Photo Credits: Robert Paul (@tempusrob), Graphic: SB | Kuba
Video games give you the opportunity to showcase your skills regardless of your background. They reward you for your efforts with unbiased fairness. It doesn’t matter where you come from, how much money you have, or anything else similarly superficial; if you have the work ethic and the skill, you can become the best.
However, the inclusiveness of video games seems to be betrayed at times by their communities. It’s no surprise that the FGC is predominantly made up of males and that in some cases women find it difficult to assimilate. This arrangement brews a perfect recipe for harassment towards women not just in the Smash scene, but all gaming communities. Why this disparity is present in the first place is, like most things, complex and up for debate, and therefore not worth going into. However, the consequences are serious and deserve to be talked about.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to talk with several of female Smash community members who all had encountered some sort of harassment. Their stories stand to remind us that despite how progressive the community has been there are still areas of weakness that we need to collectively work on.
Now, I’m not suggesting that there exists a systematic oppression of women or that harassment is widespread; most of us are good people and are incredibly accepting. However, while we may not be the source of the harassment ourselves, some of us choose to stay silent about it.
Sometimes, that can be just as bad.
There’s a female-focused Smash group on Facebook with 200 members-and-counting. Its members post random Smash-related things or organize plans to go to tournaments together. Other times and quite commonly, they exchange stories about their experiences with harassment at their local tournaments. Two-to-three times a month, long forms are posted detailing the nature of their encounters. In other words, posts like these are far more common than they should be.
Photo Credits: Robert Paul (@tempusrob)
Maggie Demer, one of the smashers I interviewed and a victim of assault herself, told me that stories like hers are posted frequently and often it's hard to find support.
“People post their negative experiences a lot. I've posted mine from UGC and another girl at the event was there to make sure I wasn't alone. And girls who have been assaulted by another smashers often post their statements there [the FB group] before releasing to their local scene.”
Demer also notes that the some local scenes are very toxic and generally less accepting than the greater scene. But even then the majority of people at the local level are genuinely respectful towards women, it’s just that the ‘lone wolves’ are not reprimanded as harshly. Why is that?
There is evidently a lot more harassment going on at the local level than there is at the more major level. This is because smashers at locals communicate at a much more personal basis. Lauren Casapao, who went public about her assault last year, sums up the dilemma perfectly.
“At nationals or at a broader level in general, people are more concerned with the problem. But locally, people know the victims and perpetrators personally which makes it difficult to take a side.”
Many of the other girls I interviewed with echoed this same point; often local smashers are united by a emotional bond, and this has significant influence over how they react to cases of harassment.
Sesh Evans is a longtime member of the community who has experienced some discrimination but has witnessed more. She reverberates Casapao’s point, saying; “There are a lot of girls out there that struggle with their local scene because [...] the TOs and people in charge won't bend this or that person because they don't consider it serious enough or they can't choose a side.”
Unfortunately, many of the dismaying accounts posted rarely if ever reach to those outside the group. In fact, the only reason I am aware of them is because somebody on the Smashboards team, Anna Molly, is a part of it. So why are so few people talking about this? Is the Smash community just turning a blind eye to it? Well, yes and no. In addition to it being a more ‘local’ problem that makes it hard for the greater community to focus on, there’s something else going on at play.
“...Smashers are slow to admit it [harassment] and even slower to do something about it. No one wants to do anything too drastic, lest they get labeled a "sjw" or "white knight" or something.”
That's Kayla MacKay, one of the women I interviewed, referring to the reactions towards her experiences with harassment at her local scene.
Kayla started off playing Smash casually until her friend introduced her to Smashboards, where she learned advanced tech such as wavedashing and short-hop lasers. She stopped playing for a little bit, but eventually she started going to tournaments where she initially faced no issues.
“The community at the time was filled with people who had been competing for 5+ years, and the vast majority were all university-age students who treated me with respect.”
But that changed as the older generation Smashers were replaced with some of the more younger kids, who MacKay personally felt less comfortable with. She experienced bouts of harassment, such as being asked for ‘nudes’ by a top player and being told upon attending a local tournament that she ‘must be lost’. These instances, she says, weren’t “anything major right away”, but that they were “a clear signal that the overall attitudes towards women had changed”.
Eventually harassment grew more serious though, but according to Kayla, nobody stepped in to try and stop it. That isn’t because smashers are bad people though. A majority are just afraid to speak up because doing so could mean ‘rocking the boat’ and potentially challenging the status quo.
Photo Credits: Robert Paul (@tempusrob)
I think a lot of this has to do with the recent subculture that has developed in response to the whole ‘PC’ movement. The political correctness campaign is often considered to be a painfully stupid way of earning ‘good guy points’ - and that isn't far off from the truth. Everybody can agree that some people go to ridiculous extremes in order to deter any sort of ‘offensiveness’, so likewise many are united in mutual hatred against ‘PC culture’.
But the ‘anti’ PC movement has also seen itself reaching similar ridiculous extremes. Like all collective movements, it has formed a sort of group consciousness where nobody really thinks for themselves and instead everybody adheres to the idea of “You’re offended? Suck it up.” This mentality is one I can generally agree with, but eventually it can get to the point where legitimate social issues or sentiments are just brushed off, and any proponents of those said ideas are labeled ‘SJWs’ and are accordingly ostracized.
The result is things that aren’t really ‘SJW’ by definition are labeled such, and the credibility of any argument can be dismissed just by using the word. This is a problem as actual issues that deserve to be talked about become lumped in with insipid feminist rhetoric.
Females face an array of challenges in the community. Again, it is reasonable to assume that most other fighting game communities have a similar problem. These problems are generally incurred by a small percentage of the community, but until we start talking about it more and become less tolerant of the bad apples, change is unlikely. We need to learn to be comfortable talking about the subject and act on an ethical basis instead of staying silent because it’s more convenient.
Some of the harassment women face isn’t easy to stop. Some people’s attitudes towards women are just the result of a deeply embedded and complex sociological reason, and that is out of our control. But we can control our reactions to these people, and be a little more serious in how they're handled instead of letting them go unchecked.
I don't want this to put off any woman interested in joining the scene. This is a problem that can be overcome, but only if women continually join and challenge adversity. Let this be an impetus for both genders to work together and hopefully resolve this issue.
Only when we can learn to put aside differences and accept the reality of what’s going on can we begin to take the necessary steps in the right direction.