Do We Have to Talk About This Again? Gamers and Rape Culture

I’m subscribed to more RSS feeds than I should be, and I read them instead of my homework more often than I should. That being said, it always makes me cringe when I see the word “rape” come up on my feed. I’m typically subscribed to game blogs and web sites where you would think it wouldn’t happen that much. But honestly, I think the word “rape” comes up more often in my gaming RSS feed than it does on my feminism feed. That probably says something just as sad about gaming culture as the article I’m about to share with you.  (TRIGGER WARNING: Rape)

If you couldn’t tell from the title, yet another sexual assault has happened within the gaming community. While attending a private Minecraft party (non PAX affiliated) a man grabbed a young female game blogger’s hand, and forced her to touch his dick. When she went to the security guards at the party, they ignored her complaint and did not act on the situation. If you’re morbidly curious, her first person account of the event can be found here. At the top of her blog she has a disclaimer saying:

Everyone: I’m seeing a lot of comments on twitter and elsewhere blaming PAX for this incident and the security guard’s reaction. This party was NOT held by PAX, it was not even in the same venue, hell it wasn’t even on the same street. It was not affiliated with, sponsored by or organized by PAX. The only things it had in common were being gaming related and being the same weekend in the same city.  I’m even seeing some blaming Mojang and Notch (the party was held by Notch himself, not Mojang). The ONLY person who should be held accountable for what happened is the asshole himself. And if you’re going to get mad about security, blame that guard. Also this post isn’t about nerd or gamer culture or blaming those cultures at all, this could happen in any community, at any party, to anyone.

I’ve bolded the last part because it is the sentence that I wish to take issue with. If you’ve ever read Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism then you might be aware that some feminists have characterized Western culture as a whole as rape culture. Rape does occur in many cultures, in many communities, and many parties, and to many people, men and women. However, the gaming community in particular has been found to be a particularly misogynistic branch of society, and incidents over the last year (Anita Sarkeesian, Dickwolves, etc.) have demonstrated how volatile the community can be to women. As Scott Madin points out in his cover of this story:

So inasmuch as gamer culture is tainted by rape culture, and PAX is one of the purer expressions of contemporary gamer culture, yes, this is about PAX. This is about the kinds of people who felt welcome at PAX, and what they thought they could get away with. It’s about the constant presence of “booth babes” at gaming conventions, and the still abysmal representation of women in mainstream games. It’s about the kind of people who think it’s reasonable to “up the girl to guy ratio” by hiring models to attend a party, because they think their (presumed male, presumed heterosexual) attendees neither possess nor need to be encouraged to develop any social skills, and thus are and will remain repulsive to women not paid to tolerate them. (There are, of course, far too many problems with this to unpack in a single blog post.) And it’s about what all this, taken together, in constant dosage over many years, teaches people who didn’t even notice they were being instructed: women are decorative objects, there for men’s enjoyment; they have no significant interests of their own; they are not skilled; they are not peers; if they are not attractive to men they are failures; they are merely things for men to desire and despise. (If you think I’m overstating, now would be a good time to go look again at those links a couple paragraphs up.)

To be clear, PAX does have rules about booth babes that are mostly enforced, but the lack of booth babes doesn’t mean an overall lack of the aforementioned factors that seem to have taught male gamers over the years that women are for their enjoyment. Everyone on the internet, for once, has been super nice to Ky about the sexual assault, no one so far has made any claim that it was all her fault somehow (which is sadly a shocker to me). They have also all publicly said that it was definitely the assaulter’s fault, which again I sadly find shocking. But there is nothing being done about the overall attitudes of the gaming culture (and culture in general) that create an environment where people think acts like this are okay. Or, using Scott Madin’s words again:

Finally, here’s the kicker. If past incidents in gamer culture are any indicator (Dickwolves, Fat Princess, Duke Nukem Forever, Resident Evil 5, the Borderlands 2 “Girlfriend Mode” controversy, and countless others) there will be no lasting consequences. A few more people will be alienated from gamer culture, but the majority of gamers will brush it off, and continue to support the institutions that promote these attitudes. The gaming press — even the smart, progressive gaming press — will write about Penny Arcade and PAX and Gearbox and Mojang to talk about their press releases and upcoming games, and will not mention the kinds of things that happen under their various auspices. No lasting opprobrium will attach to any of their names, and the culture will not change. People, even smart, thoughtful, progressive people who understand rape culture and how it works, and work tirelessly to break down race, gender, and sexuality barriers in gamer culture, will keep attending PAX and buying games produced by developers with toxic, misogynist studio cultures. The overwhelming sense will be that yeah, that stuff was bad, but that’s all in the past. Like the security guard in Ky’s story: “Okay? What do you expect me to do?”

