Tits or Get The F*** Out: Sexism, Gaming and Rape Apologism

I’m not a gamer (unless you count wasting hours of my life on The Sims), so the gaming industry has never been of much interest to me. I’ve played a few of the bigger games, but as a rule, gaming isn’t for me. Initially, I didn’t have much interest in the games themselves, but as I’ve played a few, and as more of my friends become keen gamers, I began to want to play more games. But I still don’t want to take part in gaming. Why? Well, pretty clearly, it’s an industry and a culture in which I am not welcome.

I’ve taken more of an interest in reading about gamer culture recently, as it’s an industry my boyfriend is involved with and where his dream career lies. I read more about it, but the more I read, the more unsettled I become.

Gaming has a long history with being intolerant; famously, it is often guilty of racism, homophobia and sexism. If you’re not a straight, white male, gaming can be a very hostile environment. Certain behaviours become excused; abuse becomes “trash-talk”, which has always happened, and if you can’t handle it, well, then you shouldn’t game. Never mind if you enjoy the game or not. If you don’t enjoy being called a pussy, a slut, a faggot…don’t get involved in online gaming.

In June, at the E3 expo, Microsoft demoed a game called Killer Instinct. Two staff members, a man and a woman, demoed the game. During game play the man started to win. His “trash-talk” took a sinister turn. “Just let it happen and it will be over soon.” “You like this”. She replied, “I don’t like this.” This talk creepily mirrors the sort of language often reported by rape victims from their attackers. “It’ll be over soon.”
In July, Julie Larson-Greene was promoted to head Xbox, after 19 years with the company. Reddit exploded. How could a woman make good games? She’d ruin Xbox with games about knitting and flower arranging. At least she was eye candy. She wasn’t even bangable.

In the same month, a female player of a large MMORPG game wrote about her experiences with other players and what happened when she complained. She was a good player, but when she beat the male players, they responded with violent rape threats. The threats were clearly against the game’s rules, so she reported the players. The response from staff? It was her fault for playing under an obviously female name, and for winning too often. She should lose more to save the fragile egos of the male players. As an experiment, she changed her screen-name to one that was male-presenting. The threats stopped. She was congratulated on her skill in the game, she had some good natured banter, and nobody threatened to rape her. She changed her name back, and the threats began again. She started reporting them again. Eventually, the CEO of the company told her that he was “tired of hearing about this,” and banned her from the game. Her aggressors are still playing.

That’s just three examples from the front page of Google, when you search “sexism and gaming”. All within the last three months. Never mind the fact that female characters are often over-sexualised, if they’re there at all. That’s just responses from gamers and the game companies.

Now, I read a lot of feminist websites, and I often share the articles I read. I share them on Tumblr, where I get mostly positive responses, in the form of reblogs, if I get anything at all. I also share a lot of them on my personal Facebook. There, the response is less positive. I grew up with a few gamer guys (interestingly, the guys from my childhood are the ones who will join in with intelligent discussion about sexism in gaming, and are interested in being part of the solution). One of my oldest friends studied Game Design at university, and through him and my boyfriend, my circle of gamer friends has expanded. Unfortunately, this seems to mean I’ve opened myself to some pretty out-dated opinions. When I share these links on Facebook, if it involves gaming, without fail, one of them will comment to defend a lack of response from a gaming company, to explain that “trash-talk” is a part of gaming, to repeat the same appalling victim blaming that happens in the industry. By gaming while female, apparently, it is only to be expected that you will be called awful slurs due to your gender, that you’ll be sent messages with graphic sexual threats…and if you can’t handle that, you just shouldn’t play.
These guys speak from the position of male privilege. They do not understand the impact that this sort of response has. By shrugging your shoulders when a female player is threatened, the aggressor has his threat okayed by you. You’re not bothered, so he can do it again. When the game companies don’t ban the aggressors, their behaviour is validated and accepted. Eventually, the attitudes trickle out of the game and into the real world. A lot of gamers are young teenagers, and they hear and see these threats being accepted and begin to parrot the attitudes.
Never mind the fact that you have no idea who you’re talking to online. You make a rape threat you think is harmless game banter. But the girl you’re speaking to is a rape survivor. Your joke triggers a flashback, nightmares, a validation of what her rapist did to her. You’ve just told her that what he did is funny. A joke. Just a bit of harmless banter.
Rape threats online and their apologists (that’s you gamer guys who tell us to get over it) contribute enormously to rape culture, trivialising the experiences of sexual assault victims whenever it happens.

To be frank, I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of this attitude. I am sick to death of hearing from people I am friends with that this is a trivial matter, that it doesn’t matter, that it’s the fault of the women. I will not associate with those who perpetuate rape culture. For the first time last night, I unfriended someone on Facebook after some pretty appalling victim blaming. No more.

  • Jodie

    I’m not a gamer unless you count sonic on the Nintendo (I honestly would enjoy games about flower arranging) but this is the main reason I don’t play. Even girl gamers themselves are given the raw deal- if your a girl you’re obviously not as competitive/only play to attract men
    Bah I hate the whole thing 🙁

    Thank you for your comment- I’ve decided to do a degree in healthcare which I already work in 🙂 now I just need to be offered a place
    X

  • I was always appalling at Sonic. Give me a Playstation and Tekken any day. Seriously though, I don’t want any part of the industry really; the casual usage of that kind of language is awful. My boyfriend is playing online with a friend right now (funnily enough, the very same guy I removed from my Facebook for the sickening victim blaming), and just talked about wanting “to rape…I mean STOMP somebody.” This is my lovely, feminist ally boyfriend. At least he corrected himself, but that language is so ingrained in the gaming. Not for me, thanks.

    That’s great; good luck!

  • SJP

    I literally don’t understand how how harmless banter can turn into rape/death threats over something so trivial. It’s like with the Twitter users threatened with rape after suggesting that Jane Austen appear on the £10 note – so over the top it’s insane. I don’t have much experience with gaming but think this was a great article George x

  • This has always been my point; an excuse often given is that until recently, male gamers largely outnumbered female gamers (it’s much more evenly split now, although that is partly due to the amount of women playing social games on Facebook and such like). They’re used to the banter and they can take it. Of course, it’s not banter. Trash-talk is always going to exist; like in Sports. But there’s a difference between telling your opponent they suck and you’re going to trample them, and telling them you’re going to rape them.
    The fact is, the games industry is enormous; they need to start taking some responsibility. I have to say though, I’ve had some wonderful responses to this from my gamer guy friends on Facebook; one of the guys who often engages with me on this agreed that while he might think anything of being told something like this, he cannot understand how it feels to be threatened like that when you’re female. I’m counting that one as a victory!