Women in the Geek World
This week I have an important topic to write about. It's not in my usual vein, but it has to do with the culture I choose to live in; "geek" culture. I write both as a geek and for geeks, and I happen to think that nerdy/geeky people can be some of the coolest, most creative people on the planet. It saddens me greatly when I hear about or experience something that shows we can be just as petty and awful as everyone else, perhaps even more so.
I've been out of the gaming loop for a long time. World of Warcraft lost its charm for me a few years ago, and I'm sad to say I didn't stick with The Old Republic very long, either. I've never been a FPS (First Person Shooter) player, since I get motion sick, so I haven't really been directly involved in or observed much online gaming abuse aside from being the target of a small amount of it in Starcraft 2 battles, but when I read "Gaming While Female" by Dr. Nerdlove I was compelled to write something about it.
The article explains and comments on the gender bias in gaming and geek culture against women. Women, it explains, face harassment, negative comments, and even outright verbal attacks just for being women. It cites a study done by Ohio University where women were called all manner of awful things just for saying hello in voice-chat on Halo 3. Female accounts, the study found, drew three times more negative comments than the male accounts, including things like "Shut up, whore" after one female gamer said hello to everyone. This kind of horrid treatment, it explains, has driven nearly half of the women who would like to game from doing so, and caused a significant number of those who remain to take steps to conceal their gender.
As someone who has felt inspired by video games, and who loves strong female characters regardless of the media in which they appear, this type of behavior coming from my gender strikes me as not just offensive, but bizarre as well. I say that, not because it is unexpected (sad though that is), but because I can only imagine these idiots who are making the gaming and geek environment so hostile to women are doing so because their foolish egos do not realize there is no difference between being bested by a man or a woman. You've still lost, and hopefully, you'll learn something from it.
From what I've been able to gather, between 30%-64% of gamers are female—no one seems to agree on a figure, and I suspect it has to do with the types of games that "count" in such surveys. It's completely nonsensical to drive half of a population out of a culture for any reason. This is particularly true in video games, and dare I say the entire set of geek genres from games to movies to books, since aside from the moral implications, doing so reduces revenues which reduces the amount of quality content available. Moreover, women think in different ways than men do, and bring something distinct to the table. Their presence, if given its equal weight, makes for a more meaningful experience overall.
Clearly, attitudes towards women in geek culture have to change. As the article points out, there is no magic solution to accomplish this, but perhaps by presenting an increasing number of good female characters in lead roles, we can move those slow to grasp gender equality towards a greater respect, not just for female characters, but for real life women as well. As strange as it may sound, I hope to see the day when a lead female character isn't something rare or special, because that would mean the mold which our culture says women should fit will have finally been broken for good.
I could go on, but I'll stop it here and add that I hope, I really hope, that my fellow male geeks wake up, cut the crap, and start treating women as one should treat anyone—on merit. I hope that the industry continues to produce more and more female characters in leading roles to set the example, and I hope male geeks realize our lives—including our gaming lives—are much better with women taking an active, meaningful role.
Without that, we're all just getting half the experience.