We have hit a critical period in the online gaming community, which happens to overlap with a similar discussion going on within the internet community and even the world at large. That conversation is about the rights of female gamers and members of online communities to feel safe and comfortable with their fellow gamers. We have increasingly seen “battle lines” drawn, with videos such as the ones by Anita Sarkeesian calling for equal rights to be then viciously attacked online; with female celebrities accounts broken into and nude photos released; and finally with the Emma Watson United Nations address last week calling for men and women to stand up for equality. There has been no better time to examine where we are and where we would like to see our community go. There is a vocal minority of men online who are fighting these changes, and who are feeling attacked in turn, and we need to understand that we are in this together, regardless of sex, and together we can improve and grow this hobby.
The fact of the matter is, roughly half of all gamers and internet users are women (surprise, right?). For so long gaming has been seen as a male-dominated hobby, and maybe in it’s infancy it was, but the facts no longer support a male-dominated scene. In spite of this, many if not most female gamers have given voice to many sexist practices and deep-seated biases still visibly present. This is seen in real life as well, but most acutely from the gaming sector. The anonymity of the internet and most online lobbies creates an atmosphere where it is easy to look down upon, be dismissive, or even angry at, a perceived minority. I think that it is likely a majority of male gamers have witnessed this happening, and would be willing to admit it is a problem and would like to see change, but don’t know what to do or even think it’s being “overblown”. There is also a very vocal group of male gamers who fight against calls for equality, saying it is merely feminist attacks on men, and tend to become increasingly hostile with any and all recommendations for change.
Of course some of what we hear is extreme, from both sides. What should be very clear however, is a majority of female gamers have seen or experienced this sort of behavior, some many times over. I know that I have heard accounts from friends of treatment they have received, or how a specific games portrayal of a female character was poor or even insulting. This is often exacerbated by long-standing sexist practices women start seeing from childhood. Drawing lines in the sand and pointing fingers is simply causing each to grow farther and farther apart. We have to be able to take these accounts seriously, and have to be willing to see what we can do to help fix them. All this takes is respect and understanding, accepting that there could be a problem and be willing to listen to alternatives, and standing up to those who are creating the problems. This can lead to more inclusive, and realistic, gaming experiences and communities, which is in everyone’s interests.
Of course this is all coming at a crucial transitional period for male gamers as well. Our generation has started questioning what traditional ideas of masculinity and “maleness” actually are. Gaming is central to this discussion, as it is only recently becoming more accepted that gaming is a healthy and fulfilling hobby for adults as well as children, while many still scoff at such an idea and look down upon our hobby. With all the changes men are facing, it can be extremely easy to be dismissive when viewing problems faced by women, as we are already defensive about gaming in general. Just remember, we are all facing problems and overcoming hurdles, and we can get through them faster by helping one another with our problems. Gamers have more in common with other gamers, male or female, and we have to understand that fighting amongst ourselves only weakens our position to the “traditional” world view. Gaming moves incredibly fast, and it’s time we agree that there is no place for hatred, bigotry, sexism, racism, or any other -ism in such an important aspect of our lives. For gaming to grow and gain mainstream acceptance, we have to fight against these ideas and fight for equality, for every gamer and every person.
I know for many of you this will be preaching to the choir. For the others, who will be apt to say that I have been “taken in” or am overblowing the issues, please reconsider the accounts of your friends and family, and examine your own behaviour. We can only move forward by admitting that we may have to change and accept other groups, no matter how hard that may seem to be. If men and women together can fight for equality and understand one anothers troubles and differences, we can create a lasting community that is filled with realistic and relatable characters, and maybe learn something about ourselves in the process.