Recently, I decided to recount my experiences at my local gaming convention, Phantasm. This incident happened in September of 2017. I had no idea the article would cause so much good and bad to occur. It opened up a floodgate of conversations for myself and others regarding inclusivity and safety in our gaming culture and community.
“You would be a good player if you put your imagination to good use, instead of bullshit, exaggerated stories like this.”
A shaky sigh exhaled through my lips, my fingertips kept missing the correct letters as I tapped out my response to this woman’s words. ‘Stay calm. Stay focused. If you show too much anger or emotion, you won’t be taken seriously. Don’t be too defensive, they’ll think that only proves their point.’ I had to remind myself.
As I fumbled out a quick assurance that this had indeed occurred, I was quickly pulled away by another notification. And another. And another. My nerves crept up my spine and settled neatly around my chest, making it hard to squeeze out a full breath. What can anyone say that’s going to make matters worse, really, as a woman trying to survive in the tabletop gaming world?
It turns out a lot could be said.
The local convention, named Phantasm, in which this matter occured has a public facebook group (Found Here) to which the one-and-only organiser of the event shared my article. As the organiser, David Watson posted the article it was followed along with “Came across this tonight, had to repost it here. It seems right that if someone was made to feel small, they are given voice.”
I was so happy to see this, a weight lifted off my shoulders, especially when he messaged me saying he wanted to assist in handling this issue that occurred. ‘Yes. We are making headway,’ I foolishly thought to myself.
Within hours, so much happened I couldn’t even keep up with it. While trying to handle accusations on so many different online venues that I was lying, that stories like mine are exaggerated and could never happen, that “gamer men” are too scared and shy of girls (or turned on by them) that they’d never do such a thing, a whole other issue was cropping up.
Marginalised individuals who had been to Phantasm (or at least been in deep discussions with the organiser) years prior stepped forward to say, “Yes, good! Give those people a voice and give them a safe place to game! What will you do to ensure Phantasm grows to be an inclusive, safe environment for everyone to enjoy?”
People came from all over the place to ask what safety precautions were going to be implemented, what policies were going to change to ensure inclusivity…and some came to demand that their gaming convention should not change. They claimed that David was doing good enough as is and that precautions such as the “X-Card” are useless and silly and impede their gaming experiences.
Then the convention organiser quickly dispersed. He posted a message stated, “I’m mostly offline until Tues spending time with family. I’ve halted a heated discussion until then as I won’t be able to moderate it, and I feel it needs to be. I haven’t been subtle putting that conversation on hold. If you feel compelled to continue in the meantime I will remove you from the group.”
He kept his word and was not present until Tuesday, but so much happened in between. When marginalised people are finding the strength to stand up and say, “Hey! This isn’t right, we should fix this, and we want to help you fix it together!” asking them to remain silent because one individual is not present in the conversation is unfair. If David Watson truly needed time away from the group and the discussion, he could have elected a trustworthy convention volunteer to oversee the conversations, or perhaps end all commenting on the group itself. Instead, this felt like a piece of bait he wanted us all to snap at like sharks.
So we did.
For days, countless unmoderated conversations took place which began simply enough but quickly escalated and downgraded into personal attacks, threats, and insults. If the posting of my article to the group was supposed to make people more open to inclusion and ensuring “safe spaces”, the opposite effect took place instead.
Most of the conversation – and the most meaningful – revolved around what people can do at a convention to ensure inclusivity. Be it x-cards, visible policies, safe reporting systems, convention liaisons, etc., so many experienced individuals such as other convention organisers or simply allies to those who had been marginalised came forward to give ideas, to offer assistance, to help Phantasm grow into a place everyone could feel safe to attend.
But the conversations began to be bogged down by individuals who were reluctant of change, who were reluctant of conversation. Even some who then made fake accounts to send death and rape threats to some of the women fighting for change.
When the convention organiser returned, he posted a message that was essentially a way to placate everyone. Then came the worst of it. David Watson went on a mass deletion and banning of members of the group who had been speaking up and defending the marginalised over the past few days. Including the person who received rape and death threats over these issues.
As I watched this happen, still discussing with people about the desperate need for inclusivity and safety at a convention, I slowly watched all the supportive individuals and allies disappear. One-by-one, their voices were silenced whereas the men who were steadfast against safety measures or who were making vile comments or blanketing all women with the term “hysterics”, were left.
Soon, it became a group of a fair few who were standing up for inclusivity and many who were standing up for David Watson, stating that there was enough being done to ensure nobody was harassed at his convention.
