Tonight, I am angry.
Gaming is my mission field, and every day, I see millions of people being hurt by it. Millions of people who have done nothing wrong. Millions of people who have lived their lives in fear. Millions who have logged in, hovered the play button, and decided that today they cannot face the stigma. I see millions of teammates and millions of friends who are unable to play the games they love because of people like you and me. People who ostracize them. Who cast them out. Who ridicule them. People who don’t give them a fair chance to prove that they’re just as good as we are. People who shut them out because of who they are, not what they bring to the table. People who judge them on their gender, and not their skills. I see a world of women who want to play, and a world of men who shut them down.
To be a woman in gaming is no easy proposition. To begin with, women are told from a very young age that video games are for boys, and that girls should play with dolls or only play “video games made for girls.” I remember a time when my sister and I gamed together for hours on end, when she was better than anyone else in my family except me. I have to remember it, because it’s gone. Somewhere along the way, that was washed out of her.
When women make it past the stigma of taking up controllers instead of dolls, they encounter a new pressure. In many games, women are portrayed as overly sexualized, and men are frequently the heroes. Even in those games that allow you to choose the gender of your protagonist, the differences in clothing and dialogue lines can be profound, and opportunities for romance or friendship may be shut right down as dialogue options are shamelessly cut. To make matters worse, online games continue the trend: player characters are often skimpily attired and have jokes made at their expense.
But the real problem, and the one we can change, is this: women in games are treated poorly. I’m primarily an online gamer myself, and while I don’t often see it – I’m lucky if I see a woman break radio silence in game at all – I see the effects, and I can testify from numerous videos I’ve seen that it does happen. Women get treated differently in games. They get called out for plays a man wouldn’t. They get talked down to and mansplained. They get cat-called and slut shamed and asked to perform sexual favors over comms. It’s derogatory, it’s hurtful, and frankly it’s disgusting. And in the end, it shuts most of them up, and it keeps them from playing. Time and again, I’ve heard women say something to me like “I can’t face it today.”
“I can’t face it today.” Is that really what we want women to think of the games we play? Of the environments we create? Is that really what we’re going for? I’ve so often heard men complain that women don’t play games. That girls aren’t interested in their main pastime, their main hobby. That there simply are no girls out there who like video games. The reality is, that isn’t true. There are plenty of girls out there who want to play. The reality is, it’s us who are stopping them. The environment we create, the transgressions we allow others to get away with, are what are keeping women away from games. And that very fact leads to a hurtful downward spiral.
The fewer women who play games, the more hurtful and commonplace the stereotypes become. The more likely it is that any given guy will act like a relationship-starved idiot when he has no right to. The more likely it is that every asshole in the world will think they can get away with it, and enjoy the power they feel when they do. The more hostile the culture becomes, the more women we drive away, and the more women we drive away, the more hostile the culture becomes. It’s a downward spiral, and one that we need to stop. If it keeps going this way, guys like me (and you, if you’re a guy) will soon have to face the reality that there are no women in video games, and it will be entirely our own faults.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should be nice to girls so that they’ll become our significant others and eventually our wives – in addition to massively egotistical, that viewpoint would be highly heteronormative, and I’m not about that. I’m also not saying that ethnic, racial, and gender minorities aren’t discriminated against in this manner. They probably are, and that’s a problem we should also address. But unlike those other factors, which can be easily concealed over voice comms, a person’s physical gender is almost always easily discernible from the character of their voice. And that makes physical gender one of the biggest grounds for discrimination I’ve ever seen in video games.
What I am saying is this: I find communities with people from all genders, races, and ethnic backgrounds to be immensely rewarding in a way that homogeneous communities aren’t. More to the point, I find that a group with a mix of girls and guys is better – both for me and for my female friends – than a group of only guys that ostracizes women who attempt to enter. Even better still is a group with healthy respect and ideas flowing in both directions, enlightening both parties. I see that in my dorm and on my campus. But I don’t see it in games. And I really wish I did.
So here is my call to you, fellow men the world over: if you enjoy games, play them. And while you do, keep on the lookout for women who might need a helping hand. I’m not saying that women can’t fend for themselves, but one thing every woman I’ve spoken to has told me is that it means a lot to see a man stand up to inequality. To have a guy speak up when they’re being discriminated against tells them that for every ass hat there’s a decent person. So ask yourself: which one do you want to be?