CONTENT WARNING: This article showcases interactions that may be upsetting, but Gfinity would like to highlight the constant issues of toxicity faced by marginalised genders in the gaming world - Ed.
No doubt the title of this piece can be perceived in a few ways depending on your viewpoints and stance when it comes to sexism. Overall this talking point can be fairly charged and unfortunately will usually result in some sort of negative discourse. But this is my story of being a woman in games.
In light of many coming forward with their experiences in the gaming industry, as well as the community I thought I would do the same. And before you ask, I didn't write this for sympathy or to say that gaming is anti-women - but the current state of sexism within the industry isn't acceptable and shouldn't be overlooked.
I think the best place to start is how I got into gaming. It began by being born into a family with two older brothers and a Dad that were all obsessed with video games. My earliest memories involved playing Smash Bros. or Pokemon Stadium on the N64, constantly losing against one of my brothers.
As I got older and was able to actually comprehend games to be more than button mashing, I discovered World of Warcraft. I managed to convince my brother to let me play and the obsession started.
From that point, I played any games that my brothers let me or passed down to me, The Sims, Total War, Black & White (the Lionhead Studios game, not Pokémon), Call of Duty and pretty much any other title under the sun. Looking back now I'm grateful I was able to develop such a diverse taste in genres.
As I started out in secondary school, I went through the typical teenage phase of trying to fit in, which meant morphing myself into someone I wasn't. Initially, I kept my interests to myself and tried my best to show the same enthusiasm for things my friends liked but nothing ever gave me the same enjoyment as gaming.
Around the age of 13 or 14, after a few years of trying to fit the mould, I realised how exhausting and, in reality, how ridiculous it was. I was so used to gender stereotypes, despite being raised in a family that was so open and encouraged me to pursue whatever I wanted to, the pressure from society overrode that.
I actually thought some of the boys my age would find it cool that I played games, seeing as I didn't know any others that did, when I tried to talk to them about different titles I was told, "girls don't play video games," or, "you might play them but you're not any good." Hearing these statements hit me hard and set the tone for the future.
As I got older I become a bit more confident about my favourite hobby but I still didn't feel comfortable enough to talk about it in the way people do with something they have so much passion for - until now.
Fast forward to the present day, I was lucky enough to land my dream job and I'm surrounded by people that adore video games as I do. I don't care what people think about me being a woman that games.
Apex Legends is now my favourite game and I spend pretty much all my time on it aside from when I'm sleeping, working, or need to run errands. Although I love this title and have serious respect for Respawn for having one of the most inclusive and diverse rosters that I've played, the community can weigh you down.
Don't get me wrong, I've actually made a lot of friends through Apex, friendships that have lasted over a year now but these kinds of people are few and far between.
Playing Apex Legends as a Woman
Overall the Apex Legends community can be fairly toxic, whether you're a woman or not, although, from my experience, my gender has become a weapon to use against me.
I've been screamed at, told to shut up, muted, sworn at, been told someone will sexually assault me, to kill myself, the list goes on. Usually, this abuse starts when I simply speak on the microphone, and sadly I no longer do.
Sexism in gaming lost me my voice.
Meanwhile, I constantly cheer on the women I know within gaming and tell them to be strong and vigilant, to never make themselves small purely based on the comments of those that condescend women - but I don't give myself that same confidence and pride.
Sexism does not lie only with men, however. The men in my life are what gave me the love for gaming that I have. Some women need to learn to support each other as well, there are too many girls who want to prove they "aren't like other girls" so they join in the bullying.
If you need any proof of the vile things women experience in online gaming then simply take a look at the Fat Ugly or Slutty site, which gives women an opportunity to laugh together about the abhorrent abuse they receive. Forewarning: these posts can be traumatic and involve adult themes that can be painful to read. Some of the categories include Death Threats, Fat, Sandwich Making 101 and more.
How Do We Combat Sexism in Gaming?
So, after all that rambling, those of you that may not agree with me or are simply unsure how to make a change might be wondering what we can do. Here are some simple steps we can all take to improve the lives of women playing games:
- Call your friends out: If they say something that makes you uneasy, no matter your gender, don't be silent.
- Find the balance: Being an ally to women and supporting them does not mean hating men or abusing men in the same way. Men are not the problem, sexism as a whole is.
- Representation: If you're in the games industry and have a say, push women to the forefront, whether that be creating strong female leads or simply uplifting female colleagues.
- A woman you know: Always treat the women you encounter in games with the respect you would any family member, whether that be envisioning your mother, sister, daughter, cousin, whoever.
- Spread the message: Lastly, don't be afraid to be vocal, the longer that people are silent the longer this discrimination continues.
Gaming should be an environment where all are welcome and feel comfortable to be themselves. After all, years ago we were all considered the outcasts, nerds, and geeks! I hope that as time goes on and each generation teaches the next the importance of respecting others and being kind, we will start to see this dynamic change.
I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't have games along the way to help me through some hard times in life, and I hope many other girls and women will find that same comfort. I hope someday I can feel completely confident in speaking using my mic. And I look forward to the day that gaming communities aren't described as toxic and instead are welcoming and kind.