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A Call to Arms for Decent Men – by Ernest Adams

July 26, 2012

Hullo, readers. Bex here. This article comes from the amazing Ernest Adams of the Designer’s Notebook series on Gamasutra. Because of the content, Gamasutra declined to publish the article. So Adams sent out the call to spread his message across the internet. It’s worth sharing.

A Call to Arms for Decent Men
By Ernest Adams
July 26, 2012

Normally I write for everybody, but this month’s column is a call to arms, addressed to the reasonable, decent, but much too silent majority of male gamers and developers.

Guys, we have a problem. We are letting way too many boys get into adulthood without actually becoming men. We’re seeing more and more adult males around who are not men. They’re as old as men, but they have the mentality of nine-year-old boys. They’re causing a lot of trouble, both in general and for the game industry specifically. We need to deal with this.

Why us? Because it’s our job to see to it that a boy becomes a man, and we are failing.

When we were little boys we all went through a stage when we said we hated girls. Girls had “cooties.” They were silly and frilly and everything that a boy isn’t supposed to be. We got into this stage at about age seven, and we left it again at maybe 10 or 11.

Then puberty hit and, if we were straight, we actively wanted the company of girls. We wanted to “go with” them, date them, and eventually we wanted to fall in love and live with one, maybe for the rest of our lives. That’s the way heterosexual boys are supposed to mature, unless they become monks.

My point is, you’re supposed to leave that phase of hating girls behind. Straight or gay, you’re supposed to grow the hell up.

What might be temporarily tolerable in a boy when he’s nine is pretty damned ugly when he’s fifteen and it’s downright psychopathic when he’s twenty. Instead of maturing into a man’s role and a man’s responsibilities, a lot of boys are stuck at the phase of hating girls and women. The boys continue to treat them like diseased subhumans right through adolescence and into adulthood.

Men are more powerful than women: financially, politically, and physically. What distinguishes a real man from a boy is that a man takes responsibility for his actions and does not abuse this power. If you don’t treat women with courtesy and respect – if you’re still stuck in that “I hate girls” phase – then no matter what age you are, you are a boy and not entitled to the privileges of adulthood.

  • If you want to have some private little club for males only – like keeping women out of your favorite shooter games – you’re not a man, you’re an insecure little boy. A grown-up man has no problem being in the company of women. He knows he’s a man.
  • If you freak out when a girl or a woman beats you in a game, you’re not a man, you’re a nine-year-old boy. A man doesn’t need to beat a woman to know he’s a man. A man is strong enough to take defeat in a fair game from anybody and move on.
  • If your masculinity depends on some imaginary superiority over women, then you don’t actually have any. Manliness comes from within, and not at the expense of others.
  • And if you threaten or abuse women, verbally or physically, you are not a man. You’re a particularly nasty specimen of boy.

When this puerile mentality is combined with the physical strength and sexual aggressiveness of an older boy or an adult male, it goes beyond bad manners. It’s threatening and anti-social, and if those boys are permitted to congregate together and support each other, it becomes actively dangerous. Yes, even online.

Of course, I don’t mean all boys are like this. Most of them get out of the cootie phase quickly and grow up just fine. But far too many don’t. If we don’t do something about these permanent nine-year-olds pretty soon, they’re going to start having boys of their own who will be just as bad if not worse, and life will not be worth living. Life is already not worth living on Xbox Live Chat.

In addition to the harm they do to women – our mothers, our sisters, our daughters – these full -grown juveniles harm us, too. A boy who refuses to grow up has lousy social skills, a short attention span, and a poor attitude to work. Furthermore, all men – that’s you and me, bro – get the blame for their bad behavior. And we deserve it, because we’ve been sitting on our butts for too long.We let them be bullies online and get away with it.

Some of you might think it’s sexist that I’m dumping this problem on us men. It isn’t; it’s just pragmatic. Women can not solve this problem. A boy who hates girls and women simply isn’t going to pay attention to a woman’s opinion. The only people who can ensure that boys are taught, or if necessary forced, to grow up into men are other men.

Let’s be clear about something else. This is not a political issue. This is not a subject for debate, any more than whether your son is allowed to swear at his mother or molest his sister is a subject for debate. There is no “other point of view.” The real-world analogy is not to social issues but to violent crime. Muggers don’t get to have a point of view.

