When Nazis Get Rapey

Back from GenCon — and had a relatively good time. It’s always nice to meet the folks who enjoy your work, and GenCon also serves as a time to socialize with colleagues and friends whom we only see a couple of times a year if we’re lucky. On the professional front, several things came together which have me very excited, and I am finally now an Ennie-Award-winning game designer, having a 1/12th share of the one given to DOCTOR WHO: ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE (11th Doctor Edition) for “Best Family Game.”

But this post isn’t about the good stuff. It’s about the very bad.

Belle and Blade (no, I’m not going to link to their site. I won’t give them the traffic.) is a fairly notorious vendor at GenCon. Officially, they focus on “military interest DVDs” — the booth is filled with copies of The Longest Day, Midway, Saving Private Ryan, The Four Feathers, Zulu, that kind of thing. Of course, if you look a bit closer, you’ll also find such gems as Ilsa, She-Devil of the SS, Red Nights of the Gestapo and Stalag Bitch. The Nazi fetishism continues on the inside of the booth, where you can find Triumph of the Will and T-Shirts emblazoned with each of the SS Division insignias, “Afrika Korps World Tour”, and other such gems. They’ve been an embarrassment to the industry for the years they’ve been exhibiting, but, depressingly, it seems a not-insigifiant part of the gamer audience actually gets into that kind of shit.

So I was not surprised when Valerie Laproye of French games publisher 7ieme Cercle was upset on Thursday night, telling me of the Nazi crap she’d seen in the dealer’s hall.

Then she mentioned the panties.

Wait, what?

I was used to the Nazi-fetish bullshit carried by Belle & Blade, so I was surprised when Valerie listed women’s underwear in the litany of the booth’s product — She said they were carrying black underwear, hung at child-height on the outside of the booth, emblazoned with slogans like “I COULD USE A LITTLE SEXUAL HARASSMENT.” She was quite upset by this — and I was as well. I had thought that admiration of the Nazis was as low as this exhibitor could go. I was wrong.

The next morning, I swung by their booth (1622) before the hall opened, and snapped a couple of pictures:


In this shot, you can see the “sexual harassment” panties, above a pair that reads “you must be at least this long to ride” (with a picture of a ruler), and another that says “this is why I get my way.” The next shot I took, though, is where things got even worse:


There, in the center, you see a pair emblazoned with the slogan “Get me drunk …and we’ll see.”

Let that one sink in a bit.

I headed over to security, where I showed the pictures to a friend I have on the staff, who was as pissed off as I was. He promised to escalate it further up the chain.

After that, I heard nothing more — things got very busy for me, and I was unable to head back to the other side of the hall to check up on things. On Twitter, more people started expressing shock and outrage. I mentioned it to several colleagues at the show as well. I know that many of these people filed complaints of their own with GenCon.

On Sunday, I heard several reports from friends that the panties were gone — but I’ve also heard via people on Twitter that they’d been only moved inside the booth, to share shelf space with the Nazi fetish bullshit. So far, there has been no official statement of any kind made by GenCon regarding this issue.

GenCon has vendors guidelines, and a clear policy governing harassment, and women’s panties emblazoned with encouragements of harassment and date-rape would seem to be clear violations of these policies. The silence, especially given that complaints began as early as Friday morning, is concerning.

The message that these products, and any action taken (or untaken) regarding them, sends about our industry is a fairly loud one. I will be keeping my ear to the ground for any news regarding this issue, and will pass along anything I discover. I would request that anyone with any further information please add it to the comments below — and also please send your concerns along to GenCon, letting them know how you feel about this vendor and their products.

65 Replies to “When Nazis Get Rapey”

  1. Thanks for pursuing this, though! This is what it /actually/ means to be an ally.

    And ugh, how disgusting. Glad I breezed right past that booth without ever looking at it.

  2. I… uh… argh… We really have to explain this again? Sigh. Thanks for reporting to security, Gareth. At least we are moving away from tacit agreement when people complain.

