This was not an easy article to write. I started, I stopped. I started again. I rearranged, rethought and re-premised. I bashed up my keyboard and raged at the screen. I wanted to create a retrospective of the incidents and impact of sexism in gaming during 2012. Simple task, no?
The simple part is this: For all of us who feel we have a stake in how the whole sexism-in-gaming debate plays out, 2012 was a bumpy ride. Pretty much everything after that is a complicated mess.
From the heinous, in-team abuse on Cross Assault in February, to the explosion of #1ReasonWhy on Twitter in November, there was hardly a month when sexism wasn’t a major topic in gaming circles.
And by sexism, I mean a tsunami of bile and loathing aimed at women (not only in gaming) in geek circles across the board, mostly for the crime of Existing While Female.
The difficult part, for me, has been not launching into a frothing screed about how completely screwed up this all is.
I didn’t want to come off as “too angry” or, to use phrases commonly slung at women: strident, humorless or shrill. Well, screw that, I am angry. I’m angry at the men who think they have any right to direct and determine what their fellow human beings are allowed to participate in and enjoy. I’m angry at their mob mentality fervor and self-righteous indignation every time a woman dares to express an opinion on a subject they consider their own. Piss on game territory all you like, fellas; it still doesn’t belong exclusively to you.
My anger, however, doesn’t stop there. I’m angry at all of us. I’m angry at otherwise good men who don’t speak up when their petulant brethren get out of hand online or in public.
I’m angry at women who, terrified of not being allowed in “the club”, rush to disassociate themselves from their slandered sistren with cries of, “I’m not offended!” or “I’m not like those other women, I can take it.”
I’m angry at myself and my friends for not having figured out a way to overcome, rather than overanalyze. And boy, I do overanalyze. Just this morning I was conversationally linking online sexist behavior to the tribal mindset brought on by certain socioeconomic trends; not wrong, per se, but so lost in the tweeds no GPS could ever find me.
In the end though, after the anger and the intellectual safari, it comes down to this: Why is basic civility so damned difficult to come by? What is so threatening, so brain-liquefying scary about women in geek culture that some guys feel the need (not to mention the right) to launch an all-out assault on any and every woman who dares exist in their presence, let alone voice an opinion?
What gets me most is how none of this makes sense. Many of the worst offenders claim to like women just fine, though you’d be hard pressed to prove it. After all the hubbub over Jennifer Hepler, one can still find instances of slander online where she’s listed as “the first ever beached whale to become employed by BioWare”. Silly woman, daring to have the temerity to make games while looking like an average human being. Who does she think she is, a guy? So, does that mean these guys will allow women into their enclave, but only if they’re super hot? Sick, but it seems almost plausible until we remember that Jade Raymond was vilified in ’07 for having the temerity to make games while looking quite pretty.
Could it be about cred, then? Maybe the women these creeps like are the ones with actual knowledge and skill in whatever geek pool they choose to swim in. From that angle, the whole “fake geek girl” thing might almost make sense. That is until we remember that it’s all about fake geek girls. None of those rending their garments and tearing their hair over the supposed incursion of fake geeks has any concern over fake geek guys. Besides, if it really were all about skill and knowledge, then Miranda Pakozdi should have been considered a valued member of her team, rather than a target. If one’s geek resume is all that mattered, then the #1 Reason Why wouldn’t have been filled with accounts of female game developers regularly assumed to be receptionists and booth babes at conventions and trade shows.
It can’t be dissenting opinions that are so distressing these stalwart members of the He Man Woman Liker’s Club. Far too many of them insist on their right to free speech for that to be the case. It would be rank hypocrisy to claim that their targeted maliciousness is just ‘voicing an opinion’, or even ‘playfully trash talking’, when it’s in retaliation to a woman having voiced an opinion of her own. And we all know it can’t possibly be that!
So, it’s not about looks, except when it is. It’s not about skill or knowledge, except when it is. And it’s not about opinions, except when it is. For Pete’s sake, these guys say they like women, but except for the pixel-based, pretend variety, what women are left for them to like?
Is that really it? Are real women seen as a threat to the continued existence of virtual women? Are we, living, breathing, thinking beings a threat to those compliant, ever ready, ever willing and never complaining constructs that populate so much of the in-game landscape? Is this all seen as some zero-sum game, where the only way for women to get what they want (better representation and to participate without harassment) is for certain men to lose what they want (giggle tracks and jiggle physics)?
If that really is what all this comes down to, it’s sad. Moreover, we’d all better hold on, because the bumpy ride is far from over.