Inside Gaming Culture: Men, Women, and Being a Gamer Pt. 1

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Written by Dustin Murphy

Authors Note: This content does focus on sexism as well as harassment of both male and females. However, part 1 focuses solely on females while part 2 will focus on men and feature identical questions that will be changed to fit a male perspective.

When it comes to gaming, there is something much bigger than just the act of gaming, which leads to how gaming has brewed into its own form of culture. Fans of games can tell you the name of voice actors, directors, producers, artists, animators, level designers, and even some of the worlds most rare titles that have built a fan base for being so rare. However, there’s a bit of an issue that has come to the surface in the recent years, and because of feminist Anita Sarkeesian, it has come to light; sexism in the gaming culture as well as the industry.

Having sat down and watched all her videos that I could muster up, it was hard not to see some of her points as valid, especially the over sexualization of women that does tend to set a mindset for younger generations and this is not something that should be taken lightly. As a gamer of 28 years, it’s hard not to say that there has been a change from how characters and women in such roles have changed, and this can easily be seen from characters such as Princess Zelda compared to her masculine transformation Shiek or even Bayonetta whom has been represented as a bit of a curvaceous and rather sassy female lead.

Though we also see strong suited characters such as Anya Stroud from Gears of War, Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII, Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII (series), and even Samus Aran from Metroid stood out. Each of these characters have shown a sensual side to them while remaining at heart – a strong female role without having had to use their appearance as a way to draw male attention towards the sexualized theme that may or may not have been put in place.

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Anita Sarkeesian of Femfrequency on YouTube. Photo is Copyrighted and owned by her.

After having sat down and looked through hundreds of images that are concept pieces, screenshots, and even replayed or re-watched cutscenes from games, there was a question that had dawned in the light of having watched Anita Sarkeesian and even Jennie Bharaj’s videos, but also having talked to fellow gamers whom just happened to be female. The question that popped up and has yet to be rationalized was this; do women feel sexualized as gamers due to how women are portrayed in video games or is it the mindset that gaming started out in ways as a male dominant hobby?

After reading several articles online, I realized just how hard some women have had it coming up as a gamer and enjoying a hobby as well as a culture that has in recent years gained a lot of steam. Thanks to outlets such as Steam, the gaming industry has come to show that the population of male to female gamers is almost at a solid 50/50 ratio. What does this mean? Women in recent years (if not having been there all along) have become a strong voice in gaming, but with having a strong voice also comes strong criticism.

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Jennie Bharaj can be found on our YouTube Channel JennieBharaj. This photo is copyrighted by her.

I took some time to have dug around through multiple “personalities” of the gaming media to find that indeed, women in ways have become a bit sexualized due to the way they feel in order to be accepted by men and or women as ‘gamers’. Some of these consisted of pages where I found women posing in such ways that their chest was almost exposed, and the way they were posing would definitely draw some attention.

Other pages were less likely to show such poses, instead I found women simply showing what games they play, what they’re excited to play, and simple pictures of them in less revealing manners. This type of ‘weight’ was rather equal in numbers, granted I only took to digging through a few dozen pages, but the outcome was the same none-the-less. This lead to a question that came to mind; “Is this how women feel when they take to gaming? That to be accepted they have to indulge men or are feel that they must hide their gender?”

When asking myself about this, I find myself all-the-more troubled by the question at hand. This in-part is because of what has been happening in the recent years due to attention that had been drawn up by the social media and activist groups that feel as if women had become a sore spot within the community. The truth? If anything, us men have become the problem within the community, and the ways of a ‘men only hobby’ has begun to change as women have become even more prevalent to enjoy video games like others have. Why is this? The community has begun to flourish and with gaming becoming a rather affordable adventure that seeks to help both men and women become gamers, I was dumbfounded by the reaction people had given most female and even some men when finding out their hobby sat around the idea of enjoying video games.

