The upcoming crowdfunding success story and enormously ambitious space sim project Star Citizen found itself at the center of controversy earlier this week when a community member attempted to organize a women's only group and subsequently found herself banned.
The attempts of community member "Lauresh" to form such a group were a direct response to a number of threads on the official forums that made uncomfortable reading for some -- most notably, requests for players who adopted a career path of piracy in the game to be able to indulge in raping as well as pillaging. The threads have seemingly since been removed or blocked from public access, but for prospective players like Lauresh, the damage had already been done. She felt unsafe, and she took the initiative, her eventual goal being to set up a safe space for female prospective Star Citizen players where men were not allowed.
As Star Citizen developer Ben Lesnik explains, what happened next was not altogether pretty:
"The thread goes pretty well for the first several pages, with all parties acting as they should," says Lesnik. "When one user started posting sexist crap they were properly flagged and probated. As with so many touchy internet threads, people became agitated, emotions flared and so on. The thread was closed as toxic and the original poster was banned.
"Let me stress right now: I do not believe anyone on the moderation team banned Lauresh because they are a woman. I am 100% confident that it was because of the 30+ flags complaining about other users in the thread, with profane messages attached [...] Lauresh seems to have flagged not only sexist posts (which should be warned/probated) but also anything complaining that the thread was a setup (‘you’re a Goon, you just want to fight, etc.’)"
Lesnik's references to "Goons" allude to members of the Something Awful forums, who have apparently been causing problems with trolling in the Star Citizen forums. Lauresh herself was flagged as part of this group, and her ban was, according to Lesnik, based on this rather than anything else; her thread was initially assumed to be a setup rather than a genuine attempt to form a sub-community. Lesnik does, however, acknowledge that the moderator who handled the situation acted hastily and harshly, noting that at most, Lauresh should have been given a 24-hour cool-down period rather than the 7-day probation she received. Lesnik also notes that even when the discussion becomes "toxic," as he puts it, he believes that threads should remain open when it comes to what he refers to as "important" topics such as matters of gender and sexism.
"On the subject of women in the Star Citizen universe," he adds, "the answer is that yes, we should go out of our way to create a safe space for them. Women online, and especially women in gaming, have it very, very tough in ways that men absolutely do not understand. This isn’t an argument for the community to have, it’s a fact. Our moderators (and game designers and programmers and everyone else involved in Star Citizen) should do everything possible to create a safe environment, not encourage typical internet knife-fighting in this regard.
"Men don’t have to deal with this sort of thing, and it’s so systemic," he continues. "For years I was part of a community that simply didn't have women. At first I thought it was because space sims didn’t appeal to women… but I came to understand it was because of how immature the average forum user was towards them. It broke my heart hearing from women who loved fighting aliens but who had to pretend to be men in order to even talk to anyone about it, lest their PM inboxes fill up with come-ons and their social networking get invaded with awful dudes.
"And as if it even needed to be said, there is more than enough room for a female-only group in the ‘verse," Lesnik concludes. "Making connections like that is what our Organizations system is for, and there’s absolutely no additional room to argue with that."