Six ways gamers can help end sexism in gaming communities

Sexism is prevalent both in games and the gaming community - but it doesn't have to be.

There was a time (and in the grand scheme of things, really not that long ago) that gaming was considered something for children to enjoy. A generation of kids grew up with early consoles and the industry grew up with it, expanding outwards in terms of both the types of genres available and the maturity of the stories being told.

While the stigma of video games being a kid's activity has largely faded away, we're now overcoming the next social hurdle: the idea that games are made by and played by men alone. There's no question that the number of female gamers has skyrocketed, and they aren't just playing Candy Crush Saga or Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Turns out there are just as many ladies who dig dialog-heavy RPGs or fast-paced shooters as dudes.

With that realization has come some serious unpleasantness in the online arena, especially as more women are actually entering the industry – both as developers and journalists – rather than just playing games. Throw in a push for more women to be portrayed as heroic protagonists and not mere for eye candy, too. Unsurprisingly, there's been some seriously sexist backlash from those who don't want to see the industry change.

Of course, the big name that immediately comes to mind on that front is the infamous GamerGate controversy.  Although it might not be entirely fair, GamerGate is now synonymous with sexism. (Be sure to check out our look at the situation here that covers both sides for a more balanced view.)

Rightly or wrongly, GG is now the poster child for bad behavior in gaming

The vitriol towards women in gaming brought about by GamerGate has made it clear we do actually have a sexism issue in our overall community that's not going away on its own. This whole debacle has also brought issues of how women are portrayed in games back to the forefront and made the problem ripe for addressing. 

What can we – both male and female gamers – do to combat sexism in our community and make gaming more inclusive of all people?

Call It Out

It seems obvious, but this is huge. Social media has made it so that everyone has a voice and a gigantic platform available 24/7, 365. Every last thought that enters a person's head can now be broadcast to the world immediately, and obviously that leads to some truly awful things being shared on gaming websites or Facebook profiles.

That's why sexist comments need to be called out and not allowed to slide. When people know from experience that they won't get a storm of “likes” after dropping some flippant sexist comment, and will instead get a wall of disagreement from friends and foes alike, they'll think twice about doing it again the next time.

Especially in the online world where people can easily throw out a death threat or a Hitler comparison on their phones and then move on with their days, gamers need to learn how to behave like civil adults and lead by example. There are legitimate instances where both men and women in the industry have done things worthy of being called out and condemned, but you destroy your own argument and credibility the second you type a word like “slut” or “ugly.”

Immediately attacking a person's gender or physical appearance because they did something you don't like is insanely counterproductive, and we can and must be better than that.

Let's go ahead and avoid this sort of thing, shall we?

Strive For Balance

That last point seemed obvious, but somehow gets ignored. This next point sadly isn't as obvious, but absolutely should be: sometimes the anti-sexism, pro-feminism crowd is just as obnoxious as the worst that GamerGate has to offer. An upleasant side effect of the instant communication and constant audience provided by the Internet is that people frequently don't bother to consider an argument from the other point of view before responding.

While the name was perhaps an unfortunate choice since it gives the appearance of supporting one gender over another, the fact of the matter is that true “feminism” is actually striving for equality between the two groups. Unfortunately, there are cases were it goes too far into the opposite direction. Misogynistic groups around the world were practically giddy with glee when that insane article about how all intercourse is always rape went viral last year. This imbalance also happens in the gaming world as well.

In the absolute mess that discussions about the place of women and minorities play in gaming, there has to be a balance. Rightly or wrongly, going overboard and calling out sexism where none exists (or it exists to such a small degree that its essentially irrelevant) just gives the GamerGaters the ammunition they need and makes them feel justified in their actions.

Insisting that ALL games must feature a strong female main character, or that NO games should be allowed to feature risque outfits, is just as sexist as insisting that no games feature a strong female main character. A balance exists somewhere out there where male and female characters are written because they work in the story, and not because someone is either filling a gender quota or lazily falling back on old gender stereotypes of what's always been done before.

