As a genre (SFF) author and an RPG writer, I’m well aware of the problems of sexism, classism, and racism in my chosen profession. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the problems, seeing some of it in myself, and working to fix what I’ve seen. There’s an awful lot to do because the problems aren’t going away. But, people are making an effort.
So, what am I supposed to do when I see the same problems in my professional life creeping into my leisure time? More than just creeping in… growing and escalating? I guess I need to be the change I want to see. I can’t sit by and be silent. But, at the same time, I know that if I call attention to the growing problem, shit is going to hit the fan and I will be hurt in the process. That’s what rape culture and victim blaming is all about.
Sometimes it sucks to be an adult. Sometimes it really sucks to be right.
I’m part of a large weekly LARP (live action role playing) troupe. We have about 80-100 active players with an average of about 60-70 showing up to a single game. There’s no way to get that many people in an activity without having problems. We have ways of mitigating these problems. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they make things worse.
Over a 4-5 week period, I saw a notable upswing in the number of rape jokes, racist jokes, and other inappropriate jokes. I also saw, and experienced, people crossing boundaries they shouldn’t be crossing. People saying “stop” to offensive lines of conversation and being ignored.
I decided that this couldn’t go unattended and made an official request to the LARP staff and PAs (player advocates) to remind players that the LARP was supposed to be a safe place, that we do have rules of conduct, and that they needed to be obeyed. In my request, I gave two specific, but nameless, examples.
Things pretty much went to hell after that.
Not everything that has happened is bad. Despite the mess that has gone on behind the scenes, the staff did make a good announcement that comfort levels needed to be met. That people needed to pay attention to comfort levels, to obey requests to stop or “fade to black” (official LARP “I don’t want to be here for this scene” speak).
I am grateful that the staff did bring this to the attention of the playership as a whole.
The Awkward But Good
One of my specified complaints was an accepted rape joke during noms (players nominating players for good role-play). The joke was “Shh… just let it happen.” as someone talked about how their character was foiled by another.
Two days after I made the complaint to the staff and PAs, one of my best friends and PA emailed me and admitted that he had made the “Shh… just let it happen” joke. He apologized and explained that it was a college thing/movie quote and he had had no idea that it was part of rape culture. He then explained that he had researched the phrase and found out what it actually meant. Read about that Microsoft executive who had used it in the middle of a demo and been fired for it. He said that now that he knew what it meant, he wouldn’t use it again and would be a lot more careful with his words.
This, my friends, is doing things right.
And yet, I had to fight back the urge to reassure him. To tell him it was okay because he didn’t know what he was doing. Instead, I thanked him for doing the research, for discovering what his words meant, and for promising not to speak them again.
Here’s where things turn bad. After I made my complaint/request to the staff and PAs, they had a very long discussion in email without me. A lot of this has been told to me or I’ve read parts of the emails.
Apparently, there were several people who wanted to cry out “free speech” and others who said that rape jokes were a way of coping with trauma. To the first, fuck you. To the second, I understand this in a private setting. My complaint was about public offenses. Public black face jokes. Public rape jokes. Public jokes about child abuse. Public jokes that didn’t stop when asked. I wasn’t talking about how people deal with their traumas privately.
One PA, T, stated that rape jokes were wrong 100% of the time. She was talking in public. She wanted a definite stand from the staff and they wouldn’t give it, took offense, and looked at what she had to say in the worst possible way. The staff has banned T from game for stating that rape jokes are wrong and for not stopping with her point of view when people told her that her point of view wasn’t valid and should stop. Banned her from the game for “at least” 5 weeks and possibly as much as 3 months for her stance. (Not sure what they are going “revisit” at 5 weeks.)
T, completely taken aback, wanted to know what the heck was going on. I’ve read the emails from her side of things and I cannot see anything she’s said that was worth being banned from the game. Especially since she was backing me in all this.
My husband, as a PA, got involved and discovered that there was a weird way the emails came in that looked like T had told a staff member that she was a horrible person for having a coping mechanism that included rape jokes. When this was pointed out to T, she felt bad and sent in an apology in good faith, trying to explain the way the emails came in over her phone. Not only was her apology rejected, some of the other PAs and staff were abusively vindictive towards T for making the apology at all, stating that she wasn’t really sorry enough in their opinion, and she just didn’t understand how she had hurt people.
