It’s not every day you cross a site that opens your eyes. Fat, Ugly, or Slutty is one that certainly did, and it’s an issue most gamers often forget exists: the vile treatment of women online. I interviewed the founders of FUoS over email and they so graciously accepted.
In my adventures across the Internet, the odd time I’ll arrive at a site hosting a unique concept. Among those sites, Fat, Ugly, or Slutty (known as FUoS within this interview) catalogs the horrors of one ugly facet of online gaming: the brutal, unremitting treatment of women. I contacted two moderators of the site, gtz and Jaspir, who answered an array of questions through email.
How did the idea for Fat, Ugly or Slutty come about?
gtz: Man, I wish I had a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style song to recount the FUoS genesis story. Fuck it, let’s see if I can at least pull some crappy AABB outta my ass:
In our precious IRC channel we friends all sat,
when Jaspir recalled her experiences with voice chat.
She described someone wishing to use her voice as smut.
The messages are the same: “I’m always either fat and ugly, or a slut.”
“Show us, show us!” we all cried! “Oh, this we gotta see!”
Sure enough, Jaspir screen-capped, and our laughter was quite hearty.
“You should start your own site to show these messages,” I joked,
unbeknownst that the fire of a crazy idea had been stoked.
We quickly set up WordPress, with a beautiful 50s-style theme,
complete with lovely Doris winking through the screen.
Soon our friends sent submissions, but the site quickly grew:
first Reddit, and Twitter, and Facebook, and Kotaku.
Two years later. Wow, it’s been a hell of a ride!
I wouldn’t trade it for anything; it’s changed me inside.
But aside from the giggles and jokes shared with those that I know,
has been doing this with friends. How sweet is that? #YOLO
Jaspir: Wtf. That is the most amazing thing I have ever read.
(Editor’s Sidenote: Expecting to read a serious discussion, starting off with a poem caught me off-guard.)
What are some common insults or threats you’ve encountered personally or in submissions?
gtz: Well, the categories on FUoS haven’t changed since the start. We could probably make some adjustments, but honestly it’s worthwhile noting how easy it is to categorize them. And not just within our submissions, but when I see people mention the site on Twitter to their friends or on discussion forums, they talk about how it mirrors their own message inbox. It’s a common experience, and in terms of categories, there’s just not much originality out there: fat, ugly, slutty, kitchen jokes, bitch, dyke/lesbian, sexual threats or demands, death threats, etc. pop up all the time in the submissions.
Jaspir: Aside from the obvious fat, ugly, and slutty, as well as the categories we have listed on the site, I frequently am told that I must be a lesbian or that I need to find a job.
What are some personal harrowing experiences you’ve had? And how did you confront those?
gtz: Ha-ha, well, my shock in the genesis story of FUoS should give an indication as to how I haven’t actually handled it at all — I hide. Hiding my gender is my standard protocol for people I don’t know online. I also have this weird guilt-complex about playing games badly and I’m not nearly as good as my competitive shooter friends. But when I do play online, it’s usually with friends and a few drinks, so I’m more myself then. What really surprised me, though, was that the shock I felt when seeing the messages from Jaspir was [sic] not isolated. I was already hiding my gender online and not speaking in public chat on mic — and thus not receiving gender-specific insults. After a huge number of men gamers expressed their shock at the content on FUoS, I came to realize that it was a lens problem. Because I was assumed to be a man in online gaming (androgynous, gender-hiding, default “male”) I was treated like one. And because those shocked men probably don’t really play “as women” online (feminine username, avatar, or female voice on mic), they were never the recipients of messages intended for an ‘open’ woman gamer.
Jaspir: I have negative online experiences while gaming almost every day. I don’t hide when I’m online…and the fact that I’m female becomes apparent pretty quickly because I like to use game chat. The way I handle it is by throwing snarky comments right back, or by shutting them up by kicking some ass in game. There’s not really much they can say to you when your k/d is 6.0 compared to their 0.5, no matter what gender you are.
