[Editor’s Note: The title of this piece has been changed to reflect our new inclusivity policy. The link will remain the same.]
“I bet this was written by a woman.”
I remember my friend and I visiting a GameStop two years back to check on their preorders. While waiting, I had picked up a Game Informer and flipped to a top ten list of attractive characters who are men. It’s not very common to read a gaming article that presumes more than a straight dude reaction when it comes to sexuality, nor treats that attraction as something purely humorous (“I’d go gay for this guy! Just kidding, no homo.”). When my friend took out her wallet to pay, the two men behind the counter took a glance at what I was holding. The muttered rebuke of one had she and I momentarily speechless.
In hindsight, we really should’ve canceled that preorder.
After a while, each little flick to the proverbial nose starts to feel like a punch to the face. The “Are you on your period” when you show emotion during a match, the “Suck my dick” in online play, the unwanted come-ons during a social gathering, the skin-crawlingly specific threats to your person in a tweet—it’s all a gradual smother of a blanket you don’t even know is wrapped around you until you snatch a breath of fresh air. For the sake of brevity, let’s call that repeated peep out of the blanket ‘self-care.’
The women’s perspective saw many fascinating developments in the game industry during 2014. Everything from tactless commentary by leading developers to entire e-movements dedicated to the harassment and silencing of marginalized voices slammed one more nail into the coffin of women’s confidence and security. On the other hand, 2014 released multiple impressive games starring lady protagonists and prominent supporting lady characters (here’s winking at you, Never Alone and Inquisition), a surge of activity in feminist communities, and a flood of positive media and studio attention in favor of diversity.
Phew! How does one take care of themselves when everything attempts to whittle you into a bunch of curly little feminist pieces?
1. Knowing Your Limits
In the age of the internet, where sinking into an hour-long e-argument is too easy once logical fallacies start to fly, you need to know when to call it quits. You will never convince someone of your humanity when their mindset going in is to figure out how sensitive your bruises are and where to subsequently grind a finger. I’ve had my fair share of long-winded ‘debates’ online where the intent is not to learn, but to win.
Casual slurs, defense of one’s already protected social status, and demands to be educated (while ignoring many educational comments) are attempts to control the conversation. It makes you waste your time and exert your emotional energy in a fruitless endeavor that won’t be reciprocated with the same care: a five-paragraph comment and ten links to funded sources will be glanced over every single time. While they are clever tactics (“Don’t you want me to stop being terrible to you and people like you? Dance for me!”), they’re easy to expose once you acknowledge them as red flags instead of olive branches.
When I respond to ignorant and/or inflammatory commentary on social issues, it’s mainly for the benefit of others who come onto the page to read, and I will always back out once the replies go far enough into the deep end. Stressing myself out overmuch at my computer isn’t my usual forte anymore, especially when there are puppy videos I could be viewing instead.
2. Picking Your Battles
“Anita Sarkeesian is a scam artist.” “What’s the big deal if women are drawn sexy?” “I’ve never met a girl gamer before.” “I bet this was written by a woman.” These are just a few of the microaggressions off the top of my head I’ve heard when entering a space men have tried to craft as uniquely theirs. Half the time, I’d have something to say. The other half of the time I’d wonder: wait, is this actually worth it? While it’s important to know when to step back and call it quits, sometimes you need to know when not to engage at all.
Rebuking your family members at dinner or calling out your boss at a meeting aren’t always worth weeks of passive-aggressive backlash or getting your hours mysteriously cut. Gaming misogyny’s fun flavor shares many similarities: if you feel keeping your mouth shut during a tournament will do more for your heart rate than telling the guy next to you that programming actually used to be considered women’s work, then go for it. You are not weak or a pushover for weighing your options in the face of sexism, nor are you doing it wrong if you choose to call out said guy publicly.
