Sexual Harassment Isn’t Inherent to Gaming Culture—And We Need Policies to Make That Clear

Dr. Nerdlove has a predictably good post up about the latest big video game controversy. In Cross Assault, a fighting game competition, one of the team coaches, Aris Bakhtanians insisted that “sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.” When a member of his own team, Miranda Pakozdi, disagreed with him, he began harassing her so deeply and repeatedly that she started forfeiting matches. As Dr. Nerdlove writes:

Five days with Bakhtanians, that shining example of humanity making constant and seemingly unending offensive comments about her looks. About her body. About wanting to watch her pee, sleep, wanting to fuck her and pimp her out. Listening to him scream “Bitch” over and over again with all of the joy of a five-year old who’s figured out that naughty words make his parents react, then scream “RAPE THAT BITCH!” when a female character is taken down.

Going by tweets, which she later took down, Pakozdi intmated that the only reason she was sticking around was because of a contract that required her to be there for the entire week. So not only is she dealing with a creeper making rape jokes over and over again.. she’s legally stuck with him. She literally is not allowed to leave, at the risk of violating her contract with the competition. She’s effectively trapped in there with him.

It would be interesting to know, given that the players are bound by contracts, if the competition, which has cash prizes and is being broadcast, includes a sexual harassment policy. Freelancers aren’t protected by Title VII the way that employees are, so Pakozdi probably doesn’t have legal recourse, which is too bad. It would be really delightful to see someone like Bakhtanians, who says things like “What is unacceptable about that? There’s nothing unacceptable about that. These are people, we’re in America, man, this isn’t North Korea. We can say what we want,” on a witness stand in front of a whole bunch of jurors. But, if like many comics and gaming conventions, Cross Assault just hasn’t bothered to set up a sexual harassment policy, that would be an unfortunate validation of creeps like Bakhtanians who are so deeply invested in harassing women that they want to establish it as part of their official culture. The gaming and comics communities are full of decent, wonderful people of both genders—and it would be great to see a more organized push for established and enforced sexual harassment policies in all the forums where geeks gather.