As somebody who was harassed at Phantasm, who was made to feel unsafe and scared, it is not enough. And the way he carried out silencing voices sat in my chest like a rock. At one point the organiser said, “many feel unsafe to contribute” in regards to the conversations around inclusion. He was not talking about the women who have been harassed and received death and rape threats. He was not talking about the men who were standing up for better harassment policies and safety measures. He was talking about the white men who didn’t want their precious convention to change in order to accept others in a way that made the minority feel comfortable and safe to do so.
One individual tried to explain to him why his actions were so wrong by illustrating that “if you include someone’s abuser, your space excludes the survivor,” – it was not long before she was not only banned from the page but also banned from attending the convention as a vendor. David was disagreeing, essentially, and saying that the abusers deserve to game alongside the marginalised.
Almost anyone who suggested Phantasm improve their anti-harassment practices as well as asked Watson to really address the main issues at hand were banned and silenced. Except for a rare few who hadn’t raised enough of a stink or myself, who Watson realises is far too much of a public relations nightmare to ban being that it was his convention I was harassed and made to feel unsafe at.
It has been noted that my local gaming convention, Phantasm, has chosen to do as little work as necessary to make itself a safe and inclusive environment for all to enjoy gaming. Many local individuals will never attend again, fearing for their own safety, and many are left upset and disheartened with the fact they no longer have a local convention.
For a week now I’ve been exhausted by the consequences of me sharing my experiences.
I do not regret it for a moment.
Many read my words and privately as well as publicly said, “Me too,”, but in relation to the gaming world for women and marginalised folx.
All of these incidents have also given me something better than my frustration, sadness, fear, anxiety, and exhaustion. I’ve been given strength and determination.
Because when life keeps giving me lemons, I need to start paving my own roads.
Everyone who has shown support, thank you. Everyone who has spent their spoons in the past week on these issues, thank you. You have helped bring something beautiful out of this horrible situation.
Something wonderful is being built out of this, something we can be incredibly proud of, and I cannot wait to share it with everyone in the community.
I dare anyone to try to stop me now.
For further reading on these issues with the convention:
17 thoughts on ““Honey, Let The Real Gamers Play” – A Follow Up”
Hi, fellow female gamer here. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate that you decided to speak up about the harassment and abuse that happens at conventions (and, actually, in many other places where ‘real gamers’ meet). It happened to me too, but I never had the courage to do more than just complain about it to my friends.
You started a wide-spread discussion, and while I’m sorry for the pile of abuse you got because of it, I sincerely hope that it will make at least some places more inclusive. Keep up the good work and don’t let the trolls drag you down!
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For what it’s worth, you have my support.
This is where I’m ashamed to be a grey-beard at a gaming table.
The grand irony is that these same “men”- no, they don’t deserve to be called men. So, let’s just call them “males”- will comment on how rare it is to see a female in the gaming community, too blinded to realize their behaviour is part of the reason.
I’ve played with many women at a table over the years, and proud to say NONE of the group’s I’ve played with have had this issue. I’ve seen it though, usually at conventions, and I’ve heard of females I know experiencing this with other groups.
I think one of the biggest problems in addressing this is that the higher echelon gatekeepers in the community are some of the same people that are the problem.
I took About a year for my friends, whom my wife has known for YEARS, to finally allow her to sit at the table and game with us. It wasn’t out of hate or intentional malice, just a “guys night” mentallity. What ended up happening is they LOVE playing with her, it gives us an unique perspective and another PC so the game feels more alive. She had never played before and now loves it. Gatekeeping, malicious or not needs to be addressed. Harassment of any kind is completely unacceptable. No amount of “conversation” would ever justify that.
This is pretty awful; I read the original article first and found myself wondering how long _I_ would have tolerated that game. (I got as far as the description of the female character before my brain just went “Dude, REALLY?!”)
This is worse; The behavior of this convention organizer is disgraceful.
I wish I had some more meaningful way to offer support than posting on the internet.
I don’t know if you are close enough, but in Buffalo, NY, we have a convention called Queen City Conquest.
You would be welcome to game with us. Your abusers would not.
I’m not saying that I don’t believe that death and rape threats were made. But my sweet suffering Jesus, I can’t believe that people are that over the top about a gamin convention. A. Gaming. Convention.
Really people? You can take my money and my hygiene, but don’t you dare to correct my intolerably rude behavior while I have fun.
This is the sort of crap that makes me wish my anger management didn’t work so well.
And of course, 99.99% of it is bs keyboard warriorism of the same sort as the gutless wonders who won’t stand up and say anything about it in person at a gaming table but who support you so strongly online.
I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced this sort of gatekeeper behavior because I don’t really play at conventions or other sorts of open play situations. It doesn’t surprise me though. I’d like to say I don’t know any players who would act this way, but I am sure I do.
