[Gaming] Drinking Culture and Industry Parties

Okay, time to write another blog about gaming/streaming culture. It’s a sidebar to the massive number of people (mostly men, but yes, also women) being accused of harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other such life-ruining actions. One thing I’ve noticed through reading these stories – and I have chosen to read so many in order to inform myself of whom to watch out for and what sort of behaviors to be on guard against – is the fact that almost every. single. story. included overindulgence in alcohol at industry events or the accused having used alcohol as a coping mechanism. A few mentioned controlled substances, but I imagine this is going on far more than is reported simply because you can’t actually publicly advertise your convention party having cocaine at it.

Firstly, let’s be perfectly clear: I am not teetotal, nor am I advocating a ban on booze at industry events. I do appreciate the occasional fruity drink and am a VERY big fan of Apple Pie as made famous at DragonCon, but admittedly, my enjoyment of alcohol is much less than most folks simply cos I don’t like the taste of most of the stuff. My half-sister is the beer snob of the family, and I have no ill will there at all (she’s my favorite relative).

Any inherent grudge I have against alcohol is mostly aimed at drinking culture… the massive PRESSURE to drink at every opportunity, to drink to excess, and how many industry/corporate events are built around drinking culture. When I was in high school, I lost a friend to a drunk driver. I have frequently been the designated driver in college (even before I had a license) to ensure the safety of my friends or the strangers those drunken friends might run into with somebody’s car. Also when I was in high school, my mom, brother, and I fled an abusive stepfather who drank, and my mom started drinking to excess as a coping mechanism. I’d come home from school and find her on the porch of the weed grower she’d taken up with, passed out in her own vomit. And I was expected to clean it up cos he was too stoned out of his mind to care. I fucking resented it, not gonna lie. It took some time, but eventually mom found someone better to be with and they’ve been married 20 someodd years, but that image remains. The feelings I have remain. I learned that while I don’t mind people drinking a little bit, I tend to not like being around drunk people, because you never know if they’ll become violent, put their hands on you despite you telling them clearly and firmly NO, or puke on your favorite shoes.

Drinking culture isn’t simply a problem of people getting blind stinking drunk and becoming a public nuisance by singing badly at the top of their lungs while everyone else is trying to sleep. It has infected so many industries (not just gaming) where there is strong social pressure to be present and to actively participate, and being pretty much the only avenue for networking for potential career advancement. The implication is that if you don’t join in, you won’t get certain opportunities, because you’re not seen as being a team player or cool. There’s this ridiculous image of people who don’t drink as prissy holier-than-thou types who aren’t any fun, who need to ‘loosen up’.

Fuck that noise. Some people choose not to drink because they like to retain full control of their faculties. Others have a medical condition or three (or medications) that prevent them from drinking even if they wanted to (a good friend of mine can’t drink most beer due to their gluten allergy). Still others don’t drink because it’s part of their cultural identity. Regardless of the reasons, everyone’s fine with saying ‘no means no’ in the context of sex – and still being ignored/pressured – not enough people are saying the same when it comes to alcohol and linking advancement in the industry to one’s use of alcohol.

Here’s the thing, circling back to the gaming industry and horrific story after story of people (mostly women) being harassed (sexually or not), abused, or outright assaulted: so many of these stories have alcohol as a major uncredited player in the scene. So-and-so got out of hand because they were drinking as a means of therapy. Such-and-such happened because she was passed out drunk. In the pre-Covid era, I went to so many conventions over the years. Most of the parties advertised at cons or trade shows made a point to note their open bars. Most of the private hotel room parties featured copious amounts of alcohol. Again, alcohol isn’t inherently bad. Like fire, it’s all about how it’s used. A small fire will toast your s’mores, but a big fire will burn your house down. It’s the goddamned oppressive PRESSURE on people to drink, even if they didn’t want to.

Add to this the simple fact that these parties at cons tend to now be an extended club scene. Everything is dimly lit (so it’s hard to see who’s around you), there’s hardly anywhere to sit (massive lack of accessibility in most cases), there’s almost always a too-loud DJ so you have to scream to be heard (which means you’ve lost your voice by 11pm), and people keep drinking until dawn. Even when I was in my twenties, it was rare that I’d be up until dawn at a party unless it was a chill drum circle or just sitting with a small knot of friends talking all night about our interests. When I first started attending PAX, it was all about the Twitch party and it was cool the first year or so, but as I got older, the thought of attending those parties just gives me as much of a headache as the Hilton DJ at BlizzCon every year. In that scene, is it really no wonder the predators flourish? Their victims can’t see them very well, they can’t be heard if they actually manage to try to scream for help, or they may not even realize they’re in danger because people kept feeding them drink after drink – or worse – roofied them.

It’s so much harder to get ahead in this industry if you’re not a cis white able-bodied dude (stats don’t lie, regardless of how it feels you might be getting attacked here, guys, just shush for a moment and really listen). Linking advancement and networking opportunities to this club scene pretty much excludes people who cannot or choose not to participate (again, accessibility isn’t prevalent). We’ve heard so many stories of women (and others) feeling pressured to participate and those in power (most often men) using that power to manipulate women into their beds on the promise of advancement. It’s straight out of a scuzzy Hollywood producer’s playbook, to be honest. ‘Sleep with me, darling, I’ll make you a star!’ It perverts the dreams of those souls who are coming into the industry and wanting to be successful, only to wind up being gaslighted, treated like shit on the internet for speaking out (often accused of seeking attention), or being victim-blamed.

We as an industry need to change. Is there a solution? Sure. Offer alternatives. Ann Lemay, veteran of the industry with impressive credentials, has a beautiful and one might even say elegant suggestion. TEA PARTIES. No, not the shitty kind draped in revisionist history and misuse of a national flag. But old school tea parties with crumpets and cakes and CHEESE and actual food and seating, and perhaps some quiet music in the background, so those attending can actually have a civilized conversation without needing a megaphone. Parties that happen during the daytime so those of us who are feeling our years can get some actual sleep before the next day’s early panels or scheduled events. Again, gonna harp on this here, get used to it, places with actual SEATING and arrangements that are acceptable to the accessibility community, not just a ramp here or there or a braille placard once in awhile. We also need to have more trained staff on hand to ensure the safety of invitees, and actually stop known predators from being part of these events.

I’d like to see the culture change to where people who ask for more than a glass of wine to go with a proper meal at their industry event are looked at funny by both the other attendees and the staff catering the event. Imagine how many predators suddenly couldn’t act in the broad daylight or because their intended victim is sober. Imagine how many contacts you could make if you could remember their names and faces without resorting to a stack of business cards. Imagine having a dream of making it in this industry and being full of passion for games and gaming and being able to share that with like-minded individuals who valued you for your talents, your ideas, and were taken seriously rather than being reduced to one of a large number of young women who live in fear for years. Survivors who have suffered both mentally and physically at the hands of these predators who used alcohol (or drugs) as their tool of choice to abuse them, assault them, and later to try to discredit them upon being publicly named. These predators have destroyed lives and have gotten away with it for years. Wouldn’t you say enough is enough? What if this was you? Sadly, I know that there will be some reading this who will think to themselves ‘This was me.’ I am so sorry you went through this, and it wasn’t your fault.

Sure, subtracting alcohol from that equation won’t make the problem go away. Predators will find other means to find prey. However, I think changing industry parties away from being a full-on drinking culture will help by removing a vast number of opportunities for those scumbags.

I’ll be over here with the tea cakes. I’ve got nice business cards, too.