Sexism in gaming

“RU a real girl?”
“no way”
“prove it”
“talk on the mic”
Ahem… hello, hello. Female here.
“ur a kid. little boy”
“RU really a girl?????”
“hey. sorry i didnt believe u”
Whatever. Doesn’t matter.
“so… can i get a pic?”

Welcome to gaming as a girl. Certainly the above does not represent all conversations females have online with male players. There are plenty of perfectly normal, friendly, mature, intelligent gamer guys out there. But conversations like this are much more common than is comfortable, at least for me.

I’m a girl gamer. My preferences are RPGs, sims, tower defenses, and action adventures.

I’m also subject to a lot of nonsense like the above conversation when I go online. It’s annoying and off-putting and fairly sexist.

But these are just gamers. It’s how they are. What can we do other than simply ignore the rude people on the Internet?

First of all, I don’t agree that this is just “how they are.” I have more respect for the gaming community than to believe that they are dominated by a bunch of sexist pigs and nothing more.

So what accounts for this kind of thing?

There are tons of debates, and nobody wants to take the blame, understandably. Here are a few of the arguments I have heard/read about sexism in gaming (I do not agree with all of them):

  • Gamers are by their nature anti-social, and they are mostly teenage boys who are afraid of and amazed by girls.
  • This is the Internet. Welcome to it, ladies.
  • Video gaming is a physically lazy sport, and people with low self-esteem and an interest in blowing digital things up spend no time working on their bodies or developing real relationships. Drop a girl into the mix, and sexist remarks are inevitable.
  • Shooting cartoon characters all day is just pretend manliness, and the men who engage in that activity feel a need to overcompensate. When they run into a female online, that can turn into sexist comments.
  • Women imagine this sexism; gaming culture is no more sexist than any other culture.
  • It’s our world that is sexist. Girls are raised to braid hair and bake muffins, while boys are raised to compete and play with GI Joe. Video games are inherently designed for competitive people, and any girls who quit braiding hair long enough to join a game are entering at their own risk. (NO GIRLS ALLOWED.)
  • Girls are usually pretty bad at video games, and so they have not yet earned any respect from the true gamers.
  • The game creators have instilled sexism into the images and stories of the games, thus setting a standard.
  • The game companies use “booth babes” and attractive female models with portable gaming systems attached to their waists to professionally announce innovations within their companies (ahem, Nintendo), thus setting and promoting a standard.

Am I missing anything?

This link made me think, once again, about the problem of sexism in gaming. It’s a matchup site where gamers can go to find game escorts. Most escorts are female. These women will play games with you… and possibly do more if you tip them well.

I don’t actually have a problem with such a business existing. If people want to engage in this type of activity online, then fine. It’s a little confusing to me, since most titles connect people for online gaming automatically, but, then, gaming doesn’t appear to be the only draw, here.

What bothers me is that I’m not surprised. Girls need to find a place in the video game world, and the other players, designers, and producers aren’t helping them do it, so one way they can have fun online and make some side cash is to sign up to be escorts. Hrm.

Help me understand this issue a little better. What accounts for sexism in gaming? Is the situation improving or getting worse? Or is this all simply a perceived sexism when there is actually no problem at all?


16 responses to “Sexism in gaming

  1. It’s definitely a problem. I think it’s a reason why many women don’t play online, or if they do, they hide that they’re women. There also seems to be a stigma around playing as a women and needing to be better than male players. Any guy can join up with a group – but if it’s a woman, do they really want a girl who isn’t amazing? I get to play very infrequently, so venturing into the online world and playing versus people isn’t something I want to do. I feel that if I go online and don’t outperform a large group of male players, I’m living up to the stereotype. And I think that a lot of female gamers also feel that way.

    Also, games aren’t marketed to women. Or if they are, they are Cooking Mama type-games. Why is that? Perhaps the demographic is still skewed to be overly male… and therefore the companies are marketing to the largest group of individuals buying their games. But if the companies actually marketed to women – wouldn’t the amount of women playing increase?

