Last week I began this multi-part thought process on gaming culture with a little bit about how women are portrayed in our medium. Today I will be continuing the thought process as I talk about women's roles in the gaming community. Are things really that bad for women? Once again, I will only be showing that there is a problem and saving theories on why it is a problem for a later post in this series.
Women as Gamers
Unfortunately, in many regards women must "prove themselves" in the gaming community. If a man sucks it's because he isn't good at a particular game or only just started playing. If a woman has a bad game it's because she is a woman and therefore inferior. If a woman is a good player it's because she is compensating for some physical or character flaw.
Even if a girl does gain respect as a gamer, it's always in the context of being a "girl gamer" instead of being a "gamer". That's just wrong. "Girl" should not be a qualifier. Women should not be viewed through separate lenses than men.
If women aren't treated poorly, they are idealized. It's dehumanizing in the sense that they are no longer people: They are ideals and they are different or separate from the culture at large. The notion that female gamers should be placed on a pedestal or lauded as some sort of unicorn-like rare species transforms them from people into archetypes… into ideals they can never realistically become.
If they don't have the body of Lisa Foiles or fit a particular image, girl gamers are all too often rejected or ostracized. Let's take a look at a bit of evidence (Links may be NSFW) of the "sexy gamer girl" fetishization, shall we? And really, who licks a controller? I mean -after- the Dorito cheese has been cleaned off, of course.
These misogynistic and idyllic depictions of women in the gaming world reinforce a "you must be this attractive to play" atmosphere, which we should rise above. Doctor Nerdlove has an interesting article on the fact that these "geek girl" fetish types don't actually exist and how as a community that notion needs to be abandoned. Even if I don't enjoy his condescending tone, I agree with the overall message.
That's not to say women don't occasionally feed into this idolization. Sites such as Suicide Girls or Cosplay Deviant have in their own way created the "Alternative Girl"/"Gamer Girl" ideal that has helped perpetuate the notion.
In the process of writing this article, I asked many women how they felt about their acceptance in the gaming community. Overwhelmingly they responded that in the community at large they didn't feel accepted.
A great example worth reading is a personal account by DMG|BurnYourBra. It's about her experiences as a female gamer in the fighting game community and how the trash talking evolves into something horrible. She states,
"I never once said that "I was the best female USA player," but it's been somewhat pushed on me [...] I've been challenged by many female players, [...] The title means nothing to me. But I guess the bright side of it is that it has brought out more females to start playing as well as to get better."
She also says, "When it comes to terms of females, it feels to me like there's almost a written rule that if you aren't Asian, and if you don't have the look that fits into this beauty hierarchy, then you're just not good."
It's quite obviously more than competitive banter, and it's what female gamers have to deal with all the time. If you look at the following behind many of the professional e-sports, any time a woman joins a team there are cries of "they just want a girl to look good for sponsorship photos".
Whether it's true or not, I don't know. The issue, is that it means women, even behind the screen, will always be judged based on their gender's archaic stereotype. In electronic worlds of avatars and relative anonymity, gender lines and barriers still exist, and that's wrong.
Websites such as Fat, Ugly or Slutty or Not in the Kitchen Anymore have become places for female gamers to post some of their unsavory experiences with other gamers, generally of the opposite sex. there are some foul, horrible people written about on those sites. If you are a part of this, please stop.
I had the opportunity to speak with a competitive Left 4 Dead 2 player who wishes to remain anonymous. She related to me a sad story of how, even in what she describes as a "somewhat small community," women are "not taken seriously[...] or they are sexualized and mocked to the extreme."
She related the story of one female player who sent racy pictures of herself to a male player only to have them sent out to the rest of the community, effectively forcing her out. "The rationale that I've heard from several people is that "she's a bitch, so it's not a big deal."[...] Very rarely do I see mention of her value as a player, of even a person — just discussion of her pictures."
On top of that, women are all too often treated to lines like, "Go back to the kitchen slut," "Can I hav a pic of u in ur panties and bra," and "Jenny- ready to suck some cock?" No one deserves to be treated as these women are treated. Ever.
Despite the unfortunate atmosphere for women gamers, many remain hopeful for the future. When asked if they thought attitudes towards women were improving, almost all responded with an affirmative. Even though things may seem bad, many feel it's just an incredibly vocal minority that is getting all the attention and making things worse for the community at large.
How much of this offensive treatment is rooted in actual prejudice? Does anonymity bring out the latent sexism and homophobia in some gamers, or is there perhaps something deeper to the greater dickwad theory?
Next week I will seek to answer these questions and explore the mentality of these "internet dickwads." Do you have thoughts or comments about these discussions? Feel free to share either in the comments or send me an email at email@example.com if you have your own perspective you would like to share.
A special shout-out goes to the lovely gamers at the GirlGamers subreddit for being so friendly and open to discuss my questions!