My youngest sister, Jillian, has been an avid gamer for as long as I can remember. She’s an 18-year-old blonde bombshell with a take-no-shit attitude and a quick wit to go along with it. Though she may be a kick-ass young woman on all accounts, she’s still human. The verbal abuse and sexual harassment she encounters on a daily basis from her fellow gamers goes beyond what one might refer to as “normal” joking around. It seems that this behavior has been, not only allowed, but upheld and accepted as a reality of gamer culture. I sat down with Jillian to talk to her about her experiences.
A: Tell me about the first time you encountered hate from a male gamer.
J: Oh gosh. Well. I played online with other people from the get-go, but I only talked to my friends, so there really was no “hate” until I got Black Ops 2. And that was horrible.
A: Do you know the age range of the people who were… [instigating the harassment]?
J: Well, usually, there are two ranges, okay; there’s the “squeakers”-
A: Is that an actual gamer term?
J: Yes, that is a gamer term. “Squeakers.” And they are small, pre-pubescent boys. Every time a girl is playing, they yell and carry on, asking, “Are you a girl? Are you a girl???” And it’s just so annoying.
A: Okay, so you have “squeakers”, and everyone else are just “not squeakers”?
J: Yes. Basically.
A: Can you give me some examples of harassment you’ve encountered over the years, from either of these groups, maybe one of the more stand out experiences.
J: I think one of my favorite examples was when someone asked me, “Hey (username), you wanna get pregnant or what, bitch”? I think I laughed at first, because it took me off guard; it was such an idiotic comment and so direct. It doesn’t end there, though. I’ve been called a slut, whore, anything really. I’ve been harassed with inappropriate messages like, “Hey. Send me a picture of your boobs.” Blah, blah, blah. “Hey. Hit me up.” “I’m gonna do (this and this) to you.” It’s ridiculous.
A: What’s it like being a woman in the gaming community?
J: It’s really hard, because you have to try like fifty times harder to prove yourself, and when you do feel like you’ve proven yourself, it’s never good enough. You’re either a “cheater” or a “slut” or something else that makes absolutely no sense. Like, you’re never taken seriously. You almost have to assert dominance to be taken seriously. But if you do, then nobody likes playing with you, because they don’t want to be beat by a girl. It’s almost a catch-22. You can’t win either way; you’re stuck.
A: Do you have any constructive comments, as far as going forward, and trying to remedy the situation?
J: I think the biggest thing is that, in regards to other women in the gaming world, if they just wouldn’t egg it on. They laugh at the inappropriate comments, they go along with it, and it’s stupid. They won’t call anybody out on anything. I mean, of course there are very few women playing online (comparatively speaking), so the attention is overwhelming, and I get how some girls actually like the attention. But they aren’t helping the situation. Even racist comments. I mean, I hear the “n” word online all the time, everybody just screams it at one another.
A: Now, playing devil’s advocate here, would you say that the violent games you’re playing are feeding in to the aggressive nature of gamer relations and creating an environment where it’s okay to use derogatory language and it’s okay to speak to people (strangers) like that?
J: Oh yeah, definitely. I think that video games, overall, make people get angry ten times faster and easier. Then, add in the fact that people are playing at varying skill levels, and there are people who are really good and people who are really bad and can’t handle loss very well. I know people who have gotten death threats before. It’s so irrational. All the sexualization in games, in general, I think that definitely teaches boys that women are just sexual objects. I know every single video game I have, except for Tomb Raider, and other games like that, I’m playing as a man. And the women I see in the games have big boobs and they don’t really serve any purpose besides being there as “eye candy”.
A: I think that’s really interesting, what you mentioned before, how there doesn’t seem to be a lot of games out there with female protagonists. Is that why you like Tomb Raider so much?
J: Yes. I started out in 2008 playing Tomb Raider: Underworld. That’s when I really got in to it. And even though she was wearing skimpy outfits and had big boobs, she gave no man the time of day. She had depth. She had a story. Even though she was hot, she had a back story, she had a purpose. She wanted to find out why her parents died. She had no relationships in the game. She is an independent woman that dresses how she likes and she doesn’t care. She’s multi-dimensional. In the newest version of the game, they humanized her even more, but she still has no love interest. She’s almost a-sexual and I appreciate that.
A: You are a feminist and have said before that you feel alone in your beliefs when you’re at school.
J: Yes. I think the younger generation is still confused and afraid of the word “feminist”, because they don’t truly understand what it means. Most of my friends talk about how they want equality – I want this, I want that – but still won’t associate themselves with the “feminist” label.
A: That’s just a really big reminder, for me at least, that education is key. Even though this new age feminist movement is reaching so many, and seems to be making a difference, there is a decent percentage of people out there who are still confused about what it means to be a feminist… I have one more question, if you don’t mind. Can I ask why you still play these games, if you find them so offensive?
J: Even though I have a problem with them, I still love it, and I want to be apart of it. It’s fun to get online with your friends and just have fun. I definitely hope it changes in the future and I want to be apart of that change and see things through to that transition.
If you’re interested to learn more about this issue, I encourage you to look in to the Feminist Frequency website and Youtube channel, run by Anita Sarkeesian. In 2014, she was a mainstay on news feeds everywhere, when a hashtag called “GamerGate” took over the internet. According to a Rolling Stone article by Sean T. Collins, published late last year, GamerGate was described as such, “Under the guise of pushing for journalistic reform and anti-censorship in gaming, GamerGate has targeted prominent women critics and designers like Sarkeesian, Zoë Quinn, Brianna Wu and Leigh Alexander with a relentless campaign of threats and harassment.” Anita was threatened with rape and there was even an online game created entitled “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian.” Ultimately, she had to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University, after a protester threatened a mass shooting at the event. All this, simply because she chose to speak out against violence in the gaming community. If there is a single takeaway one can glean from this unfortunate series of events, it’s that gamers obviously have a problem, a problem that needs to be addressed open and honestly, or else it will only continue to worsen over time.