Rampant sexism in gaming

John Swanson | Photo Courtesy
Women are often treated like intruders in the gaming community

Female gamers are an industry icon

I have been playing video games for as long as I remember. I grew up on Mario Kart Wii, one of my earliest childhood memories is finally getting first place instead of my dad. Growing up, I never stopped playing games and have been fortunate enough to have played a variety of different games like Subnautica, Animal Crossing and Overwatch. 

However, no matter what game I am playing, I am acutely aware that there is a lack of respect for women in the gaming community. Whether being cussed out and called horrific names for making the mistake of having my mic turned on, or being told that games with larger female demographics aren’t real games, or smaller snide comments like, “You didn’t really seem like the type of girl who would play games.”

It has been constantly ingrained into the minds of most gamers, specifically male gamers, that women don’t play games. And the ones who do? They’re whores.

It doesn’t matter if I make a good strategic move or if I make a bad call; as soon as it becomes obvious I am not male, every move I make from then on is questioned or incorrect. Even though as of 2019, Statista found that 46% of gamers in the U.S. are women, we are treated like intruders in the community despite the fact that we are almost half of it.

Sexual harassment is also a problem with stalking online and in-person; death and sexual assault threats seem commonplace. An Ohio study reported that among female and male Halo players with similar game scores, women received almost three times more negative comments than their male counterparts.

Women are also overly sexualized, designated to supporting roles and designed to appeal to the male gaze. GTA 5 for example, has a notorious cover of a blonde woman in a red bikini. While her male counterparts are often depicted wearing everyday clothing and working. 

Laura Croft, one of the most notable female game characters, is dressed in skin-tight and revealing clothing. Obviously, some women choose to wear revealing clothing, which is fine if that’s what they want. However, the clothing comes at the expense of practicality. Laura Croft, an experienced adventurer and explorer, probably wouldn’t wear booty shorts and a sports bra-like top on her way to make an archeological discovery.

The gaming community is one of the places where misogynistic ideals and sexism still thrive in the modern era and frankly, they can do better and need to do a better job holding one another accountable. It should be expected that when men see their male counterparts making disgusting comments about women and to women, they stand up and call them out for sexist behavior. 

However, events like this are uncommon and rare. Women don’t play Animal Crossing instead of first-person shooters because Animal Crossing is cuter than Halo. They avoid shooters because they are tired of being treated like filth.

Game developers also need to do a better job not treating their women as second class citizens and designing them to attract the attention of men. Female warriors famously wear little armor that is designed to look closer to lingerie than actual armor. They are also rarely protagonists and often need protection. When they are allowed to be a part of the action, they are generally still designated to supporting roles, like a healer. 

By alienating women, the industry is losing money. If they could learn to not be afraid of powerful women and learn to give women a seat at the table, they would easily turn out better quality games with less two-dimensional game characters.

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