It’s a Saturday night, and you hunker down with a good movie and some popcorn. Maybe your pet is sitting with you on the couch, as the first scene of the movie is unfolding. It’s a recently released movie, and you’re looking forward to watching it and talking about it with your friends tomorrow, or posting a status about it on Facebook. Now let’s pause. Does this scenario have a different vibe if the viewer is specifically a woman? Or a man? Movies can be appreciated and enjoyed by both sexes and various age groups without much question (not going into the topic of age appropriate films), why is it that when a woman enjoys playing video games, it’s viewed differently? Why is it that video games are treated as some male-specific form of entertainment? Are they any different than enjoying that movie, or reading a book? Female gamers both inside and outside of the gaming community are viewed differently solely based on their sex. The identity of a female gamer is for whatever reason met with extra attention than women who enjoy other leisurely activities, and are sometimes met with grossly inappropriate, misogynistic behavior. This is not some old fashioned idea either. With the expansive world of the internet, and keyboard warriors hiding behind their monitors as a mask, many women are subject to behavior that is wholly inappropriate. I believe this is connected to the often over-sexualized representation of women in video games.
I personally identify as a female gamer. I have always enjoyed video games, ever since I was a young child. I remember playing on our Sega Genesis, having a blast with games like The Lion King, The Jungle Book, and Aladdin. I never would have expected just how much video games would evolve and grow even within a decade. As of late, most of my interests revolve around games I can play with my friends. Something that I didn’t really give much thought about before looking into my identity as a female gamer was that almost all of my friends are guys. It has been a very long time since I truly had a close female friend who shared my interest in playing video games, while today I am in contact and play games with my close group of male friends. It was something that never really seemed that important, but just why is it that my female friends interested in video games are so few and far between?
Perhaps it was a matter of just choosing to befriend people with similar interests, and the people I happened to have the most in common with were males. Some interesting research led me to the statistic on family media use, and 76% of homes with at least one boy own video games as compared to 58% of homes with at least one girl (Woodard & Gridinia, 2000). I’m unsure of how different these numbers may be though, as it’s already over a decade later. A survey conducted in 2009 suggests that 40% of all game players in the U.S. are female (ESA). There is such a wide variation in what is considered a “video game”, what with the popularity of mobile games and flash games on websites like Facebook. From my personal experience and the types of games I play, I’ve been met with some inappropriate behavior. One such game I enjoy is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This particular game is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) and on a daily basis I come in contact with thousands of other people. In this particular game, you are able to create a character and customize your race, sex and other unique features (hair color/style, facial markings, body adjustments such as height, muscle build and bust size).
When I originally started playing at the launch of this title in August 2013, I started a tomboyish female character. Even from the start she was given “special” attention. I would have players go out of their way to come over and try to party up with me for content, without even attempting to make contact and ask me if I was available to help them or not. On one occasion someone I met in the game and thought I could regard as a friend decided to shower me in gifts and then attempt to make sexually suggestive advances (via text). Despite my adamant responses of telling him I was uninterested and uncomfortable with his behavior, it seemed to not matter to him. Something about being online and being able to hide behind a screen/character makes people behave in ways they normally wouldn’t in a real life situation, it seems. I found this strange, because I felt like my character had nothing that would draw any attention to her, other than the fact that she was female. There are plenty of people (both male and female) who play as very sexualized characters (largest bust size, minimal clothing, etc.) who play like that because they like how it looks, or want to feel sexy, but it does not seem like it should warrant inappropriate behavior. There have been many articles and voices from women in the various fields of video games who have spoken out against female discrimination. One popular movement is that of the “GamerGate” debate.
The GamerGate topic boils down to two particular topics: How women in gaming are treated, and ethics in games journalism. For the sake of convenience, here is a very well explained summary of what the GamerGate issue and those involved include.
http://www.vox.com/2014/9/6/6111065/gamergate-explained-everybody-fighting (Warning: Language/Threats of Violence)
While there are obviously arguments both for and against the specific topics discussed by Sarkeesian, the fact that she and many other women in the gaming community received threats of rape and death is entirely inappropriate. Why is it that people seem to feel that it is okay to say those things to anyone? All over their opinion on a video game? It seems like there are just some figures in every community that people love to hate. Anita Sarkeesian seems to be just one of them. As a contrast, there are plenty of women within the gaming community that can still be immersed in the topic without without making it a spectacle, neither positive nor negative. Felicia Day is one such woman that I would like to pose as an example.