People, lighten up and play nicely. Or take your dice and go home to play with – er, by yourself.
These “keyboard” warriors are the same people who do stand up and say something.
That’s what they’re doing now.
I was both happy and sad to read your articles. Happy to know that I’m not alone and for speaking up, but sad that you had to go through it. I’m terrified to go anywhere alone, I’ve been sexually harrased and assaulted since I was 12 years old. I can’t go anywhere without someone harrasing me. I love gaming, I mean LOVE gaming. But everytime I go to an event or convention I’m either excluded or harrased. So many “Girls can’t game” comments or “OMG a girl that games!’. I just want to have fun with my hobbies, but the boys club attitude in the gaming world had made me avoid conventions/events. Women are made, and told straight out, that they belong in the kitchen or the bedroom and that’s it. I hope with more and more people speaking up that organizations will finally act and make a safe environment for ALL players
So help me, if someone calls me a bigot for not letting an axe murderer into my game, I’m murdering them with an axe.
You are very brave and you’ve made a difference, even if Phantasm has failed you. I’m just a stranger, but I’m a stranger who only has one child, my daughter. You and countless other daughters have a right to be have fun, use your imagination, all while being safe and free from dismissive, vulgar, hateful, and dangerous behavior. David Watson has failed to realize that there are no two sides here, except for wrong and right. Mysty, you’re not my daughter, but I’m still proud of you.
You are implying that I removed individuals from the group for receiving threats, that is false, hurtful and harmful. Since I was never able to find out who made those threats, and against whom, it’s impossible to have taken any action against those individuals. I do not tolerate even moderately harsh language on the site. A person responsible for those action irregardless of who they may be, would be removed from the group, and have a lifetime ban from the event. Unfortunately despite looking into it I could not find out whom was involved nor did the Police ever contact me regarding the matter.
As I had posted on the site, those individuals were removed because they were added on mass to support a couple of people, with no intention of ever coming to the event (we get less than 2% of our attendees from that area and that has not changed over the last 20 years). They were looking to get in arguments with strangers on the internet. That is never helpful, and they refused to adhere to the moderation of the discussion and dared me to remove them. Which I did after spending more than 30 hours reading through and considering all of the comments, and then sleeping on it.
The sum of the discussion had very negative consequences. Folks condemning the folks who play Pathfinder and the Pathfinder Society as a whole, directly led to all those GM’s dropping out of the event, to stop running at our FLGS, and to drop out of running at other conventions in the province. This is not conjecture, by near verbatim, folks in that community felt harassed. Some folks when they heard this were quite callous about it saying more space for D&D Adventure League. Having a harassment policy must be adhered to or it is just meaningless.
David, I thought I made it quite clear in my last comment in the page that I no longer wish to interact with you. You make me feel unsafe, nervous, and continuously make excuses to cover yourself. Speaking with you is harmful to my mental health so I ended being apart of the discussion whatsoever. I hope you respect that instead of many weeks later deciding to find a new, public avenue to come at me again. It is inappropriate and wildly telling.
Oh, and the people who “don’t have the intentions” of attending the event don’t have the intentions to anymore but they had and they did not feel safe and so their opinions should have been valued. Not shoved out, moderated, tone-policed, and inevitably shut up/shut down.
That particular PFS GM was more offended by Paizo than anything else it seemed so don’t come here and put that blame on me nor the people who fought so hard for inclusion at your event. And yes, some people on all ends of belief of the conversation were rude. It happens. But once again
…don’t put that on me and stop silencing the ones who were getting upset because they were being attacked, harassed, and silenced as they opened the discussion to inclusion.
As for the “moderation” of the conversation. That’s a large issue in and of itself. YOU are the sole moderator. YOU are the end all be all. This should be a COMMUNITY. People like the owner of the FLGS ensure a community exists for everyone. Everyone. The same cannot be said for Phantasm/Gamer’s Equinox. You have stated, quite clearly, that you are completely unwilling to accept anyone else on board to run this other than yourself. You are unwilling to let others moderate with you. You are unwilling to have other volunteers be there to safely report to (other than one individual who, in turn, then comes to you). You have heard our cries for change. For help. For inclusion. And you have shut them down.
I told you I was done. I was over it. I am concentrating now on creating a safe and inclusive gaming community in our city with the community itself. For my mental health, for my well-being, I would appreciate you to no longer contact me.
I would really love to leave it, I am only address that point about being accused of being punitive towards unknown individuals who where threatened, because it is blatantly untrue, and I have received threats of physical violence over it in addition to other negative consequences.