Women in the Online Gaming Community

“Beaten by a Little Girl!”: The Experiences of Women in the Online Gaming Community

Written by Robin Leung, a WSTB05 student from the University of Toronto

This essay was submitted as part of OPF's partnership with the WSTB05 class (Understanding Power and Knowledge in Research). More information about our partnership can be found here.    

For my creative response, I will discuss the experiences of women in the male-dominated online video gaming community. Existing research on the experiences of women in the gaming community says that they often experience marginalization, sexual harassment, and gender-based harassment. Furthermore, female gamers are often stereotyped as desiring male attention or being unskilled at video games. The goal of my creative piece is to satirize the stereotypes of female gamers and to critique the notion of what it means to be a “real” gamer.

The online video game community is a site of cultural production, where women must negotiate their identity as ‘gamers’ within a space that is defined by hegemonic masculinity. Female gamers are perceived as a minority in the gaming community and often experience sexual harassment and gender-based harassment. Furthermore, representations of female gamers are limited and are often constructed in relation to male gamers. Because video games are seen as a masculine hobby, women’s desire to play video games is often treated with skepticism. Although women’s desire to play video games is as simple as wanting to have fun, there is an assumption that the underlying motive for women’s participation in gaming is to receive male attention or to differentiate themselves from women who do not play video games (Nic Giolla Easpaig and Humphrey 556). As a result, there exists the stereotype that women are unskilled at video games, and there exists the gendered stereotype of the “fake gamer girl.” According to research on Stereotype Threat Theory, the gender gap in the gaming community “may result more from cultural perceptions of gender and gaming, rather than actual differences in ability or performance” (Ratan et al. 456). This gender gap refers to the lack of female players in competitive gaming communities, such as the game League of Legends. Research says that the stereotype that women play mostly supportive roles in competitive video games is perpetuated when women are pressured to conform to gender expectations and when they believe that they are not skilled enough to play more aggressive roles (Ratan et al. 457). Women often face harassment regardless of whether or not they perform gender in the way that is expected. As a result, many women cope with harassment in games by masking their gender, which is done by choosing masculine or gender-neutral usernames and avatars. A consequence of gender masking, however, is that it contributes to “perceptions that women are rare or nonexistent in certain gaming environments” (Fox and Tang 1298).

For my creative piece, I created a “tag yourself” meme that illustrates the various stereotypes of female gamers that are described in the research articles. I chose to create a “tag yourself” meme because this type of meme embodies the reductionist representations of female gamers. My creative piece explores the concepts of othering, gender performativity, and heteronormativity. To illustrate these concepts, I incorporated various stereotypes described in the research that characterize women as being unskilled at games or desiring male attention. The “healslut” and the “filthy casual” are examples of the stereotype that women are unskilled at video games. The “uwu girl,” the “pick me girl,” and the “titty streamer” are variations of the stereotype that women play video games for male attention. The “uwu girl,” the “pick me girl,” and the “titty streamer” are often assumed to be unskilled at video games as well. The “one of the boys” stereotype is interesting because her skill in video games is acknowledged, so long as
she does not outperform male gamers, and so long as her performance of gender is not considered threatening to masculinity. The women who are “better than the boys,” however, are often met with disbelief and hostility. Women who are skilled at games are sometimes assumed to be hacking. Furthermore, they are often assumed to be “fat,” “ugly,” or “slutty.” The research on the “fat, ugly, or slutty phenomenon” is consistent with my experiences as a female gamer (Nic Giolla Easpaig and Humphrey 556). There have been many times that I have been called “fat” and “ugly” after beating an opponent in a game, although the only signifiers of my gender are my username, my avatar, my role, and perhaps my style of communication. This harassment is often paired with sexist remarks, such as “make me a sandwich,” or “get back in the kitchen.” I believe that it is the explicit performance of femininity, along with gaming skills, that threatens the masculinity of many male gamers. The women who are “secretly a girl,” however, avoid performing femininity to avoid being stereotyped and harassed. I included the “real gamer girl” as a way to critique and subvert the stereotypes of “gamer girls” and what it means to be a “real” gamer. A woman’s motive for playing video games and gaming skills does not matter. Being a “real gamer girl” is as simple as identifying as a girl and enjoying video games, whether they be casual games or competitive games.

Meme by Robin Leung

Because the experiences of female gamers are often doubted—sometimes to the point where women speaking about their experiences are met with threats of violence—the research on women in online gaming communities is important because it validates their struggles and experiences. It does not take a formal research study for female gamers to recognize the types of stereotypes and harassment that they face regularly. It is reassuring, however, to know that their experiences are recognized by “respectable” producers of knowledge. I chose to create a subversive meme about “gamer girls” because memes can be a form of knowledge production, and I wanted to create a meme that satirizes the countless misogynistic memes about “gamer girls.” Memes, however, are also a form of cultural production, and it is frustrating to see that misogynistic stereotypes about “gamer girls” are constantly being reproduced and are sometimes taken more seriously than the firsthand experiences of female gamers.