Tag Archives: roleplaying

A tsunami of testimonies: assaults in the Swedish larp community

Warning: this post details sexual violence.

This is a guest post by Kristin Nilsdotter Isaksson. It originally appeared in Swedish and in English on Spelkult. The English translation is by Charlie Charlotta Haldén.

Editor’s note: “larp” is live-action role play.

We’re talking about sexual harassment in the world of larp. Molestation, groping, assault and rape of participants who are asleep or intoxicated, aggravated rape with violent abuse, and even attempted murder.

On June 17, 2014, a new Facebook group was created for Swedish-speaking larpers who identify wholly or partially as women. The group quickly drew many members, and now comprises 580 larpers of varying ages and backgrounds. The idea was to create a sanctuary for discussions about different aspects of being a female larper. There are discussion threads about portraying female antagonists, about dealing with menstruation during larps, about sewing tricks, creating characters, organising larps. Small questions, big questions, and questions of vital importance.

It’s so important that we talk about our experiences. About how common this is, and that it’s not OK. About our right to say no, and that it’s never, ever, acceptable for someone not to listen. Everybody knows a victim, but nobody knows a perpetrator, and it’s time to take a stand now. — anonymous

A lot of times, I am personally skeptical of gender separated forums and arenas. I think spaces that are open for all tend to support a broader sharing of experiences. But I have realised that there are exceptions.

Lately, a darker subject has crept into the discussion threads, and during the past few weeks, a tsunami of voices has swept over us. Post after post, comment after comment, telling stories of painful experiences. We’re talking about sexual assault. At larps, or in larping circles. Over a thousand posts detailing experiences, sharing thoughts, discussing preventive measures, and not least, holding out hands in support.

There are a lot of perpetrators, and a lot of victims. The threads almost exclusively tell of assaults perpetrated by men towards women. There have been instances of sexual harassment, molestation, groping, assault and rape of sleeping or intoxicated larpers, aggravated rape with violent abuse, and even attempted murder. Some of these incidents have been reported, but a large amount of them have not reached the police, or even the larp organisers. Until now.

I was almost completely out of it, and I couldn’t do much of anything to stop it, because I hardly understood what was happening. He raped me, and in the morning I was ashamed and just left the camp, because it felt like it was my own fault. — anonymous

A lot of cases involve young people, 15-16-year-olds who are offered alcohol and harassed by older boys or men, and then things get out of hand during the night. In other cases, the acts are meticulously planned and perpetrated over a long period of time.

I was always supposed to play a submissive role at the larps, a servant to the group, to his friends. I was thrown around like a handbag. But I felt so worthless, so I reckoned I should be happy to get any attention. Then it got worse, the mental stuff turned into physical abuse… — anonymous

Many people ask themselves how this can happen. Shouldn’t larping be a safe arena, with a lot of eyes and ears that can react if something seems to be going wrong?

Most probably, it can happen because the people around let it happen. Partly because larpers are not really any different from other people in society, partly because the setting of a lot of larps actually makes sexual harassment more acceptable. Sociology calls this “habitus”, a series of codes that underlie a person’s behaviour. A lot of larps, especially in the fantasy genre, are stereotypical. Gender roles are clear and coded with different behaviours.

Male players will often choose a warrior character with a macho attitude, an acceptance for sexualising women and literally taking what he wants. This is a behaviour that would not be at all OK in normal society, but one that is seen a lot at different larps.

In the same way, female characters are often coded to be submissive, service-minded, soft, madonna-whores, or defenceless. Given that context, it can seem perfectly reasonable if a male player is upset about new rules suddenly being enforced that forbid playing on rape, since he had planned that his character should be an active rapist during the larp. When female characters are coded as submissive, the more dominant aspects of the male characters are intensified.

I was 13 years old, going to my very first larp together with a friend. None of us had any experience, and we didn’t know anyone except each other. The larp begins, and everything goes pretty well until the second day, when we are handed a note. The note says that the two older men in the tent across from ours want to meet us, because they want to find wives. This made me extremely uncomfortable, and I ended up hiding in the woods for the remaining days. — anonymous

Another contributing factor in several stories is that the victim has been separated from her group and placed in a new situation where she hardly knows the other players. Her safety net is gone.

