Why Being A Woman In Gaming Can, Sometimes, Totally Suck

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

I was about 6 when I started playing for the first time. My dad set up the PS1 in my sisters’ room, and we would play Crash Bandicoot Team Racing in two player mode for hours on end. Even when he wasn’t there, I’d select two player and lay his controller down so I could say I’d won (cause, you know, I was 6).

He started bringing home Crash games so we could play together, and we’d sit and collect wumpa fruit and battle horrifying insane kangaroos every now and then. I ended up playing all 3 original Crash games, and for a long time they were all I’d ever played.

Crash was always there to teach us the importance of Vitamin C.

A few years on, my cousin introduced me to Wind Waker, and got me hooked with the fact you could throw pots around the village to smash them, and that you could steal pigs and run around with them on your head. I moved up through my Game Cube, my DS and the family Wii up until my teens, at which point I completely fell off the wagon and abandoned all my old consoles.

That was until I left college, moved to university, and bought a PS4 in the student discount sales in freshers’ week. With a lot of friends who played games both on and offline, I felt like I’d neglected a huge part of my childhood and something that had brought me and my family so much joy.

I’d had friends who played COD and FIFA and a lot of other popular games, a lot of them online, but none of them drew my interest. Mainly because I knew everyone roasted each other and there was very much this “no one is safe” mentality, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having no confidence in my ability or knowledge I decided to wait till later.

I figured I’d stay offline; talk about the games I liked with my friends and avoid anything I didn’t want to hear.

I’d lost all my formative years not playing, so my skills weren’t the best, but I just played the games I felt I could and watched playthroughs of anything else I was interested in but didn’t have the perceived skill set for.

With a lot of male gamer friends and a Crash Bandicoot remaster, I thought I was going to enter a community as loving, carefree, and enjoyable as it was when it was just me and my dad on Saturday afternoons.

For the first few months I didn’t really notice much. I stayed in my Crash bubble, played Jackbox with my housemates and gathered some recommendations from my well-versed male friends that lived with me. I didn’t notice any major differences in my experience of the gaming community between me and my male counterparts for a few months or so.

The main thing I started to notice wasn’t anything harmful or upsetting, but just weird. The amount of shock when I expressed any interest in any game, like it was daunting for most men that I spoke to that I knew how to play Mario Kart, and even just their shock of me owning a console of any kind struck me as odd. Like I say, not harmful, just odd.

Mario, the paragon of toxic masculinity

Very quickly my interest grew, my consumption of gaming content and news spread to different platforms and I was starting to see more discussion outside my own circle. Still though, not many women about. Even my own female friends who enjoyed games stayed quiet about them until another woman brought it up. I felt like there was this weird air of caution around women playing games, it was somehow a really endearing trait, but once you admitted it there was something wrong with it.

Again, the lack of female presence didn’t really bother me, I just found it odd. I guessed it was just my corner of the internet, and that I wasn’t deep enough into the community to see any female content creators or any women discussing games on a bigger platform. I still didn’t play online, and my male friends were supportive and helpful, so I couldn’t find the issue. I kept going deeper, expecting I’d find a layer of women in gaming who are all engaging with their male counterparts and thriving in the community.

When I tell you I was wrong, I mean the most fucking wrong I have ever been in my entire life about anything. Finally finding female creators and contributors in gaming was like hitting a cesspool of sexual harassment, trolling and general misery. I felt like I couldn’t find any corner of the community where a woman hadn’t experienced harassment or danger on the internet purely for existing in that space and being female.

When you think you've found a toxic free community

Like I said, I knew gaming online was always a mine field, and you had to be aware of that if it’s a space you want to enter, but everything was just so vicious. Threats of rape, assault, death, doxing, and any other horrible thing you could think of were bouncing around daily. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why the backlash was so more harrowing and targeted when it was women in the forefront, but I decided to just back off and just go back to keeping it as a personal thing. But why the fuck should I have had to do that? Well, I shouldn’t have.

I wasn’t even a content creator, I didn’t have a platform (still don’t), so surely, I should’ve been safe, right? Wrong, dude, wrong. A few months later I was bored with my laptop and went into a game online. Not a high stakes game at all, just something light-hearted and fun. It was obvious from the start I’d joined a private lobby with some men who just needed another player to even stuff out. The game started and they all started talking amongst themselves, making private jokes.

I obviously didn’t mind; I just did my job in the game. A few minutes in I missed a prompt in the game, and they were not happy. One got immediately hostile, asking why the fuck I’d done that and some light stuff, until one of them noticed my female screen name, and said “Guys, it’s okay, she’s a woman, she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing.” After that they all joined in, making mega harsh jabs at me till I left the lobby.

To most people this is nothing, and it is nothing in the grand scheme, but my god it freaked me out.

After that, almost by design, there was a boom of female creators being public about their harassment online, and how it’s not fair when all women want is to be part of the community as equals. Even more recently, there’s full accounts dedicated to airing the abuse women face for just being in a voice chat online.

Some still think this image is abnormal. smh

Even with the awareness that most men who target women specifically are just bad gamers who feel pissed off and choose us as the outlet, it’s still a heinously unsafe environment. Speaking with my female friends who play games, most of them keep it personal, and the ones that are open about their interests in gaming are shot down by family, their friends, their significant others and even customers in their jobs.

Any interest you show is picked apart or dismissed until you’re a proper game enthusiast under their standards. I spoke to one female streamer in particular, and she kindly let me add this;

“I avoid going on public chat altogether to avoid the harassment of just having a female voice. If the game is going badly or I’m not doing my best, I get the harassment more so over my male friends. There’s the same issue in public servers. The overwhelming majority of misogyny in gaming comes from either young boys or bad gamers who see women as an easy target.
I don’t like fighting back because you get called hormonal or hysterical (like I’ve got no right to be mad about being called horrible things), but my male friends can bite back with no issue. I once had. To switch my name in a game for kids because I was playing with my female given name. I got way too many comments from people asking me to date them, asking to kiss me and touch me, and they would just attack me if I shot them down or ignored them. I love gaming when it’s with my friends, but it feels safer to avoid anywhere with strangers.”

My female friends and I, who are part of the gaming community, know that the few shitty men playing Fortnite and attacking random girls don’t speak for the many. I was apprehensive starting at RobotRepublic as the only woman, but the men here and men in my day-to-day life make me feel safe, included, and valued when discussing gaming and anything surrounding it.

I wouldn’t expect anything less, because I know the men we’ve encountered aren’t commonplace. And even though they aren’t commonplace, they’re the loudest, and if the good guys stay silent, they only get louder. These experiences for women online are not one-offs, they are universal, and they are usually terrifying and exhausting.

If you’re a man in the gaming community who wants to make your female counterparts safer, support them in their passion and call out creeps and arseholes when they make themselves known. If it happens enough, gaming will (one day) be an inclusive and safe community for anyone who wants to be part of it.

Want to relax with a wumpa fruit, pick up Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time

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