Women play videogames.
I know. Shocking, right? But it’s true, and so do men. Gamers can be found amongst people of colour, gay people, straight people, bi people, trans people, cis people, poly people, disabled people, abled people… in fact, you might say that videogames are for everybody. And if everybody can play them it follows that anybody can develop them, code them, review them, talk about them or critique them. Gaming is, in fact, pretty much the ultimate equaliser in hobbies; there are video games for the blind, subtitle and gameplay options for the deaf, controllers for the disabled and touch-screen games are even being used as therapy for the severely autistic, people with cerebral palsy and stroke victims. Let’s be honest, that’s pretty damned fantastic.
And yet unfortunately what appears on the surface to be a welcoming and non-judgemental hobby nonetheless has its issues. Unless you’re a white, straight, cis-het male, for example, it’s difficult to find videogames which represent you as something other than a sidekick, villain or quest object. They exist, certainly – the number of games which employ character creation systems, for example, seems to have increased, with series like Mass Effect, Saints Row and The Elder Scrolls even offering non-binary romance/relationship options (even if it did take a while for them to get there) – but when we’re at the point where mainstream protagonists look so generic that they could fit any videogame cover you can’t fail to acknowledge that something is severely askew.
Then of course there’s the age-old chestnut of verbal abuse. Whilst it’s true to a certain extent that if you game online you’re going to encounter trash-talk at some point or another, studies that have been conducted into gender bias give results that are, quite frankly, disturbing. A female player is around three times more likely to elicit unsolicited abuse than a male player during a game, and that’s to say nothing of the messages they receive outside of the game itself; the fact that websites like Fat, Ugly or Slutty receive enough submissions from female gamers worldwide to provide regular content speaks volumes.
So, for those following at home: so far we’ve established that a female gamer is A) unlikely to find many videogames which portray them as something other than a damsel or (sex) object and B) once they are playing is far more likely to attract (sexual) abuse simply for the perceived crime of existing in that space. That’s pretty awful, right? I mean, that’s not welcoming or non-judgemental at all. In fact it’s quite the opposite – which, when you consider that women make up 51% of our population, is even more horrendous. Literally half of us – gamers, geeks, people – are being made to feel that the gaming community is not a safe space for them. I mean, how is that even possible? It defies belief. And yet it’s happening. Here. Now. In 2014. I know. I can’t get my head around it either.
As anybody who follows me on Twitter or listens to any of my podcasts already knows, gaming is my passion. Gamers are my community. I definitely don’t define my entire identity around the hobby – I’m a gamer, not a Gamer – but it certainly permeates most areas of my life. Gaming was something I retreated to as a child when I had nothing else. It was my refuge from the bullies, my distraction from isolation and, later, my self-therapy for depression. Videogames are tremendously important to me and I believe that everybody has the right to enjoy, produce and critique them, and feel that they can do so. For a long time now I’ve been wondering how best to lend my support towards this endeavour, because shouting into the void – butting heads with misogynists, racists and overgrown children online – isn’t solving anything. There are too many voices, too large a chorus. Individual thoughts – especially positive ones – get drowned out. Moreover, it’s not necessarily my battle to fight; male privilege, white privilege, cis privilege and straight privilege mean that I, demographically speaking, am part of the problem. Another white, straight, cis-het voice is not the solution.
And so I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the best way I can help is by doing my part to make gaming welcoming again. By emphasising the joy that we all find in games. By lending what signal I have to boost female voices, non-white voices, non-cis/het voices. By celebrating diversity in gaming. Not by debating the same old topics over and over again, but by creating content and discussions alongside them, as gamers. As equals. By exploring a love of games with people who share my passion. By being the change that I want to see in the world.
So, starting next year One More Go, the gaming podcast that has been through more format and cast changes than the last fifty years of Doctor Who*, will be returning. I will have a new co-host – a fresh voice – and we will be having a truckload of fun talking about videogames. We’ll also be seeking out interesting, passionate and provocative people for interviews like the miniseries released last year, and developing a few new interesting side-projects along the way (*coughcoughYouTubecoughcough*). Most importantly, it’ll be all about the games. Because that’s why we’re here, right? And irrespective of who you are, what games you like and how you identify, I hope you’ll be a part of it with me.
I’ll keep posting here, and on Twitter, as things develop. Honestly? I can’t wait.
* Probably untrue.