COLUMN: Level up gamer culture so everyone can join the party
Editor’s Note: This the first in a two-part series on misogyny in gaming and its effects.
Do you like videogames online? Do women deserve respect?
Sadly, current gaming culture would have you think you can answer yes to only one of those questions.
Women have it tough in the gaming community. Not only are they regular targets of harassment, but they’re subject to a host of absurd stereotypes that cover everything from their playing ability to their physical appearance.
To make matters worse, some gamers deny the reality of misogyny in gamer culture. They tend to either downplay its impact or blame the victims, suggesting women should grow thicker skin or else stop playing altogether.
But discrimination against women in gaming is serious, and it demands the attention of men and women. We need to acknowledge this and learn to recognize misogyny where it appears, from Internet forums to in-game lobbies.
Below are four of the most common anti-women phenomena typical of — but not exclusive to — gamer culture. It’s my hope this list will help gamers, male and female, recognize sexism in the gaming community so they can act to stop it.
Behind the veil of Internet anonymity, some gamers are prone to sexually harass women while playing online. They sometimes do this by speculating aloud about a woman’s body type and sexually propositioning them.
Online journalism sophomore Miranda Sanchez has had firsthand experience with harassment over Xbox Live in the form of unsolicited friend requests.
“[Sometimes gamers] start making fun of you, like ‘Oh are you hot?’” Sanchez said. “Then they send you a friend request two seconds later. I get that kind of a lot.”
The messages women gamers receive range from mildly annoying to downright scary. While comments about your weight and your attractiveness can be easily ignored, those threatening graphic sexual violence cannot.
Like Sanchez, pre-physical therapy sophomore Sequoia Anichini is no stranger to harassment. She recommends women ignore harassers and promptly delete or block them.
Her message to the harassers is also very straightforward.
“Being anonymous online does not give you an excuse to either be a creepy pervert or a bitter asshole to girls, or anyone for that matter,” Anichini said.
Regardless of your gender, chances are you’ve been cursed at over the Internet. This is a natural part of the online gaming experience.
That said, some insults are specially tailored for women. It’s not uncommon to hear women called “whores” or “sluts,” while it is comparatively uncommon to hear those words spat at males. These insults are gendered in the sense that they target a person’s sex, which makes them more personal and more offensive than others.
There’s not a woman gamer I know who hasn’t been subjected to this sort of language while playing online. All the women I interviewed for this column reported having been insulted online with more or less the same words.
Fat, Ugly or Slutty is an excellent website that documents insults commonly thrown at women in online gaming. As the website’s name implies, the three most popular seem to be calling women fat, ugly or slutty.
Obviously, the solution to this problem is to avoid using gendered insults. If you must insult other gamers online, only use slurs that don’t implicate sex or race. The online world is cruel enough already.
It’s a common idea in mainstream society that men and women are made to fulfill certain roles. Sadly, this myth extends to gamer culture as well.
In the minds of many, women can’t be gamers. It violates their idea of what a woman is. For this reason, many gamers express surprise when they realize a fellow gamer is female.
“[Gamers online] typically make a big deal out of it,” Anichini said. “They say things like ‘Whoa, I’ve never seen a girl on here!’”
While this sort of surprised reaction is fairly innocent, the assumptions that give rise to it still must be dispelled. The fact is women gamers are not nearly as rare as most people seem to think. According to a recent study by the Entertainment Software Association, women represent up to 47 percent of gamers.
In addition to gender roles being enforced in the general gaming community, they’re also enforced in smaller cultures for specific games and genres.
Sydney Vaughn, a European studies and astronomy junior, recalls discovering gender roles within the community for World of Warcraft, a hugely popular online multiplayer game.
“I think the biggest thing in World of Warcraft is that once [gamers] find out you’re a female gamer, you kind of have to fall into the role of a healer,” Vaughn said. “They think ‘Okay, you’re a woman, so you have to be nurturing.’”
Vaughn’s current guild in World of Warcraft has a few women, and they all play healer — meaning they focus less on combat and more on keeping the other players healthy. She says when she first became a member, she played a role other than healer, and this didn’t sit well with the others.
“I came in as the tank, which is the very masculine role,” Vaughn said. “There are a lot of comments that go around that I shouldn’t be playing that role.”
There’s a common set of assumptions about women who play games. The most common by far is that they are inherently less competent than men. After revealing their sex to the group they’re playing with online, many women are derided as n00bs and immediately dismissed.
“I’m pretty sure [other gamers] assume that I’m not going to be very good and that I just got on because my boyfriend plays,” Sanchez said. “Which is very wrong because I’ve been playing since I was really young. [The assumption] is a hard thing I try to fight. I always try to do my best in a match just because I always feel like I have to prove something.”
Sometimes gamers judge women explicitly. A woman might be kicked from a match or mocked because it’s assumed she has a low aptitude for the game. Other times the condescension is implicit. Male gamers might try to explain how to play even if the woman already knows.
Regardless of how it’s done, it’s unfair and obnoxious. Gamers ought to withhold judgment about their fellow gamers’ playing ability until they have a legitimate basis on which to judge. To judge skill on the basis of sex is fallacious.
Vaughn believes the stereotype of women as inherently unskilled alienates women who might otherwise join in.
“When you’re seeing derogatory comments, you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re getting harassed for not knowing what you’re doing … It really drives you away from playing games altogether,” Vaughn said.
Steven Zoeller is a journalism junior.