Notes from GX4: Gatekeeping and Geek Policing

GaymerX is a gaming convention designed by and for LGBTQ gamers, with the tagline “Everyone games!” It’s officially a fan-facing event, but many of the panels and talks were geared for game devs just as much as gamers. I took notes, and you can click here for my other GX4 notes.

GaymerX speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
  • I made a factual error (I take notes by hand, and I make no pretense of infallibility!)

Gatekeeping and Geek Policing

Panelists: Tanya DePass (moderator), Donna Prior, and Bianca Anderson

Gatekeeping means making requirements to belong – “did you play X, did you see X, did you watch X.” This is a matter of respect. Don’t do it!

Gatekeeping is linked to geek policing, where only certain kinds of people are expected to be geeks, and people who don’t look like that have to prove themselves in some way. Connects to sexism, ageism, racism, etc.

Some examples:

  • (Prior) Geek friends (boys) who wouldn’t play D&D with girls
  • Game devs who ignore women in order to talk to men at game demos
  • (Prior) Trying to buy Warmachine, and the clerk asking “For your husband?”
  • Shopping in game stores in general, and the clerk asking “For your kids?”
  • “You don’t like Firefly? Take away your geek card!” <– This is bullying
  • Getting chased away from consoles
  • (Anderson) Forced to prove your Star Wars fandom – “What’s the Sith homeworld?” <– This actually happened at GX4, not cool
  • (Anderson) Wearing a sundress to work and getting “Can I help you?” at her own job
  • (DePass) When purchasing City of Heroes Villains, got asked “For your brother?” – she already owned it and was purchasing for her partner
  • Game stores where the employees talk to men only

Male attire is seen as a uniform in game dev.

There’s nothing wrong with the women who work as booth babes (they are people trying to make a paycheck, they deserve respect!) – but there is something wrong with the industries where this happens. Also, models do not know your product. This is not helpful for the consumer.

Female devs are routinely addressed as/expected to be booth babes at events. Creates a hostile environment.

(Prior) Warmachine Hordes – when a female employee was trying to direct the game in a demo, a male onlooker decided he knew the game better than she did and tried to direct it instead.

Microaggressions drive people out of fan spaces.

People react to gatekeeping with withdrawal or rage. These are both reasonable reactions.

Racism in Dragon Age fandom: when people call a black character “tan”.

“Lame”, “crazy”, “retarded” – these are all ableist slurs. If you wouldn’t use racist words, don’t use ableist words.

“Girls don’t,” “women don’t” <– gatekeeping

Ageism is a constant problem. Tumblr community is particularly hostile – “You’re too old to…” especially for women. “Be an adult!”

People don’t come with expiration dates! “Don’t you want to grow up to be me?”

It’s important for all people to be visible because people don’t know what’s possible until they see someone else doing it.

Black women are particularly not expected to be gamers.

How to protect yourself from hostility in online gaming?

  • Avoid being on mic.
  • Avoid being on camera.
  • Avoid team speak, especially with strangers.
  • Block and report!
  • Don’t let other people’s aggressions and geek policing go unquestioned – “Why would you ask that?”
  • Self-care: sometimes you have to leave, and that’s okay.
  • Don’t be afraid to close your circle.

Observe a fandom before engaging. Figure out what the culture is like – check Google (with safe search on) and Wikipedia. Be forearmed.

Find people who are inclusive rather than exclusive.

Ask Twitter for recommendations to broaden your awareness. “What black writers do you read?” Follow people who respond intelligently.

Game dev recruiters will filter by name for race/sex/age if you don’t stop them. If you run a studio, tell your recruiter “We need more diversity”. Insist on seeing diversity among your candidates.

As someone recruiting, be aggressively clear about being welcoming diverse applicants.

When recruiting, do blind resumes. Make your recruiter answer the question “Why did you reject this resume?” on rejected resumes. “Culture fit” is a bad answer.

How do you bring people into a hobby?

  • Stand up for the people you bring in, and be clear you back them.
  • Object to gatekeeping.
  • Be ready to cut assholes off from your circle.


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