Taking it upon myself to hang at our local game store, I decided to sit down (metaphorically stated here) and ask a few of the shoppers if the game was indeed for themselves or for someone else. Nine times out of the ten times I asked? I was told that they weren’t purchasing the game for themselves. After they had done so, I revealed to them that I am a journalist, and that I would like to ask them what they really bought the game for? The ratio changed quite a bit to six out of ten of the women having indeed bought the game for themselves. The question next? Why did they hide whom they bought the games for?

The answer was shocking. They felt ashamed to admit that they were gamers as most men instantly cling onto them or make them feel bad to be a gamer; that women in ways have become a ‘sexualised’ figure within the gaming culture. That answer was a bit dumbfounding, but understandable when I reflected back upon my earlier noting of the Facebook and Social Media pages I had seen of gamer women whom had posted close to revealing pictures of themselves while gaming or even some posing in ways that would have definitely not been suitable for a work environment. In ways, this could be what is to blame for why women are having a hard time being accepted as part of a growing culture that has only gotten bigger as newer generations have joined in.

After having taken a bit of time, I decided to recently ask a few questions to fellow gamers whom are indeed female gamers. The Q&A (more of a pole) consisted of several questions, and spots for them to answer. This is where I was indeed a bit more surprised by how they felt as gamers as the answers did variate, but some not as much. The responses though were varied, and at times rather staggering on how the women came out. Their names are being kept anonymous for the safety of their well-being so that they are not flamed and or targeted for their responses regarding this article. When asked if being a gamer is all fun and games as it should be, but we know there’s always a reaction to coming out as a ‘gamer’.

Do you feel like you must hide it like a dirty secret or have you come out and told people you are a gamer – their response varied. One of the ladies responded with “I have never hide the fact I was a gamer. It is the number one thing I love to do. Some people like to go bowling or to a movie. I would rather sit at home and have a gaming marathon,”, while others responded with answers such as, “ If the conversation comes up, I like to join in and mention that I game as well, but I also don’t mention it just to get attention or rub it in peoples faces. Honestly, I think some flack that we as female gamers get is because some girls, gamers or not, are trying to just get attention out of it, making us seem like a rare species or something, but we really, truly do exist,” and gave a small laugh.

Though another responded, “I don’t hide it, but I’m a very open person. No one assumes I am a gamer, but that doesn’t offend me. They are usually shocked when they find out, but that doesn’t offend me either. People only find out when they ask about my hobbies or free time usage. It’s not something I advertise, I just mention it when the subject comes up. If a television show I like comes up in conversation, I mention something. This is similar.”

Though sadly not all responses were the same. There were some that were less likely, and even souring, which left me just shaking my head when I heard her response, “I’ve had to hide being a gamer. When I was younger in Middle School, the preps would tease me for being a ‘geek or a ‘nerd’. I’d get bullied by the ‘preps’ or the ‘cool kids’ because I did something ‘girls aren’t supposed to do’. It was a dirty habit or so they made it seem. It was troubling, but I overcame it and still game to this day.”

Her response was troubling as I got a few more replies emailed or even spoken to me this way. Have we really shunned gamers this hard? It was impressive to see though that it wasn’t just the guys that made her ‘hobby’ hard to enjoy. It was also the women whom targeted her and made her hobby troubling for her to enjoy. After getting the question out of the way from several of these ladies I decided to ask them what was their initial reaction to the fact you like games and If they haven’t told people, how long have they been keeping it hidden incase of bad reactions.

