The other sexism in gaming

Queer gamers seek to create safer gaming spaces in wake of cissexist comments

Graham Haught/Staff

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In survival video games, there’s always a home base — a place to store your loot, heal your wounds and save your progress before venturing out into the darkness again. It’s somewhere to go, and it’s somewhere to be. It’s safe.

Surviving in the gaming community isn’t as easy. Gaming is stereotyped as a particularly sexist industry, a place where women have to work tirelessly to feel safe. The rampant cissexism and heteronormativity that afflict the industry, however, are overlooked, ignored because there simply aren’t any voices to be heard. Queer gamers don’t just have a hard time finding a safe space — their safe spaces don’t even exist.

For Samantha Allen, an out transgender writer, visibility is the first step toward finding a safe house. In “An Open Letter to Games Media,” Allen implored the editors in chief of several prominent gaming news outlets — including IGN, Kotaku and GameSpot — to actively create safe spaces for “marginalized groups” rather than remain “complacent … while allowing the most vulnerable members of the community to shoulder the responsibility for change.”

Allen related an instance of blatant cissexism that she encountered on Kotaku after writing a guest editorial about BDSM sex and its relation to masochism in gaming. Her byline, she said, specifically states that she is a transgender woman as a “display of solidarity” and visibility for other trans* people in the gaming community.

“When I finally made the mistake of looking at the comments on my Kotaku article, I wanted to throw up,” Allen wrote. “One of the first comments that appeared was: ‘I like my videogames like I like my women. Without a penis.’ Many comments were about my byline and not about the article itself. On The Border House (where I write regularly), the commenter who made the ‘penis’ comment would be excluded from the site. To this day, he remains one of Kotaku’s most prolific commenters.”

Allen cited the incident as one of many stories of cissexist comments directed at her and other transgender women in her profession, comments that make the gaming community a hostile, harsh place for trans* gamers. GameSpot writer and trans* woman Carolyn Petit, for example, endures a lot of personal attacks because of her gender identity, but she, too, chooses to remain visible.

“With the tragic wave of bullying and suicides of LGBT teens, I don’t think this is any time for any member of the community to hide in the shadows, and I add my voice to the chorus of voices that are saying to young LGBT people in pain, ‘It gets better,’” Petit wrote in 2010.

In the gaming community, however, those voices are drowned out by hateful and ignorant comments. Allen argues that change must start from the top, and she asks gaming sites to prominently display and enforce a commenting policy in order to change the culture of games discussion.

“You need to stop hurtful comments before they appear, not after,” Allen wrote. “Use (your sites’ resources) to change the kinds of words that appear on your websites. Take responsibility for those words.”

Kotaku’s Editor in Chief Stephen Totilo published a response to Allen Wednesday evening in which he clarified his site’s stance on commenting and how he’d like the community on the site to improve.

“Kotaku is a site for any and all gamers and even people who don’t play games but are curious about them,” Totilo explained in his post. “Actually, all absolutes invite exceptions, so let me be clear about who we are not for: intolerant gamers and creeps, gamers who would prefer to insult or attack rather than empathize or argue intelligently. … Kotaku is a site where I would like gamers of any type to feel welcome.”

Allen and her allies are still waiting for more responses, but there is hope that safe spaces for queer gamers will begin to open up within the gaming community. It’s progress — and in gaming, progress is everything.

Kallie Plagge is the assistant arts editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Check her out on Twitter at @kirbyoshi.