A long time ago, I used to play online games. Not really in a hardcore sense the way I used to play A-list titles, but a healthy amount, to be certain. My games of choice were Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament 2004, Starcraft, Warcraft III, and (briefly) City of Heroes. Now, I’ll admit, these aren’t exactly the most respectable games, but I always favored the custom content over the straight gameplay and in the case of the former two, spent more time being a prankster/troll than, well, actually playing the game properly. Still, even the limited amusement I got out of finding new and creative ways to piss off others didn’t offset many factors that made about ninety-five percent of my online play unbearable and thus, I just…kind of…stopped.
What made playing games online rather depressing really came down to two groups of people: cheaters and immature pubescent boys. The former should go without saying and while it’s quite clear the latter really shouldn’t be talking in the first place, there was one infrequent but recurring scenario that always drove me insane. Imagine this: you’re playing Halo or something else with voice chat and amidst the usual inane banter about how everybody else is gayzors and that night they spent with each others’ mothers coming from the lips of boys who haven’t yet been visited by the hair fairy, a dulcet tone of about the same pitch but much fuller and more developed makes its way through. Now, it doesn’t even matter what she says, how she says it, or even if she tries to hide her gender by doing her best chest voice; like hormone-guided seeker missiles, about half of the server will drop everything they’re doing and say, near-simultaneously:
“HOLY SHIT, YOU’RE A GIRL!”
After that obvious statement, you can then expect some to heap unwarranted praise on her for just for lacking a Y chromosome, some to make awkward, utterly pointless advances on her (do they think she’ll take a cross-country trek to jump their bones?), others to make misogynystic “you will never be as good as the worst men, get off the computer and back in the kitchen” type statements, some to actively avoid her altogether, and for people in general to, well, stop playing the damn game because there’s now a girl on the premises.
Now, let it be said that I don’t necessarily blame women for causing this. Sadly, outside of the realm of MMORPGs, there really is a pretty big gap in the ratios of men and women. While the human population as a whole is pretty evenly split down the middle, a GameFAQs poll from June 12th, 2007 came out only 5.85% female out of 114,886 responses. While one could make the argument that things have changed at least a little over the years and how it only reflects the userbase of that site, that’s pretty damn low no matter how you try to justify it; hell, it’s probably even worse when you factor in people lying and somehow, I don’t see enough women lying about their gender to offset the men.
Of course, when you have a stark minority like this, two tendencies arise: a poor understanding of how they actually act and, as a result, a set of stereotypes. Rather than write about it myself, I’ll let some female video game players talk about their own experiences as “girl gamers”:
“[On the topic of connotations to the term 'girl gamer'] Beyond ‘rare’ and ‘not real’, not usually. Usually, when dudes who have issues with women gaming or don’t believe it or have a very close-minded view of the world find out that girls game, they’re like ‘no you don’t’ or ‘you only play Pokemon’ or ‘you only play Wii Sports’ or, you know, something like that, and, then, it’s like, as a female, you have to [prove] to this really ridiculous male populace that doesn’t believe that you could possibly be as good as them at gaming. So… there are connotations to it.” — Jes Richards, female video game player
“I think for some, [the term 'girl gamer'] definitely has a negative connotation on it. You think ‘girl gamer’ and especially if [they're] a guy and [they think] ‘oh, this person’s a girl’ or something, then they automatically think ‘Oh. Girl. She’s got to be terrible.’” — Stephanie Dault, female video game player
“Sometimes, I do get treated [in a demeaning way], especially from my boyfriend and his friends with shooter games. They don’t think I can do it, but I can kick their butt if I wanted to.” — Lindsey Rients, female video game player
“In online games, if they find out I’m a female, sometimes, they’ll just stop talking to me.” — Christine Motsinger, female video game player
So we have a situation full of negative discrimination, but that’s just one side of the equation. The other side, not quite as offensive but perhaps even more disruptive, is positive discrimination. For those not in the know, “positive discrimination” (or, as I often call it, pedestal worship) is when one makes unwarranted assumptions and ascribes traits not to impose inferiority, but superiority. Even if the intent is to make them feel welcome or appreciated, all it does is further isolate them and whether saying or listening, I think it takes a deluded person to genuinely believe it.