Their reactions? Almost all identical, one going on to state, “Well the older generation mostly tell me to be careful, games can rot your brain and are addicting. Lol. Everyone else thinks it’s awesome,” but another one went on to say, “There are three types of reactions that I’ve noticed: First; The Instant Boner: The guy who actively searches for gamer girls to date due to his gaming lifestyle and social awkwardness. This dude is most likely to be a creeper. Second is the Insecure Sexist Asshole: The guy who is cool with chicks playing video games, as long as they know their place. They can never beat them at anything, and their gaming knowledge is slim to none. These guys are most likely to have no idea who you’re talking about when you mention Randy Pitchford, Aaryn Flynn, Jennifer Hale, etc. the works, the faces behind the games themselves. Third is the Good Guy Greg’s: The guy who plays with you, no matter how good or bad you are, because you are his friend…Not his girlfriend, not his potential girlfriend, but your friend. These guys normally think with the head attached to their necks. They send you updates on your favorite titles because that’s what friends do. They don’t treat you any differently because you have a vaggy,” others went on to simply state that people accepted them naturally for who they are, that they have friends that typically want to join them on games such as Minecraft, Sims, Diablo, Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, Destiny, and even Battlefield – that their friends don’t care.

To lighten the mood a bit I decided to ask each of the women as well if their friends don’t care, do they ever ask you what games you play, join you, or simply just watch as they play. Their answers were as expected, but heartening to find out one of them stating, “I don’t have any friends who are not gamers. I can’t even think of one,”, another stating that, “Many of my friends, if not all of them, are gamers. Male and female. If a conversation comes up, we’ll all discuss our favorites and it’s actually quite surprising some of the titles that people enjoy. Gamers tend to really blow conformities out of the water, like you’ll see big strong manly men that like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and petite, soft spoken girls that like Call of Duty. I love it,” while another stated, “No one has never had a problem with me gaming. In fact my family is who thought me to play. My mom got us a Nintendo as kids. Later to bond with my dad and his new wife we would all play on the PS2. When I moved in with my sister she got me my first live account and thought me to play Halo. In other words games have been apart of me growing up,” which went onto show that they were easily accepted; something that needs to occur more these days.

After taking a small break we returned to our questionnaire, the next question I had asked was knowing that they’d probably been gaming for a rather long time, and how their friends reacted to them as a kid gamer, and if they had a problem with it, one went to state. “My friends were cool with it because we played together a lot of the time, or I showed them games like FF and they wanted to watch (my friends were all awesome). However, in elementary school I got picked on a lot. I think if I had just played Legend of Zelda and Mario things would have been different but I was into FF and Chrono Cross so people just didn’t get it. I got teased and mocked but I never let it get to me because my fantasy worlds were something they could never understand and I felt sorry for them,” another stated, “ while another stated, “Back in my day (and I’m not really that old. lol) if you were a gamer, you liked video games. It wasn’t really that much of a big deal on what gender you were. It was either you liked them or you didn’t. Simple as that.

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Life is Strange. | Courtesy: Square Enix

With their answers being pretty cut and clear, it was noticeable that their getting started was easily accepted by others and that they enjoyed it. Though with the lightheartedness it was time to get serious again. With feminism and even the controversies that they’ve stirred, it was time to ask the women what they thought about this and how they felt about it. So the question was simple.

We know some of them may or may not know about a recent controversy that has been flared by gaming feminists. Some of them are well known for their YouTube channels and their time in the spotlight. If you know or have read about them – I asked them if they feel they are doing good for female gamers or if they think they’ve caused negative attention towards women who game.

Their answers varied quite a bit – one stating that, “This is a fence riding kind of issue with me. On one hand, I do believe sexism is an issue, no matter what we’re talking about. It’s an issue that affects everything, not just gaming. A good point is raised but I think some of them are trying to blow it all out of proportion just to divide us or getting too soft and ‘politically correct’ with things but at the end of the day it boils down to this: you play because you enjoy it,” another going on to say, “I hate female gamers who label themselves as female gamers. I worked at a video game retailer for 3 years with another girl who was just like me, we both loved to game our entire lives and we could spot a fake a mile away. I don’t know, I feel like if I wanted to, I could jump on camera and talk about video games and get famous fast. I could be famous in 2 minutes, and so could all of the other gamers out there who have vaggies and take good care of their appearance, but we aren’t attention whores. Big difference between a gamer and a an attention whore,” one of the other ladies stated, “I have not seen anything on other female gamers. I more focus on setting higher standard though my action, then worrying about what other lady gamers are doing.