    Perhaps the temporary solution is to make female dominated channels to play on… where we can all play without some idiot telling us to show our boobs, make a sandwich, or that we’re obviously noobs for being the fairer sex. Or would that just be us hiding from the problem?

    (precautionary note from Irene: link below possibly NSFW 🙂 )

    This post made me think of this video CollegeHumor did about X-Box ladies getting revenge.

    • Brittney, I absolutely know that feeling of pressure when I go online to game. If I do the slightest thing wrong, or if I lag, or if I just have a bad day, I fear I’ll be representing female gamers poorly. Maybe that’s our problem — we need to buck up and just jump in there (and turn off our speakers if we don’t like to hear the nonsense) so we can make ourselves known. 🙂

      Hilarious link, by the way. Someone said that to me just earlier today — the girls should get on and begin talking back. I said, *gasp* No, not the lovely ladies! 😉

  2. Personally, I think the gaming world is just as sexist/racist/ignorant as the rest of the world, but why it’s heightened/more apparent is because of the unique and fluid nature of identity in gaming (at least in theory). Unlike the real world, I could take on a handle that is a-sexual. In practice, however, the community still wants to know what kind of “bits” man that handle. (ha, sorry, I am trying to be serious, really.)

    That said, I don’t have a problem with Gamecrush existing, business is business. However, to suggest that it’s anything other than the further commodification of sex is disingenuous. I thought this Huffington Post article was quite close to my thoughts on this:

    If males and females on Gamecrush had equal roles (like on other gaming sites), I would say it was a more true attempt at building community and making real connections. As it stands, however, it’s really just veiled sex-work. After all, wouldn’t a john would tip me more if I showed him my boobs while kicking his butt in virtual chess? Wouldn’t he tip me more if I let him win? I dare say he would (but no, I’m not willing to find out for myself).

    So, no, I would never say Gamecrush needs to be shut down, but I personally hope it doesn’t thrive. If it thrives, it is a depressing statement about how gross men continue to be and about how desperate women are.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Jane, agreed. I don’t have a problem with the site itself. Business is business, and it’s not as though Microsoft or Sony or Nintendo is backing it. But the statement its existence makes just serves to remind me, once again, that women are — other — in the gaming world. Since I’m a woman gamer, that reminder makes me sad.

      You make a good point about the nature of online identities in general. We’re able to a-sexualize ourselves with our handles and avatars if we want to (and I often do). I wonder what that means. Is that just part of the fun escape, or is it another way to avoid the jeering comments? Maybe it depends on the situation.

  3. I’ll start by saying three things about myself
    1) I am male (in case the name didn’t give me away;))
    2) I am a gamer (of the board, card, RPG, and video varieties)
    3) I have absolutely no use for the idiots described at the top of this post (and sadly, yes, I have had run-ins with them, and no, I had neither a female character name, nor avatar).

    I’ll try to answer your questions in order

    1) What accounts for sexism in gaming? Ultimately, sexism in gaming (in context) exists as a result of two groups of people – those who think that being an idiot is funny, or makes them seem cool to their peer group. The second group is typically succumbing to peer pressure of some kind – either online or – more likely, in quasi-real-life. Both of these groups have something in common: their age. In general, these groups are usually adolescent/young teen males (figure between about 10 and about 15, on average). This behaviour is simply carrying over what’s “cool” to their peer group but unacceptable in school, etc, into an anonymous setting online. While the idiots described above span the ages, this is the majority of them.

    2) Is it getting worse? Most likely, yes – although I’m not entirely qualified to render comment.

    3) Is it a percieved sexism? Sort of. If it was primarily adults acting like jackasses, I would say that it was definitely sexist behaviour. Coming from what are, effectively, little kids – I’m not entirely sure if it could be called “sexist” or simply “immature”

    4) What to do about it. Set a minimum age for play, with some kind of (effective) verification technique. Alternately, start banning people left, right, and centre for being blatant jackasses. Personally, I’m an FPS guy myself, and if someone starts giving me lip, a few virtual .50 cal bullets to the head sends a pretty strong message as well.

