Two recent events have gotten me thinking about safe spaces and how differently we treat safe spaces within the gaming hobby. A friend and advocate of equality and diversity was recently driven out of a context because s/he felt unsafe and had reason to feel unsafe. Despite pointing this out and offering proof of why this was, his/her requests were met with silence, and then – after a good long while – a solution that might have worked if implemented when the concerns were first raised.

Another incident reported was a troll and bully with several serious offences moving around at DreamHack, reportedly shouting “hate all feminists” as he roamed the floor. In the first instance listed in this blog post, my friend was pretty much Left to fend for herself and had to demand answers in a way she should not have had to, considering the nature of the complaint. In the DreamHack instance, the event alerted security that there was a potentially disruptive person present. Both instances point to something important, in my opinion. In nerd contexts we have a tendency to always side with the disruptive elements, not with those who have been exposed to them. To me, this seems wrong. Those who have been victimised or bullied or harassed, should be the ones who are protected, not the ones doing the bullying or harassing.

It turns out that it is naïve to expect this from events and event managers. DreamHack did react, which is commendable, but not until someone complained. A person walking around reportedly shouting “hate all feminists” was not attended to by the event security until there were complaints, at least as far as I understand it based on the reports. And people wonder why nerd women and other marginalised groups ask for separatist spaces to perform and enjoy their hobby.

The reaction from many when the question of safe spaces appear is often to deride the need for separatist forums and events. I remember a few instances in particular. A woman wanting a women only forum and game in StarCraft II was met with such enormous hatred that she quit playing. Another instance was the reaction to the “women first” policy at the Isis nerd cafe at GothCon. A convention goer got so angry at the convention for allowing this that not only did he boycott the convention, but he also made his displeasure known by writing about it.

In other words: the safety of marginalised groups within gaming, and other nerd hobbies, is often set aside for the comfort of the majority, and separatist spaces – if advertised – are attacked, because they are “not inclusive”. I want to point at a huge plot hole in this particular story. Marginalised groups are on occasion harassed so badly that they elect to not join or leave events that are supposedly open to everyone. When these groups attempt to protect themselves and still enjoy their hobbies, they are attacked for not being inclusive, usually by the same people that made sure the “open” events were not safe in the first place.

I’m not a huge fan of separatist events, but as the former chairman of Sverok said when speaking at FemCon a few years back, the relief of being able to enjoy ones hobby while at the same time not having to defend oneself or be alert and ready to run is quite refreshing.

Nerds speak about their “passion” for whatever hobby they elect to pursue. Think of the incredible Passion it takes for someone to keep enjoying a hobby when the culture surrounding it is actively trying to exclude them. Now that is passion.

It wouldn’t be fair to end this blog post without a few pointers on what can be done, so here they are:
• Create a code of conduct. Share it with everyone at the event.
• Enforce the code of conduct. Have a list of responses ready if a breach occurs
• Make sure to listen if someone has complaints.
• Act on complaints and act quickly.

This is usually where someone points out that these things can be abused by “false reporters”. Yes, it can. That’s when you have to use your own judgement, and perhaps have a little faith in humanity.