So how do we change things?

First, we need to serve as positive examples. With the very little boys, we need to guide them gently but firmly out of the cootie phase. To the impressionable teenagers, we must demonstrate how a man behaves and how he doesn’t. Be the change you want to see. Use your real name and your real picture online, to show that you are a man who stands behind his words. Of course, you can’t prove your name is real, but it doesn’t matter. If you consistently behave with integrity online, the message will get across.

Secondly, we men need to stand up for courtesy and decency online . We can’t just treat this as a problem for women (or blacks, or gays, or anybody else the juvenile bullies have in their sights). Tell them and their friends that their behavior is not acceptable, that real men don’t agree with them, that they are in the minority. Say these words into your headset: “I’m disappointed in you. I thought you were a man, not a whiny, insecure little boy.” Don’t argue or engage with them. Never answer their questions or remarks, just repeat your disgust and disapproval. Assume the absolute moral superiority to which you are entitled over a bully or a criminal.

Finally, we need to put a stop to this behavior. It’s time for us to force the permanent nine-year -olds to grow up or get out of our games and forums. It’s not enough just to mute them. We need to build the infrastructure that precludes this kind of behavior entirely – Club Penguin has already done it for children – or failing that, we have to make the bullies pay a price for their behavior. Appealing to their better nature won’t work; bullies have none. We do not request, we do not debate, we demand and we punish.

I have some specific suggestions, from the least to the most extreme.

  • Mockery. In 1993 50 Ku Klux Klansmen marched through Austin, Texas. Five thousandanti -Klan protestors turned up to jeer at them. Best of all, several hundred lined the parade route and mooned the Klan in waves. The media ate it up, and the Klan looked ridiculous. The hurt that they wanted to cause was met not with anger but with derision.
    The juvenile delinquents are just like the Klan: anonymous in their high-tech bedsheets, and threatening, but in fact, a minority. Let’s use our superior numbers and metaphorically moon the boys who can’t behave. They’re social inadequates, immature losers. Let’s tell them so, loud and clear, in front of their friends.
  • Shut them up. The right to speak in a public forum should be limited to those who don’t abuse it. James Portnow suggested this one in his Extra Credits video on harassment. Anyone who persistently abuses others gets automatically muted to all players. The only players who can hear them are those who choose to unmute them. Or another of James’ suggestions: New users don’t even get the right to talk. They have to earn it, and they keep it only so long as they behave themselves. This means a player can’t just create a new account to start spewing filth again if they’ve been auto-muted. Build these features into your games.
  • Take away their means. If you’re the father of a boy who behaves like this online, make it abundantly clear to him that it is unmanly and unacceptable, then deny him the opportunity to do it further. We don’t let nine-year-olds misuse tools to hurt other people. Take away his cell phone, his console and his computer. He can learn to behave like a man, or he can turn in his homework in longhand like a child.
  • Anonymity is a privilege, not a right. Anonymity is a double-edged sword. A limited number of people need it in certain circumstances: children, crime victims, whistleblowers, people discussing their medical conditions, political dissidents in repressive regimes. But those people normally don’t misuse their anonymity to abuse others; they’re protecting themselves from abuse.
    I think the default setting in all online forums that are not intended for people at risk should require real names. After a user has demonstrated that they are a grown-up, then offer them the privilege of using a pseudonym. And take it away forever if they misuse it. I haven’t used a nickname for years except in one place where all the readers know who I am anyway. Has it made me more careful about what I say? You bet. Is that a good thing? Damn right it is.
  • Impose punishments that are genuinely painful. This suggestion is extreme, but I feel it’s both viable and effective. To play subscription-based or pay-as-you-go (“free-to-play -but-not-really”) games, most players need to register a credit card with the game’s provider. Include a condition in the terms of service that entitles the provider to levy extra charges for bad behavior. Charge $5 for the first infraction and double it for each subsequent one. This isn’t all that unusual; if you smoke in a non-smoking hotel room, you are typically subject to a whopping extra charge for being a jerk.

Now I’m going to address some objections from the very juvenile delinquents I’ve been talking about – if any of them have read this far.