I’ve linked one of Felicia’s videos of her playing a game for her YouTube channel. She includes herself in the video in a corner with her webcam, which is small and out of the way. It seems that she allows herself to just enjoy the game as a form of entertainment, as anyone would if they were watching a movie or enjoying some leisurely pastime. I feel as if I can identify with her as a female gamer because she just enjoys the content and has fun with it. It’s interesting to note the she chose to play as a female character in her game. The game that she is playing (Divinity: Original Sin) allows for the customization of two characters, and offers both male and female options. While the female character is portrayed as sexualized (busty, high heels, etc), it is unique in the way that the female characters are given the role as a main character (Miller, Summers 2007).
Divinity: Original Sin and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are just two games that I personally play that allow for character creation that allows for either a male or female character. Over time, I’ve noticed that when I play online games as a male character, I am less likely to be harassed or given sexually inappropriate comments. It’s interesting to consider, because when you are in that type of environment, everything is face value. You can never really know if that person playing a female avatar is actually a woman behind the screen. It’s interesting to try playing both in an online setting just to see how differently they can be treated. Just an example includes seeking help with content. When I attempt to reach out and ask for help on my male character, I will get a moderate amount of help over, say, thirty minutes or so. Conversely, on my female character it seems that people are far more willing to offer help in a shorter period of time. Behavior based on your sex is something that is unfortunately just the nature of the beast at the moment, and many seem to share the experience, from both sides of the table.
This YouTube video of an animated short that touches upon some of the stereotypes of a female gamer are amusing, but sadly can be true at times. The author of the video slightly exaggerates the behavior o the typical “girly” gamer, but it is indeed what I have come across in my time. Stereotypes exist for a reason unfortunately, but this particular video covers and describes multiple angles of different gaming personalities. There is specifically the girly female gamer and the creepy, inappropriate guy who is all too ready to “worship” her simply because she is a female. The video amuses me and I feel it is relevant because it is a nice perspective into how those in the gaming community see and experience others. There are times where female gamers identify as “girl gamers”, but I personally feel that just the wording itself for that title is a bit destructive to the group of women who play games as a whole. The word “girl” feels very childish and almost demeaning.
Ideally, we are all just gamers, no matter the gender or age or race. I am hoping that some day people will stop associating video gaming as some macho, male-dominated activity and see it for what it really is, a form of entertainment that is no different than enjoying a movie or a book. Some people identify as writers, movie-buffs, painters… I’m a gamer, and my sex has nothing to do with it
Day, Felicia. “Divinity Original Sin: Livestream #1 with @ryonday! (NSFW)” YouTube. YouTube, 15 December, 2014. Web 17 February, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRZTtmgetlI>
“#Gamergate Controversy Fuels Debate On Women And Video Games” NPR. 24 September, 2014. Web 20 February, 2015. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/24/349835297/-gamergate-controversy-fuels-debate-on-women-and-video-games>
Glaubke, C. R., Miller, P., Parker, M.A. & Espejo, E. (2001). Fair play? Violence, race, and gender in video games. Children NOW.
Jaltoid. “Girl Gamers (Sequel) – Jaltoid Cartoons.” YouTube. YouTube, 19 April, 2013. Web 17 February, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kSOD6EsEUs>
Miller, M. K., & Summers, A. (2007). Gender differences in video game characters’ roles, appearances, and attire as portrayed in video game magazines. Sex Roles, 57, 733–742.CrossRef
VanDerWerff, Todd. “#GamerGate: Here’s why everybody in the video game world is fighting” Vox. 13 October, 2014. Web 20 February, 2015. <http://www.vox.com/2014/9/6/6111065/gamergate-explained-everybody-fighting>
Woodard, E. H., IV, & Gridina, N. (2000). Media in the home 2000: The fifth annual survey of parents and children (Survey Series No. 7). Philadelphia: Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.