Sadly, it does get this ludicrous...

Accept Differences

Here's a myth that might actually be leading to more inequality in the gaming community: ending sexism and achieving equality doesn't mean everyone's going to get along. Nor should anyone be required to skip through a field of tulips with people they legitimately disagree with on any issue.

We are all allowed to disagree, but the way we go about it absolutely has to change if we want to end the toxic environment many gaming communities have become. For instance, I think Vanille from Final Fantasy 13 is legitimately one of the worst characters to ever grace any video game of all time, and that doesn't make me sexist. You know what I DON'T do, though? I don't graphically threaten to rape people who disagree with my assessment, and my arguments for why I don't like Vanille absolutely don't boil down to: “she has a vagina and is a major character.”

On the flip side of that, you don't get a gold star for being a male gamer who doesn't send rape threats to female gamers (that should be the baseline norm, not the top grade to strive for). Female gamers also can't expect all male gamers to agree with them or never call them out if they do something lame. Two people who support gender equality are allowed to disagree, and neither should consider the other some kind of traitor to the cause because their views don't fully lineup on all other issues, or even the ways in which sexism should be confronted.

Vote With Your Wallet

It's another obvious example, but sometimes the fact that gaming is a business industry really gets overlooked. If nobody buys the next installment of Grand Theft Auto, you better believe Rockstar is going to notice that and make some drastic changes. This is especially true of those publishers who insist on getting out a new iteration of any given AAA franchise like clockwork once a year. The bottom line is all those companies care about, and if you hurt that, they will be forced to change.

At the same time, a balance needs to be sought out here (see the aforementioned section). There's a difference between outrageous events happening for the sake of humor and an actual derogatory take on one gender in general. Where the line gets drawn between what's hilariously offensive and what's just offensive is up to each individual gamer to decide.

For instance, is Dragon's Crown sexist because the sorceress character looks like this, or is it poking fun at a specific art style and going outrageous for attention? It's also worth noting that the men in the game bulge in a very specific, hyper-sexualized way, and that brings up the question of whether balancing out the gender distribution would actually end the debate.

For instance, many feel that Grand Theft Auto has a very sexist tone with its all-male main characters who go to strip clubs and can beat prostitutes to death. Would it really be such a big deal if the next GTA had a crime-loving leading lady who enjoys literally beating down the competition and then makes it rain at the local Chippendales? Even though I'm not particularly interested in seeing a dude in a thong waving his backside in my face, I'd still play that game (although I probably wouldn't spend nearly as much time in the strip club as I did with GTA 5).

One day the tables will be turned, Trevor...

Stop Asking For Nudes

No, seriously -- stop. There's enough pornography on the Internet that a single person couldn't possibly watch it all in 10 lifetimes. There are easily hundreds of thousands of people across the globe who actively want you to see them naked. So cut it out with sharing or asking for links to nudes of the handful of people who DON'T want you to see them naked. This phenomena is most prevalent in the movie and music industries (remember that dust up with the Jennifer Lawrence nude photos hitting the web?), but unfortunately it's arrived in gaming as well.

Back when we covered the controversy over Cynthia Bunnay's behavior while working with (and after being fired from) eSports team MVG, there were those that chose to focus on Bunnay's physical attributes rather than the unethical behavior she engaged in. In this case, things got taken to the next level when nude photos were actually stolen and leaked online.

One of the earliest comments on that original story right here at GameSkinny was someone asking where to find these photos, and another user promptly came up to explain where they are located. Much like with calling out sexist comments, here is an excellent opportunity for gamers to do the right thing and let other members of the community know that revenge porn isn't acceptable. We'll probably never kill the practice entirely, but we can make it a much less prevalent.

Killing the market for leaked nude photos that people don't want seen makes it a less attractive option next time around if everyone calls it out. Don't just avoid looking at them – let the people discussing looking at them know that revenge porn is a despicable practice that has no place in gaming.

