Columns

The Feminine Critique: Women and Gaming

19 July 2016

Ribecca Di Lella’s electric blue fringe isn’t the only thing that makes her stand out in a room full of gamers. Di Lella is a woman, making her one out of only eight women attending a gaming demonstration that has drawn more than 50 men.

It’s a Friday afternoon at the University of Melbourne and the Society of Electronic Engineering (SEE) has hired out a lecture room for their weekly gaming meeting. Di Lella is unfazed by the chaos as boys bustle round the room yelling at their screens and wrestling with their consoles. The video game Yandere Simulator is projected on the whiteboard as the feature anime game of the week as chainsaws, daemons and dismembered limbs light up the screen. Gore, it seems, is the perfect way to unite the sexes.

“I’ve been gaming since I was 12 years old,” she says. “I didn’t get to play games before that because I got a lot of dolls instead.”

Di Lella’s gender might make her a part of the minority in the room but her prowess as an experienced gamer provides her with social capital.

“I know gaming is a boys’ club but I have never felt unwelcome here because I am a woman,” she says.

The Science student prefers interacting with gamers in a physical setting because of the risks involved in anonymous online gaming. According to Di Lella, the online gaming space is a place where she is made to feel most aware of her gender.

“The online world is a sexist environment where players are not held accountable for their actions,” she says.

The prominence of sexism in online gaming was brought to a head in 2014 during the Gamergate scandal. The controversy began when an ex-boyfriend of popular gaming developer, Zoe Quinn, published a blog about her alleged ‘promiscuity’. The blog went viral and anonymous online users developed the hashtag #Gamergate on Twitter to harass Quinn and other prominent female members of the gaming industry including Brianna Wu and media critic Anita Sarkeesian.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She describes online gaming as a ‘locker room’ environment where women are subordinated through trolling and anonymous sex-based attacks.

“If I look at you, it’s a lot harder to be awful to you than behind a computer screen,” Dr Rosewarne says. “That’s why we see different kinds of abuse online than offline. It’s hard because technology moves faster than legislation can. We look for a government response but it’s difficult to police the internet.”

The 2014 Gamergate scandal prompted Zoe Quinn to create support networks ‘Crash Override Network’ and ‘Online Abuse Prevention Initiative’ to victims of online harassment. The experience also encouraged Anita Sarkeesian to explore the relationship between trolls’ sexism in gaming on her video web series Feminist Frequency. The perseverance of women who have experienced online harassment has prompted more awareness of sexism in the gaming industry.  

The SEE group has been aiming to adopt this culture of open discussion by elevating its female members.

“We look out for each other,” Yen Fung says. “This club was founded by a girl. The President of the 2015 committee was a girl. Although there are less female to male members here, we make sure that our female members are treated with respect from the guys.”

Fung has held the position of Vice President of SEE since the beginning of the year, making her one of two women holding down senior positions at the club. The three other posts have been filled by men. Although the committee is able to police sexism and gender representation amongst their regular members, preventing gender discrimination amongst online users requires greater effort.

According to Dr Rosewarne, the lack of social and cultural demand in the gaming industry hinders change.

“Women are not represented equally in science technology, engineering and mathematics” Dr Rosewarne says. “It’s difficult for women to break into an industry dominated by men.”

Di Lella echoes Dr Rosewarne’s comments by highlighting two main issues that can challenge the objectification of female gamers.

“A huge problem is a lack of awareness surrounding sexism in gaming” Di Lella says. “But also, companies like Microsoft and Steam need to make it accessible to identify gamers and follow-through on reports of abuse.”

As the SEE meeting wraps up for another week, it makes for an example of how men and women can mix easily – and equally – in the world of gaming. However, sexism in gaming remains a prominent issue across the real and virtual world.  Although a blue fringe is a talking point in a room full of gamers, the gender of the person wearing it serves as a reminder of the harassment and discrimination women shouldn’t have to face when they game.