Gaming and Women

Growing up, I never considered myself a gamer. I played Pokemon and Mario every day as a kid but still, I did not think of myself as a gamer. Magazines featured only games that were considered masculine. I loved video games more than anything but because of the generalization that gaming was considered a boys-only club, I never felt like I made the cut.

Several years later, I finally played a popular game called Halo which I found to be worthy of the gamer title. I wore the gamer badge proudly and told everyone I could. It meant so much to me to finally be a part of this boys’ club I had longed to be in for so many years. I realized a few weeks ago however, that I was always in the gaming club. Misogyny is so deeply infused in the gaming world that I had come to believe I was not worthy of the gamer title. I allowed the fact that very few women were gaming journalists or game developers convince me that only a small number of the best women were allowed in. The reality of the situation was however, that the industry seldom hired women because society has taught men that nerdy or technological things are something that only men are good at, which is simply not true.

Gaming changed my life. Video games were there for me when I needed them most by distracting me from my problems. I went through a life-changing and horrible break up five years ago that left me feeling hopeless. Several days into throwing myself a pity party I decided to pick up my Xbox controller and play this new game called Life is Strange. That game helped me through one of the toughest times of my life. Other entertainment mediums are not the same as video games because they are not as interactive. Gaming is a powerful and therapeutic entity. The assumption that only men would take part in the wonders of gaming is ridiculous.

Women have been playing video games as long as men have. According to CBS News, fifty-percent of all women game. Forty-seven percent of gamers are women. This statistic is published by organizations such Girls Make Games and popular gaming news outlets such as Polygon, but still the overall public is not convinced. Even though most people know that women play video games, a lot of people have trouble accepting it. Women are harassed daily for playing video games or they are asked to extensively prove that they truly are a gamer. I distinctly remember a night several years ago when I was acting in a play and a male cast member asked me to list all the games I had played recently and quizzed me on every game. Several men in the cast also claimed to be gamers but he did not ask them to prove anything. Sexism exists in all avenues of life, but gaming is a minefield.

Once I had fully accepted that I was a gamer, I became more involved in the world of gaming. I bought a gaming console all by myself for the first time, following the break up I mentioned earlier, and I started to livestream playing video games on the streaming service called Twitch. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, streaming is the darkest side of the video game world. I was constantly being called slurs and being told that I was only gaming to gain attention from men. I stopped streaming for a while because the constant harassment started to hurt. Women who play video games on Twitch are constantly body shamed, called slurs, sent unsolicited disgusting photos, and receiving threats.

The world of video games changed forever when Gamergate happened. Gamergate began in 2014 when Zoe Quinn, gaming journalist and developer of the game Depression Quest, was accused by her ex-boyfriend of sleeping with several men to get ahead in the gaming industry. Caitlin Dewey, reporter for The Washington Post, wrote a detailed expose on Gamergate titled “The Only Guide to Gamergate You’ll Ever Need”, and according to her, one of the men accused of sleeping with Zoe Quinn was a writer for the extremely popular gaming news site, Kotaku. Quinn denied every allegation that she had slept around to move up in the gaming world.

Men all over the internet, however, became enraged and started sending Quinn rape and death threats and posting her personal information online. The men accused of sleeping with Quinn received zero threats, revealing the sexist objective of Gamergate. The Gamergate movement was not about ending unethical journalism, it was about ending women’s participation in the gaming industry.

Unfortunately, the harassment spread to include other women. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and media critic, published a series of videos about women in gaming. She received rape and death threats and hackers posted her address online, which led her to move due to her fear. I have had my phone number given out to strangers before, and that alone caused me to feel unsafe. I cannot imagine the fear of knowing that strangers know where you live. Despite the obvious crimes that were committed, the harassers faced no consequences. Game designer Mattie Brice withdrew from the industry when she was forcibly removed as a judge for the Independent Games Festival by male gamers who did not want a woman to judge video games. After she was removed as a judge, she continued to receive threatening tweets and her address was leaked online. There was no end in sight.

Caitlin Dewey and other journalists began to call Gamergate a culture war, with one side being women who want the gaming industry to change and the other side being sexist men who want the industry to stay the same. Writer and voice actress Jenn Frank said in her article “How to Attack a Woman Who Works in Video Gaming”in The Guardian, that Gamergate was about “drowning out critics of traditional, patriarchal, dude-dominated gaming culture.” Women want to be included and they want better representation through playable female characters. I would love to see a character who looks like me in a video game. What women want is simple, and yet, men are still fighting it. All women want is to be included. More women in the industry and more playable female characters will not ruin gaming.

Gamergate unfortunately continued. Heineman, founder of game studio Olde Sküül, was bombarded in 2016 with questions about her bra size and if she was a top or a bottom, ignoring her contributions to the gaming industry. Heineman’s love of Halo and Call of Duty was not taken seriously because she is a woman. E-commerce specialist Nico Deyo loved to spend her time playing World of Warcraft, until she began to be harassed in the game’s online forums.

Luckily, after a couple years of the Gamergate madness gaming publishers decided to take a stand. Heads of Microsoft, Sony, and Blizzard updated their terms of service to include the banning of stalking and any form of harassment. Swedish gaming companies have stood firmly on the side of women and their need for equality in the gaming industry. The Swedish gaming organization Dataspelsbranschen set up a network to create equality and diversity in the gaming industry. Microsoft was one of the first members.

My fiancé Rick is a gamer and so are his friends. His male friends have no problem with women being involved in the gaming industry. I have encountered many men in my life who are more than happy to share the gaming world with women. So, why is Gamergate still happening? Who are these people who are so threatened by women joining their “boys only gaming club”? They persist in their harassment and ridicule, but we will not back down. We will not leave gaming. It is a world that we belong in as much as them.

My identity as a female gamer has changed a lot over the years. As a kid, I felt like I was on the outside looking in but as an adult, I finally realized I always belonged in the gaming community. It is a world still filled with a lot of harassment and it is hard to put myself through that sometimes. But I am a gamer, it is a part of me, and I do not plan on letting that go anytime soon.

About the Author

Jessica Ham

Jessica Ham graduated from Fresno Pacific University in 2018 with a bachelor’s in history. She currently is an Administrative Assistant at the California Armenian Home and a Writer/Video Producer for Kings River Life magazine. She is working towards starting her own home organization business. She loves to write, make youtube videos, and drink a lot of coffee.