  3. I will link this on my website, forward it on Facebook and Google+, and will be writing to GenCon about it.

    This sort of thing should not stand.

  4. Travis — You are mistaken. Not only do they constitute legal definitions of harassment, but they are clear violations of the linked official policies.

  5. Travis – seriously? It certainly appears to be threatening or disturbing, and the words didn’t get printed on the underwear by accident so I assume that it is intentional. I can’t think of a more textbook definition of harassment than that.

  6. Glad to see people taking action. Had I daughter there, as you did, or were I a woman, I would have felt several times more uncomfortable than I already did. Which was not insignificantly so.

    Frankly, as a show that, on the surface, wants to appeal to entire families, I’m surprised that Gen Con isn’t thinking of their bottom line here.

  7. I’m honestly not sure I see how these underwear constitute harassment. I would appreciate a clear explanation of why they are in violation specifically of the harassment policy.

    Don’t get me wrong. They’re not just crass and offensive; they’re reprehensible, inappropriate, and incredibly sexist. That this booth felt they could get away with selling them out front is a clear sign that there are still serious and abiding issues in the gamer community that need to be addressed. But harassment?

    I don’t see them as threatening. They’re not male boxers that say, “You’ll like when I harass you,” or “One more drink… you’ll see.” They’re not stickers that the booth is encouraging men to slap on women.

    As for intent, intent to do what? If a woman sees these, buys these, and wears these, is she threatening herself? Unless someone is forcing her to wear them, I don’t see how that’s anything other than a product not likely to sell well.

    The definition of harassment has been mentioned a couple of times, but the legal definitions of harassment I’ve found refer to repetitive and unwanted behavior, offensive conduct, other actions performed by another person. If I own a copy of Mien Kampf, it doesn’t harass you by sitting on the shelf. If I wave it in your face and quote offensive lines from it, I harass you.

    The Gen Con harassment policy doesn’t define harassment, so I assume it falls back to the legal definition, and thus requires activity, not just an item sitting on a shelf.

    Also, the items don’t violate the vendor guidelines as far as I can tell. I feel like you could make a strong case based on “Superiority” for the Nazi crap in the booth, but these underwear would be difficult to ban based on “Sexual Themes” as 1) the sexual aspects are largely inferred, and 2) there’s far more sexual items on display elsewhere.

    I’m not defending these products or the waste of space that is this booth. I want to know what I’m missing here. Also, I want to avoid weakening a concept by using it in inappropriate circumstances. If this isn’t actually the definition of harassment, as I think, then we should find some other way to approach the problem that won’t be dismissed on a technicality.

    I did not see this booth in person, and I would be happy knowing that I never have to stumble on it in the future, so how can we most effectively take this on? I don’t feel like harassment is the right tactic.

  8. My comment wasn’t about common decency; my comment was about harassment. I recognize that this is a problem, but moral outrage and unfettered emotion only gets you so far.

    Read my comment again when you actually want to do something.

  9. Seriously Travis? One of them LITERALLY SAYS “I could use some SEXUAL HARASSMENT

    Reading comprehension FAIL.

  10. Jonathan–

    Gosh, yes — you’re so very clever, and you’ve clearly given me my comeuppance.

    Just so you clearly understand: Every woman I spoke with who saw those products felt not only offended by them, but felt that it directly made them feel uncomfortable and even unwelcome.

    Boom. Harassment.

    And, since you’ll fall back into the “yes, but” apologism — Don’t. Stop being part of the fucking problem.

  11. I’m not sure how “reprehensible,” “inappropriate,” “incredibly sexist,” and “what can we do to actually shut these assholes down for good?” count as apologism, but if that’s what makes you feel better. (And no, I didn’t use the words “shut these assholes down” but that’s what I intended.)

    You’re picking a fight with the wrong weapon and with the wrong goal in mind. Get rid of the root of the problem, the booth itself, and the people the booth attract, and the atmosphere improves.

    We can’t stop these people from existing, but we can relegate them to a corner of society where no one is willing to associate with them. We can shun them from being part of the gaming community at large.