Do you feel women are gradually becoming more accepted as part of the gaming community or is it still a lofty struggle?
gtz: More accepted, but the landscape is changing. There’s still going to be several more rounds in that “fake geek girl” fight, I’m pretty sure, ha-ha. And also the terminology of “girl gamer” declarations. But it’s interesting to watch the conversational shifts take place. When FUoS first started, I saw discussion that was still very much like, “girls play games?!?! WOOOAHHH.” But now, even when the anger arises from the “girl gamer” thing, it’s framed by the angry folks in a different way. It’s more like, “You’re not special just because you play GAMES, you attention whore!” Of course, this response is not considerate of the previous sexually-charged messages that might reasonably lead a woman to write an exasperated, “Yes, I’m a girl, and I play games” in her profile, but that’s a whole other thing. The point is: even the people who are absolutely furious that she mentions her gender are at least acknowledging that it’s normal for women to play games. Baby steps, right?
Jaspir: Like gtz said, it’s a matter of baby steps. There’s still a lot that needs to change in the gaming community, but the fact that there’s progress at all is saying a lot. People don’t like change and it’s hard to change people’s minds. The fact that we’ve seen physical proof that we’ve made even a tiny difference (in the emails we get) shows that with time, anything is possible.
Do a majority of your submissions come from a specific game or service? Just shuffling through some I noticed Xbox Live had many more than others.
gtz: Most come from Xbox Live, but it’s tough to say if that’s just a self-selection bias. As in, there’s a possibility that FUoS readers see XBL messages on the site, reasonably assuming it’s only for XBL, and thus only think to submit messages from that service.
Why do you think guys need to go out of their way to say such harmful things? Surely it can’t be a majority of users on these services sending messages.
gtz: It’s funny how differently people classify the scope of the problem. So often I hear people say that 99% of players are assholes online, or I hear that it’s just an extremely vocal minority. Either way, these responses seem almost designed to convince people to do nothing about it: either it’s too big a problem to try to solve, or it’s too small a problem to worry about. Pretty convenient, right? But anyone who says, “It’s just a few bad apples” is forgetting the rest of the saying: “… spoils the bunch.” One company to keep an eye on is Riot, who has a Player Behavior Team specifically dedicated to improving the community. They have implemented multiple systems to influence and promote good behaviour in their game. They’re the best source of data we have, but it’s confined to League of Legends. But to get a sense of scope: at the time of their publishing this infographic, their Tribunal system had only punished 1.4% of players.
Jaspir: Anonymity. People are braver behind a computer screen. They aren’t afraid to make lewd threats when their real name isn’t easily discoverable. When there’s a small chance that they’ll suffer actual consequences, they seize the opportunity to be the jerk they can’t be in real life.
As Fat, Ugly or Slutty grew in prominence, being linked to in the New York Times among other famous publications, has that brought more awareness to this incredibly serious issue?
gtz: I think it’s fair to say that’s true, but I hesitate to assign TOO much credit to FUoS itself. It’s probably more correct to say that everyone is having their own conversations that contribute to the larger issue discussion. I see FUoS as more of a reference point for that discussion. One thing I can say, though, is that James Portnow (writer for Extra Credits and CEO of Rainmaker Games) was contacted by game companies after that article. During a PAX panel this past summer, he noted during a PAX panel that the biggest source of pressure that game companies felt after that article was from people who would not classify themselves as gamers. He pointed out that gamer culture might be so used to these threats and language that we forget how totally insane it sounds to other people.
Although most of these threats were baseless, has anything ever evolved to become a serious concern?
gtz: We don’t have frequency data from game companies on that, but Microsoft has certainly worked with authorities on threats made over their service. Without giving too much detail, I’ve heard a rather harrowing story from someone who is still dealing with attention from a crazy online gaming stalker — whose previous middle-of-the-night, unannounced, several-hours-long travel plans were thankfully crazy-sounding enough to raise alarm with authorities and prevent the stalker from completing their “visit.”
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