Sometimes I like to embarrass a dudebro in a crowded room, keeping my humor just sharp enough to make onlookers more confused than irate at the obvious feminist. A friend to weather the blowback with me is also a plus. Other times, I actively shut out whatever was said in favor of another hour of being relaxed and buzzed. Only trial and error will figure out what works for you and, if you’re here reading this, you’ve likely already got a foundation to work off of.
3. Strength of Community
Society at large is not going to give you a space, so you have to craft one yourself. Number three should already be apparent—you’re on FemHype! We talked about knowing one’s limits in the face of adversity as well as acknowledging when to never start. Now how about just remembering that you’re not alone in all this?
I can’t stress enough how much the combined creativity and kindness of women who game has done to help me. Every time I had doubts about whether or not to take the plunge and start getting active in games writing (thanks, GG!), I thought about how much their collective art, articles, and good ol’ fashioned humor has meant to me. They validated my anger when I was at the risk of finding it petty and unnecessary like men did. They took the heat so others coming into the industry could have it a bit easier. They were there—no matter how hard the mainstream gamer populace tried to combat it.
Anita Sarkeesian, Mattie Brice, Katherine Cross, Brianna Wu, Carolyn Petit, Zoe Quinn, Tanya DePass, The Mary Sue, Bitch Magazine, those hilarious gals on Twitter, the women filling up less than half of their classrooms at tech and animation schools, the young girls with brilliant ideas hatching in their heads: you all inspire me. If you are unfamiliar with some of the people and sites I’ve named, check them out. You’ll be inspired, too.
4. Put Your Time & Money Where Your Mouth Is
A game is not immediately worth ditching because of sexism. Hell, sexism is practically in the very air you breathe. It’s more reasonable to approach the change you want with a balanced scale: laying down boundaries and consistently supporting what you actually want to see.
Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, and Indiegogo are just a few places where you can find women-created/lady-starring games. You might’ve heard of Transistor and Never Alone. I have my eye on Steam’s Gravity Ghost as well as the recently funded Kickstarter Sunset in particular. AAA titles and popular MMOs are, most of the time, not the places you usually turn to for representation (though some major studios, like Bioware and Gearbox, have made concentrated efforts to be inclusive). Smaller development groups and crowdsourcing are affordable and more fruitful alternatives I highly recommend.
If you don’t have money to spare, plug what you like on a social media account. No Twitter or Facebook? Share with your friends next time you get together. Send a positive email to the developers. Go to one of the smaller panels instead of the big budget extravaganza at the next convention or gallery you attend. Draw some fanart and give what you love a little free advertisement. However your voice sounds, it will only make the choir richer.
‘One of the boys’ and ‘performance anxiety’ are rites of passage for lady gamers. You’re hunching on the floor with a few friends in front of Super Smash Bros. when men start shit-talking and the thought crosses your mind: “If I lose, will they attribute that to all girls?” Buying a game at a store. “Please don’t assume I’m getting this for my boyfriend …” Playing in online co-op. “Don’t hit on me, don’t hit on me, don’t hit on me …”
To reconcile, some of you decide to play along with men’s territorial pissing contests in order to enjoy yourself, laughing uncomfortably at objectifying comments to keep the pressure at bay. Some of you opt-out entirely and avoid situations that could cause embarrassment, declining invites and even self-depreciating before others get the chance. “Oh, I’m no good at these games.” While I was fortunate enough to grow up in a supportive environment, I still had the occasional desire to prove myself when I noticed I was the only girl in the room.
A good friend of mine doesn’t share her gender on World of Warcraft and prefers not to interact with players outside of dungeon raids. For her, the benefits of a relaxing handful of hours grinding and exploring take precedence. While she stays silent knowing full well the blowback she’s likely to get—an effective tactic—she is nonetheless reconciling with her situation and still putting her enjoyment as the highest priority. I could stand to learn from her when my blood gets boiling!
To all the current and aspiring women game designers, illustrators, programmers, and journalists: so many want to see your work. Like, I can’t stress this enough. Skate past the muck of virulent comments sections on major game websites and -chan threads and you’ll find women in the same boat as you are, dealing with the same shit you are, wanting to make the same things you do. Myself included.
