The truth about sexual harrassment 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.

 

 

92 thoughts on “The truth about sexual harrassment and boardgaming

  1. Micah L Sawyer says:

    Thank you for writing about this and helping bring it more into the open so we can start to resolve it instead of just having these harmful additudes just fester in our community.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. John Keel says:

    My personal opinion is to out them all. Take all the screenshots and all the photos and post them and NAME NAMES. If every woman started doing that we could know who to hold accountable and broadcast them to the world. Not suffering the consequences of their actions allows them to continue. I wish my gender wasn’t so damn horrible and I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Jen Edwards says:

    I am so very proud of you, and if ever you feel unsafe know that I will be that safe space. And if you ever… EVER… see me letting this stuff slide (because conditioningis real), call my ass out. No one should feel this way. Keep using your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aaron Silverman says:

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. Chin up though — your bravery is shining a light on an issue that sorely needed it. Deal with it in the way that you must, and know that there are plenty of us out there who have your back.

    Like

  5. Brian says:

    That behavior needs to stop being normalized and as you say, it needs to be called out by men. It’s not a woman’s job to fix male behavior. Guys need to step up. Thanks for shining a spotlight on a problem that shouldn’t even exist, especially in this community.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Joshua Blaylock says:

    Thank you for being brave enough to say something. I feel it’s important for people to understand the reality of the situation. Especially for someone like me who has a lot of difficulty imagining how anyone could possibly act so deplorable. There is absolutely no excuse for this type of behavior. If a man can’t control himself when he’s drunk, he shouldn’t drink around women. Men need to keep being called out for this behavior. If you don’t want to ruin your marriage, career or life, don’t make stupid decisions that damage others’ lives. And if you see someone else doing this to someone, say something! There is no excuse not to.

    Like

  7. Tony Ripley says:

    Thank you for sharing to increase awareness and hopefully increase the number of good Samaritans within reach at our events. And on a related note, to game designers and artists; lets pay attention to some of the illustrations that our games include, that they do not perpetuate some undesirable stereotypes. i.e does a woman fighter really not need armour? etc.

    Like

  8. Cain says:

    It makes me sad that this has been your experience, and the experience of other women. This could and should be a genuinely inclusive hobby. So many of us struggle with social anxiety, depression and generally feeling like outcasts that I would hope that this would lead to a greater sense of empathy. It is a genuine shame that instead of embracing and celebrating diversity, and making everyone feel welcomed, we are simply copying the poor behaviour that pervades other social activities.

    Like

  9. Alexandru Constantin says:

    Why don’t you just call out names and actions instead of being vague.

    “Dipshit Jones acted like a little bitch at the convention, I told him to quit, and he didn’t.” Say it, shame them. Describe the actions.

    I don’t go to gaming conventions because I find gamers disgusting fat bores but whenever we go bar hopping and some dude creeps on my wife or female friends they get handled swiftly and violently.

    Maybe you need some friends to watch your back.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sleekly says:

    This really sucks. But its great you’re shining a light on it. This was a depressing yet great blog entry Katie. You at least can hold your head high.

    Like

  11. Soul Existence says:

    I appreciate your coming forward with this. Hiding it doesn’t solve anything. Speak up and let it be known. Good for you. Wish you the best in your career and gaming.

    Like

  12. Chris says:

    Thanks for this post. As a man, I often don’t see this kind of thing happening first-hand, and it’s often shocking to hear that it happens as frequently as it does. So thank you for showing the strength to remind all of us that this is going on, even if we don’t see it. We all need to be better about shutting this down so that everyone can feel safe within our hobby.

    Like

  13. blaek says:

    People are fucking disgusting. Thank you for sharing, and I hope more people speaking up drives these creeps into deeper, darker crevaces where they can’t hurt others ever again.

    Like

  14. pinkbatgirl says:

    Thank you for talking about this, it’s an important conversation and the more we can speak out about it, the better

    Like

  15. AK says:

    Again a call to believe women. Why? Because they’re women?

    Stop.

