A recent clip involving a small streamer playing Halo Infinite, which I won’t share here to avoid funnelling more harassment her way, went minorly viral on Twitter this week. This streamer was a woman, and as happens to all of us in Halo Infinite – a fast moving online shooter where death is around every corner – she died. It’s a pretty common occurrence in Halo Infinite. It’s a pretty common occurrence in most games. What followed was another all too common occurrence in gaming – sexist harassment.
“This is why women shouldn’t play Halo,” “You ever notice that Master Chief isn’t a chick?” and “Go and play Valorant or something,” were amongst the handful of responses to this streamer dying in a game where if you’re not dying roughly every three minutes, you’re probably playing in an unspeakably boring way. That last comment was the one that stuck out to me, though. Girls shouldn’t play games, make me a sandwich, titty streamers have it easy… these are pretty common barbs thrown at women on the internet. That doesn’t mean it’s right or that we should accept it, but unfortunately hearing that sort of thing is so common it often just gets shrugged off. “Go and play Valorant” though is especially weird because have you ever tried to play Valorant as a woman?
Related: The Games Industry Is Truly RepellentWhen Valorant launched, one of the game’s executive producers – one of the people who actually made the fucking game – admitted she does not solo queue in her own game because of the rampant harassment women face. This came after another Riot employee shared clips of herself being harassed, hit on, insulted, and just that whole collection of bullshit women go through in online shooters. You can’t play Halo Infinite because you should play Valorant. You can’t play Valorant because you should play Fortnite. And if any woman has ever tried to play Fortnite, especially with its young, impressionable, wannabe-edgy playerbase, you’ll know that’s basically out too. So you can’t play Fortnite either. Go play Halo, dumb bitch. Hey look, we’re back where we started.
I basically don’t talk at all in online games. I frequently just have everything on mute, which I know doesn’t make me the best teammate, but also, it’s not me who ruined it for everybody. As a trans woman with a femme name and avatar but who doesn’t voice train, I am perceived in widely different ways online. In games where I read as female, I’ve been targeted and harassed, sometimes by my own teammates. In games where I’ve read as male, I’ve found people to be more supportive, even in games I’m worse at. It’s not black and white, people have been bastard coated bastards when I’ve read as male and I’ve recieved a leg up when reading as femme, but the reading as male definitely places a thumb on the scale.
Women typically gravitate to single-player, narrative driven experiences, or more cosy, wholesome affairs. I think that’s societal as much as it is anything biological or physiological though. Guys can’t play Animal Crossing because ew gay, and woman have been conditioned, by media, by advertising, and by being bullied every single time they attempt it, to stay away from online shooters.
There’s nothing wrong with women sticking to cosier games. The idea that Generic Army Shooter #17 is a Real Game any more than a game with bright colours and soft edges is ludicrous. It’s fine if that’s what people want to play. But for so many women, that’s the only option they have. Play Halo, get told to play Valorant. Play Valorant, get told to play Fortnite. Play Fortnite, get threatening messages in your DMs. There’s no winning.
This is the problem with gaming online as a woman. It doesn’t matter how many other guys are perfectly fine with, even happy with, women playing online with them. All it takes is one guy to say “you don’t belong here.” After that, three things happen. First, someone else agrees with them, loudly. Second, even the people who think he’s being a dick never defend you, because if you stand up against sexism someone might call you gay or a white knight or a gay white knight, and who needs that when you’re just trying to play Halo? Third, you start to lose interest in that game, and eventually you just never play it again. Then you go play Valorant and the cycle repeats.
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