“Girlfriend Mode”: Keeping the Argument Civil

I am probably going to get flamed for this.

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mecromancerI am probably going to get flamed for this. A lot. But hey, at least the most important person in the world is with me on this.

Recently, Gearbox got into a lot of trouble because one of the lead designers for Borderlands 2 said the new Mechromancer class would be like “girlfriend mode” for people who “suck at first-person shooters.” And people, including many self-proclaimed feminists, flipped out. It got so bad that Randy Pitchford, the president of Gearbox, had to come out and say that it was all a big mistake and tout the feminist qualities of the person who originally made the comment.

mecromancerBorderlands 2’s Mecromancer: the face that launched a thousand blog posts.

OK, so the sucking at shooters comment went too far, since it equates women with being bad at shooters, but a lot of people are also finding issue with the term “girlfriend mode.” While there are certainly more gender-neutral ways to express such a mode (“Co-Star Mode” from Mario Galaxy springs to mind), I don’t find the term inherently distasteful, mainly because I can guess where it came from.

To work in the game industry for any long period of time, you have to be passionate about it. SUPER passionate. The only people I’ve seen who are able to overcome the excessive overtime and pressures are those with a real fire in their belly for games. So anyway, you’ve got a group of super passionate people working on a project, and there’s nothing passionate people love more than sharing their passion and things that they’ve worked on. Now let’s take into account that the game development workforce is overwhelmingly male. (I’m not one to comment on why that is, but I will say I look forward to the day when the ratio better reflects the general population.) Additionally, the majority of these men identify as straight, simply because demographic studies give us about 8% of the general population identifying as LGBT, and I think it’s safe to assume that similar numbers carry over into the game industry. Based on these statistics, I’m making a calculated guess that the design team for Borderlands 2 is mostly super passionate straight men and, as such, sharing their work/interests with their significant others, or “girlfriends” as they are known in some circles, is important to them. So they think about what mechanics could help their girlfriends, who may or may not be gamers or shooter-enthusiasts, to enjoy the game. And they dub their idea “girlfriend mode” within the team, because it’s an affectionate reminder of what they’re aiming for, and then before you know it, someone accidentally says the term in public, and everyone freaks out.

I’m not saying there aren’t issues with sexism in the gaming community. There definitely are, and they deserve serious attention, and everyone who can engage in respectful discourse should be invited to weigh in with their opinion. This, however, is not one of those issues. Call the guy out for the “suck at first-person shooters” comment, but try to see the use of the phrase “girlfriend mode” for what it is: something that a guy used to describe the part of the game that can be shared with others instead of excluding them. Let’s not all jump down the guy’s throat, because if the president of Gearbox is telling the truth (and ever since he let Ashley Burch punch him in the nuts, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that), he’s actually on our side.

At the end of it all, I find myself reminded of “Homer Badman,” the Simpsons episode where Homer is accused of sexual harassment and becomes the target of mass protests and media attention. Of course, he never tried to sexually harass anyone, but he made the mistake of plucking the much-prized Gummi Venus de Milo from the bottom of the baby-sitter he was driving home. Yes, Homer was stupid, but certainly not malicious or chauvinistic in his actions, and thankfully by the end of the episode the conflict is resolved and the angry protesters are reminded of Homer’s humanity. And that’s how I see the guy that made the original statement: a little dumb, but deserving a little human understanding and worth giving the benefit of the doubt.

Also, for the record, I am totally looking forward to that Mechromancer class. A giant robot pet AND I don’t have to worry about aiming? SCORE.

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About the Contributor


From 2008 to 2015

13 Comments

  1. In a world where girls feel alienated already, making sure you’re PC about your pronouns can be important. I understand this, but I agree with you. Using the term “girlfriend mode” is not as offensive as not having leading/empowering female characters, or allowing your game’s community to be misogynistic assholes to women.

    I feel like being upset at one guy for phrasing something in a potentially offensive way, but not attempting to be offensive, is a waste of time.

    You can inform him that it may have been offensive without writing huge blog posts about it, and move on to the more aggressive sexism in some gaming communities.

    Maybe I’m an asshole for thinking that, but the idea that treating every flame like its a forest fire doesn’t strengthen your cause.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. I, too, feel like it’s a wasted effort when a simple “Hey, can you cut that out?” would suffice, especially when there are much worse problems out there. Different responses to different situations, and all that.

