The Aggressive Male Gamer
Ever since the 1970s, video games have evolved from refrigerator sized cabinets to hand-held devices that fit in our pockets. With games becoming more available and diverse in content, more people joined; playing games from puzzles to first person shooters. From this hobby emerged people who identified themselves as “Gamers”, a majority being males.(TV Tropes) But in more recent times, male gamers have been represented more as a sexist and more violent group of people. This is problematic since it perpetuates a negative image that is simply untrue for the majority of this large demographic. I believe male gamers are falsely represented in popular culture, focusing only on negative aspects or events leads to the identity being seen as malicious. It’s important to note that this essay’s purpose is not to compare female gamers to male gamers; but to simply analyze the messages that are being sent about the identity of male gamers.
To exactly define who is a gamer is a complex topic since different people have different definitions. This often leads to confusion about what kind demographic makes up the identity. The Webster’s dictionary defines a gamer as, “a person who plays games; especially: a person who regularly plays computer or video games.”(Webster) This definition, although broad, helps show that the identity can be applied to a large demographic.
Another definition of gamers comes from Urban Dictionary, the second most popular definition since April of 2005 states:
“The term “Gamer” by itself can apply to nearly anyone who plays video games on a regular basis or even once in a long while … there is a large amount of debate about who and what gamers exactly are. The best way to define the term “gamer” is not to define it at all but accept that there are in fact many types of gamers out there and there is no blanket term that can cover them all. “ (Urban Dictionary, 2)
With these definitions so far being non-gender specific, where exactly does the word “male” come into the picture?
The association of the words “male” and “gamer” is best described by TV tropes, a site known for analyzing and documenting tropes in popular culture. On their website, the trope “Most Gamers are male” states that males age 15 through 25 make up the primary demographic for videogames(TV Tropes). However, the trope page also notes that the demographic is dated back to the early 90’s and doesn’t represent the shift in the demographic of gamers. The page goes on to describe how in 2013, females represented more than half of people who play videogames are female.(TV tropes) This is an interesting contrast to the earlier description of gamers being mostly male. But just how are male gamers being represented in the media today?
In a recent interview on the Colbert report, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist and critic of “gaming culture” talked about recent events under the name GamerGate. When asked about her thoughts on corruption of gaming journalism, she states that the real issue is: “…men going after women in really hostile and aggressive ways… terrorizing women for being involved in this hobby”(Colbert Report). Although she doesn’t give any specific examples of these “really hostile and aggressive ways, “but the usage of such words as “terrorizing, hostile, and aggressive” creates an association with these words and the identity of male gamers. Since her statement specified “men”, it generalizes the identity as a whole. Although the Colbert report itself is a satirical show, it’s a nationally broadcasted program and as such is seen by many viewers.
However, the association of male gamers and these negative descriptions is not a new trend; there have been other occurrences of similar statements from other media outlets.
An example of male gamers being represented as hostile and aggressive can typically be seen in the news after violent crimes. Brian Ashcraft, a writer for Kotaku, wrote an article in 2012 about the outcry against violent videogames in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Ashcraft talked about the social media hunt to find “…clues they could pin the shooting on.”(Ashcraft)
“…during those initial reports, a mob of angry Facebook users noticed that Ryan Lanza [the shooter] had liked Mass Effect [a rated M game] on Facebook. Coupled with news reports that a Fox News expert connected the horrific shooting to video games, some felt like this was proof positive that games were to blame.”(Ashcraft)
Unlike the Colbert report, this incident involved videogames that were specifically violent, containing mature themes and guns. However the correlation that the shooter was a male videogame player surely didn’t help the identity of other male gamers. Other tragedies like this have happened in the past, and videogames are frequently used as a scapegoat. (Ashcraft) Events and news coverage like this leads to an association with male gamers and violent crimes, a false representation of the identity as a whole. Besides the claims of male gamers being aggressive and hostile, there has been more recent news coverage portraying the male gaming demographic as sexist and women-hating.
In October of 2014, the New York Times published an article titled, “How Sexist Is the Gaming world?” again, featuring Anita Sarkeesian. A key part of the article tries to explain why male gamers are “harassing women online”
“While the online attacks on women have intensified in the last few months, the dynamics behind the harassment go back much further. They arise from larger changes in the video game business that have redefined the audience for its products, expanding it well beyond the traditional young, male demographic.”
Sarkeesian’s claims come from the numerous death threats she has received from “opponents or her recent work challenging the stereotypes of women in video games”. While this sort of behavior is unacceptable in any situation, these threats are used to generalize the male demographic of gamers. Specifically, these generalizations paint male gamers as those who attack women and harass women online. It sends a message to readers that male gamers do not want women in gaming, that they harass women who try to play games. Though these statements only represent the tiniest fraction of those who identify as gamers. Using several examples to represent all male gamers is an inaccurate way to show the demographic. I’m not saying that there is absolutely no harassment towards female gamers, but these repeated articles denouncing the identity leaves me feeling bad for even associating myself with being a male gamer. With all these negative articles, there must be some positive media about the gaming identity, right?
A very interesting aspect about the male gamer identity is the lack of positive news coverage from major news outlets. These stories are almost never seen outside of videogame news websites, leaving the public in the dark. Between CNN and the New York Times, the last gaming article that showed gaming in a positive light was back in 2013. The last article in question was written by Christopher Dawson for CNN. In his article, Dawson discusses the numerous game organizations that donate to charity like Extra Life, Electronic Frontier Foundations, and the Humble Bundle(Dawson). These charity events by gamers are frequent events as seen by the upcoming events calendar on the Childs Play Charity website (http://www.childsplaycharity.org/). The lack of coverage of positive news relating to gamers, hurts the identity for both males and females. More coverage of gaming charity events could help show the diversity of those that identify as gamers. When comparing the amount of negative and negative publicity gaming receives from news outlets, it’s clear that male gamers are seldom presented in a positive manner.
To conclude, popular media shows that male gamers are sexist, ignorant, and aggressive when these labels only apply to a miniscule section of the demographic. There are many aspects about gaming culture that is simply not talked about while negative aspects about the identity are highlighted and frequently talked about. This representation is harmful because it generalizes an entire demographic of people in a negative way, causing people to feel ashamed to identify themselves as a gamer. News outlets like CNN or Fox News need to focus on other parts of gaming culture instead of blaming videogames for violence in youths. From this, society can see a more accurate picture the identity of a gamer, for both male and female alike.
Ashcraft, Brian. “Mob Blames Mass Effect For School Shooting, Is Embarrassingly Wrong.” Kotaku. N.p., 15 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://kotaku.com/5968683/mob-blames-mass-effect-for-school-shooting-is-embarrassingly-wrong>.
Dawson, Christopher. “Playing Video Games to Raise Millions for Charity.” CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/25/tech/gaming-gadgets/gaming-for-charity/index.html?iref=allsearch>.
“Gamer.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gamer>.
“Gamer, Definition.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., 09 Apr. 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gamer>.
“Main/ Most Gamers Are Male.” TV Tropes. TV Tropes, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MostGamersAreMale>.
Schulten, Catherine. “How Sexist Is the Gaming World?” New York Times, The Learning Network. The New York Times, 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/how-sexist-is-the-gaming-world/?_r=2>.
“The Colbert Report: Gamergate – Anita Sarkeesian.” YouTube. Comedy Central, 30 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.