I remember watching the movie The Wizard when I was around eight or nine. It’s a film that follows the journey of a young boy who has chosen to trek across the country in order to enter a video game competition. In the end, they dramatically reveal Super Mario Bros. 3! Of course, our hero wins the competition like all good 1980s underdog flicks. I remember the thrill of that moment. It encapsulated for me what gaming was to me growing up. It was more than just a pastime. It was a chance for me to prove myself. I was able to save the world again and again. The stories, the thrill of battle, and the long hours of trying the same damn Mega Man level again and again until I made it through in one shot always stuck with me.
I have, over the past few years, noticed a war raging within the gaming community that I did not see growing up. At times I have taken a side in this battle, and at other times the combat going on around me has made me feel like a casualty in a battle I did not choose to engage in. Women are not new to gaming, but, as a demographic, women have grown significantly to now become about half of the consumers in the industry. So, maybe that is what has brought about the question of women’s roles in the industry and community at large. But, as a woman who has been a gamer since the 80s, I can’t say I ever truly saw this level of fallout coming.
We have rather unwittingly, for the most part, found ourselves in the midst of a culture war. It seems there is always a new controversy looming over female gamers or women in general in the gaming community. Is EA siding with the “Social Justice Warriors” by putting a female fighter at the forefront of Battlefield V? Is this enough of an affront to the historicity of WWII and a jab at the gaming community to warrant a boycott of the game? How do certain female Twitch streamers reflect on female gamers in general?
Social media comments often offer no middle ground or reasonable discussion of these issues. I remember reading comments about how women complain too much, or how you should avoid them because they will flirt for favors in Fortnite and World of Warcraft. For some, it appears, women are a bit of a nuisance in the gaming world. Maybe even a hazard.
On the other side are those condemning Ninja for choosing not to stream with women in order to stay out of the clutches of the often-barbarous internet rumor mill. Is he putting female streamers at a disadvantage by keeping them from appearing on his platform, they ask? Does he owe them a part of his massive stage in order to help promote equality?
I look at this and can’t help but think is this our fault? Not just as gamers, but as a society. Have we become so overly reactionary to the point we can no longer see issues as multifaceted. Is one form of radicalism a reaction to another? Is there a good reason for male streamers in particular to be wary of working with women? You know, the #MeToo movement which was meant to call out actual abuse. Has it been misused? Can two things be true at once? Can it be true that real abuse and bigotry exists in our community, but that some have abused the call-out system to further an agenda?
Much like #Gamergate was both adopted by different people as a way to combat radical feminism and a way to shine light on what some gamers saw as a lack of journalistic integrity, the same hashtag was also used by some to target women. I know. It happened to me, even though I am a free speech absolutist and do not consider myself a feminist (or an anti-feminist).
Just as Ninja’s concerns are understandable, and the discussions over the actions of some women in the gaming community are very valid concerns, in the same way, women are not always wrong in expressing places where they have noticed discrimination either at development studios, or within the gaming community itself. Gamers must be able to call out abuse in whatever form as we see it happening, but be careful not make that instance of abuse an identifier of an entire community or gender.
In the end, we are not in a battle between men and women. It is not feminism versus the gaming community. Nor is it the gaming community against the progress or free expression of women. As gamers, we are the guardians, purveyors, creators, and consumers of one of the fastest growing industries on the planet. The world we live and play in affects millions. We are concerned with guarding the freedom of expression of developers whether large or small. We want to protect the right to tell the stories we want to tell.
But, as a community it is difficult to navigate the needs and opinions of many and find a way to live well with the tension of opposing views. This is where the war often begins and this is when we start taking sides and drawing lines. I think most of us are actually well aware of this. I think where the discussion actually lies is how developers, streamers, and consumers within the community should live best within these tensions and learn to debate rather than go to war.
What we need is to find a proper center and to avoid and actively work against radicalism. Radicals will always exist. But, let us not forget that, if we can keep our community open to discussion and avoid the mire of the social media comments section, then I think we will notice that far more of the gaming community is actually very willing to discuss issues than it sometimes appears.