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.