For years, the world of gaming has been assumed to be a predominantly male industry. However, according to a 2014 study by the Entertainment Software Association, woman over the age of eighteen are the gaming industry’s largest demographic. Despite this irrefutable statistic, misogyny has not only infiltrated the characters within the games, but the jobs involved in designing, producing, and selling these games as well. In recent affairs, when feminists decided to speak up against these blatant acts of misogyny on Twitter, they were met with a backlash of harassment. One advocate for women in the gaming industry--media critic, Anita Sarkeesian--was forced to cancel her speech when a white, male, American terrorist under the name Marc Lepine threatened to carry out “the deadliest shooting in American history” if she were allowed to speak.
In this day and age, women's rights in the gaming industry are in dire need of support in all spectrums, both on and off the screen. While some may argue that how a certain character is designed has no correlation with how women are treated in the workplace, they are very much interconnected. Better representation of women characters will present itself when women are allowed significant input on game production. The presence of women as fellow key influencers of production will force gamers of any gender to be more open-minded and accepting to the imminent movement toward gender equality. Many people against this effort have fatuous delusions, thinking that this unity between the sexes in the business will lead to some sort of imagined retrogression. However, equality in the industry could only serve as a gateway to a more Feminist-friendly world, leading to a less hostile generation of gamers that will not threaten acts of terror behind the safeguard of computer screens if they don’t get their way.
For anyone unaware of the gaming industry’s attitude toward women, here is some background. As mentioned before, women are rapidly becoming a more prevalent presence in the gaming community in a natural transferal of power often referred to as a paradigm shift. While there have always been women who have played games, society has only recently begun to move away from expected gender norms, allowing these women to “come out of the closet” as gamers. These norms can be demonstrated very easily in the standardized notion of “blue is for boys” and “pink is for girls.” In this case, the gaming industry has always been thought of as primarily blue. So much, in fact, that some men have developed a sort of twisted superiority complex, resulting in a standoff very similar to a playground bully who won’t let the other kids play with his toys. The very same kid who would rather see that toy broken than just share. But this has not stopped women from infiltrating this alleged “boys club.” Women are not only playing games, but are also integrating themselves into the industry in a number of ways, including development, characters within the games as more than damsels in distress, and gaming journalism. Unfortunately, all of these women face undeserved scrutiny, resulting in harassment and sexism in the very industry they are trying so desperately to support.
Women who play games (often referred to as girl gamers) face severe discrimination online every day. For reasons unknown, the idea of girl gamers has always seemed to ruffle the feathers of some men, resulting in harassment that forces those women to keep their game-playing tendencies to themselves or to even cease their gaming activity altogether. Unfortunately for these girl gamers, they have been imposed with the role of an elusive, sexual fantasy that not only fetishizes them but continues the destructive narrative of the “not like the other girls” girl. These fantasies attempt to pit girls against girls and only result in unwanted attention from men hiding behind avatars. This sense of anonymity gives certain men the idea that they can act however they please without the fear of consequences, which is largely one of the main issues being dealt with today. But even this apocryphal role of “cool gamer girl” is subject to the scrutiny of the male gaze.
When a woman self-identifies as a gamer, she is often met with harsh criticisms for allegedly faking in order to gain the attention of men. This vicious circle only one of the many facets of the constant sexism women deal with on a daily basis in the world of gaming. This results in many women hiding their gender when online in an attempt to avoid discrimination. Jenny Haniver, a self-proclaimed female gamer, started a website called “Not In the Kitchen Anymore,” a site dedicated to documenting her experiences with sexism and harassment while gaming online. While the spectrum of these harassments varies from microaggressions to full-blown threats, the most prominent and reoccurring abuses were the use of the C-word and general belittlement. Sadly, these blatant acts of sexism extend beyond the scope of humans playing the games.
Women characters within games are often treated as mere sexual objects, their portrayals distorted caricatures of real women. These characters are often designed to wear revealing costumes to show off unrealistically proportioned bodies when their male counterparts are in full-body armor. An example of these improprieties can be seen in the Tomb Raider games, an ongoing series of adventure games where the gamer plays as Lara Croft. While there is notable controversy about whether or not Croft serves as a positive role model for women, the fact remains that since the beginning of the game franchise she has been costumed in extremely short shorts and a tank top that accentuates her overly exaggerated breasts and impractical hourglass waist. Recently, the developers of Tomb Raider have begun to costume her in more practical clothing that reveals less skin and, as it should, lends itself to the story. But while Lara Croft holds her own as the brave, ass-kicking heroine of her own gaming dynasty, other women characters in games are often not portrayed as such.
Women characters are too often based off of outdated and oppressive tropes that more often than not serve to fulfill the sexual fantasies of men despite being overplayed and reeking of unoriginality and lazy storytelling. One such trope often seen is the classic damsel in distress, who is portrayed as an uncomplicated trophy for a male hero to bravely rescue. Reinforcing these stereotypes is problematic for a number of reasons. Young and impressionable men playing these games will be conditioned to think of women as mere objects for men to save or do with as they please. Young and impressionable women will--once again--be told that they have no purpose other than existing for men to save and, if deemed “worthy,” as sexual or romantic objects. This primes these women to internalize the idea that they can never amount to anything more than a supporting character, damaging their self-esteem and severely limiting their beliefs in what they can and can’t accomplish.