Note that I didn’t know ONE SINGLE person in Sverok (The Swedish Gaming Federation) then. I had gone there all alone, representing my organisation, and had never met anyone else, so I didn’t have a single person there to talk to or seek support from. — anonymous

Some of the stories shared tell of incidents where larpers have lost their way in the middle of the night and been offered a place to sleep in exchange for sexual favours, or woken up with an unknown person’s hands all over their body. Because the victim has few contacts in the new group, she automatically becomes dependent on the perpetrator, and her scope for action is restricted.

Suddenly, I notice someone lying down next to me and starting to touch me, moving their hands under my clothes. I was really gone, but I realise that it’s the guy from before, and that makes me feel I can’t say no, because he might have thought I wanted to. So I let him keep on, and I just wanted to go to sleep so I didn’t have to experience this. We never talked again, and I never told anyone. — anonymous

In many of the cases, shame or fear of retribution has kept the people involved from telling anyone about the incidents. Moreover, the perpetrator usually has a larger amount of social capital than the victim does. They may be much older and more experienced, perhaps an organiser or someone with a lot of contacts in the larping world – as one person wrote, “someone you could trust”. If the person who was assaulted would report it to the police, or involve an organiser, there is almost always a legitimate fear that she would tarnish more people than the perpetrator – their friends, their network, the larp event – by diminishing the perpetrator’s power and social standing. This very strong group mechanism can often cause many people to initially take the perpetrator’s side and turn against the victim. There may be accusations saying that she put herself in the situation, that she behaved like a slut, that she was drunk and provocative and “corrupted” the perpetrator. There are numerous examples of this. The Bjästa case in Sweden and the Steubenville rape in the US are just two well-known examples outside the larping world.

I walked homewards, ice cold and freezing. It was dark, I couldn’t even see the path. Almost knocked myself out. I just wanted to get home so I could sleep. This guy was friends with the organisers, with my friends, everybody. Nobody would believe me, and that’s why I just kept quiet. — anonymous

This ongoing conversation has already resulted in some practical measures: Several organisers have taken action against alleged perpetrators, and suggestions for preventive efforts have been put forth, such as larps providing safety hosts and safe sleeping quarters. And people are talking, and processing. Some who have not dared go to a larp for several years because of fear have now felt safe enough to sign up again, and many larp organisers are working hard to ensure that larp is not a lawless haven for perpetrators to hide in.

All this may lead to people being named and shamed, and suffering reprisals such as being banned from larps and other social contexts. Whether this is justified or not is, of course, a matter of judgement. There is also a significant risk that those who have now dared to speak out might be accused and called into question.

My blood runs cold when I realise that I probably know several of the guys described here. People I have larped with, had fun with, and maybe been lucky enough not to end up alone with — anonymous

But this can also lead to a much safer larping experience with increased freedom of action for many players. The tolerance for this kind of behaviour may decrease as the spotlight is placed upon it. What might have been silently accepted earlier can now be pulled out into the open and questioned. Together, organisers and players develop new methods to ensure safer play for everyone, and that more women dare take up more space and choose among a broader array of characters.

The issues are now being discussed in other open larp forums too, and several players have called for more male voices in the conversation. Partly because this is not just about women’s experiences. There are not only male perpetrators. There are male victims too, and they may risk invisibility and stigmatisation. But there are also a lot of men who want to do something about this and show support. However, the question is if this massive sharing of experiences would ever have happened at all if the forum had been open to everyone. Most of the members of the Facebook group would probably say a resounding “no” to that question. Those who have been subjected to violations need a sanctuary in order to find the courage to start talking.

Our newsfeeds keep filling up. We keep talking. We discover connections. Someone who has felt desperately alone in her experience discovers, with hope and with horror, that there are many others out there who have been through similar things. This gives strength and breeds courage. The voices are powerful, and they will surely not quieten for a long, long time yet.

Background

The Facebook group referred to in the text is named LWU, Larp Women Unite. The group was started by Karin Edman after Linnea Risinger came up with the idea during the Summer of 2014.

The ”Prata om det” campaign (”Talk about it”, hashtag #prataomdet) was and is a movement consisting of writers, bloggers and tweeters, emanating from a Twitter discussion started by geek feminist Johanna Koljonen in 2010. This concerned sharing stories about grey areas in sexual situations, about when sex becomes violation. This campaign opened doors to conversations that had not previously been had on a larger scale in “geek culture”.

in another’s voice

This is a guest post by Katie, who divides her time among operating an interplanetary spacecraft, turning the gearwheels at her local hackerspace, practicing the Japanese Way of Tea, and an optimistic number of other things. It was originally posted to her blog.

