I play online games quite a bit, over Steam. Mostly it’s L4D2, or TF2. L4D2 I tend to play only with my close friends – people I know in real life. The larger servers on TF2 mean that I’m often playing with strangers. Sometimes I stack a team with my friends, sometimes I don’t.
I also use my microphone. A lot. I like talking – sometimes to tell people what’s happening in the game, or to ask questions, sometimes just to dick around. However, sadly, I have a very obviously non-adult-male voice, as do the two women I game with most frequently.
The first thing that happens is that people try to guess whether we’re female, or young boys. We’re different, you see. The norm in online gaming, they believe, is to be a post-pubescent male. After establishing that we’re female, the other players seem to split three ways.
1. People who don’t care either way, and just continue playing. These are my favourites. They’re the people I’m mostly likely to accept friend requests from. People who enjoy the game, like having a chat and a bit of fun, and who enjoyed playing with me, but aren’t going to get weird about it. They’re well-adjusted and mature, and tend to be people like myself and my friends – adults who are unwinding with a bit of fun.
2. Young men who get kind of… obsessive. They’re fascinated with the concept that women are on the internet, and you can tell, over the course of a few rounds, that they’re beginning to imagine themselves in love with us. They are lonely, and they are a bit sad, and I feel kind of sorry for them. I won’t accept their friend requests, though – that way lies madness, and angry steam messages because you were logged on and they tried to talk to you and you were AFK and they assumed you were ignoring them. No thanks.
3. Men who have a seething hatred for all womankind, and choose to express it using incredibly violent, vitriolic, sexist language. People who will tell you how much they hate you, simply because of those two X chromosomes you’re carrying around.
This post is about that third group.
Last week, Heather told me about a particularly negative gaming experience she’d had, in which men on a TF2 server hurled huge piles of abuse at her, including the phrase “Speak when you’re spoken to, bitch.” That’s a particularly violent example of the kinds of things one hears as a female gamer, but jesus, it made me pretty angry to hear about it.
The issue here is not that gamers like this are making TF2 a less woman-friendly place, and therefore cutting off their nose to spite their face. I mean, sure, that’s an issue, but that’s kind of a male-centric one.
My issue with this is that the men who talk like this are the most fucking gutless idiots on the face of the earth. They are the worst kind of internet tough guy.
Can you imagine these young men, late teens, early 20s, in a real-world situation, using that kind of language? I’m a teacher, and while I’ve copped some abusive language, I’ve never heard anything quite like that. Imagine them using that in the workplace, to a superior, or even to just a colleague. Imagine them trying to tell a female student in a tutorial, or a lecturer, to speak when she’s spoken to. Imagine them saying that to their mother.
We have social rules that clearly state that behaviour is inappropriate. They know it – there’s no way they can’t. And I know a lot of you are thinking, well, what do you expect, it’s the internet, people behave badly there.
No. There is no excuse for that kind of behaviour. The internet is becoming an increasingly important means of communication – young people are doing most of their socialisation on it. Hell, I do most of my socialisation on it. It’s where I get my news, where I plan my social events, where I unwind with my friends at the end of the day. Imagine if Heather and I were on the bus, having a conversation, and a guy behind us started telling us to speak when we were spoken to, or that old chestnut, to make him a sandwich.
I would call the cops. If someone was harassing me like that in public, I would get the five-oh on them. That behaviour is completely inappropriate, and it’s not okay on the internet either.
The shitty thing is, though, my opinion doesn’t matter. Douches like that guy have managed to transform the internet, and online gaming, into male space. Women are told to show tits or GTFO, as though the whole internet is one of those “exclusive” but seedy men’s establishments where women are only allowed in if they’re taking their clothes off. ‘Fraid not, guys.
But if you are a lady and you encounter behaviour like this (and you will), even your actions are limited. If you go off at them, you’re a raging bitch feminazi lesbian who needs a good dicking to sort her out. If you leave the server to find one where you can play without being subjected to verbal violence, you’re a whiny crybaby. There’s only one way to make them happy, and that’s to giggle, to get sexually suggestive (in a non-threatening way) and tell them you’ll make them that sandwich, while wearing a french maid’s outfit. This is because by making it male space, they also get to redefine people’s reactions to their awful behaviour in ways that fit their skewed worldviews. And in turn, it makes women feel as though we’re playing those roles. Leaving a server feels like losing. Getting angry can feel like losing. Either of these actions are, of course, totally justified. No one should stay somewhere they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. And no one should be made to feel bad for defending themselves.
Strangely enough, I, and all the women I know, don’t really feel like stroking the egos and confirming the world views of a bunch of pathetic, angry losers who have, for some unknown reason, complete and total rage for my entire gender. Because that’s what it is, at the end of the day. It’s not just because it’s acceptable behaviour on the internet – it’s because for some reason, they want to treat women with that level of contempt and disrespect. You only do it on the internet if it’s how you want to act in real life.
What the fuck is that about? People will say things like “oh, they’re just mad because they can’t get girlfriends” or “they’re lonely basementdwelling losers” and so on, but the truth is, some of these guys have jobs and girlfriends and friends and lives and yet they completely and totally hate women.
Remember that guy I used to know, the one who ended up being the worst person in the entire world? He was a guy whose complete hatred of women developed over time. I figured it was largely a joke, but then, no. He spent a lot of time at the bodybuilding forums, and you want to see some misogyny? Go there. It is mindblowing how much they hate women. Now, not hating women is a pretty key element for any person I’m friends with. I need all my friends to be people who have decent gender politics. I don’t think this is completely unfair. And I don’t hate men – I love them. I don’t think all men are dreadful people. Hell, until I started using the internet, I hadn’t really experienced that level of total hatred for women. I don’t know why some men can hate women that much. I know I don’t want to be around women who hate men that much, either. That’s a lot of hate to be carrying around with you all the time.
The internet is normalising this kind of behaviour. It’s not normal. If it’s not appropriate to say it in real life, it’s not appropriate to say it on the internet.
Finn showed me this video. Have a look at it. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but while you watch it, consider the fact that during my hundreds of hours of online gaming, I’ve had most of those things said to me (the female version, anyway). I’ve had random strangers threaten to rape me. I’m not particularly afraid because, well, they don’t know where I live, but I want you all to seriously think about what kind of person actually says these things to another human being, actually attempts to verbally intimidate them and silence them and make them feel bad about themselves simply because of a factor like gender. Think about if you’d tolerate that kind of behaviour in your workplace, at your uni, in your home.
Now; do me a favour. If you’re a guy, and you’re gaming, and you witness behaviour like this, speak up, even if you don’t know the people involved. If someone does something dreadful like this, make your opinion known. Tell them it’s not okay. Help reduce the shitty misogynist culture of gaming; it’s the right thing to do. Ladies: I’m sorry that this happens. I hope you keep playing, because fuck, these games can be so much fun. If you feel like you can speak up, speak up. There are good guys on the internet – I know, I game with them all the time. Or, you know, you could just ask for a sandwich for yourself.