When I was growing up, I wasn’t really into video games. Even though I had a Nintendo DS, I sucked at MarioKart so it wasn’t super fun for me. However, I do remember spending the weekends on the desktop computer playing a few PC games such as Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, The Fancy Pants Adventures and Seaworld Adventure Parks Tycoon with my siblings.
While I considered myself to be a novice gamer girl in those days, I lost interest in video games, as I became more focused on school and other interests such as sports and music. It wasn’t until four years ago in high school when I met my boyfriend that I officially entered the world of PC gaming.
We spent practically every weekend playing Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite, Minecraft and GTA V. If you’re not Turkish, it’s difficult to tell if my name is feminine or masculine. So it wasn’t until I spoke during the game that the banter would turn from things that were actually related to the game, to hurtful and pointed sexist, “harmless” (as they would say) jokes.
It didn’t matter if I was playing with my boyfriend’s friends or random people online. For some reason, they found it so funny to repeat the same stupid sexist comments: “women belong in the kitchen,” “oh, you’re a girl, then why are you gaming,” “you made us lose because you’re a girl” and so on.
What was supposed to be a fun activity for my boyfriend and me to bond over, often left me feeling extremely angry and frustrated. Week after week, I Alt + F4’d my way out of games that I enjoyed playing. Why couldn’t I just play in peace? I never entered these games yelling “men are trash” the second I encountered a male voice.
Honestly, I’m not the best at playing video games because it’s taken me some time to get used to holding a controller and coordinating moving the mouse to targets on the screen, and the guys on these games never fail to let me forget how bad I play. Not only that, but they tie my inferior skills to being a girl. I have tried tracing the connection between the two for years, and I actually agree.
Being a girl makes me worse at video games because most of the video games on XBox, PS4 or PC are catered to the gender stereotypes and expectations we’ve set in place for boys and girls. Thus, I didn’t spend every waking moment after school in middle and high school gaming with my friends, which would’ve given me the training to be really good at video games at 20 years old. In fact, none of my friends, most of whom were girls, played video games.
It’s no secret that video games are catered to men and boys (to confirm this, all you need to do is enter a strip club in GTA V). Even though it seems like we now have an increased representation of women and gender-nonconforming people in the gaming community, sexism prevails. Want proof? Spend an afternoon in the chat of women Twitch streamers who stream video games, it’s truly hell on earth.
Whenever I tried to counter these sexist jokes (aka pure sexism, because it’s not funny), I was met with defenses ranging from “It’s just a joke” to “So? I meant every word.” It’s not a joke and it’s not funny, it never was and it never will be. These jokes reflect how the struggles women and gender-nonconforming individuals face every day, big or small, are seen as insignificant, worthless or nonexistent.
From the wage gap to women not being welcomed in STEM fields; to domestic violence; to femicide; this attitude that men and others have about enabling these sexist “jokes” to fly allows women and gender-nonconforming folks to be subjugated even further by our patriarchal system.
Making the gaming community a welcoming space for people of all identities will take a lot of work. For one, we can start small, by shutting down the “locker room talk” (a code word for derogatory, sexist remarks and “jokes”) within our own friend groups. My boyfriend thought I could stand up for myself, which I could and I did, but it wasn’t as effective as him shutting down his own friends’ toxicity since he is one of them.
I shouldn’t have to have a penis to get through a round of Rainbow Six without sexist jokes being hurled at me left and right because I used my microphone. Gaming is so much fun, and it’s a great activity to bond over with friends, especially in our world that’s becoming more virtual by the minute. We must do better.