The Plight of Female Gamers

Posted in Identity

Video games have been around for decades, and are commonly thought of just a hobby, a fun activity. Over time as the market became more and more complex, so did the subject matter.

With developers and producers taking games in different directions with controversial topics, such as gender roles, some believed that things are going in a direction that could harm more than help.

So has the gaming industry become a harmful place of stereotypes? Is gaming inherently sexist?

Editor’s Note: The Cougar‘s policy is to avoid using anonymous sources. However, in this story, our source is an Albany High female junior and an avid gamer who wishes to remain anonymous due to a personal incident of gaming discrimination.

In the 1980s and 1990s, women made up only 3% of the gaming population. Men dominated the gamer population, and even the thought of girls playing games was astounding. Since then women have started gaming in a big way, making up 48% of the gaming population in the United States today. However those recent statistics haven’t saved women from criticism.

Girls play video games too!

Girls play video games too!

Three problems have erupted from what the gaming industry has created in terms of games and how the gaming population reacted to those games. Many have debated the representation of women in the games themselves, with many saying they are portrayed as sex objects or damsels in distress. More than just the representation are the arguments that arise in relation to women who actually participate in the gaming industry, whether they be gamers and/or developers. In relation to that, more arguments arise when people talk about the women in power in the industry, the women who speak up against prejudices or the women who command work forces.

One of the most recent and widespread arguments over the participation stems from the event commonly referred to as GamerGate. Originating from the social media explosion over Zoe Quinn, a female game developer who was sleeping with video game journalists from the video game journalism company Kotaku, the GamerGate hashtag on Twitter was born. Soon, people were using the hashtag and calling for fair practice in gaming journalism. This focus on fair practice, however, lasted very shortly.

Enter the extremists. In GamerGate’s case, the extremists were social media users attacking women in the industry with anything from harshly worded, misogynistic comments, even going so far as threatening to invade their homes and making death threats.

These threats made it clear that women’s participation in gaming is still undermined, and many women gamers wanted their voices heard.

Our source stated, “It’s been a long time coming that women and girls are trying to get more of a place. You know, we play games too, and then now it’s kind of going backwards, in that it’s not just girls shouldn’t play games but its more like girls only play games to get certain positions or that they’re not doing it fairly or even mean it and not doing it seriously.”

However as stated above, women’s participation isn’t the only thing under fire. Many still argued against and for the current representation of women in the games themselves.

Activists such as Anita Sarkeesian stepped in to fight harsh anti-female criticism. Media critic and feminist, Sarkeesian gained much attention from her video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” and went on the Colbert Report to speak about her experience and her relationship with GamerGate. She argued that it wasn’t her goal to censor anything, but that women in games should be portrayed in a more realistic and reasonable way and that the portrayal of women today “reinforces the cultural myth that women are sexual objects.”

Female characters in video games are often blatantly sexualized.

Female characters in video games are often blatantly sexualized.

But where do these arguments really come from? And how has female leadership been affected by these arguments?

The arguments stems back to what was discussed in Ingrid Rosenthal and Allegra Vanderlaan’s piece, “The Bitch Dichotomy.” Men seem to have issues with these women taking positions next to them, and have a sort of defense mechanism as to get their claim of power back to only themselves. They see the female leader as “bitchy” or “bossy” in an attempt to ward them off. It’s the same thing with video games.

Our source adds to this observation, “I’ve definitely seen online, this hasn’t personally happened to me, where women have played online games, and they might not be allowed to play with certain groups, or that the groups might immediately offer them to join and they might just do it to persecute them in their own chat.”

But is it this bad at every corner, and will it continue to be this challenging for female gamers? Our source doesn’t seem to think so, stating, “I think definitely with newer games coming out with Role Playing Games and stuff they’re making it more equal. You know women aren’t just there to be used or just be there as a side character, they can be the main characters or really badass characters. Like when they rebooted Tomb Raider, that was a big thing, it showed that there could be a big strong female character, and you couldn’t choose between a male and female. Or games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age where you can pick to be either a female or male and not be penalized for picking either one, like being handicapped if you choose a female.”

Strong female characters exist, but they are often more sexualized than their male counterparts.

Strong female characters exist, but they are often more sexualized than their male counterparts.

However she goes on to say, “I know there still are video games where the females aren’t put into strong positions, where the arguments are something like, ‘Oh women can’t pick up a big sword it’s not realistic.’ But I think that in general video games are getting better. But I know that it’s certainly not as equal yet, I think that’s from the video games themselves and the players too. You know if the video games are being marketed towards the players, and if the players are gravitating towards male oriented games then we’re going to see more of those types of games.”

Luckily, our source believes things will make a turn for the better: “I think GamerGate was a step back, of course, it didn’t help at all, but I know that certain gaming companies are trying to move forward, and some just aren’t participating, and just gamers in general don’t want this, I mean I personally don’t think that we should have all female protagonists always, we need both males and female protagonists, it should be equal. So far it has been getting more equal, especially with more women gaming and working at gaming companies, I definitely think it’s going to get better, but with GamerGate it’s going to take a while to get better.”

Of course, debates like this take time to show true progress in any direction, so only time will tell whether or not women will be able to feel truly equal in any medium they appear in. But hopefully, this was able to show a good picture at where it may someday go.