  • “What’s the big deal? It’s harmless banter. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the game.” To start with, it’s our game, not yours, and we get to decide what’s acceptable behavior. You meet our standards or you get out. Apart from that, nothing that is done with intent to cause hurt is harmless. The online abuse I have seen goes way beyond  banter. Threats are not harmless, they are criminal acts.
  • “But this is part of gamer culture! It’s always been like this!” No, it is not. I’ve been gaming for over 40 years, and it has not always been like this. Yours is a nasty little subculture that arrived with anonymous online gaming, and we’re going to wipe it out.
  • “This is just political correctness.” Invoking “political correctness” is nothing but code for “I wanna be an asshole and get away with it.” I’ll give you a politically-incorrect response, if you like: fuck that. It’s time to man up. You don’t get to be an asshole and get away with it.
  • “You’re just being a White Knight and trying to suck up to women.” I don’t need to suck up to women, thanks; unlike you, I don’t have a problem with them, because I’m a grown man.
  • “Women are always getting special privileges.” Freedom from bullying is a right, not a privilege, and anyway, that’s bullshit. Males are the dominant sex in almost every single activity on the planet. The only areas that we do not rule are dirty, underpaid jobs like nursing and teaching. Do you want to swap? I didn’t think so.
  • “It’s hypocrisy. How come they get women-only clubs and we don’t get men-only clubs?” Because they’re set up for different reasons, that’s why. Male-only spaces are about excluding women from power, and making little boys whose balls evidently haven’t dropped feel special. Female-only spaces are about creating a place where they are safe from vermin.
  • “But there’s misandry too!” Oh, and that entitles you to be a running sore on the ass of the game community? Two wrongs don’t make a right.. I’ll worry about misandry when large numbers of male players are being hounded out of games with abuse and threats of violence. If a few women are bigoted against men, you only have to look in the mirror to find out why.
  • “Free speech!” The oldest and worst excuse for being a jerk there is. First, you have no right to free speech in privately-owned spaces. Zero. Our house, our rules. Second, with freedom comes the responsibility not to abuse it. People who won’t use their freedoms responsibly get them taken away. And if you don’t clean up your act, that will be you.

OK, back to the real men for a few final words.

This is not about “protecting women.” It’s about cleaning out the sewers that our games have become. This will not be easy and it will not be fun. Standing up to these little jerks will require the same  courage from us that women like Anita Sarkeesian have already shown. We will become objects of hatred, ridicule, and contempt. Our manhood will be questioned. But if we remember who we are and stand strong together, we can beat them. In any case we won’t be threatened with sexual violence the way women are. We have it easier than they do.

It’s time to stand up. If you’re a writer, blogger, or forum moderator, please write your own piece spreading the message, or at least link to this one. I also encourage you to visit Gamers Against Bigotry, sign the pledge, are share it.

Use your heavy man’s hand in the online spaces where you go – and especially the ones you control – to demand courtesy and punish abuse. Don’t just mute them. Report them, block them, ban them, use every weapon you have. (They may try to report us in return. That won’t work. If you always behave with integrity, it will be clear who’s in the right.)

Let’s stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women we love, and work with, and game with, and say, “We’re with you. And we’re going to win.”

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda Rudd permalink
    July 26, 2012 8:25 pm

    I’m not a huge gamer, but this is awesome on so many levels and is a great message for anyone, gamer or not. I seriously love this man now. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Amanda Rudd permalink
    July 26, 2012 8:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Amanda Rudd's Blog and commented:
    This article was written about and mainly directed against a sub-culture of sexism among online gamers, which is a very important topic to be addressed. But what I really LOVE about it is that it applies to the general attitudes of some men, gamer or not, and is an absolutely fantastic message no matter who you are. I think its also a good thing for women to read to remind ourselves that a) we have a responsibility to be grown-ups too, it’s not just on the men; and b) not all men are like some of the jerks on these gaming sites, some men are more like Ernest Adams, so we have to be careful not to blame all men for the bad behavior of some.

    Anyway, this is a great article, and because Gamasutra refused to publish it, it’s up to us to spread it around as it deserves.