When it comes to “geek culture,” my experience is slight—I’ve long thought of myself as a computers-and-engineering-and-hacking kind of geek, not a gaming/comics/fantasy kind of geek. There’s at least a post’s worth of potential self-reflection there, but my point is that despite currently showing few signs of involvement with the second kind of geekdom, I spent several of my high school and college years participating in tabletop role-playing games like D&D and Ars Magica. I probably would be now if I’d been invited into a group in the post-undergrad years before my plate filled with other things.

diceWhat I’m interested in exploring in this post is playing across gender lines—that is, role-playing a character of a different gender than your (the player’s) own. I don’t imagine this is entirely untrodden territory, but I hadn’t processed my own experience of being disallowed from doing it in the gaming group I spent the most and longest time in. Specifically, I hadn’t processed how bullshit that is. The GM‘s reason for the ban: verisimilitude. Fellow players would not be able to imagine the character accurately when that character’s words were coming from the mouth of a player of a different gender. Such a difference would overtax players’ ability to suspend disbelief; it would break the collective fantasy.

An obvious counterargument: if players can overcome the differences between a late-twentieth-century t-shirt-clad, Mountain Dew-chugging American teenager hanging out in a friend’s parents’ rec room and a pious sixteenth-century Saxon blacksmith trekking along thief-ridden roads, a difference of gender identity is barely material, let alone insurmountable. I may have expressed this argument to our GM, but I had no support from any other players, all of whom identified as male, so it was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Since these were not only fellow players but friends, and I had a painfully hard time making friends, I took it. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t, not because cross-playing was important to me, but because this absurd essentialism should have been a red flag.

None of the role-playing-game rule systems I’ve used have either banned cross-playing or discriminated among characters’ genders when it came to abilities or characteristics, as far as I remember. However problematic game publishers have been when it comes to issues like objectification, they weren’t the problem in this case. No, this was our GM’s own policy, informed of course by society-wide ideas about gender, and I’m curious how widespread that kind of thing was and is among GMs.

The one specific instance where I remember cross-playing was with a casual D&D group. To give you an idea of our silliness, I named my character Gillette just so that I could cap a victory by quipping that he was “The Best a Man Can Get.” There, though, we didn’t embody our characters so much as describe their actions in the third person. We moved figurines around a map of a dungeon. We did not often speak in our characters’ voices.

What have been your experiences with role-playing games and playing across genders? As a player and/or GM, have you encountered rules against it? Groups that encouraged it? Systems that imposed gender-based modifiers? Or supported non-binary character genders? And not just for creatures? Did the level of character embodiment make a difference? At the height of embodiment, have you had any experiences with live action role-playing across genders?

[For an overview of some feminist issues in tabletop role-playing games, see the Geek Feminism wiki.]

I spent years building up a tolerance to linkspam (19 October, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Close-up of large weathered chain links in sunlight.

Klaatu barada linkspam (29th June, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

All that and a bag of linkspam (8th June, 2012)

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Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A vending machine containing RPG cards

Geeks as bullied and bullies

Warning: some misogynist and ableist slurs quoted, and links may contain comments with additional slurs.

Background:

Alyssa Bereznak went on a date, discovered her date was a champion Magic: The Gathering player whose life centred on it and thought it was uncool of him not to mention that in his OKCupid profile. She didn’t really spare the snark:

At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play [Magic: The Gathering]? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. I smiled and nodded and listened. Eventually I even felt a little bit bad that I didn’t know shit about the game. Here was a guy who had dedicated a good chunk of his life to mastering Magic, on a date with a girl who can barely play Solitaire. This is what happens, I thought, when you lie in your online profile. I was lured on a date thinking I’d met a normal finance guy, only to realise he was a champion dweeb in hedge funder’s clothing… Mothers, warn your daughters! This could happen to you. You’ll think you’ve found a normal bearded guy with a job, only to end up sharing goat cheese with a world champion of nerds.

Elly Hart describes Bereznak’s actions as creepy, bitchy and predatory (and apparently there’s much worse out there).

