If you read part 1, it was mostly just a description of some facts, factors, tendencies, along with inferences and interpretations on my part. Now I want to look at how those things interact and yield many of the problematic issues we see. Much of this post attends to the female perspectives and experience, based on my own observations as well as numerous conversations with different women involved in gaming.
It’s meant to explain why the environment looks the way it does. How does it look? What are the characteristics of the current gaming male-female interactions? These are the ones that jump out to me.
- Small female attendance relative to male attendance, and a corresponding lack of high-level female players.
- Women feeling creeped out and/or disrespected by males at tournaments and events.
- If you ask them, some males will assert that women are either there for the attention, or there to preach a crazed feminist agenda (and also get attention).
- If they aren’t there for some agenda, it’s purely to socialize and hang out with friends, and not to improve.
- Females who complain are primarily told that the problems don’t exist, or they should just deal with them.
- Lots of arguing.
How’d we get here? This is my take on it. Some points before I begin:
I’d like to establish that many of the issues I’m talking about are not behaviors arising from active misogyny. These things can just as easily arise from the actions of well-intentioned people. Which, funnily enough, refers to most everybody. Most people believe they are acting well, acting according to moral standards, and acting based on reality. We are influenced by how we are raised, by our culture, by our experiences, and then a dose of free-will and the attempt to do right (by our definition of what that means). Some people become upset, frustrated, angry, and jaded, but few people set out with the intention “let’s be horrible to some other human beings today."
The perceptions and behaviors don't arise from nothing. My goal, with this whole series of posts is to detail the factors that lead to the current landscape by considering both points of view. By understanding those factors, we can turn our attention forward to changing things for the better.
Last of all, I’m going to bring up sexual attractions and relationships a lot because it’s one of the biggest elephants in the room when talking about men and women in any context, and it’s particularly prevalent here.
The main question that’s on our minds is this:
Why Do Women Often Feel Uncomfortable Around Male Gamers?
Rather than talk initially about really blatant discrimination--”you are an inferior human being because of X, and here is why”--or clearly cut cases of physical harassment and threats, I’d like to address a much fuzzier middleground. I want to talk about the smaller-scale behaviors that quickly add up, making many females uncomfortable in gaming communities. This constant, generalized, atmospheric discomfort creates a wide entry barrier and makes most girls not want to return after their initial experiences. It's also worth nothing that this discomfort often occurs independent of any active attempts by men to disparage or harm women and is a by-product of other factors.
This discomfort barrier is, I believe, the primary reason many women don’t want to be part of gaming communities. Moreover, I'm going to argue that this discomfort barrier creates a selection effect that influences what kinds of women do make it into the community. Combined with other factors, this conceivably leads to more issues.
So let’s talk about this discomfort, the behaviors that frequently cause them, and where they (might) come from.
Some Gamers Lack Extensive Female Experience
Remember what I said about male introvert dominance in gaming? Well, time you spend in your room playing 80 hour-long JRPGs or practicing combos is time you don’t spend going out and meeting girls. There’s an opportunity cost to doing everything.
You are probably familiar with the term “social skills.” All skills come from experience and practice. A hefty amount of comfort and confidence in any field comes from getting out there, failing, learning from failure, growing stronger, and learning more about yourself. You also develop confidence, knowing that if things go wrong, you will only bounce back stronger, and believing in your abilities.
Like any skill, dealing well with women comes from meeting and interacting with them. And the truth is, for a majority of gaming’s history, the more passionate you were about playing games, the less likely it was you’d go out and meet anybody, let alone women. So it’s not a stretch to say that the extensive pursuit of gaming can lead to lower levels of female experience. Hence you will have lower social skills in this regard, which leads to less confidence, more nervousness, and more discomfort.
This leads to some interesting (i.e., crappy) results.
Discomfort Breeds Discomfort
Remember rarity value? Well, the novelty of having a female around at all makes her stand out. If she’s interested in the same thing as you, this typically male passion of gaming? That makes her stand out more. So now, merely by existing, she claims a fair amount of attention. The inexperience in dealing with women usually makes the male nervous. So it’s not that uncommon for guys involved in gaming to give a female lots of nervous attention.
Before somebody thinks I’m calling the majority of gamers awkward dorks, please understand that I'm not. I don’t believe I’m necessarily describing the majority. But for reasons I stated above, I think this number is probably higher among dedicated male gamers than it would be elsewhere. I don’t know if it’s a majority; in fact, I doubt it is.
Discomfort breeds discomfort. When the people around you are nervous, it tends to make you nervous. More than that, having lots of people paying attention to you can be unpleasant and nerve-wracking in itself. It’s even worse if you believe that the main reason is just because you’re a girl, and not because of anything else about you. Which is probably true, since you are going to be one of (if not the) only woman there, and the novelty of being a female with dwarf your other traits.
