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Gender stereotyping and sexism, particularly in gaming, are two common problems throughout the gaming community. Most females within the gaming community have experienced such animosity when playing video games online. Consequently, there is major controversy over whether video games have a gender problem. I argue that video games do have a gender problem. Therefore, gamers, male and female, and non-gamers need to become aware and educated about the issues of harassment and sexism in online gaming. To address these issues, I will provide examples from my own gamer experience and those of other female gamers, as well as that of a game enthusiast. I will also provide statistics revealing the increase of online female gamers and the benefits of a male gamer.
As a female gamer, I have been a victim of gender stereotyping, harassment, and sexism. Gender stereotyping is referred to the over-generalization about the attributes, characteristics, or roles of a group based on their gender. Sexism is the “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” For instance, I receive sexist remarks, whether online or offline, simply because of my gender. When playing any game, I am often asked by males or guys I have never played with “are you a girl?” Some males I have encountered, and still encounter, while playing video games focus on my gender. This often leads to comments like “no way you’re a girl. Girls don’t play video games,” being called derogatory names like “bitch” or “cunt,” to being sexually harassed, and pressured to accept friend requests from male gamers. I have been asked personal questions relating to my gender, relationship status, age, and social media presence. Guys have also sent me messages saying that I sound cute or beautiful, my gamertag is cute, and my avatar in the game is cute or has a nice butt. Their comments are such odd things to say to someone just because they are a female playing a female avatar. Then, to hear my avatar is cute or has a nice body, despite my efforts to dress her modestly, is unsettling. She’s fictional and some guys act as though she’s a real person. Not only have I been sexually harassed by males, verbally and through messages online, I have been called “babe,” “baby,” and “hun.” When I ask for them to stop, they continue to call me such names.
Recently, while gaming, I was subjected to sexual harassment, sexist remarks, and stereotyping. I was playing Grand Theft Auto 5 and a guy from the session messaged me. His message was regarding the game, so I responded thinking it would be a quick conversation. Then, he started to message me repeatedly. I didn’t want to be rude, so I replied. He asked how my day was and I said, “it was okay. How was yours?” He then said, “Damn I was expecting more cause you’re a girl.” Afterwards, I didn’t respond because I was taken aback by his comment. However, he continued to message me, so I eventually replied. I thought that was going to be the last time that him and I would chat with one another, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. That same week, he messaged me saying “hey babe” and when I told him not to call me that, his response was “I sniped a guy a few 100 feet off a mountain… meaning I could care less if it annoys you.” Because he didn’t acknowledge my comment, it showed that he didn’t care about the sexist nature of his name calling.
Throughout the week, some of his messages were: “you sound like a nagging gf” as well as “you so sweet n cute being all ignorant n whatnot.” Other messages he sent were: “you seem submissive which is kinda hot” and “you’re incredibly lacking at times.” Then on Valentine’s Day, he asked me “what can you give me? You’ve got something special for a guy like me?” He then asked if he could date me and how sexy I was. This made me extremely uncomfortable and not want to respond. Every day afterwards, he messaged me multiple times. He finally stopped when I told him directly I wasn’t okay with some of the things he messaged me. This is only one of the many encounters I have had.
Some female gamers have had experiences similar to mine but have also been faced with a variety of other encounters. One of my female gamer friends mentioned when she plays online, some guys make negative comments regarding her gaming ability. My sisters have also experienced similar remarks. One of my sisters said, “the fact that I played games and played decently shocked a lot them since ‘girls don’t play games.’” She also sometimes stays silent in group chats so the people she’s playing with will think she is a guy because she doesn’t want to be treated differently. She said if they knew she was a girl they probably wouldn’t want to play with her or would just assume she was awful at the game. If she did poorly, they would assume it was because she was a girl. Morgan Leahy, technology and video game enthusiast, stated “if you are a woman who plays video games or have female friends who game, you may have heard a variation of the following classic one-liners:
- Seriously though, who taught you how to play video games?
- You only play video games to get attention.
- You’re a girl that plays video games? That’s hot – are you single?
- Oh you’re a girl? You’re probably fat and ugly.
The fact that female gamers receive sexist remarks like these is annoying and disheartening. A woman should be able to play a video game without being treated like she doesn’t belong, nor should she feel as though guys are only focusing on her gender.
