Sexism in Gaming is Still Here and It’s Time to Level Up
Out of all the odd gems the internet has thrown at us (certain presidential Twitter accounts, the memes, all that good stuff), the gaming communities are probably one of the most pleasant (weird?) and/or most toxic, depending on who you are. On one hand, gaming in the recent years has had an emphasis on online play and downloadable content, making the online communities convenient and helpful with forums, walkthroughs, distribution with platforms such as Steam and itch.io, and much more. The industry itself has evolved over the years, and thus video games have become a bigger part of pop culture and appeal to a broader audience than ever before. Yet, despite the apparent inclusiveness video games have started to develop, a good portion of the online communities resist this shift and claim their space as “male-only”, making it difficult and even dangerous for women (and other minorities) to participate in gaming and game developing.
And this goes beyond the “go back to the kitchen” comments from young snotty boys that girls are prone to receiving in Call of Duty voice chats, or the “fake gamer girl” accusations that go around (because gamer girls have always been there, boys just make it hard for them to be a noticeable part of the gaming demographic). Those types of rude and sexist remarks tend to come from the unfiltered and unsupervised behaviors of young people using the internet. Girls can be guilty of it, too. I was. My young and unknowing self went through middle school as an angsty mess that hated women (not women, but femininity) and made offensive remarks in order to be funny. But you learn better as you grow up, which is why it is incredibly significant to call out such behavior when we see it and educate instead of returning the offensive act, which shouldn’t be anything new. This, among other tactics, is encouraged for everyone to take part of to end such behavior and to create a safer community for everyone. As Arthur says, “gamers need to learn how to behave like civil adults and lead by example”. There is also an emphasis on doing so in a civil manner as “sometimes the anti-sexism, pro-feminism crowd is just as obnoxious”, which leads to counterproductivity and therefore no one gets taken seriously. As important as it is to pursue this “strive for balance”, like it is in any form of meaningful argument, what is the right approach against a view that condemns the basic involvement of another in a community for questionable reasons, and does so in such an uncivil manner?
Such as when certain male gamers deliberately create a toxic environment for females when they are aware of what they are doing and how harmful it can be. The potential anonymity of the internet will always tempt the worst to come out of people, and sometimes, ignoring it is the best tactic. But the line must be drawn somewhere. Giving death and rape threats to women, such as Anita Sarkeesian, who speak about sexism and female depiction in video games (and are involved in many aspects of gaming, from development to gaming to journalism) not only demonstrates the ever present misogynistic behaviors of male-dominated gaming communities, but also reveals that if such a group of people are really going out of their way to knowingly attack a single person in such a manner, then it’s a problem that can’t be overlooked by just saying “stop doing that”. It definitely is a situation out of the control of anyone who is not directly involved because the perpetrators have the power to remain anonymous and the choice to keep doing what they’re doing while ignoring any protests (“trolls”, to some). So when our measly little voices online are easily shoved out of the way, or just aren’t effective enough, resulting in little impact on the bigger conflicts, its really up to those with the larger, more powerful voices to step in and support the change. From the video game companies that hesitate to become part of the conflict to male gamers themselves (because, sadly, their opinions have a tendency to to be taken more seriously than women’s), nothing will be resolved unless everyone pitches in to knock down the gross behavior directed towards a group of people that already struggles with being silenced.
And how did gaming communities reach this point? No matter how much male gamers try to disguise it, most of it is ruled down to blatant sexism and privilege. These gamers are the ones who have dominated gaming since the very beginning and have excluded females from the community, yet complained that it is “hard to find a girl that also like to play games”. They’ve clung to an identity of being the victims of a society that shuns them for their gaming habits and have savored the constant gaming content that caters to their demographic. I say “privileged” because they have been catered to for so long (and have the money for it) that they feel the necessity to “defend” that identity once the industry (largely with the rise of indie developers) has more or less started to evolve into something more inclusive to a diverse group of people. Gradually, we’ve had more female protagonists, more female characters that aren’t just there for show, more POC characters, and all these groups speaking up in order to advance this progressive change. Being a “gamer” has lost the meaning that many males grew up with, and so what do they do?
They become blatantly misogynistic and aggressive, clearly shown in the GamerGate scandal that originated in 2014, which, in summary, was a barrage of attacks against female indie developer Zoe Quinn — such as rape and death threats that led her out of her home — when false claims of her cheating on her boyfriend to gain advertising for her game spread around the internet. And honestly, harassing her up to that point accomplishes…what exactly? But this was only the start of GamerGate, which “quickly pivoted to focus on corruption in games in journalism” because “gamers came to a consensus that publicly harassing a woman over her sex life was a bad look”. So they obviously know what they’re doing and the fact that they are able to pull off this type of behavior in the first place is baffling and a little unnerving. As ridiculous and petty as it may all sound, it is but the opposite to others. Now that is a concern. And it is hard to tell what is worth fussing over and what is just immature content that is so commonly seen throughout the web. Like the Daily Stormer website, that looks kinda questionable, yet many take its content to heart. They claim that “Gamergate provided a direct entry-point to what is now called the Alt-Right, as it was made-up of young White men who realized they were being disenfranchised by feminism and political correctness when aggressive SJWs began invading their space and making demands of them, and ended up digging into the “dark corners of the internet” to try and figure out what was happening”. It is hard to justify how these “young White men” can be disenfranchised when all the other groups just strive to be on equal footing as them. Admittedly, certain feminists and SJWs have given the whole group a bad name due to their aggressive and equally sexist nature, just as the people behind GamerGate have given the rest of the gaming community a bad perception to outsiders. But to go as far as promoting hateful — that is essentially what it has come down to — ideals?
This whole mess has only gotten as far as it has due to the lack of involvement from the video game industry itself. They are the ones who essentially influenced the male gamer mentality, the ones that constantly created the typical white, middle-aged, scruffy male protagonist in some form of combat-based environment about war or monsters (or something) with inherently useless and/or objectified female characters, if any. All to gain profit from a single demographic. And yes, we are stepping away from that previous structure, but that structure has yet to be reformed because at this point it is more than just young angry men being young angry men. And it’s understandable. Feminism, online “trolls”, diversity and oppression. They are all highly controversial matters that seem risky to get involved in. But if groups of people are already so divided in dealing with it by themselves, wouldn’t it be more productive to use a significantly more influential power to set down a new structure in order to progress this transition the industry has been undergoing in the past few years? Which isn’t to undermine speaking up about these problems on our own. Women such as Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Brianna Wu, and Jenn Frank have already been severely attacked in GamerGate’s plan to “defend the ethics of video game journalism”. People like them need all the support they can get, and every little counts. If anything, our voices should also encourage the big names of the industry and communities to step in, because males aren’t their only notable demographic anymore. And if companies want to please their now-broader audience, they should feel compelled to consider the toxic behavior that has sprung up in the past few years and do something about it.
It doesn’t take a lot, either. From supporting a diverse group of indie developers and journalists to simple marketing strategies, gradual changes will eventually get the job done. Once people, like those who support GamerGate, have no choice but to accept that their actions will not be tolerated and are forced to see why it won’t be tolerated, gaming communities will surely experience a progressive development. But it won’t happen if we keep tip-toeing around the subject. And seeing women being forced out of their homes over video games is quite sad.