    Evidence or get out. Simple as that. I’m not going to take your word for it simply because you’re a woman. I don’t touch “he said/she said” cases, those never end well. If you have no evidence, well, then there’s proper interrogation of both parties, to see which story folds when questioned.

    But this whole “believe women” whining? That’s stupid.

    I’m not going to believe you just because your reproductive organs are in a different location than mine. I’m also not going to believe you just because you have a penis. Whether you’re man or woman, I don’t know you. I’m not taking your word for it. Are you nuts?

    Trust no one. Everybody lies. And yes, that includes women. Men lie, women lie. Women are particularly good at it. The “weaker sex” playing into men’s instincts, maybe jerk a little tear and a sob as well.

    Yeah, doesn’t work on me. If I don’t know you, I don’t trust you. Your gender is irrelevant. Period.

    Also, it’s not a woman’s job to fix male behavior? Guys need to step up? It’s not my job to fix other people’s behavior either. I’m not going to “step up” because some idiot somewhere allegedly said something.

    Most importantly I’m not responsible for him or his actions.

    Yes, allegedly. I’m not going to partake in a demented crusade where an allegation is enough.

    If you feel something breaks the law? There are systems in place, systems that function. You involve those. That’s it.

    Though, apparently involving the police isn’t “in” right now, as US colleges show, when they operate their extra-judicial kangaroo courts, run by people who know nothing about investigative procedure and fall into the same rabbit hole you do: believe them because they’re women.

    No.

    Evidence or get out.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Dusty Craine says:

    I wonder if you’d be so brazen if you weren’t hiding behind an alias “AK”. We get it. You have an issue with women. You sure used a lot of words to say it. You sure showed her. “Evidence or get out.” You came to her. You put your voice here. She didn’t invite you. Yeah, it’s public, but you knew the subject matter and still decided to air your grievances. Here’s an idea. Maybe this blog post wasn’t for you – though it so obviously was – maybe use some self-control. Maybe look in a mirror and ask what’s broken in you that this made you mad enough to seek out a woman and let into her, insulting her on her own blog. Sad.

    Liked by 8 people

  17. Anders says:

    Anders from Sweden here.

    Thank you for raising your voice, and It makes me really angry to read about people treting women like this. I wish I could do more than share your story and send some virtual cheer and strength.

    Like

  18. Fub says:

    Hey AK, I’m sure you believe you’re being balanced and reasonable and all, but this insistence on evidence is a problem. Cases will immediately devolve into a ‘he said-she said’ thing, and nothing gets resolved, people shrug and move on, and the perpetrator (often high-status individuals in the community who get the benefit of the doubt) can continue harrassing others.
    That is a problem, whether you see it as such or not. And it has to change for the betterment of the community, whether you agree with that or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Wyatt Fertig says:

    First off, do you really not understand the difference of experience between women and men when it comes to sexual violence, abuse, and harassment? In my experience literally every women I know has *at least* several stories of being harassed, assaulted or abused. Violence against women is a huge problem baked into the very fabric of our society.

    We have many, many female gamers expressing the same type of negative experience and your response is to say, “I don’t see that, no, you’re wrong.” It speaks to your limited ability to listen and your limited ability to empathize. The fact that you use the team “crusade” also speaks to your understanding of history and the historical nature of violence.

    So I get while you might say that you’re not responsible for your friends actions, but if you witness your friend being predatory, abusive, creepy etc. you are reinforcing that behavior if you don’t say anything. You tacitly endorse that behavior.

    To one of your previous points of trusting only people you know, isn’t it possible that the person you know might be a different person around you? Especially if “everyone lies”. Isn’t it possible that your friend treats you differently than they treat women or someone they can exploit for gain? There are countless stories of family and friends of really awful people totally shocked by that person’s actions when they’re not around.