Due to the issue of harassment when it comes to playing games online, a female gamer by the name of Jenny Haniver founded a website called “Not in the Kitchen Anymore.” She created this website in hopes of raising awareness and educating people about the issue of harassment in online gaming. She also aims to provide a safe place through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and email for people to talk about their own gamer experiences. Her website claims to document and examine “her experiences as a female gamer through a collection of transcribed audio clips recorded while she games online. Her work focuses on the dated, hostile, and downright weird reactions men (and the occasional woman) display upon meeting women in-game.” Jenny Haniver uses her website as a place to post recordings of the types of sexist remarks she encounters as a female gamer. She mainly plays Call of Duty—a FPS game—with some of her friends, as she has done for years, despite her being subjected to harassment when male players discover that she is a woman.
Gamers are typically defined as young, nerdy, and male; however, there is no stereotypical game player. George Osborn, an event director at Gamesforum, revealed that 66% of the female online population in the United States are gamers. Gamers can be female and people of all ages because “gaming is appealing to both men and women and also to several age groups.” George Osborn stated, “core gamers are defined as those who agree that gaming is an important part of their life, that spend a significant amount of their free time gaming, and enjoy playing against or with others.” A study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in 2014, found “both men and women are almost equally participatory and invested when it comes to video games. The study concluded that approximately 52 percent of men and 48 percent of women play video games, proving that female gamers are not as rare and elusive as some outsiders may believe there to be.” The number of females who play video games has increased over the past few years and is likely to continue doing so in the years to come. A study cited by “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” found that “about 70 percent of female gamers said they played as male characters online in hopes of sidestepping sexual harassment.” The women who feel the need to play as men just wanted to be treated equally when playing video games online.
Unfortunately, this is often denied to them. Female gamers are more likely to be subjected to criticism than male gamers who are rarely treated differently for being male. Many times, when playing with male gamers, I have been told to stay back and not do anything while they complete the mission. They often assume I’m incapable of doing so on my own without their help. One day when I was playing on the Xbox, I decided to ask some of my male gamer friends if they have ever been excluded when playing video games online for being a guy. Thirteen out of sixteen of them responded with “no” or “no, never” and only three said they have been once. Of those three guys, one guy said he responded to a party invite post where the tag read “female-friendly.” It turned out the guy only wanted girls to be in his party. Another guy said he gets treated differently at work and in college when he tells them he plays video games. I asked him to elaborate, and he said, “basically like how nerds are treated, like barely talking to me unless they need help, mostly with technology.” The last guy said he joined a party but the woman hosting the party only wanted to play with other girls. Based on this outcome, these three examples show the occasional criticism male gamers may face when playing video games because of their gender.
Due to the controversy of whether there is a gender problem and sexism in video games, people that believe games are not sexist or have a gender problem wanted to tell their side of the story and SBS Comedy let them. The article was called, “A Letter to Females from Sexist Male Gamers” and was published by James Colley, a satirist and SBS Comedy correspondent. The article was addressed to all females, not just those who made the claim that there is sexism in video games. The claims opposing the previous statement were implicitly stated in a satirical manner throughout the article. Because of the claims of sexism in video games, Colley stated, in the persona of a sexist male gamer, “to recap, some ‘Feminists’ have become upset just because their ‘gender’ is being ‘misrepresented’ in gaming. This is simply incorrect and we’re the people to prove it. No one has their finger more on the pulse of feminism than us, young … males.” Colley claimed that “women protagonists just don’t work in video games. Can you imagine playing Metroid if Samus was a woman? You can’t! It’s absurd!” Another of his claims was “there is a wide variety of female characters already in gaming. There are women you can kill, women you can have sex with, women you can kill while still kinda wanting to have sex with them. All kinds!” I agree with what he is implying. Female characters should have more roles than they are usually created with, such as protagonists and villains. They should not always be portrayed as passive, hyper-sexualized, and subordinate characters that are dependent on men. Sexual relationships shouldn’t be their main role in the game.
In the video game industry, there is an issue with the lack of female representation in video games. In many games, female characters are rarely portrayed as the protagonist, villain, or hero. According to Kim Gittleson, BBC reporter, “Studies have consistently shown that at least since the 1990s, the percentage of female characters in video games has remained steady at around 15%. While there have been exceptions—Laura Croft, in Tomb Raider, or 14-year-old Ellie in the Last of Us—the most recent data found that only 4% of the main characters in the top 25 selling video games of 2013 were female. And even when female characters do exist, their representation is generally skewed.” For instance, there are two types of female characters in video games: the ‘damsel in distress’ or the ‘ultimate warrior.’ The ‘ultimate warrior’ character is often depicted as hyper-sexualized. A few examples include: Ivy Valentine in Soulcalibur, the bikini woman on the GTA loading screen, Laura Croft in Tomb Raider, and Cindy Aurum in Final Fantasy XV. Unfortunately, each of these female characters are either presented as being partially nude, having an unrealistic body image, wearing sexually revealing clothing, or all the above.
