Just One of The Boys - Female Gamers in Multiplayer Games


Posted March 26, 2012 - By Cassandra Khaw

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"[Expletive]. There's a chick on our team."

These words were uttered during a DotA 2 match last week, Valve's sequel to the world's favorite Warcraft III custom map. I play a lot, but that was first time I saw my opposition abandoning one of their own to the wolves. Within moments of that first remark, more followed. One dude asked if her sandwich-making skills were up to speed. Another proclaimed the presence of a woman was a portent of defeat.

dota 2

Amusingly enough, he did prove himself a competent prophet. His team was beaten soundly. But then again, they also spent far too much time asking us to commiserate, to join in on the jeering and the heckling. And though none of the malice was directed at me, it was an uncomfortable experience. Even if they were a tentacle-squid on Mars, you don’t sell out a comrade. It's just bad taste.

Like it or not, however, stuff like this happens on a constant basis. Spend five minutes at a website called Ugly, Fat or Slutty and you'll be able to get an idea of just how bad online sexism can get. I can't think of any situation where it is appropriate to inform a total stranger that they should sleep with one eye open in anticipation of the absolute domination of their breeding components. Can you?

Though the Internet can sometimes feel like a rough street on the wrong side of town, I can't help but wonder if we're going about it the right way. Do these kind of people trash talk each other as much as they trash talk everyone else? If so, does that make such characters bigots, bastards or people caught in the heat of a hyper-aggressive moment? Are they the problem or the symptom of something bigger? More importantly, however, in our attempts to free have we catalyzed a modern-day witch-hunt? Are male gamers being grossly misrepresented?

Modern Warfare 3

According to an e-mail I unexpectedly received from one G4TV reader, the answer is yes.

"Straight males do not get a very amazing reception in the gaming media, much less white ones. If an article isn't about how oppressive we are to women online, it's about how women kick our asses at a certain field of gaming or how 99% of games are tailored to appeal to straight men."

He confessed, however, that there are indeed issues. "I realize women are not treated the same when you get into a match of CoD. I am willing to compromise and agree that men are not the most amazing creatures as the whole." Nonetheless, he also stressed that there are a lot of straight men 'who do not condone sexism, who do not hate gay themes in games, and who do not hate it when their girlfriend destroys them at whatever game it is they are playing.’

Being an Asian female with flexible tastes, I'm not exactly a part of the aforementioned demographic. I can’t say I know exactly where he’s coming from. I've never been branded a misogynist. I've neither been accused of white knighting when I stand-up for someone else, nor have I been lumped together with disreputable sorts. In fact, sexism has always been something that existed in the periphery of my gaming experience. It might have something to do with the fact that most South-East Asian gamers do not operate under the preconception that there are any racial commonalities between players. If your teammate can be a middle-aged Chinese businessman, a Malay reporter, or an Arabic Starcraft II child protégé, why not a woman?

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My encounters with international players have been a little different. While most seemed ambivalent to my gender, others addressed the presence of a female voice with a tinge of surprise. In one recent DotA 2 game, a guy asked if I was MILF, an odd question given that I've been frequently told that I sound like a squeaky teenager. After the team had established that I was, indeed, female, a few more comments about my desirability followed but that was the extent of it. No one asked for my number or a shot of my undergarments. We kept our heads down. We played. (If anything, they seemed a little more respectful after - some even went as far as to apologize for their swearing). Once the game was concluded, I never saw them again.

Not everyone has had such positive experiences, however. Porpentine is an indie video game developer and a hard-core fan of games like Team Fortress 2 and DotA 2. "You stand out. If people know you're queer or female, they always focus on that. I've seen games where a girl was playing and everyone does equally bad but the blame defaults to 'a woman was playing."

She noted, "The core assumption is that everyone playing a video game is white, straight and male. People ask about your girlfriend, talk about straight dating, and always refer to other people as 'guy' or 'man' or 'male'. So, you either stay silent and get reduced or you talk about your own non-straight life and become noticeable. "

A Swedish illustrator by the name of Lili Ibrahim said that she was lucky to have never experienced any particularly bad examples of sexism or sexual harassment. “Maybe, it's because I've never really taken advantage of the fact I am female.”

