Don’t be a dick – dealing with dorks.

Yesterday I was on Twitter when I saw Wil Wheaton telling off someone who had obviously been attacking Felicia Day.  This morning the ripples are being felt throughout the internet. (FYI Wil’s motto is “Don’t be a dick”)

Chuck Wendig wrote up the story.  Ryan, a loser with 50 twitter followers, made repeated unprovoked attacks on Felicia Day not just to his 50 followers but to Felicia Day herself.  When he didn’t get a reaction from her, he kept going – until he got a reaction from other people.

I saw Wil Wheaton’s reaction on Twitter which was chivalrous as well as appropriate, telling the guy that his behaviour was inappropriate in terms that hopefully he could understand.  Wil also contacted the site for which the guy freelanced, Destructoid.  A quick look showed that Destructoid is a pretty ordinary website; my opinion confirmed by their response to Wil Wheaton contacting them about their minion’s behaviour.  Destructoid said ‘be cool’ or something equally lacking.  The fans raged.  Ryan got sacked.

The outcome for the webz?  Attitude toward women in general but especially in gamer culture, is once again the topic du jour (of the day).  The below comic seems to be dated 2008, so we really haven’t come very far in the past four years :/  (Thanks Foz Meadows for the link.)

Don't be a dick girls play games

According to Chuck Wendig’s blog, this debacle appears to have started here:

Ryan Perez @PissedOffRyno Does Felicia Day matter at all? I mean does she actually contribute anything useful to this industry, besides retaining a geek persona?

[Note: the above Twitter account appears to have been closed and replaced; the new account appears to be @OfGloriousLife.]

When that didn’t get a sufficient reaction, he went on to tweet Felicia herself.

Whether you’re a fan of Felicia or not, the facts are indisputable:
1)  Felicia is an actress, having had parts in SFF series such as Buffy and Dollhouse, and don’t forget the memorable Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog.  This is as well as her work in various comedy companies.  See her CV on IMDB.
2)  After realising that she wasn’t going to get the big parts, Felicia decided to create her own webseries, The Guild, thus creating her own persona and connecting with a huge fanbase (8.6 stars on IMDB for season 1).  Felicia wrote and performed Do you wanna date my avatar, a hugely popular song about relationships in MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games, e.g. World of Warcraft).  She was the fairy in the Legend of Neil, a spoof of Zelda.

3)  Felicia created her own comic book series as a spin-off from the Guild as well as a range of merchandise.
4)  Bioware hired Felicia Day to star in and work on the DragonAge webseries.

5)  Bioware created Talis, a character in DragonAge, based on Felicia’s webseries character and voiced by Felicia.
6)  Felicia’s career has taken off in recent years, with increasing diversity of opportunities such as her role as Dr Holly Martin in Eureka and her new YouTube channel, Geek and Sundry.
7)  Last year, Felicia was dubbed ‘Queen of ComicCon’, that little event they have in San Diego that no-one has ever heard about.  Joss Whedon was dubbed the king, which shows how much clout you need for that kind of popular acclaim.

In short, Felicia was a leader in the new wave of webseries, tapping into geek culture in an unprecedented way with her series.  Her current success is hard-earned, built on creativity and hard work.  Her geek persona is a result of her creative contributions to geek culture.

It seems to me that a loser whose career was struggling decided to get attention by attacking a woman, someone he considered a ‘soft’ target.  Presumably he felt safe in doing so, feeling that the risks outweighed the benefits.  What concerns me is that he’s been rewarded by people on the webz: he now has 2,245 followers as of a minute ago.  Chuck Wendig says they’re just rubber-necking; whether they are rubber-necking at a train-wreck or whether they’re in agreement with Ryan’s position is irrelevant.  His rapid rise in follower numbers could lead to future work due to his rapid rise in popularity.  A douchebag is being rewarded for his misogyny.

The best way to treat people like this is to, firstly, tell them their behaviour is inappropriate.  Secondly, take other actions like contacting their employer, the police, block them etcetera.  Finally, though, ignore them.  Ostracism is the best way to deal with trolls.

UPDATE:  End of show writer Kevin Beaumont writes about Perez‘s attempt at career suicide via twitter.
UPDATE:  Mark Serrels of Kotaku talks about Hitman: Absolution and the army of girls that will change gaming.

The problem is that the gaming industry caters to and encourages objectification of women, creating a vicious cycle of ever-increasing misogyny and male-elitism while actively excluding women through male-oriented content and bullying.  Someone has to break this vicious cycle by creating games for girls that aren’t patronising ‘princess’ games; games need to feature kick-ass strong women taking their places as equals in the world or even – heaven forbid! – rescuing the guy.

