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Aris Bakhtanian (beard, foreground) and Miranda Pakozdi (backround) guessing bra sizes. It’s tradition!
As part of their promotion for Street Fighter X Tekken, prolific game developer and publisher Capcom funded a reality show called Cross Assault, where competitive Street Fighter and Tekken players earn their chance at $25,000. It only took one episode of the show for a female competitor, Miranda "Super_Yan" Pakozdi, to be inundated with lewd sexual comments from the live chat, fellow competitors, and even from her own coach, Aris Bakhtanians, a well-known champion of the fighting-game community. She went on to forfeit the match and lost her chance at advancing.
Misogyny in gaming is often argued on the basis of pure aesthetics. For as long as graphics in video games became real enough to create uncanny uneasiness, many have criticized video game developers as being vulgar or crass with their portrayal of women. Comically hypersexualized female characters are usually written off as marketing tools to pander to a younger audience, and because nobody is seemingly hurt in the process, it often is deemed OK.
But the issue of misogyny in gaming is not just predicated on character design anymore; it has grown into something more systemic that frightens me as a gamer. It took a blatant act of laser-guided abuse to understand how many layers of sexual harassment exist in gaming.
The video [editor's note: beginning approximately one hour and 45 minutes in] is painful to watch as she gets constantly verbally harassed and even smelled by Aris.
She felt insulted and tweeted about it, and the ensuing justification from Aris himself made heads spin all over the Internet:
When asked on a later episode by Justin Rae, Twitch.tv’s community manager, "Can I get my Street Fighter without the sexual harassment?" Aris replied:
You can't. You can't because they're one and the same thing. This is a community that's, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of the culture. If you remove that from the fighting-game community, it’s not the fighting-game community…it doesn’t make sense to have that attitude. These things have been established for years.
The outlet that reported on this first, Giant Bomb, got its share of blow-back from the community, with criticisms of being one-sided and flagrant with their reporting. Many argued that it was Aris just being Aris, and trash-talking really is part of the competition.
After much discussion, however, several constructive conversations among some level-headed fighting-game-community members demand that we "look in the mirror."
But it was the apologists who let it get this far. And yet there is so much left to go.
It takes only five minutes on Xbox Live or three comments on any game-related YouTube video featuring a woman to realize this kind of sexist rhetoric is anywhere gaming communities gather. And while many in the fighting-game community are upset they are being singled out, it doesn’t make it any less disgusting that this behavior exists at all and that gamers perpetuate any defense of this kind of conduct, veiling it as some sort of "tradition."
Aris and the other guilty competitors have since apologized, and gamers have moved on, but as long as the industry grows in size, more of this insular "fight club" mentality of some in these communities will continue to be unearthed.
Because gamers know it’s everywhere. Wait until everyone else does.
Is a public shaming good for the industry? Generally, no. Nobody wants to be represented by the loudest, craziest members of their community. But it might take just that for the 20-somethings who still use half-baked apologies to grow up and realize that it needs to stop.
One does not have to look far for first-hand accounts of sexism, racism, and homophobia in the gaming community. Feminist gamers and scholars have written on the topic for years — including peer-reviewed literature — elucidating various types of discrimination in gaming, but nobody really seems to care. When it actually happens in front of a camera and then blatantly brushed aside as boys-being-boys, though, that takes a special kind of entitlement.
To those who subscribe to Aris' thoughts on fighting-game-community tradition, it’s really this simple: Sexual harassment is not a "tradition" worth conserving. I hope gamers, in all communities, realize that feeling entitled to maliciously trash-talk is inherently repugnant and come to the conclusion that competition only gets this ferocious when you are not playing a game for fun anymore.
And we are at an unfortunate point where as long as abusive heckling is condoned, games will never be fun for all.