The Struggles of Gaming: Gender Discrimination Among Players

A girl overhears a few guys in her class talking about video games, and turns around to join the conversation. She tells them about her version of Shepard in Mass Effect, and asks them if they’ve played the latest Assassin’s Creed game yet. The boys look at her in dismay and say she’s weird for playing RPGs and adventure games like that. They make fun of her for it, right before they themselves go home to play Skyrim.

This example has happened to a couple of my female friends, and they were both upset after these incidents. Rightly so, I say. It’s no secret that players freak out when they hear a girl’s voice in the voice chat. Why is this? A lot of males are surprised to hear about a girl playing video games, but some think that a female who plays isn’t a legitimate gamer at all. Is this fair? A friend of mine told me that she was once told that she was too attractive to be into this sort of thing. Why do we think girls who play video games should look a certain way? I want to address these questions and give my best explanations.

I play a lot of Call of Duty, and I know that what I hear in the chat a majority of the time are male voices. My old roommate, who has been playing Call of Duty multiplayer since the first Modern Warfare, estimates that he only hears a female’s voice eight times each CoD year. Players are used to hearing male voices for months, so imagine players’ shock when they encounter a female player. It’s like any other change of pace. When anything you’re used to changes, you’re going to react in some way. Don’t mistake my theory as an excuse to treat female gamers poorly, though. It is fine to be surprised and even express your shock in a friendly way, but harassing and degrading a player because of their gender is unacceptable.

Some females aren’t treated in such an understanding or comical way, however. A close friend of mine says she has been harassed and discriminated against for her love of video games. When she attended the midnight release of Assassin’s Creed III in her assassin outfit, she was approached by men who told her she was trying too hard to look like a gamer. Men assumed she was only there for her boyfriend. They even quizzed her on her knowledge of the game, just to prove she wasn’t a “legitimate” gamer. When they asked if there were any females in the game, she smugly gave the name of Altair’s wife and mentioned Aveline from Liberation.

The same friend used to work at GameStop, and would receive comments such as “nice to see a woman working in a man’s world,” and was constantly tested on her gaming knowledge. Because, you know, females obviously don’t know anything about video games. They didn’t believe that a female could be a “legitimate” gamer, much less know anything about them. I believe that most people have their ideal version of a “true gamer.” (This leads into the Era-and-a-half-old argument of what exactly makes a person a “gamer”, which I won’t discuss just yet. That may be a later post.) Most female gamers are viewed as trying too hard or only pretending in order to get attention. While this does actually happen, with both males and females, this is not always the case. I also believe that the lack of encounters with female gamers allows males to subconsciously form the idea that females just don’t play video games.

I don’t believe that most males are able to comprehend the fact that a girl can like video games just as much as they do. While there’s no good excuse for this type of discrimination and harassment, their surprise is understandable. While growing up, who did you walk next door to and play video games with? Most likely a male. If you ever received a video game from your parents as a gift, wasn’t it most likely your father who admitted to choosing which game to buy? When I look back on my childhood and who I spent most of my time with as I grew in the gaming world, I realize that it was extremely rare for a female to be somehow involved. Perhaps this may be part of the reason why girls are treated poorly by male gamers. It may be that males just don’t know how to express their surprise, or that they have an idea of what is normal based on their experience in the past, and, to them, it seems wrong for a girl to like video games.

The final issue I wish to discuss also involves this same friend. While it doesn’t directly involve video games, I believe the example is still relevant. She was at a bookstore once, and she stopped by the sci-fi and fantasy section.  She was approached by another customer who mentioned that she was “too attractive to be reading these books.” So now gamer girls/”nerds” have to look a certain way? For some reason, this person’s idea of a girl who reads fantasy or plays video games is unattractive. Maybe this is because, while growing up, he thought he knew what attractive girls liked to do. Perhaps what happened to me also happened to him. Normally the girls I had crushes on rode horses or were into fitness and sports. These girls I believed to be attractive never told me they liked or disliked video games, but they did tell me what they liked other than video games. And if this happened to me, I’m sure it happened to many other boys. I suppose that years of this caused males to subconsciously make the decision that attractive girls just didn’t play video games, and that only unattractive ones did.

All of this being said, I don’t want to forget to mention that I once thought that girls didn’t play video games. I didn’t think that they weren’t supposed to, but I figured they just didn’t like them. I remember when I was in the 5th grade and a girl told me that she liked to play Grand Theft Auto (whichever one was out at the time). I was so taken back that I had to ask her again and again to make sure I heard her right.

I write this editorial to say that I’ve recently started to look at all gamers as equals, and that while some are more hardcore than others, none are unworthy to speak to. And I’m trying to be more aware of the presence of female regulars in the gaming community, and to recognize them not as girls who like games, but just as fellow gamers. Next time you encounter a girl who says she plays video games, don’t be so quick to judge or be skeptical. She loves games as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter that she’s a female. She’s a person; a person who happens to love video games.

This editorial is obviously chalk-full of opinions, and I encourage you to voice your own, as always. If you see any flaws in my reasoning, what do you think differently? Do you have any similar or original examples of your own? Feel free to share any insight on this topic.

As always, thanks for reading. Play hard.

