Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Women and Gaming Culture

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A few months back I was sadly not surprised to hear that women suffer a lot of abuse and harassment in the gaming world. What did shock me is that this abuse was widely defended as "part of the culture", and the chorus of "if you don't like it you should just leave". 

This is a subject that hasn't gone away and pisses me off more and more every time I hear about it. I have female friends who refuse to talk to me in-game because they don't want to deal with all the crap they get just for opening their mouths.

I'm going to address the second common argument first because it's marginally less moronic.

When confronted with abusive trash talk, most of the time people are simply told "if you don't like it just leave". If you spend zero time thinking about this, it kind of makes sense - if you don't like Chinese food then don't eat it, amirite? Except the difference is that Chinese food won't come into your house and jam itself down your throat. When someone says "if you don't like it just leave", they're shifting the fault to the victim. It essentially says "it's your fault for being abused because you chose to be here".

Imagine going to Wal-Mart to buy some new pants, and as soon as you walk into the store, staff and customers alike start laughing right in your face about how fat and ugly and stupid you are. And then they have the audacity to tell you that if you don't like being verbally abused it's your own damn fault because you're the one who walked into the store and that's just how things are here. This is the only nearby store that sells what you want, and you have a right to go shopping and buy some new clothes, so what the hell do these people think they're doing? 

Well you know what? Women have the right to play a video game. They're allowed to choose and enjoy a hobby, same as everyone else.

This whole "if you don't like it just leave" thing? If you were to say that about, say, rape you'd be ripped to pieces. Perhaps literally. It would be a bloodbath of epic proportions. It's not your responsibility to avoid abuse; it's everyone else's responsibility not to abuse you.

Which brings me back to the first argument: "trash talk is just part of gaming culture".

Now, there's a distinction to be made here. Trash talking someone's skills in good fun is one thing. When a player misses a grenade toss and blows herself up, by all means, send her a "lol, great throw".

But when your target is not the skill or the actions but the person, or that person's sex or gender or race, that's crossing the line. That kind of targeted harassment is completely unacceptable, especially when it happens over and over. The thing is, the people who say the worst of these things would certainly never say them in public in the real world. Even if they believe them to be true, they'd be too scared of the repercussions to actually say these things. They're simply cowards hiding behind a monitor. 

The people who say they're fine with trash talk and that it's just the way things are are not the people who constantly receive private messages demanding a blowjob or a sandwich. They're not the people who are met with "what are you, twelve?" every time they try to help out the team via voice chat. They're not the people who ask the moderators or admins for help and get nothing but a shrug and a "deal with it".

What's sad is that gamers - especially MMO players - have been seen as social outcast nerds for years, so they really should know how it feels to be treated like crap for their hobby. And yet, despite that, we still see stuff like this.

If abuse and harassment are part of gaming culture, they shouldn't be. If targeted discrimination is part of gaming culture, I don't want to be part of that culture (cue the comments and emails telling me to "just leave then lol").

It really amazes me how these people don't realize they're assholes.


  1. My own opinion as to some of the reasons why "gamer culture" tends to be so abusive towards women has several parts (in no particular order):

    1. Internet anonymity. Same as Youtube comments. They don't actually feel like they are talking to people, so they feel free to spew whatever filth they want to.

    2. Self-perpetuating. When gamers encounter that hatred ingame, a basic response is to fire back, escalating the situation. Further encounters make it easier to pull out that card faster and faster each time.

    3. This one may be controversial, but I believe porn directly contributes to a lot of the language and vitriol that women receive online and in game. My belief is by no means scientific, but I think it would be safe to say that a large percentage of regular online gamers are also regular viewers of porn, and are simply emulating the language and behavior they see used there.

    4. Fear. I don't think any one would admit it, but video gaming has long been viewed in popular culture (whether accurate or not) as a hobby for dorks and nerds, and I think that part of the gamer culture has been built around that rejection. That view has obviously changed drastically over the past years and gaming is mainstream, but some gamers probably feel like the people who used to mock them are now invading their gaming community, and resent them for it.

    5. Poor parenting. Kids are being left more and more to their own devices, and when there is little parental supervision, kids will emulate the behavior of whoever they are with (heck, they do it anyways, but *good* parental supervision can help them distinguish between right and wrong behaviors).

    Eh, whenever speaking about any sort of culture and behavior, it's ridiculously complex, so I guess I'll just stop now.

  2. You'd think guys would be happy to have gals play along side with 'em. Imagine convincing your girlfriend to play your favorite game with you after a long time of trying to get her to play. You set out on your adventure with her new toon, and as you meet your regular in-game mates, some of them start to say crappy stuff to your girlfriend. She get's upset and won't play online with you anymore. What a bummer. Not only that, but you find out how crappy your in-game mates are. I wonder how many times that's happened?