    That doesn’t happen, though, by getting angry and flailing about. It certainly doesn’t happen by getting angry and dismissive of a guy asking questions in search of a better answer.

    I read your post. I read the guidelines and the policy. I read Gen Con’s response. These assholes need shut down, and harassment’s not the way. Gen Con addressed the issue (or at least they’ll feel they did), so unless you’re hiding some big reveal, you won’t get anywhere down this path. They’ll be back next year, and who knows what violation of common decency they’ll bring instead.

    Maybe, though, you call them on the “Superiority” guidelines. The harassment thing is new, and not likely to happen again depending on what Gen Con did behind the scenes. But the Nazi stuff? Gather proof that they have Nazi propaganda and have consistently had Nazi propaganda for years in clear violation of the rules, and they clearly don’t intend to change. Get them removed for good. Hope (or help) the space gets a positive vendor instead.

    Or you can just dismiss me as a troll and an apologist. Yeah. That’s the way to fix this.

  12. Jonathan, you came in, tried to rules-lawyer the definition of “harassment”, and when rebuffed, decided to be persistently insulting. “Troll” is a cutesy internetism. I think “asshole” suffices here.

    I’m not interested in what you’re trying to prove by this pathetic little alpha-display, and I’m not going to waste any more time giving you further attention.

  13. I’m pretty sure you’re simply writing off Jonathan without explaining the logic behind your definition of harassment.

    I don’t see how this is harassment in any way. In fact, I know women with these exact panties… they are meant to be private jokes and not to be taken seriously… they do not find them to be promoting sexual harassment. For those who say “SEXUAL HARASSMENT SHOULD ALWAYS BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND NEVER BE A JOKE” — I have to say lighten up. You might be offended by the topic, which is completely acceptable, but to say that it is harassment is something completely different.

    Personally, I think anything can be joked about. Drawing a line on what is acceptable and not is censorship and limiting freedom of expression. Look at “The Aristocrats” joke as an example of how far you can go and while that is offensive, it shouldn’t be taboo. There is a strong difference between actual sexual harassment (which is unacceptable) and having something like this.

    I’m honestly surprised you’re not more offended by the anime women who were rubbing near nude bodies and ripping clothes off of each other at Gen Con. To me that seems more adult than this.

  14. …and another heard from. It’s getting to be like playing bingo around here. You folks should see some of the shit that I’m not letting through.

    “I don’t see how this is harassment in any way.” Check.

    “I think anything can be joked about.” Check.

    “…anime women who were rubbing near nude bodies and ripping clothes off of each other at Gen Con.” Che– um, whoa. We’ve taken a sudden sharp turn into creepy obsession-land, population: One.

  15. If anybody’s getting weirdly alpha here, it’s you, Gareth. People come in, they ask for an explanation. They admit, this is assholish behavior, but they wish to understand the circumstance. “Harassment” is left undefined by Gencon, and this particular incident doesn’t fit the letter of the legal definition of harassment. It’s sexist behavior that clearly upset people, it’s happening in a public area, it should be removed, and probably so should the people showing it. But is it harassment by a legal or dictionary definition? A person would like to hear your logic behind the use of the term, and what does he get?


    There’s always at least one.

    Sorry, Jonathan. It’s not my job to teach basic decency to under-socialized gamers.”

    You immediately go for an ad hominem attack, dismiss his entire logical process and reply with an assumption that the poster is some how lacking in basic decency and socialization, which clearly he isn’t, which you’d know if you took the time to read and digest his comment before dismissing him. You continue to dismiss attempts to build communication and share ideas by just rejecting these people. It’s simple, we ask what definition of harassment you feel this constitutes. The event doesn’t match the definition we have. Unless you show us your definition, and explain it, we’re at a disconnect of ideas. If we can’t mesh the definitions, we can always find a word which fits better, or *cringe* make a neologism. But you’re not gonna make more friends/allies by dismissing people who have questions. That’s how you get isolated in an echo chamber, which is bad for any ideology.