The answers weren’t as staggering as I thought, but it definitely shows that there is a bit of concern regarding this matter and that it definitely does need a bit of attention put towards it in order to help solve the issue. With the topic at hand, I decided to ask them about cosplayers and if they felt if these cosplayers made it harder for them to be apart of gaming culture.

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This Granny will surely kill your k/d/a in CoD | Courtesy: Granny Plays via youTube

Their answers? They definitely showed concern to some, one of them saying, “Yes. I rant about this constantly, yes yes and yes. However, if the character they’re dressing as is slutty, then go for it, but don’t over sex your character or costume when it’s not true to the character, you might as well tape a sign to your face that say ‘Will show tits for attention’ UGH,” another saying, “We all want attention. It’s human nature to crave others attention. Some do it negativly, some do it positively. I think some females can go a little over the top with it but that’s just my opinion. If we as gamers start judging everyone on their cosplay and what they want to do, that’s ever dividing not just the gaming community but then the cosplay community as well. What’s the point in cosplaying if you can’t feel accepted in what you chose to do? I know heavy set folks are battling this same issue,” one of the others just stating the easiest and most unconcerned answer possible, “I have not seen anything on other female gamer. I more focus on setting higher standard though my action, then worrying about what other lady gamers are doing,” while another stated that she simply felt that cosplayers need to be aware of how they represent the women who do game since they do play a role in their social world.

This time I decided to continue that topic by stating that we all know there are a lot of gamers, and some of them are even amazing women. Though I asked them how they felt about the women who decide to use their capability to sexualize themselves for attention and that it’s a problem and how they felt about it, but also if they felt that it put a negative view on women in the gaming culture.

Their answers were indeed something that others should take note of, “It disgusts and angers me. I know there are more important issues out there, but this issue keeps me from sleeping at night. All that bullshit I had to go through as a child, getting made fun of for playing games and watching anime, and now it’s labeled as ‘hot’ and ‘cool’. Screw society and SCREW The Big Bang Theory,” which shows her frustration as one went on to show her frustration as well as she stated – “Yes. Women and girls who do this upset me greatly. Live gaming is about competition and making friends. To try and find a boyfriend or just to flirt for attention is wrong. I even seen women do this so that guys will ‘baby’ them. It’s insane,” another stating, “Being as long in the gaming community as I have, you tend to get a feel for those that really do enjoy it and those that are doing it just for attention. I don’t like feeding the trolls and your money and attention does a lot of talking on its own. If someone is trying to ruffle your feathers, completely ignoring them so they’re not getting the attention they’re so desperately seeking tends to make them go away.

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The Female Necromancer of Diablo 3 | Courtesy: Blizzard

This has proven a bit of an issue as it is notable that several of these women don’t appreciate the attention that these women draw upon such women. I even asked if they thought if these women should think twice, and one stated simply, “No, because if they think twice they’ll wear less. They know what they’re doing and they love it,” while another stated, “Definitely. You could end up being harassed or even stocked if you are not careful. Flirting should be held for people you know personally,” and a third stating that – “This is something else that can go further than just gaming. Seems like in this day and age people don’t posses a lot of empathy for others, it’s all about yourself, getting by or getting rich and some don’t think before they jump into action, think, or even type. If one stops and thinks about what they’re doing, they’ll realize that it may not be the best thing to do, out of sheer respect for the others. Just my two cents on that.

Their statement provided a sense that these women do feel that the current portrayal as women in gaming is being tampered with by women who try to get the attention, that fill the roles that are proper to cause harassment and a bad look for women who are part of the gaming community. In turn I decided to ask a few of the women who do this how they feel about gaming in this manner and one simply stated the following, “I don’t do it for attention. I do it because it’s something they enjoy me doing, something that feels right, and I honestly enjoy it. I’ve been gaming for a long time and unfortunately this is the only way I feel accepted,” sadly several others also replied comments very close to hers, which made me almost bite my lip and wonder; is there a way to find a middle ground without them feeling that they have to sexualize or use their gender to get attention? The answer for me was easy – yes there is. Though that is a discussion that I would need to sit down and have with all the ladies in the same room and someone to mediate incase the discussion got too heated.

