Photo of a young girl playing a video game

Leave the gate open for women gamers

I’m a gamer, but don’t quiz me on what year each World of Warcraft expansion came out when I tell you that I’ve played the game before. Don’t test me on which multipliers are most effective for demon hunter gear in Diablo 3. Don’t tell me I’m not a real gamer if I can’t tell you which keyboard shortcut constructs additional pylons in Starcraft II (it’s E, by the way).

For all the talk about diversity and inclusivity, there remains an element of gatekeeping when it comes to women and gaming. While The 70th Primetime Emmys celebrated the most diverse group of nominees and Crazy Rich Asians topped the box office with an all-Asian cast, in another aspect of entertainment we find that while plenty of women are involved with gaming, the overall tolerance of these women is lacking.

Gatekeeping in the gaming industry is a common occurrence. It works like this: Gaming and eSports have enormous online communities that rally around a common passion, but some members take it upon themselves to decide who does and does not have a right to identify with these groups. Women are often the target of these gatekeepers (who tend to be male). The women are asked very specific questions to “test” their knowledge of the very thing these two parties have in common.

Why purposefully exclude people from enjoying something that you also enjoy? In his book Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of eSports, Roland Li writes that the reason could be twofold. First, that it’s “a backlash by a hardcore... fan base dealing with the popularization of the industry and exposure to more groups,” because “there’s often contempt for newcomers in gaming, an environment where expertise and experience are lauded.” Second, some people are insecure, which fuels harassment.

Many women avoid voice communication in-game because of the harassment they end up enduring. Just ask streamer Anne Munition, who made a video compilation and blog post with proof of male players making sexist and derogatory comments towards her despite her gaming skill. In competitive games like Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, voice chat is integral to synergy and effective teamwork. But when your teammates are making crude comments like “you’re s-- at the game” when you make a mistake, or calling you a b-- for not accepting their friend request, how likely are you to use voice comms?

Lisa Nakamura points out in “Racism, Sexism, and Gaming’s Cruel Optimism” that two strategies repeatedly come up to address these social issues. Some suggest that we have to diversify game makers to address gaming’s racism and sexism. Others say that gaining respect by proving skill with a female character or while being open about being female is the way to achieve “the freedom not to be harassed while playing games.” But this makes freedom from harassment to be a privilege, not a right.

The solution is not to include women just for the sake of having them in gaming and eSports, but to celebrate women gamers to encourage more of us to be active in the industry. Let women gamers know they, too, can be great.

Let’s change how we communicate. Before being defensive, be inclusive. Be welcoming. Invite others to share in the things you enjoy. Inclusivity is about making space; defensiveness is about closing things off. We’re past the point of calling each other “nerds” as an insult. Don’t be afraid to call people out for being rude and disrespectful online. Some may say you’re “white knighting” (a derogatory term: a man who tells off another man for being rude to a woman in order to gain her favor). You’re not — you’re simply being a good person.

During my PR internship at Blizzard this past summer, I was fortunate to be surrounded by women who have succeeded in the gaming industry. Women who work at our dream company. Women who have come out on top despite the harassment and gatekeeping.

We’ve worked hard and we’ll continue working hard, but we shouldn’t have to prove that we belong. The gates are open, let’s keep it that way.

This piece was also published in the Spring 2019 issue of the USC Annenberg Magazine.