by Laurie K
I just read I’m An Anonymous Woman Gamer, a featured article on Kotaku and io9 about the plight of the female gamer today. As a woman gamer myself, I read the article and saw pretty much what I expected: According to the women being interviewed, we’re basically forced into virtual burqas and told not to speak as protection against the hordes of rampaging men who wish to persecute us should we let our gender be known.
That’s a pretty disingenuous assertion and I’m tired of seeing it. It paints an inaccurate picture of what it's like to be a female gamer vs. a male gamer, and it scares the hell out of women who might want to pick up games but fear being discriminated against to what seems like a shocking degree.
I am not an anonymous woman gamer, and you don’t have to be one either.
There are two specific instances discussed in the Kotaku article: Abuse delivered via xBox Live and abuse delivered via World of Warcraft.
Let’s talk about xBox Live first. I'll grant you that xBox Live it's a cesspit of troglodytic subspecies that mindlessly shriek and throw their own feces - but it's that way for everybody male or female. Do women have it worse? Probably. xBox Live is filled with the vile refuse of humanity, period. You will be treated poorly by other players regardless of your gender. (Google “angry xbox live” or browse youtube for a sampling of the chatter you’ll hear.)
When I see examples of some of the worst comments that women have received via xBox Live, they are indeed cringe-worthy. However, I also notice that no example of the sort of messages men receive (VERY NSFW) is ever noted for comparison. It would greatly dull the impact if these bloggers were to give that kind of context, which is why I imagine they don’t. It’s not like the women are receiving “u stooped cnt y u kill me???” and the men get, “Why, hello there, old chap. Did you feel it was quite necessary to team kill me in our otherwise pleasant match today? Let us open a dialogue, my fine male friend, that we might resolve this issue to our mutual satisfaction!” I feel that most articles on this subject give exactly that impression, and it is wholly wrong. We’re talking about degrees of terrible not bad treatment vs. good treatment.
As for World of Warcraft, I disagree completely with the article’s assertion that we have to hide our gender and never speak for fear of discovery. Having played pretty much every MMO that's been released in the US, I can say that World of Warcraft is by far the most female-friendly, not least because there are so many women playing it. (There was a time in EverQuest, for example, where most of the serious guilds did not accept female players for raid spots at all. We’ve come a long way, baby.) Yes, some people are assholes about gender but in my experience your gender isn't something you have to hide for fear of endless persecution, stalking, and harassment.
I’m one of those people who plays with many different sets of people – friends and strangers, hardcores and casuals, pickup raids and scheduled raids. In the years I’ve played World of Warcraft I have never had an issue where I was subjected to the terrible persecution this article implies we’ll face should we ever lift the veil. Nor have my female friends experienced such things. Have I been treated differently than men? Sometimes, yes. I’ve been handled with kid gloves by some men who think all women cry if they’re corrected – and some really do. I don’t, and they figured it out and we were fine. I’ve been poorly managed by some male guild officers who have no idea how to have a conversation with a woman (Newsflash: Talking to female humans is the same as talking to male humans!) I've been hit on by some men who think all women are there to service them. I've also experienced all of these things in real life. They are still a sad fact of being female, regardless of the medium.
Mind you, it can get a little juvenile in Ventrilo voicechat sometimes. I am an extreme example because I have the teensiest little girl voice ever. I've had to check a few guys who flirted with me because I sound “hot.” (Hot? Please. I sound like I’m 12, frankly, and have been asked by telemarketers if my mommy is home.) I have never been harassed or stalked or persecuted in World of Warcraft just for being female. I’m sure others have because, just like in real life, there are some assholes who will do that. But World of Warcraft, overall, is not the pervasively misogynistic culture that’s implied by this and other articles. (Random anecdote: The worst thing that has ever been said to me in a World of Warcraft pickup raid with 24 total strangers on Ventrilo was, “Hey, baby, say ‘sensual sensibilities’ for me.” I said, “Hey, guy, I’m not your whore.” And he fell all over himself apologizing. The raid leader still booted him.)
If anyone in your World of Warcraft guild is telling you not to talk or not to tell people you're a woman, you are in the wrong guild and you need to leave immediately. You can find a guild that won’t treat you that way. They do exist and in fact are in the majority, in my experience. My server can't be the anomaly where women are accepted and largely treated as equal citizens.
World of Warcraft is not like xBox live. That's like comparing apples and Volkswagens. Just like in real life, we largely get treated the way we invite ourselves to be treated in World of Warcraft. I’m a pretty firm, no-nonsense type of player and I get treated as such. If someone in your guild is treating you poorly for being female and nothing is being done about it, you’re in the wrong guild – there are plenty of guilds out there that will not stand for such a thing. Find one. Don't accept that sort of treatment.
If you’re being treated poorly in xBox Live, well, that is the culture of that community, male or female, young or old. It’s not like keeping the burqa on will buy you anything more than perhaps a slight reduction in hassle. It is your choice, certainly.
You do not have to be an anonymous woman gamer. If you are playing with people who insist that you do, you are playing with the wrong people. And when we tell women that they have to be afraid to be themselves – afraid to even admit their gender – we discourage our sisters from picking up gaming to begin with. So, state the case – but don’t overstate it. Think of the other women we might never get to pwn faces with if we’re the ones telling them it’s too scary to play.