Stuff is bad, and it’s not in the past. I expect myself, and fellow gamers who care about the community they play in to call out the community in events like this. Make it explicit that the misogynistic pillars of the gaming community need to come down. Label sexist behavior as sexist, and don’t feel bad about it! Because, ultimately, nothing will change unless we strive to change it, and I am pretty damn tired of reading about incidents like this.


Ky’s original blog: explodedsoda

Scott Madin’s full post: Oh look, it’s time to talk about gamer culture and rape again.


  1. I agree with you that we need to be more vocal in speaking out against this type of thing and calling sexist behavior sexist, like you said.

    “Also this post isn’t about nerd or gamer culture or blaming those cultures at all, this could happen in any community, at any party, to anyone.” –> This is a statement that I am still tempted to make. I have this aversion to labels, but I also recognize that the gaming community is not making women feel welcome. Sure, it’s not the majority of gamers, and this type of thing can certainly happen elsewhere to anyone… but if we’re looking at gaming culture as a whole, it’s easy to see there is a sexism problem.

    This event may not have been at PAX, but the fact that it was a gaming event and security guards initially ignored her complaint says something about the culture as a whole. Events like PAX may be eliminating booth babes and games may be including more realistic female characters, but the changes in the community need to happen not only from the top — from organizers enforcing rules, for instance — but also from everyday gamers, the language we use, and what behavior we won’t accept.

    • I think we all have aversions to labels, and honestly, admitting that it’s a problem with an entire culture is a lot scarier than admitting it was just one person’s fault. One person is easy to fight back against in a way, but when you start realizing it’s a problem with an entire community, what to do then?

      I think your answer is a good one! There needs to be both a top-down and a bottom-up change that needs to happen. I’ve also seen some good steps towards this in the past year! It’s just upsetting to me how many scandals I still keep hearing about.

  2. Wooow… I hadn’t heard about the Boderlands 2 incident until I looked it up after reading this. (Not that the primary focus of your article isn’t far more awful; I just hadn’t heard…) The idea itself – once sexuality is removed – is fine, but what a ridiculously dumb and sexist way to portray it. Gah! That’s mind-blowing. I’m also raising an eyebrow because my ex loved it.

    I’m not sure what to think (other than rape is evil). I’m a guy, but contrary to most, I find the idea of booth babes and blatant eye-candy insulting: I invariably see through them and see how the studio executives think I am. They think we’re a bunch of hideous, socially inept, and generally speaking stupid men who will correlate an increased quantity of boobs within the vicinity of a game’s demo with an increase in it’s quality, or something stupid to that effect. As much as those women are being used and objectified, the men are being taken for slobbering dumbasses. I can’t even imagine it helps: a lame demo is a lame demo. Why do they even bother? A nerd isn’t going to say “no” to PAX if there aren’t any models present…. Guh.

    One reason I can think of that this sort of culture keeps being perpetuated in gaming is that, by and large, most developers are male. That’s not a matter of opinion and it’s not ideological: it’s statistical fact. Development teams are largely male and game development programs are largely male. My best friend can attest to that. He has an Honours degree in game dev and said there were 1-2 women per class. 

    What I’m trying to say is that game development is like a sausage-fest think-tank: bad things are likely to happen, eventually, without sufficient female perspective to offer a counterpoint. More female developers might help, for lack of a better way of putting it, keep such stupidity in check. But they shouldn’t have to.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the studio is the origin of the attitude, merely a breeding ground for it; the games not the starting point, but a continuation of something deeply flawed that started somewhere else and trickled into their minds from several sources over time.  The alarming commonality of rape porn, domination and rape-like scenarios in porn, prostitution and even international sex slavery suggests there is something fundamentally wrong with society or even humankind in general; nerdom is simply a sufficiently mainstream culture for abuses to be noticed. 

    Hell, for the past couple of years, north America has had several unsolved cases of prostitutes and homeless women being killed and dismembered, likely serial killings. It’s there, in the paper, every month or so, if you look for it; it’s borderline routine. But in general, society, by and large, doesn’t give a damn. It glosses over it and carries on. (FYI, avoid media monitoring as part of your job; it will drain the light from your being on a daily basis…)

    While we must battle tirelessly, ceaselessly, unwaveringly against evils such as misogyny, abuse, and sexual assault, I just want to caution that nerd culture is but a fraction of a much greater problem that has plagued women (and men) for ages and across nations; such manifestations amongst nerds are not causes, but symptoms of something larger, and infinitely darker.

