This post may have a limited appeal for some of my usual readers but I suspect the themes are recognisable in other aspects of life, not just gaming. I also have a slight fear of posting it because, as anyone who is aware of ‘gamergate’ knows, being a woman, with an opinion on gaming, can lead to more than a little abuse.
What do I mean by gaming?
I enjoy the following; video-gaming, wargaming, board-gaming. These three, the trinity of geek hobbies, are my things. I enjoy them all but I never have enough time for any of them and my husband would question if I really do like wargaming as I do not obsess over miniatures and rule sets. I like playing, not making.
So when I speak about gaming I am generally speaking about all three and my experiences with video-gaming and wargaming do have some striking similarities. I have had many positive experiences, but in terms of the attitudes towards women, or more truthfully, the attitudes towards anyone who is not a white, heterosexual male, there are definitely some areas for improvement.
I don’t claim to speak for all women, and especially I do not claim to speak for anyone who is not a white, heterosexual, male but I do think there needs to be more dialogue about making gaming environments welcoming for all.
Let’s face it, many people deeply interested in gaming do not fit in with the standard mould. When I think about gamers I have met at wargaming conventions, or video-game shops, before it started to become more mainstream, there was a mix of people who were not run of the mill. A general lack of interest in pop culture, not a huge interest in sport, and generally people who find it somewhat challenging to engage in conversation with others unless about something very specific.
I recognise all these things, it describes me, but what always astounds me is that, when in an environment where these individuals are able to find kindred spirits they still manage to ostracise others. Surely gaming conventions and forums should be some of the most welcoming places in the world for those who are a bit different from the norm. They should be a melting pot for all those who feel different. They should welcome the unusual as usual.
Unfortunately what I find is that, as a woman, and let’s face it that does not make me that unusual, I often feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Why? Well there is a range of reasons. From the fact that female characters in gaming are so often overly sexualised to the fact that it is assumed you are only there as a ‘wife or girlfriend’ and as such are patronised, there is a range of challenging behaviours to overcome.
Issues in the real world are often more extreme in the virtual world also. I mentioned ‘gamergate’ at the start of this post. For those not in the know ‘gamergate’ is a movement of people who seem to harass women for no other reason than to discredit and demoralise them. This is the extreme of the negative reactions to women in gaming but the fact that it happens at all, and is accepted as OK by so many, even when threats of rape are made, is a shining example of challenges faced by women wanting to enjoy the hobby.
My own experiences are varied. I have been ignored at wargaming conventions when stood waiting to make a purchase (leading me to make the purchase elsewhere), I have been offered free entry to shows as a WAG which I have declined, I have been physically shoved out of the way at conventions, I have had my breasts spoken to a lot, and I have learnt to avoid certain forums due to the misogyny and clear vitriol against women with opinions whilst seeing in the next post how much women who have nice bodies and keep their mouths shut are admired. (Mostly this kind of woman is imaginary by the way. There are a lot of attractive women in the world but very few who really keep their mouths shut.)
If this is the treatment received just because I happen to be a cisgender female I begin to wonder about other groups. LGBTQ? Non-White? Disabled? A person of faith? I hate listing these things as categories like this, and I understand that the complexity of identity means we are not in one box and not another, but the question I have is. If I, as a women, am made to feel unwelcome and excluded from the hobbies I enjoy, what are other people going through? and more importantly how do we being to make a change to ensure everyone is welcome, to enjoy the things they like without fear of prejudice or malice?