  2. I’m not saying there aren’t issues with sexism in the gaming community. There definitely are, and they deserve serious attention, and everyone who can engage in respectful discourse should be invited to weigh in with their opinion. This, however, is not one of those issues.

    a.) The term “girlfriend mode” is inherently sexist. By indicating that any game mode is intended for one gender or another, this became a discussion about sexism. The people responding to it are not the ones who made it about sexism, the guy who said something sexist did.

    a1.) It doesn’t matter if this was an ‘in-joke’ amongst the development team that leaked. That just means that the development team were making sexist jokes. They deserve slack for that…why?

    a2.) Even if you defend it on the basis of being an in-joke, would you defend a mode that was otherwise specific for one group of people? “Black Guy Mode”? “Lesbian Mode”? Why is “Girlfriend Mode”–which is just as marginalizing to women as those examples are to people of color and LGBTQ–automatically okay? It’s not.

    b.) People are not required to be nice or reasonable when responding to bigotry, i.e. sexism. You’re making what’s called “The Tone Argument” which boils down to “You can share your opinion/feelings about this thing that hurts you so long as you’re nice to the person who’s hurting you while you do so.”

    c.) This is one of those issues. A group of people who developed a game for a wide audience dubbed part of their game appropriate for girlfriends–not ‘appropriate for non-gamers/n00bs’ but appropriate for girlfriends and thus women specifically. I’m not entirely sure how this ISN’T about sexism in gaming.

    Look, the words “girlfriend mode” say a couple of things. It says that the intended audience for the game is straight and male–‘partner’ mode or ‘significant other’ mode wouldn’t have excluded gamer girls trying to get their boyfriends to play with them or LGBTQ gamers trying to get their partners to play with them–and it also says that girlfriends of gamers are automatically less competent at gaming. I understand that lots of gamers try to get their partners into gaming, but this statement simultaneously says that the only gamers who count are straight males and that the only female gamers who count are girlfriends who desperately need the game to be handicapped for them to play.

    There is no part of the words that don’t exclude someone on the basis of gender, which is what makes it sexism. If the exclusion was made in ignorance? Well, okay, it was made in ignorance, but it’s still a sexist exclusion. You can’t erase that. People who are hurt by the words are allowed to respond to being excluded from an industry that they support in any way that they see fit without being told they’re being unreasonable. There is no way to respond to sexism or any other form of bigotry that isn’t unreasonable because bigotry is unreasonable.

    I mean…think about it. What’s more unreasonable here? Making a sexist statement and expecting people to be nice when calling you out for hurting them? Or being angry when someone says something sexist and hurtful? What sounds more rational to you?

    1. OK, gonna go through the points individually here:

      a)No, the term “girl mode” is inherently sexist. “Girlfriend mode,” while admittedly not the best term, still has the word “friend” in there, meaning it’s something to be shared (paraphrasing Vangie here). As I explained above, the people the team is most likely to want to share things with are girlfriends, who may or may not play these games.

      a1) If they are making jokes at the expense of women, they don’t deserve slack. But I don’t believe this was a joke made at anyone’s expense.

      a2) See my response to a), but to reiterate, “Girlfriend Mode” does not equal “Girl Mode.” A better term could be “Sig-other Mode,” but that’s not really in the lexicon and would need a lot of explaining.

      b) People aren’t required to be nice and polite when responding to anything really, but it really helps your argument. People are wired to automatically go into defensive mode when they feel like they’re being attacked, however coolly calmly arguing your point can prevent a situation where people yell at each other for a bit then go back to their respective camps not having learned anything because they shut off their ability to listen from the start. Civility can circumvent the brain’s natural tendencies and help your argument have more weight.

      c) Gonna use another quote from Vangie for this one: “To the guys at Gearbox: Thanks for making a game that you and your sig others could play together. I think that’s great.” Gearbox has indeed developed a game for a wide audience, including women who play games. They’re also trying to make a game that appeals to people new to gaming or that genre that players would want to share the game with, and in the case of the dev team, that’s probably most easily identified by girlfriends. Again, not the best term or the most gender-neutral or hetero-normative, but I feel like they’ve learned their lesson. What irks me, though is how internet overreaction seems to have become the way people deal with disagreements these days, and I don’t think it’s productive to the conversation.

