UPDATE ON THE VIDEO SHOOT: Postponed until the 22nd due to some tight schedules. Which is fine, because it gives me more time to make an ugly Hanukkah sweater and work out just how many Jew jokes I can make before the souls of my ancestors rise up from the grave to curse me.
I’ve got to give props to Blizzard for the stance on harassment that they are taking with regards to their games. They’re not the first ones to start dropping the banhammer for bad behavior, either; League of Legends developer Riot Games is similarly getting real sick of your shit, Mr. Troll. It really sucks to have your gaming experience ruined by some asshole who thinks that your thorough curbstomping of his toon in Arathi Basin is a clear sign of homosexual tendencies. It sucks even worse when they find out that you’re a chick.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to belittle the harassment that dude nerds go through. It’s awful, no matter who the victim is. Mean comments can and have driven plenty of people to suicide already. Names like Amanda Todd, Phoebe Prince, Erin Gallagher, and Ryan Halligan remind us all that no one is immune from being bullied to death, regardless of gender. But there is an undeniably overwhelming amount of a very special sort of animosity towards women in nerd culture.
I’m not just talking about overtly sexual armor and body designs in video games and comic books, either. Yes, I know, objectification of women, blah blah blah. I fail to see how it’s any different than the muscle-bound long-haired Fabio types on the cover of Harlequin romance novels being the objectification of men. Not all voluptuous fantasy women in chain mail bikinis are created by men, either. The character of Bayonetta was designed by a woman. Whether male or female, these characters belong in a fantasy realm. They are created as the epitome of all that is man, in the case of pretty much any superhero with biceps bigger than their head, or with exaggerated femininity because… yes… that’s right… IT’S MAKE-BELIEVE. Sometimes I like to go to the beach in a bikini and MAKE-BELIEVE that I actually look good in it. I’m not objectifying myself, I’m being fabulous.
No, what I’m talking about is this:
There exists the most ridiculous double-standard ever in the world of nerds. Call yourself a gamer chick, and most guys will assume that all you play is Barbie Dream House Creator or that your Facebook is full of photos of you in your underwear licking an Xbox controller. “You sound cute,” they’ll say if you should be brave enough to venture onto some kind of voice chat feature. The idea that we might have plugged in our headsets so we can call out when the offtank needs to pick up the boss after the aggro drop is just beyond comprehension. Some others will instantly boot you from whatever raid or game you happen to be in, no matter how good of a player you are. Back in the days of classic World of Warcraft, a few of the most hardcore raiding guilds refused to accept female applicants and required confirmation of sex via Ventrilo, claiming that women would only “cause drama” and be a “distraction.” These guilds have since disbanded, probably because 47% of all gamers out there happen to have vaginas, and of that 47%, a decent chunk of them actually, like, know what they’re doing, meaning that by being gynophobic assholes they robbed themselves of the chance to run with extremely talented players who could have helped them achieve their goals of clearing end-game content.
Then there is a more frightening demographic.
Lady cosplayers, you know what I’m talking about. The guys who follow you around the convention all day, trying to get a peek up your skirt, or purposely brushing up against you in an elevator to cop a feel. The ones who, in no uncertain terms, tell you what they’d like to do to you. The ones who make you feel unsafe. And the minute you politely tell them you’re not interested, you’re hit with a barrage of slurs like “slut” and “bitch” and, in some cases, even rape or death threats. Sound extreme? It’s happened, not only in real life, but also online.
The story I’m about to share with you is not mine. It belongs to a gamer girl who I have played World of Warcraft with for many years, and is a horrifying tale of how what started out as in-game harassment ended up having real-life consequences for her. When I told her I was writing this blog post, she was happy to share her experiences in the hope that it might somehow help put a stop to sexism and harassment of women in the gaming community, though she has asked not to be identified.
When I first started playing World of Warcraft, I was a proud girl gamer. If somebody called me “dude” or “bro” I’d correct them — “I’m not a dude, I’m a girl!” I didn’t try to use it to get special favors with loot distribution or to convince people to give me gold. I was just happy to be different than the stereotype that existed surrounding WoW players at the time, stating that they were all guys. I was the only girl in my guild! How cool was that?
I befriended a couple of people in my guild — or at least I thought I did — and started talking to them on messenger services. I really thought I could trust them. At the time I was moonlighting as a pinup model, stuff like what you’d see on Suicide Girls or Cosplay Deviants, which eventually came up in conversation, not in a sexual context, just as a “yeah, this is what I do, blah blah blah” thing. Suddenly the conversation turned really ugly. Where they had previously been friendly to me, now they made it obvious that they were looking down on me. They told me that what I was doing was slutty and that I was just another dumb whore trying to be cool, taking up space in the guild that should belong to people who “deserved” it. Apparently they announced it to other players who weren’t in the guild, because suddenly I was getting shitty treatment from a good chunk of the server. I started getting left behind on raids, despite the fact that I was always near the top of the DPS meters and always showed up on time and prepared. When I was (grudgingly) allowed to go, I was passed over for loot every single time. Once they even “accidentally” disenchanted an item that nobody else needed, but would have been a huge upgrade for me. “Sucks for you,” they said.
