I’ve been living in video game heaven for the past few weeks. What with the house hunt and the workload at my job doubly, it’s nice to come home and just plug in. I’ve always found gaming very relaxing, even when my eyeballs are bulging and my fingers cramping. I’ve been playing video games since I was about twelve, but it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve come to think about the reasons why I’m one of the few girl gamers out there.
Oh, sure, people will tell you that more girls are playing video games these days — and they are. But there is a culture of misogyny that seems to linger about the gaming world, and it is imbedded in the magazines, the events, the graphics, the stories… everything about the gaming world seems to reinforce a message about gaming belonging to the men and the boys.
The major gaming magazines feature female reviewers, but their specialites tend to be puzzle games, survival horror and simulations — typically “female friendly” games. I have yet to see a full-time female reviewer who’s an expert in first person shooters and stealth action. No, the girls are kept in the corner with the kiddie platformers while the men get out and play the “real” games. As a gamer, this is an attitude that has always chased me. I’ve tried to avoid the “girly” roles in role-playing games and always joined in the shooty melee with the boys. From the start, hardcore girl gamers tend to adopt a defiant sort of attitude, when they should be embraced (after all, how many guys claim they want a girlfriend who games?).
Further, many of the marketing strategies and magazines are directly exclusively toward guys. I stopped reading Electronic Gaming Monthly a few years ago after I got sick of seeing yet another article on a “girl gamer” with a few squares of cotton stretched over her fake boobs. Those interviews usually focused on whether or not she played naked rather than what was currently spinning in her system. What I find particularly sad about this is not that it tends to alienate their few female readers, but that a large chunk of their target audience is younger boys… so these melon-chested interviewees (surrounded with drawings of the same, ripped from the games themselves… see Dead or Alive) come to represent women for these kids. Sexist attitudes are reinforced. Girl gamers are shunted aside by a new generation as fluffy sex kitties who prance about playing The Sims and giggling behind a hand.
I only recently started playing Halo 2; I tried it when it was first released and preferred the first one. However, all my friends (guys, naturally) were into it, and my husband, so I eventually decided to give it a go. For those of you who don’t know, Halo 2 online is supported by the Xbox live voice chat — so you can not only shoot and stab others, but talk shit over their corpses as well. Fun!
When I started, I asked the husband how many girls he’d ever heard. I expected him to give it a moment’s thought, y’know, to count. Not so; the answer was immediate:
“None. Not one.”
Huh, thought I. No girls ever? I soon found out why. My third or fourth game in, I was greeted with, “Oh, look, there’s a whore playing with us. Shut the hell up, whore, get back to your place” (memory may betray the exact wording, but it was close). What girl wants to face shit like that? None that I know. It’s sad that the internet’s anonymity fosters this sort of acting out, and while it affects everyone (the constant screams of “faggot” aren’t great, either), it really works to create a hostile environment for girls.
But there’s another pitfall. I also play Final Fantasy XI, a massively multiplayer online RPG. Casually sexist comments abound there, and reports about serious harassment often come to naught. I should know — I went through it. About six months into my yearlong run there, I developed a fan, a teenage boy (one assumes) who followed me around whenever I logged in, professing his love for me and in general disrupting my relaxing hobby. There is a built-in device for “blacklisting” irritating players, which is supposed to effectively remove them from your gaming experience. That’s nice; when someone sends you random messages asking if you’re nice and wet, you can basically erase them.
Unless they’re really determined, and this kid was. He made new characters (people often have multiples to hold equipment, so that in and of itself was no big deal) when I blacklisted the old ones. He would send me party invites – a feature not blocked by the blacklist. When that failed, he recruited other players to send me messages… and it took three separate reports to get anything done about it. I know a lot of girls who have either quit the game out of frustration over that sort of thing, or taken to playing male characters, just to avoid the harassment.
But girls shouldn’t have to pretend to be something other than what they are. The gaming community should make a conscious effort to self-censor this sort of behavior; the “officials” in these games should take action when reports are filed, and actively seek out the truth. Read logs. I give blanket permission to check into my stuff if I’m being harassed, personally. Give girls who file reports (hey, guys too) that option and investigate. Write to the popular magazines and ask them to make their content a little more female friendly.
I’m not asking for a revolution here. I know most of the above is a pipe dream. Hell, guys can’t even get along with themselves in online games; can’t really expect them to bend over backwards for the girls. But consider this — the next time you guys wish for a girlfriend/wife who understands your need to spend hours communing with a controller, ask yourself these questions:
Did you help to create an environment that makes gaming unfriendly to girls… and are you willing to do something about it?
(Originally posted at Sudden Nothing).