Make Your Voice Heard

Even more than any other major entertainment industry – movies, music, literature, etc. - gaming offers a way for the average fan to actually get involved in the creation of new content and have it be covered on wide scale. Indie games, even in very niche genres, frequently overtake their bigger name counterparts in terms of news coverage and positive reviews.

So it has to be said - don't like the way women are portrayed in games? Make one of your own and show the world what you can do! Kickstarter, Early Access, Steam Greenlight, RPGMaker: there are more options than ever for Joe or Jane Doe to fund and make a game and have it be taken seriously.

Gamers don't have to wait for the AAA developers to figure this out: we can revolutionize the industry without them, and they can catch up to us.

What do you think about the state of gender equality in gaming, and how do you feel we can more effectively combat sexism in the industry? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Featured Contributor

Ty splits his time between writing horror fiction and writing about video games. After 25 years of gaming, Ty can firmly say that gaming peaked with Planescape Torment, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a soft spot for games like Baldur's Gate, Fallout: New Vegas, Bioshock Infinite, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. He has previously written for GamerU and MetalUnderground. He also writes for PortalMonkey covering gaming laptops and peripherals.

Published Dec. 14th 2015
  • Mackenzie Lambert_5420
    I can understand your impression of Gamergate as harassment group, since that's all the MSM and cherry-picked tweets would have you believe. Yet, statistically untrue.

    Case in point: Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) were a feminist internet harassment watchdog group that was brought in by Twitter to monitor Gamergate activity. From November 2014 to April 2015, they followed online activity.

    They released their report in the summer of 2015 and came to the conclusion that GG was not a harassment group. Many were actually upset that WAM's findings didn't meet their beliefs.

    And then there's the Newsweek article that examined 500,000 GG tweets. 95% of the tweets were neutral in nature. Only 1.6% were negative, and most of the negativity was aimed at Nathan Grayson and Stephen Totilo, both employed by Kotaku.

    Two men caught up in a conflict of interest received more negative tweets than either Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn, the two self-proclaimed big victims of Gamergate.

    When looking at real data, it tells a different story that people don't know about or don't want to know about.
  • GameSkinny Staff
    I maintain that the best things to do are speak up in favor of feminism and actively listen to women. Too many people avoid these discussions because they are usually ridden with negativity and anti-women sentiment, whether the commenters are aware of it or not - it paints a bad picture when we only see people dismissing feminism and trying to start fights. This behavior creates an unwelcoming and hostile environment. Instead, we need to go forth into the commenting pits and actively show support for inclusion.

    And yes, we all need to listen to women more about sexism. This should go without saying. One of the biggest issues currently is that female voices are being overpowered, interrupted, brushed off, and not taken seriously when it comes to discussions about gender. Far too often, women's knowledge and experiences go unacknowledged and disrespected. The only time many men tend to listen to women about these things is when they point to a single woman and say 'look, there's one who agrees with me!' Actively listening to women doesn't mean agreeing with everything any woman says based on their gender, but it does mean everyone needs to be paying attention and absorbing without trying to take over or dominate the gender conversation. Because of how our current gender socialization occurs, it's far too easy for men to interject and overtake a conversation.

    And, when we do get the chance to interject and take over a conversation, we should acknowledge what we're doing, be aware of the potential issues, and invite women to contribute. Right now, for example, there are no women publically engaging with this article, and that's part of the problem.
  • Clint Pereira
    Featured Contributor
    Thank you for addressing this problem, because it does need to be addressed and it's not just "a cockroach on the floor" as some people might think.

    However, I do have an issue with your including an example of a death threat and then saying annoying feminists are just as bad "the worst that GamerGate has to offer." That's not a really great equivalency to suggest that being annoying on the internet is just as bad as threatening someone with rape and/or death.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Or, you know... Anti-GamerGate and its current kidnapping situation of American McGee's sister... that's sorta a thing. Pretty sure that's worse than threats...
  • Clint Pereira
    Featured Contributor
    Kidnapping is worse than threats, definitely. But death threats are worse than being annoying. My issue was with the comparison being drawn in the article.

