In a previous piece, I talked about sexism and progress within video games, and what I might tell my younger self about gaming to properly prepare her for the misogynistic gauntlet she would eventually find herself running in an attempt to continue enjoying one of her favorite hobbies. As I said there, I am optimistic that eventually I, and other women after me, won’t have to write pieces like this, or defend my, or any other woman’s place within the video game community.
I am optimistic about this, but unfortunately, I am not confident.
Largely, attention has been focused on the absolutely disgusting threats and attacks that women have faced from members of the video game community for calling out instances of sexism.
This, paired with the staggering statistics that, according to an infographic by The University of New England, “One in four women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner” and “Nearly one in five women have been raped in their lifetime,” paint a picture that women need to avoid any type of confrontation within the gaming community in order to avoid sexism. Unfortunately, things are not that easy.
By only focusing on these most extreme examples of this issue there are other aspects that are largely being ignored. We need to continue focusing on the extremes, but we can’t ignore the other types of nearly constant sexism that women face within gaming. These smaller, (or perhaps simply less violent), issues show that these problems are heavily entrenched in this culture, and worrying about the worst of the offenses will not change that. Two of these issues I see most commonly can be personified by two archetypes of terrible, sexist gamers: The Sore Loser, and his brother, The Dismissive Know-It-All.
The Sore Loser
One of my favorite memories of this first type came a couple years ago while playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II online with some coworkers. When we played, we frequently had up to eight or nine people in our party, so we would play Ground War to stay all on one team. We ended up being matched against another large group for a few matches in a row, and each of these matches were really close. Three games in a row, a player on their team called in a Lodestar, and three games in a row, I ended up shooting it down before it could do very much damage to our team. When the game ended, our party switched to game chat, and when this Lodestar bro heard me, he immediately started complaining.
He said that “real players” don’t use launchers and other typical crybaby nonsense (mostly of the incredibly sexist, ableist and homophobic variety).
Now, this type of thing wouldn’t bother me, normally. This is a pretty typical thing to hear in a COD lobby. However, I know that there was a different motivation behind this behavior. If I had any doubt about this, they disappeared when he said things that suggested I only played the way I did because I’m a girl. It didn’t matter if I had just laid a Ramona Flowers level beatdown on him, it wasn’t legitimate.
Image Courtesy of The Movie Network
This kind of sexist rhetoric is all over gaming. It is a dismissiveness that says girls can’t be real gamers, nerds, geeks, or however else you want to label your participation in these communities. It’s a type of poisonous masculinity that men use to explain why a female is better than them at something they perceive as solely belonging to them. It is the motivation behind these guys who act like they are an automatically superior gamer, or has some master’s degree in anti-terrorism (which is totally a real thing, by the way), that has led up to him being the perfect COD player.
The Dismissive Know-It-All
A less aggressive, but similarly-rooted problem also frequently presents itself to female gamers in the form of male gamers who inherently believe that they know more about gaming than you, regardless of your experience level or qualifications. This is not a problem just in the gaming community, but for women across many fields, especially in academia (Rebecca Solnit covers how widespread this issue is incredibly well in her book Men Explain Things to Me, which I highly recommend).
I recently was playing Pokémon Snap on my N64, a game that I would challenge anyone to match my prowess in to this day, while a male friend was visiting. Upon starting the first level, he was immediately telling me all the things I was doing wrong. Every Pokémon I did not take a picture of, he informed me that I had just missed it. If a picture I took was slightly off-center, he made sure I knew it. Maybe this would have been helpful to someone who had never played this game before, but not me. I’ve beaten Pokémon Snap more times than anyone ever should, and I know every secret in that game beginning to end. I was specifically going back to that level just to get a few pictures that I thought I could improve, and was therefore setting myself up to make sure I nailed those ones. I wasn’t some lost, clueless beginner, but I was being treated as such, and this was far from the first time in my years of gaming.
Again, this type of behavior stems from misogynistic thinking that says women don’t belong in gaming, and if they do, indeed, play games, that there’s no possible way that they’ll actually be any good at them. This wasn’t even a first-person shooter, or game specifically marketed toward men, necessarily. I’ve always thought of Pokémon as gender-neutral as they come, but I was still being told that this was outside of my domain. I immediately felt the urge to say something to my friend, but only one image came to mind.
Image courtesy of emedco
This is not only an issue within gaming, but also within nearly all spheres that have been traditionally male-dominated. Within American culture it starts at the very top, with powerful corporations and political offices still being heavily run by men. Even with the political rise of Hillary Clinton over the last decade, women are still facing an uphill battle in almost every arena that they attempt to break into. According to Lara M. Brown, an Associate Professor and Program Director at George Washington University’s Political Management Program, in a piece for U.S. News, “When it comes to the presidency, it’s not a glass ceiling that a woman must break through, but a coffin lid nailed shut, six feet under.” This kind of thinking coming from an expert in the field (and a female one, at that), is not promising for wide sweeping change as far as power structures in this country goes.
What Do We Do About It?
We should never, ever ignore the most extreme examples of sexism within gaming. They are appalling, atrocious, and an unfortunate warning about some of the realities for women in this community. At the same time, however, we need to also draw attention to the smaller, more constant harassment and dismissal that female gamers, geeks, nerds, etc. face, because they are symptoms of a systematic and widespread issue. Don’t just accept these things as a reality that you have to live with. Be upset about them when they are upsetting, and say something about it when you feel comfortable and safe within the situation to do so. Utilize resources, such as filing abuse reports through whatever online gaming platform you use, and these great places to report and call out sexist gamers.
Male gamers, call out your friends and fellow gamers when they are being sexist, homophobic, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory and violent in their language within the gaming community. Nobody should feel excluded or cast out from video gaming because of who they are, and your inherent position of privilege here can be greatly utilized to move things in the right direction.
Last of all, fellow girl gamers, know that you belong in the video game community if you wish to be part of it, and no sexist gamer dude has the power to tell you otherwise.