20081127

Nostalgia Trip - 'Grr!'

I'm having a bad week, intellectually speaking, not helped by the fact that the summer heat seems to have finally started ramping up, rendering me floppy and inert. In an attempt to inspire myself I've been reading over my past works, and have found one I still really like and absolutely agree with, despite major shifts in my views and perspective over the past six years. As a result I'm doing the unforgivable and posting something I wrote in 2002. It's pretty old school, but here it is:

20021009 - Grr!

There is a movement in the gaming world, and no, I don't mean the bowel movement that is cheating, and I don't mean the gaseous emissions commonly found on Counter-Strike and RA3 servers in the form of young players with attitude problems. I'm talking about the 'grrl gamers' who feel the need to converge, sans the boys. This movement has caused resentment, discomfort, and downright hostility in many players. It basically segregates certain female gamers from the rest of us and tags those certain gamers as asking for special treatment.

Now, I'm told the reasoning behind this movement works thusly:

Because of [A] we should bring about [B], and this will lead to [X]

[A] Woman gamers get sexually harrassed, disparaged, and generally picked on when playing
on public game servers. Women are intimidated by the thought of LANs full of male gamers. Women should be encouraged to play games. We need more women gamers.

[B] Give woman gamers the 'sanctuary' of all-girl clans, tourneys, servers, and LANs/LANday seating areas.

[X] More women will play, women will compete more often, and women will attend public gaming events more, and will therefore blend in with the general gaming population more effectively and in larger numbers.

I'm going to open with the idea that we need to get a higher proportion of the world's gamers to be female before getting global, but first I will lay down some parameters within which I am working here. I am talking about gamers who play FPSs, since this is the scene I am part of and this is the game genre I see the 'grrl movement' as impacting upon most. I also wish to point out that I am a benign and conscientious objector to this movement, not some kind of raving hate-monger - think of me as the draft-card burner of gaming sexism. I do have robust reasons for feeling the way I do, and I am writing this as a reaction to a recent messageboard conversation with another gamer (this is for you - Ultron -, hereafter referred to as 'Ultron', as the '-' is a major part of my punctuation), on Quake3World.Com.

Ultron raised some important points, the most provocative of which is that this movement of female gamers is sexist and infringes on the rights of male gamers, in the same way segregation of non-whites has in our many societies. I'll get to that further in though. First onto the implication that we need more chick gamers.

The basis for the concept itself eludes me quite frankly. I ask 'why?', because I don't see any reason to expect a group of people socially conditioned and naturally inclined, for the most part, to find FPS-style gaming repugnant to take part on the principle that 'we need more of them'. If women want to play FPS so be it and I welcome them, but why go against inclination? It's not as though that is somehow going to miraculously make things easier for those of us already partaking of the sport of fragging. Only full integration can do that. The very idea that sheer numbers will be the difference between women being 'gamers' rather than 'girl gamers' is about as valid as the premise that pouring more cream into the milk will stop the milk and cream from separating, when all you need is a more effective method of homogenisation. Integration, acceptance, and welcome doesn't come about that way and it's not going to start working that way because 'it would be nice if it happened'.

If we got more girls fragging we'd simply have more girls fragging, and why I say this will become clearer later on, so bear with me.

The most difficult issue to address is that of intimidation, but to my mind there is a solution: integrate what girls there are and get them playing seamlessly with the guys. Then the more timid chicks won't be so scared to leap in themselves. As it is they see girls cutting themselves off, with the exception of myself and my kindred sisters*, and they encounter guys so unused to women just getting on with the gaming that every time they see a chick they suffer serious testosterone surges.

How appealing and reassuring is that to a newb? It's not. It's patently terrifying, and it's not going to change while we're all sectioned off, alienated, and peering warily at each other through the inch of bulletproof glass that is the 'grrl gamer' movement.

Is intimidation a factor in female integration problems? They say that if we separate the women from the men, both literally in terms of having women tending to play only women, and in name, in that women-only clans form, we will end up with women more willing to play because the fear of harrassment (being a minority) and playing men in general will abate. The main problem with this is that these women are not integrating. They are propagating the barriers that divide female and male gamers, and enhancing the differences between us.

Highlighting the fact that we're different or a need to have our own little paddling pool is not acclimatising men to our presence in their midst. Neither is it desensitising women to the reality that many public game servers are rife with flames, taunts, and somewhat bad sportsmanship. If a woman plays in the apparently civilised and undaunting environment that is all-female she is going to be as shocked by, if not more shocked by, the mainstream public playing arenas.

That is to say, gaining confidence floating around in the lagoon does not prepare a girl for surfing the coral reef breakers. Nor does it familiarise the surfers already out there with her presence, so they'll share their breaker space gracefully. Throwing more women into the lagoon, or even the breakers won't help either, especially if the women try and flag off areas of the surf for their exclusive use. The other surfers will be more likely to turn into sharks in that case, and the females will be seen as ground-bait for a feeding frenzy. Okay, that surfer metaphor has to end now...it's just naff.

Resentment, or overly politically correct nurturing is going to be the result of this segregation, because no gamer likes to see a group cut itself off from the main body and exclude them from its dealings, and a few who don't, instead of being openly hostile, will cater to it, strengthening that segregation from their fellows. It is, as Ultron claims, sexism, despite it's benign goals, and it is harmful to the gaming scene as a whole. I don't think it's quite on a par with the horrendous segregation that apartheid in South Africa is forever associated with, nor the segregation in the US that marred much of the earlier and middle parts of last century. Nor does it match even the day to day, 'under the rug' racial imbalance that exists all over this planet of ours right now, but it is a very real injustice in my opinion, and to many of the male gamers excluded by the 'grrls' it's a real bone of contention. Guys like Ultron are evidence of this.

*The servers I play on these days have a fairly high proportion of female players, relative to many of the other servers I've played on, because around these parts Freezetag seems to appeal to women more than RA3, Urban Terror, and the like. This means that, aside from my own experiences with integration (successful I might add - I've never had any trouble) with the main fragging population, I've been able to see a group of female gamers successfully assimilated into the collective that is the general gaming community on these Freeze boxes. It works. We're all just gamers, and we play, and we all take our knocks with the rest of those we play with, and there is no A/S/L, sexism, or sex-specific abuse that the guys don't get also. If it can work on the scale of a five or six server community why can't it work globally? No reason that I can see, except that we have these little isolated communities of chicks, playing in glasshouses.

Am I an enemy of the 'grrl movement'? No, but I won't take part in it. I will however open myself to discussion with the grrls if they wish to counter my arguments. I have in the past had many debates with women from the school of thought I'm referring to, and we've had little impact on one another, but that's not to say that it's impossible to 'open negotiations'. I think being as benign and open as possible to new arguments and discussions is a positive thing. I will not condemn these women for their methods, because their end goal is the same as mine and that's the main thing for me, but I cannot condone what they're doing to try and achieve this goal because I think it both ineffectual and unfair on the male gamers. As I have said before in past arguments, I wish any gamer well in their enjoyment in, and success with the pastime of gaming, no matter their angle, so long as they share my mission to get things running smoothly in gaming. I feel very strongly however that that mission is a 'Mission Impossible' without immediate and full integration of female gamers into the general population.

So that was a glimpse of my mind in 2002. It's dated by the games and servers discussed, and I have no idea if the grrl gamers still have their all-female clans and LANs, but the principles still apply. I probably couldn't put it better now than I did then either, so it's entirely apt that the old content be republished. I hope you enjoyed it.

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