Last night was the first night I took someone new to the weekly Netrunner night at Table Top Cafe. Not just someone new in fact, but my partner Amber. We've played Netrunner at home a bunch, enough that she knows the game and is starting to pick up on good strategy. Enough that she can beat me from time to time, so she's no slouch. I finally convinced her to come out for our Wednesday night meet up because we had an early ball game and could pop on over for a bit after it was over.
Things went well initially. We found some table space at a double-wide table next to two others. We introduced each other, grabbed some munchies, and began playing. Things were good, I believe I was runner this game and I eked out a close victory. At some point the match next to us concluded and as is the way things go some players switched up and a new person sat down to Amber's left to play against the other person at the table.
This person is an older man. He's a good Netrunner player, creative and smart, and always happy to chat about Netrunner ideas. He's also sometimes a bit loud with a big laugh. That's not so much a problem, we all know someone like that. I like this guy, he's fun to play against both casually and in tournament scene. What I don't like is what went down during the two games going on.
At first he was just being the curious, loudish, guy he is. Asking Amber who she was, what she does, how she go into Netrunner and such. Eh, no big deal. He didn't really need to pry, but honestly I'd seen him do similar things with other new people beside him or across from him during games before so that wasn't an issue. It's not exactly nice, but it's not setting off the alarm bells yet.
When it came around to 'who are you in relation to Laury' it went off the rails. I'd quipped that we were partners. (I don't like offering 'shes my girlfriend' as an answer to that for reasons that are long and complex and out of scope here)
He said in response "I didn't know, I need to know that cuz what if she's your sister or something. What if I wanted to hit on her".
Yeah. Like that.
Yes it was said without a serious tone. Sure the excuse was 'it's a joke'. It's not a joke. Neither is "Come on Laury, aren't you going to let her win?" a few minutes later.
The joke here is really that anyone else at Netrunner that evening, and most other evenings and tournaments in fact, I felt 100% comfortable introducing Amber to and knowing that if they sat down to play they wouldn't create this kind of toxicity. But nope. Had to be this one guy and this one night of all nights.
Listen. Guys. Men. Whatever. DON'T DO THIS. It's really not hard. Someone new has come to play Netrunner! Hurrah! And strictly based on her gender, she was made to feel incredibly uncomfortable. Don't take my word for it, even though it made me upset knowing she was feeling uncomfortable, take her words for it (from twitter):
“Had a gross experience at a card playing group last night; basically my SO got grilled on what my relationship to him was, followed by gross
Jokes about hitting on me if that wasn't clear. Can't I just pay the game and be a human? Everyone else was nice but that one person
Made it uncomfortable when there was zero need for it”
What is so very frustrating for me is that in our Facebook group we had just been discussing this exact issue TEN DAYS AGO! How to be more inclusive, more friendly and more diverse. How not to be that 'other scene', the toxic 'guys only' situation that lots of game stores and other TCG/CCG's have become. And yet, first real crack at expanding things, this happens.
It's not a small thing. It's not 'nothing'. It's a warning sign to anyone that's read Amber's tweets that this stuff still happens at gaming stores, and in particular this group. The group that I personally am trying to arrange an afternoon to help introduce new players, specifically ladies who are interested, to get into the game because I felt like I could trust these guys and that we have a good scene where everyone would be accepted in. And honestly, I still feel that way...except this one guy.
Seriously. One guy is all it takes to go from having a good night playing some cards with good people to having a gross experience. One guy is all it can take to make someone never want to go to a gaming store again because of their gender. One guy is all it can take to make someone never want to play Netrunner again because of their gender. One. Guy. That guy. I can't even begin to express how frustrating that is as someone looking on and seeing that's all it takes.
I don't know if this has soured Amber from the scene for good. I hope not. I can't blame her for not wanting to go back either, if that's what she wants. I certainly would never judge her for it. I can only say 'It was just that one guy, everyone else is good'. That's not good enough though.
So guys, please. PLEASE. Don't do this. Don't be that guy. If someone is being that guy, call them out on it. Make the space you're in open to everyone regardless of gender and don't pretend these 'little jokes' are anything but toxic.
As I reflect on this I feel bad that I didn't say something stronger at the time. I had said something like 'why does it matter?', but that was weak. It didn't bring home the point that he was making things uncomfortable. I should have made it clear that it didn't matter who she was, or that she was a she, that all that mattered was we're here to play some Netrunner. Gah!
And excuse me while I go find a table I can flip...