What It’s Like For a Girl Gamer
The gaming world can be cruel to women. Let’s mute the trolls.
So what needs to happen? The industry is beginning to use technology to mute, silence, and ban offending players, making online gaming a safer space for everyone. Game developer Bungie recently introduced “auto-muting” in Halo, which means that once enough players individually mute an offender, he/she is automatically muted by the game. At this year’s Penny Arcade Expo consumer and developer shows in late August, a number of panels will be convened to flesh out those very solutions. Fat, Ugly or Slutty co-founder and panelist Grace (who usually goes by her handle, _gtz_) is inspired by developers’ anti-harassment tools and hopes that the players themselves will catch up: “We can find ways to harness the power and passion of the community to police itself; let the community decide and declare what is acceptable using technical tools.”
Photo by Krystal Herring.
Women can also organize. Thankfully, some of us are finding solidarity in co-ed and all-female gaming groups, or clans. The Frag Dolls are one such group, an all-female collection of gamers sponsored by Ubisoft, who play games professionally and competitively as well as represent Ubisoft and its games at various industry and consumer events. As part of the Frag Doll Cadettes Academy, young female gamers who are looking to expand their gaming horizons and get a foot into the industry door are mentored by their big sister Frag Dolls and sent to the same events. Women who have gone through the ranks as either Frag Dolls or cadettes often find themselves in industry positions soon after. I am proud to count myself as one of them.
Within the industry, the hiring of more women and minorities is an oft-cited solution. “Often, when I play through new games, or check out previews, it feels like the industry is making games for itself—for the demographic of the average developer, a white straight dude in his 30s,” Alli Thresher, game designer and writer, recently told me. “With more diversity in the industry, this can only continue to change and improve.” It’s not that women necessarily want current game types to go away entirely, of course. Or that we want all female protagonists. It’s about wanting healthy evolution for the industry we love. Thresher witnessed firsthand the potential created by the increased visibility of women like her: “A few months ago I sat in on a high school career day. The last group of kids to ask questions was made up entirely of young women. My hope is that those girls aren't discouraged or deterred from entering this field.”
Oh, and one more solution that everyone can implement: something a professor of mine once called a “politics of fun.” Women and minority and LGBT gamers should turn on their microphones, dress up their avatars however they see fit, and make the online gaming space their own. Most importantly, have fun. HAVE FUN. And be loud about it. Hopefully, the sound of our fun can begin to drown out the sound of the trolls.
Elisa Meléndez is a gamer, Frag Doll cadette, and Ph.D. student of sociology at Florida International University in Miami, where she also fronts a rock band, Crimson.