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Let’s fight this one Co-Op: my thoughts on online harassment and the responsibilities we have to each other

Let’s fight this one Co-Op: my thoughts on online harassment and the responsibilities we have to each other

Most of us participate in development streams here at Proletariat. We do them at the same time every week. We’re working on the same project, using the same stream service, webcam, everything. All things are equal. And we all get trolls. It’s the internet. It’s Twitch. “That’s just how it is, bro!” We know.

But when I’m streaming, the trolls aren’t bashing the game or my artistic abilities. Most of the unwelcome comments I get are about my physical appearance, veiled questions regarding my validity as a professional developer, and strange sexual advances.

Some of the more memorable comments I’ve received:

“Is that thing a man or a woman? It’s wearing lipstick.”

“Your hair is fucking dumb.”

“Show more cleavage or I’m leaving.” (an interesting variation on TITS OR GTFO)

“I’m only watching because you look like my ex.”

“Can you put your hands up to the camera? I want to see your hands.”

“You would look sexier with a neck beard.”

“Yeah but that only works for you because you’re a hawt girl.” (This comment came after I said the best way to find a job in games is to go to networking events and meet people, instead of throwing resumes into an HR black hole)

A lot of this is simple enough to deal with. Tits or GTFO? Ban them. Your hair is dumb? Ban hammered. More cleavage? All of the ban.

The murky area of stream chatter that makes me really uncomfortable includes comments like, “you’re pretty,” “marry me,” and “you only have this job because you’re a hot girl.” My stomach is turning even as I type this, because on the surface, it sounds like a humblebrag. I mean, come on; being called pretty seems like a non-problem, right?

The thing is, whether someone is saying they think I’m disgusting and look like a man, or that they think I’m pretty, they’re ignoring me as a developer in favor of talking about my physical appearance. Compliments like this are actually undermining and demeaning and difficult to reproach without feeling like I’m coming off like a jerk, or first explaining gender politics and then coming off like a jerk.

So, what do you do? Honestly, I don’t know. Every female game developer I know has stories like mine, and most of us grit our teeth when it’s happening, smile, and hope that if we ignore it, it will stop. In a perfect world, we would always be able to call people out on this kind of crap. However, when you feed the trolls and engage, things can snowball and you might end up bringing the hate down on yourself tenfold. Just look at what happened with Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.

A lot of things hang in the balance when you make the decision to engage. If I call this out here, am I being too political? Will this reflect poorly on my company? Do I want to lose players over a stupid boob comment? Am I willing to risk hurting my reputation in this very small industry? Would it be unprofessional? The truth is, if you ignore it, it usually stops, and you can roll your eyes and laugh about it afterwards.

But every time I’ve laughed about it, it’s been uneasy. I know that ignoring these comments, even the seemingly innocuous ones, is a silent endorsement of the kind of behavior that’s holding back gaming culture—a culture that I love, and love being a part of.

To be clear: 90 percent of my interactions as a streamer, a gamer, and a developer have been incredibly positive. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be doing it. When I stream and someone tells me that they’ve learned something, it’s easily the highlight of my week. However, the positive experiences don’t negate the bad ones, or make them any less damaging. Ignoring it is apathy in the face of something that absolutely needs to change. But when you’re the person on the receiving end, taking a stand and calling bullshit is incredibly hard, and can have very real consequences.

What if it’s not you on the receiving end, though? My coworkers and peers aren’t blind. They see harassment happening to me and other women. They’re good people and it makes them uncomfortable too. A lot of times their impulse is to offer advice—You should call them out! Troll them back! Don’t take that shit! This advice is well intentioned but, ultimately, it doesn’t address the real problem. The behavior that needs to change in these situations isn’t mine.

In my opinion, the most meaningful thing they can do is simply speak up. I’m not saying that I need others to ride in like white knights to save me from the randoms on the internet, but navigating these situations becomes so much easier when you know people have your back.

After a stream I did that had a wealth of particularly vile comments, I felt defeated, went home, didn’t talk about it. Later that evening, I saw these tweets from our CEO:

The commitment here was minimal. They’re tweets—less than 250 characters total, but this meant the world to me. Being an ally doesn’t mean you have to make a huge effort. It can be as simple as saying, “Hey, internet. I saw that, and it wasn’t cool.”

Convention season is upon us, so I’m leaving you with this: gamers and developers, if you see hate or intolerance or harassment, please, be vocal about the fact that you’re not down with it. When I’m facing this crap, when ANYONE is facing this crap, the responsibility to call it out can’t and shouldn’t fall solely to those of us who are in the line of fire. When you step up and help make these things visible, you’re making their behavior less socially acceptable. You’re making them the outsiders, instead of me. Even if it’s in little ways, you’re being a (excuse the pun) game changer.

– Lauren Cason, artist

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