    Finally look to motive, we have courageous humans like Katie speaking openly and honestly about pain and suffering. What is her gain here? The reality is she likely has to face even more abuse. If speaking out made people famous than you could name every one of the survivors of Bill Cosby’s abuse, or every oneof Kevin Spacey’s abuse or etc. Likely you can’t name the survivors, II can’t, because people don’t become widely famous and successful for outing the perpetrators of abuse. They do it for the the safety of others.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Too Tall says:

    It’s of course crap that you’ve had to go through this Katie, and I wish the world wasn’t like this. No doubt much of what you’ve described was way over the line that was acceptable. In those cases, I too think you should name and shame.

    Here’s my issue though, as a bloke we’re by far the more stupid of the 2 genders, and messages about how to approach women are confusing. I’m not for a second saying that you gave off messages that you were interested or wanted the behaviour you got by the way.

    Take a recent example: I got chatting to a girl that I used to go to school with some years ago. I was very interested in going out with her but nothing ever happened, so I took my opportunity then to ask her why we never hooked up. This was her reply:

    > “I was too shy to ask you. The problem was, you weren’t forceful enough, you should have just kissed me.”

    You can see the issue here? This is not the first time I’ve had women say to me I should have made the first move because the girl fears rejection.

    So on the one hand we’re told by women that they’re the shy ones, they’re the ones who fear rejection, so it’s always down to the boy to make the first move; and we have Disney doing a fine job of educating us not to take No for an answer, and dogged persistence = romance. But on the other hand, women are saying that unwanted advances = sexual harassment.

    I’m guessing that if you’re attracted to someone who maxes a sexual advance towards you, and you welcome it, then that’s not sexual harassment? So how’s a man to know if he’s being a sexual pest, or a romantic, as it all depends on what the woman feels, but he doesn’t know yet?

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Lucas says:

    I try to avoid bar hopping because I find bros who feel they have to be violent to prove they’re a “man” or because they can’t articulate their thoughts and can’t act in a rational way disgusting and more often than not the cause of issues.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people to watch her back, but I think the point was that our hobby should be a safe and inclusive space.

    Like

  22. Colton says:

    This is terrible. I know firsthand what it’s like for no one to believe you. I believe you. And I want to do everything I can to make this space accepting to all folks, especially women and minorities.

    Like

  23. David Doughty says:

    Hearing about this should surprise me and yet it doesn’t anymore and that is just not ok. I hope the next time something like this happens, you have more support behind you now to continue to make your voice heard. Let’s not let this go on any longer and start calling men out on this.

    Like

  24. cliosboardgames says:

    Katie, I am in awe of your courage of writing and publishing this. Now it’s up to us as a community to condemn and sanction this abusive behavior wherever we encounter it.

    Like

  25. wolfkin says:

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. it sounds horrific. Because of my statue and my gender I can’t really imagine the fear but I can imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have someone demand I kiss them.

    A war gamer groupie? I didn’t even know that was a concept. As far as I’m concerned all war gamers are weird but I think it’s super cool that you’re into it. I wish my fellow dudes weren’t making it unpleasant for you. I just hope if I were to see something like that in my spheres of gaming that I would have the courage to say something and help out rather than just walk by.

    Like

  26. wolfkin says:

    It’s basically a sort of prisoner’s dilemma. If one woman names names she gets railed. If all woman name names it counts for something. So it’s super hard for one woman to say something no one wants to be the first sacrificial lamb. Especially when it’s not guaranteed the rest will follow. You risk just opening yourself even more to make things worse.

    The solution is to convince more women to do it all at once which is hard or to lessen the attacks on a women when it happens which is what I think we should try to do. If we create the environment that encourages the first woman the rest will follow. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from my research into the topic.

    Like

  27. BoardGameGuy says:

    and this is why you never read the comments section… *facepalm* men like this make other men look bad. this is digusting

    Liked by 2 people

  28. impernious says:

    I wish this didn’t happen. It infuriates me when it does. We deserve better, and people who do this kind of stuff need to learn that it is unacceptable. Thank you for speaking up.

    Like

  29. Håkon T Sønderland says:

    Thank you for speaking up. That takes real courage. I appreciate your voice in this hobby and I hope that you have the strength to carry on. Know that we are here to support you. On Patreon, if nothing else. Big hugs.

