Hyperspace Beacon: The sexual harassment problem in SWTOR

    
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As most of our readers probably know, I consider myself a member of the roleplay community in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I have been a part of MMO roleplay communities since 2004, and there isn’t a lot that I haven’t seen. However, there is a problem in the online communities, in general, that I have been quiet about, but I feel that something needs to be said about it before it hits a breaking point. And the gamemasters of the SWTOR world are stretched too thin and have to take extreme action — an action that will likely limit those who are innocently trying to have fun. The problem is harassment against women.

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.

Check yourself

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.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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Fridolin Tremaine

Thank you very much for writing this article. To me it wasn’t preachy at all. It more pointed out existing problems.
OOC consent should always be given for in character actions.

It is good to see that those topics are being discussed and that consent and communication are being promoted.

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Bart Karolczuk

As a MMO roleplayer I do too have some female toons in SWTOR. Maybe I got lucky but it never happened to me what’s described over here. But then again, I play on European servers. The only comment I ever got considering my toon’s gender was a compliment actually – somebody whispered me after group content run and said I must be a woman IRL as well because I was healing very good and in this player’s experience women are far better healers…
I did however receive a few racist whispers and comments over the years – my main is black human male powertech. All the douche bags (‘pro’ PvPers, racists, smartypants, etc.) are instantly joining my ignore list – I checked – it has no upper limit, feel free to use it.

Cyclone Jack
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Kickstarter Donor
Cyclone Jack

For me, I’ve played male and female characters since Everquest. While I don’t RP, I do try and make a character around a concept and think up a bit of backstory. As such, I’d say my characters’ gender split is close to 50%. Game time between the two probably aren’t as close as I gravitate towards some characters more than others, mechanically. In CoH my main was a female (by far the most time on any character in any MMO), and in WoW I played 2 characters fairly equally, one of each gender.
All that said, I can only recall of one time I was “harassed”, and that was in ESO’s pre-launch period of Morrowind. I have a Nord female based off of Skadi of Norse mythos, and some random kept whispering me about how sexy I was (in full armor, ofc) and trying to get me to join his group. I blocked them, teleported to a random area, and continued playing. It’s possible I’ve received other rude/crude/improper whispers in the past, but if I’m out and about doing quests, in combat, crafting, etc, I’m all but oblivious to the chat box. What annoys me more than anything are the blind invites. Blind inviters need to be insta-banned and blacklisted from the genre.
As for the chloroform person, if they want to perform non-consensual RP, just flip it back onto them. “Before the cloth reaches my mouth, my blaster is pulled and I shoot behind me, killing my attacker before they can react. I stare down at the lifeless body and give it a light kick in the head as I walk away.”

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Nathan Aldana

..Im sorry, but if some rando asshole walks up to strangers and tries to roleplay using chloroform he honestly should get banned. Its not only creepy as shit but shows they have no itention of respecting boundaries with others if they dont even ask permission for that serious a roleplay situation.

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Melissa McDonald

I agree with you 100%, but just pointing out the obvious that chloroform is by definition an non-consent fantasy

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thirtymil

It’s also not particularly good roleplay for Star Wars, where if you wanted to knock someone out you’d use the blaster set to stun, of course. Chloroform is anachronistic.

(Just for clarity I agree on the creepiness of it all.)

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Weilan

It’s a game, relax, if you ignore the person they can’t do anything to you, you can also block them from whispering, so you just ignore them and they go away. They will just run around you for 5 minutes and then give up. Don’t try to turn a game into real life.

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Pedge Jameson

SWTOR accidentally leaked their new expansion to you. “Knights of the Locker Room Talk”.

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Fred Douglas

The SWTOR community in general is one of the worst I’ve seen, at least on Harbinger. I don’t have a reason for this, other than perhaps PvP sustains the endgame which draws a certain kind of person.

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Pedge Jameson

There moving towards single player, and they all seem to behave like that old commercial of that gorilla beating a suitcase to death. Maybe they should shut the social part down completely as they don’t know how to use it.

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Melissa McDonald

I think it’s just Star Wars. The entire IP is based upon rebellion, outlaws, lawlessness beyond the control of centralized control, personal freedom and anarchy. It tends to attract and entirely different kind of person than, say, Star Trek, which is about world government, harmony, cooperation, diplomacy. Edit: yes about PvP.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

We must have been watching different Star Treks.

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thirtymil

Kirk snogging aliens was totally about harmony and cooperation… :)

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J

I’m going to be a little different here and fess up.

I’ve been steadily playing MMORPGs since 1999 and I enjoy RP a great deal. I would be lying if I said I had not gotten into some “freaky” stuff on occasion. Even more so when I was aa impressionable teen.

Now, having said that. If something like that did go down. It was always consensual and thought through. There are guilds and forums where people lay out interests and bounce story ideas around. To me the hankypanky wasn’t a bit of fun if there wasn’t some context and story that lead to it.

Now, having said that… What is described above is none of that. Its creepy, not consensual and you likely will (and should) get your ass in trouble for it. Now what the punishment might be is a different matter. You are probably best off just using mute/block and being on your way. As banning someone in a F2P game is likely going to result in them showing back up on a new F2P account minutes later. Its not exactly something you can completely police.

It was way easier back in the golden era of MMOs for the community to police itself, because there were so few people on each server and nothing was F2P. There was something to really lose when you had to go buy another 30-60 dollar game and then come up with another CC to get your monthly stuff rolling again.

ceder
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ceder

I don’t really even think of the swtor avatars as being that attractive really. So there really must be some desperation out there. Then again I’ve seen female taurens hit on in wow so…

But it also does remind me about how on some City of Heroes servers you couldn’t walk into the dance club with a female character without being spammed that sort of silliness.

For the rp that someone tried to do above, I’d’ve said “Unless you want a saarlak tonguing you for a 1000 years, I’d step off.” :P

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Witches

On a lighter note, that third gif is just fantastic, perfect description of the article.

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Seamus O'neill
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Bruno Brito

“since they’re usually in it for booty, so they’re not much better than the harasser”

What the fuck…