The notion of video games as boy’s club is an old and, unfortunately, resonant one. At last year’s GDC, during the #1ReasontoBe panel, famed developer Brenda Romero said that she dreams of the day she can bring her daughter to to industry events and not be ashamed of the environment. Less than twenty-four hours later she publicly resigned from her position in the IGDA after it co-hosted an industry party that controversially featured exotic dancers as part of the night’s entertainment.
But the issue extends far beyond just questionable taste at parties. There are very real issues of harassment that plague gaming.
Anita Sarkeesian has famously faced very specific death and rape threats, the personal hacking of accounts, the spread of her private information, a game designed to act out violence against her, and ongoing online harassment for her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video series.
In the world of competitive fighting games this kind of harassment and boy’s club mentality can prove especially pervasive, with terms like “rape” being a casual part of the vernacular. Stories of sexual harassment at tournaments and online can be found just about anywhere. One gamer, Aris Bakhtanians, notoriously said that sexual harassment and fighting game culture are “one and the same thing.”
What’s a gamer girl to do?
Competitive Super Smash Bros. player Lilo spent the last couple of weeks compiling data and quotes from other female Smash players, in the hopes of conveying the experiences of these women to the greater community. Here’s what she found.
“Things are changing in the Super Smash Brothers Community. The community is growing larger every day, with new players coming out in droves to join. People are trying to be more aware and conscious of how their words and actions affect others. Things are changing for the better, but problems still plague us. The issue I would like to address today is the very real and ugly reality of sexism in our community. This post aims to continue spreading awareness about the experiences women in smash have. The point of this post is not to demonize smash, but give women in smash a voice–one that is often overlooked or belittled or just simply not heard.”
Lilo first shares infographs representing the data she collected:
Click on the images to expand.
The most interesting thing about the entire infographic is that with reports of sexual harassment across the board, a majority disapproval of rape jokes, and nearly a fourth of the participants having reported being sexually assaulted by a fellow Smash player, not a single player said yes when asked if they regretted joining the Smash Bros. community.
So what’s the deal?
In a follow up post for Melee It On Me, Lilo shares her detailed breakdown of how she put together this data. She includes the questions she asked each participant, how she defined all of the terms used, and elaborates on what some of the responses said.
As a part of this breakdown she also addresses the use of the term ‘rape’ as it is treated in the world of fighting games.
“It is well known that in the competitive gaming community, the terms “get raped”, “I raped you”, etc. are all used casually and jokingly to mean that the person in question who was “raped” did poorly in their gaming performance. The responses to this question were varied and complex, I have categorized it roughly into four parts for the sake of showing it efficiently on a graph.
Very uncomfortable: This means that the woman absolutely dislikes the casual use of the word “rape”. It makes them very uncomfortable to hear it, and they often feel unsafe, disgusted, and possibly reminded of their own traumatic experiences with rape. They feel like the word should absolutely not be used casually.
Somewhat uncomfortable: This means that the woman was not very much bothered by the casual use of the word “rape”, but expressed a desire to see people no longer use the word casually.
Not bothered: This means that the woman was absolutely not bothered by the word “rape” used casually, but did not use it herself.
Say “rape” themselves: This was a bit of an interesting one. 5 women used the word “rape” casually, but two of them still felt uncomfortable with it and were trying to stop. I included the two women in the “somewhat uncomfortable” category, but also made a separate category showing the total number of women who used it.
All in all, 4 out of 5 of the women interviewed stated that they were either very or somewhat uncomfortable with rape jokes, and wanted the community to stop using it casually.”
You don’t need an infographic for this one. 4 out of 5 women interviewed take issues with jokes and casual use of the word ‘rape’ as a part of competitive gaming. While five women interviewed said that they use the word themselves, two of those five also admitted to not being uncomfortable with the term nonetheless.
Lilo goes on to share quotes from the players interviewed:
“People ask who I main and if it was Peach at the time, the response was “Oh all girls main Peach”. I started playing ICs and the new response was “Oh all girls main ICs”. I finally landed on Sheik and apparently, all women had spontaneously dropped Peach and ICs and Sheik was the new “main for girls”. People sandbag hardcore and compliment me no matter how much I suck […] Inversely, when I beat guys in close matches, they will get very, very angry. The anger is noticeably different from when they lose to other guys […] It does make getting in on friendlies easier though. People will let me cut lines or get in on games they normally wouldn’t let other guys in on.” —EmilyWaves, NY
“Mainly comments, either “jokingly” or in the context of trash talk. The usual kitchen jokes, make me a sandwich, etc. Typically I brush it off, but when you hear it all the time, it gets old […] My most constant pet peeve though is feeling like my opinion means less than male gamers […] if I had a dime for every time I’ve thought “I told you so” on something Smash related, I guess I’d have a shitton of dimes” —KayLo, PA
“The only acts of sexism I’ve experienced during my career of Smash have all been to my benefit. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve had to pay a venue fee. I’m able to ask any pro player to help me learn a specific in-game technique and get detailed helpful advice right then and there. However, a male at my skill level would most likely get ignored or be given a very depthless response.” —Mimi, NV
A collection of particularly unsettling comments come from players PPRN in North Carolina, Jekku in Finland, and one player who chose to remain anonymous.