      I have to run for the moment, but in the meanwhile I’d suggest you check out this article over at GayGamer a friend sent me while I was researching for this article. It makes a lot of good points about the progress the video game community is talking about these topics, and I find I agree with the tone completely.

      http://gaygamer.net/2012/08/borderlands_2_casual_sexism_an.html

      1. Take a step back. “Girl” is sexist but “Girlfriend” is not. Why? How does “Girlfriend” not refer to sex just as much as “Girl” does? What IS the definition of sexism? Discrimination on the basis of sex. And ultimately, would it have actively hurt the game creators to call it co-op/n00b/friend mode? It certainly wouldn’t have confused anyone to do so, but as you say, “girlfriend” is shorthand for someone who doesn’t usually play games which, again, is a symptom of a culture that often does not value female gamers or is actively and openly hostile toward them.  “Girlfriend Mode”–especially in the context of something that’s been nerfed–is just as insidious as “Girl Mode” because they’re both part of sexism in geek circles. It’s just not as inclusively sexist–that is, it’s not on the basis of being a girl but rather on the basis of being a girl a gamer sleeps with.

        I know that these guys probably just weren’t thinking and it was totally innocent on their part and they were probably just thinking of something nice for their girlfriends, but that’s what makes it all the more discouraging: professionals in the gaming industry didn’t think about how it could possibly hurt someone who’s NOT straight and male because they didn’t consider their audience would be anything but. It was an oversight, yes, but that oversight underscores one of the biggest problems that geek culture has. Women make up half the population and yet, in geek culture, we’re treated as a minority. Official numbers may support that but why is it so? Women are just as capable at pushing buttons and reading comics as guys are, but the culture itself goes out of its way to not treat women as equals and to discourage women from joining in. “Girlfriend Mode” does encourage a woman to join in, yay, great, but it puts her on a lower level than her male counterpart, which doesn’t really fix anything.

        And to put the tone argument thing another way, consider this: let’s say I accidentally step on your foot and you yelp because it hurt, maybe even let out an angry “Hey! Watch where you’re going!” My job is to apologize because I unintentionally hurt you. It doesn’t matter that it was an accident, I still have to apologize because I hurt you. I’m actually glad you yelped because otherwise i never would have known i hurt you and i want to apologize for wronging somebody. Now imagine that AFTER I apologize, someone comes along and tells you that you had no right to cry out in the tone you did, and that you should be glad I didn’t just cut your leg off because there are people out there getting their legs cut off every day.

        That’s what happens when the internet gets up in arms. Someone steps on someone else’s foot, the person who’s injured says so, the foot stomper usually reacts with an apology or else they or, someone else tell the injured party that they’re using the wrong tone and that there are more important wrongs to be upset about, which doesn’t actually soothe the original injury and in fact is both dismissive and condescending to the injured person. 

        (Not saying you specifically are being dismissive and condescending but when you trot out the tone argument, be prepared for people who’ve heard it before to tear you apart.)

        The tactics are so common that they’ve spawned “Derailing For Dummies” which is a (mostly) solid document identifying incredibly common arguments made by people who just don’t want to apologize for stepping on someone’s foot.

        Ultimately? I’m very glad there were apologies for use of the term and I do personally prefer rational discourse, but nobody would have known to apologize if everyone had remained silent about their hurt. Some may have been louder with their cries than others or angrier, but just like stepping on someone’s foot, you don’t know if they’ve already been stepped on a bunch of times before you run into them, and it’s only natural for them to be EXTRA hurt and EXTRA angry if you trod on a foot that’s already black and blue because you’re not looking where you’re going. Someone popping up to say they shouldn’t be so upset is even less productive than the shouting.

        1. Admittedly, “girlfriend mode” is a mite sexist, but not nearly so much as saying something like “girl mode.” The latter explicitly states that there’s a difference between the levels men and women and play at, while the former speaks to something you’re to share. Should they have used something more gender-neutral? Yeah, sure. (On a technical note, while n00b-mode may have worked co-op/friend mode would not have, since the game is already co-op. Also, the character they’re describing is not nerfed, but is rather actually easier to use/more powerful, so as to give new players an easier time and be better able to contribute.) And like I said, video game culture has big issues with prejudice with regards to sex, race, and sexual preference. it makes me sick to think of what happened to Anita Sarkeesian a while back, or of the terrible things you hear in online games. But there ARE people out there trying to change that, and increasing the diversity of the game playing base is probably the best way to do that. Yes, the dev team should have tried to think more outside of their straight male bubble, but thinking outside of one’s own bubble is hard for anyone to do. In my opinion, I think it’s better to reward the positive while firmly, yet not excessively, denying the negative.

