Facing ridicule in the boys' club of online gaming
Perhaps that question is slowly becoming a thing of the past. However, several years ago I couldn't count the number of times that question boomed through my gaming headset.
I dabbled in video gaming as a wee girl of seven. My brother, Davin, who is five years older than me, loved playing games. When we weren't fighting, we were playing Mario Bros. together in a semi-civilized manner (I won't get into the time we got into a scrap and I threw the Duck Hunt controller at his head). Davin never mocked me for playing games.
It wasn't until I was 14 that I was introduced to the online first-person shooter, Counter-Strike. I hadn't played any video games online before that. I would play for hours on end, going to sleep only when the sun came up.
The in-game voice chat was an exciting new feature to me. I could talk to local friends, and to people I didn't know who were miles away. We could share our experiences in the game, harmlessly trash talk each other, and just have fun.
The good gone bad
I quickly came to realize that the "harmless" trash talking went far beyond who had better gaming skills. As a female gamer playing Counter-Strike – a rare occurrence – it was generally the main topic of discussion. Soon, the harmless banter turned harmful.
Whenever I talked in-game, I would first be asked if I was a little boy. Before I gave up and just ended up saying I was, I used to proudly state that I was a girl. This was followed by countless ridicule.
Guys would say hurtful things like, "You must be fat and pimply," or "Girls don't belong on the Internet." At 24, I would laugh these bullies off and probably have some witty remark to fire back with, but at the vulnerable age of 14, their words stung. When I did better than my opponents – which was often – the torment would get even worse, out of embarrassment.
In comparison to men at that time, female gamers were indeed fewer and farther between. It wasn't often that I discovered others of my kind while playing Counter-Strike.
Perhaps when girl gamers started popping up in a male dominant hobby, and playing just as good as them, they felt threatened. Maybe they felt like we were hacking into their secret society, or being the annoying girlfriend that always barges in on "guy night."
Ryan Simmons, a 24-year-old gamer, recalls the female gamer movement, especially in Counter-Strike.
"I tried not to treat them differently, but I certainly thought, 'Silly girls, this is Counter-Strike. Just try and keep up with my manly reflexes,' but some did though," Simmons said.
You can't see me
Anonymity can be an extremely powerful weapon to those players who wield it on the Internet, not just in video games but in online comments, blogs, and websites like YouTube. People can hide behind the glow of their screens and say or do anything they want with generally no repercussions.
They can don a new persona, be the "cool guy," blurt out harsh things, get in fights, and the Internet police won't burst out of their screen. I do not believe any of those runts would have smothered me in hatred had I physically been in front of them.
Eventually the words got to be too much. I was afraid to reveal my femininity. I had to shut off the chat all together and play with nothing but the ambience of bullet shells flying in the background. My game play experience was completely altered, and I had to sacrifice the social aspect of video gaming because of it.
In the past few years, the explosion of video games geared towards girls has brought many new invading females to the scene. Though the mockery still lives on in the video game world, it has gotten better over the years.
"I can't tell if the community is becoming more accepting of female gamers, or if we've all just got thicker skins after all of the harassment," said Megan Jinks, a 23-year-old avid gamer.
Jinks, who has been playing since the days of Super Nintendo, said that men are not entirely to blame for how they act toward women on the Internet. She said that sometimes it is women themselves who ask for the scorn.
"Some girls promote this stereotype of the 'helpless' female gamer," Jinks said.
"My frustration is more directed towards those girls who make guys think it's okay to treat us like second-class-gamers in the first place."
Today, I laugh at the mockery that still sneaks into my headset here and there. I feel like I have survived the battle and have become a more powerful defender of myself. I was once afraid to express my passion of video games, but now I let my nerd flag fly.
Who knew I would lead a club of 368 members who all share the same passion. Club N3Rd encourages outward geeky pride among all members who embrace video games and geek culture. No one has a problem with their leader being a female, and I'm treated with utmost kindness and respect. We play games online together and I can happily keep the voice chat turned on with no fear of harassment.
That's truly all this nerd could ask for.
- By DARA DEFREITAS