If you’ve been on YouTube in the past 10 or so years, you’re bound to have run into at least one “Let’s Play.” For those who may not know, Let’s Playing (now more commonly called LPing) is when someone documents their playthrough of a game through videos, and less often, screenshots, all while adding personal commentary and focusing on their experience with the game as an individual. This has become a hobby and passion for countless gamers of all genders, races, languages, and cultures across the ever-growing internet—to the point where it has gained so much pull within gamer culture that it’s also become some peoples’ careers thanks to things like Google AdSense and Twitch. Unfortunately, though, this community, like most, is not without its faults.
Picture this: you’re a 15-year-old girl who’s been playing games like Tomb Raider, Portal, Minecraft, Pokémon, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, Smash, and more your whole life, and you just found out about the online gaming community beyond troll-filled forums and online walkthroughs. Your brother has also just started creating his own Let’s Plays. Initially, you think it’s kind of silly, but after he introduces you to his and other LPs, you warm up to it. In fact, you’re really excited to start making some! So you start finding LPers that you like and befriend some of your brother’s friends on Twitter and YouTube because they, too, share a lot of your interests. Upon befriending them, however, you find yourself extremely uncomfortable with their idea of jokes, as well as the scrutiny you face within the group.
This, unfortunately, was my experience. From vulgar rape jokes to “harmlessly” using “sleeping with [their] girlfriend” as a prize for winning a bet, it became clear to me that my new friends and acquaintances weren’t really Prince Charming. And at that point in my life, honestly? That wasn’t the problem. I still held that “boys will be boys” mentality—something I’ll bring up later. I was, by default, expected to be okay with it, and not only was I supposed to be okay with it, but I was supposed to be okay with it because I was my brother’s sister—just a girl. To associate with them, I needed to be a “bro,” and by doing that, I needed to be okay with them not having any respect for me as their equal, and I also had to work twice as hard to play well, because otherwise it would be “because I’m a girl” if I didn’t. I found myself beginning to lose interest in Let’s Playing altogether because of it, and eventually reached my final straw when I tried to call one of the guys out on the bet I mentioned earlier, using my newly-realized baby!feminist voice to explain why objectifying his girlfriend wasn’t okay, only to get a response to “be careful” where I direct my “feminist crap.”
Now one could ask, “Are you letting one bad group represent the LP community as a whole in a negative light?” To which I answer, no. This is just a personal experience I have—one that, in large part, diminished my excitement channeling my love of games through Let’s Play content for a year of my life. But this is just a personal example. Objectification of women, women being held to different standards than men, as well as countless other examples of sexism—which I now realize was the fuel behind my brother’s friends’ feelings towards me—happens all over gaming culture, and Let’s Playing is just a small chunk of a bigger piece. Another question could be, “Are you claiming that all Let’s Players/viewers of LPs are sexist?” To which I answer, again, no. In fact, I’ve found a way to surround myself with people who are not like the ones I first encountered when trying to find my place within the community, as well as watching Let’s Players who are also not like them. This isn’t something that I could accomplish, though, without acknowledging and being aware of the more problematic opinions of those who do act and feel the way those guys did.
More impersonal and less biased examples of the matter can be found all throughout Reddit and YouTube comments concerning some of the more popular female Let’s Play content creators. Take Aureylian, for example—one of the more well-known lady gamers right now and someone who has spoken about this same subject in a video titled “PSA: Girl Gamers.” Before she posted that PSA, she purposely went out of her way to not post too many videos featuring her own image in fear of the negative attention that would come with it, and her fear rang true when she showed a little “too much” cleavage in one of her LootCrate unboxing videos last year. This continues to happen even on videos featuring her face as recently as 5 days ago (as of writing this) where people are still finding the need to critique her appearance rather than the content of her videos.