Nobody (at least, nobody without a grain of empathy) will judge you for steering clear of the industry and pursuing something similar or completely different. To reiterate: I think about it. A lot. Too damn much, in fact. It’s infuriating how effective the tactics of squalling manchildren are and the very real terror their temper tantrums instill in you every time you open your mouth. It’s all you can do not to quote “Bohemian Rhapsody” when a plea for basic decency is met with a flood of Twitter harassment. Is this the real life?
But just know that there are people who want to talk to you and swap ideas and stories. There are safe spaces online for you to showcase your work and share your thoughts. Blogs are free. Commenting accounts are easy to access. And we are here whenever you are ready.
Breathing is a therapeutic skill—trust me, no new-age hippie nonsense here—that aids in counteracting the physical and emotional microtears that compound over time in response to constant pressure. There are benefits to inching down your stress past the flooding level, including reducing irritability, improving your sleep patterns, counteracting nausea, and preventing long-term conditions like heart disease and a weak immune system. For example, I only recently found out that my teeth-grinding habit when I slept was a side effect of stress!
While I’m well-versed in coping strategies (thanks, cognitive behavioral therapy!), it doesn’t make me infallible. My chest still tightens when I’m being confronted by a sexist jackass even though my mind knows it’s the human version of a territorial stray dog and should be taken about as seriously. My breath comes in short bursts and my heart palpitates and my palms sweat and I get angry, racing thoughts. Although the temptation to stomp and huff and lash back is strong, my self-care comes first.
To control your breathing is to take charge over your body’s natural responses. For example, I like to take in a deep breath from my stomach, five to six seconds long, hold it for three, then let it out in another five to six second span. Repeating this a few times reduces the physical tendency to resort to ‘fight or flight’ at the slightest provocation. ‘Grounding,’ for those who struggle with disassociation or light-headedness when faced with stress, is the act of using your senses (taste, touch, smell, etc.) to put yourself back in touch with reality. While this list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of all the options available to you, these are just a few that have helped me cope with frustrating situations.
Gaming communities remind you that you’re an outsider and an intruder. Feminist communities remind you that you’re worthwhile. You are your biggest critic, so why not be your biggest supporter as well?
When I come across yet another article detailing the doxxing of a woman journalist, I like to watch a let’s play of a lady-led game or play one. Not subtle, but I don’t want it to be. Seeing women kicking ass and taking names in my games makes me feel good. I like watching Yuna, Rikku, and Paine run around Spira defeating fiends in Final Fantasy X-2. I like my lady-dominated party in Dragon Age exchanging quips while they slay demons. Child of Light is my nostalgia-induced feminist fantasy and FemShep’s epic speeches in Mass Effect complete me.
You could save up for the empowering experience of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation or Beyond Good and Evil, or you could tear into a bag of chips. Rant over Skype about a ridiculous comment made by your friendly neighborhood asshole or, shit, take a selfie of you eating your controller and share it online. Whatever gets a laugh. Whatever reminds you that you’re worth it. Just like it takes a lot of little efforts to whittle you down, it takes a lot of little positive efforts to bring you back up to speed.
You’re not going to flush the collective bile of an entitled, gatekeeping culture down the toilet all by yourself. It’s been years and still it’s taking quite a bit of time with the combined energies of multiple communities and subversive video games that treat women and girls like people. Your mental and emotional health affects every aspect of your life, so turn self-care into a good habit. Video games, like any other art form, are entertainment and education, release and community: you shouldn’t have to wait until you’ve taken a break from them to feel good.
If you play games, make them, want to make them, work at a game store, whatever your personal experience, you are part of this culture and you are valid. One of the most successful results of constant harassment is making you feel isolated and alone in your struggles. Please share your thoughts and feelings with your fellow women, as fresh air is not a luxury—it’s a necessity.