What started off as a satirical joke this weekend at video game convention RTX quickly turned into an invasive prank. Harris O'Malley, known on the web as Doctor NerdLove—an internet personality who gives love and sex advice to geeks and otakus—never anticipated his sticker joke to be used aggressively against women at the convention where he distributed them.
In an effort to poke fun at the idea of "fake geek girls," O'Malley created sticker "Fake Geek Girl Advisories"—stickers which were distributed at RTX this weekend, a convention held by Rooster Teeth Productions (you might know them from Red vs. Blue, a popular Halo machinima).
The issue began when at least one publicly-unidentified person started to use these stickers in a way that betrayed their original meaning. Maybe they didn't know they were meant to be satirical. Maybe they did, and decided to re-purpose them anyway by approaching unsuspecting women and slapping the stickers on their butts. I emailed with the sticker-maker last night to hear exactly what happened this weekend and how he felt about the repurposing of his joke.
"I got to RTX on Friday around 12:30 or so with my wife," O'Malley explained to Kotaku. "She headed directly upstairs to Ballroom G while I took a quick pass around the dealer's room/exhibitor's hall looking for a swag table to drop off some stickers. I had the Fake Geek Girl Advisories, some stickers with QR codes that lead to different articles on the blog and some with the NerdLove logo on 'em. I handed out a couple, deposited others on tables and couches for people to take and headed off to join my wife and friends at the Spill Dot Con panel.
"Shortly after the panel ended, the RTX guardians [event volunteers who staff the convention] came and found me and wanted to see some of my stickers - the ones with the QR codes. After establishing that I hadn't had anyone else handing them out for me and that I'd left several out and about as freebies, they told me that somebody was taking them and slapping them onto women's asses and the backs of their costumes. They asked if I could refrain from handing out any more until they got the matter cleared up. Evidently they had a description of the guy and had everyone looking out for him."
O'Malley only heard of one person using the stickers in this way, but when we asked if the man got kicked out of the event for harassment, one of Rooster Teeth's founders issued the following statement to Kotaku:
We alerted our team of volunteers and convention center security immediately and dealt with the incident as quickly as possible. We do not tolerate any type of harassment and removed a couple of people who were making the event uncomfortable for other attendees over the course of the weekend.
When asked to clarify, Rooster Teeth said that it was an isolated incident from a sole person—the "couple of people" refers to other, unrelated incidents. "We do not tolerate any type of harassment," Rooster Teeth said. To that end, the harasser was "booted and banned" from the show. "I'd also like to emphasize that despite these isolated incidents that the event overall was extremely positive and a huge success," the Rooster Teeth co-founder added.
Harassment at conventions has been under added scrutiny in the last year, with some, like science fiction author John Scalzi, opting to take a public stand against it by refusing to attend conventions unless they have a clear harassment policy.
As for the stickers, they were never intended to be taken seriously according to O'Malley.
"The story with the stickers is that they're satire, pure and simple. I don't believe in 'fake' geek girls and I like the idea of mocking people who buy into the idea with their own words, so I mocked up an design patterned after the "explicit lyrics" stickers for CDs," O'Malley explained. "My idea was that since the Explicit Lyrics tags were essentially a joke in terms of effectiveness and a hyperbolic reaction to a non-problem, the Fandom Advisory design would carry the same implications - that it was a meaningless label for a nonexistent problem.
"It was originally designed for t-shirts (seen here: http://drnerdlove.spreadshirt.com), but I decided to print some out as stickers for distributing at cons. It is, admittedly, a polarizing design; the people who get it LOVE it, but apparently the ones who don't HATE it."
Following the events at RTX, O'Malley is reconsidering the stickers a bit—whether he should explain the joke on the stickers themselves, or if he should discontinue them altogether.
"This shit is NOT FUCKING ACCEPTABLE," O'Malley wrote on his blog. "Cons are supposed to be safe spaces for everybody; shit like this drives women out of fandom."
If you or anyone you know has witnessed or been affected by the events at the RTX convention, please don't hesitate to contact us with details at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top image via Zoe Quinn