Keep sexist trolling under bridge

Blair Hanley Frank

I’d just like to try a little experiment: picture the first person who pops into your head when you read the word “gamer.” I’d bet that for most of you out there, that person is male. That’s how gamers are often perceived, after all. Playing video games seems like an activity that’s incredibly male-dominated and male-centric. There’s something to that perception as well: when an entire website can regularly publish harassing messages that female players receive without any sort of a shortage, that says something about the sort of environment that exists for women in gaming. The sort of discourse (if you can even call it that) that takes place in the lobbies and chatrooms of many popular games is just unacceptable, especially when it relates to creating a welcoming environment for people who aren’t in the dominant (male) culture. Just because someone isn’t male doesn’t mean that she can’t have good ideas or understand the game in a way that would prove beneficial to all players. To that end, I think we, as gamers, need to make the medium more accessible to women.

First, we need to understand (and make clear) that ability in a particular game does not correlate with gender. I’ll come right out and say it: I’m terrible at fighting games. Absolutely godawful. If you put me behind the controls of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, I simply wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Skill, especially when it comes to playing games, comes from a variety of different sources. I think that everyone can agree, though, that having experience with a particular game and others of the same genre is directly related to one’s ability to perform well. In other words: the more practice you get, the better you’ll be.

Since practice, not some innate gender difference, is key to good performance, we also need to make sure that the communities we build around these games are welcoming to women. When it’s considered socially acceptable to throw around sexist language, sexually harass people in-game and otherwise make someone’s experience miserable because of either their actual or perceived gender, that’s not welcoming to someone who isn’t a part of the dominant culture. Treating someone like a human being instead of something less than that in-game is something we need to be actively advocating. If we make it easier to practice a game in a welcoming environment, rather than ostracize people for being different, there’s a greater chance they’ll get better.

Finally, we need to be willing to call people out. On the internet, and pertaining to gaming, there’s this idea that you need to have a thick skin. That trolls shouldn’t get to you, no matter what they say. After all, if you just ignore them, then everything will be fine, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Here’s my problem with that: it removes any sense of responsibility for making the communities we inhabit nice places to be. Nobody should be forced to endure catcalls or harassment while they’re trying to have fun. Saying that we have no collective responsibility to keep the games we enjoy enjoyable is cowardly and nonsensical. Sure, it’s important to not feed the trolls, but at the same time, that’s just not enough. Offensive content for its own sake can stay on 4chan. Spending time in whatever game you choose, whether it’s the latest incarnation of Madden or Modern Warfare 17 1/2, should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. If we, as gamers, make a concerted effort to stop the sort of idiocy that is far too common these days, I think that everyone involved can have more fun.

One final word: If you’re part of the problem, I want you to think twice the next time you’re thinking of typing “gb2kitchen.” Me, I don’t think it’s worth being an asshat to someone just because they aren’t like you.