Sexism in the Gaming Industry
This is a an essay in response to 'Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies)' by Scarlett Curtis. You can order your copy here.
The one lie I’ve been told about being a woman - specifically in the geeky community - is that all female gamers are respected in today's day and age.
I wish in every fibre of my being that this was true. Because despite the fact that gamers embrace cosplayers, creators and other creative things, women still have to fight to be recognised for their raw skills and talent, as opposed to other factors that are simply associated with being a female.
Take me for example; I love RPGs, stealth games and retro games. I’ve owned multiple consoles throughout my life - both handheld and console - and I watch streaming and gameplay videos to unwind. I’m by no means a gaming expert, but I would consider myself reasonably clued up on the industry as a whole.
And yet, counting occasions where my desire to talk about gaming is met with surprise by others is easy - particularly because of my gender. But why is that? Why do gamer girls get treated like such a ‘rare’ breed, they make up nearly half of the demographic of gamers? Well, it’s quite simple. Female gamers do not get anywhere near as much coverage and respect as their male counterparts
According to an article by the BBC, the percentage of female gamers in Esports is lower than 5%, and top female gamers earn less than a tenth of what male streamers earn. That’s not to mention the daily harassment and misogynistic attitudes that plague female gamers throughout the industry.
Humour me, and let me elaborate - ever heard of a little game called Fortnite (apparently it's all the rage these days)? One of the biggest streamers in the whole industry - Ninja - took part in a stream of the game for New Year's Eve that was promoted across the whole of Twitch via adverts and broadcast to his audience of 11 million subscribers. He collaborated with many other streamers, giving them exposure to brand new audiences and thereby advancing their careers.
Sounds like a great opportunity right? Sure. Except for the fact that he streams exclusively with men.
In an interview with Polygon, Ninja defended his decision to not stream with female gamers at all with the following statement; “If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever.”
In his mind, the decision comes from a place of respect. He wants to keep a healthy relationship with his wife by avoiding rumours that may have an affect on their relationship. However, this attitude is not just damaging to female gamers; it's dangerous. Comments such as this foster more radical types of behaviour, something I'll touch on later.
Not only is he denying female gamers mass exposure and opportunities (which are much harder already for girls to come by) and consequently elevating only men to the path of success, but he’s also insinuating that women use flirtation and sexual means when interacting with male gamers to get ahead in the industry - regardless of their personal preferences or sexual orientation.
I would like to hope that Ninja is simply ignorant of these facts as opposed to ignoring them; his past actions of raising money for suicide prevention during a charity stream do indicate that he has a good heart. However, if he doesn’t see the issues, then others have a duty to hold him accountable. Where were Epic Games - the studio behind Fortnite - when he said this? Or Twitch? Or any of his sponsors? If businesses truly want to stand on the side of equality and diversity, then they need to practice what they preach in their company manifestos.
Branding female gamers in this way also leads to objectification, something that gaming journalist Alanah Pearce has experienced many times. With years of reporting on news at popular games-site IGN and a killer Youtube channel to boot, Pearce has credentials that far outstrip many others who try to claim that journalistic title. Thus, when she announced her move to comedy gaming group Funhaus, the phrase "natural choice" immediately sprung to mind.
Thankfully, most people were in agreement... emphasis on the word "most". As one might predict by the fact I'm even mentioning this in this thought piece, some people assumed that her gender and 'sexual wills' are what catapulted her ahead in this industry - as demonstrated by the sickening interchange below:
Alanah does not use her body to promote her videos, but this man simply assumes that the only way she could have made herself successful is through appealing to people’s sexual desires as opposed to demonstrating her wealth of experience repeatedly in the last several years. But unfortunately, Alanah is just the tip of the iceberg - there are no limits to the number of girls that experience this type of online harassment, and the extent to which these comments degrade and belittle women.
There also seems to be general skepticism around gamer girls. The amount of times I’ve heard someone brand a female as not being a ‘real’ gamer astounds me. Many ask geek girls to prove their worth in a way that guys would never even be asked - not dissimilar to showing your credentials at a security check. We are quizzed on our knowledge and grilled on our skills, and when a girl does demonstrate her talent and wit, it can be ignored in favour of her physical attributes.
It's no wonder that women in gaming are undervalued, underpaid and underappreciated. Many communities breed toxic behaviour, and frankly it’s something that needs to be addressed. Whether comments are direct or indirect, we need to call out when someone is wrong and push for change.
If we were to start treating female gamers equally - by giving them a platform, acknowledging their talent and not objectifying them in every video - I have no doubt we would see a rise in the number of women who game, the success of gamer girls who are popular on streaming services, and a lack of surprise when we encounter a female gamer.
Girls like to game for the same reasons boys do - not because we want to flirt with other people, or get our tits out on stream, or impress people with our "fake" knowledge. We want to game because we enjoy it, same as everyone else - and I think it's about bloody time our wishes were respected.