When it comes to video games, female characters are typically portrayed as attractive and barely clothed. They also usually appear in sexually suggestive ways and generally have limited roles. Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, said “these images [and roles of female characters in video games] send a powerful message that can influence the underlying attitudes of gamers.” He makes this claim based on a study of more than 13,000 adolescents where he and a team of French researchers found a link between video game exposure and sexism. To measure sexism, they asked the participants if they agreed with the following statement: “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children.” The participants who spent more time playing video games were more likely to agree. Additionally, young people are impressionable, and their perception of women can easily be distorted by the way female characters are shown in games. I agree with Douglas Gentile’s statement because most people don’t seem to realize how video games can influence sexist attitudes, especially towards women. As a result, repeated exposure to sexism in video games influences how people perceive and understand the social realities. Gamers who spend more time playing video games are more likely to have sexist views of women because “if you repeatedly ‘practice’ various decisions and choices in games, this practice can influence your attitudes and behaviors outside of the gaming world,” Gentile said. Grand Theft Auto, for example, gives players a few options as to how to interact with the female characters in the game—you can either pay them for sex, you can look at them, or you can kill them.
The abuse of women in gaming remains to be problematic in today’s society. When Lucy Gaster, longtime gamer, and director of The Dark Side of Gaming, was interviewed by BuzzFeed UK about her experiences of sexism in the gaming world she stated, "I think a lot of women choose to avoid certain scenarios where they feel they're going to come under threat. So, for example, when they're choosing their avatar name, they might deliberately choose something that is very gender neutral or even male-sounding, so that they don't attract that kind of initial attention. They might play with their headset off, so that they're not flagging up that they're female through their voice. They make all those sorts of decisions before they even get online, in order not to draw attention.” The constant sexual and verbal abuse many women endure when playing games online often prevents them from wanting to communicate with other people, specifically males. In my case, my gamertag is not gender neutral or male-sounding. For instance, on the Xbox 360, my gamertag is jcuttie, and on the Xbox one, my gamertag is JSummerRose. While playing online, I sometimes choose not to wear my headset. This decision was the result of one game in particular—Call of Duty—where my gaming ability was criticized.
Many male gamers, including my friends who are male gamers, dismiss the way many women are treated in gaming and insist that everyone is treated the same. However, Jonathan McIntosh wrote an article for Polygon, a gaming website, about the invisible benefits of gaming while male that few men recognize, which he calls male privilege. The term male privilege was used to “help describe the set of unearned advantages men automatically receive, and which women do not given the same circumstances.” In the post, he listed 25 daily effects of “male gamer privilege”. A sample of the effects he listed include:
- I am never told that video games or the surrounding culture is not intended for me because I am male.
- I can publicly post my username, gamertag, or contact information online without having to fear being stalked or sexually harassed because of my gender.
- My gaming ability, attitude, feelings, or capability will never be called into question based on unrelated natural biological functions.
- I probably never think about hiding my real-life gender online through my gamer-name, my avatar choice, or by muting voice-chat, out of fear of harassment resulting from my being male.
- If I am trash-talked or verbally berated while playing online, it will not be because I am male nor will gender be invoked as an insult.
Sexism exists in all areas of gaming: at an industry level, in games themselves, and from within gamers. Katherine Hockley, a woman passionate about feminism, shows that sexism in gaming is a bigger issue than people realize. So, what can we do about it? Firstly, raising awareness is a crucial aspect in making change. Hockley states, “If a man speaks up when a woman is being discriminated against, it would not be seen as such a taboo subject and would help encourage other men to take sexism seriously too.” Hence, males should no longer remain oblivious or indifferent to the discrimination and stereotyping that females face in gaming. There should also be an increase of the female presence in gaming and the industry. Secondly, the solution to the issue of games themselves being sexist is to give female protagonists a mainstream platform. A female should have the option to play a character of their gender because most protagonists are male. They should also be able to walk into any gaming store and see images of other females being represented as heroes, villains, and non-playable characters. Furthermore, women need to be better represented in the gaming community. This can be done by reducing the oversexualization of women as well as the damsel in distress stereotype. Instead, strong, female leads can be created. Lastly, to address gamer issues, websites that expose trolls should be encouraged and shared. When playing online, trolling may be unavoidable but that does not mean that it must be tolerated. Women have the right to stand up for themselves and to not have to deal with harassment and sexism.