zCW: Lots of talk about domestic violence and sexual interference
See if this scenario sounds familiar: you’re surfing social media, and it’s late, probably past 11 PM. At this hour, the only thing you expected to see are big anime boobs, shitposting, and maybe the occasional retweet of some hilarious viral video. But instead, you thumb through a bunch of different posts that all vaguely seem to hint at something bad happening, usually with a familiar name included so as to maximise intrigue. It’s past twelve now, and you’re searching for keywords in order to help find out just what the hell is going on. Finally, you find the source, only to discover that a popular figure in the gaming community that you follow has been accused of some type of shocking behavior against a woman. Whether it’s harassing a woman on Twitter, an incident of domestic violence, or maybe just good old fashioned casual misogyny, you sigh and shake your head, knowing full well you’re not getting much sleep as you do the deep dive into the discourse on this particular controversy.
And boy is that a head first dive right into a big pile of shit. Amongst various funny but ultimately empty dunks on the offender in question, you’ll get the mountain of people shrieking about “SJWs” and “Snowflakes” and the perpetually offended, then you’ll get the “centrists,” who will come in and talk about how “Look, what [x] did is bad, but [y] talking point is crazy too,” and then come the memes. Oh. The. Memes. Love fighting game community jargon? Well you’re going to see it used in a million memes as plenty of anonymous internet dudes get their kicks from yucking about hilarious topics like sexual assault and racism.
I found myself locked in this very cycle about a week ago as news of domestic abuse allegations against Street Fighter V player and former multiple time world champion Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee hit Reddit. The information was leaked via a good samaritan related to the Korean scene on Reddit, but as this article notes, the unconfirmed information does not sound good. Lee allegedly terrorized his ex-wife, throttling and threatening her life as she cried for help according to an audio transcript claimed to be from a recording obtained in the ex-wife’s home. It paints a picture of a violent, almost unhinged man, something totally counter to the cheeky showman that most fighting game fans knew Lee to be. Amidst the rumor and innuendo some detectives on Reddit discovered that in South Korean public records, Lee was found guilty of assault in 2017, a damning claim that lends a lot of credence to the allegations. Due to strict South Korean defamation laws and general language barriers, Panda Global, Lee’s sponsor, have stayed quiet and taken their time to conduct a full investigation, although they recently revealed that they will have a statement prepared shortly. Lee himself broke his week long silence to deny “rumors” and stand by his sponsor’s issued statement. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out, but it’s looking to be one of the biggest scandals in the history of the FGC, given Lee’s community prestige.
This was followed shortly by another bombshell courtesy of the Super Smash Bros. Melee sub-community: Canadian player Vikram “Nightmare” Singh, who has long been shrouded in allegations of sexual assault of a minor, was confirmed to have actually been convicted of the Canada-specific crime of sexual interference with an underaged (15) girl. This information was discovered when a buddy of Singh’s, William “Trulliam” Truong, got in an argument with his stream chat while defending Singh, noting that he did break the law, “but did he do it by force? No.”
I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to write about this. At least with Lee’s case there are allegations that have yet to be fully confirmed (sort of?) but the thing about Nightmare’s situation is that it was known he pursued a relationship with a 15 year old girl (he was about 23) that was deemed “consensual,” and he lawyered up immediately when allegations came about. Since some of his local players knew the true nature of his crime, which was hinted at back in June, I feel like organizers at events he attended could have found out themselves if they cared to, the key word being if. He was not shown on stream and his name was hidden by the letter “N,” which I guess is a good way to wipe your hands of it?
Even more disheartening is that the responses across the board have been the same thing as you see with any of these scandals: victim-blaming and people poking fun at those who actually care.
The biggest problem with most of the chatter, even from more reasonable FGC people, is that it is still completely focused on how the player can atone and come back. Whenever some FGC person is revealed to have done some heinous things, the focus is on how long they need to “go away.” As we’ve seen with celebrities trying to get back in the public’s good graces after huge scandals, an acceptable rehabilitation method is to simply disappear for a while and hope the problem solves itself. Just go away, think about it, “do your time,” and we’ll feel better having you at tournaments. After all, what greater punishment is there than to…not be publicly good at something? This happened to Noel Brown in 2016, who was banned from entering any tournament on the Capcom Pro Tour for a year when he inappropriately grabbed a female acquaintance on camera. Despite his insistence on publicly posting private text messages and blaming the whole situation on overblown hysteria and just generally showing zero sense of contrition, Brown’s year long exile was seen as the ultimate punishment. As such, the small amounts of discourse about these two new incidents has already moved to the arbitrary period of time that Singh or, if found guilty, Lee would have to “go away” in order to make everything right.
There’s another conversation to be had here, a much more complex and difficult one., but unfortunately, it’s usually never “the right time” for it. Ever. In fact, the discussion has been avoided for so long that I was sure that it may never happen. But I think it finally may be time for the community to take a hard stance with how it deals with abusive behavior. A player of Infiltration’s caliber being accused and the sheer pigheadedness of Nightmare’s situation may just be the push the community needed to confront the idea that the FGC places too much emphasis on the fate of the abusers instead of the well-being of the abused.