For more news, reviews, and fun editorials, check out Gamers Sphere.


4 thoughts on “The Struggles of Gaming: Gender Discrimination Among Players

  1. “I don’t believe that most males are able to comprehend the fact that a girl can like video games just as much as they do.”
    This is pretty much the only things I would disagree with. Comprehension has little to do with the attitude those people who portray this archetype (Negative/Surprise towards female gamers)
    To me, its more about the attitude/opinion/belief that a female cannot play the game/get immersed in to a game/know as much about a game as well as a male. They can easily comprehend that these gamers have knowledge of the game, its mechanics/strategies/backstory/lore but choose to alienate themselves because of a believe that they are inferior. It shows an intense lack of maturity by those people and I always advise my friends (male or female) to disassociate themselves with those kinds of people. Their gaming experience will be all the better for it.
    I would like to say that in my experience, these gamers are in the minority. Most gamers I talk to will have a conversation with anyone as long as its about games.
    I am guessing you don’t spend a whole lot of time in the MMO genre. Games like WoW, EVE, SWTOR, and GW2 typically have a much more even male to female ratio (it isn’t perfect, but it is much more prevelant than say the FPS community.) And those gamers who stick to single player games have a tendency to be much less active in gaming communities. I have known many a female player on WoW who is much more knowledgeable about the overall game than I, or many of my male counterparts are. And I don’t care. I ask them questions, get advice, stuff like that.

    I think the other issues I saw in your piece was about gamer/nerdy girls being “too attractive.” I don’t necessarily think that gamer girls have a certain archetype that male gamers assume. I think what might’ve happened (and I could be way off base here) but it might have been a bad, blundering attempt at a pick-up line/conversation starter. I see that as the only reason someone like myself or my friends would say something like that. If I am wrong, and some actually meant that with sincerity then we have to ask ourselves, “Why?” Why did this person think that someone was too attractive to get involved in this genre/industry? Then, in my opinion, you’ll either find that its a minority case (which could be the same group of people, since Sci-Fi and Video Games tend to cross over and it was probably the same geographical region) or that your geographical region has an incorrect perception on video games as a whole, and it has bled into those groups that are gamers, and this has left them with ill feelings towards those who don’t fit into their social group archetype of “gamers” because of the backlash they feel from there outside community.

    • First, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts here and initiating some conversation. Always appreciated.

      “Comprehension has little to do with the attitude those people who portray this archetype (Negative/Surprise towards female gamers)
      To me, its more about the attitude…”
      Okay, I see what you’re getting at. The more I think about it, I think I agree with you. I guess it’s a little silly to think people could be that foolish or ignorant, so it must be related to their attitude and such.

      And you would be right in saying that I’m not a regular in the MMO community. The majority of the gamers I’ve met or interacted with have been either in person or in Payday/Call of Duty lobbies. I believe you, though. I’m sure I would see more females (and see them accepted) if I spent more time on MMOs.

      “it might have been a bad, blundering attempt at a pick-up line/conversation starter.”
      Neither of us actually thought about that. I mentioned this to my friend, and we both agree that’s most likely what happened. But, I wouldn’t say that my points on this part were invalid. We could now use it as a hypothetical scenario instead.
      But I do believe this particular example would be a minority case, as you also said.

      “…your geographical region has an incorrect perception on video games as a whole, and it has bled into those groups that are gamers, and this has left them with ill feelings towards those who don’t fit into their social group archetype of “gamers” because of the backlash they feel from there outside community.”
      Where I come from, video games aren’t taken very seriously and many people consider them a waste of time. So you may be right in saying so.

      • I’m glad you got back to me. Please realize I wasn’t trying to invoke a feeling of negativity towards your piece. I actually appreciate the fact that this information is getting out there, as much as possible.

        I am glad I have been able to shed some possible other viewpoints about this. I am also from an area where video games are considered a waste of time. Not necessarily by the majority of the population, but definitely by the portion of the population that makes up “the people who matter” the people with more influence and respect/authority figures have a tendency to have this attitude towards video games, so those who do play almost feel like they have to keep it hidden in order to keep any kind of respect they might have earned.
        This doesn’t excuse nonacceptance though and it just makes them as bad as those people who made them feel like they were doing something wrong by playing video games.
        Something I try and do is understand why those people think video games are a waste of time. And compare video games to other forms of mass media. Do these people watch TV? (they probably won’t openly admit how much they do/ or they will consider Netflix/Hulu not watching TV (it is!)) Do they go see movies? Read popular books? All these are forms of mass media that go hand and hand with video games.
        They might think violent video games causes these violent acts occurring throughout the country. Video games have never been found to have any causal link to violent acts. Ever.

        Video Games are a form of entertainment. Just like anything else. It is up to us as gamers to promote an accepting and unbiased community, regardless of gender, that shows understanding to those less educated about our hobby and not defensive to those who might be outside the “norm” of their social group.

      • No negative vibes picked up over here, my friend.

        You and I seem to share the same thoughts on this issue of how games are looked at by those outside the gaming community. All I can say from here is “amen” and “right with you.” I actually wrote a small piece on violence and games last year. It was mainly an attempt to stand up for our community, but also to throw my own two cents in.

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