  16. Jonathan – The fact is, it becomes harassment the moment someone becomes offended and/or made to feel uncomfortable. Yes this means someone may harass another person without intending to, and when it is pointed out that person should apologize and take steps to correct their behavior in the future. Steps have to be taken to bring these smaller “incidental” cases to light if we are ever going to put an end to this behavior on a cultural scale. I recognize you were not trying to exacerbate the situation with your comments.

    Gareth – I agree completely with the original post. Also, you are correct in saying it is not your job to “teach basic decency to under-socialized gamers.” However, as the author of this post, perhaps you should reconsider taking up that responsibility in regard to your own writing. People come into this world as blank slates and can only learn what those around them are willing to teach.

    There is a quote that is often attributed to Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame: “Every comic is somebody’s first comic.” The word comic can be replaces with just about anything. In this case it might be the first time Jonathan, or anyone reading this post, has been exposed to the true nature of what harassment means.

    Jonathan offered his thoughts in an open forum, and his thoughts were well formed and polite. Gareth, you came across as condescending, and a little insulting. I would go so far as to call your behavior “bullying” because you talked down to Jonathan. An argument could be made that you, in fact, harassed Jonathan for his comments and/or lack of knowledge on the subject.

    I understand not wanting to spend time on a flame war, but I don’t feel like that is what Jonathan was trying to do here. A better approach would be directing your readers who want to learn more on the subject at hand to other sites on the internet that would help them learn, not just sighing and being dismissive.

    I am a 30 year old white male from Indianapolis, IN. I grew up with middle class privileges. It took until I went away to college in a larger city to begin to understand what that meant. I don’t know that I really have a full understanding of what non-middle-class-white-males deal with on a day-to-day basis. I can’t quit being what I am. I do know that I am more open-minded and considerate of others, because I recognize my privileges. I try to help where I can. I don’t talk down to people who express opinions different from my own and treat them like idiots because they aren’t possessed of the same knowledge I have.

    We need understanding and open lines of communication. Don’t shut someone down after their first comment. Talk to them.

  17. I agree with Jonathan completely. The writing on these panties is sickening, crass, offensive, unintelligent and blatantly sexist, but they are not in and of themselves harassment. They may engender it, but panties cannot harass, regardless of whether they make someone feel uncomfortable or not (which they do). Harassing is something people do. I thought other than that, the article was well written, and I do think that that atrocious stall ought to be removed, and yes, I am a feminist. However, I thought Jonathan’s reply was perfectly respectful to women, intelligent, articulate and polite, whereas Gareth’s response to him was dismissive, unhelpful, rude and full of baseless assumptions. I thought your responses have let down an otherwise good piece of writing.

    Sylvester: regarding apalling certain topics as taboo is not limiting freedom of expression. Limiting freedom of awfulness, perhaps, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing. Rape, sexual harassment, dead babies…all on the list of not funny and not something that should be joked about.

  18. Hmm. Equating words printed on underwear to “a course of conduct” has some interesting implications that I think have been overlooked by a few participants here.
    There is a non-trivial amount of thinking/writing on the topic of speech vs conduct and I encourage further reading.

    I’m doubtful that using “harassment” is the best tactic to censor material of this sort. Instead, I think forums like these (conferences) should have explicit censorship rules that spell out what’s forbidden (and/or provide a process to censor additional material).

    Misusing (and thereby weakening) the important concept of harassment to remove words you find offensive is a mistake in my opinion.

  19. I think you’re being a bit quick on the trigger Gareth, and not quite at the right targets.

    Having sex with a drunk person isn’t date rape, or any kind of rape, unless they’re so drunk they’re semiconscious which isn’t what the offending article of clothing said. There’s a kind of urban myth amongst MRAs and SJWs that it is, but it’s just an urban myth.

    Nor is this stuff a breach of the harassment policy. I read it. It’s clearly talking about “harassment” and not “sexual harassment” which is an important distinction. Sexual harassment can cover having bikini pics on the wall and so forth, but that’s not harassment in the standard usage.