And amazingly, it still finds a way to get worse.
Most Sexual Attention Towards Women Will Be Given Poorly
Unwanted sexual attention is uncomfortable for just about everybody. Sometimes I’m jealous of women because, in the current social landscape, they do much less approaching and pursuit than men. It seems nice--sit back and wait for your future significant other to ask you out. Easy, right?
Then it occurs to me that, if I were in a girl’s shoes, I would not really be deciding who approached me. I would have no control if it was a guy I actually liked, or somebody who scared and creeped me out. As for women who go out and approach guys? There are lots of unkind names for women that are too proactive when it comes to dating. The incentives are stronger for passive behavior. And besides, nobody likes rejection anyhow, so when you combine those factors, women really don’t want to take the approach risk. Most men don't, but if you're female? Risk being called a slut and getting rejected? No thanks.
No worries, though. Just reject the guys that do approach you until the right one shows up. Sadly, this is difficult because of yet more cultural factors that influences male behavior when they are trying to convince you to date them.
That’s right: convince. Are you familiar with the term “game?” As in, “guy’s got no game”? This concept exists because of a fundamental belief that influences how men frequently approach women. It’s not one we individually develop with any kind of intent. It’s one that somehow gets ingrained in us, which is this: you must say and do just right things to persuade a girl to date you, and if you don’t, you will fail. There is a corollary to this, which is if she isn’t attracted to you, once you say and do the right things, she will be. The other corollary is it doesn’t matter who you are, doing the right things can get you anybody (unless they're "out of your league" in which case no, you just aren't good enough to deserve them at all. How nice). Why do we believe these things? Lots of reasons that I'll go into later.
This transforms many social interactions into a performance with passing and failing elements, one that affects both genders. Look at the pick-up communities with their rules and techniques, look at women’s magazines with rules about when to text and when it’s “okay” to wear what. How many minutes should pass before getting her phone number? Uh oh, you waited too long, you’re in the friend zone! It’s tough, especially if you’re a man who feels he has to initiate everything or he’ll be single forever, and you're also constantly receiving helpful advice that lets you know how many millions of ways you can fail.
Remember when I said last post that, culturally, men are heavily defined by their output? What job do you have, how much do you make, are you a success? That is another way of saying men identify themselves heavily with what they do and the results that follow. This can mean a lot of things, but one of the biggest ones is this: when it comes to women, rejection is tantamount to failure. If the girl doesn’t go out with you, you screwed up. You were not smooth enough, you did not have enough game, you did things wrong, you botched it, and now you are a failure. But don’t worry, here are some techniques to make sure you succeed next time. Wait, you didn't succeed? What's wrong with you?
Failing, especially in relationships, feels terrible. But there’s a handy compromise: if you never directly ask her out, she can never directly refuse you. If things don’t work out, the other guys can’t judge your failure. Do things in the right way, and you can avoid rejection while always gauging results and looking for signals, hoping that some indistinct behavior will tell you “you’re getting warmer.” After all, when you see a guy who’s socially smooth, he’s able to get phone numbers and guide conversations without obviously doing so. He has plausible deniability on everything! The “so you came to this tournament with your boyfriend?” line is an attempt to be this guy. Spoilers, the guy is generally not interested in meeting your boyfriend, unless hopefully it’s the next time he looks in a mirror. And also spoilers, if the girl has ever interacted with men in her life, she can guess why you’re asking.
I digress. What does this whole thing lead to?
Well, if you’re a girl? The guy is trying to say and do the right things to make the female interested in him; this can feel remarkably fake, which in turn feels manipulative. In gaming communities, where men are more likely to have limited female experience, he’s more likely to be nervous. He’s doing things very indirectly, so though you may suspect he’s hitting on you, you can’t really be sure. This means you can’t just come out and reject him without looking like a mean bitch. If he is just trying to be your friend, you would feel (and appear) horrible and egotistical for assuming.
He’s looking for reasons to be around you since you are drawing his attention just by being female; often, he’s using some dual reason to get near, letting him maintain plausible deniability. And he’s probably staring at you a bit (nerves and inexperience make this a bit more likely) while trying to pretend he isn’t, so that’s a bit awkward too. Guys nervously trying to run indirect and inexperienced game on you, constantly following you around just because you’re the only girl there? Where can I sign up?
If you’re not interested? If he isn’t getting the signals he wants? That’s okay. He just hasn’t figured out the right approach yet. There are guys out there clicking on links like “Get Out Of The Friend Zone Today In 3 Steps!!” because they are still looking for the right things to say to the same girl for years.
