I was directed today towards a post from one Erin Kissane called ‘How to Kill a Troll‘. It’s a good piece, which takes its starting point from the awful drama around Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project and the hate she recieved over it. If you haven’t heard about that, be warned – research may leave you feeling decidedly ill. Don’t click this link unless you’re really certain you want to read the filth that spewed forth in response to Sarkeesian’s mere suggestion that maybe video games are kind of sexist, and maybe they shouldn’t be.
I’ve been seeing more written about the violently sexist nature of the gamer community lately (since Extra Credits highlighted it in an episode about harassment) – and I think that’s ultimately a good thing. It doesn’t mean that it’s happening more, although with the growth of the gamer community overall I expect newcomers have picked up nasty group norms and even compounded them in theit effort to ‘act like a gamer’. What this kind of media attention does mean is that people are talking about it, and speaking up against it, from within the community in many cases. I can only hope that the more the abusers are in the spotlight, the less acceptable it becomes, and the more likely they are to be ashamed of themselves and slink away.
Now it should be said, male gamers are not the only problem. Many male gamers are perfectly civil people, rage quits aside – I am lucky enough to know any number of charming young gamer men, and to be dating one of them. At the same time, not all ‘girl gamers’ are innocent. Most of the time, when a harasser on the internet or XBox Live accuses a girl of being a useless slut or something of the sort, they’re making stupid, sexist generalisations and falling back on ancient standards of femininity, just like when they tell guys that somehow being bad at a game makes them gay. There are some cases, though, where girls play into the stereotypes too willingly. Every time you post a photo of yourself playing games in your underwear, ladies, you’re hurting yourself and every other female gamer out there.
I’m a girl gamer, and when I play Dark Souls, I wear pants.
So there’s never an excuse for calling a girl a slut or a whore, stupid or frigid, just because she dared to step into your masculine space. Some women play games. Some are bad at it, some are good at it. None deserve to be raped for giving it a go. But ladies, please, stop reinforcing the idea that the only way women belong in gamer spaces is as pinups. It’s not helping.
But what I want to talk about isn’t stereotypes of women in games, or of women who play games. It’s not even Erin Kissane’s reminders about community responsibility and love, although they’re important. What I want to talk about here is how the prevalence of this harassment makes the gamer community look. I’m glad to see the crap that’s more common than it should be get highlighted and talked about, but every time it goes to mainstream media, non-gamers are getting the impression that this is what gamig is. That no one should even dare show interest in games unless they’re a young, aggressive male. That all online game communities are infantile in everything except the virulence of their insults. Gamers don’t look good, guys, and to some degree it’s our own fault.
There’s a vicious cycle at work with game companies. The more this impression of what a gamer is becomes commonplace, the more games are pitched at hyper-aggressive, sexist, shallow teenage boys. The more games are pitched at this imaginary gamer, the more gamers conform to the type because that’s what they think gaming is about. And so on. If we accept something as ‘just the way it is’ it will never change – it’s up to us as gamers to speak up when something seems, well, kind of shit. Tell the harassers to sit down and shut up; I’ve heard great stories of teams in multi-player games turning on someone for their bad behaviour. And when a major game release crosses that line into being too blatant, too sexist, too damn stupid and immature, don’t buy it. There will be other game releases.
I worry about the male gamers I know. When a woman identifies as a ‘girl gamer’ people are likely to assume she’s not serious about it, isn’t good at it, or even that she’s just using it to make herself seem more attractive. And that’s not cool. But when a man identifies as a gamer, people are increasingly likely to think about the kind of men Sarkeesian is having to deal with – and that’s worse. How awful to be associated with people like Aris Bakhtanians just because you enjoy the same hobby.
Male gamers, stand up for yourselves. We should all do our part to stop the trolling and the abuse, shut down people who are bringing things into our communities that we don’t like. Create safer, more decent communities in your guilds and your servers, and try not to let things slide when you know they are wrong. I’ll be doing the same!