Katie's Game Corner: The Truth About Sexual Harassment and Boardgaming
When I first discovered boardgames, I was excited, ready to be part of a hobby that on the surface seemed inclusive and friendly. A hobby that would accept me for who I was and treat me the same as everybody else. The way I looked wouldn’t matter, my gender wouldn’t matter but what would matter was my love and passion for games. Sure, that is the hobby we are trying to build, a hobby that so many people have created and a fight many of us fight everyday but there are challenges that we aren’t talking about, challenges that we sweep under the carpet. Why? Because every time we speak about these challenges we are blamed or not believed or it ruins our careers. These challenges aren’t something new, they have been around for years and we can no longer ignore them. It’s time to speak up.
Sexual harassment is real, it’s happening in this hobby and it is not going away.
I’ve worked in the boardgame industry in some capacity or another for over four years. I’ve worked in booths, I’ve worked at shows, I’ve worked on social media and the severity of sexual harassment I’ve experienced over the years is alarming, and I know I’m not the only one. From unsolicited dick pics to online harrasment to rape threats, I’ve heard and seen it all.
For years, I’ve worked and socialised in spaces dominated by men. Men that are just ‘joking around’. Men that are ‘flirty and touchy with everybody’. Men that don’t believe women. Men that accuse us of being dramatic. Men that say “you must have got it wrong”. Powerful men.
So I’m here to tell you, it is happening and you need to believe us.
I remember when I first started working in the industry, I was working for Esdevium games and I would demo games at different conventions. I was in my early twenties, going to all of these cool places and I was super excited. I would get a lot of male attention and I just figured it came with the territory, you know ‘boys will be boys’ and all that. Guys asking me out when I was just trying to demo a game, touching me up when they shouldn’t be and finding me on social media and persistently messaging me. That’s how it started and it was almost expected.
Did I ever report it or mention it? No, because it was made out to be a minor thing. It was made out that it was just a bit of fun but these events have been seriously detrimental and damaging over the years.
There was an incident at a convention a few years ago. Somebody that was well-known in the industry at that time cornered me in an elevator and refused to let me go until I kissed him. When I refused, he just became more forceful.
There have been times that highly respected game designers have sent me inappropriate messages and pictures constantly when I have asked them to stop and have then proceeded to make ME feel guilty or bad about what was happening. That this would ruin their marriage and they were just joking around. This is not a joke.
I could create a collage with the amount of unsolicited inappropriate pictures I have received. To the point I had to close off my Twitter DMs and work email address at one point meaning I wasn’t getting all of the legitimate emails and DMs I needed to continue my career and work.
Then I started a blog, I started writing about my favourite thing in the world, wargames and that came with its own set of challenges. I’ve been called a wargame groupie. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I only write about wargames to get male attention. I’ve been called every derogatory term under the sun and I’ve swept it under the carpet. Why? Because I was worried that my blog and my reputation in the industry would suffer if I spoke about it.
There are so many events that have happened over the years and even the recent past that I could talk about here but honestly, I don’t feel safe doing that yet. What I do want to say though is that women need your support. Be there for the victims in whichever way they need you to be but do not take away their voice. A situation happened at Origins this past week and before I had even had time to process it and deal with it, it was all over the internet from many sources. I then spent the entire weekend getting abuse and being bombarded with messages and tweets asking what had happened and asking me to tell the truth and confirm the allegations. This. Is. Not. Support.
Listen to women when they tell you they have been sexually harassed.
Do not excuse the behaviour, being drunk or joking around is not an excuse. Recognise that this is happening and not everybody has a voice to speak up about it but will handle it the way they can and when they can. Enforce a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment. If you see your ‘bro’ making comments, say something. Believe women when they trust you enough to tell you that something happened. Getting angry is going to happen but that doesn’t help the situation, on some occasions, it can actually make it worse.
There is so much more to this story, and more that I will reveal when I feel it is safe to do so but the first step is to recognize that this does happen, more often than you think and we need to start realising this and we need to start taking steps to create safe spaces.
Thank you for reading.