When playing video games, many people hope to escape the pressures of everyday life. Unfortunately, it can just be a bigger source for stress for women, who often experience discrimination in the gaming community and games themselves.
Video games are one of America’s most prolific forms of escapist entertainment. The industry made 61 billion dollars in 2015 according to CNBC. Many YouTubers have taken advantage by playing video games and commentating over them and then watching their subscribers and profits climb.
However, there is an obvious disparity that arises soon after any interaction with gaming culture. Women are under- represented or outright discriminated against in games and in the community.
Matthew Greenbaum, known online as boyinachickensuit, is a lifelong gamer who got into gaming by playing Pokémon: Yellow.
“Usually, if I am playing a male character and I encounter a female character, one of three things is going to happen. Either she’s going to betray me, I’m going to protect her, or she’s going to sleep with me,” said Greenbaum. “It’s not nearly as much diversity as male characters get. So, that is not a very positive portrayal of 50 percent of the human race.”
Greenbaum’s experiences have some quantitative evidence in recent games. In the top five grossing games of 2015, none have a default female main character. Star Wars Battlefront has a choice of characters in the heroes vs. campaign, but five out of the six options are male. The only claim to diversity is the character customization in Grand Theft Auto V, and Fallout 4 the latest Fallout game, where players can fully customize their characters. However, in the case of Fallout 4, this can lead female players to discover just how lazy game developers can be.
“You can just tell in little ways that [Fallout 4] isn’t made for you when you play as a female character,” said Rebekah Salonnen, AKA mad_shelly, a longtime fan of the Fallout series who is disappointed in the latest establishment. “They didn’t bother to f—— record female pronouns, but they specifically went out of their way to make the guards of a certain city will catcall you, and raiders will call you ‘little b—-’.”
The lack of consideration for female gamers goes farther than the top titles and gameplay though. Many female members of the gaming community have been openly discriminated against for their contributions to the community.
For instance, in 2014, actress and avid gamer Felicia Day was targeted after she spoke out against Gamergate, a movement against independent game developers and female critics. As a result of her speech, Day was doxxed- her home address and personal phone number had been discovered and widely shared, according to the Guardian. Day was not the only one doxxed, and others were forced to move from their homes as a result, according to the Washington Post.
The discrimination goes beyond those who speak out. Female gamers who try to use interactive games as they were meant to be often get called out as soon as their voice is heard on a game server. The most common male response to a female gamer is ‘go make me a sandwich,’ implying that the woman’s place is in the kitchen and not in the gamer space.
“I get to interact with a lot of people and they’re mostly male, and since I’ve definitely been in the minority being a girl on a gaming server, there is a certain kind of attention that gets drawn to you,” said Delany Bopp, AKA Stormy, who likes to play more interactive games with large communities. “It’s not that it’s always hostile, it’s just the fact that [the attention] is there at all is strange to me and not ideal.”
Bopp has had dozens of unwelcome advances since she became involved in the gaming community, just because she was identified as a woman on the servers that she plays on. These advances have ranged from inappropriate sexual advances to stalking on social media.
There is hope for equality in the gaming community though. In 2014 a large gaming company, Bioware, released Dragon Age: Inquisition, where both genders are equally represented in variety, from warriors and villains to spies and politicians.
“I always like to try to remain optimistic,” said Greenbaum. “More people are starting to realize that women are just as prevalent in the community as men are, and more games are being made with positive messages of equality all around.”