  3. Raymond permalink
    July 27, 2012 6:34 am

    So this is a Matter of Morality…There actions online break no laws so this kind of sentiment is going to be hard to push. The terms of service are simply conditions and not governing factors to keep using the suggested online space. They have absolutely every right to break the conditions if they want to and the only way to stop it is for them to be caught. I just play games and am actively looking for work, however I am not looking to get married or have children until the laws change to be more fair to husbands and fathers in terms of divorce and child support. I also do not believe in the notion that women are out of place with insults. If you want to be a gamer you have to be tough…look at the fighting games community. all of them, even the women are foul mouthed and obscene in nature. The only way to change a community is to start your own or earn peoples respect. An article like this calling them “Man Boys” will only spark more ill sentiment.

    Human beings aren’t inherently good or evil. We all survive and find different ways of doing so. Changing things will unfortunately take a long time, because gaming just got out of being a closet hobby. Screaming and raving about it will only lead to more of the same and backlash. Think about how humanity went from humble beginning of the nomad life style to hunters and gatherers in communities working together. While it may not seem right to compare the nomads to gamers but we have yet to start getting along as a community.

    • July 27, 2012 11:20 am

      With respect, I think it goes far beyond trash talking and into harassment and hurtful behavior from a very vocal few that is making the gaming community something awful. It’s created an environment where women, gays, and other marginalized groups are made to feel unwelcome. It’s up to us not to just ignore or mute these offensive idiots, but to make them aware that their behavior is not tolerated. Various anonymous spaces like online games have operated a long time without consequences for shitty behavior. I support introducing reasonable consequences for shitty behavior, as well as calling out the jerks.

      Of course, my being a female gamer means I just get dismissed as a whiny bitch. And granted, a male gamer will be dismissed as a white knight. But if everyone is a white knight except for that one jerk? I think he’ll change his behavior pretty damn quick.

    • July 27, 2012 8:41 pm

      Um… no, you don’t have “every right” to break your terms of service in a game space. It is a binding legal contract.

      I think your plan not to get married is a good one, since you’re thinking about it in terms of divorce and child support. Most people get married because they love each other. I also think you’ve been fed a bunch of lies about family law. Statistically, men’s standard of living goes UP when they get divorced and women’s goes DOWN. And if you are the father of a child, you have the duty to BE a father to that child — to love and support her with your whole being. If you’re bitching about child support before you’ve even HAD a child, it doesn’t speak well for your instincts in that direction.

      The fighting game culture stinks on ice and should be shut down. I just watched the Olympic opening ceremonies. If any one of those REAL athletes behaved for one second like the verminous scum filth in the fighting game community, he would be thrown out of the Olympics on his ass and rightly so.

      You’ve got a choice. You can stand up and be a man, use the advantages that you inherit as a man for good things, or you can stay a boy and remain part of the problem. It’s your choice.

      • Raymond permalink
        July 27, 2012 9:41 pm

        Funny you should bring the Olympics up as an example…is it not one of the most controversial sporting events in the world ? if i’m not mistaken you are completely forgetting certain events and recent ones like the outcry of the gymnastic events against Asian countries in which people complained of age issues (Which probably weren’t true). I’m looking out for Me first not anyone else…I don’t let love cloud my judgement in situations and until I can afford prenups I plan on never getting married. There is being a man and there is being a smart man. Divorce rates are above 50% in this country and going in for love is the reason she should accept the prenup…if its not about money she will agree to it.

  4. July 28, 2012 8:57 am

    “I’m looking out for me first.”

    Yeah, that’s pretty evident.

    • Raymond permalink
      July 28, 2012 10:02 am

      If your point is to disrespect people then you’ve achieved that. Most morality movements never take off because the people behind them act like jerks to everyone who doesn’t share their initial viewpoint. Martin Luther King may have harbored deep i’ll sentiment for the people who tortured his family for years but he never referred to them as the White devil. Perhaps the moral obligation relies in your court if you can’t seem to formulate a respectful and non bias moral base.

      Its like a mirror with no reflection.

      • August 2, 2012 11:44 pm

        It’s interesting that both of you are emphasizing respect, but arguing for different avenues of achieving it.

        In defense of the the “boy”/”man” article, I think juvenile is actually an accurate descriptor of the behavior described. But if you straight up call someone a “boy,” they will get offended and probably respond with more childish behavior. The person calling them out would need to provide examples of the childish behavior and get group consensus on it, or else the offender will just respond with righteous indignation and learn nothing.

        I don’t really do online gaming, so I haven’t seen the communities first-hand. But if they are anything like Reddit (particularly subreddits like MRA), they probably need to change.

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