On Fear: Streaming, Playing, and Writing About Video Games as a Woman
As women, we are taught from a young age to fear the unknown. It is our responsibility to avoid dark alleys, short skirts, abusive men, or any other abnormal and risky behavior. Today people are too savvy about political correctness to say some of these things out loud; ie. you won’t hear many people say “well if you don’t want to get raped don’t flirt with guys at the bar.” The sentiment, however, is still there and still strong. I don’t run alone at night; I don’t walk my dog alone in the woods; I’m usually afraid to Frisbee golf by myself; I keep all my door and windows locked and protected by an alarm; but, I do game, stream, and write about games.
Has gaming become the “dark alley” of the new generation? It is in forums and twitch chats and through Xbox messages that women are being threatened and intimidated, so the comparison may not be so far off. We’ve replaced random bodily assault on the street with threats of violence, with vivid imagery depicting unspeakable sexual violence, with attempting to silence through intimidation. As the world has moved indoors and online things have not become safer for women, as one might think, but it has allowed an entire world of fear into the living room instead of leaving it out in the dark alleys and dusky barrooms.
I love streaming. I don’t have many people who love to watch me stream, but I love it. There is that fear every time I turn on my broadcast however, that I’m engaging in a reckless behavior that could endanger my family and myself. I feel excitement in my chest when I begin a stream, and a small pit of fear in my stomach. What if? What if streaming is the new alley, and I’m provoking an attack? Now, luckily no one seems to give a shit about me enough to threaten me (did I say luckily? Wow.). I can imagine, though, the fear women who have thousands of followers feel when they stream. Maybe they don’t give a shit, and I’m just being unnecessarily cautious. But the women I know who game are aware that saying they’re a woman brings certain risks with it, from the mundane and harmless as “I can’t believe there is a girl playing this game” to an insidious threat. Sarah at NYMG recently wrote an interesting piece on streaming as a woman, where she wrote that “the very act of streaming can be a political decision…” Such as wearing a short skirt or being flirtatious?
Writing about games likewise has a lot of baggage for women. We here at NYMG have received our share of backlash for choosing to write about games from a feminist perspective. I personally have encountered deep bias in academia when writing about games. I’ve had reviewers says things like, “We can publish this if you put that this is a feminist perspective in the title” or conference reviewers reject our panel because women’s issues belong at a women’s conference, not a computer conference. I know academics right now who are dragging their feet on book or article projects because they fear they will receive violent backlash. Even we here at NYMG are sometime hesitant to post or write something because of this fear. It is a risk to write about games as a woman, even more so from a feminist perspective. (In all their pretense to being about ethics and journalism, GGers don’t seem to see that they’re trying to intimidate bloggers to write only about perspectives they agree with, but that’s another issue).
Commenters often jump on my articles accusing me of being too insulting to my opponents (usually GG). I write with passion, yes. This is a personal issue for me. GG stands for the silencing of what 50% of gamers have been going through their entire gaming lives. What’s happening to women isn’t some fad, it isn’t new, and it isn’t something that only affects the women. The harassment and intimidation of female gamers should be at the heart of what all gamers care about, because women are half of gamers. (Yet, why are they only 11% of the people who make games?) The fact that I can’t stream without fear or that my friend is terrified to publish something about GG, these are issues we all need to care about.
During my dissertation research, I talked about the statistic of 1 in 3 women being sexually assaulted at open source conferences. The numbers for any of the tech industry cons are hard to find, because until recently no one recognized women as an important part of the community, and thus no one thought to have harassment policies. I talked a lot on the blog about CEOs who publicly lamented the lack of women who were interested in tech, or con organizers who tried and tried to find “qualified” women panelists to no avail. My response was and still is: if I had a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted when I showed up to work, I sure as fuck wouldn’t go. If I had a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted when I went to the grocery store, you better believe I’d start growing my own food. If I had a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted when I went to a con, I wouldn’t go. Obviously that’s not the only reason women skip cons, but I bet most women who go to cons have a bit of fear in the pit of their stomach. I know I do.
The question I have is this: should we fear streaming, playing, and writing about games? Are we responding reasonably to a fucked up, violent, and dangerous landscape? We here at NYMG often recruit new writers and podcasters and gamers to join us. How do we ethically encourage other women to put themselves at risk to make this community better and safer? We have to keep making our presence visible, noticed, and unapologetic; is that simply at odds with feeling safe?