    • Jason, very good point. I think it likely is a matter of immaturity or ignorance many times over full-blown sexism. In fact, that’s probably the case with many kinds of low-level bigotry. Perhaps education is the answer? Gaming Etiquette for Noobs 101 🙂

      What sort of age verification techniques have worked in the past? I’ve mainly seen the ones where they ask you to enter your birth date or credit card number, and they assume all is well from there.

      Also, are we creeping into some form of age-ism if we suggest that all kids are too immature to play games responsibly? 😉

      • Education would help, also mods who would hit people over the head with a ban-hammer for trolling.

        Age verification is tricky to get right – there’s nothing to prevent someone from lying about their age, and getting a fake credit card number is actually not hard (there are algorithms that exist). Additionally, it DOES raise the question of age-ism – especially given that ther eare SOME little kids who are entirely fine in an online world – just like there are SOME adults who are worse than most of the kids.

        Truthfully, the BEST option is to simply fight back verbally as you suggested – or to get your retaliation in-game. Kick their asses a few times, and they’ll stop being asshats – at least with you.

  4. And just to add that while my comment about the headshots was tongue in cheek, I DO think that these people are idiots and do a damned effective job of ruining gaming for a lot of people – and not just women.

    • Absolutely. I’ve seen them annoy the living daylights out of my husband and my brother on a regular basis. I’d say that most gaming calls for tough skin and a good sense of humor!

  5. I think it depends which environments you game in on whether or not you run across most of the sexism that is out there. If you stick to games that are comprised of an older player base (I’d say early/mid 20s and up), you’re less likely to find such rudeness.

    I’m a female gamer. I mainly play Everquest, and I have never hesitated in revealing that I am a female behind the keys. Sometimes the question comes up, only because many men play female toons, but once they find out, it’s no big deal. I think this might also be because Everquest’s player base isn’t made up of many adolescents and teens. Usually people also know I am female because my husband also plays, and I tend to say “my husband” at some point in time. Now, I actually don’t interact much anymore with random people playing (I can only play on the weekends, so I choose to play with my husband and a few close in-game friends), but when I was in guilds and ran a guild, I never had anyone throw out any sexist remarks, or came across anyone that was shocked I was a female.

    I also played Final Fantasy XI for a bit, two go arounds only for a couple months each, and both times the linkshells/guilds we found seemed to be comprised of adults that were willing to help out newbies no matter what gender (and again, they knew I was female because my husband and I don’t keep it under wraps that we are a couple).

    I could see how games like WoW, which likely has a bigger player base of adolescents and teens, would have some of these sexist reactions. Personally, I think it’s just “kids” being idiots and not necessarily meant as sexist remarks.

    And female players aren’t worse than male players at playing the game, and us girls shouldn’t worry about screwing up. Everyone has their off days. We play for fun, and it’s no fun if we’re worried what other people are thinking of us. So, I think you just need to find the right game with a player base with more adults than not.

    The funny thing is, even though I’ve never experienced sexism in Everquest, I have when it comes to table top role-playing. In college (undergrad), I mentioned to several of my friends who role-played, that I would love to be involved. I was brushed off and ignored because I was a girl. That frankly pissed me off. I still have the itch to role-play, but life and no one else living around us makes it impossible (although my husband is willing to run a game if we had time), unless we find a group online.

    • Interestingly, Lori, I played FFXI for a couple of years and ran into this very problem there just as much as anywhere else. Within my linkshell things were normally fine (and if they weren’t, we dealt with them right away), but whenever I joined random parties it was only a matter of time before someone would make a comment.

      I was also a Taru, so not only did I get the “zomg girl????” reaction, but then they wanted me to /panic because it was so cute. “But I just want to fight the crawlers…” 😉

      Tabletop RPGs have always interested me, but I’ve never been invited to one, and I don’t know much about how to play. I would love to learn!

