The Super Smash Bros. community is having a conversation about sexual assault, whether they want to or not. Last week, that discussion came to a head when a female competitive Smash player published a guide attempting to educate the community around the famous Nintendo fighting game about consent. Now, the Smash community is debating whether sexual misconduct, recently an issue at Smash events, is tangential to the game that brought them together. Sheik in Smash 4
On September 15, Smash player Neha Chhetri published a blog post titled "Smashers Against Sexual Assault" on Smash blog Melee It On Me. It was circulated around various Smash forums over the last week. In the post, Chhetri cites the frequency of sexual assault, definitions of consent, how to respond to victims and accountability practices for alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Topics like "What Is Rape?" and "What Consent Should Look Like" preface matter-of-fact advice for respectful sexual behaviour. For example: "If you feel like you need to convince someone into sex, STOP, and then don't do it." To bolster statistics and advice used to educate Smash players, Chhetri relies on dozens of research papers and governmental studies.
Chhetri closes the piece by justifying the relevance of "Smashers Against Sexual Assault", arguing that "Sexual assault isn't a women's issue, or a gaming issue, or a men's issue. It's a human issue. Do your part to keep our Smash scene safe."
A screenshot from Chhetri's article on Melee It On Me
The Smash community's reactions to Chhetri's article were polarising. On social media, Chhetri and her report were excoriated. Top comments describe the guide as "ridiculous, inflammatory propaganda", "unrelated to Smash" or "biased". Her Twitter mentions are scathing, riddled with ad hominem attacks. She was called a "liar" and a "hostile misandrist". An army of critics went to work fact-checking the sexual misconduct guide, quibbling over statistics in Chhetri's feeds.
Chhetri's article didn't come out of nowhere. Over the winter, at least five female Smash players publicly alleged sexual assault perpetrated by male community members. Most prominently, in July, Smash streamer VikkiKitty came forward alleging that pro Smash 4 player Hyuga sexually assaulted her in a hotel room (Hyuga would go on to say he was drunk and didn't remember what happened, but also said, "I accept all my consequences and punishment.") Several other lower-profile instances of alleged assault have bubbled to the surface, with responses ranging from sympathy to aggressive doubt. Chhetri's recent report rides on the heels of what she describes as "the recent community-wide outbreak of reported sexual assaults".
She adds that "In general, public response to survivors has been extremely disheartening".
On Chhetri's Reddit thread, however, more female Smash players came forward with allegations of assault. Smash subreddit moderator Winnarly described some of those comments as "witch-hunty". Citing misguided pursuits of the alleged Boston Bomber or the alleged Jurassic Park Jeep destroyer, Winnarly told me that "a handful of users brought up examples of harassment in the community with intent to start a witch hunt. Several names were dropped of alleged perpetrators." He continued, welcoming sexual harassment victims to contact the mods privately for support.
For some, coming forward publicly on Smash forums or social media is liberating and empowering. For others, and especially when evidence is impossible to obtain, it generates an atmosphere of hostility about something other than Smash. Often, these accusations are immediately met with doubt. That said, fewer than 10 per cent of rape accusations in the US are false, according to an influential 2010 report.
Most vocal in the Reddit thread were community members who deemed the guide off-topic. Nestled between posts on wave-dashing and Project M voice mods, Chhetri's post stood out. "This subreddit is for Super Smash Brothers content, and this is not Super Smash Brothers content," one Redditor said, echoing many others.
On Twitter, a critic said, "Eh, sexual assault is wrong, but let's keep toxic ideology out of my competitive fighting game, yeah?"
Some Smash community members spoke out in support of Chhetri, arguing that her report was necessary for educating players about proper behaviour toward women. Moderator pidgezero_one wrote a 3700-word essay in support of Chhetri's consent guide, point by point addressing the community's major criticisms. In an email, he told me her report "created waves that forced attention onto the content of the article".
"Being educational in nature, this means that more people will be exposed to the uncomfortable reality that some of their ideas about consent are wrong, which I believe is necessary given the frequency at which sexual assault incidents had been spoken out about lately," pidgezero_one added.
Chhetri has been writing about this topic for years. In 2014, she published "The Voices of Women in the Super Smash Brothers Community", a report based on interviews with 53 female Smash players. About one in 10 reported having been assaulted by another member of the Smash community (one in four reported having been assaulted at all). Female players described discomfort when the word "rape" was casually thrown around as a synonym for "crushing defeat".
Chhetri emphasises that statistics of alleged sexual misconduct in her Smash-centric report don't vary significantly from US national statistics. "The one-in-four stat for Smash players reflects the national trend," she explained. However, Chhetri points out two social mainstays of the Smash community that, she noticed, are common among narratives of assault within the community: Smash fests and Smash hotels.
"A lot of women reported that they'd gone to a guy's house for a 'Smash fest', gatherings where you play Smash together," Chhetri explained. "Another thing is that, at Smash tournaments, people often share hotel rooms. You'll cram, like, 10 people to a room... Sometimes predators will take that opportunity... to assault a girl... Smash fests and Smash hotels are the two places women can be at risk."
In the days since Chhetri's guide, the Smash community is still struggling to digest its relevance. When is a gaming community just about a game, and when is it about the people who play it and their wellbeing?
"The Smash community is called a community because there are people in it," Chhetri explained to me over the phone. "Otherwise, it'd just be called Smash."