With stereotypes being so influential, proper representation in media in this day and age is extremely important. With the gaming industry growing so rapidly, there’s a real chance to forgo these obsolete and oppressive stereotypes, and finally give women a new generation characters they can relate and look up to. This would not only benefit women but would lead to more open-mindedness in male gamers, a much-needed stride toward gender equality in the gaming industry that could only serve to help remove the stigma associated with feminism.
Some gamers may argue that these issues are outdated, and no longer relevant. After all, aren’t there games with women in them? Problem solved, right? A recent Ubisoft scandal surrounding the release of a game called “Assassin’s Creed Unity” says this problem is far from solved. They were met with criticism when they announced that they would not have female character options available to choose from. While far from shocking, this blatant obstruction of representation was a low blow for people advocating for equal representation. When asked why the choice for female character avatars had been ruled out, Dan Houser--an English video game producer who worked on the new Assassin’s Creed game--said that “…the concept of being masculine was key to [the] story.” This half-hearted attempt at absolution only further highlights the glaring issue of men not taking women seriously, Houser’s words suggesting women are incapable and somehow “less than.” These implications are not only false but hazardous to how society views women in relation to men. So how can these issues be avoided in the future?
The answer is simple; room for females needs to be made amongst developers in the production stages of gaming for a better chance at equal, proper representation. This is not to say that great strides have not already been taken in the development aspect of gaming. According to the International Game Developers Association, the number of female developers has more than doubled since 2009. But this information must be taken with a grain of salt because males still account for seventy-six percent of development jobs. In addition to these disheartening facts, a study by Game Developer magazine published in 2011 showed that the average woman video game programmer earned $10,000 less in a year in comparison to male programmers. These abhorrently sexist differences in pay also affect designers (who are paid $12,000 less) and artists/animators (who are paid $26,249 less). These disparities in pay and treatment that extend well beyond the gaming industry have left some women saying that they’ve had enough.
Anita Sarkeesian is one of those women. A self-proclaimed feminist, Sarkeesian has dedicated (and even risked) her life to righting these wrongs. She is the creator of a popular video blog entitled “Feminist Frequency,” a non-profit organization that “encourage[s] critical media literacy and provide[s] resources for media makers to improve their works of fiction (Sarkeesian).” In addition to the aforementioned terrorism in which Sarkeesian was forced to cancel her speech, she continues to be threatened online, targeted for her feminist ideologies and activism. In the particularly male-dominated shadows of the Internet, there exist websites such as 4chan and Reddit. While Reddit has more redeeming factors, there are threads within these websites that host legions of men that feel threatened by feminism. In the fashion of trolling--otherwise known as being rude, obscene, or obstinate on the internet in correlation with a sense of presumed anonymity and scapegoat determinism--they have painted Sarkeesian as some archetypal villain out to destroy the only life they know: video games.
Extremist members of these sites have organized a harassment campaign to take Sarkeesian and other feminist supporters down by any means necessary. These men used weaponized pornography against her, photoshopping her face onto pornographic images with male video game characters doing obscene things to her. These images were then posted all over the Internet in an attempt to shame Sarkeesian into silence. Self-proclaimed “hackers” publicly posted her telephone number and home address, comprising her safety. And they not only threatened her, but her family, friends, and colleagues. These are only but a few of the many disgusting ways these men have attempted to bring her down.
These harassments and countless others involving other females in the industry came to a head recently in what many are calling Gamergate. Essentially, Gamergate was an attempt to completely eradicate feminism and feminists from the gamer community through abusive tweets that included threats of death and even rape. In retort, feminists responded via Twitter using the hashtag “1reasonwhy” and their thoughts on why people think more women aren’t in the gaming industry. They are overall disheartening, as one would expect from any victim or harassment or abuse. “Being mistaken for male co-founder's assistant ...three times? four?” “My looks are often commented on long before the work I've done.” “None of my women developer friends will read comments on interviews they do, because the comments are so brutally nasty.” “Because I get mistaken for the receptionist or day-hire marketing at trade shows.” “Because I am not his arm candy, mother***er. I make games.”
These comments speak for themselves.
Society very much runs on a locker room mentality, where men take their positions of power and use those positions to maintain that power, which gains its authority from the prevalent idea of our society being patriarchal in nature. While this dissection of the patriarchy may seem like a digression from the topic of misogyny in the gaming industry, the root of the issue lies in the foundation of the patriarchy and the idea that men are the assumed possessors of positions of power. In the twenty-first century, the human race is on the cusp of great change. Females are no longer standing for the outdated points of view that have hindered them for so long. The abysmal manner in which women have been treated in the past has forged a new generation of fighters who are no longer willing to stand complacent in the fight for their rights. It’s true that the gaming industry can be a hostile place, often unwelcoming to women and any sort of semblance of feminism or women positivity. While overcoming these odds may seem daunting, it is not impossible. To those who think that this issue doesn’t involve them, it does. This world is filled with injustices. Schools get shot with such frequency that it is becoming a norm to see those headlines in the news. The issues discussed here have the propensity to elevate to that level, “the deadliest shooting in American history” already having been threatened over one woman speaking her mind on stage and sharing messages of inclusion and diversity. As more and more people embrace feminism, the path is paved for a new generation unencumbered by the notion of unnecessarily constricting gender roles. While female representation in the video game industry may seem like only a small battle to be won, it is a stepping-stone to a brighter future where women are not threatened with rape for standing up for something as simple as a fictionalized RPG. Anna Cail, a female game designer, was asked why she wanted to get into the industry at all if it was so “openly hostile towards women.” She responded: “I was raised that when I see something wrong, I shouldn’t put my head down. In games, you don’t run and hide. You stand and fight. I can fight this fight.”