Now, she is part of a very popular Minecraft server/gaming Let’s Play community herself, and as the only female member, seems to get more comments regarding her physical appearance than some of her friends. Not to say that all her comments revolve around it or that her friends get none at all, but just by being fans of several of them over time, the difference between her as a “Girl LPer Who Facecams” and them as “Boy LPers Who Facecam” is very clear. She has also posted many times throughout her social media accounts about her struggles with her own identity as a gamer. She questions her validity as one because she didn’t play the same kinds of games as “typical gamers.” People also question her identity as a gamer—as well as whether she’s an “intelligent” person—just because of her femininity and love for glitter and pink. Fortunately, Aureylian takes this all in stride, saying in response to the negative attention from her PSA video:
“The thing is, if you let it get you down, things will never change. I didn’t post that video because I was upset, I posted it because I know of other females that encounter the same kinds of things and it makes me frustrated for them because it deters them from wanting to get involved in the gaming community.”
Unfortunately, she’s all too correct in the idea that it deters girls from getting involved in the gaming community—and more specifically, for the case of this article, the Let’s Playing community—me being just one example of many, just as Aureylian is.
So Why Is This a Problem?
If the answer to that isn’t clear to you by now, you’re probably a contributor of said problem. To quote Jamin Warren, an online personality best-known for hosting the popular “PBS Game/Show:”
“Games are not a separate part of our existence. They’re a product of our time, place, and culture—no matter what that may be. No medium transcends it’s context; not even video games, no matter how much I would like them to. So sometimes they reflect amazing aspects of our culture, and sometimes, intentionally or not, they reinforce some of its flaws.”
Remember that “boys will be boys” mentality I was talking about? Here’s where it comes in. The reason I thought it was okay for my friends to act the way they did was because society had taught me that it was okay. This idea allows boys who grow into men to get away with things such as sexual harassment and objectifying women. This mentality is what allows the standards that women such as Aureylian are subjected to, because “boys will be boys” is what perpetuates the idea that ‘of course‘ comment on a woman’s cleavage. That because of it, we should write off the fact that they were implying it lowered her value as a person, or as a gamer—which is actually a large part of her career—even though it ventures into the dangerous territory of sending women a few steps back in our fight to be viewed as equal human beings. We are not tools to be used for a man’s sexual pleasure, which was still a common idea as little as a few decades ago in mainstream culture, and still continues to be a toxic idea today. The idea of women being “lesser” also contributes to many hot-button issues in modern society, i.e. the way women are paid less than men for the same jobs.
But on a less societally significant scale and a bit more specific to our interests here, the fact that women are deterred from publicly contributing to the Let’s Playing (and gaming) community helps justify the fact that women are underrepresented in games themselves. Though the number of women playing games was equal, if not surpassing the number of men in 2014, only about 4% of game protagonists were female. While those statistics are all well and good, game creators and companies often look to game commentators and reviewers to see what their fanbase wants. Without enough female commentators and reviewers, you know, otherwise known as Let’s Players, it’s easy to say, “Men still make up a large part of the fanbase.” So they just create more games geared towards them as opposed to us—and let’s be real here, it’s always fun to be able to put yourself in a main character’s shoes and vicariously be the hero through them. Women and girls just don’t get the same kind of opportunity to do that as men and boys, and I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem fair to me.
The Let’s Playing community is a great opportunity to bring fans of games together to play together, share their experiences and opinions, and help shape the kind of games that people want. The problem, or one of the main problems, is that the two societally recognized halves of this community aren’t standing on equal footing yet. Female LPers are torn down and scared away from a community that they could positively impact. The question, really, is what the solution could be, and I think it really boils down to more women and girls fighting back against the negative connotations that come along with being a lady who Let’s Plays. Should it be our responsibility to fix it? No. It should really be up to people like my first LP friends to realize what they’re doing is harmful to not only the victims made by their opinions, but to themselves as LPers and gamers, though many of them are too influenced by the more “societally significant” ideas mentioned before to come to that conclusion.
What we, as lady Let’s Players, can do, is be a part of the larger fight for women to be equals to men in our own tiny community of people who post their experiences with their favorite games. It will not only make it a much better place for us, but also help pave the way for that to happen to society overall, not just small online communities. So please, don’t be afraid of sharing your interests. If you like games, you are valid and a gamer. Liking video games is literally all it takes whether you’re feminine, masculine, or somewhere in-between. You are welcome in the Let’s Playing community, no matter what anyone says.