          In my experience, the foot-stepping example is not at all what happens in these debates. The example you cite is something that happens between two people, and in the case you cited there is no reason for the person who had the foot stepped on to apologize. But what I see actually happening is more akin to someone getting there foot stepped on and shouting to everyone on the street “Hey everyone! This person stepped on my foot! We have a foot-stepper-onner over here!” or the victim quickly turning on the accidental offender and appending a string of uncalled-for verbal epithets to their “watch where you’re going” statement. And in both of those cases, yeah, the victim should apologize for their role as well, because they turned right back around and tried to make the person who accidentally stepped on their foot a victim, too. Then it just becomes a cycle of hurt and retaliation that doesn’t really go anywhere.

          I’m not surprised, though rather saddened, to hear there’s a guide to derailing arguments. Also, I’m glad that the guys at Gearbox apologized, too. They flubbed, they apologized, good move on their part. And maybe my foot is not as black-and-blue because, as I straight, white male, I essentially play life on easy mode, so maybe I can afford to have more patience. But as someone who used to (and still occasionally does, unfortunately) find myself upset at people or the world for perceived slights, I just can’t see the worth in letting stuff that was accidental get to oneself. Call the person out, let them learn from their mistake, and move on. If they make the same mistake twice, go ahead and kick their ass, but at least give them a chance to improve.

          1. Okay. So it’s a little sexist. 

            Now I ask the following in all pleading honesty: do you have a chart that shows the levels of sexism? What kind of sexism is someone not supposed to feel negatively about, or to just let slide?

            Is there a chart? Is it standardized? Or is all sexism bad? And if all sexism is bad, why are people so quick to defend an example of it as being not-as-bad-as-it-could-be? As was intimated in my example of foot stepping, telling someone that they should be glad they didn’t get their leg cut off doesn’t mean their foot wasn’t stepped on. Which is what you keep doing with “girl mode would have been worse.” Does that change the fact that “girlfriend mode” is still bad? No. It’s actively dismissive of my concerns to keep saying “Could be worse! Could be raining!” directly after explaining to you WHY that action is dismissive. (Without sarcasm: I honestly don’t know how else to say so, so I hope that was civil enough.)

            “But there ARE people out there trying to change that, and increasing the diversity of the game playing base is probably the best way to do that.”

            I have a legitimate question here: how does “girlfriend mode” diversify the audience? Doesn’t it, in fact, limit the diversification to the girlfriends of gamers who–as you’ve already said–most likely already have someone in their lives trying to share the hobby? Wouldn’t ‘n00b mode’ and a marketing campaign showing women playing and enjoying the game, with an emphasis on it being easy for new players while also challenging for seasoned gamers have been more inclusive and effective? What actually opens up the world of gaming to women who haven’t played before? And does the term ‘girlfriend mode’ welcome women who are new to games who DON’T have a gamer boyfriend in their lives? Not really. 

            Diversifying the audience, which means more money for the companies that make games because more players automatically equals more revenue, is dependent on appealing to as wide a group of people as possible. Setting aside the sexism, it’s not exactly a sound business decision to create something that expands your audience by a relatively small amount when you could easily do the opposite with a word change.  

            Now we’re looking at something that not only hurts *people* but hurts a *product* and is damaging to an entire *industry.* ‘Girlfriend mode’ makes little ripples that effect the entire culture and the way people inside and outside of it feel about it.

            “Yes, the dev team should have tried to think more outside of their straight male bubble, but thinking outside of one’s own bubble is hard for anyone to do.”

            I’m assuming that the development team is made up of a sizable group of people or at the very least, more than one person because games are hard to make.   Expecting ONE person to be completely PC at all times is a little silly because everyone fucks up–but the development team is not a hive mind. And this isn’t about forgetting to mind your manners with one person.