UPDATE:  This. By Birmo, a man who says men should show the ‘tiny penis’ brigade how it’s done, and thereby change gaming culture.
UPDATE 10 July 2013

Ryan Perez closed the twitter account he used to cause offence and has replaced it. Apparently Ryan lost his job – for a couple of months. His post-offence reappearance on Venture Beat featured an apology dated 21 September 2012.

I didn’t know about Ryan’s apology or claimed reformation until I decided to update due to continued visits to this year-old blog, even though Ryan attacked me personally after I published this blog.

Ryan Perez is still an asshole. More about his ongoing campaign against equity, diversity and common decency in my upcoming blog. 

14 Comments

  1. Hi, Nalini, good article. You said “Someone has to break this vicious cycle by creating games for girls that aren’t patronising ‘princess’ games; games need to feature kick-ass strong women taking their places as equals in the world or even – heaven forbid! – rescuing the guy.” I’m not gamer, but I;m guessing the overwhelming majority of the writers / programmers are male. In which case you may not see change until more women start writing the games.
    Best wishes.

    1. I agree. The problem with waiting for this is the glass ceiling that prevents women from getting the good jobs, being in charge of the money and the decision-making processes. Look at DC comics sacking most of their (already minority) female artists, driving an agenda of sexualised violence towards women. Someone already in power with money needs to realise that there is big money in making a game that has a good plot, engaging characters, equality of the sexes and excellent action. Once this guy – I did say someone already in power with money, right? – once this guy is raking in the $$$$$, then others will follow suit.

  2. We had problems at Wikipedia when Anita Sarkeesian started getting all the misogynist garbage thrown at her on the web. A bunch of cowardly anonymous IP addresses were writing that she was a nobody, that she was a greedy publicity hound, etc., and challenged whether she was notable enough to be in Wikipedia. (This is aside from the vile vandalism to the article about her.) Ironically, her presence in Wikipedia (as an academic who was doing interesting studies which had drawn serious respectful attention) had gone unchallenged for almost a year until that point.

    1. Isn’t she part of that project that was using kickstarter to raise money to make videos about the representation of women in games? If unemployment wasn’t looming large in this household, I would have bought in. I want that whole series!!!

    2. Ah sorry, I thought you were possibly with Anita, but you’re with Wikipedia! Awesome! It’s disappointing to think that some people abuse the amazing resource that is Wikipedia. I bet you have some interesting stories to tell… *hint* feel free to post a link…

  3. There is clearly a serious problem with the representation of women in video games, and I agree that more women should be making games (more EVERYBODY should be making games), but I’d just like to pull you up on a couple of points. First, it’s not only women who are disgusted by the sexism in gaming. This isn’t a male versus female issue. I’m a male and a MASSIVE gamer (most of my gamer friends are female, btw), and I have a problem with the way women are portrayed in many games. It’s worth noting that there ARE awesome female characters out there. Samus Aran springs to mind, and I know they are in the minority, but if we don’t celebrate them, how will the developers know we love them? Second, regarding your comment on how hard it is for women to start making games – I’d argue that this is the case for everybody at the moment, given the state of the industry, BUT this is the perfect time for Indie developers of both genders to come together to make a real difference to the way women are portrayed in video games. And third, and this is the tricky one, you need to be careful about throwing around terms like ‘kick-ass’ when talking about female lead characters in games that you want to play. Why? Because that’s what the industry thinks it’s giving us. Lara Croft is a prime example. She’s strong, completely independent, and definitely ‘kick-ass’, but the developers of her most recent game have been lampooned for including a hint of sexual violence into their game (because she’s a woman), and her creators were lampooned for the size of her breasts (because she’s a woman). Yet Lara is what developers think of when you say ‘kick-ass’. It is probably worth nothing that distorted body images in games (and comics, for that matter), aren’t restricted to female characters. Have you seen the size of Batman’s torso in some of his representations? But I’m getting off topic. My point is that many characters in games are made to look ‘sexy’ (let’s not get into the subjectivity debate just yet) whether or not they’re male or female. Ultimately, as with any industry, the best way to support change is to put our monies where our mouths are. Buy the good and let the bad wallow in the bargain bin.