Sady Doyle argues that it’s OK, good in fact, to have preferences in dating and to exercise them:

NOT SO FAST THERE! The Internet, Ph.D. has found you guilty of OPPRESSION! That most horrible, socially harmful, Internet-comment-generating of all “oppressions:” Thinking stuff is kind of dorky. It’s awful! It’s mean! It’s unfair! And, worst of all, it results in women thinking they have the right not to sleep with men they find unattractive!

Doyle’s comment thread is worth a read. There’s a lot of push back, particularly noting that while the Internet at large has been massively faily, Alyssa Bereznak’s date (Jon Finkel) has himself responded quite calmly and non-horribly, and some people talking about Bereznak’s use of anti-geek snobbery and contempt. See for example Lilivati at 59:

I’m not defending the misogyny and sexism evident in the comments, because there is no call for that. Nor am I going to argue that nerds are an “oppressed group” on the order of other groups.

But when I’m at work and people are talking about their weekends, about how they rerouted the cable in their house or won a softball game or other “acceptable” uses of free time, when asked about MY weekend, I do not say “Oh, I picked out some new miniatures to paint and then spent most of Sunday playing Pathfinder online with my friends.”

Why not? Because -this- is what happens when you do. Your hobbies are not acceptable, so the “normal people” around you do their best to shame and humiliate you into more acceptable behavior.

And Kiturak at 77:

My problem is that there are people in my life who know about my being [feminist/ bi/ poly/ genderqueer/ mentally disabled] – and to whom I still wouldn’t tell What I Did During The Weekend.
Especially if I spend too much time(tm) on said embarrassing activity. Which I do as a means of escaping all that shit for just a little while, and doing something fun.
The problem is that this is what happens when I tell, as Lilivati said. I won’t even small-talk to people about my harmless fun-times. Because I don’t need yet another way of being called a freak.

There’s pushback against the pushback too. Amy at 69:

This is more about how sexism can function independently within a group of educated people. There are very few single comments here that I disagree with. BUT. There have been vastly more words exhausted on whether or not Ms. Bereznek’s article is mean/bad/elitist than on the truly horrible misogyny directed at her. And the latter was the point of [Doyles’s] article…

…women who say “no,” without any qualifiers or excuses, get a lot of dangerous backlash. Here we have a woman doing just that in a truly spectacular way. And there has been backlash. I didn’t expect to see backlash here, but it’s been here too. Not in any one comment, but in people expressing the same thoughts I originally had: “The misogyny is bad and no one deserves that, but she’s kind of an asshole.” And then proceeding to spend a lot more words on why she’s an asshole than on the misogynistic comments thrown her way.

Doyle at 74:

I’m really uncomfortable with the number of people here who are looking at “being kind of snobby about social interests” vs. “being openly misogynist,” and deciding that Problem A is more serious than Problem B. And it’s disappointing to me that so many women are willing to participate in that. Just above, I’ve got a (probably going to get deleted) comment that actually talks about nerds as a “minority” and says that her post is actually equivalent to a misogynist statement. And that’s just bullshit. I care a hell of a lot more about an institutional, structural oppression that’s gone on for thousands of years and resulted in the denial of human rights to half the planet than I do about people being snobby to each other sometimes. I don’t love snobbiness, either, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend it’s even close to being a structural oppression, and deserves the same weight or importance in conversations.

Doyle continues at 83:

Actually? From what I can see, there’s a power dynamic that nobody is willing to talk about. Which is that nerds, on the Internet, are not bullied. They are the bullies. Maybe you just don’t want to talk to me about this, this week. Or maybe there’s the fact that the subculture is known for being aggressive, abusive, and misogynist, and that if you dare to think you’re allowed to have an opinion about it, you will receive (as I have done) the following comments:

* Bitch
* Cunt
* Psychotic
* Retard
* Shrill
* Hysterical…

The bully-bullied dynamic in geekdom and by geekdom is complex. Right now, there are people like Lilivati and Kiturak being shamed at best and hurt at worst for geeky interests. Geeks may not be a protected class experiencing oppression in the way the term is used in social justice, but victims of bullying and the bullying dynamic need and deserve systemic intervention. And women geeks have it worse: our geekiness is viewed as a more unacceptable departure from social norms, and our relative powerlessness leads to more bullying. Geeks rule parts of the Internet, but right now, there’s a geek (or a hundred) being shamed, teased or abused online too.

