Small note: I think most of us are tired of the topic of Gamergate, and while I would love to put it behind me, it still unfortunately affects me personally on a daily basis. I have friends who still face constant, daily harassment, and I am harassed routinely as well. For this reason, I’m bringing up the topic once more, hopefully for the last time.
When I was a child, one of my favourite things to do was play computer games. I often wasn’t very good at it, not compared to my (much older) teenage brothers anyway. I would spend literally hours stuck in the Police Quest or Spy vs. Spy games my family had on our computer, never really able to progress beyond a certain point, but persistent enough to keep trying.
I have always been a PC gamer. We had a Nintendo, briefly, but then some kids broke it and, because my family didn’t have much money to spare, that was the end of that. The games I had access to relied almost entirely on whatever games my older brothers would bring home. As I grew older, my gaming skills improved. It reached a point where I could decipher the answers in puzzle games when my older brothers couldn’t. Instead of mirroring the strategies of my brothers in games like Red Alert or Age of Empires, I developed my own, and discovered a particular love for RPGs.
As a teenager, I would often mention that I liked playing games when asked to list my hobbies. Then I’d get The Look, and I’d have to quickly explain that “I have three older brothers”. Generally speaking, I was usually the only gamer in any given crowd, but people who didn’t know much about gamers seemed fairly certain that gamers should be male, and were thus surprised.
Over the years, I met other gamers. If they were surprised by my gender they didn’t show it, and were generally just happy to meet someone with whom they could play video games. These were specifically gamers I met face to face though. While I was the sort of person who’d go online and visit forums, I never really joined any form of “online gaming community”. However, I did notice that in the online space there was more hostility towards and mythology surrounding the concept of female gamers than there was offline.
My first real interactions with online gamers started with World of Warcraft. At first, the attitude was that female gamers didn’t exist, and if I made the mistake of mentioning something that revealed the fact that I was female, then I would be swamped with the sort of gross ogling you’d expect if you were a topless centaur. I’m not sure what changed or when, but at some point the misconceptions fell away and it became generally accepted that female gamers did exist after all. If anyone made a comment about everyone playing WoW being male, they were laughed at.
“…if I made the mistake of mentioning something that revealed the fact that I was female, then I would be swamped with the sort of gross ogling you’d expect if you were a topless centaur.”
We know now that the gamer demographic has shifted, and that gamers can’t be claimed to be mostly only straight white males anymore. The female gamer market has, whether certain people like it or not, become an important one. Our interests and tastes have become important. Once upon a time it might have been fairly pointless for the gaming industry to care too much about any audience but the male one, but it’s now worthwhile for the gaming industry to consider our tastes, and our interests. My tastes, and my interests. For me, this is really cool, for obvious reasons.
What hasn’t been cool, is the pervasive sexism.
In my experiences throughout my life, gamers have mostly been non-sexist. They have been accepting, and mostly just pleased to meet another person who plays games. I’ve seen them go from not really expecting to see many women around to… kind of being used to seeing women around. Which is why I was surprised when I realized that, when female voices became more prominent and started sharing what they’d like to see in games (a natural byproduct of us becoming a major part of the market), so many gamers seemed very loudly upset.
Suddenly (well, suddenly for me), sexism in the gaming community became a thing. It’s possible this is because I wasn’t really paying attention to the community until I noticed that I had a place in it: that my voice, as a female gamer, was becoming something that mattered. A case of Schrödinger’s sexism, perhaps. In any case, Lewis’ Law (“the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”) seemed to kick in.
The last few months have been… tiring. For most gamers, I’d think. The rise of the-controversy-that-must-not-be-named-but-also-seems-to-refuse-to-die has caused gamers to become associated with some awful things. Misogyny is the least of our worries, really. And while many have moved on, some just aren’t able to, because they’re not being allowed to. The constant harassment of certain women (usually women, though really anyone who isn’t a straight white male who can’t be accused of “white knighting” can become a target) is very real, and continues to this day. It’s awful, and seemingly never-ending, and it’s very disheartening.
Yet I see a ray of hope.
A so-called “consumer revolt” has demanded that the gaming industry mustn’t change, in fact that it should take a few steps backwards to when the only women in gaming were pixelated ones wearing very little clothing. And the games industry’s response to that has been a very firm, very resounding, “NO”. In fact, the industry has shown itself to be even more concerned about issues that are personally important to me than I ever dared hope for.
For me, it was the very clear statement Blizzard made throughout BlizzCon 2014. I felt that this company I have loved for so long (massive World of Warcraft addict. Sorry, fan.) was finally speaking to me personally, and it was saying this: “We know you exist. We know your concerns. You matter to us. We care.”
Cheesy, I know, and Blizzard is far from perfect, but they’re very clearly trying. I feel accepted by them.
I have always known that the sexist minority in the gaming community is just that: a minority. A loud minority. A minority that can do a lot of damage, but a minority nonetheless. What’s wonderful for me is seeing the non-sexist majority taking a stand against this sexism. The gaming community, and the gaming industry, is rejecting this sexism. Disassociating itself from it.
I really don’t think the angry sexists are ever going to go away, but it’s nice to know that the gaming industry and community are moving on, and that I get to move on with it, leaving the hateful people who wanted to keep gaming a boys-only club behind.