    1. Thanks for a thoughtful response, Ben. I’d like to respond to a few points.

      1) I did not mean to imply that all men are happy with the way women are represented in these games, and I’m sorry that my clumsy wording gave that impression. Some men and boys are happy; I’m assuming that the happy group includes people like Perez. I am aware that some men aren’t impressed, and I appreciate their thoughtful comments in podcasts such as Boxcutters (a podcast focusing on television) and NonCanonical (a podcast on comics). I don’t want to sound like some middle-class wannabe claiming that ‘my best friends are gay’ to dodge accusations of homophobia, but at the same time… well, I know these guys personally, and others like Ben MacKenzie, the staff at All Star Comics Melbourne… So apologies to everyone who feels offended or hurt by my comments. I did not mean to put all guys in one basket, but I can see that my clumsy wording makes it sound like that was my intention.

      2) Feel free to celebrate good female characters here and on all my webby places. The more publicity good characters, good stories, good games get, the better. However, my point is that these are a tiny minority: we need more! We need balance, both to appeal to women and also to help overcome real problems in gaming culture that are fostered and reinforced by the negative images on the screen.

      3) You’re right about the industry facing difficulties but women are in a minority, women hit glass ceilings because they are women, women are less likely to be in positions of power in decision-making. This helps to foster an attitude within the industry that it’s a man’s industry for men, leading to the self-perpetuating misogynist culture at DC comics, which has huge ramifications within the comic book industry and, by extension, in comic book movies, TV series and games.

      4) I’ve followed discussions on representations of bodies online, in sociological studies and in academic conferences such as Monash University’s feminist pop culture convention last year, the title of which eludes me at present. The difference between representations of women and men are that women are represented in an overtly sexualised manner while men are represented in an overly ‘masculinised’ stereotype. Women are usually scantily clad, with far more skin exposed than men. Women are then posed with tits and bums prominently displayed, often in ‘brokeback’ positions or other positions reminiscent of sexual posturing, even if they’re supposed to be powerful. This undermines any sense of power in the female characters as they revert to the ‘types’ of the monstrous feminine or the seductive feminine. There is usually no middle ground. Men, in contrast, are represented as powerful. When women characters have ‘up close and personal’ conflict with villains, there is usually some form of sexualised violence or at least implied threat thereof; a woman’s relationship with the villain is often sexualised. Not so for men! I will get off this soap box now.

      5) The solution to number 4 is to represent both men and women realistically. If a female character is supposed to be really athletic, make her look like an athlete and pose her like an athlete. Likewise for men. Whether you’ve got a female hero and a male villain or a male hero and a female villain, or two gay people of the same sex fighting one another, let’s have a more realistic amount of sexual tension, more of a focus on the hero’s true goals and more consistency of character.

      A point in closing: if men were depicted more like athletes and less like brick walls, and their facial features were more normal instead of triangular jaws with tiny eyes and thin lips, women would find them more attractive. A woman artist did a comic strip commenting to that effect. I will see if I can find it later.

  4. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest there was parity in the misrepresentation of women and men – women are clearly more prevalently misshapen in comics and games, and I do agree we should strive for a more realistic representation of both in both.

    You do bring up an interesting difference, though, in that I was talking almost exclusively about games, and you seem to be talking predominantly about comics. I think the issues are much more pronounced in comics (particularly DC and perhaps Marvel) than they are in games in terms of body shapes, particularly in relation to positioning / poses. This may just be because there are more comics than games, or due to the nature of games – i.e. the characters actually move around and until very recently there were pretty severe limitations in terms of graphic power that meant making a character look even remotely human was difficult, much less making them look like a realistic male or female.

    1. I talked mostly about comics because that’s been the most common point of conversation, or the most common launching point. There was an interesting presentation on women characters in games at that Monash conference, talking about games like Moral Kombat, how the characters evolved over time and the backstories. It seems to me that change has been going downhill rather than improving. The way I see it, both industries – comic books and games – represent women similarly, reinforcing attitudes within communities and excluding women from participation.

  5. The next time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I imply, I do know it was my choice to learn, however I actually thought youd have one thing fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you possibly can fix if you werent too busy searching for attention.

  6. When I was really into gaming last century, any group I was in welcomed, with open arms, any girl that wanted to be involved. A girl at the table was a blessing: a chance to kick back and be as weird as we wanted, whilst in the presence of a girl; something to look at when the action got dull; the possibility of having this girl introduce us to other girls, and so on.
    I must admit that I have no idea who Felicia Day is (yes, I’ll look her up…) but if she’s a chick into gaming: more power to her!

    1. Back in the days of the dinosaurs I was the only girl I knew of who played D&D. Most of the guys were nice but a few weren’t, just like in any community. I also think the culture of any given community is largely set by the perceived power brokers. If the DM wants girls to play, then WOE BETIDE ANY CREEP. 😉 Creep’s characters may not live long.

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