I think I’ve heard the question asked a thousand times: “Why aren’t there more girl gamers out there?” I’ve heard it asked by the casual and the hardcore, the Call of Duty gun-nut and the Games-As-Art hipster. While it’s obvious that girls can like games as much as guys do, it’s also obvious that any random Call of Duty game, Street Fighter IV lobby, Need for Speed meetup, or online FIFA league will most likely be a sausage fest. Don’t believe me? Go online with any game and calculate the ratio of males to females playing.
So, where are all the women at?
Well, I’d like to tell you a story about a time that I tried to introduce a member of the fairer gender to online gaming. Names and gamertags will not be mentioned for the sake of protecting all those involved.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m a gigantic fan of fighting games. So I tried to introduce a female friend to Persona 4 Arena when it came out this summer. The community wasn’t the biggest in the world and the game was still new, so I figured she would have a chance to be new along with everyone else. Overall, she enjoyed the game. She wasn’t very good—the most she could do was spam with a few characters (Elizabeth and Yukiko specifically)—but, being a big fan of the Persona RPG series, she got a kick out of seeing the characters duke it out in real time. When she played it with my gaming circle, she thought it was awesome.
Then she went online. As I said before, all she was really able to do was spam because she was just learning the game. However, any of you who have played the game before know how frustrating Elizabeth or Yukiko spam is. It can easily carry you through low level opponents who haven’t gotten blocking or advanced movement down yet. This frustration obviously led to some gamer rage, and that’s when the insults started happening.
She told me stories of all sorts of sexist comments thrown her way. Some would say the same old “get back in the kitchen” or “show us your tits” remarks that we’ve all seen on forums around the Internet. Others would get darker and more violent, throwing around the c-word, calling her a prostitute, and even going as far to tell her to kill herself.
So she stopped playing P4A altogether. Even though she liked the game, she refused to keep subjecting herself to the rampant hate and sexism she’d encounter in the online gaming community.
Now, I was both offended by the tales she told me and desperate for more people to play the game with, so I decided I wasn’t going to let this die. I joined a couple local gaming Facebook groups and related the story there much as I have here. I asked a simple question: “Why was this ok?”
The responses I got surprised me quite a bit. Instead of sympathy, the most common response was something along the lines of “toughen up.” The sentiment was that trash talking, insults, and gamer rage are just part of gaming culture, and that it was up to her to not let the comments get to her. The best advice given was “just ignore them” and “just bear with it and get better at the game.”
I related these simple words of wisdom back to her, and her response may shed quite a bit of light on why we don’t see girl gamers online very often. She asked “Why?” Why does she just have to put up with it? Why does she just have to ignore the sexist behavior? Why is it her responsibility to make sure that the c-word didn’t offend her?
She literally didn’t have to “put up” with this sort of behavior in any other part of her life. She’s never gone to the Laundromat and had people scream sexist insults at her. She’s never gone to the grocery store only to put up with people calling her a whore because she got the last gallon of 2% milk. That kind of behavior is simply not socially acceptable. In fact, if people acted in real life the way they did to her over the Internet, they would probably be arrested. Moreover, she would probably avoid any public place where she would routinely encounter people who threw sexist remarks at her.
Not only that, but she didn’t put up with this reprehensible behavior because the game meant nothing to her. It was just a small pastime that she was just learning to enjoy, and when the rampant sexism of online communities ruined it for her, she naturally stopped. The game wasn’t important enough to subject herself to that. In fact, there was no way it could have been important enough to just bear with the sexist remarks because she wasn’t even given time to get into high-level play before the insults started coming. It was a matter of not being able to learn to love the game when faced with a pervasively toxic atmosphere. No woman would go to a tennis coach that threw sexist remarks at her, nor would they learn to play hockey at a sexist ice-skating rink, so why should she have to learn how to play P4A in a sexist online community?
That’s basically the answer to the big mystery that everyone has been trying to solve. If you want girls to game with you, stop being so reprehensibly sexist! That sort of behavior doesn’t fly in any other competitive sport, or any other aspect of life for that matter. It’s frowned upon and penalized, and yet we in the gaming community seem to want to give it a pass because “that’s just how the community is.”
Well, that’s not how the community should be. That’s not what gaming is all about, and the fact that we let things like this continue to happen reflects poorly on us as gamers and individuals. While this particular instance happened in a fighting game, you can find examples of the same types of sexism occurring in any game genre that has online play, especially shooters.
So we, as a gaming community, need to police ourselves better and say that this sort of behavior is not okay. The next time you wonder why there aren’t any girls in your game lobby, pay attention to what people are saying, and ask yourself this question: “Would my girlfriend be okay with this if I said it to her face in real life?” If the answer is no, you might also want to start examining why you don’t have a girlfriend.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: December 7, 2012