    There are horrible people on both sides doing horrible things, but I feel like the argument too often turns into, "well, they did this" when in actuality, it is always a few people polarizing the groups with their extreme and sometimes violent actions.

    I don't know what kind of leadership exists on either side. If there is any, then they need to emerge as a voice of reason to calm down their bases. We need human faces and gestures, not escalating clannishness.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Well if you read my article on GamerGate - which is linked in this article - you'll see that there's actually no true leadership on either side. Neither anti-GamerGate or Gamergate are institutionalized groups. They're more like the #BlackLivesMatter groups and other such things where there's no president, CEO, or whatnot. It's just a bunch of unfiltered, undistinguished people who band together under a hashtag. Many of them are there - particularly in the case of GamerGate - under the impression that it's a certain way (i.e.: misogynistic). However, the group itself condemns it, and has been on the forefront of taking down anyone who claims to be part of their group and using it as an excuse to put up revenge porn, threats, and whatnot.

    Essentially, when it boils down to it, any side is viewed based on how the media wants to portray them. GamerGate got a bad rep that led to bad apples joining their group after they started claiming there was too much "leftist" media in the gaming world, and this led to misogynists bandwagoning the GamerGate hashtag thinking it was a group "like them". Same goes for anti-GamerGate and how they - despite American McGee's clear mentions of them being involved - manage to escape the media radar because they're on the "same team".

    The media is corrupt... As a result, I always try to cross-reference things before I write on them. I guess this is why my friends and family always suggest I should go to law school! Haha!
  • Mathenaut
    If you are going to make the claim that 'sexism is prevalent', then you are going to need something more substantial than 'trolls will use sexuality as much as anything else'. Otherwise, you're bordering on sensationalism (be exaggerating or twisting the root of the issue) and hypocrisy (selectively taking issue when it crosses certain lines).

    If GTA and Dragon's Crown are the most of what you have to show for prevalence, then it mostly reflects on how poorly you know the field. In that case it isn't prevalence, but existence that you have a problem with. It's easier to inflate a problem as pandemic instead of admitting that it's mostly 'stop liking what I don't like'. So ultimately, it sounds like you are either being dishonest or don't know the topic well.

    Trying to leverage GamerGate does not work well if you are trying to reach the broader gaming audience. Too many have spoken out and too much has been accomplished to twist that away from the problems in game journalism that have been exposed.

    It's also a double-edge. Just as you've said that GamerGate is associated with a stereotype, there is a stereotype also associated with the people outspoken on the other side of this issue. It's an obstacle you'll need to deal with.

    The direction that you took with Dragon's Crown is a good start. The primary first step to this topic is forming a consistent and valid definition of sexism, especially before claiming that it's prevalent. You'll need to distinguish yourself from sensationalists and posers who those those heavy labels at everything they find disagreeable. In short, you need to establish a case outside of the insular circles that already agree with you.

    If you wanted to say that sensationalism over trolls is twisting public perception, that would be true. It's also a stronger basis to argue from if you want to say that more visible pushback could counter that.

    What you want to avoid is looking like someone on the outside complaining about something they don't like in something they don't interact with for much. Moral censors have never been welcome. Not in the 80s, not in the 90s, and not now.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Okay, so now for RR-sama's classical devil's advocate commentary! From the top:

    1) The GamerGate situation - if you read the quoted article (which I wrote by the way) - is more or less perpetuated by a minority within the group. The visible (or I suppose invisible, considering their image) majority within their group is completely against the idea of anyone using #GamerGate as an excuse to commit sexist, racist, or even homophobic actions. To state "The vitriol towards women in gaming brought about by GamerGate has made it clear we do actually have a sexism issue in our overall community that's not going away on its own" is pretty much the same as saying "There's a cockroach on the floor... MY HOUSE IS INFESTED!" While I'm not denying or acting as an apologist for the GamerGate minority that did harass the women - as it undoubtedly happened - a close reading of my article would point towards an understanding that a simple "GamerGate exists, thus sexism exists" argument is shallowly true at best, and uninformed at worst.

