A Response to Geordie Tait, from an Otaku

In a recent article on Star City Games, Tait wrote an article to his future daughter explaining to her the prevalence of misogyny in the gamer community. He cites the recent buzz over Gizmodo intern Alyssa Bereznak and her own article detailing a failed date with Magic: The Gathering world champion Jon Finkel. In contrast to the cries of “shallow” and “whore,” Tait steps back to examine not just the disturbing ubiquity of such comments, but the combinations of elements that would result in such an environment, and points out that Bereznak’s main problem was that she should have known her tone in her article would have set off the primarily male geek community of Gizmodo.

Tait continues his article, talking about the self-delusion that is the “Nice Guy,” and even his own past where he himself was once one of the pack, decrying women for not looking past the gruff, hairy, overweight exterior of Magic players. There is a good deal of nuance in the article and I think it’s worth your time to read. That said, I have a minor problem with something Tait says.

Oh, Japan. Nearly every female character we encountered was designed by men, for men. Ridiculously proportioned, child-like in voice and temperament, they were calculated to attract the subway-groping attentions of the otaku.

My problem with the above statement has nothing to do with his accusation that female JRPG characters are infantile and designed for men. Despite my closesness to anime, manga, and Japanese video games, I simply haven’t played enough Japanese RPGs over the years to give a fair assessment of the overall picture. The source of my disagreement instead comes from his use of the phrase “subway-groping attentions of the otaku.”

At first when I read it, it seemed like Tait was trying to say that all otaku are the perverts on the train who victimize women by touching them on the train. “But,” you might say, “He doesn’t mean that all otaku are molesters, he’s just referring to the ones who are.”  That is still problematic however, as that qualifier treats “groper” as a subsection of “otaku,” when in reality the “otaku groper” is more the cross-section of a venn diagram. To imply that the primary reason that such things happen on Japanese mass transit is because they’re really into anime, manga, and video games with excessively cute girls is an unfair judgment.

Yes, there are plenty of examples of female characters who are explicitly sexualized in Japanese entertainment idea. Yes, there are characters who are designed to pander to an otaku market. Yes, you can go on the internet and find a whole world of fanart expressing the desire to see these characters as fetishized sex objects. And yes, this can be off-putting for women who see only examples of the “male gaze” where they would prefer personal identification, but all of the above elements do not say that otaku are going out there and waiting to violate women. It’s not a matter of whether or not such otaku are a minority. It’s not even about pointing out the number of female otaku or the amount of works in the “otaku mediums” like anime and manga that have managed to reach and strengthen women over the decades. After all, if a problem exists, it still exists, even in small numbers. But while Tait’s unkind descriptions of nerds are not limited to the otaku, they do not carry anywhere near the same (perhaps unintended) vitriol.

“Caucasian malcontent.”

“Warm, hairy male privilege.”

“Nice Guy™ Gamer.”

Only for the otaku does he define that category of nerd as not just sexually deviant, which is still fairly harmless if insulting, or simply as passive-aggressive misogynists, which is the Nice Guy in spades, but as purveyors of sexual violence. To have that stigma propagated by someone who should very well know better because he just spent an entire article reflecting intelligently on some of the problems among nerds and gamers is really a shame.

An important thing to note: While this is a flaw in Tait’s article, it does not invalidate the rest of the letter. I certainly did not just kick the corner of a house of cards, as his overall points and even many of his examples are still valid, including the realization that there was a good deal of discomfort showing those Japanese games to his girlfriend/now-wife. I think it just goes to show that developing understanding is a continuous path, and this is another area where Tait can continue to grow, just as we all should.

8 thoughts on “A Response to Geordie Tait, from an Otaku

  1. That didn’t really strike me as a problem. His choice of words certainly could’ve been better, but I understood his point: that some part of the hardcore otaku persona is centered around sexual perversion, and that is expressed to some degree in Japanese RPGs. He didn’t even specifically call otaku “subway-gropers.” He referred to their “subway groping attentions,” which is admittedly a weak distinction, but I see it as similar to “pedophile” vs. “child molester.” The former is a sexual perversion that most of us agree is disgusting but it is not actually an act of sexual violence until it becomes the latter.

    Obviously there is nuance in the situation that would require a few more sentences to explain, and there are exceptions to all generalizations, but it didn’t seem particularly problematic to me.

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  2. It seems to me that this comment is probably a vague allusion to the RapeLay controversy from years back; a tongue-in-cheek reference to a stereotype that most readers would be vaguely familiar with.

    Fact is that, as you said, there really isn’t any correlation there. The subway-groping issue is a real problem in Japan, and the fact that they made a “hentai game” about it is no more of a correlation than the fact they made Grand Theft Auto games based around gang crime (which doesn’t mean that GTA players are more likely to be murderers/gang members/etc.). So, I wouldn’t read too much into this sort of throwaway comment; he’s just alluding to stereotypes assuming that people will have a vague idea of what he’s referring to, thus avoiding the need to go into it in detail.

