On women “kicking ass” at games

I’m sick of waking up each morning to read yet another news story about a close-minded douchebag gamer being sexist. Yesterday it was some charmer claiming to have bedded women on Sonic bedsheets; today, the perpetuating and justification of sexism in the fighting games community. But you’ve heard these stories already, and that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

What I do want to bring to light is a common response to this: that women should totally be taken seriously in games, because “women can kick ass too”.

Stop saying that. Seriously.

Having a girl say “he was just sexist because I was more skilled than him at Starcraft 2″ creates the same kind of hierarchy amongst women that Cosmo does when it offers articles titled “100 Things His Ex Didn’t Do In Bed”. Such a hierarchy suggests that certain women are less deserving than others of misogynistic treatment. It perpetuates a culture where women are pitted against each other, competing to be the “best” female player, competing for the attention and validation of their male peers.

“But Katie, are you sure you’re not just saying this because you suck at games?” you might say.

Who fucking cares if I suck at a game? Who cares if I’m even good at a game? Why does a women need to be skilled to be respected as a person with a hobby? Why can’t she just be respected because she’s a human being?

Most people are not brilliant at games, whether they’re guys or girls. But the guys don’t have to worry about personal insults of their skill based around their gender. So why is it so common to hear things like “I am a skilled gamer, and this is why you should respect me as a woman”? This creates an expectation of women gamers that the guys simply don’t have to worry about, and it can be used to justify sexist behaviour towards the less skilled majority. How are women less acquainted with gaming going to feel if they want to give online gaming a go? How would a new player handle the inevitable abuse if there’s a clear distinction between her, the noob, and the women who make a point of being better than others?

If we placing ourselves above other women that way, they may feel they have even less of a right to speak up about their experiences. You’re not helping feminism by pointing out that you can “kick a guy’s ass”. You’re only degrading other women, and you’re really not even helping yourself.

Edit: This post is in no way about games journalism or criticism, and is no comment on or justification of my own contributions to it.

17 thoughts on “On women “kicking ass” at games

    • This is a great question, and also a really difficult one for me to answer. If I’m being depressingly honest, my life has really revolved around games the past few years. I’ve played games since I was a child, I studied games at university, and now I write about them, too.

      But hey, I do have a sort of mild example. For awhile I was pretty involved with some indie musicians and scenesters here in Melbourne, and I won’t deny I had to pass a few of these credibility tests (“What’s your favourite song by X band? Oh. All the mainstream fans pick that song”). I would say the difference between that and the gaming community is that the expectation here in gaming is constant. Nobody has to say anything; I already know I’m expected to perform to a certain standard if I want to be taken seriously. And then there’s the gender thing – nobody ever told me my deficiency in the knowledge of a certain band had anything to do with “girls sucking at music”. It also happened far less often than the sort of things I have to answer for in gaming.

      Of course, the gender balance does vary wildly between music and geekdom, but this the strongest example from my own experiences I could think of.

      Thank you for the link to Lauren’s blog – it’s brilliant.

      • That’s an interesting comparison between the gaming subculture and the indie music/scenester subculture as I was involved with the latter too about a decade ago now. The gender ratio was much more equal and there was never condemning someone’s lack of knowledge or abilities based on their gender. There was snobbery and many times did I lie about knowing an obscure band that I’d never heard of, but that elitism was always based on knowledge and never on gender.

        I think things are hopefully changing in the gaming culture (although maybe not where you were studying at uni) but obviously it has a long way to go.

        • Oddly enough, I wasn’t aware there was a gender imbalance in the gaming community until I started university here in Australia. I didn’t know many other gamers at all, but the few I did were a pretty even split between male and female. As such, I was never subjected to insults about my sex during my high school years. Attending my first core games class at university, in which the only other female in the room was the teacher and some trenchcoated smartass in the back row said “Can we get a guy teaching this class instead?”, was a real shock for me.

          I’d be curious to know if gender-based insults are as prevalent in other communities with significantly different gender make-ups (whether male- or female-heavy).

          • Yeah likewise, I didn’t realize it was a thing until I started these last 5 or so years getting involved online with gamers. Prior to that I knew a few gamers personally, but not many. Some were male. Some were female. It wasn’t even an issue.

            Yeah I do wonder myself if this type of sexism exists in female dominated communities. For example, if a guy was really good at baking or knitting, would he be told that, “he’s good… for a guy” :/

  1. I hope people take the time to read Katies story and think about it in the “Big Picture” and really do something to make this world a better place. Common sense is in all of us and it tells us what is right and what is wrong. (Hate/Anger/Control is just signs of weakness and fear).

