Accusations of sexual harassment rock the board gaming community

The world of tabletop gaming is coming to terms with accusations of sexual harassment after allegations of improper behavior at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio.

Origins Game Fair, which ran June 13-17 this year, is a tabletop gaming convention sponsored by the Game Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA). Its partner this year was Wizards of The Coast, known for Dungeons & Dragons and the Magic: The Gathering franchises. Other sponsors included a who’s who list of major publishers, including Rio Grande Games, Iello, Wizkids, Paizo and CMON.

Origins is an opportunity for fans to see the latest games, and for those in the industry to see each other and do some networking ahead of Gen Con, the nation’s largest tabletop gaming convention, which is held in Indianapolis each August. Many in the industry choose to mingle outside of the event, and that’s where at least one attendee says an exhibitor sexually harassed them. The allegations surfaced on a personal Facebook page and on Twitter, but were also sent to GAMA. The individual accused has denied the allegations.

Reached for comment, GAMA said it is investigating.

“An incident arose through social media at Origins this year pointing out some specific allegations of harassment,” said a GAMA representative. “This illicit behavior is a clear violation of our show policies. [...] We are interviewing all parties involved and gathering statements from witnesses who viewed the incident firsthand. We owe all parties involved a fair process to gather the facts and discern as much as possible those confirmed elements before we act. The ramifications of an unjustified response are simply irreplaceably damaging.”

The accusations have caused an outcry throughout the tabletop community. One thread, currently rocketing up the front page of Reddit, points out how women within the hobby are treated differently from men.

“I’m tired of being polite and non-accusatory,” writes abigalia. “There is a problem with how women are treated in this hobby. It’s not the Magic players. It’s not a few random men. It’s pervasive and it’s frustrating and, since it doesn’t impact the majority, it’s not taken seriously. At the same time, men wonder why so few women are in the hobby. Often, I see a lack of interest in difficult games blamed. That’s wrong. The reason women don’t join the hobby is not the games, it’s the men.”

Another account written by a popular board game blogger tells a similar story:

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.

Polygon will continue to follow the story and report on the outcomes of the GAMA investigation.

GAMA’s full statement is included below.

An incident arose through social media at Origins this year pointing out some specific allegations of harassment. This illicit behavior is a clear violation of our show policies.

To ensure that a thorough review of any allegation is conducted, we must have statements from individuals with firsthand knowledge of the event. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this instance so gathering the information is taking more time. We understand that it can be difficult to come forward and share a statement after an incident occurs, but with the cooperation from individuals involved we can address these situations in a timely fashion.

As we demonstrated earlier this year, we take harassment very seriously and are committed to providing a safe, welcoming and fun environment for everyone at the show.

This serious allegation has not been taken lightly. We are committed to handling this in a thorough and professional manner. We are interviewing all parties involved and gathering statements from witnesses who viewed the incident firsthand. We owe all parties involved a fair process to gather the facts and discern as much as possible those confirmed elements before we act. The ramifications of an unjustified response are simply irreplaceably damaging.

Part of our process review is acknowledging that we need to broaden the community services available for attendees at the show. This includes less intrusive methods for reporting issues of harassment while still ensuring we have firsthand reporting and providing a more welcoming setting if an attendee is not comfortable with speaking directly to law enforcement or show staff.

We are working with the community to enhance those services, adding Victim Services staff as another avenue for attendees to report violations. We are also working with the Columbus Police Department to establish an online reporting process that is immediately accessible to everyone, less intrusive yet still capable of channeling vital information to us on-site so we can act appropriately. We want this process to be nonintrusive and user-friendly so that any person experiencing/witnessing harassment feels comfortable reporting the issue.

It is very important that if you are being harassed or are in any way endangered, you report it immediately. We cannot address issues that are unreported and void specific details that only those individuals with firsthand knowledge can provide.

The idea that this sort of behavior is happening disturbs us greatly and we simply will not tolerate harassment in any form.

We want to work together as a community to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly and equally.

Disclosure: A centerpiece of the Origins Game Fair is the announcement of the Origins Awards, presented by The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. The author of this article was a volunteer jury member and participated in the selection of this year’s Origins Awards. He voted on the category of Family Games. He has never attended the Origins Game Fair.

Comments

We owe all parties involved a fair process to gather the facts and discern as much as possible those confirmed elements before we act.

This is a really good statement. They’re not dealing out punishment without getting the facts and they’re also not acting like nothing happened/being dismissive towards the person who made the allegations.

Judging by that statement, it seems an appropriate response. The inherent problem of harassment is due lawful process requires proof of guilt, which is often she-said-he-said when all you have on record is one report from one person. All we can hope is they are investigating the matter seriously and conscientiously, which isn’t always the case.

For civil claims you don’t need proof of guilt, just balance of probabilities; i.e. 50%+1. This is true even if your employer is going to fire you (assuming you don’t live somewhere with right to fire statutes) – is it more likely than not that you did something wrong?

For organisers of private events, you usually have no rights. The tickets will state often quite clearly that it is ROAR – Right of Access Reserved – and they can basically kick you out for any reason that they don’t like. If events had some kind of duty to investigate every incident and prove some kind of wrongdoing beyond reasonable doubt, bouncers wouldn’t be able to kick people out of nightclubs. At worst the event liability is the face ticket price.

