“Who let a girl in here?” the voice demands with a chuckle, over the crackling of his poor headset.
He is only half joking, the real skepticism in his voice bleeding through. He doesn’t want to offend me, simply thinks he’s being funny, and I try very hard not to make a noise into my mic as I roll my eyes so hard they strain. The annoyed text of my fellow female gamers pops up on my screen in bright green italics.
“Who does he think he’s talking to?”
“Is he for real?”
“Kick him from the group. Seriously. I’m not doing it today.”
They don’t want to say anything out loud, don’t want to be perceived as overreacting. A pregnant silence has taken over the chat, because what this new person doesn’t know is that my group is made up largely of women. He’s only heard me speak. More messages pop up, but I’m the leader, and it’s ultimately up to me. One of the men I’ve gamed with for years tells him to cool it, that it isn’t funny, but I don’t need him to stand up for me.
I say sweetly, “There are five girls in here, and if you can’t deal with that, you can go.”
I hear his crackle again as he says flirtatiously, “Ohh, I can handle it.”
For a moment I consider: we will be in the raid (an in-game mission consisting of difficult puzzles and bosses) for three hours at least, and I’m not interested in putting up with his snide comments for that long. Playing with us is a privilege as one of the top ranked raiding groups on the leaderboards, and I can find a replacement for him in a flash. I left click on his name and select boot. He is automatically kicked from our voice chat before he can even protest.
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for my guild—a group of about nine women who play video games on both the social and professional levels but are often mocked or ignored regardless. We stretch across multiple gaming platforms—Xbox One, PC, 3DS, and PS4—and we play any multiplayer game we can get our hands on. We love video games, play them religiously, and ache to learn all we can about them, but we are often excluded because of our sex.
Some of us even work for video gaming companies. One of us writes for an established gaming journal while another in the eastern portion of the U.S. does coding and program patches for games like Final Fantasy. We are living, breathing women in the video gaming world, good at what we do, but our fellow gamers treat us as though we were small, glassy-eyed little girls, there to stare at the pretty colors or watch our boyfriends play in our stead.
The opposite is true: as of last year, female gamers reached the majority at 52%. There is an inherent sexism in the video gaming industry which has been difficult to beat out of companies set in their ways. Most trailers for video games feature male protagonists even when the ability to choose a female character is there. The voice overs are largely men, the violence and sexualization of female characters used to sell the game rather than the story.
Even those who would attempt some progression are going about it in such a wrong direction, lost without a way to consult a female audience, that it comes across as offensive. Last year, Hideo Kojima (a lead writer in the Metal Gear franchise who loves to paste his name all over his games) attempted to explain why one of the lead female characters—a sniper named Quiet—was dressed in a string bikini for combat. The obvious explanation is that she is being oversexualized: a piece of eye candy to attract a certain audience. Kojima instead claimed she was a rape victim and dressed in such a way to make a statement. The blatant exploitation of rape to explain away his own perversion had many people calling for his resignation, but the public was largely ignored.
When we are allowed to choose a female character, we are often given a strip of gauze and a gun to protect the important bits—namely the vagina and the nipples that can’t be shown in video games yet—and sent on our merry way. In fighting games, it’s obviously ludicrous to have the females dressed in sheer silks, their breasts and taut stomachs exposed to sharp knives and swords. They have absolutely no chance, and it’s absurd that we should have to put up with this as our only options.
Video games appeal to me, because they are a way to escape. Some of them have amazing stories, beautifully-written dialogue options, and compelling characters better than some books I’ve read. They’re a gorgeous way to spend one’s time, ranging from simple to complex, from hilarious to heart-breaking. Yet it’s difficult to pursue my hobby when I’m bullied for it.
I think often that the boys who join our team, pulled at the last minute when someone else can’t make it, don’t realize they’re being offensive. I think they’re just joking, trying to get a good laugh, but no joke is funny the thousandth time you’ve heard it. No joke about being underestimated because of your sex is funny when you are underestimated because of your sex. I don’t log onto my multiplayer games to hook up or be hit on; I want quite simply to play.
My voice can stop a conversation in the chat when I join. When I top the leaderboards or outplay someone, the shock and sometimes anger is obvious when they find out I’m a woman; it’s not that they don’t believe anyone can beat them. They just can’t believe a girl did. Until I introduce myself, I am always assumed to be a man. They sometimes refuse to believe me until they hear my voice or see my picture on my profile page. Even then, they joke and laugh and say I’m faking it. I’m not real. There are no girls on the internet.
For now, I have created a small community for some of the women in the gaming industry who feel as I do. We can play in peace, mute the others and laugh and snipe and beat the other team without being interrupted by questions or propositions. We can be ourselves, and that’s all we really want. There are other groups out there, as well, that we cooperate with on occasion, reaching out a helping hand with this or that.
I hope that one day we can branch out and communicate with others without being mocked or underestimated. Our seclusion is necessary, not preferred. I dream of the day I can pick up any game at the store and see a strong female avatar. She’ll have a powerful weapon and bulky arms, armor that covers her entire body, and she won’t moan like a porn star when she’s struck. Her face will be the focus of the camera, not her bust or behind. She’ll be an actual soldier, a war fighter who stands a chance.
A girl can dream.
Featured image from Desiblitz.com.