And I’m sitting here, still wrapping my head around the fact that T has been banned for making someone feel bad about making rape jokes.
You’ll note above I commented that I gave two specific examples of the inappropriate jokes and behavior going on at game. A PA asked me for specifics on the second example which was: “In fact, I told one person to “Fade to Black” and to stop and finally that he was being plain creepy. He thanked me for my comment. It took another guy to pointedly say, “Dude, that wasn’t a compliment.” to get him to stop.”
As requested, I gave the specifics of that example—name and witness’s name. It seemed, for a while, that the staff was just going to focus on the two examples I gave in my email. Then, there was the agreement that a general statement would be made but the person who wouldn’t stop their offensive line of conversation also needed a private talk. I agreed but asked that my name be kept out of it.
After the head of staff (HST) agreed, another PA, who I will call JJ, challenged the request for my name to be kept from the person who wouldn’t listen to the “fade to black” request. “How can someone be expected to alter their behavior around a specific person in future if that specific person won't reveal themselves to the offending party?”
Read: Why shouldn’t this guy know so he can be careful around you because you’re the one with the problem? (Victim blaming.)
Instead of: This guy needs to change his behavior—If he is told in or out of character to "Fade to black", he needs to obey that. (Changing the perpetrator’s general behavior.)
Added Insult to Injury
Can it get worse? Oh, yes. JJ, the PA who challenged my request to be anonymous? I have a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with him. This is the LARP equivalent of a restraining order. “If players/Staff have irreparable Out of Character differences, they may call for other ST assistance to minimize contact between those players.”
I requested the Agreement with JJ for OOC reasons involving severe lack of trust issues based on past issues. This is the third time he’s broken this Agreement. First time, he tried to talk to me at game. I rebuffed him. The second time, he sent a member of staff over to ask me to drop the Agreement because he “missed role-playing” with me. He stood not 30 feet away to watch the interaction. I escalated the breach of the Gentleman’s Agreement, and the use of a person in authority to pressure me, to the whole staff.
This third time? He had no reason to get involved in the email discussion after the HST agreed to my request for anonymity. It was a deliberate manipulation to require me to interact with him. Do I trust that he hasn’t already told the person in question that I was the one who made the complaint? Not at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he has done so (or told someone close to him) “just to be fair.” See: Severe lack of trust.
Fortunately, another member of staff on the thread saw the interaction for what it was and will follow up with breach of the Gentleman’s Agreement. I hope something happens with it. I haven’t heard either way.
Additional note: T mentioned that after all this, after complaints had been made, and that she called JJ’s actions into question as well, JJ just “happened” to drop by her place of work (a retail store) and wanted to “see how she was holding up.” She noted to me that there were 4 other branches of her store between his house and her place of work. “8 years at that store and he never comes in once. Talk to his roommate [The HST] about his behavior last night and boom... There he was.”
Showing up at someone’s work and force them to interact with you on a professional level after questioning their actions to someone in confidence—that’s not creepy or intimidating or panic attack inducing at all.
I made a generalize complaint that there was a growing number of inappropriate actions and jokes happening at LARP. I requested the staff to remind the gamers that this is not acceptable.
The staff made a good announcement. For that, I’m grateful.
The staff also banned T, a friend and PA, for her staunch believe that rape jokes in public are 100% inappropriate because of the way they trigger others. I am leaving the LARP for as long as T is banned. I think the staff overreacted and I am standing behind T.
The person I have a Gentleman’s Agreement with forced an unnecessary interaction and, in essence, victim blamed me for taking offense when someone wouldn’t stop an inappropriate and offensive line of conversation when asked.
Do I feel safe at ECC? No. I don’t. I feel like I did the right thing and still got punished for it. Exactly as I expected I would. I just didn’t expect to have so many other people hurt in the process. The collateral damage on the way this whole thing has been handled has been extensive and disturbing. I hurt because of what’s happened.
Sometimes doing the right thing really sucks. And people wonder why women stay silent when they are harassed, assaulted, or abused.