Note: This post contains some language that might be offensive.
These past few weeks have been extremely interesting ones for people who follow the culture around videogames. First, there was the Hitman: Absolution trailer. Then, there was the orgy of misogyny and violence that was E3, which was followed by the cyber-attack on Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” Kickstarter project. All of these events (as well as the Tentacle Bento debacle), underscore a pretty big problem when it comes to gaming culture and women.
Generally, the people who make, enjoy, and market games have no clue how to be respectful of women, and, in some cases, openly detest them.
If we grant that this is the case (and I’m not sure how it could be argued differently), then the question becomes this:
For that answer, we need to go deeper. We need to look within.
But first, a story.
I grew up an overweight, nerdy kid who obsessed over gaming magazines and wrestling, socially awkward to the point of being paralyzed by fear whenever I had to interact with someone who was not a part of my circle of friends. This worked for me until I reached Junior High School, when I decided that I wanted to branch out and meet new people (read: girls). I was the sweet, smart guy with a heart of gold, and I was going to woo all of the pretty girls with my combination of wit and intelligence.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out.
Over the next few years, I made a lot of friends, to be sure. I helped with a lot of school assignments, I was there when boyfriends were assholes, and I assured them all that “they’d find the right guy someday.” In turn, I was constantly told what a great guy I was, and that “I would find the right girl for me,” except that the bridge between the two never quite got crossed.
In retrospect, it was my fault. I would pine for these girls (and there were many of them) in a way that was probably unhealthy, being there for their every need, in the hope that one day they’d realize that we should be together. I should have made my intentions clear before things bubbled over, but the fear of rejection was too much for me to handle. As an overweight kid, I was careful about putting myself into embarrassing situations, always shying away from things that would put me in an uncomfortable light (dressing out at PE was torture), running back to the cocoon of my “real” friends who would never judge me, and always have my back.
There came a point though, during freshman year of high school, when those emotions and that need for feminine companionship came to a boiling point. It was then that I did the worst thing I could possibly do.
I made mixtapes.
So many mixtapes.
45 minute hosted tours through songs that perfectly expressed my undying love for my crush du-joir, with occasional terrible off-key singing to accompany them. If I heard them now, I’d probably think they were the recordings of a madman. These mixtapes were wrapped in long notes, scribbled in my terrible handwriting, with random poems thrown in for good measure.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
My hormones are raging, how ’bout you?*
*not a real poem
So I secretly delivered my written/spoken/sung pronouncements of love, and I waited for the girl(s) of my dreams to come running into my arms, tears in their eyes over how wonderful this friend of theirs was and how we’d be together forever.
And I waited.
And I waited some more.
There were no revelations of long-hidden love. There were no tears (well there were, but not from them). Just…silence.
So I retreated back to my friends. We would go on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and talk about games, wrestling, basketball (a new obsession), and the girls. Oh, the girls. Hours spent talking about this girl and that one, which one was hotter, that we had talked to that one, that we had touched that one’s hand.
Then, during the last week of school, one of my friends advised me over AIM that my secret love tapes were no longer so secret. They were out there, and they were spreading like wildfire. Apparently, one of the girls (let’s call her L) had told her best friend, who told her friends, and it just exploded.
When my friend told me this, I lashed out. I called L every terrible name I could think of in anger, shame, and embarrassment. I went to school the next day with fury in my heart, ready to tell her exactly what I thought of her betrayal. I saw her huddled up with some of her friends, doing what I thought was laughing. I stomped up to them, and she wheeled around with a set of papers in hand, eyes full of tears, sobbing uncontrollably.
“I thought you were my friend!” she shouted, and threw the papers at me before storming off, her group of friends surrounding her, the high school equivalent of the Secret Service.
The papers were a transcript of the AIM conversation I had with my friend the night before, with all of my repressed ugliness there in black and white.
The fury in my heart became dread in my stomach. What had I done? Who was the person who wrote those ugly things? Was that really me?
The school year ended a few days later, and my mother and I moved away during the summer, as we both felt I needed a fresh start. I wouldn’t ever see L again.
In retrospect, that whole experience was my fault. I put her in a position that no 14-15 year old girl should be put in. I heaped upon her these deep emotions that I didn’t understand, and I idealized her in my mind to the point where she could never be allowed to do anything to hurt me. When she did, I felt betrayed, which was silly, of course. It was unfair to put her in that position, unfair to obsess over someone to the point where you come off so strongly that most adults would have been terrified, nevermind a girl who had this “sweet friend” who suddenly sounded like a serial killer on some weird mixtape. Of course she would tell her best friend. That’s too much to handle for one person, and once it was out of her hands, everything that happened from then on was the natural course of action.
I had set all of these events in motion. I had put myself in a situation to be embarrassed, but in that time, when I was writing such ugly things about this girl that I “loved,” that was not my feeling. I was angry, hurt, ashamed.
Those feelings stayed with me for a while, and I became very distrustful of women. I wanted their company, but I secretly harbored feelings of dislike and anger towards them. I got married at 18, and I kept those feelings with me for the first few years of my marriage, constantly sabotaging the relationship in the name of my own insecurity and distrust. We separated for a short time, but we got back together and had a daughter almost 4 years go. It was then that I started to read about the experience of girls through life, including the teenage years that had shaped my experience with them so.
What I learned horrified me. That rage that I felt 8 years prior was common for women to experience from men, and women all across the world were harassed constantly about things that were out of their control. My daughter would one day meet a boy (or girl) that would pine for her the way I fawned over L, and one day she would be forced to confront feelings that she had no way of understanding from a totally unexpected source. How would she react?
It was then that my feelings about that experience changed permanently. No longer was that anybody’s fault but mine, and I want all of the guys reading this who harbor ill-feelings toward women based on some crummy thing that happened to them to stop being angry. Think about what you did to cause the situation, and grow from it in a positive way. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and definitely don’t attack women just because you were hurt by someone else.
The phrase “repressed nerd-rage” is something that gets thrown about in jest, but I am here to tell you that it’s real. It engulfed me for a long time, and I lived my life with feelings of anger and resentment toward people who did what any normal person would do in the situation I put them in.
Obviously not all of the people in the gaming culture have the exact same experience that I do, but I’d be willing to wager that many of them have something similar in their past that causes them to lash out in the worst of ways, whether it’s a subconscious choice like gameplay design or a conscious one such as attacking women like Anita Sarkeesian for expressing themselves. It’s destructive, it’s hurtful, and it doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
Male gamers and designers, I implore you. If you want to be taken seriously by the culture around you, do away with immature misogyny, and treat the women in our culture with the same respect you would treat your mother or daughter. It’s the only way we’re going to move forward as a group.
I’m sorry, L.