            It didn’t occur to even one of them that female or LGBTQA gamers
            exist? And they might not take kindly to ‘girlfriend mode’ excluding them? If that’s the case, it doesn’t say anything good about the gaming industry and the way it thinks in general. A group of people just…forgot half the human race? Or at least, the part of that demographic that isn’t romantically linked with straight male gamers? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be irritated about that or to call attention to such a massive blunder made by committee decision, do you?

            “In my experience, the foot-stepping example is not at all what happens in these debates. The example you cite is something that happens between two people, and in the case you cited there is no reason for the person who had the foot stepped on to apologize. But what I see actually happening is more akin to someone getting there foot stepped on and shouting to everyone on the street “Hey everyone! This person stepped on my foot! We have a foot-stepper-onner over here!” or the victim quickly turning on the accidental offender and appending a string of uncalled-for verbal epithets to their “watch where you’re going” statement.”

            And herein lies the power of words and actions that affect many people: they affect many people. If I step on your foot, then I have hurt just you; but words–which is what the foot stomping metaphor is about–can hurt many more than just one. The same sentence can hurt a person in Ohio and a person in England and a person in Africa and a person in Austria for all the same reasons. It’s less of a single foot stomp and more of a tap dance on many, many feet around the world. And each person who gets stepped on has the right to say something about being stepped on. The fact that there are so many more people crying out is evidence not of how many are dogpiling on one guy for his words, but how many people are hurt by those words and how much power they hold to injure. That’s why it’s imperative to be so careful with them. Words have the power to hurt more people in a single stroke over the course of a moment than most weapons ever could.

            Now, in this particular instance, the foot stomper apologized. But not until after those hurt said something, and not until after A LOT of people said something. They shouldn’t have to confer quietly amongst themselves, select a single representative and then calmly and gently approach him one-on-one to say that it hurt and hope he’ll respond with an apology. A corner of the Internet rose up as one and said it’s not okay in a bunch of posts and comments; if they hadn’t, it’s very likely that no change would have happened at all. Maybe it would have, but I’ve got a pile of links to kerfuffles like this one that are evidence to the contrary.

            “And in both of those cases, yeah, the victim should apologize for their role as well, because they turned right back around and tried to make the person who accidentally stepped on their foot a victim, too. Then it just becomes a cycle of hurt and retaliation that doesn’t really go anywhere.”

            I’m trying to put into words why I’m not okay with this, but it requires a lot of explanation about the way social justice is used and misused and the many reasons why I still don’t identify myself as being part of the social justice movement. Arg. None of the resources are useful! 

            There is a contingent of the social justice community that DOES believe that “anything goes” in anger with their response to oppression and I’m guessing your problem is with them. But their number is relatively small.

            I personally believe there is a line in Internet rhetoric that shouldn’t be crossed and it’s the act of making a debate partner or someone who hurt you feel legitimately unsafe. Death threats, rape threats, threats of physical harm etc. are never okay. In those cases, it IS victimizing the other party and an apology IS necessary on both sides.

            However: calling someone sexist, or racist, or a jerk isn’t threatening. It’s especially not so when the person in question actually did or said something sexist or racist or jerkish. Being angry at someone for doing something that dehumanized you by treating you as “less than” is not an attack or a victimization.

            And, again, you don’t actually know how many times someone who lashes out has already dealt with the same thing today. I can run into anti-girl sentiment in the geek community ten times over the next hour, just by surfing for news about when something I’m looking forward to is coming out. I am not made of infinite patience, and neither is anyone else. The first nine times I may have the emotional fortitude to be relatively calm and civil in my discourse, but the tenth time may be the last straw. Especially if in each instance I’m having what is basically the same argument over and over again with people who won’t understand unless someone explains it to them.

            Generally, when I get to that point, I walk away–but I don’t begrudge or penalize anyone who finally snaps and lets out a string if curses and CAPSLOCK.

            For you, this discussion is something that affects the periphery of your geekdom experience in negative ways and that sucks. For me and many others, it is in my face everywhere I turn and the only way to escape it is to be chased away from things I love, and that sucks more. You don’t notice it until someone who’s already been hurt by it brings your attention to it, which means they’ve already experienced its harmful effects before you know they exist. No one is immune to this: things that hurt my POC friends sometimes don’t faze me until I see they’re upset and I realize “Holy shit, that thing that didn’t bother ME hurts someone ELSE. That’s not okay! How can I avoid engaging in that thing and stop it from happening again?”