This creates an environment of extremely uncomfortable attention. It doesn’t have to be every guy at your tournament or convention or LAN party or arcade or whatever. It doesn’t have to be a majority. It just has to be enough guys that you don’t want to deal with it anymore. Everywhere you go, unless you actually do have a boyfriend hanging off your arm every moment (and even that might not be enough) you’ll be dealing with unwanted sexual attention. So the question is: why would you want to?
The Selection Effect
What could make you want to stick around? Well, if you’re a girl who dislikes receiving constant uncomfortable sexual attention, not much. When you wonder “should I join this scene?” awkward experiences like I described above would probably tell you “no.” Hence, I believe this is where a selection effect comes into play. For a girl to make it past the discomfort barrier, it would require at least one of a few things.
--She has a solid, core social group around her that she trusts to make sure her experiences are positive.
--She actually enjoys receiving all this attention for one reason or another, and is happy to take it where she can get it.
--She sees the behaviors and factors deterring her and women like her, and sticks around to change things.
--She loves the game so much and is so determined to get out there and get better she will put up with unwanted attention and discomfort indefinitely.
Remember the perceptions of women that I stated earlier? It is perceived by some men that women are 1) there for attention, 2) crazed feminists trying to ruin gaming and control them, 3) only there to hang out and not because they like games, or 4) some combination of the above. And now we’ve hit the major point of this post: the majority of women that pass the discomfort barrier will appear to match up to the stereotypes of women in the gaming community. Or to phrase it differently, the current environment ensures that the most visible, remaining female members of the community will cater to the stereotypes. The whole thing is rigged.
Novelty and rarity, combined with a higher rate of male inexperience (and some other stuff) will ensure girls tend to receive lots of awkward attention from male gamers. If you have ever played an FPS or MMO when a girl’s voice comes over the chat, you will know this is virtually inevitable. And if a woman doesn’t want it? She’ll leave, or hide the fact she’s female. But if she does enjoy it? She will capitalize, and the stereotyped and oft-lamented “attention whore” rises to prominence. Of course, the ratio of attention-grabbing females is extremely low compared to men giving them attention. This suggests to me that such women represent a rather low percentage of actual women out there. However, their high visibility (I mean, they are taking your attention, for better or worse) makes them seem more commonplace than they really are.
Let’s move away from that. Let’s say you don’t want the attention for attention’s sake. If you don’t enjoy a situation, you have three options: leave, stay and put up with it, or stay and try to change it. If you try to change it with posts and articles and arguments, you will probably end up in debates. Some guys will agree and argue on your behalf. Some will stay quiet. Some will fight against you, thinking that you’re stomping into their playground trying to change the rules of the game.
Remember what I said last post about debate polarization? It doesn’t matter if you’re extreme or not. By taking a stance against something, like actively malicious misogyny, in the minds of people viewing the debate you automatically and associatively inch closer to the other extreme (for instance, active misandry). There isn’t really a way to do it right that doesn’t cause this associative shift to happen. Partially, this is because mild, moderate, reasonable voices tend to get ignored. But also because the process is so sneaky and automatic. The more you argue and battle, when your face comes to mind it will always be in the context of a feminist argument. The perception of you will shift, and soon you will have vocal detractors where none existed just because you started speaking at all.
I mean, you might be an extremely misandrist feminist trying to game the system for your aggrandizement and gain. These people do exist; manipulators of both genders have existed throughout all human history. But it’s also a fact that extremists are rarely the most numerous, just the loudest.
Let’s move away from those though. Let’s say you don’t want attention, and you don’t want to get involved in internet arguments. You just want to show up, have a good time, and play the game. You might still stick around in the community if you have an insulating support group. The people you always play with, the ones you trust, the ones that make the experiences worthwhile. But while such a behavior is totally reasonable and fine (and goes completely unremarked upon if you’re male), it only adds to the notion that you are just there for social reasons. Ignore that most people don’t travel and compete on their own, and that almost all players have some attachment to some part of the community. You see a girl sticking with a group? Obviously, she’s just there to hang out. After all, she's only sticking to her group! She's not even going over to meet people. Not everybody is going to come watch you play to find out, so the assumption will stand, the stereotype reinforced. Besides, if they do watch you play, they’re just giving you attention that some will later blame you for clearly wanting.
These stereotypes are not only reinforced by a selection effect, but also by visibility; the people who get your attention will frequently be the ones demanding it. So that means the ones remembered will be the ones making the most noise. Whether someone seeks attention for the sake of having it, or because she wants to draw attention and awareness to a cause, those people will dominate the field of perception. The quieter ones keeping their heads down and just playing the game? They’re too busy playing the game and keeping quiet to get noticed! It's nothing but feminists and attention-whores.