    Men and Women are equal. I say this because we are all human. It’s like saying some gymnastic athlete is better than me because of their skill in athletics. But we all have strengths and weaknesses. We might as well just be public about racism. If we cannot all learn to live on earth equally then we will never reach what i had hoped to see in the “future” (now) when i was a kid 15 years ago. I thought wow at the rate we are progressing in life we will definitely all have world peace. I could go on about how we have the same type of bias in politics thinking they need to control us and that it is wrong to be different in order to reach world peace, but it is as simple as common sense, doing what we all know is right and understanding we are all one people as a whole. Look at the AtheneLive.com stream for charity, he is helping a man take care of more sick, starving and normally treated as if they aren’t real human beings. Look it up. They are creating a community of gamers that are donating as much as some of our presidential candidates receive to campaign for presidency (not going there either). I think anyone with common sense understands what “Katie” is saying here. How lazy and blind are we to not do more to make this a better world? I don’t doubt if we see an Ancient Egypt era or Roman Empire era again soon if we don’t do something as a whole. (you know like how we all cryed about our internet and our rights)? we aren’t we putting that world wide effort into other major topics like bias behavior to individuals that are and always will be equal to all of us. I wish i could live in a village of starving people and do what i can to help even if it means my life.
    ~shannon lasell

  2. Interesting viewpoint. I sort of get it, but it’s not clicking fully with me. So, you’re saying that a good female gamer should not claim she is better than most guys, but should claim instead that she is a better gamer than most other people? The fact she is singling out the male sex for comparative results, indicates a disrespect for female gamers in general?

    On the subject of respect, there are so many levels and types of it, of various subtlety and nature, it’s nearly impossible to describe. I agree that, in general, a human being should be granted a modicum of respect, but greater respect cannot be given unless you know that person, their achievements, and/or their abilities.

    This is the crux of the problem you seem to be writing about. These talented female gamers are calling out for more respect with their claims. They are trying to gain that respect by showing they can beat a guy in a male dominated area. And you know what, fair enough. I do grant more respect to talented female gamers. I also play competition squash, and have, over the years, played a number of top female players. I’ve beaten some, and lost to some. They were fun games to play, and I respect those players for their abilities.

    In a similar vein, you’ve also earned my respect, Katie, because you write well, write from the heart, and you have a very good knowledge of gaming culture. Maybe you’re not a top gamer, but you appear to have gaming ability enough. It’s a different respect.

    A guy having sex with a girl, on Sonic bedsheets, is sexist? Maybe it was the way it was said. I missed that story.

    • Umm, no. I’m saying that one’s skill shouldn’t be relevant to how she is treated. Unfortunately, trying to prove her worth in such a way only strengthens the prevalence of an irrelevant expectation.

      Look, while studying games at university, I felt like I had to prove myself like this all the time, just so that people would think that I could contribute to a discussion about games too, just so people wouldn’t whine when some “girl who sucked at games” had to join their group project. So yes, I talked up my abilities. I realised how misguided I was when a friend – who considered herself “average” in online gaming – admitted to me how awful it made her feel.

      A woman saying that she “can kick a guy’s ass any day” doesn’t necessarily indicate an active disrespect for other women. Some ladies are just misguided, as I was – hence this post.

      Maybe you’re not a top gamer…

      It’s actually really interesting that three people now seemed to think that this post is a justification of my lack of gaming ability or something. Could this opinion only have come out of a crap player? Do you have to be female to be offended by sexism? Do you have to be of a minority race to be offended by racism?

      And why, despite the content of this post, are people still making assumptions about the author’s skill level?

      I dislike this ass-kicking phenomenon not as a bad gamer, but as a female who has to put up with these expectations. I hated it when I got harassed for being shit at Team Fortress 2 the very first time I ever played it, and I hated it when I was raiding in high-ranked WoW guilds. Truth is, I’m probably awful at some games and awesome at others – and unless someone is amazing enough to actually make a living off gaming, really, why does it even matter?

      • Thanks for the reply. One’s skill shouldn’t be relevant to how they are treated? An odd thing to say. If you were choosing someone to give you a triple bypass, would you choose a heart surgeon or a bus driver?

        If, though, you were to say that an irrelevant skill shouldn’t reflect how they are treated, then I can certainly agree with you.

        Your post a justification of your lack of gaming ability? I hope you didn’t include me in that list. I’m not making assumptions on your gaming ability from this post. I have assumed though, from reading many of your posts, that you have an above average (though not elite) gaming ability. But then, I can say the same for 49% of all people, so my odds were good.

        Why does it even matter? Well, in a multiplayer game, I can see why people would want to pick a better player for their teams. For single player games? Nope, doesn’t matter in the slightest. Maybe it reflects on my own ability, or my tendency towards being anti-social, but I generally play single player games. Although, I do have fun playing Wii Sports Resort with family.