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Woman in Cosplay at PAX East 2012 | Courtesy: Reuters

With harassment being an issue in the society,  I decided to turn the tables a bit. It was time to ask them if they’ve ever been a victim to harassment. If they have, what the reactions most commonly were if they were online having a gaming session or at a retailer, one of them stating “I haven’t ever been harassed because I’m not a slut about it. I prove my place and destroy anyone who challenges me. I earn respect, not jizz,” while another stated that she hasn’t actually been harassed, which shows that it’s not always going to happen, but another did state “Back when I first start game online in 2006 it was a big deal that I was a female.  Guys would ask ‘are you a girl?’ and then they would try flirting or adding me as a friend. It was like they found a new life form. Some guys would even try talking dirty or send you nasty messages. Not so much anymore. The female gamer population has grown a lot since I first started playing.

The last reply had shown that not all women have been harassed, but sadly, the media has shown that there is a much darker side as women have been harassed to the point they have fled their homes, hid their family, and have even left the gaming community all together. From personal experience I have had several women who game and are friends leave due to harassment, sexual pictures being sent, and a lack of support from moderators of the online communities. Unfortunately, this puts it roughly out of 3/6 women (during my small questionnaire so far) have been harassed in one form or another, but that was earlier in their gaming time, and it has since started to die out as women have become a rather large part of the gaming community. Though the problem still exists and one that seemingly needs to be snuffed out when possible, but the only way that can happen? Proactive and positive reinforcement from a majority of the community as a whole.

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Courtesy: Review Board Magazine

In order to close out my conversation with them, I decided to ask how they felt about being a gamer, if there was a message for the younger generation that they’d like to deliver. All of them had something to say. So lets just put these in bullet form:

  • I have been babysitting for years, and the older I get, the more I am noticing all children playing video games. It’s more common for young girls to play these days and ten years from now, I honestly feel that it will be a much more accepted thing. It will be more like Japan and Korea, where it’s just the norm and everyone does it.
  • I am proud to be a gamer! I’m very good at it. It’s definitely one thing I will do with my daughter. As for the younger generation of female gamers – don’t ever let any guys or other girls bully or belittle you, everyone was new at gaming at one point. It takes practice sometimes. Mess around and learn. Have fun and enjoy. That is what video games are about.
  • I love being a gamer and everyone in it’s community. With the recent issues of sexism coming up, I’ve been humbled at how everyone has rallied together, regardless of background, sex, race or anything in between. It’s one thing that we can all agree on, that we all can enjoy. My message for our younger generation: expand your genres, be unbiased and respectful to others, but above all, never forget WHY you call yourself a gamer. For the games.
  • Take your time, learn the games, make friends. Realize that women aren’t just play things because of what a few others have done. We deserve respect and equality among you. As gamers, our gender is something else, we are gamers. There is not a difference between us being a female or us being a guy. We’re your team mates, enemies, and or the person that can teach you a lot of things. We’re here to stay and we definitely think it’s important to be noted of. I think the younger generation definitely needs to take time to enjoy games, not worry about graphics, online components, but to feel thankful to something they aren’t entitled to.

With these closing statements I would like to thank all the women who assisted in making this article complete and I appreciate their understanding of me placing a form of anonymity to them so that they can be safe from any possible ill acts that may be enacted towards them. Part 2 will be coming up next Saturday and we will take a look at how male gamers take a look at the same questions fit for the gender!


About the Writer:

Dustin_BATGRDustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, MMO’s, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable and can’t be softened by even the biggest names in the gaming industry. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. To follow Dustin, hit him up on Twitter over at @GamingAnomaly, find him on his Google+. Wanna game with him? You can find him on PSN with RaivynLyken.

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