    2) To further support the previous idea - while also propelling my next point - sexist players have always existed, and supposedly sexism has been linked to poor performance in players. Essentially, a study pointed out that players who tend to be sexist also tend to be poor players. As such, I would argue that the sexism in the gaming world isn't so much of a sexist community, and is instead - like the GamerGate situation - a result of emasculated men trying to, for the lack of a better way of putting this better, "make their wee-wee look bigger". You get this everywhere, and it's typically due to a deeper self-esteem issue that is ironically caused by society's current anti-male state. Also, before anyone gets their undergarments in a knot, I refer to anti-male in the sense that the traditional "male" traits - be they good ones or not - have been stripped from male social norms. This has led to a generation of males who have been forced to choose from accepting a less traditionally male status - which some are fine with - while others are just branded as terrible people, whether they be knights in shining armor, or truly misogynistic pigs. Sexism: it goes both ways.

    3) That one post is hardly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the "all sex is rape" fiasco. I remember studying Gender Studies and Philosophy of Sex and Gender and there's MUCH more material than just an internet post. I read at least 2-3 philosophers and researchers who basically believed that all men were rapists, and that all male-female relationships were masochistic in nature for women, and sadistic power trips for men. I'd go into more detail, but people can surely search these up in seconds over Google.

    4) Accepting differences is one of the few things I flat out agree with, but it contradicts many other points in your article. In fact, I would argue that the sexist (and other prejudiced factions) scenarios are already nearing or at their end, and that what we have left are truly the people who "don't agree". There are many factors that lead into someone's behaviour, and in my own experience people can't change unless they find an urgent need or desire to. To put it bluntly: you're going to have to put a gun to someone's head to change their mind at this point, and I'm pretty sure even then they'll revert in a few months after they get over their perpetual paranoia.

    5) Voting with your wallet makes sense. You know what makes more sense? How about women self-publishing more games? In a male-dominated environment it's easy to say "oh, well men do this more than women, and the women are mostly behind the scenes. So what? I'm an author, and the only way I can get my books through the door is printing them by hand. Steam has Greenlight, and I'm sure more than enough women (and men) would support a game over Kickstarter or GoFundMe, etc. Leaning on the men to change what they like doing is like telling a dog to play with the vacuum. You might be able to get it to do so, but it sure as hell won't like it, and the results may vary...

    6) "Stop asking for nudes". I'm going to sound like an ignoramus here, but maybe it's because my girlfriend and I are much more traditional - and tech savvy - than these women supposedly are... If you take a picture with a camera it will leak out. It might be the man, it might be a misclicked file, or it might be a virus that stole your personal data. What's the safest way to stop the distribution of nudes? Don't fucking take them in the first place. And before anyone does the "victim blaming" argument, this is *nothing* like rape. Rape is an attack by a deranged individual. Nude photos - unless they are nonconsensual - are something *you* have to allow, and something that *you* have to take. There is no arguing against that truth. If they don't exist, no one can get their hands on them. Hell, it's the reason Emma Watson's still in the clear after the "Fappening" fiasco that happened, as well as other women in the celebrity sphere. I feel bad for the people who had this happen to them - as I would probably want to torture anyone who took nudes of my girlfriend or daughter - but ultimately it's your fault that they exist at all. It's the number one reason why I won't ask of them from my girlfriend, and the number one reason I would warn against my daughter doing the same.

    Phew... that was a doozy. Hopefully this is enough to stir some conversation! Have at thee! :P
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    I'm glad there are those more articulate than me.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Hey, someone's gotta do the job. ;)
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    Gotta love great comments that are the same length as the article!

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