According to a study released by the Pew Research Center teen age girls are the “silent” gamers. The study broken down, finds that teenage girls make up a significant chunk of the community in that age group, but that they aren’t playing games with others. Either they don’t mic, don’t play online, or don’t even play with other people in the same room. So the question is why? I thought as a girl gamer I could give my own personal experience and take on what is happening.
The numbers were largely focused on teens between the ages of 13-17. I can say that when I was that age online gaming hadn’t taken off as of yet. It wasn’t until I was 18 and older that I was really given the chance to join the online gaming community. I was excited to do so though, to interact and reach out. My experiences since then have ranged. Some very positive, but a lot of very telling negative experiences that chased me away from online gaming for a time.
The first game I really played online was a MMO, the general reaction to my presence happened in two forms. Form one was flat out rudeness. Assumptions that I was lying about my gender, had someone else playing my characters for me, or just dismissal of my presence. Reaction number two was on the other side but just as bothersome. People would follow me around, spam me with messages, friend requests, party invites. I had one player stalk me for over an hour before I gave up and just signed off. I eventually refused to discuss my gender, wouldn’t use a mic to give it away, and sometimes flat out lied and said I was a boy. It really bothered me that it mattered so much. I didn’t want to have to hide the fact that I am who I am in order to be treated like all other players.
My second major experience was online gaming was shifting to FPS. For the most part it was pleasant, and people did seem to finally not care if I was a girl or not. I greatly enjoyed it and was very active with other gamers, having almost daily meet ups to play online. One night it was ruined for me though. My gender was discovered (as it often was) and I was singled out, every time the other team got a kill on me they made “jokes” (as they called them) about rape. I won’t go into specifics but there was nothing amusing about it. I ended up just walking away from the match in tears while those on my team started screaming at the other players. One of them apologized, the rest said I should just get over it. I all but quit playing online games after that.
I’ve come back to online gaming of course, and now am even active in the twitch community which is a whole other level of putting yourself out there as a gamer. The few years where I was inactive seemed to have done a lot of good for the gaming community. There is still that lingering negativity that I experienced from the ages of 18-20 though. It’s still largely assumed that girls (especially teenage girls) are only playing mobile games or “silly games”. I am still accused sometimes of not actually streaming for myself but that my husband is playing the game (sometimes seriously, sometimes joking). There are those that accuse me of faking my interest in gaming for male attention. Generally though the bottom line is that as a girl gamer I am different somehow, and should be treated as such.
Given this I can certainly understand why so many girls, especially younger ones just don’t want to be involved. You can hardly be around the gaming community without hearing at least one woman share a story like mine, where they felt threatened and unwelcome to such an extreme. Opening yourself up to the gaming world as a “girl” is simply opening yourself up to be treated differently. Why do so? Why play online when there are so many good single player games out there? Or if you want to be online why even bother with the mic and the follow up? Why use your voice when it’s so much easier to be a silent gamer?
Now I know this reads as pretty negative. I love being a gamer, I love meeting other gamers, I even love being a streamer. I can say that frankly most people are like me, they just don’t care. They meet girl gamers and want to treat them the same way the girls want to be treated, like they are just another gamer. The vast majority of my experiences since I’ve become active again online have been positive. Very few people are terrible to me because I am a girl, and very few get excited and follow me around. It just doesn’t happen as often as it used to.
The thing is those negative experiences can really stand out and stick with you. Especially if you are young. As you get older you learn to let it roll off your back more easily, and move one. Young people have a harder time with that. You also learn with time how to deal with it better. When I was younger I was ill equipped and ill prepared for people that treated me in a way I felt I didn’t want or deserve.
At the end of the day what I think it boils down to is the simple desire to avoid all of that awfulness. I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken me to join the online gaming world had I heard so many stories before it was my time. It’s sad though, these girls might face a few bad experiences but there are a lot of people out there waiting to be welcoming. Here’s hoping the gaming community keeps growing and more silent gamers join with us.