For her, sexism in the industry has been something a little subtler. “ I’ve always been surrounded by hints that would say that ‘Hey, relax, you’re a girl. You have nothing to worry about'. There’s always been a bit of 'just make sure you start that post in the help-section with 'I’m a new girl here…' or a bit of ''just ask the nerdy boy in your class for help and they’ll get you sorted.'”

“I think the only experience I've had where someone actually upset me was fairly recently. Moving into halls of residence in a foreign country, I hadn't really planned ahead very well. I had brought my Wii console but I didn't have a TV. I assumed that there must be a way for me to connect it to my PC monitor. After asking my neighbor for help his friend blurted out something similar to: "What would you know about stuff like that? You're just a girl."

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So, now we get to the next question. Where are all the nice guys? Where are the people? The answer is that they’re right there. For every piece that has ever been written about male chauvinism, there have been fifty replies from people who applauded when their girlfriends ended a game with a higher kill-death ratio, who have stood up for their wives, who cannot understand the prejudice, who are indignant at the idea that gamers should be perceived as anything but gamers.

“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to consider gender when I play a game.” Kitsune (yes, that’s his legal name) Magyar, resident artist at Swedish indie development studio Triolith, observed. “Unless, of course, we’re talking about MMOs. I like to role-play and knowing the gender of the person behind a character can circumvent potentially awkward situations.”

“That said, if I’m in a situation where I’m playing for fun, gender is the last thing on my mind. But, if I were playing to win, well, gender still wouldn’t matter. My only concern is the skills they bring to the table. I would get frustrated if a girl beat me but not because she’s a woman but because I was beaten. Losing sucks.“ He added.

Wan Fariz, Associate Demands Program Specialist at IBM and a former professional Counterstrike player, concurred. "It's not that guys don’t like being beaten by girls, it’s just that we don't like being beaten in general - we have egos, you know?"

“As for smack talking, it’s not something that I personally condone but it’s something that I’ve come to accept because there are just so many people who do it. However, if someone were to smack talk with me, I would return the favor with a vengeance. And be sarcastic about it. AND witty.”

When asked if there was ever an occasion when blatant sexism was all right, both were quick to say no. “Certain lines are not meant to be crossed.” Wan Fariz said.

Adnan Derviseic, one of the hosts for MOBA Weekly and a staff member at compLexity Gaming, quipped, “Maybe if it's between friends who find these sort of things funny. Otherwise, nah.”

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But, if insensitive chauvinists are the exception rather than the rule and the majority is comprised of well-meaning people, why do we ever only hear of the bad rather than the good? Like the guy who wrote in, Derviseic was of the opinion that this has a lot to do with media portrayal. “The media tends to jump on the negatives a lot. It’s understandable. You can’t make a story out of people being nice and normal. Not more than once, anyway.”

Perhaps, sexism isn't the primary issue here. Maybe, it's something else. To quote an author by the name of Julie Ann Dawson, “I don’t think male gamers are more or less sexist than non-gamers. Sexism is unfortunately still a large problem in our culture overall. It is not unique to gaming. Have a pretty girl walk by a construction site in a mini-skirt and you’ll see that. For anyone to imply that male gamers are somehow inherently more sexist than the rest of society smacks of insincerity or naiveté.”

Maybe, that's what we should be doing as well. Instead of lambasting the male populous, perhaps we should be discussing how some people are just jerks and how we should do away with bigotry entirely. After all, equality means balance and not a reshuffling of blame. While commonly associated with negative behavior against women, the word ‘sexism’ itself means ‘discrimination or prejudice against a gender’. If women do not enjoy being associated with the kitchen, I'm certain men don't like being associated with pigs.

Just One of The Boys - Female Gamers in Multiplayer Games


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