        Though, I’m guessing that the core issue is that female gamers are assumed to be worse than a male gamer. Alas, for most guys, this assumption is likely based on experience. Certainly, of all the females that I know, none have the same gaming ability that I do. What is a guy to conclude in this circumstance?

        Keep up the interesting posts! You’re doing a great job.

        • No; it’s irrelevant to how a gamer is treated. I’m sorry if that didn’t come across; I didn’t think I needed to specify that on what is primarily a gaming blog. But if I was having heart surgery, it totally goes without saying that I would pick the guy who tops the leaderboards in MW2, because relevance.

          What is a guy to conclude in this circumstance?

          Maybe that women aren’t putting in the same time into honing their skills because they’re so often shot down for being “bad at gaming” before anyone even sees them play.

          • True, they don’t put in the same time that I do. Shot down for being “bad at gaming”? Not me, thank-you-very-much. I _want_ more women to be gamers, and to be better gamers. I try to be encouraging when I can. Y’know, when I’m not flinging insults at them about not being able to hit a beach ball at point blank. Actually, that tends to be encouraging as well, or at least, I soon see red afterwards.

      • I think the picture and opening paragraph (despite the last line of it) make people think this is an article about “why do women need to kick ass -in fighting game tournaments as pro gamers- to be respected?”
        I then read your comment here, then reread the article and was like “Oh, its actually about letting people contribute to gaming in general regardless of their skillz and the increased pressure gamers of the female persuasion feel in this regard”. I guess I was in mainstream games journalism mode.

        A good article!

  3. I’ll dare to say that it makes sense to me. The statement, “Hey, I’m a girl and I can kick ass too!” resurrects the notion that females are inherently less capable than males—and that, consequently, there was a greater obstacle for the female to overcome, thus making the importance of her gaming victory one surpassing that of the “naturally superior male gamer.”

    However, it really doesn’t matter whether a girl is or isn’t amazing at competitive online games either, because there are legions of males who are terrible at these games. It has nothing to do with gender, but rather with the attitude of the player. From an American perspective, American males exist in a culture that thrives on displays of pseudo-manliness and raging insecurity (there is plenty of game-box cover art to reflect and support this—everything has to look meaner for America.) The typical male gamer is what many refer to as the “Call of Duty player,” who wants nothing more than to run about with guns blazing, sans-strategy. To imply that he should change to better his results would be an insult to his feigned manhood. There is no claim to skill that a male can make based on his gender.

    On the flip side, guys face negativity from other guys frequently during online gaming, so although the blame may have been placed on your gender before, rest assured that if it wasn’t that, they would find any number of other ways to insult you. I’ve been rage-kicked from games many times, not for doing poorly, but for doing too well. Men can be so insecure that they’ll bitch about not getting killed in the way they prefer to be killed (!) which makes those who play creatively the most despised of all—male or female.

    So, I hope you don’t take the negative, sexist comments of those particular male gamers to heart. Girls can be among the elite in any game they choose—but regardless of gender, if you aren’t driven by some mad belief that you must become undefeatable or your whole world will shatter, you won’t feel driven to obsess over your skills as much as others do.

  4. I don’t have time to read the whole thread . . but I used to play this one MMO quite a lot. And generally people were respectful to anyone regardless of gender while some people were crude I don’t think that reflects on the culture of gamers as a whole. Most propably it reflects mainly the behavior of children or people who are insecure. Again, generally respect was something you have to earn and did not get simply because you are human. I believe everyone in this world that can read your blog is human but obviously not everyone gets the same amount of respect. I think asking that people all get respected equally and treated seriously, is a nice thing to think about like world peace but is kind of preposterous.

  5. I am just sick of it, I have done everything I can to just be left alone to play in peace. Every user name I have is androgynous, I bought MorphVOX to hide that I am female so I can raid, I don’t draw any attention to myself. And now not only is it that women might exist in “their” world of games it’s that they exist at all even as characters.

    I thought for such a long time why should I even bother? Not a lot of companies even recognise us anyway, we either don’t exist in video games or only exist for men. But I just enjoy playing games too much. I guess that means that I am trying to be some PC thug who wants to take all the poor mens spaces. All I can say is I am fed up. Games aren’t meant to be realistic, the guy that said well girls can’t do kick ass or wield big guns…… Ummm can how often do you see a khajiit dual wielding fireballs in real life? Games aren’t REAL, the things men can do in them they can not do in reality. So you don’t want women to exist in video games, FINE about 90% of all lead characters are male! Go play those games, but let me have something for fuck sake.

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