    I’m not even intrinsically offended by Nazi fetishism, because I don’t think being a Nazi fetishist makes you a Nazi any more than being a BDSM fetishist makes you a rapist. Nazi fetish material is big in Israel and I don’t think it’s because Israel is full of closet Nazis. It’s not my bag but then again neither are anime girls or chainmail bikinis.

    However this looks like it is sure as heck a breach of the vendor rules, specifically “6. No exhibitor or member of an exhibit may promote, display, or behave in a manner considered offensive to decency or good taste as determined by Show Management.” That’s what you should be focusing on. There’s far more wiggle room than you need there to get these bums kicked out.

    Lastly you might want to think before you start throwing around terms like asshole, troll or pathetic little alpha display. I think people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  20. Sorry Travis, unthinking emotion trumps reason. Skarka is here to be outraged, he don’t need no steekin’ reason.

  21. Jonathan –

    I posit, then, that they constitute harassment to males. At least the pair with the ruler does. Behavior does not have to be threatening to constitute harassment. Behavior which is meant to persistently annoy or “to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct” also constitutes harassment. The underwear in question does, in fact, generate an unpleasant and hostile situation by uninvited and unwelcome verbal (written) conduct. So no matter how you care to look at who might have been made uncomfortable by those panties, the fact is, they do in fact constitute harassment.

  22. 7. Gen Con LLC reserves the right to cancel arrangements or contracts or close an exhibit whenever it is deemed necessary for the safety or comfort of those attending Gen Con whenever the exhibit, activity, or material sold is objectionable or offensive to the average person attending Gen Con, whenever legal conditions, convention policies, or requirements of the convention site so dictate, or whenever portions of the convention site are destroyed or damaged.


  23. Tracy– Thank you. I linked to the same guidelines in the post, and I was beginning to think that nobody had bothered to read them.

    The argumentative crowd is getting so hung up on the definition of “harassment” and whether it fits their own particular rubric, they’re ignoring the clearly-stated Vendor Guidelines.

  24. To all the people who do not think it’s harassment, it is. Harassment not only covers direct behavior, but anything creating a “reasonably hostile environment.”

    That’s why you can’t have nudie calendars hanging about at work, etc. If you need explanation on how it creates a hostile environment, then…seriously? Who the heck needs an explanation on how it creates a hostile environment?

  25. “7. Gen Con LLC reserves the right to cancel arrangements or contracts or close an exhibit whenever it is deemed necessary for the safety or comfort of those attending Gen Con whenever the exhibit, activity, or material sold is objectionable or offensive to the average person attending Gen Con, whenever legal conditions, convention policies, or requirements of the convention site so dictate, or whenever portions of the convention site are destroyed or damaged.”

    I feel unsafe with people carrying around weapons, even if they are fake. I also feel uncomfortable with scantily clad people walking around in the convention center (both cosplayers and artwork).

    Maybe I’m not your “average person,” but I don’t think the “average person” finds the underwear offensive either — just a loud vocal minority.

  26. On one side of the argument, you’ve got people expressing problems with Nazi admiration and sexual-harassment/date-rape themed products.

    On the other, people who want to make allowances for the above, and bizarrely also express strange fixations on “half-naked anime women.”

    I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which group they wish to identify with.

  27. Summary of the discussion thus-far

    OP here’s an advertiser who is advocating beating women black and blue. I think something should be done!

    Response #1: this is really terrible, but I believe that you are mistaken on your terminology. It’s more sable and azure.

    Response #2: the word “beat” is prejudicial and inappropriate. You should use the more neutral phrase “manually impart kinetic energy” instead.

    Response #3: what exactly do you mean by “beat black and blue?” Are there long term debilitating effects? Injuries to internal organs? If the attacker gets bruised knuckles, could he or she also claim to have been “beaten black and blue”? I’m just asking because I don’t know. Please educate me!

    Response #4: I know actual women who have been beaten black and blue and do not think this is a problem. In fact, they think it’s funny! We should be able to laugh at the idea of women being beaten black and blue – because broken bones are humerus! Get it? Wakka wakka wakka!

