When I first held a controller in my hands, I felt such a rush of excitement as I stared at the Nintendo GameCube accessory, its large triggers and buttons gleaming brightly. Mashing those buttons while playing Mario Kart or Mario Party 6 was mind-blowing for five-year-old Shel. Then, something absolutely magical happened: I got a second controller.
I’m pretty sure I invited my elementary friends at least three times a week. We’d sit on my tattered couch in front of a tiny TV screen as Mario and the rest of his friends dashed through race courses, throwing banana peels and shells. My aunt would occasionally join in on the fun. I spent many hours on that couch with friends. My mom would sometimes get out an old video camera and record me playing with friends or by myself. Looking back, I was a terrible driver. It was always the bombs and banana peels that got me.
Now, however, things have changed.
With each new generation of consoles, the relationship between the internet and gaming has grown exponentially. We can now record our gameplay right from our console and upload it to Twitter, YouTube, and other media sites. Online gaming has also grown, going from simple two-player to four-player to large parties of friends and strangers having a good time slaying dragons and hoarding gold. Here’s where the problems arise. “Mainstream” online gaming—or at least what the majority imagines when they hear “online gaming”—consists of a bunch of men with headphones playing World of Warcraft or League of Legends. Now, what happens when you add a woman or two into the picture?
Conversations such as the following arise:
“You’re a girl?”
A classic, and usually the first thing said.
“How do you even know how to play?”
This was directed at me once.
“If you’re going to play, don’t slow us down.”
A personal favorite and also directed at me.
There are an infinite amount of these. I remember the first time this happened to me. Saints Row 2 is probably my favorite game that isn’t an RPG. I messed around with the settings once, letting anyone join my game and just play together. I thought that was awesome at the time. New people, new acquaintances, what could be better?
After killing some Ronin and gaining new territory, a message popped up on my screen saying that someone wanted to join me. For the sake of simplicity and privacy, I’ll call that person John. He joined my game and began making conversation. He asked what I wanted to do: missions or just running around and getting into trouble. I suggested we just roam around and see what happened.
[Insert long, awkward silence here]
After making sure my mic was actually on and repeating myself, he responded with the classic question I mentioned previously. This eventually led to a long conversation about how I even knew how to play and why I was playing in the first place. “Aren’t girls usually putting on makeup or shopping with friends?” *Facepalm* At that point, I just left. I turned off my 360 and contemplated what had just happened.
In that moment, I felt dumbstruck. I, personally, didn’t spend time putting on makeup or shopping. I abhorred such an idea (and still kind of do). I loved playing video games; they were my hobby and pastime. What did it matter if I was a girl? More importantly, how did my gender affect the way I played?
And thus began my search for equality in gaming. I started realizing that I wasn’t the only one harassed simply for being a woman and a gamer. I wasn’t alone. That irked me to no end. I searched for forums and Twitter accounts that fought against such discrimination. Still, there wasn’t much of an improvement. And unfortunately, there still isn’t any improvement. Every time I join a party on Call of Duty or meet someone on Minecraft, I get asked the same questions and told the same things. This has to end.
People need to understand that this is the 21st century; discrimination shouldn’t even be a thing. More importantly, gender roles shouldn’t exist. Women in the kitchen and men at work is a thing of the past and it should stay there. Women are just as capable as men in anything. As an example, I’ll use my mom—who is a scaffold builder, carpenter, and welder. Yes, she does that. She works at a refinery and she’s the only woman there.
So you see, whether in gaming or just in real-life situations, women are just as capable as doing things as men. I do not understand what makes men “more capable” and “independent.” It isn’t logical, in my opinion, and I’m sure others agree. At the end of the day, we’re all gamers. Human gamers. Human. Gender should not be a barrier, nor should it be used to judge someone’s capabilities. We’re all here to have some fun and relax and maybe make a new friend or two. That’s what video games are for—to sit back and procrastinate for a bit and forget all the hardships for an hour or five.
If you’ve been victim of such behavior online, don’t let it bring you down. Being the “best gamer” is totally not a thing and you can play however and whatever you like, be you man, woman, or any other gender. Plus, you’re awesome and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So get out there and game!