Then a few days later, one of them sent me an IM, telling me that if I didn’t have cybersex with them they’d find my photos and send them to everyone on the server. I was absolutely disgusted. I told him that there was no way in Hell I’d do that. “Suit yourself,” he said.
Within ten minutes my FTP had been hacked and a post had been made on the World of Warcraft forums saying that anyone who wanted naked pictures of <my character name> should go to a certain IRC chat room. I was in tears. I petitioned GMs to remove the post, but at the time, Blizzard didn’t have any rules in place to prevent it. They were sympathetic to my plight but told me that there was nothing they could do. Simply put, nothing like this had happened before, so they didn’t even think that they would have had to include it in the harassment policy. They couldn’t ban him from the game, since what was going on was in “real life” and thus out of their reach. All they could do was lock and delete the thread, but by then, the damage had been done. (Side note: I’m not sure if the policy was changed in direct response to what happened to me, but I do know that now Blizzard’s harassment policy has been updated to include real-life harassment and any form of harassment that gives out personal information/photos or stuff like that. I’m not mad at them, nor do I feel like it’s “too little, too late.” They’re total badass watchdogs with this stuff now, and at least there’s the chance that some girl out there won’t have to worry about this happening to them anymore.)
I put on a stiff upper lip and logged into the game anyway. How bad could it be, after all?
Bad. It was so fucking bad. Within minutes of logging on I was spammed with death and rape threats; apparently my being naked on the internet offended the male population of my server so thoroughly that I did not deserve to live. I was booted from my guild after having streams of verbal abuse hurled at me. No other guilds would take me, no one would group with me. In that moment I existed only to be ridiculed. “Delete your character, nobody wants you here” was the prevailing sentiment. I tried rerolling to the other faction and found that the situation there was almost identical. Even the few other female gamers I encountered at that point either tormented me or shunned me altogether. I was told the whole scenario was my fault for being a “slut” and that gamer girls shouldn’t be sexy if they were “real” gamer girls. For the short time I tried to level on the new faction, I was griefed by opposing raid parties of at least 30 max-level players so that it was impossible for me to do anything. They camped me for hours until I finally logged off.
So I deleted my characters on that server. All of them. The ones I had worked so hard to level up. For a short time I came back under an assumed identity, with a completely different character and name, hiding the fact that I was a girl for as long as I could. When the guild I joined (which included a few members of my old guild) finally heard me on Ventrilo, I made sure to speak a few notches higher than I normally did. One of them asked “Wait, aren’t you <character name>?” to which I played completely dumb, and they believed me. But eventually I grew tired of keeping up the charade, always having to watch what I said to make sure it didn’t slip out who I was and just quit playing there altogether. And you know something? When they thought I was this other girl, they all loved me.
I am still playing World of Warcraft, on a completely different server that was untouched by the drama. I brought with me a handful of people who stood by me during the whole ordeal and who were more than happy to keep the whole thing under wraps, to pretend that it never happened at all. They, in turn, invited a few other former guildies to join us, who apparently knew all along during my pretense that I really was the girl in the photos, but realized how serious and ridiculous the situation was and silently vowed to keep my secret, too. I can finally be myself and be respected and loved for it, so I guess there is a happy ending there. But even to this day I pretend to be a guy if I’m with a group of people I don’t know. If they refer to me as “he,” I keep my mouth shut and play along. I don’t play with voice chat in LFRs anymore, I pretend my mic is broken and just keep myself on mute. It’s just safer that way.
The kicker here is that she is truly one of the best players I’ve ever grouped with. She’s smart, and funny, and if we didn’t live on opposite sides of the country I’d probably hang out with her every damn day in real life. I don’t care that she, gasp, does PINUP. But the fact that she was so unashamedly female is what led to her terrible harassment. Gamer girls are expected to be demure, innocent caricatures of the “ideal” woman. Does she wear makeup? WHORE. She makes a dick joke? WHORE. Even if she acts no differently from the guy gamers around her, she’s still graded and stamped like a piece of meat. In fact, should she dare to act like she’s just “one of the boys,” she gets treated like shit. Yet if she plays up her femininity, she won’t be taken seriously. So what the Hell, man?
And don’t even get me started on the constant quizzing and questioning, the need for us to validate our knowledge of video games and comics. We’re constantly forced to prove how big our gaming dick is. We’ve even started to turn against ourselves, with the female gamer demographic fracturing itself even further into the girl gamers and the “real” girl gamers. I once told one of these purist girl gamers that I didn’t really like the Mario games. She immediately started laughing at me and telling me that I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about and was just “faking” my nerdiness to get guys.
Uh, excuse me? Would you like my three-hour dissertation on Doctor Who and how psyched I am that I found some reconstructions of the “lost” episodes now, or after I’ve slapped the condescension right out of you? Or maybe you’d like to see my gamer score on Xbox Live or the fact that some dude actually sent me hate mail for so thoroughly kicking his ass in Soul Calibur IV? I’m tired of the bullshit “qualifications” that I’ve got to practically carry around in my wallet with me at all times. I play video games. They may not be the same games that you play, and I may suck at Halo, but they are still games. I am a gamer. You are a gamer. We are all gamers. And we all deserve to be treated with the same respect.