Having spent the last 20 years* playing in the boy’s sandbox in tech and in hobbies, I’ve long concluded that 90% of the people I meet along the way are cool and awesome and open and welcoming and want to share and explore together. I also recognize 10% of the boys in the sandbox have a tendency toward Douchebaggery amplified by the no-filter of the Internet. It’s the 10% I’m addressing.
The sexism in gaming meme is an ever-recurring topic in gaming — rpgs, video games, board games, the whole chalupa. Someone on the Internet (or worse, in person) says something dumb, insensitive and mean, a few people pile on, a few other people pile somewhere else, feelings are hurt, women feel marginalized, they wander off to go do something more positive, and everyone decries: “This is why we have no women in gaming!”
First, there are women in gaming. Women playing games, women writing games, and women discussing games. I point to Zynga and their Money Hats to bolster my comment as proof: someone is paying for extras in those Facebook games. The environment for women to enjoy games of all sorts, especially RPGs, is much better than it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. We have been slowly coming out of the woodwork. It is better now.
Second, the women in gaming argument is like the women in engineering comment. We have a real, serious problem in engineering with gender ratios and gender disparity. We wring our hands and ask: “Why are there no women in engineering?” And after many years of taking data and keeping little counts I have come to the quasi-scientific conclusion that there are no women in engineering because there are no women in engineering. Women get sick of looking around and going: hey, I’m alone here. I could be in bioinformatics or law or medicine and not be alone anymore. Graduate School, come to me! I must flee this mortal toil! And we exit stage left because a lifetime of being alone takes a special crazy mindset. But…. if we had a few women who stuck around (like me) and decided to stick it out (like me) and maybe did a little dance and said hey, look, if we don’t all exit stage left and a few of us get old and hoary here, maybe we can entice a few more to stay… and a few more… and a few more… and someday we’ll have enough of us to do lunch! Because in the end, insensitive words are just words and what doesn’t kill you just teaches you to mantra of no fear.
Gaming is the same way. Yes, it’s still testosterone laden, even after the roleplaying games themselves have moved hard away from wargaming and strongly into gender-neutral storytelling-play**. Yes, getting dumped on and ignored and targeted for nasty, uncomfortable comments from idiots on the Internet gets old. Yes, soaking stupid comments makes women who hang out in the communities feel ostracized and unwanted. And yes, after a while, we all stand around and go: what the hell are we doing this for? When I can do anything else?
I know this because I am old and I have been there a dozen times now.
But life’s not about giving up something we enjoy because of mean people. Gaming is fun and some of us enjoy it enough to stick it out and realize 10% of jerks does not discount the other 90%. When this rears its head, instead of hiding or yelling or getting into a flamewar, stand up and say (or post):
I am a woman and I game.
Say it right into the stream of comments. Say it in gaming shops and at cons. Because then the women aren’t invisible any more. We are here and you are not speaking to some random, faceless target. You are speaking to a human being and I am right here. And then keep calm and carry on.
When these things erupt, the next time, it takes one woman to simply stand up and post that into the stream of Internet spew. Just one. The response will be ignored at best and derision at worst, but a face and name will now be attached to the target. And maybe the time after that, it will be two. And after that, it will be like Alice’s Restaurant.
One person does it and maybe they’ll think they’re a freak.
Two people do it and maybe they’ll think it’s a plot.
Three people do it and maybe they’re an organization.
But fifty people do it, fifty people, well, hell, then it’s a movement.
We are here.
If we all stood up to be counted, and said: “Hey, I’m a woman and I game” (MMOs or RPGs or FPSs or any other 3 letter acronym) and we stood up and we were proud, well, hell, others might just join us and be just as public and we could stop having this conversation about there being no women in gaming and it not being a place for women. Because it is. We just gotta show up.
And now back to my regularly scheduled boring posts no one reads.
* Holy crap! 20 years!
** Of which some of us are profoundly grateful. And I’d like to thank all the game designers today who have made that happen, but you guys and girls know who you are.