For an example of positive discrimination disrupting the game, I turn to one of the dumbest moments in my already incredibly dumb Counter-Strike “career.” Now, for a change, I was actually playing the game properly. It was just a normal server running de_survivor; no special rules, no custom mods, nothing. I hadn’t been mocking people, team killing, team weakening (fire a couple SMG shots at center mass to get them down to ~20%), throwing a hundred smoke grenades at the start, executing hostages in demand for sticks of bubblegum, teleporting people off the side of a skyscraper, or any of the other things that sheer boredom drives me to do. I had just been hanging out, doing my job in the war against terror, and when an enemy walked right past me without blinking an eye, I decided to take the opportunity to go for the knife kill.
Sounds innocuous, right? Well, as I found out when a vote-kick came up for me, it turned out I did the absolute worst possible offense in an online game: I knife-killed a girl. I didn’t even know she was a girl since I wasn’t reading the chat and she just had some generic name such as xAWPxSniper or iPWNu or SuperMegaDeathKill or something, but everybody else on the server was more than willing to let me know how “disrespectful” and “misogynistic” I was. All I could think as the vote passed eleven to two (and I didn’t even vote to kick myself like I usually do) was “what the fuck? Am I supposed to treat women differently even in the context of the game itself because of their gender? What kind of screwed up crap is that?”
Of course, there wouldn’t be so much positive discrimination in the first place if it weren’t for a small section of the female gamers that just soak it up. As much as I dislike immature thirteen-year-old boys, I think female players that seek out a male-dominated server, immediately drop their gender into conversation in a bid for attention, lead others on, and respond to requests to focus on the game with pouting and blatantly-misandrist jabs at my gender said in complete and total earnest (rather than the detached obligation of a boy saying he banged your mom) are way, way worse. I don’t care if some brain-starved meme of “majorities are always fair game” has seeped into the collective conscious through endless accusations against white heterosexual males for pretty much everything wrong in the world today; if you say provocative, bigoted shit about men, you are no different than people who do the same for women. No excuses.
So what is a girl to do when she plays amongst males? Well, for those who fear online gaming because of the potential for alienation, I have a radical solution: don’t bring up gender at all. No, I don’t mean this in some demeaning “being a woman is wrong” way; I mean this in the “what difference does it make?” way. Does your physical composition or social conditioning make any difference when you log onto Starcraft II and order your team of marines to swarm on that Zergling horde? No, because you have hands, eyes, ears, spatial coordination, and tactical reasoning just like men do. As far as the game is concerned, you are equal to the men and should act like it.
Instead, take on a genderless mindset. It’s really not that hard to do: you do it when you drive to work, you do it when you order your food, you can do it when you play video games. Use a non-gendered name, talk about non-gendered things, and if people give you a hard time and won’t take the hint to shut up, just go to a different server. It’s really as easy as that: you have nothing to prove by “fighting” thirteen-year-old boys and doing so just makes everything worse for everyone. Here are some fellow women that get it:
“I’m just a girl who likes to play games. Not necessarily a person who needs a title on her.” — Stephanie Dault
“A girl gamer is a girl gamer. I mean we could do shooter games, we could do MMOs…” — Lindsey Rients
“I just prefer ‘gamer’. Usually, when people ask me [what I'm into], [I say] ‘oh, I’m a gamer’. I don’t really throw in the ‘girl’.” — Jes Richards
Even then, I’m wondering if maybe it depends on the game. As a whole, MMORPGs seem a lot friendlier than round-based competitive games. During my brief stint playing City of Heroes, I have played some female characters. Not for the sake of exploitation; oh, no, of course not. I just felt like I had some interesting story ideas and wanted some inspiration by playing as the characters. The thing is, despite the whole cliche of female characters being offered free money, items, and services… I didn’t really get any of that. I think I’ve been approached maybe… three times out of the sixty cumulative hours or so spent on these characters? I do remember some guy asking me to appear in his body inflation fetish video, but that’s about the only really creepy moment in my short-lived online RPG stint. Then again, I made very modest female characters (if one thing bugged me about that game, it’s that I couldn’t make anything close to flat-chested women) and kept to myself… but that only drives the point in that much deeper. If you don’t seek attention, you won’t get it. Simple, clean, and effective.
“I don’t usually tell people I’m a woman when I play games. I don’t play online often: I only play [i]Guild Wars[/i] and the only few times I told people [I am] a girl, they were like ‘oh… okay’…. I didn’t experience a lot of jerks [in the game] and that was the only game I’ve ever played online where I’ve actually identified myself as a woman to people.” — Jes Richards
So there it is: how to play online video games without gender discrimination. Simple, easy, effective. By taking on a genderless state of mind, you and everybody you interact with will have a much better game experience in the long run.