How one forum is trying to create a safe space for women in game development

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.

The Internet is not a safe space for marginalized folk. This is not something that exists in just gaming. It’s not even something exclusive to women or other groups. Earlier this year, the feminist website Jezebel had to write an open letter to its parent company to ask them to crack down on a small group of trolls who were bombarding their comment sections with horrific pornography. Female Youtube personalities opened up at Vidcon in July about the abuse they receive frequently on their videos. “There’s an angry community that lives on the Internet,” the feminist, pro-sex blogger Laci Green  said. “Only on the Internet. I’ve never met them in real life.”

It’s something that just is. Left unhindered, the Internet as an institution, as an open space to share ideas, gathers hatred. There’s no possible way to moderate something as animate as the Internet, but there are ways to exist within its free-ranging barriers.

Even if the Internet could be described as a place to run rampant with dark thoughts and prejudice, it is also open enough that you can create something rewarding. There are a number of safe spaces for people to exchange advice, ideas, and creations, such as in dedicated forums and on websites with strict policies regarding commenting. Having guidelines in place goes against the free range philosophy of the Internet, but it also assures that people can share the ideas they want without fear.

One place that manages to exist as a safe space is Makegame, a forum for game developers that wears its safe space policies on its sleeve. On its “Welcome to Makegame” page, it starts off with a six-line introduction—”We make game, do you make game?” it says—and then has those two important words: safe space. The site details its zero-tolerance policies for harassment, emphasizing the welcoming nature of the forum, and putting any conflicts at the discretion of the moderators. Eddie Cameron, developer at Grapefruit Games and administrator on the forums, said that when formulating their policies at Makegame, there was a need to be very open about what was and wasn’t allowed.

“It is important to have some sort of policy written out, to help with enforcement of whatever tone you’re trying to develop (or avoid). But you can’t just hide it somewhere and hope people listen to it,” Cameron said.

In order to combat instances of abuse, the power lies in assertive policies and more supportive staff

Doing this also manages to shape the tone of the site in question. Merritt Kopas, game designer and Makegame administrator, thinks that policies such as the ones the forum puts into place, shape discussions and flood into everyday talks.

“For instance,” she said, “when someone posts a game concept that doesn’t necessarily break the rules but is politically questionable, I’ve seen productive discussions happen that have resulted in changes being made to the game in development. Which is pretty rad!”

And their need to have those policies in the first place comes from a pragmatic place: if you provide a place where people feel safe, they’ll share more.

“I guess we realised pretty quickly that the reason devs could be more open there was because the community was more supportive and welcoming, so we wanted to make our site an expressly safe space to try and foster that community,” Cameron said.

Having an encouraging community behind you on the Internet, a place where most of us spend the majority of our time, is something to strive for, but it’s a lot of pressure for much larger, unmoderated sites like Twitter to accomplish. This is especially difficult now, because Twitter has already become an established place for harassment to occur. Forums like Makegame were created to be safe spaces, so it’s built into the system. In order to combat instances of abuse, the power lies in assertive policies and more supportive staff—people that will listen and reach out in the event that something goes wrong.

For places like Twitter, Cameron suggests having them expand “their guidelines to become safe space policies might help, or even just making them harder to ignore. But mostly they’ve just gotta get better at protecting people who are pointing out harassment and/or abuse to them.”

Kopas agrees. “Trust women and other marginalized groups when we say these services are unsafe for us and that they’re actively being exploited by serial harassers to enact campaigns of violence against us.”

Makegame provides a great example of how to make the Internet a safer space for those that want to engage in discussion or comments, but fear the consequences. But it raises the question of whether or not its possible to retroactively fix a place like Twitter. Is a place where abusers get punished for death threats and hate speech something that we can look forward to? The answer is in whether or not the rules are there, and if they are, how can they be enforced.


Header image: Mae in a Trance via Nate Luzod

Image credit: Kumbia via Montecruzfoto

Image credit: Wires via lacyrmos