After joining the gaming community over three years ago, I’ve learned that not everything in the community is about playing FPS games and battling OP dragons. Upon joining the gaming community, I was faced with blatant sexism, the likes of which I hadn’t yet encountered in my daily life. I wasn’t prepared for the personal attacks against me, provoked solely by the fact that I am a woman. I had no idea that I would be rejected by a community that never saw me as an individual who wanted to play video games, but instead decided I was just another woman who was there to impress other men. I learned that women are treated like Luigi in the community—always second to his brother Mario. Luigi is a character who goes unmentioned, despite making up one half of one of the most famous pairs of characters in video game history, due to his outdated label as “player two.” It’s time for women to take action; it’s time for us to challenge our label as “player two” to our male counterparts and show that we are an important market for video game producers; we are valuable team mates, and we are vital voices in the gaming community. We need to remind the community how much of it we represent!—Whether it’s the objectification and sexualization of female characters, or the cruel treatment of “gamer girls,” it's no surprise that equality in the gaming community is an achievement yet to be unlocked.
For female gamers, the gaming community sets many requirements that must be met in order to be considered a part of the community, while the only requirement for male gamers is to enjoy video games. Women have to prove their knowledge base. Whatever game they play they must know the names of all the weapons, characters, and be familiar with the lore. If it is known a gamer is a women, male gamers question her about every detail of the game she has shown an interest in either through the game chat, Tumblr, or another platform. If she is unable to pass the ridiculous quiz standards created by those male gamers on the spot, she is declared a “fake,” which makes it very difficult for her to build a reputation or have a standing in the gaming community. This is not a process male gamers have to go through. Female gamers can’t announce that they are women, and if it is known that they are, they can’t act too “girly” or “manly.” These terms, however, are defined differently by each male gamer who choses to comment on a specific female gamer’s behavior, or female gamer’s behavior in general. This leaves female gamers even more unsure of what they must do to be accepted into the community. They must refer to themselves as “girl gamers”, not “gamer girls” and they can’t seek attention whether through gaming community forums or sites, or just Tumblr, even if they just rekt the monster in a boss battle. If a woman doesn’t comply with these rules, she is targeted through social media platforms and gaming community platforms with barrages of hurtful and sometimes threatening comments so as to prevent her from not only breaking the rules again, but also from ever considering herself a welcomed member of the gaming community. Once they get past all these faux rules and regulations, there are still some hurdles within the community. Many women hate using the chat feature, key for planning complex strategies, because of the comments they will receive from their male teammates— sexual remarks, insults based on gender, and the pinnacle of rude comments, “How about I handle this and you make me a sandwich?”
Male gamers aren’t the only ones exacerbating the problem; the gaming industry itself has a hand in it by producing misogynistic games. The objectification and sexualization of women can be seen in a number of video games. A game I play a lot, League of Legends, depicts highly sexualized women with very little clothing or armor, even though the game revolves around fighting. Many games also feature the overly used “damsel in distress” trope. Princess Peach is kidnapped in thirteen out of the fourteen Super Mario games, while Princess Zelda, who appears in seventeen out of the fourteen Legend of Zelda games, must be saved by Link in twelve of them. The lead roles of video games tend to feature men, with their female companions either sexualized, the damsel in distress, or both. So what’s the argument supporting this sexualization and objectification of women? A popular one is that “because men are the ones who play video games, the main characters tend to be males.” This statement is incorrect—a recent survey from Entertainment Software Association Statistics shows that forty-five percent of gamers are women. While it’s an issue that the gaming community doesn’t realize its own demographic and therefore assumes it is okay to objectify women simply because they aren’t present to witness, these insulting portrayals of women lead to a much more dangerous problem. According to professor of Gender Studies and Philosophy Sandra Lee Bartky, this portrayal of women in video games exists “because revealing images of their body parts lure the audience...When a woman’s body or body parts are single out and separated from her as a person, she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire.” This sexualization and objectification of female characters can have a dangerous effect on women in reality, even outside of the gaming community, as Canada’s Center for Digital and Media Literacy stated that “when women are consistently shown as sex objects rather than agents, consistently depicted in demeaning and degrading ways, and consistently shown as submissive, the result is to condone and support violence against women, and anti-woman attitudes.”
So what do I want to come of this?—three things. The first, it’s time for the gaming community to acknowledge the existence of female gamers, and furthermore, to treat them the same as their fellow male gamers. Both men and women love video games, and the number of supporters from each gender is almost equal. Along the lines of acknowledging female gamers, game developers need to start making games featuring strong, not sexualized, women in leading roles. As a woman playing these games, I want to know that the community respects me just as much as I respect it, that game developers no longer make games for men, but rather games for people. However, I want my message to go farther than that. So many labels have been thrown around, male gamer, female gamer, gamer girl, girl gamer. Once we accept that the community isn’t divided into two groups, male and female, we can become one group, people who love video games. No more gamer girls and gamer guys—just gamers.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.