    Besides that, it’s probably only around here that would people think to defend “otaku” as if it’s a bonafide community; the Japanese term is more like “maniac” or “super-obsessed fan”. I suppose there could very well be some “subway-groping otaku” (people super-obsessed with that subject), but they have little-to-nothing in common with fans of anime/gaming culture (who are not necessarily “otaku” by any means).

    Summary: The stereotypes are so prevalent and the terms so confusingly-used that I don’t really expect anyone in the general community to use wield them accurately anyway.

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  3. I’d also have to point out the article that’s the crux of the matter: basically, Bereznak’s article condemns Finkle for not putting his status as world Magic champion on his OK Cupid profile, with the implication that being so into Magic makes you immediately some kind of horrible person.

    She may have gotten herself a very unsavoury reaction, but she did imply that playing Magic somehow tainted Finkle in her eyes. The fact that she was a woman doesn’t mean she was right to do that, even though those who called her a whore doesn’t make them good either.

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    • Actually, she has every right to not want to date someone who plays Magic, just as you and I have every right to decide who we want and don’t want to date, for whatever reasons we choose. Her mistake is in publicly defaming him rather than A) not posting the article at all or B) being more vague about the situation in order to protect Jon’s identity.

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  4. I actually think she got flak because she decided to publicly shame him by name and picture in her high-circulation column.In the full expectation that being outed as a magic-player _would_ shame him.

    And she decided to hurt him not because he was a bad date, or anything but charming and courteous, but because he was a nerd and didn’t let her know that in advance “Mothers warn your daughters, this could happen to them”

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  5. I actually disagree with your last point. I think his attacks and false assumptions about male gamers were quite offensive. As a psychology student, I have been warned about making assumptions based on characteristics and traits that have nothing to do with personality. I have also been cautious about making assumptions about people’s intentions.

    Tait falls into this trap and continues to exemplify the problems with pop psychology throughout the article. Just because we all have brains doesn’t mean we all understand psychology – Just because he was a nerd doesn’t mean most nerds are like him and his friends. It certainly does not qualify him to make assumptions about male gamers’ interaction with women or their intentions when they respond to an article. In fact, he clearly shows that he is not qualified to make assumptions about anything psychology related in his post.

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  6. You know, I am very socially “dense”, but I think I’m still not as dense as these people.

    Look, the Alyssa Bereznak scandal, and the backlash, highlight the exact types of meanness you get from men and women toward each other, and frankly they are both painful to watch. Women very rarely attack men on sexual grounds – sure, there is the case of the ex-girlfriend that tells all her friends he had a small dick whether it is true or not, but most of the time women’s attacks on men are attacks EXACTLY like what Alyssa Bereznak wrote up in a public forum and dumped on everyone. It IS an attack, as well – she’s not saying, “well, we don’t share the same interests, whatever”, she’s saying, “eeewww, that guy is gross, he likes this thing that is uncool, therefore he is less of a man”.

    The guys responding with “shallow whore” are doing the classic things men do to attack women – insult them sexually, and imply they lack in substance. It’s tiresome and hard to watch.

    I don’t think this has to do with the particular misogyny of bitter men, or the misandry of narrow minded women. I think it has everything to do with how people insult each other in the most hurtful ways, and those are laid out by looking at this pathetic spectacle.

    I think Tait’s thesis is part of the problem, in that he’s basically bending over backwards to defend her right to write a hit piece (a right she certainly has), while at the same time saying the problem is the response – but both are basically manifestations of the same thing. Also, he’s throwing around quite a few insults himself, which weakens his attempts to deal with the real misogyny that exists in the Magic community. His defense of her insults is also really painful to read.

    Other people have as much right to childishly insult Alyssa Bereznak as she has a right to childishly insult her dates – and she has to deal with that. It’s the nature of public discourse in a truly free society.

    Look, in love, you like what you like, and you have a right to that… But writing up hit pieces on people you date is not a nice thing to do. Similarly, it’s generally not nice to respond to insults with insults, it’s childish. I may not date fat people, and I have a right to that – but if I write up a piece saying “my last date was such a lardball, I can’t believe she would have the audacity to put up an OKCupid profile without losing 50 pounds first! She put ‘athletic’ under body type but she must have meant the couch olympics!”, well, then people are going to rip into me, and with good reason. It’s a breach of civility to publicly insult people you date.

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  7. “To imply that the primary reason that such things happen on Japanese mass transit is because they’re really into anime, manga, and video games”

    Dude, in Japan not all otaku even like anime, manga, and video games. There are otaku really into trains, otaku really into military history, otaku really into all sorts of things that you’re not into.

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