Rea: Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?
Bakhtanians: 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 a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community
Rea: When I go to SoCal regionals and I see a Phoenix [from Marvel vs. Capcom 3] on main stage getting blown up and there’s some dude in the audience just yelling “Bitch! Bitch!” every time she gets hit and then she killed and goes “Yeah, rape that bitch!” Yeah, that’s totally acceptable! Really? Really? You’re going to tell me that’s acceptable?
Bakhtanians: Look, man. 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. People get emotional.
If you ever wonder why I’m a raging egomaniac with a superiority complex, it’s because I’ve been seeing people say stupid things like that online every day for the past 15 years.
In case you missed it, the quotes above come from a piece on Giant Bomb about a few things competitive fighting game player Aris Bakhtanians had to say about sexual harassment within his community, and it’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen.
I like fighting games. I like ‘em a lot, actually, but despite being right in the sweet spot of being 9 years old with a local arcade when Street Fighter II came out, I’ve never really been all that good at playing them. As a result, I’ve never been a part of any kind of fighting game community. But I see this argument all the time in other places. I see it once a week just in the world of comics, and I’m a guy who tries to stay as far away from comment threads as possible before the morbid curiosity finally overwhelms me. It happens all the time.
And it bugs me each and every time, because it’s such a fundamental act of reveling in hate and refusing to admit that anyone else deserves to be treated like a human being.
If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that I don’t have to elaborate on why this is a bad thing, but apparently nobody ever sat Bakhtanians down to explain it, and as frustrated as that makes me, I’ll admit that there’s a level where I sympathize. I feel bad for the guy, not because he’s not wrong — he is — but because I’ve been there.
I grew up saying that stuff I didn’t like was gay, and that things I thought were dumb were retarded, and to this day, I have an attachment to those words as… well, as words. The way you hit that second syllable in “retarded” has such a perfect rhythm to it that works so well, especially for someone who’s completely in love with the sound of his own voice. I still have trouble trying not to let it slip out in conversation, and if you dig back through the archives of the ISB (which I don’t recommend you do), you’ll probably find me using it to refer to something dumb that happened in a comic book, or a word that’s just as bad or offensive. I know there are a couple in there.
But the thing is, I hit a point where I realized that those weren’t just words I like to use. They’re not just some collection of sounds that I can plug into a sentence to make it sound right when I read it out loud. It’s something that has a meaning beyond the way I use it.
Maybe Bakhtanians hasn’t hit that point yet. I’ll admit that for me, it took it being pointed out by friends — and again, I’ve done this shit before, and I’ll most likely do it again. But once you hit that point, once you know you’re doing something wrong, the only course of action that makes sense is to stop. It’s to try and change the way you’re acting, because if you don’t, then you’re just being a jerk for absolutely no reason. You’re making someone else’s life worse because you don’t want to make the smallest change to your own.
So I try to do better. I screw up, but I try to make sure I get it right next time. Story of my life, right? Probably yours too. Probably everybody’s, at least in my hand-wringing liberal optimist view of the world.
I make fun of things all the time. I make fun of people all the time, but at the very least, I try not to be a monster about it.
And the more I look at those quotes, the less I sympathize. The idea that someone could honestly not understand that there would be something unacceptable about shouting “rape that bitch!”, that he wouldn’t even admit that there was the slightest thing wrong that maybe we could address and tone down, that he wouldn’t even express the smallest possible amount of empathy for another human being, it’s infuriating. And then he gets to this:
“We’re in America, man, this isn’t North Korea.”
This is another one that I see all the time in comics, and it never fails to completely miss the point. Yes, we’re in America. Yes, we have the Freedom of Speech, and it’s the single most important right we have. But it doesn’t mean that you have to be an asshole.
In America, you’ve got the freedom to believe whatever you want. There are viewpoints I consider to be stupid and hateful and that I despise with a passion and I’d like nothing better than to see them completely excised from the collective human mindset, but they exist there, and we don’t have morals and ethics and Constitutional rights for when things are easy. We have them for when things are difficult, so we all just have to grit our teeth and allow people to go on believing these stupid, hateful things and expressing them the way they see fit.
Just like I have to grit my teeth and agree that yes: It is not technically illegal for you to be openly hostile to women and to claim that in doing so, you are in fact being an asset to this community you seem so proud of.
But you know what? It’s pretty fucking inconsiderate, and when you start putting your own selfish desires above the fact that you are reveling in propping up institutional hatred for another group within your community, then you’re every bit as bad as all the other awful people that we have to deal with because we value the fact that it’s legal to speak your mind.
The Giant Bomb article also gets to a point where it somehow manages to be even more depressing, when it turns to one of the other competitors, Miranda Pakozdi:
Day six of Cross Assault took place yesterday. Pakozdi played, but if you start watching around eight hours and 32 minutes into the stream, where she’s playing as Balrog, she doesn’t even attack. She just pushes forward on the stick. This continues in the next matches, where she plays as Ken using the same “strategy.”
Essentially, she’s given up.
I would too. Because there’s no point in continuing, in suffering through someone doing their level best to ruin something you love because they just don’t have a concept of the fact that other people are actually people.
If sexual harassment is such an intrinsic part of your community that it can’t be taken out without “turning it into something that it’s not,” then just as a rule of thumb, it probably should be turned into something that it’s not.
If your community can’t introduce a baseline of respect for another human being without being destroyed, then your community should probably be burned to the ground and have salt spread on the ashes so that it’ll never come back.