This leads to the worst part. For gamer males who don't frequently interact with women, those visible, attention-grabbing stereotypes will represent the majority of their experiences. They will extrapolate from those experiences, and shift steadily to more discriminatory beliefs without even trying to do so. Because who do you imagine comes to mind when you think “female gamers?” The quiet ones, playing and practicing because they only care about getting good? Or the ones with the most active Twitch channels and highest Youtube views, whether for attention or causes?
It's the visible ones, and the discomfort barrier screens for them, while other factors practically ensure they are not received well.
Lack of Female Professionals
But if we assume that such women--ones playing and practicing and quietly, dedicated solely to improvement--do exist, why aren’t there any female pros? Or why are there so few? Some will argue biological reasons. I’m not a neuroscientist or biologist, so I won’t bother speculating. Technically, there is no reason that the universe has to make genders equal to another when it comes to playing competitive video games. It’s a pretty well known fact that life isn’t fair, so maybe this is just one of the ways that manifests. Maybe women really can't stack up to men. I don’t know.
But, let's just assume that this isn't true, and females do have the capacity to contend at the pro level. You still have tease out several other factors that are still in the way before you're likely to see one. Let’s do so.
Consider fact that there just aren’t that many pros at all. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry with a massive audience. Video games are played by countless people daily. So if you take the ratio of pros and experts to non-pros and non-experts, and you combine that with the ratio of men to women? And you factor in that women who may have had the capacity to play at a professional level are incentivized to leave before they get good thanks to the discomfort barrier? Your odds of seeing a female pro are low, just by playing the numbers game.
In order to become one, you need to weather the discomfort barrier constantly. Few people are willing to do so for any reason. If you are willing to weather it, get ready, because the better you get, the worse the discomfort becomes.
Remember rarity value? Novelty effects? Imagine being one female amid a hundred guys, and how big of a deal it is that you share the same interest. Now imagine that she is better than everybody. Novelty goes up again. Now she travels and plays nationally. Multiply the old number of guys by thousands, tens of thousands. They already place high enough value on you just for touching the controller or keyboard and playing their game while being female. Then multiply that by sexual factors. Then multiply that by the way people inherently add value to people with skills and abilities. Multiply that by how drawn people of both genders are to celebrities, to pore over all details. The attention is massive. More than enough of it will be sexual.
This hypothetical woman, who has moved past the initial discomfort barrier to keep improving? More guys will learn who she is and hit her up on Facebook. More guys will want to sit down and play games with her (and, odds are, this will increase the number of times she will experience uncomfortable sexual approaches). People will constantly talk about her, her appearance, they will worship her for being female or criticize her for being overrated. Some will automatically criticize her for being something she’s not, because they associate her with other stereotypes (it’s hard to believe, but such unreasonable people exist). Most criticisms and discussions will center around her gender.
Without all the sexual elements, being a celebrity and professional is pressuring enough as it is. If you were that hypothetical woman, you’d need an iron skin that just about nobody has in order to handle it with perfect flair and panache. And you would need that perfect flair, because any negative response would only fuel the flames of detractors and stereotypers. To beat the game and the opponents and the stereotypes and not lose your damn mind, you would be a deity of skill and self-control.
So why bother? Just to play a game? How much do you have to love the game, just how determined do you have to be to handle that kind of pressure, attention, and response, to decide it’s worth it? It’s damn near superhuman, regardless of your gender. Either that, or you have to completely not care at all about other people’s opinions, an attribute which is also highly uncommon.
There aren’t a lot of women in gaming. Some will stick around because they enjoy the attention that they’re getting from men and exploit it. Some will stick around because they want to change the things they see as wrong. The ones that stick around and don’t seek attention, don’t try to argue a cause (no matter how reasonably they do so)... well, you won’t hear from them, because they’re busy playing games. We can’t just tell women to “deal with it;” it’s unreasonable to tell them to shut up and handle a thousand extra variables making things more unpleasant and pressuring, especially if many arise from male behaviors. After all, if we’re actually striving for an egalitarian community, then women should only have to deal with the same things men deal with. And they receive unfair standards and demands on their behaviors just so they can stick around and still experience the same problems they always have. It’s not a surprise that most don’t want to.
But this series of posts isn’t just about the female perspective. It’s not meant to tell men “it’s your fault for being creepy and sexist, you jerks.” I don’t think it’s anywhere as easy as that. I don't think it helps. Being male comes with its own batch of issues and problems, many of which go undiscussed and unacknowledged. If we want to become aware and egalitarian, we need to address the drawbacks and difficulties of the male perspective.
The next post is about discussing those issues. It will also be about some of our options for overcoming issues and where I think the community can go from here.
Thank you for reading. See you on Tuesday.