            There is nothing wrong with NOT being in a position to be hurt–this isn’t a “Rawr-Rawr-Rawr-You-Have-Privilege-And-You-Should-Feel-Bad-About-It!” thing–but try to understand that before someone put fingers to keyboard to SAY they were hurt, they already experienced the hurt that you didn’t know about or notice. They may have been hurt twenty times today before they said anything where you could see it. It is NOT that much of a burden to HEAR about someone being hurt. Not half so much a burden as it is to BE hurt. And it’s AWFUL to tell someone not to say they’re hurt because you can’t handle their incivility while they do it, or that they should apologize for expressing their feelings about something that actually affects their daily lives in numerous negative ways.

            Being told you hurt someone and they’re angry at you may hurt your feelings, but if you’re actually legit remorseful about what you did, you’ll feel guilty that you hurt someone and want to learn from it.

            And, who is supposed to offer that apology you want the victim to deliver, anyway?  Should every person who spoke up about “girlfriend mode” apologize for speaking up? Or just the ones who swore or CAPSLOCKED while doing it? The ones who talked about it
            in their blogs amongst friends? Or IRL? The reporters who reported on it? Anyone who called him names? Which names count? Is calling him “sexist” insulting, or accurate? What about people who didn’t actually say anything about HIM, just the words he used? I’m not going to have apologize to him for pointing out the problematic nature of the term to you, am I? Should someone try to pull together a representative committee to send him a fruit basket with a card “We’re sorry we got mad and swore at you and talked about you.”? Are kiwis in this season? Those are a nice apology fruit…

            Each person is individually responsible for their actions and words. This is absolutely true. And oh, what a beautiful world we would live in if everyone who ever said something horrible took responsibility for it and apologized for it upon realizing they’d done something wrong.

            It would be GREAT if everyone could be kind and civil and nice while trying to discuss these matters, but sometimes, it’s too much. It doesn’t matter if the offense was an accident, it’s part of and adds to an unwelcome landscape in ways that are detrimental to a lot of people around the world as well as the geeky industries themselves.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry that anyone made the development team feel bad, because being nice is nice, I don’t like seeing ANYONE made to feel shitty and like I said, I PREFER civil discourse, but it’s not even my apology to give because I didn’t insult anybody, just called their actions into question. And therefore, while a nice thought, my apology doesn’t really mean jack. I wish it did because if my apologies healed the world I’d spend every waking moment of my life repeating “I’m sorry” until
            my throat bled, but the most effective thing I can do is try to learn what hurts people, not to do it, apologize when I fuck up and speak to others about it like I’m doing now.

  3. “Techie”: I’m noticing that your post has a lot of focus on the words “hurt” and “upset”. From these, I can guess how you’re feeling; and I can definitely sympathize. But. The Internet does not care about your feelings. So, my question and challenge to you is therefore: what will you do now? Sexism in the gaming/nerd community is indeed a pervasive and hurtful thing, but is focusing on your own feelings really the best way to change the status quo? Calling attention to sexism only goes so far. What solutions do you now propose? What compromises and concessions are you willing to make? How can you work WITH gamers to reduce sexism, rather than railing at them from your soapbox?

    Civility in discourse isn’t just about “being nice” to someone who has wronged you. It is about refocusing the conversation from one that is stuck in endless cycles of anger to one that is geared toward finding a productive solution. Those are the kinds of conversations I am interested in, and those are ones to which I would gladly welcome you, should you be interested in taking part. It’s up to you.

    1. Please understand that, while tone is hard to get across on the Internet, this isn’t me ripping into you. Imagine this as being in an entreating voice, rather than an angry one, because I’m not angry, I’m entreating. (Also, I don’t actually have time to respond to all the comments ATM, so I’ll come back to them later.)

      This isn’t that personal. Obviously, since a lot of people responded angrily to the initial event, a lot of people were hurt and upset. This is not a case of my feelings alone were injured–I don’t feel half so offended as others did, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from understanding why the internet exploded with rage and, as someone who ISN’T that invested in this particular game, I’m probably in a better position to explain in a less furious tone, which is the point of this post. 

