We Need to Talk

Cards_Against_Humanity_Box

We need to talk about something serious.

The name “Max Temkin” might not ring a bell, but if you’re in college, play games (either board or video) or have attempted to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with his work. His biggest claim to fame, Cards Against Humanity, is a raunchy party game that can almost always be found at the top of Amazon’s best-sellers for Toys and Games. He also published Samurai Gunn, an inexpensive critical darling on PC (and someday PS4), offered free consulting to Kickstarter hopefuls, and even became something of a regular staple on Giant Bomb Chicago as Patrick Klepek’s Spelunky coach and co-host of “Super Unprofessional Fridays.” It’s easy to see why he’s a popular figure; in addition to being wildly successful, he tends to reach out to the community in fun and exciting ways.

Five days ago, Max’s public life took a dark, unexpected turn. He laid things out in a seemingly straightforward fashion on his Tumblr: a woman he knew in college accused him of sexual assault, and he stated that said accusation was “totally, patently false.” There are no present witnesses or evidence for the claim, but sadly that’s par for the course when it comes to sexual assault cases; even if it actually happened, it can be almost impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt in court. Max went on to establish the nature of their previous relationship, explain his next moves (a libel suit is on the table, but he doesn’t seem eager to use it) and reiterate his commitment to feminist causes.

After a dry spell where this incident was only discussed on Twitter, Tumblr and Medium (I don’t want to disparage said voices from any of those places; some of the smartest critiques on this issue were from people who sadly lack the same audience as their big-named contemporaries), we’ve seen an explosion of voices today from major sites like Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku and Jezebel discussing the issue. These enormous sites will likely have their comments filled with remarks like “How does this relate to games?” but make no mistake; this discussion is vital.

More often than not, sexual assault goes unreported and ignored by the general population. To be sure, it’s an uncomfortable topic, especially when it fails to leave even the tiniest slivers of forensic evidence.But when we say nothing, our silence sends a message; we’re telling victims that we’re apathetic toward their struggles.

When you say that this isn’t a worthwhile discussion to have in a gaming publication, think about what you’re prioritizing. Max Temkin is a big figure in the gaming industry, and like it or not, what he says and does affects a swath of the community. Are you really willing to pretend that new Smash Bros. characters, facial animations for FIFA 15 and a shiny case for Destiny should be placed above an issue that easily affects half of the game-playing population? Half of the world’s population? We have an obligation to let victims everywhere know that we care about their struggles, and that we take their safety seriously. Communicating otherwise would be an awful mistake.

More appropriately, we need to listen. Listen to the women who felt like Max’s end statement threw them under the bus. Listen to the voice that views the incident in light of our society’s misunderstanding of consent. Listen to the accuser’s story. And please don’t forget to listen to Max himself. We often drown out some of the most sensible voices in a rush to plant our own flag, always quick to point out how our own experiences weren’t like that (as if that somehow invalidates their problems) or go off on wild tangents that distract everyone from the real issues at hand. Your own struggles aren’t being scoffed at, but no one’s trying to play Pain Olympics or claim their worries are graver than yours. If you take the time to pay attention and show that you care instead of shouting others down, you’re far more likely to get the audience you deserve when you need your own chance to speak up.

Our society has always had a problem with defining proper relationships and boundaries. If we take the time to talk and listen to one another, we have a better chance of educating ourselves and avoiding any action that could cause physical or emotional scarring. We owe it to the person who might make a mistake, and the person who needs assurance that their feelings are legitimate. Our community has a bum rap for prioritizing play over the well-being of our own flesh and blood. Work on changing that by listening and spreading awareness, and I can promise you that everyone will come out happier and healthier.