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Accepting Women Play Video Games: The Next Social Reform?

Happy Friday! I’m going to flog a dead donkey around a bush with mixed metaphors now. Women and videogames! Yeah yeah, yawn. Fed up of reading about women and videogames? Tough - I’m going to keep harping on about it until there’s nothing to harp on about any more, because I’m annoying/dedicated* (*delete adjective of choice) like that.

I have lots of female friends on the internet and because of the social circles I hang around in, they’re almost all videogamers. Unfortunately for them, that also makes them perfect fodder for my Friday opinion pieces here. To such friends, Elizabeth and Kelley, have kindly let me wax lyrical about two contributions they’ve made to the plight of women in videogames. Here’s your light reading:

Elizabeth Simins’ Manic Pixel Dream Girl comic, Kelley’s ‘The Trouble With Magic and Me’ blog post - and you may also like to familiarise yourself with that recent incident where a guy playing on his wife’s ME3 gamertag got a tonne of abuse from some blokes thinking the character was a woman, and what happened next.

A panel from Manic Pixel Dream Girl, © Elizabeth Simins

In Elizabeths’ comic she talks about growing up as a gamer, through school and college. She covers painful life situations, like the decision to completely push gaming from her life because her peers at school just would not understand, or even acknowledge, the fact that she was a female who played videogames to the point that she felt ostracised because of her passions. The girls thought she was weird, the boys thought she was lying. In college, her female roommates asked her questions I’m sure any female videogamer has been asked before, I know I have - ‘Is that fun? Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer coming out with us? Do you actually LIKE playing videogames? - But you’re so normal!’ - Insinuations that you’re doing the abnormal and your group of ‘friends’ would much prefer you do the normal thing THEY’RE doing.

I can empathise with this. Through school I was always very quiet; good grades, the teachers liked me, I had a few friends - but I much prefered staying in playing Sonic on my Sega than going to Youth Club or later, playing DOOM or Morrowind on the PC instead of going to the pub. I’ve always been antisocial and games fit my lifestyle perfectly. When I discovered Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, I was in heaven - my love of the fantasy genre coupled with an interactive immersion was just bliss. Our school used to run computer classes and while I was ahead of my female peers with both more interest, and more ability, in computing in general, the little clique of boys that dominated the computer club would not even look at me. If I asked them for help, which I did on occasion because I knew they were the most knowledgeable, I’d get a dismissive muttering for an answer and then backs would turn. It might have discouraged anyone else, but it made me even more determined to prove myself. I started building my own computers, and still do. I learned HTML and CSS and made websites. I dual-boot Linux. I am, without a doubt, a technophile - and I often wonder how I’d be treated now by that same clique of boys in school who felt awkward around a woman infringing on their territory.


In Kelley’s blog, she talks about her love of Magic: The Gathering, the collectible card game. Her and her husband play ranked tournaments in Texas, and by all accounts are pretty damned good. As Kelley got more involved with playing, she noticed an upsetting trend that revolved around her being female - people wouldn’t take her seriously. They’d underestimate her based on her gender. They’d assume they could bully or sweet-talk her into letting them win. She was told, after winning one match, that she was ‘one of the better females’. Not one of the better gamers - one of the better FEMALES. And then, after losing a close match to a man - “Whew, I didn’t want to lose to a girl!”.


Is this starting to sound familiar? Last story, then. The ME3 one. In a nutshell, a man’s playing ME3 Co-Op on his wife’s gamer tag to pick up some perk packs for her. He’s playing using techniques that she’s taught him, because he’s unfamiliar with her class. He’s on a team with three other people. Two of them see the female-inclined gamer tag and start bitching about kicking ‘her’ off the team because they can’t play a gold match with a girl player. At this point he could have spoken up and dismissed their fears in letting them know he was a guy on his wife’s tag, but he decided to stay quiet and play a damned good match just to rile them. By the end of the first round his score was tops. You’d think the team would be thankful, but the guys started chiding with quips like ‘we can’t let a girl beat us!’ - recall at this point that they’re actually on the same team and should, y’know, be working together and stuff. Irked even more by their stupid attitude, the hero of our tale decided to go all out and win the damn match without helping those two idiots. There was a third member on the team who had been quiet the whole time, and the guy helped that third player while ignoring the other two. At the end of the game, his score was way above the other two guys. That’s when the third player spoke up - another female.

I have to quote this from the original article because it’s just... wow.

“Damn, she and I had the top two ranks and you guys spent most of the match dead on your backs… You let two girls dominate you. Daaaang.” She said.
Guy one: “F*ck you, b*tch. Suck on a d*ck and get back in the kitchen.”
Guy two: “Stupid whores, f*ck you. Get raped.”

Yes, well. Aside from the utterly disgusting rape threats and lame generic ‘get back in the kitchen’ insults (honestly, misogynists have no creativity), what I want to look at is the broader scope of what actually happened there.