Despite any number of statistics that would show that false accounts of assault are really not common at all, this is a common fear for the FGC when it comes to taking action against abusive men. Inevitably there’s always some kind of slippery slope that means we can’t be too hard on abusers, even if that reason is total bullshit. The exact reason a lot of victims don’t speak up is because they are afraid of the backlash they will get from the community at large, and judging by the responses I’ve seen to these cases, they have reason to. And make no mistake about it, that is the community, no matter how much we like to pretend that the people inhabiting FGC circles on Twitter are not “really” in the community. We have well-known players tweeting about how much harder men have it when it comes to being prosecuted for abuse, yet people think we don’t have a problem? Of course this doesn’t mean that we will suddenly take every allegation as 100% fact right away, but fostering a ridiculous fear that false accusations of abuse is now the number one destroyer of men has perverted both our national discourse and the FGC’s. People can’t really find comfort in sharing their stories of abuse if a culture of distrust contaminates all discussion.
This may sound callous, but I’m also not really going to concern myself too much about what Nightmare’s life will be like after stuff like this, and neither should the community at large, because I’m pretty sure he’s not the aggrieved party, here. Sexual interference is a crime normally worth at least a year in jail, but Nightmare is facing no prison time either; he too will endure probation and registering on the Canadian sex offender registry. Harsh? Absolutely. And it doesn’t end, there; his travel may be severely affected, and his reputation is certainly not going to recover. The Smash community could (emphasis on could) very well ostracize him for his actions, and his career playing fighting games may have to take a significant hiatus. And you know what? That’s okay. Emily Sun, co-founder of the Smash Sisters organization, posted (with permission) a partial view of the victim statement in Nightmare’s case, which presents a very harrowing image of what his actions have caused. As for Infiltration, his ex-wife hasn’t said much regarding her case, but she has tweeted that the leaks may have hurt her, due to draconian South Korean defamation laws that find the truth to not be a supreme defense against libel. You’ll have to forgive me, then, if I don’t exactly shed tears over what could happen to his FGC careers, either, considering that somehow the worst thing now is not inflicting trauma on another human so severe they may need therapy, but that these men can’t play video games in public for money. I’m not saying you have to be a heartless robot towards one side, but fear that folks are more concerned about the well-being of the abuser is another big reason why victims rarely speak up.
An abuser’s playing ability being measured in any way, shape, or form next to empathy for the victim of abuse is another sign of a general immaturity with regards to this issue. Shockingly, I don’t really care how sick your Marth is when your boys are out here releasing videos where they claim you and they are the real victims in all this. I just don’t. This talking point comes up a lot, and I never understood why it matters. Yes, you can be a fan of someone’s play and condemn their actions, but someone will replace them, I guarantee you. Even the very best player in the world isn’t bigger than the sum of any one game. Sadly, we still get people who feel the need to emphasize that we lose some great play when an abuser is outed, as if that’s what matters. It’s not even exclusive to the FGC: when a prominent Overwatch League player was found to have been soliciting nudes from underage girls, E-Sports commentator and professional dipshit Duncan “Thorin” Shields was very upset that, uh, we’d be denied some sweet plays of the game?
I fully understand that this is, as I mentioned earlier, a complex issue. There is merit to the fact that the crimes discussed in this article happened in a non-tournament setting to non-tournament goers, as it probably means that these guys aren’t dangerous in that environment. And yes, through proper rehabilitation and atonement, people can (and should!) have the opportunity to change. But even if the victims in question don’t regularly attend tournaments, we also have to consider the experience of others who are survivors of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct that do attend. What do we gain as a community from allowing a person who knowingly abused another person to participate in tournaments? What message does that send to not just assault survivors, but any woman who would attend? Does this person, in any way, appear to be remorseful or contrite about their actions beyond whatever legal punishment handed down? Are you, personally, okay with letting an abuser attend your tournament?
These are the hard questions that a TO will face, but it is something that is necessary if the FGC is going to grow up about this issue. We can’t be beholden to Capcom or some other corporation to make the decisions for us; this is a community issue and we, as a community, need to find the answers. We owe it to survivors of abuse that interact with the community to provide a space where they feel they can safely make a decision as to whether or not they should attend, and having real consequences for terrible behavior can help make that decision easier. But we can’t just keep putting a band-aid over it and pretending that the problem will solve itself. Individual actions are weak, but even a tiny bit of support goes a lot to making victims feel like they are being heard and considered.
Martin Luther King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” As many great strides as the FGC has taken, I feel that silence has largely overtaken the discussion that our general culture may be friendlier to abusers rather than their victims. Luckily, some folks aren’t staying silent: recently, a well-meaning group of Smash Bros. players (including the previously mentioned Emily Sun) have drafted a code of conduct that will ensure that there are rules and consequences for boorish behavior. Many tournaments have signed off on it, and the group promises discreteness and swiftness when dealing with serious charges. It’s definitely controversial, as some feel that the community shouldn’t be able to make such harsh rules, but at least it has reignited the conversation in the Smash community. The mainstream FGC doesn’t have any such tribunal, and I’m not really sure one will come into play anytime soon, but there are examples of TO’s who have gone above and beyond to ensure that people can come to their tournament and be safe, and that’s what we need now more than ever. Don’t let these two incidents just be business as usual.