The topic of sexism in video games is not a new one, but is one that has been becoming more and more prevalent, at least in the corners of the internet that I frequent. As a female who has been gaming since I developed the manual dexterity to use a keyboard or a controller, the topic is an important one to me.
I will admit that I didn’t always consider being a woman in gaming one worthy of much discussion. Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve had few memorably negative incidents that stemmed from the fact that I was a girl. Sure, there have been some “oh, my god, a girl!” exclamations when I spoke in voice chat in WoW (I actually managed to completely silence a Mumble channel by talking earlier this week). I’ve been asked for pictures, told my voice is “hot”. I’ve also been told I sound like a 12 year old, and putting those two sentiments together is problematic. But in general, I never felt othered for being a female who games.
However, my experiences are not representative of every woman’s. I know I enjoy certain privileges. I know I’ve been lucky. I don’t frequent gaming areas that are known for having a toxic atmosphere or play many games with people I don’t know. I have a very good IRL ignore function that lets things I don’t care to see and hear go by without me having to register them. I also have a thick skin and a big ego. So if anyone were to suggest that I was less of a gamer or my opinions were less important because I have a vagina I could beat them at video games, tell them to fuck off, and then forget they ever existed.
The problem is that even though I haven’t had much overt sexism directed at me personally in games, it’s still there, ingrained into attitudes, opinions, and actions all around. It’s in SCOTUS rulings; it’s in things the mayor of my city says; it’s in game tournaments that exclude women; it’s in women getting minimized, insulted, and threatened for daring to criticize the status quo.
Video games, just like all other media, absolutely influence the way people think and how they relate to other people. When surrounded by countless examples of women as prizes/decoration/helpless/weak/shallow/disposable/sex objects the idea that women are less than can definitely take root (or, in many cases, become more deeply rooted).
Gaming is something that I love. It’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I care enough to speak up and voice my opinions. As Anita Sarkeesian prefaces all of her Tropes vs. Women videos: “Please keep in mind that it’s entirely possible to be critical of some aspects of a piece of media while still finding other parts valuable or enjoyable.” If no one was ever critical, even of the things they like, nothing would ever evolve and get better. Calling out inequalities and bullshit is worthwhile. However, I think that in addition to pointing out the things that need to change, it’s just as important to point out the positives in games. In my experience, criticism is a lot easier to take and more likely to be accepted when it’s balanced with some good. Plus, if I only focused on the negatives, I’d drive myself crazy.
So, I’m going to start what I hope will be a regular feature writing about games that I think are doing things right – being representative, creating nuanced female characters, not falling back on lazy tropes. Few games do this perfectly but they deserve kudos for making an effort and the things they do get right.
This past weekend I was on the Justice Points podcast to talk about the Tomb Raider reboot, so that seems like a good place to start. Later this week I’ll kick things off by talking about Tomb Raider and all the ways I think the developers and writers did right by Lara Croft.