Two men playing on a team of four in a co-op match let their love of the game and their desire to win fall second to their desire to not win if there was a woman on the team. Instead of working together as a team of four against the opposing team, they split their OWN team in two and created an in-team battle of men vs women. Not winning with a woman on the team was more important to them than winning the match as a whole. In Kelley’s blog, a man is relieved because he almost lost to a woman. Not that he almost lost the match - specifically that he almost lost to a woman. Another player commended her skill as one of the better females, segregating her on the basis of her gender; taking the whole Magic-playing community and dividing it into ‘girl players’ and ‘boy players’ and ranking accordingly. In Elizabeth’s comic, she’s fighting a constant battle against men AND women for acceptance. As a girl who played videogames, her female friends thought she was weird and any boys she spoke to about games wouldn’t accept that she was serious to such an extent that she felt she had to completely remove videogames from her life in order to be accepted socially. As if peer pressure wasn’t bad enough WITHOUT throwing a game-playing girl into the mix.


So what’s going on? What’s happening in a man’s head when he joins a team to win a fight and, on finding that there are women on his team, decides he’d rather lose than let his women-including team win? Why is the notion so abhorred that his team might win with women on it? What is going on in those crazy, crazy heads? I got to thinking about genetic memory and our stone-age ancestors. Are these actions some left-over remnants of a time when men fought as a team and women did other things like making food, caring for the sick, raising offspring? When a man decides ‘If there’s a woman on my team I don’t want to win’, is what he’s really saying, ‘I am a man, this is a man’s task, and having a woman attempting to compete at a man’s task is emasculative nonsense’? Perhaps it’s not a conscious notion at all; just some primal urge, an aversion, a repulsion to accepting Woman into Man Territory.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know if our ancestors hunted as male-only groups; to know that for sure, we’d have to find remains of groups of men taking part in that activity consistently enough to form a solid pattern. What we CAN do, though, is study our living relatives, species-wide. Take a look at this quote from this article on chimps (all references are included inside the article for you with sceptical minds who demand solid, reputable scientific facts);

“Adult and adolescent males do most of the hunting, making about 90% of the kills recorded at Gombe over the past decade. Females also hunt, though more often they receive a share of meat from the male who either captured the meat or stole it from the captor. Although lone chimpanzees, both male and female, sometimes hunt by themselves, most hunts are social. In other species of hunting animals, cooperation among hunters may lead to greater success rates, thus promoting the evolution of cooperative behavior. Such cooperation has also been posited as important in our own evolution (Washburn and Lancaster 1968). In both Gombe and in the Tai forest in the Ivory Coast, there is a strong positive relationship between the number of hunters and the odds of a successful hunt (Boesch and Boesch 1989; Stanford et al. 1994b). At Tai, Christophe Boesch has documented highly cooperative hunting behavior by the chimpanzees there, and meat-sharing behavior after a kill that rewards those chimps who participated in the hunt.”

In a nutshell - the dominant behaviour is that males do the hunting, and they hunt in groups. Why am I looking at chimps here specifically? Well -

“Among the great apes (the gorilla,the orangutan,the bonobo, and the chimpanzee) and ourselves, only humans and chimpanzees hunt and eat meat on a frequent basis.”

So there’s some correlation there. It’s reasonable to assume if, among chimp society, males do most of the hunting and females are more likely to stay behind and receive shares of the meat afterwards, that our direct ancestors, being so closely behaviourally related to chimps, would have done the same. Genetic memory (‘ the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code’), in terms of the psychological impacts, would then lead to present-day humans retaining the notion that hunts are done in male-dominated groups. As our societal patterns shift and change, any genetic memories we share as a species will also gradually shift and change - it’s feasible to consider that since not all men behave in this way, perhaps the only ones who do are those who hold stronger genetic memories to our hunting past.


Consider that it wasn’t so far back that women were completely ostracised from activities that we now regard as commonplace. There still exist male-only clubs where no women may set foot. Exclusion of women is not a new thing by any means, but if you go digging through the murky annals of society’s history you’ll see that it’s at least a phenomenon in decline. We can’t, of course, hope to eradicate behavioural habits overnight. There will still be men who throw their toys out of the pram when being told they have to play nice in what they perceive to be their men-only sport when women become involved. For some men, apparently, that completely changes the rules of the game.


2000-ish words down the line, and where are we? If you weren’t aware that women faced problems when it comes to videogames, you are now. You’re aware that women are judged and shunned based on their gender and hobby preferences. Since you’re here at this site reading this article, I assume you’re someone who plays videogames. So what do you do with this knowledge? Well, I just want you to channel the spirit of Rosa Parks, really. It’s not right that ANYONE be segregated based on their gender or skin colour or religion or anything like that, so if you see it happening, don’t let it go unanswered. Be the hero, and if some petty little troll accuses you of being a White Knight, kick him/her/it in its trolly little nuts and carry on being a hero. Are you a man? Encourage a spirit of camaraderie among your fellow males for the acceptance of women in videogames. Don’t assume that the girl talking to you about the latest Call of Duty installment is lying to get your attention. Don’t assume she’ll be crap in competitive PvP just because she’s a woman but hey, if she is, don’t blame it on her chromosomes; plenty of men suck at PvP too. Are you a woman? Recognise that what constitutes ‘acceptable hobbies for women’ is changing. Recognise that just because YOU like doing something doesn’t mean EVERYONE should like doing that - and hell, that goes for guys too. If I found a genie and it offered me one wish, I’d wish for everyone to have just a little more empathy.


Lastly, if you’re female and you like playing video games, never get discouraged. A person’s passions is a part of what defines them, and if you haven’t found a place where you fit, don’t give up looking. Be true to yourself because you’re the only ‘you’ there is, and one day someone will really, really appreciate you for it, your gender be damned.

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