Hyperspace Beacon: The sexual harassment problem in SWTOR
In my community, we have some very strong women, and I don’t want to call them out because I don’t what to make them targets. But I do want to thank them for their effort, and I would like them to know that their extra work has not gone unnoticed.
I myself merely play female characters sometimes, and many times when I’m on those characters, people assume that I am a woman in real life. Although I know that my experience only scratches the surface of what a woman gamer goes through, even I can see that it’s a problem. So I would like to touch on what I’ve seen and why I see it as a growing issue.
Just standing there
Women, dress your characters how you like. There is a general thought, mostly among men, that says that a real woman isn’t going to dress her character in skimpy clothes and “parade” herself around the central hub, like Vaiken Station. I know for a fact that is not true. I can think of two very specific non-roleplayers who like their avatars to be sexy in SWTOR, and it’s not above them to walk around the station just to show off their outfits. Some of those outfits are very creative. And if a guy is allowed to wear a covert energy armor torso, then women, do what you like.
Now, I personally avoid dressing my female characters in any of the slave-girl outfits, not because I think it’s wrong — I just think it’s uncreative. If my character wears, for instance, the Slave Girl’s Bottoms, which are less than bikini bottoms, they will usually have a top that can be considered a dress with a mini-skirt. The Formal Militant’s Jacket is a good example of this. Couple that top with the Slave Girl’s Bottoms and a nice belt and you have a great-looking business suit.
But regardless of its creativity, no outfit on an avatar is an invitation to make unwanted sexual advances toward a woman. As I mentioned before, no one knows automagically that I am a man behind my female avatar. And on multiple occasions, I have stood on Vaiken Station around what I call the AFK rail, which is the railing around the middle ring overlooking the central bar. Then out of nowhere, I will get a whisper from a complete stranger that simply states, “*spank*.” What? Is that the internet equivalent of a wolf whistle or cat call?
The first time it happened, I seriously thought it was a friend of mine being goofy. I sent a whisper back asking if I knew him. However, I got no reply. It’s happened so many times now that it’s almost routine, and it’s rarely the same person, so I can’t just put the person on ignore. And to be honest, that’s far from the worst thing that’s happened.
Does this smell like chloroform to you?
Average roleplayers, like other regular gamers, are wonderful, stable human beings who like to create stories in a game universe. Most spend their time holding conversations or doing in-game activities as another character. Most are highly creative and some are geniuses at creating and portraying these characters that they’ve created. And yes, some of these creative people like to be sexually explicit or extraordinarily violent in the stories they tell. By no means do I think that’s wrong. What consenting adults do with their time is completely up to them (and none of my business).
But when there’s no consent? That’s a problem.
A few weeks back, I was an unwilling participant in a small incident that had one player screaming, “I will not take part in your rape fantasy!” Again, while standing at the AFK rail, I got a whisper that I will paraphrase: “You feel the muzzle of a blaster at the middle of your back and a sudden hand wrapping around your mouth with a cloth filled with chloroform.” I didn’t even know how to respond to that, but apparently, the next person did because she’s the one who shouted and even called him out by name.
I should make it clear that the incidents that I have mentioned are not the norm. Most people who attempt to make advances toward my characters are more polite and usually back off when I don’t reciprocate. But over and over, I hear stories about women and people playing female characters who have had to deal with stalkers, harassment, and just plain creeps when all they are trying to do is play a video game. And while men suffer harassment too, the nature and tenor of that harassment is usually very different, as I can myself attest.
As I said above, consenting adults are welcome to do what they like in their pretendy funtimes, but be careful who and how you approach each other. Just because someone wears the guild tag for Dark Rulers of the Bedroom (yes, that is a real guild with a hilariously wonderful name) doesn’t mean that she is there to fulfill your dark fantasies. It’s weird that I have to tell some people this: Approach avatars as if there is an actual human on the other side because there is. If you already do this? Great! Then I’m not talking to you, and thanks for being awesome! (It still doesn’t hurt to check yourself from time to time.)
If you happen to be a victim of online sexual harassment, I don’t have answers for you, but I do know some people who do. Dr. Lindsey Doe is a practicing sexologist who also has a YouTube channel talking about her practice, and specifically, she has a video about her personal experience with harassment that we can apply to gamers’ experiences online along with resources for victims.
Thank you for allowing me to get a little preachy this week. And I know that some people are going to believe that I am something that I’m not because I even broached this subject, but the truth is that I want everyone to have fun — just not at each others’ expense.