So all event organisers have to do is decide is whether this is more likely than not. If security at decent nightclubs can figure this out, I don’t think it’s beyond a board game convention.

So all event organisers have to do is decide is whether this is more likely than not

And hopefully they looked into it to make an informed decision.

Ah shit this one is tough. I hope people can be welcoming and not say awful things to each other

I don’t like "the reason women don’t join the hobby is not the games, it’s the men."

I mean that has to be true in many cases. But most persons I know that play magic were introduced through a friend. So I have a friend, I try to teach them magic, then they like it or they don’t. Thats how I got in to it. Of my close circle of friends I’ve invited several to learn to play, typically amongst our mutual friends, and can rarely get any of the girls to even sit down and check it out. A few of my male friends have given it a whirl, and couple stuck around. These women that I talk to never even see a large group of strangers playing, or encounter what appears to be a hostile environment, given they’re usually around their own peers. (that’s not to say that peers don’t harass people, as they surely do, but there is nothing exclusive to the game of magic in this scenario)

It seems kinda chicken and egg. Women won’t play cuz it’s mostly men, but it’s mostly men cuz women won’t play?

I guess this is a good start. Just getting people talking about being more respectful and welcoming.

It’s important that people, especially those who aren’t the typical targets for this kind of harassment/behavior, understand that their personal anecdotes of "Well that’s not what I’ve seen" aren’t the whole picture.

Try (nicely!) asking your female friends what their experiences have been – often people who aren’t the recipients of the behavior aren’t the best judges to determine when it’s occurring. Worse, many of the worst perpetrators are very good at doing their most harmful actions out of sight of those that would call them on it.

Those anecdotes are part of the whole picture. And neither this story is the whole picture.

I (a woman) started organizing my own Magic Drafts since I liked the concept of drafting, but didn’t really like the environments that were available. Organizing my own drafts the way I prefer them and with less men than at other events led to a lot my female friends starting to play or at least try.

Would be nice if we had any details of the event and not public outcry statements from people that aren’t involved with the "incident". Yeah "incident" is all we see here. Was it someone uncomfortable with the conversation? Someone fondled? Less, worse? If it turns out to be nothing there’s still going to be a twitter explosion when nobody is strung up. Trust me, they are trying to find dirt right now, but they aren’t the police, and I doubt there was a crime committed.

I appreciate your passion for truth —But, does an actual crime have to be committed? Shouldn’t their be a legitimate concern for even an unwelcoming environment?

This. 110%.

Sure, and we might. But this is likely not going to court, and often when something happens in a public place, at events, where someone is behaving badly, no one investigates. They’d often just throw that person out, maybe ban them too, but they are doing more, but you can’t really expect more in these cases outside of the courtroom.

I’m assuming they figured best to not release the full accusation until they have more facts?

The individual accused

One person???

This is important:

"There is a problem with how women are treated in this hobby. It’s not the Magic players. It’s not a few random men. It’s pervasive and it’s frustrating and, since it doesn’t impact the majority, it’s not taken seriously. At the same time, men wonder why so few women are in the hobby. Often, I see a lack of interest in difficult games blamed. That’s wrong. The reason women don’t join the hobby is not the games, it’s the men."

It’s not just keeping women away in my experience. I remember trying to get into war-gaming at my local game store years ago, and the shit I overheard from the gaming tables made me never want to set foot in there again.

What a shame. Proves that sexual harassment and assault is prevalent in so many places we never even think about. I am glad that they are gathering the facts before legal or other action may or may not happen. I’m all for throwing predators into the fire but not without confirmation that they did in fact do it.

People that play these games can actually talk to and be around women … who knew. Another long held stereotype of mine shattered.

If there was an incident of sexual harassment shouldn’t the Police have been notified? I take it they were, and there is an ongoing investigation. Because nobody in the right mind is considering allegations made on social media as legitimate. Some formal complaint must have been made for this to even be news.

It sounds as if your writing off the entire discussion.

Yeah well anything that involves an ‘internal review’ or ‘internal investigation’ I will pretty much write it off. Key thing here is ‘independent’ review or investigation. And everybody is wise after the event, and things are being put into place to stop it from happening in the future… blah, blah (say whatever fits the situation). Rather than apportion blame for what has happened this time.

And when all said and done why wasn’t the incident reported at the time?

And when all said and done why wasn’t the incident reported at the time?

Well, since we are apparently now making up the facts of the incident as we go along, how do we know that it wasn’t? Since we don’t know what happened or how it played out, it seems a little premature to start bringing that excuse into the fold. For all we know, it may have been reported, it may not have been taken seriously, and the social media backlash might be the fallout. Or it might not have been serious enough to call the police (e.g., catcalls) but is still something that needs to be addressed.

I’m not saying that’s how it played out. For all we know, maybe this was a minor incident that got blown out of proportion. I just see a lot of people here that are looking for an easy way to dismiss this.

We can’t pretend that sexism is only a problem when a crime has been committed.

This seems kind of a small incident despite what the headline lead me to believe. The community reaction seems fairly typical from what I’ve seen in the past, but it’s good to see that there’s an official response as well.

If anything, we should just let this work itself out. Take the side of the accuser. Show the women population we do care about this and to prevent this from happen again.
I know it is hard to accept this, but let us be civil about what is being said than brush it off as nothing.

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