By now, even if you’re only vaguely connected to the gaming community, chances are you’ve seen them. The rape threats, the vitriol, the blatant disregard for the possibility that a woman can create video games, or work in the industry as a whole, or even just be a gamer without the core goal being to “impress men.” In case you need a primer, or if, like me, you were uncertain of the specific cause of the most recent nastiness, I refer you to an article from the always-excellent Mary Sue which summarizes what’s been going on the last few weeks.
First of all, my whole-hearted support and a massive thank you goes out to every single woman mentioned in that article, as well as the many other women who have stepped up and spoken out, only to receive the same harassment themselves. (I’m looking at you, Sam Maggs.) The amount of bravery that it takes to stand up against those threats is nearly unimaginable in and of itself, but these women all keep themselves safe while holding their heads high and that’s just damned impressive.
I hasten to add that I haven’t had any sort of experience as traumatizing as the women mentioned above. I’m by no means in the trenches on this. But, it does have me thinking about my own, quieter experience as a woman gamer. And here’s the thing: I’ve always been a proud, vocal gamer, and I have argued in the face of men who’ve told me I wasn’t a real geek for a wide variety of absurd and inherently sexist reasons. I don’t by any means hide from those fools, or avoid calling them out on their behavior. But I also don’t game online. I actively refuse to take part in MMO’s, and can’t imagine changing the decision I made over a decade ago to pass on any games that required interaction with people I don’t know. When I was younger, that decision was made for one simple reason – I genuinely don’t care for MMO’s. I loved LANs, and smaller gaming nights with my friends, but when it comes to depending on some random person I don’t know to help me storm a castle, I’m not interested. For me, gaming is solitary and quiet with a few rare exceptions. I just prefer it that way. Plus, the sorts of games I like to play don’t tend to be the ones where you need that sort of online interaction – sure, fighting games are fun, but I’d rather run through at least a marginally solid story while I shoot things, thankyaverymuch. Only very very recently, with predominantly next-gen games like Titanfall and Destiny, have I been even remotely tempted to game online.
But I still haven’t done it. As I’ve gotten older and (theoretically) wiser, I’ve read and thought about the assaults that women go through every moment they so much as pick an avatar and a gamer tag that may possibly hint that they’re a woman, much less those who speak outloud, or work in the industry. I’m not proud of this, but I’m anxious even at the thought of getting involved in an online gaming platform, and having those guys get to me not in a public setting, out and about in the world, or even on social media, but privately, while I’m taking part in one of my favorite hobbies from the (again, theoretical) comfort and safety of my own home. While my own little corner of the internet is filled with wonderful, supportive men who would never shit talk me just on the basis of my gender, the gaming community doesn’t work that way as a whole.
Even now, I feel an urge to defend myself and my choices, to say that I get that shit talk is an important part of gaming, and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously (large-scale threats aside, obviously) and what am I so scared about. But the reality is that every single woman who ever wants to game, be it on the network or off, has to wonder – should I take that threat seriously? Where’s the line? At what point do we draw a designation between “cheerful, competitive jibes” and harassment? It’s a damn fine line, finer than most men realize. It’s the same feeling I get walking down a lonely street at night with my keys in between my fingers. We can’t know whose threats are real and whose aren’t. It’s a constant battle, and there is no easy answer.
I don’t feel like less of a gamer because I stay away from gaming online. But I do wonder if I’m giving those guys a pass; actively staying away and letting them have their “no girls allowed” bullshit, giving it permission to live another day. And that feeling, that I’m implicitly giving them a space to continue to be horrible, has started to grate at me. So maybe, on the day I finally cave and get a PS4, I’ll change my mind. I can’t say for certain what I’ll decide either way. But I do know what I’d get if I do, undoubtedly, and that’s a deeply upsetting reality.
Really. Don’t we all deserve more than this?