    (And now that I’ve reminded myself of some of the most horrible news I’ve read over the course of two years, I’m going to go cling to my girlfriend until she gets annoyed and shoves me off…)

    • I agree with that. The video game industry began with dudes! If you read video game history books or watch the documentaries on Netflix (I’m a nerd, okay?) you’ll hear the early video game developers say stuff like “We were just making games of what we liked”. If you slightly change that sentence to read “We were just making games of what men liked” (because all the developers were dudes) it basically starts to explain how the video game industry got so misogynistic so quickly. I’m not saying anyone set out to directly ban women from it, but since women weren’t there from the beginning it has been hard to access for years afterwards.

      I also really agree with what you just said about “More female developers might help….but they shouldn’t have to”. I think its hard enough for women to get into the business and be accepted, and its tiring pointing out sexism/racism and whatever on an hourly (if not by the minute) basis.

      I agree that nerd culture is a splinter of the bigger problem, but it is a splinter where some of these problems seem to get magnified due to the demographics of the population. Clearly treatment of women in general is a huge global problem. For me, focusing on the global problem is too much. It’s like you said, it makes me want to go cling to my puppy dog until he gets annoyed with me. Thinking about problems on a large scale is very depressing!

      Nerd culture is something small that I can focus my attention on it without feeling overwhelmed, and by having conversations like this with other people, I can feel like I’ve actually had an impact on the culture. Even though rape/sexual assault/misogyny is a global cultural phenomenon, if I can help bring awareness and change to a small splinter of the problem I feel like I’ve at least helped somehow. Now maybe I haven’t (please don’t destroy my fragile hopes and dreams) but at least I’m trying. Hope that made sense, and sorry my response was so long!

  3. Believe me, I understand need to speak out and raise awareness of crucial issues but also wanting to focus on manageable bites. I wasn’t exaggerating: I read several newspapers a day, every day, and have been for nearly 2 years; it doesn’t make you a happier or more hopeful person, lol… Focusing on one issue is the only way to stay sane, and likely to be more effective. As for length, my response was longer than yours; don’t be silly! 😛

    I always appreciate food for thought: it’s how we grow and refine our ideas.

  4. Being raised by strong women all my life, I see women on equal grounds with men. There’s nothing one man can do that another woman can’t do. And yes, I see the point in that us male gamers treat women unfairly, and see them as such a small demographic (when isn’t the statistics that one out of three gamers is a girl?). Men (and women too) on the internet can be cruel, devastating, and generally terrible.

    But I agree with Ky in the regards that the one to blame was the man himself, and the security to an extent for not handling the situation properly. The man obviously had a problem and needs psychiatric attention. The security should have done their job, but I don’t believe they were necessarily sexist about it. I mean, if a guy walked up to the same security officer and said “Some guy just grabbed my ass.” Can’t you see the security shrugging and not caring? I think it comes down to apathy and laziness for folly, not necessarily sexism.

    As for booth babes, I see the argument against them, but like any company trying to advertise, they’re going to use models and pretty faces that appeal to a wide audience. Same way romance novels use strong attractive guys to represent a perfect male, or underwear commercials show “perfect” figures and silhouettes demonstrating their attire. It’s advertising, and not necessarily sexism.

    And “rape” isn’t necessarily a male on female act. So its usage online varies. To me, I read it as “to overpower, to dominate” when it’s used online. Is it offensive? Yes, but again, not necessarily from a sexism standpoint. In fact, I would read it into a more homosexual nature when males use it online, often times referring to their avatars taking down other male avatars into submission easily.

    And again, I’m not saying that sexism doesn’t exist within the gaming community, I’m just pointing out that some of it isn’t explicitly sexist. I think women should be represented better in things like MMOs. There needs to be more women in the gaming industry, as well as companies devoted to bringing women experiences tailored just for them, to counter the various companies that do for males. There’s another way to balance the sexism without getting rid of it, and that is to counter it with your own.

  5. Video games are rooted in fantasy, and essentially the entire industry is built up around this idea.

    However, the problem is that when you commercialize interactive fantasy, you’ve created a culture where the boundaries of “power” and “discrimination” get difficult to define. And I think that this is where this sexist culture in gaming emerges from.

    Rape is often about power and anger, and unfortunately the gaming community provides a virtual way to use this power against women to make them feel diminished and small compared to their male counterpoints. Men who wouldn’t usually be able to have this kind of power in reality often stretch out in the digital world where they can model themselves to be anything that they want.

    Could this be an animal farm situation?

    Where a culture that was previously very accepting of being “different” and “weird” suddenly finds themselves up to their noses in power and then end up being no different than the people who came before them?

Chat me up!