      Those with the ability to engage rationally are invited to say why things are bogus; I’m actively following the tone rule set out by the post itself. I mean, Ridgaway’s theory is that if you’re polite enough and reasoned enough in pointing out the problems you have with something, it should be enough to change minds, so why hasn’t that actually happened here? Why hasn’t a polite and logical example of why “girlfriend mode” is sexist still about HOW sexist it is, as if lowballing it as being not-that-sexist somehow makes it better? Is it because tone has very little to do with whether someone is listening or not? I’m asking honestly here because I haven’t spewed any CAPSLOCK RAEG or unkind epithets or arguments that aren’t thought out and supported by evidence, and yet I’m still fighting to get someone to actually acknowledge something that’s provably sexist as being sexist with definitions and evidence on my side. Not a mite sexist but flat out sexist. And why are you actually giving me a spiel about a soapbox and “when you want to engage politely, I’ll welcome you”? 

      Doesn’t this actually disprove that being polite and reasoned makes your argument more persuasive? Or is there a level of politeness I’m just not reaching and if so, would someone please tell me where the line is? Should there have been more smiley faces and pleases and thank yous? That’s not sarcasm, either: what more could I have done to point out politely why “Girlfriend Mode” is sexist and why telling people who are upset not to be upset or that they have bigger things to worry about isn’t actually doing anything and is, in fact, part of a pervasive, negative pattern in Internet discourse about discrimination, inequality and unfairness in geekdom?

      “Sexism in the gaming/nerd community is indeed a pervasive and hurtful thing, but is focusing on your own feelings really the best way to change the status quo? What compromises and concessions are you willing to make? How can you work WITH gamers to reduce sexism, rather than railing at them from your soapbox?”

      Let me ask you a question in turn. Why is the onus on someone hurt by discrimination to stop discrimination? How does that work? And why, exactly, should someone have to make compromises just to be granted the rights and privileges enjoyed by others? I mean…what compromises are you personally willing to make to be treated like just as much of a human being as a man in the gaming community? The things that bother me in gaming and geek culture are not things I’m willing to compromise on: rape jokes, objectification, sexual harassment in games, being treated as a second class citizen on the basis of my gender…and frankly, nor should I have to because those are shitty things to do to somebody.

      What CAN someone do other than draw attention to the negative actions of others that hurt in an effort to educate so that it doesn’t have to continue? Even initiatives like Gamers Against Bigotry are intended to gain attention to highlight the problems of geek culture and pledge to not engage in it anymore. Beyond not engaging in sexist/racist/homophobic/etc. behavior, TELLING someone who’s being discriminatory that they are and not frequenting spaces where those people are welcome, there is no other course of action because the people who are acting bigoted have ALL the actual power to stop bigotry. 

      What was the Feminist movement in the sixties if not making lots of noise–so much noise that the people with actual power chose to change the unfair rules? People speaking out–especially at the same time and for the same
      reason–is the only means of changing the world many of us have. Even everyone speaking up about “Girlfriend Mode” caused a change. The guy who used the term now knows not to, the people who watched the debacle unfold know why it’s a problem and the people hurt by it have been appeased.

      What more, specifically, do you want? Something more than baby steps? I’d like that too. But how is that going to happen when even the baby steps in the right direction are criticized and fought for being too progressive or not progressive enough?

      1. “And why are you actually giving me a spiel about a soapbox and “when you want to engage politely, I’ll welcome you”? ”

        Rather, when you want to engage *productively*; sorry, bit of a brainfart there.

        1. Hmmm I fear between the three of us and the internet’s limitations as a medium of communication there’s something getting lost in translation. Is there a way to take this conversation somewhere people can explain themselves better? E-mail? Chat? Skype?

          1. Come visit! We stocked up on beer! And we kinda have a place to live and put people now!

            Also, John says hi.

  4. Also, for what it’s worth, I understand where you’re coming from about the sexism inherent in the term “girlfriend mode”. The truth is, I personally just don’t find it that offensive. To me, it sounds like the sort of thing that was not so much a “joke” in-house as it was a short-hand for the kind of experience they were trying to create. Was it stupid to say it in public to people who didn’t share the in-house context? Probably, yeah. But I just can’t find it in myself to get that worked up over it. No harm was meant, and compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard recently about the treatment of female gamers, this is nothing. I’d much rather focus on putting a stop to the actual harassment that goes on, which is completely unacceptable and which needs to be condemned by the community at large.

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