Every woman who plays video games can tell some version of the same story. There is a certain experience that’s so common to female gamers that all they have to do is mention it, and every other woman will slowly nod their head in knowing acceptance. This is the experience of being looked down upon as a gamer, just because you’re a woman.
Something about being a woman in the gaming community infuriates some of our male counterparts. I don’t know whether it is just some kind of mass insecurity on the part of male gamers, or if they are simply territorial about the masculine power fantasy that drives many games. Whatever the reason, being a confessed girl gamer can get you some pretty nasty responses.
You may have heard about the Grand Theft Auto 5 review controversy. Any reviewer who gave the game less than a perfect 10 was eviscerated by a fan community, which can be described as “overenthusiastic” at its absolute best. However, the target of the worst hatred I saw was Carolyn Petit, a reviewer for GameSpot. She gave the game a 9 out of 10, which would be a sterling review by anyone’s standards. And the most probable reason why she was targeted? She’s a woman, and she called the game out for its unpleasant treatment of women. For that sin, which she apparently didn’t think was a big enough deal to give the game a lower score, gamers created a petition to get her fired.
There’s also a YouTube channel called Feminist Frequency, which put out a series of videos called “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” It’s an examination of common plot devices associated with female characters in video games. Written and hosted by Anita Sarkeesian, this series has so far exhaustively examined the “damsel in distress” concept and the objectification of female characters in games.
All one has to do is check the Feminist Frequency Twitter to see the hate some men feel for Sarkeesian. I’ve seen so many rape threats there that I’ve become bitter and angry, and they aren’t even directed at me.
The most common defense I’ve heard is “It’s not all of us. It’s just some outliers. That doesn’t mean we’re all bad.” The trouble with this is if there are about one million male gamers in America (and that’s a conservative estimate), then even one percent is about 10,000 men. That’s a lot of people throwing death and rape threats around, and they tend to focus on one woman at a time.
As for myself, I’ve been fortunate enough to run into mostly positive attention as a gamer, although that’s only because I only have a small following on social media at the moment. That, and most of the people who know that I’m a gamer have found out from me. I doubt even the most strident anti-feminine gamers would have the nerve to say such things to my face.
That being said, I have had the occasional run-in with the skeptical male. This is the most mild version of the female gamer experience, but it’s still the same principle. When I say I’m a gamer, the guy crosses his arms and looks down at me. He questions me about my gaming experience in a semi-hostile tone of voice. I’ve learned to disengage at this point, because the argument isn’t worth it.