This post (trigger warning: descriptions of rape, sexual assault, victim-blaming, emotional abuse, sexual harassment and plain old harassment) crossed my timeline, some time ago. I’m not going to lie — reading the post upset me, mostly because it should have never happened. But it did, and gaming, especially tabletop gaming, has a major problem that it needed to confront.
So I decided to post the blog entry to a Facebook group that I frequented — that, from what I understood, represented a good slice of the local tabletop and board-gaming scene in Kuala Lumpur. I had plenty of reasons why I wanted to post in it — but mostly because I felt it was important. Malaysian gamers — already a tiny, insular minority — needed to understand the stakes, especially when the abuse extends beyond the gaming space and into creator space.
We need to understand the stakes, despite the fact that much of the Malaysian gaming community is so deeply Westernized, and exists mostly as an adjunct to the Western / American market. We do still play a role, because tabletop is — by necessity — a social activity, with real consequences, and we need to be aware of what we endorse. It’s not just about sexism and misogyny, but also a whole other host of problems, including racism and ableism.
After all, gamers fancy themselves as educated, rational and non-conforming. Why should we be led by power like sheep, behaving irrationally to uphold an out-of-date, regressive ideology, when we so loudly advertise our intellect and our special-ness? We’re supposed to be smarter than that.
But as the conversation sparked and got progressively worse, I realised that gamers, like many people in my life who are educated and fancy themselves as more progressive and more “advanced” than the hoi polloi, were just as bigoted and ignorant as “mundanes” — people too stupid or lacking in patience to appreciate “real” gaming.
And I admit, as much as I yearned to be a part of a larger community that now dates itself over thirty years, what I saw often left me cold and, frankly, deeply unhappy. This source of unhappiness had begun with science fiction, and spread slowly through a lot of the geek avocations I had grown up with and loved, at times fiercely. It was me yearning to belong, yet seeing the same horrible abusive behaviours that I had seen among the “mundanes”.
I was falling out of love with the geekdom I grew up with, even though I didn’t want to. I then decided to post @latining’s story as a litmus test to see the heart of Malaysian tabletop gaming because I needed to make a (critical) decision: to stay within the community I once considered myself a part of, or to look somewhere else. The one thing stopping me was the dread I felt from resulting conversation, which I feared would fill me with anger, sadness and despair.
I left in the end, and that decision hurt. But I learned a lot from it, about lessons I had learned over a decade ago, about how we managed group identity, and how groups who perceive themselves as maligned reinforce dangerous, self-destructive norms, often times without knowing it.
A caveat: I’m not trained in sociology and psychology: my major was in IT, so my understanding of it all will likely be amateurish at best. What I do want to talk about is how our groups fail us, what that failure looks like, and maybe, how it could be prevented. I also want to talk about when exactly the efforts of people who identify themselves as allies are most useful at, and where they aren’t useful at all, even counterproductive. I also want to talk about how shifting these self-destructive norms involves a lot of conflict, and how hard and painful it can be, and yet how important it is that they need to be done.
I had posted the article on a Malaysian gaming group I was a member, to start that conversation. A part of me dreaded what the response would be, but I reasoned, if the conversation went south, then at least I could leave. It went as well as you’d expect it to. To some degree, with some very notable exceptions, I felt sympathy and sadness as I was wading into this conversation, because so much of what was happening was unconscious.
I need to be very clear that excerpts of the conversations I’ll be sharing may be triggering, as it contains elements of gas-lighting, emotional abuse, rape apology, and the dismissal and blaming of victims of rape and sexual assault. Names have been anonymized, because as horrible as some of the opinions that were expressed, and no matter how upset I got, I did not want to “out” them.