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An Honest Conversation About Being A Female Gamer

Video games have come a long way since Pong’s 1958 debut. For those who consider themselves gamers, we’ve become accustomed to beautiful graphics, innovative gameplay and engaging storylines. The vast improvements in technology and the growth of developers have not only changed the way we game, but its affected the community surrounding video games.

While video games appeal to the likes of many, playing is often viewed as “nerdy” or certainly diverging from the society-created “norm” of interests. With that, gamer communities are often tight-knit and breaking into those communities can be difficult, especially for females. From professional to casual players, women often face unwarranted prejudice in a community that is largely dominated and created by men (read: straight-cisgender-white men).

To give a peek into the wonder and worries of being a female gamer, we’ve brought together two game-loving ladies to chat about what inspires and bothers them most about the video game community.

How did you get into gaming, and what were your first impressions?

Rachelle: Growing up, my dad worked in the computer industry and would often receive demo CDs of various PC games—that was my first introduction to gaming. I remember finding the various worlds, gameplay styles and storylines fascinating. It wasn’t until I was a bit more financially independent that I really jumped into online gaming, particularly through “World of Warcraft.” The blend of social interactions through guild communities and cooperative gameplay really struck a chord with me.

Sydney: I’ve been fascinated with video games since I was super young. I think I’ve always found them much more engaging than TV or movies. The fact that you could control what was happening? That blew my mind. The first game that really captured my attention was Kingdom Hearts II. It was so beautiful, the characters were awesome, and I still cry over the story. I was 10 years old when I first played it, and that game is still in my top five.

Has there ever been a moment you were made aware of your gender while gaming?

R: I think the first time I was aware of my gender while gaming was in “Warcraft” when I would tell people about stories of other players being super nice and helpful. They would joke that the only reason those players were helpful was because they figured I was a female gamer. It sort of made me start to question the intentions behind every interaction with unknown players.

S: Up until relatively recently, I played exclusively RPG’s and one player games, so I didn’t have a lot of experience with my gender being called out. Even playing games with predominately male characters, I didn’t think much of it. Once I started playing mass online multiplayer games, that was when I became hyper-aware of my gender. If I happened to do poorly, people in the chat would automatically assume that it was because I was a girl…not because I was just bad at the game.

Do you notice when other players use gendered insults? How does that affect you?

R: I’ve actually been pretty fortunate in that I haven’t witnessed a lot of direct insults in video games due to carefully choosing the online communities that I interact with and join. However, I am also part of a women-only gaming group online where I see story after story from women detailing toxic language and attitudes directed toward them. I feel a lot of disappointment and frustration that gendered insults and negative behaviors are still so pervasive to the point of deterring perfectly wonderful and talented people from pursuing their interests.

S: I’ve definitely heard a lot of gendered, negative speak while gaming. Personally, I think the language issue is one that extends beyond gaming communities. Society as a whole has decided it’s okay to use feminine-coded language as insults, so it only makes sense that we would hear and see it in video game chats. Usually, I can brush it off, but it does make me hesitant. I feel a pressure to “do well” rather than just enjoy playing.

Sexual imagery, specifically hypersexualized female imagery, is rampant in video games. How do you deal with playing games that are clearly not intended for female eyes?

R: I tend to avoid the games with over-the-top sexualized imagery as I feel that when the focus is visually directed in that manner, the quality of gameplay, script and storyline are kind of deprioritized. In games like “Warcraft,” however, I sometimes treat it as a joke, using humor to confront issues that I feel I can’t really directly change. There were times when I’d intentionally pick out a set of armor that looks ridiculous because the idea that bikini-plate armor would keep me alive is laughable.

S: The short answer is, it’s weird. Extreme sexualization of female characters is often gratuitous. I’ve yet to play a game where a scantily clad woman is necessary to the gameplay or storyline. I realize that game developers include hypersexualized imagery to pander to their predominately male audience, so it’s likely to never enhance the actual gaming experience. But I also have to agree that sometimes it’s so absurd that the only option is to go along with it and laugh at it.

A lot of RPGs include romance storylines and/or the ability to choose the gender of the playable character. Do you find yourself drawn to these games and what do you like about them?

R: I am all about customization. The more, the better. I think it helps improve immersion and it also makes you feel like the developers value the many different types of people, personalities and identities that are out there.

S: I’m a sucker for romance storylines. But I’m also a sucker for a good story in general. It offers another element of control in the game and really makes it feel like your choices affect the outcome of the game. Character customization and/or gender choice is also a huge plus for me when starting a new game. Again, I want to feel like my choices really affect the story. (Looking at you, BioWare. Keep up the good work.)

What’s one thing you would change about current gaming culture and what are your hopes for future game development?

R: I think one thing I would change about current gaming culture is increasing exposure to the female gaming community. But on the flipside, I think developers need to really focus on strengthening their response to negative player interactions. Gamer gals have to put up with a lot of frustrating negativity and having a more effective way of reporting and penalizing toxic behavior would go a long way in helping women feel safe and valued within their online community. That would be my biggest hope for the future of game development.

S: I would just really like for people to realize that there’s a real person on the other side of that screen. There’s a marked lack of compassion in gaming communities, and it makes it a lesser experience for everyone, not just women. Less big picture, I hope that developers start including women and people of color on their teams and in their writing rooms. With multiple perspectives informing development, games will become more representative and (hopefully) result in the community becoming more accepting of different peoples. (Also, I want to see more professional female gamers… because playing video games for a living is the dream.)

Special thanks to Rachelle Tolbert for sharing her gaming story. 

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