“I made a facebook status about how I disagreed with the term “rape” in the community. I received messages telling me to “go get raped and kill myself,” TONS of comments about how I should just leave the community, and some people I even considered close friends quit talking to me […] One time I was at a party with some smashers and someone I didn’t even know touched me completely inappropriately and no one helped me or stood up for me […] I felt pretty alone and discouraged about the scene for a while.” —PPRN, NC
“The smasher I dated recently who raped me has been trying to get me kicked out of the community by turning the new region I am in against me. He has told everyone that I am lying about the rape, has told the venue employees where we normally play smash to not allow me entry, and kicked me out of the smash Facebook groups of the region.” —Anonymous
“There was a tournament not too long ago. It was getting late and dark outside and some people started leaving the tournament venue to go home. There was this one guy who needed a lift to the train station. Another smasher offered to take him there and I went to keep him company so that he wouldn’t fall asleep or anything on the way back. Anyway after dropping the guy off to the train station we started heading back to the venue. Suddenly, out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere, in complete darkness he says to me “I want to drive this car to a roadside and rape you”. I told him that’s sick and not funny at all. He didn’t answer or anything, just changed subject after it had been quiet for a while. He didn’t do anything and we got to the tournament venue safely, but it felt pretty awful. I wouldn’t have had any chance if he had decided to actually do something. No one should say something like that to another person without realizing that there is something wrong. I don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage people to throw out words like rape and making it sound like it’s something awesome and nothing serious. There are always some people who are affected on the language we use, and I don’t want people forgetting the actual meaning of the words used. Rape is not funny.” —Jekku, Finland
The post also includes a collection of screenshots from actual online abuse that many female Smash players have faced. Those can be found here.
Regardless of how individual Smash players have experienced sexism in their community the general consensus is one that seems glaringly obvious.
“Women are people, simple as that, some of us really just want to be treated like everyone else. No one should be above anyone else for any reason. Women are not obligated to be any certain way, or conform to anything. If a girl wears make up or dresses nice, she isn’t always doing it to impress a male, maybe she just wants to look good?” —Kassandra, OH
“I don’t deserve special treatment for being female. No one does.” —Nicole, MO
“I really would just like gender to be a non-issue. Trash talk is whatever, but going for the easy back-to-the-kitchen joke is plain tired. Talk shit about someone’s gameplay, not the fact that they happen to have a vag.” —KayLo, PA
“Honestly I think it would be great to be at a tournament and not once be looked through when I’m talking to someone because they’re assuming that I’m someone’s girlfriend or don’t really know anything about the game that I’ve loved for what, 10+ years?” —Feather, MA
And yet, as obvious as ‘we should all be treated equally’ may seem to anyone with any modicum of logic, these statistics were still put together. These instances of abuse still took place. The daily harassment is still occurring.
So why then do these gamers stick with it? Simply put, because they love Smash Bros. more than they hate their negative experiences:
“I cannot stress that with these negative experiences, I still love the community […] The community has so much power and it’s amazing that they use it for the betterment and improvement of society. I always make it a point to tell people that I refuse to let a few bad apples ruin a community that has been nothing but a great experience to me […] It saddens me to think of a younger Candy who was scared away from a community that was as loving, educational, and stimulating as this. It saddens me even more to think of the other girls who are in the same position and decide to leave as well.” —Candy, Southern CA
“I love gamers. Period. I love the culture, I love the energy, I love the attitude. You meet ALL KINDS of people. Certainly, gaming has its ugliness — every scene does, but ours is also a beautiful scene — full of diversity, love, acceptance and a genuine fervor for being yourself without apology.” —Serrarist, NY
One can only hope that work like Lilo’s will continue to help foster conversations about harassment in gaming communities, and will help make these beloved spaces feel safer for gamers who just want to have a little fun, ride the HYPE train, and smash on some bros.
Any competitive Smash Bros. players care to chime in? Lets us know what you think in the comments below!