Women and the video game community at large have had quite the checkered past in recent years. It is true that on a local level, the video game community is comparatively welcoming to women, but on the digital level, the community is both welcoming and outwardly hostile at the same time. It doesn’t take much legwork to see this. All one must do is go on social media sites like Reddit and YouTube to see that this is true to an alarming degree. But is it? And has the situation improved at all? Both questions and more will be answered in due time.
While our culture is largely responsible for this attitude, there is not enough page space to go into that. For the sake of keeping it grounded in this article, the reasons for this hostility toward women are twofold: the gendering of video games towards boys and the early representation of women in video games. In the beginning, video games were seen as a novelty by retailers who sold video games exclusively as children’s toys, specifically for boys. Marketing in television and glossy magazines always showed boys hunched around the TV or computer, while the girls were nowhere to be found. This attitude eventually sunk into the minds of consumers of this new medium and it became accepted that only boys could play video games.
As of 2019, not much has been done to address what happened as a result of the Gamergate controversy, resulting in mostly silence across the entire gaming industry.
At the same time, the video games that were produced did little to discourage this way of thinking. In the early days of arcade machines and 8-bit pixels, the player character was often a hyper-idealized version of the male hero and the female character was, and still often is, hyper-sexualized, thus reinforcing the idea of her as an object or reward. This trend would eventually move to the side as more positive representations of female characters came to light, such as Samus Aran in “Metroid,” Jill Valentine in “Resident Evil” and Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider.” Unfortunately, while playable female characters became more prevalent over time, they were all hyper-sexualized in their own way at one point.
As more and more video games that objectified women were being released, the boys playing those video games became exposed to this. The more they became exposed, the more they saw it as simply being the rule rather than the exception. In the last few years, members of gaming press, predominantly women, tried to challenge this attitude so that the video game community could be more inclusive towards women (who make up at least 40 percent of all gamers in the United States) and that the video game industry at large could portray female characters in a less hyper-sexualized light. The attitude among the community of female characters as sex objects or less-than-equal to their male counterparts being called out would soon prove to be a thorn in the side of many male gamers.
Video games are for everyone to enjoy, not just reserved for young adolescent men.
This would lead to one of the most seathing online backlashes in video game and internet history: Gamergate which lasted roughly from 2014 to 2016. What started out as an attack on Zoe Quinn, an independent video game developer, by her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni and members of 4chan and Reddit, quickly developed into a mass attack on members of the video game press and developers alike. The people responsible for this campaign of hate and harassment, Milo Yiannopoulos, Candace Owens, Mike Cernovich, Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin of YouTube and thousands of 4chan and Reddit users to name a few, tried to justify this under the idea of “fighting for ethics in journalism.” Their actions, however, spoke differently as members of Gamergate engaged in some of the most extreme sexist, misogynistic, anti-semitic, homophobic and racist rhetoric imaginable. Death and rape threats were made towards Gamergate’s “enemies” almost every day, even including threats of mass shootings and terrorist-style attacks. Gamergate even made national headlines on ABC, NBC and the New Yorker, and was the talk of nightly shows like “The Colbert Report.” As 2016 came to end, the movement began to slowly fizzle out, with most of the perpetrators moving onto the next thing to hate. By 2017, the movement lost almost all relevance to the public discourse.
As of 2019, not much has been done to address what happened as a result of the Gamergate controversy, prompting mostly silence across the entire gaming industry. In a way, the Gamergate controversy scared video game studios into being apolitical, though it can be speculated that this was out of economic reasons rather than for fear of being the victim of reactionary backlash. In fact, game developers and industry leaders have turned themselves in knots trying not to be overtly political, or even acknowledging any political slant in their games whatsoever. Women still make up a good percentage of gamers, but because of what happened only a few years ago, very few are willing to be overtly inclusive to them as fellow fans of the entertainment medium. It is a fair assumption to make that most gamers don’t want to suffer the headache of another tidal wave like Gamergate. Video games are for everyone to enjoy, not just reserved for young adolescent men. The gaming industry and community must realize this.
Kelly Baker is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in journalism and film criticism. KB819687@wcupa.edu