What’s Up Wednesday: Girl Gaming and Harassment.

Heyo Darksbane Fans!

So this week, I thought I’d talk a little about what Anna and I do when we’re not writing, editing, revising, and otherwise working our butts off!
Which is mostly…gaming. 🙂

Anna and I have been gamers since we met over 16 years ago (and before). We were playing Dark Age of Camelot together when we were merely sweethearts in high school (and we played it for 8 years!). We’ve been major gamers all these years, and we’ve played all genres, solo,  with friends, and competitively. We’ve topped scoreboards, charted on leaderboards, and generally always been the ones to beat among our friends.

So lately, we’ve been playing mostly two games: Warhammer Vermintide, and Tom Clancy’s The Division. We play with our gaming group, Menagerie, which consists of us, my dear sister Jen, and her hubs. Vermintide is fantastic fun for the group; nights of killing rats amid bouts of breathless laughter whenever something crazy happens, and whether we pull off something epicly awesome or epicly fail, well, we’re having a blast.

There’s only one oddity about our gaming group… Out of four players, three of us are girls. 

And that’s weird, right? Because everyone knows “real gamers” are boys, right?

Seriously, I can’t even say that with a straight face. I’ve known a lot of fierce gamers, and frankly, watched Anna kick their butts my whole life regardless of which bathroom they used. Sometimes, I’d be right there beside her, kicking their butts too. Girls, boys, it doesn’t matter. Gender doesn’t define a person’s talents. And if you’re a fan of our work, I figure I’m preaching to the choir.


But it’s a topic that absolutely enrages me. Gaming has been my wife’s and my favorite pastime for closer to two decades than one now, and our daughter is a 9 year old gaming star with dreams of being a Youtuber with a gaming channel of her own (like her idol, Markiplier, of course!). One thing I don’t love is having to teach her how much tougher it’s going to be for her as a girl than it would be for a boy to achieve her dreams. Not because she can’t be good, exceptional, even the BEST, but because “girls can’t be gamers”.

I wrote a post on Reddit a few years ago after running into a guy in a restaurant who professed to me and my family that there was no way we topped scoreboards in Battlefield 3 (which we were doing nightly at the time while playing with all our hardcore gaming guy friends) because “girls just don’t play games like a boy do”. *rage*
You know what people said? They said I made it up. Because no one really talks like that.
Man, I wish they were right. But it really happened. And it happens every single day.

But, the last couple years have been hella busy and we’ve mostly been playing single player, local co-op, and Overwatch (which had one of the nicest, most accepting communities we’ve ever dealt with in a majorly multiplayer game). So we haven’t run into any of that crap in a while…

Then earlier this week, it happened.

We took a day off to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, and ended the evening with a long gaming session. We popped into The Division with our pair of female characters and started sorting inventory and crafting upgrades and picking up targets. Then, something really uncomfortable happened. A couple of male characters moved up close to Anna’s character and started moving back and forth against her, then they both started doing the “jumping jacks” emote, pinning her between them.
We moved, went about our business and just played the game, grateful that outside of the hubs and safehouses, only our group was present.

We didn’t think too much of it until we came back to the safehouse later for another target and geardump, and suddenly, there they were again. A pair of guys surrounded her character and started emoting. Another guy joined in. And another stood nearby and applauded.
My wife was being sexually harassed in this game. By a couple of guys. With freaking jumping jacks emotes.   
And some people might roll their eyes at that, and say “how can you call jumping jacks sexual?” and I get it, in text, it sounds kinda silly.
But the thing that made it harassment was how it made us feel, and how they obviously intended to make us feel.

And how it made us feel was uncomfortable, imposed upon, and unsafe. We quickly made our way out of the safehouse (ironically) into the safety of the criminal-laden streets. At least out there, no one would treat us like a toy for their amusement.

The next night, the same thing happened to me. My character was surrounded by a group of guys and emoted at, basically encircled and harassed. Again, people can say this wasn’t sexual harassment, but I’ve yet to see anyone do it to a male character. Only the girls get this treatment, and only by the guys. So let’s call it what it is. We’ve been virtually harassed in this game now repeatedly.
It’s hardly the first time this has happened. It’s not the first time we’ve had to deal with such things. But this particular instance really caught us off guard because the game we were in doesn’t involve skimpy clothes or overly sexualized female models. The girls are as thickly garbed in winter gear and riot armor as the boys, and they’re hardly supermodels. They’re sleeper agents with scars and flak jackets and rifles slung over their shoulders.

Which is just more proof that it’s not about looks. It’s not even about sex. Just as with rape in reality, virtual sexual harassment is about power. And boys do it to girls because they are trying to make us uncomfortable, push us out, and reassert their dominance over a territory they claim belongs to them, even when women make up more than 40% of all gamers, and no, not just casual or mobile games or My Little Pony and Barbie’s Hat Shop.

My daughter was practically raised on Minecraft, FPS, and battle-brawlers. Steam Sales were a family holiday.
Does she really have to grow up in a world where she’ll be harassed just for daring to do what she loves?

Personally, I’m still at a loss. This is 2017. Is it really so hard to understand that girls game? That girls are gamers who might play *any* type of game? That girls can be excellent gamers? That girls can do ANYTHING that boys do? My mind doesn’t comprehend this. Is this really still a thing? Maybe I give our society too much credit…

Yet again, I find myself looking at our work and saying “This is why we do this. This is why we started writing stories with lesbian leads, with female leads, with strong female characters, with females and males who all treat each other like human beings. This is why we do this…”

And we’ll keep doing it. And keep hoping.

Keep changing the world, one day at a time.

I strong believe in the whole “be the change you want to see in the world” movement.

Dakota, Ashes, Jone… They’re just a few of our dreams for reality.

A world where these characters could be just as respected as their straight and/or male counterparts…We’re on our way.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.


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