    Like

  30. Russ says:

    I have to be honest with you and say that I have found many gamers to be all-around socially unskilled, Aspergerish types. I think that the disrespectful treatment of women is symptomatic of a more general problem that many of them have with their social skills.

    Like

  31. anatu13 says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this! So true, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with so much of it.

    Like

  32. Juan Carlos Goyes says:

    I´m very sorry this happened to you! This behavior is inexcusable. There has to be zero tolerance toward it. When it happens it should be denounced (not necessarily in public) to the proper authorities and take action. I believe you, in general I trust people unless they show they are untrustworthy.

    Like

  33. jgoyes says:

    I´m very sorry this happened to you! This behavior is inexcusable. There has to be zero tolerance toward it. When it happens it should be denounced (not necessarily in public) to the proper authorities and take action. I believe you, in general I trust people unless they show they are untrustworthy.

    Like

  34. Jacob Freeman says:

    “insistence on evidence is a problem” – That’s an utterly incoherent statement in a civilized society. No, insistence on evidence is logical. It’s the *lack* of insistence on evidence that is problematic.

    Think about it. You’re accused of a crime you believe you did not commit. What’s the first thing a logical individual would demand? Evidence. Would you be satisfied if the accusers called your insistence on evidence a problem? What if you were tried and convicted for that crime? Would you want a judge or jury that finds your defense team’s insistence on evidence a problem?

    There are many, many documented and verified examples of harassment in this industry and its kindred industries. That doesn’t give carte blanche authority to rubber stamp every story even if said story makes statements it refuses to substantiate. Wanting a well crafted story to be true because it aligns with one’s vector of outrage doesn’t make it true. Only evidence does that.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Alan says:

    Sadly, doing so often causes women to be driven out of social groups, out of hobbies, out of jobs, and out of entire industries. Too many people refuse to believe that their friends could be a problem, they refuse any level of evidence short of witnessing it themselves, and even then can often dismiss it with “Oh, he was just joking” or “Can’t you take a compliment?” If the problem has enough fans, they can often harness that fan base to create massive flood of harassment; they don’t need to say “go harass her,” it’s enough to say, “She’s slandering me trying to ruin my life!” All too often it comes down to a he said/she said situation, and the friends and fans of the problem will treat it as a witch hunt.

    Like

  36. Jackie Fuchs says:

    We’re with you and we believe you. And sadly, you are not alone. Conventions are especially difficult because it is a lot of testosterone in one place. We need men to help stop this ****. C’mon guys… be a REAL-LIFE hero.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. Tania Walker says:

    Unfortunately women are raised seeing all the same confusing messages as men, and some enact out things like this (“men should be forceful”, “if he’s jealous it means he loves me”, etc). If you want to play it safe with women in that position, there is a middle ground between “grabbing and kissing” and “doing absolutely nothing”. Ask her out on a date. It shows her you are interested in a way that doesn’t require you to touch her without consent. Be prepared to accept a ‘no’, as that is her right to give, just as it is your right to say no if someone asks you.

    I hope this clears up your confusion – best of luck!

    Like

  38. Mark says:

    The reason it’s so shocking is because it’s exaggerated. My god, we’re really scrapping the bottom of the barrel if we’re crying about sexism in board games. What’s next? Sexual harassment at dungeons and dragons night? Start calling people out or get over it. You can’t lay out vague examples of “harassment” (the only one you detailed is the creep cornering you in the elevator). Call people out for their shit behavior or shut up. This is just an attempt to virtue signal and gain victim points.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Jacob Ratner says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry it needs to be said, but I’m glad you said it. Your post was just shared on a Dallas FB gaming group, and I commented the following:
    I know that competition can bring out strong feeling, but I will not tolerate sexist, racist, homophobic or bigoted comments. They have no place, whether part of the game or stray talk around the table. Whether I am hosting or not, I will call out anything I hear than makes me feel uncomfortable, and respectfully say, “that’s not OK with me”. I will not sit silently when comments are made that make other players feel devalued, whether or not I was personally the target. And I will not be in a game with anyone I feel to be a repeat offender.

    Like

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