Gaming icon Lara Croft.
Until very recently, I played World Of Warcraft on a regular basis. WoW is a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game - an MMORPG - set in the fantasy world of Azeroth, where the nominally "good" Alliance battle the nominally "bad" Horde; you pick your side and then go for gold, battling monsters and other players as you climb the ladder to the storied Level 85.
For those of you who’ve not tiptoed through the peaceblooms in Azeroth, the text-based chat channel is your direct line of communication to your fellow gamers, and theirs to you. It’s where you find fellow party members, ask if anyone has a stack of frostweave to sell, or flog your skills in order to level your professions. It is also where the scum of the earth rises to the top of its pool of vomit to share their witty thoughts about gender and sexuality.
Here’s a fairly representative example (with names changed to protect the “innocent”, except for me, Eowynne, feel free to laugh) of what used to go down on the General and Trade channels pretty much constantly:
[2. Trade] [LeeroyJenkins69]: Alterac Valley is full of twink fags today
[2. Trade] [PwnWizard]: gay
[2. Trade] [Eowynne]: hey guys how about quitting the hate speech?
[2. Trade] [LeeroyJenkins69]: whats your problem bitch
[2. Trade] [PwnWizard]: someone needs a good raping
...And so on. I’d talk to fellow players who’d moved servers, convinced that Thaurissan (an Oceanic server, with a high volume of Australian players) was suffering from the same rot as Australian society in general. Alas, as it turned out, there was sexism in pretty much every server and realm, enough to drive some of my friends from the game.
(Not to mention within the game itself; “Why is it that developers are fine providing women with an unequal and often worse game experience?” Josh Myers asked on WoW Insider earlier this year. “Why are developers OK with allowing female PCs [people actually playing the game] to be harassed by male NPCs [the non-player characters generated by the game itself] or requiring them to wear totally impractical armor pieces?”)
I tell you this because it seems there is still a considerable slice of society that either believes that women don’t play video games, or that they do, but sexism in gaming isn’t that bad a problem.
To which I can only really say: O RLY?
Sarkeesian’s campaign began to receive donation pledges, but then all hell broke loose: the bro dudes got wind of her campaign and set about doing all they could to burn it to the ground. In this New Statesman piece on the whole sorry affair, she recalls the explosion of blood-curdling misogyny:
“The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as ‘terrorism’, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website. These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen ‘jokes’ to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape. All that plus an organized attempt to report this project to Kickstarter and get it banned or defunded.”
(There was also a howlingly hilarious IndieGogo campaign launched to fund a series that plans to explore misandry in videogames. I say “explore” because I can only imagine they will have to search long and hard to find any trace of actual misandry in the depiction of male characters in videogames.)
Elsewhere, there has been wide discussion about the fact that the latest iteration of the Tomb Raider game will feature a sequence in which you can “rescue” Lara Croft from almost certain rape. Once again, the ugly underbelly of gaming reared its head, as men peppered the comments on the stories with comments so hideous that Alyssa Rosenberg wrote an open letter to them:
“It’d be one thing if you wanted to see the character have fairly explicit consensual sex—Lara Croft has been marketed to us as a hot, adventurous woman for years, and all manner of non-exploitative fantasies can come out of the way she’s been sold in-game and on-screen. But no, what Jordan wants is to see her get “raped uncensored,” and Eric wants the chance to do it himself. So, in all seriousness, why do you want to see Lara Croft get raped?”
My experience as a “girl gamer” is limited solely to WoW, but it’s not a stretch to take my Trade Channel experiences and apply them to any other popular MMORPG or game. If sexism doesn’t infect the gaming experience by way of other players, then it’s female characters being designed as outrageously sexualised, or through horrendously sexist rhetoric on gaming forums and blogs. It’s hard to get away from.
I’m inclined to think that gaming, like its broader relative, “geekdom”, is one of those areas where the less reconstructed men of the world feel they still have a grip on the “old fashioned” way of doing things (i.e. objectifying women and slinging hate-speech around like confetti), and they’re not about to give it up without a fight. They still feel like they have a say when it comes to who gets to play in the treehouse.
In many ways, it often feels as though women can’t win when it comes to fighting sexism within gaming (both itself and the community surrounding it): you’re either derided as a “girl gamer” who is only posing with a PS3 to be popular, or decried as a feminist bore because you dare to suggest that having a major female character suffer sexual assault is lazy character development.
All of this despite the fact that the number of female gamers is steadily increasing. A 2011 report by America’s Entertainment Software Association indicated that 42 per cent of the gaming audience was female, an increase on previous years, and that women 18 years and older had a greater audience share (37%) than boys aged 17 or younger (13%).
Many of my friends are dedicated gamers, and their blogs refer to sexism in the industry and its fans on a daily basis. It’s grim reading, though I applaud their dedication to the cause. After all, sexist nitwits in raiding dungeons was enough to drive me to the absolute outer reaches of Azeroth to pick flowers in zones that had become completely underpopulated. I miss my second home, but I don’t miss the rampant sexism.
As my wise friend Albert put it recently, “Every few posts I come across a ‘f-ck girls who call themselves girl gamers’ post and I think to myself, ‘why do guys keep willingly pushing girls away from gaming?’”