In the first post in this series, I just listed a bunch of factors that I think contribute to the current landscape of male-female relations in gaming communities. Some are basic psychological biases and rational fallacies that all people face. Some are selection effects that shape this particular environment. My biggest point was that by giving uncomfortable sexual attention and generating hostility, the male portion of gaming communities can actively deter many of the females it claims it would respect. You would have to want to be part of that environment in order to stay, which will generally screen for people who don’t mind getting lots of attention, or who get upset and angry by the state of relations and don’t mind engaging in argument.
In the second post, I tried to use a bit of imagination (and stories from various women I’ve met) to piece together a picture of what it’s like to be a female coming into gaming communities. I also tried to describe why the current scenes would only discourage women from playing the more visible they became, by adding countless pressures and problems on top of the ordinary ones of competition.
In the third part, I went back and talked about being male. About being focused on outputs, on actions, and how we evaluate and respect males in our culture (or, at least, American culture). The frustrations we can deal with, the things we try to live up to, and why many dialogues on improvement will backfire, given how most men feel and assess things.
So we’re at part four, which is meant to be about advice and solutions. It’s taken awhile to write (and rewrite), because I’m not really sure what to focus on.
With the influx of articles and discussions lately, there feel like too many points to address. One thing I think it bears saying is that, for better and for worse, issues of sexism in gaming communities are not systematic. They aren’t regulatory. If you’re a lady and you trash some dude in bracket, then go up to report your win, the TO never (well, hopefully never) says, “oh no, women can’t possibly advance past quarterfinals. I’ll just write that as a loss.”
The bracket programs we use don’t ask you your gender. The game itself doesn’t ask your gender when deciding if your attacks hit or miss, if an overhead connects, if you scout correctly, or if you land headshots. In a lot of ways, this makes gaming the perfect place to try and establish an egalitarian, merit-based community. That’s really where we should (and could) be. So that’s a positive.
On the other hand, it means we can’t really fix things easily with a new rule or a pen-stroke. Because rules invite interpretations, discriminations, loopholes, exploitations, and don’t cover the myriad of situations and people that might interact. I think we can all agree “hey, you shouldn’t sexually harass somebody,” but then you invite countless definitions of what harrassment means, people defending and taking sides and nothing getting resolved. Fundamentally it’s hard to disagree with the initial point, but it can so quickly spiral beyond the initial intent and became a dividing line, rather than a unifying beacon.
This is a social thing, which makes it personal, which makes it human, which makes it messy. Like I said, there are too many points to address. Too many viewpoints, too many unique experiences, too many possible arguments and counterarguments. I could always write a book that nobody would read, but that doesn’t seem like it will accomplish anything.
So rather than try and cover every conceivable base, my ultimate advice is actually really simple and hackneyed and boring. But I think it’s true, and I think at the end of the day it's the only thing you can really do if you want to effect this change.
Work on yourself.
In what way? In whatever way that you believe will create a community you want to see. The community is made of its people. It becomes whatever its people are. Meaning if you want a positive, respectful community, one that loves its game and celebrates its members and constantly moves in a positive direction? Be that person.
Do you want women to be part of your community, to play your game? Do you want the emphasis to be on people’s abilities and skills, rather than appearances or gender? Then always drive discussion in that direction. Do you want discussions to remain positive? Do you want people to generate and participate in hostile discussions in which nothing is achieved? Whichever you support through your actions is the one you will inevitably see more of.
Specifically for women… I don’t think it’s wrong to generate discussion on this subject. If I did, I wouldn’t have written four blog posts about it. But one of the biggest things you can do, right now, is discuss the games you play. Practice, improve, and demonstrate your passion for the games, the scenes, the content they generate. If we want to live in a landscape where gender is not the talking point, where it’s about the things we do and the people we become? Be active in talking about those other things as well.
I can appreciate that there’s often a fear or trepidation to discussing the games if you're one of the few women in your community. Because there will probably be condescending responses, sycophantic attention, weird messages on Facebook, people interrogating you on who you’re dating to decide if you’re a morally righteous female worth playing video games with.
But again, if we want to see strong ladies who can handle that? Who can rise above it? We need more women actively becoming those kinds of people, proving it can be done, and being role models for the ones who want to join the communities. Be the woman that draws those other women in.
For men, the advice is kind of the same. Ask yourself what kind of person you value becoming, what kind of person you want to see in your communities. If you want to be somebody that stays focused on the game, then do your best to ensure this is the way you behave. If you hate the idea of double standards, of women getting special treatment at the expense of men, then also be sure to adhere to that ideal in the other direction. Do you make assumptions of female behavior without proof? Do you hate it when women don’t talk about the game, but then discuss those women in non-game-related contexts? Again, if you have an ideal of behavior, then be hard on yourself in trying to live up to it. If anything, when you end up making arguments, it gives you a lot more credibility.
Don’t be that person that makes assumptions or excuses. Don’t be the person who says, “things would just be better if other people would do the work.” Work on yourself, at all times. If you want to see a certain kind of community, embody that community in your behavior. Don’t give attention where you don’t want attention given. Don’t promote behaviors you don’t want to see. It’s that simple, but it is also that difficult.
Does this mean we shouldn’t start conversations and raise awareness when people feel disrespected? No. I think the conversations are important. I think one of the cornerstones of a strong community is one where its members feel they can speak up if they see a problem, without being shouted down, ignored, and disparaged for having a dissenting viewpoint. Because if there is an issue in your community that needs dealing with, you want people talking about it until it’s solved. You can’t fix a problem you don’t acknowledge, you can’t get the community to acknowledge it without telling them it exists.
Then again, there’s also a point where more talk doesn’t do anything, where more talking and belaboring the point can add to the problem. It can seem as though the only thing you want to dwell on are problems. At that point, regardless of your gender, you have to ask: am I acting like the kind of person I want more of in my community? Do you want women playing this game, becoming skilled, handling sexists and pressures with positive confidence? Then show them it’s possible by being that woman. Do you want men not giving extra attention to those demanding it? Do you want to support the people with genuine interest and passion, rather than deter them? Do you want to make sure people only receive respect based on their actions and character? Create that environment by being that man.
Improve yourself. Be the kind of person you want to see more of. It won’t magically fix every problem in your community, but it has the benefit of being within your control. And if worse comes to worst and nothing changes, you’ll still be better off in the end.
Thanks for reading.