Dames and Video Games: Taking a Stand

Screenshot of someone messaging trash talk to another player

By Nikolas Williams

“Metroid” like most video games in the 1980’s Nintendo era was extremely challenging.

The sci-fi side-scroller (weren’t they all back then?) had you playing as a dude in a robot-like powersuit, with a hand-cannon mounted onto the right arm. His name was Samus, and guided by your hand, he blasted his way through hours of alien monsters, jumped and dashed past plasma beams, and searched for keys to finally arrive at the nefarious end boss, The Mother Brain.

After making her choke down some cannon fire the player is treated to the much deserved ending. You receive the usual fanfare of being told how great you are for bringing peace to the universe, but then something unusual happens.

You realize you made a mistake. The hero removes the powersuit and we see Samus is not a dude at all. There she stands in her 8-bit pixelated glory, waving the player goodbye before the credits roll and the funky 80’s electronic music plays.

For many gamers this was their first encounter with a significant female protagonist (and don’t you dare count Ms. PacMan).
Today there is a plentiful amount of female gamers out there. The 60/40 split in the men’s favor does make it a male dominated industry, but these numbers certainly make the difference smaller than one may have assumed.

Looking at the lack of female characters in games it is clear that this 40% is being underrepresented. Worse yet when they do appear they fall into a limited range of stereotypes.

Take for example “The Princess” who needs rescuing (she need not be a literal princess), or “The Kickass Babe” who shows up on the battlefield in an outfit comparable to a two-piece bikini.

I had the chance to chat with a couple of the founding gamer gals of the blog, “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.” For the spirit of hardcore video gaming, I will refer to them by their gamertags: “Jaspir” and “gtz.” As an online “Gears of War” player, Jaspir often received colorful messages in her X-Box Live mailbox.

Many of them, which attacked her gender, were unflattering to say the least. Refusing to let the cruel comments get the best of her, Jaspir, gtz, and a few other gamers with similar experiences, created the blog “Fat, Ugly or Slutty” (or FUoS if you want to be hip). The name comes from the top three insults delivered to lady gamers.

Obviously you’re a girl who plays video games so which are you? Fat? Ugly? Slutty? Maybe even all three! The blog gives them a chance to showcase these rude messages, and gives the audience a chance to laugh at (not with) the pathetic senders.

Gtz explains her take on the correlation between the fictional representation of females in video games and real life lady gamers, “Gaming culture has a strange relationship with women in all sorts of ways. Character representation issues (lack of women protagonists, battlekinis, combat heels), industry representation (low percentage of women making games), player representation (low visibility, sexual harassment, ‘casual/Farmville’ gamers, fake geek girls debates, real vs. perceived demographics in different genres of games). But they’re all connected! For example, having more women in the industry making games means that they can bring more well-rounded perspectives and input to characters in the games they create and then maybe more little girls can see themselves in those better characters when they see the game on the shelf. That’s probably the shortest way I can say that every little change to help normalize women in the gaming culture helps make other problems easier to solve.”

Back to the turbulent world of online gaming, here is just a sample of the messages female gamers receive that wind up being submitted, then blogged on FUoS:“fat ugly ass bitch.” “girls like to get beat during seks.” “get back in the kitchen please. thank you.”

In response to threatening inbox messages Jaspir keeps a cool head, “I have never taken anything said to me online personally. It just doesn’t make sense to let complete strangers that don’t know me at all try and bring me down.”

Why all the online aggression? A pair of professors, Anastasia Salter and Bridget Blodgett, writing for The Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, have this hypothesis, “Female gamers, by their very participation within the public of gaming, act to transgress their traditionally coded roles and interests. The perceived transgressions are met with hostility from those invested in the hypermasculine identity and its dominance of the space.”

I’m willing to wager that the majority of my fellow male gamers are decent people and are in fact the antithesis of this “hypermasculine” crowd.

Jaspir says, “Most men are able to play video games peacefully with women! And it’s not always men who aren’t able to. I’ve played with women before that were just as hateful as men, and I think that just comes from the fact that people are able to hide on the Internet and it makes them a little braver.”

I often fear the good folks’ voices may be drowned out by the few, the loud and the proud gathering of idiots. A verse from William Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” pops into mind, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Don’t be afraid to speak up if you see someone being harassed online of any gender. It could be something as simple as saying, “Eeew, dude that’s gross. You’re gross. Chill out.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum don’t be too eager to play (what PUoS calls) the “White Knight” persona either. Viewing female gamers as flowers to be protected and coddled isn’t any more helpful. Balance people, we’re talking balance here!
Of course, remember no matter how fanciful the world you’re playing in is you’re dealing with real people. That is not just some disembodied female voice coming from an online round of “Call of Duty,” that is a human being, not some fat, ugly, slutty, mythical beast on the other side of the world that is impervious to hurt feelings.

On a cheerier note don’t forget to “game on” as there are some fun, positive experiences to be had in the video game industry, a business that has grown so big it financially outperforms Hollywood on a regular basis. The FUoS bloggers aren’t bitter, and are gaming on just right.

Gtz still plays hardcore, “I just started playing Psychonauts! Crazy, right? I have to pick up Borderlands 2 again, but I’ve been putting it off. It’s because I know that when I play it I get sucked in for hours longer than I meant to play… a game that’s too fun—a good problem to have.”

Jaspir, in the meantime, looks forward to the future, “Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a diehard Gears of War fan, so I’m still getting in some Gears of War 3 before Gears: Judgment drops next month! I can’t wait. I’m also really looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V as well as The Last of Us.”

Check out this hilarious video created by FUoS which teaches dames the rules to gaming online.

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