      • Tabletops are fun – I’ve played a few of them – and you also don’t get NEARLY the idiot quotient you do on things like WoW simply because you can choose who you game with, and they’re actually all there in front of you.

      • (I haven’t seen any issues with women in the groups I game with, but that’s just my experience, obviously)

      • Then perhaps for FFXI, I didn’t run into it because I am anti-social by nature. When I played FFXI, I didn’t get very high in level, and the only person I grouped with was my husband – lol. The only social interaction I had really was the linkshells. As mentioned, I only played for a couple months both times I tried it – Everquest just had too much of a hold on me for me to jump ship. 😉

    • Lori, I’m so much of a dork that I went to EverQuest for one month just to get a working understanding of how to play MMOs… because I knew FFXI was coming out, and I really wanted to play that. 🙂 I enjoyed EQ while I was there, and even after only one month, I was sad to go. There were some great people who took me under their wings and helped me learn. 🙂 Nice place.

  6. “Sexism in gaming” “Sexism in politics” Sexism in the workplace, the theatre, the church, the school yard and anywhere else it can be identified or more likely “labeled”. Male and Female gamers who by their very nature, rarely venture out far from their personal game consoles thus inhibiting their opportunities to meet anyone personally, so using a web site that bring people together with similar interests, constitutes Sexism? I also have to wonder how using such a site for its intended purpose makes men “Gross” or women “Desperate” for that matter.
    Certainly sexism exists but I wonder why we have become a nation of people with a compulsion to cry out “Sexism”? Maybe the knee-jerk reaction isn’t a personal response, so much as learned behavior over decades of being taught on how to think and react like a victim.
    Let me first identify myself as a man, a husband, father of two girls and the oldest son to a single mother and her 4 sisters. I also identify myself as a former- gamer, since 2008 when in my household it became financially irresponsible to sit behind a game controller while enduring recent employment.
    My issue with this claim as with ones made in other contexts is that this argument is very one sided and ignorant. Women either have a complete lack of empathy and insight into what is taking place during these interactions or entirely too self absorbed to care. What gets lost in the equation are the three hard lessons we’ve learned from women.
    #1 Regardless of how many Hollywood films portray the nice guy getting the girl in the end, the reality is boys watch girls all through childhood chase guys who are rude, idiotic and regularly sexist.
    #2 Rejection is difficult in business, art or education but nothing is as difficult as personal rejection. Women, have an admirable position of never being expected to charge head first into that inevitability. While women argue the points of sexism, the tremendous courage and overwhelming anxiety that were overcome, just to say “hello” or even “are you a girl” is entirely ignored.
    #3 The power women have held over men is evident early in life but that power is increased exponentially, once placed in a virtual world. In the real world only women have the luxury of covering up blemishes and physical flaws with make up or a “Miracle Bra”. In the virtual world all of your imperfections are eliminated, placing all women equally atop a pedestal, and all men beneath it.
    In the case of Gamers, some of the obvious theories listed in the original post such as, Gamers are anti-social, insecure, teen age, lazy and idiots can be true to a degree but they accurately describe men in every aspect of life.
    If we acknowledge that the majority of these “terrible” offenders are boys, even teens for that matter. Then let’s also accept the notion that they are not your typical ladies men. The equilibrium created in the virtual world doesn’t eliminate their rejection or the anxiety experienced when approaching a woman, but it does preserve their self esteem via the animosity. This animosity and new found courage creates a gamer that can portray the cool, confident character you see, conditioned to believe, cold, short, arrogant and sexist is how you want to be spoken to.
    When you endure another series of incoherent, arrogant or idiotic attempts at communication, stop, take a moment to be flattered because on the other end is someone who just doesn’t know what they are supposed to say, but thought enough of you to overcome their own fear and anxiety just to say “so…can I get a pic”?

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