    OP: you people are idiots. This isn’t a semantics discussion.

    [Insert deluge of “you’re so mean/wrong/arrogant/wrong/off-target/wrong/a big, awful meany-head” here]

  28. Myth #1: Writing things in an erudite, diplomatic way means you’re definitely not being an asshole.

    Myth #2: Writing things in a blunt, angry way means you’re definitely being an asshole.

    Myth #3: Men get to decide what is or isn’t sexual harassment towards women.

    Myth #4: Men have to have the reasons for something being considered sexual harassment towards women explained to them or it doesn’t count.

  29. Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t constitute harassment. The confederate flag makes me uncomfortable, but it’s not harassment. Gay couples kissing in public makes me unconformable, again, it’s not harassment.

  30. I went ahead and approved the above comment, because I wanted folks to see exactly what kind of people we’re dealing with here.

    “Gay couples kissing in public makes me uncomfortable.”


  31. Gareth,

    Thank you. Not often I say this but you and your comments today made me less ashamed to be male today.

    We need more people who want to raise everyone (sex, race, orientation) to the same level of respect.

    Please never quit.

    Seattle, WA

  32. “Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t constitute harassment.”

    See, ladies? Just because a guy makes you uncomfortable, relax with the “harassment” term! If a man says it’s not harassment, it must not be!

  33. Selena, thank you for giving a straight answer. What I’d read about harassment only talked about behavior and actions, not hostile environments. It’s obvious that both are unacceptable, but it wasn’t obvious that both are linked. Thank you.

  34. General Announcement: If you’ve never posted here before, and your message consists largely of Mansplaining and general Douchebaggery, guess what? Your message won’t be appearing in public.

    So you’re wasting your time. Toddle off somewhere and complain about how I’m abridging your Free Speech. I’m sure your one friend will be impressed.

  35. I think it is important to look at the legal definition of harassment. Differentiating between being harassed and being offended is huge in this discussion. Many, many booths carried items that may have offended someone.

    Was it a poor choice and offensive to put these items at a child’s eye level? Of course. I’m still not sure if the OP is more offended by those 3 items or just using them as a convenient gateway to ultimately attack a booth that caters to nazi fetishism.

    But we need to be very careful when advocating censorship. Being offensive cannot be a defining factor for banishment.

    I feel Jonathan was spot-on.

    As to with which “side” I identify? I identify with myself – a 52 year old woman who has advocated for women’s rights for over 30 years and who now spends most of her day with 4 and 7 year olds.

    I did not feel harassed passing by that booth on Thursday. I did speak with my wallet and passed on by.

  36. Perhaps I misread your post. Are you not advocating for the removal of this vendor because of their merchandise? If so, I consider that censorship.

  37. Yeah, I’d definitely say you misread it, since I never mention removing the vendor at all — only the products, and the only call to action I make is to ask people to share their concerns with GenCon.

    But hey, you had a point to make, I guess.

  38. That’s not censorship any more than asking sponsors of Rush Limbaugh to stop sponsoring him is censorship. That’s called a free market. Censorship would be if the government silenced them or forbid them from selling their wares because of the offensiveness. People have the right to free speech and expression, but nobody is guaranteed a forum for that expression, and asking to have a vendor’s booth removed from one venue is not censorship.

    Some people have a funny idea of what censorship is.

  39. Gareth,

    Through all of your replies, I have yet to see anything you have written regarding why having such items for sale constitutes sexual harassment. It is my understand that, in order for there to be a case of sexual harassment, there must be a persistent behavior. How can offering offensive, sexist items for sale in an environment where the customer is free to leave the vendor be considered sexual harassment? Would that not be like claiming that a video store’s “adult” section is sexual harassment?

    I think that the best thing we can do if we’re offended is vote with out wallets and not patronize the vendor if we find the products to be offensive.

  40. Yes, they are clear violations of the vendor guidelines. But, again, I ask you, how is it sexual harassment? I’d really like to know and nobody seems to want to give a straight answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.