And absolutely, many geeks are bullies too. They bully within geekdom, they bully non-geeks when they can. Having been a victim of bullying is not protective against becoming a bully, in fact often experiencing bullying and abuse is where one learns the art of bullying others. It’s not news on this site that geek culture has its own takes on misogyny and other oppressions with a side of geeky spin.

So what then? I’m absolutely clear that Bereznak can end or never start relationships based on any criteria she pleases, and that women exercising preferences shouldn’t be a secret thing. (“Sure, women can reject men, but ssssssh it’s a secret.”) And Internet snark from women results in an unjustified maelstrom of hate, that’s for sure. On the other hand Bereznak isn’t exactly challenging acceptable-hobby hierachies here and while she may not have harmed Jon Finkel as it happens, people like Lilivati and Kiturak, geeky people who are also in marginalised groups, got hurt. And I don’t think that’s nothing, either. Geek marginalisation is important because organising one’s life around fields of interests is the way that some people prefer to live or the only way their mind works, it’s not inherently oppressive or unethical (although it is not inherently free of same either), and some (many) geeks are not cruel, entitled, misogynist, empowered Internet trolls. We’re not trying to improve geek culture for the high earning able-bodied etc geeks: we are doing it for the oppressed geeks, whose oppression comes with extra lumps of shaming and excluding for their geekiness.

I see Amy’s point though: it’s not acceptable either to say quickly: sure-there-was-some-misogynist-nastiness BUT HEY LOOK AT THAT ANTI-GEEK SNARK LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT 100%. I worry that in some ways we don’t talk about the misogyny because it’s simply such constant news. A woman spoke on the Internet. Cue hate. Even feminists are burned out or too scared to look, now.

Hard stuff folks: what do you think?

Elsewhere: On A Woman Choosing Not To Date A Geek

Linkspam made the top 10 (24th June, 2011)

  • Color Lines gives us The Ultimate 21st Century People of Color Sci-Fi List

    It seems that when it comes to sci-fi, cultural experiences of the melanin-inclined are merely reserved for exotic backdrop (ahem, “Stargate”) and half-assed tokenization (ahem, the horrible Mandarin in “Firefly”). […] This is for all the disappointed moviegoers who felt the title “Minority Report” was misleading.

  • Forbes lists The 10 Most Powerful Women Authors The list only counts living authors, but includes both Pulitzer-Prize winners and bestsellers
  • on privilege denial within disability: If the only time you bring up being not abled is when someone calls you out on being ableist, this may apply to you.
  • An Open Letter to Courtney Martin, an Editor at Feministing.Com: To offer a review on a feminist Web site of Octavia Butler’s work without discussing, in depth, her contribution to feminism in general and black feminism specifically is to do the legacy of Octavia Butler a tremendous disservice.
  • (Warning: extensive anti-women/feminist statements quoted, some advocating violence.) How to choose the absolutely wrong person to write about girls and D&D — the title really says it all. The article in question has since been removed.
  • On Geekdom and Privilege: Sympathy For The “Pretty’?: All of which is not to say that celebrities or hot people can never be members of the community. In calling herself a history geek, Campanella herself seems to fit the definition of a geek ally: she has some geeky interests, and she believes in evolution (thank goodness), but it’s not like she chose to cosplay Wonder Woman for the swimsuit competition, either.
  • Ann Leckie: Wiscon-Related Thoughts pt 1: But we still do it, ourselves. Some portions of the eternal what’s really science fiction debate seem focused on excluding pears and oranges from our basket on the grounds that they’re not really fruit. Except no definition that excludes oranges and pears will also include every sort of apple.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

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Roll a D6

As a tabletop gamer who carries dice in her bag, I’m highly amused by this d&d roleplaying parody of the Far East Movement’s “Like a G6″ :

Roll a D6 from Connor Anderson on Vimeo.

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Far East Movement even un-parodied, mostly because of Rocketeer, but even She Owns the Night sounds to me like a “geek girl loves to dance” kinda anthem:

The only question is,
Watchu know about these stereotypes?
FM, come on.

So innocent you can tell by the clothes,
College girl with a 4.0,
Good girl by day,
Damn, who would have known?

The Mists of Linkspam (26th November, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.