Is it possible to change ‘gaming culture’?

Another week, another slew of stories about sexism in gaming.

E3 has come and gone, with the attendant outrage about booth babes. (That is, skinny white female models paid to sit on a booth in skimpy clothing and get leered at all day by attendees and journos.) In case anyone hasn’t seen enough pictures of scantily clad models online, CVG posted  a series of 63 photos of booth babes from E3, so it’s a fair bet that this isn’t just one or two companies.

Why is this necessary? Who knows, anymore. The argument that it gets more attention is a pretty self serving one, especially when you can’t actually identify the games they are supposedly flogging from the booth babe pictures anyway. I actually assume it’s mostly that PR managers feel its good for their egos to employ models on their booths. Because if you just wanted women in skimpy gear, you could probably get some cosplayers in to do it for the price of a few freebies, and then everyone would just say “yay community involvement.”

I’ve been to conventions where the model tanks got more attention than the booth babes (which is fair, I think, you can see pretty girls anyway after all), and I’ve been to conventions which used male as well as female models and didn’t particularly notice their booths being less busy. Mostly because gamers are more interested in a) freebies and b) the actual games.

Having said that, I’m against the whole booth babe thing for two reasons.

  1. Hello, I’m a core gamer too. You won’t show me that you care about MY custom by employing booth babes. (This reminds me of the time I went with some male colleagues to an engineering show and we went to one booth and the guy reached under the desk and gave me a fluffy toy and gave my colleagues brochures about the product. I did not make this up, it really happened. I gave him A LOOK and he rapidly gave my colleagues fluffy toys too, saying it was for their partners or children. I’m still mad about that even though it was several years ago. Mostly because my colleagues said nothing, they just looked embarrassed while I ranted.)
  2. It just reinforces conventions being sites where sexism (in the form of ogling random women and commenting on their hotness or otherwise) is accepted practice. I know plenty of female gamers, both computer and tabletop, who avoid conventions, for this reason. If you want women to go to cons, they need to feel both welcome and safe. It’s a million years away from the scifi cons which often have women on the steering committees, on the panels, and still have plenty of skimpy cosplayers wandering around.

Oestrus has a good post up discussing her mixed feelings around companies using booth babes. Where on the one hand, it seems to work for them as a PR strategy, and on the other, it sends very mixed messages to gamers about how they can or should treat women.

The other story I’ve seen this week about sexism is around a feminist kickstarter who got some great PR from all the predictably heinous sexist comments on her youtube promotional video. I think that the more people who realise that trolls leaving hateful and sexist comments on feminist blogs has now become expected, the better, because maybe once it’s out there, people will start taking it seriously.  I do wish her luck, although I’m sure she won’t need it. And at the same time, I am awed at how smart she has been about turning the hateful comments into a promotional tool for her videos.  You go, girl.

I was also shocked at the anti-semitic comments that turned up too. Anti-semitism always feels very old fashioned to me, like something we read about in history books rather than experience every day. But clearly there are a number of people where you just have to scratch the surface and it’s still a kneejerk reaction.

Still, assuming the vast majority of gamers don’t actively subscribe to the hate but either go along with it because it’s what their group do, or else try to ignore it so they can just get on with gaming, what can anyone do about this side of the ‘gamer culture’? Can it change, or are unmoderated arenas like XBOX Live always going to fall to the haters?

This is a post that caught my eye by Meguey on Gaming as Women, about how she tried to change the ‘micro culture’ of her gaming group. This isn’t about sexism, it’s about how she noticed that one of the guys in the group always seemed to be left out, and how she decided to change that. It took 3 years, and that was with a group of people that she knew, and who respected her opinions.

She has some advice for people who do want to change the culture around them:

Call people in the micro-culture on the things you want to see shift. This sounds as scary as anything, but it’s not a cry to confrontation and accusation, it’s as simple as not laughing at a joke you find offensive. Then it’s saying “Yeah, not so cool / funny, dude”  when someone makes such a comment / tells such a joke. Then it’s talking to the people in the micro-culture privately to say “Hey, I’m done with being a wise-ass kid, y’know? It’s time for me to stop talking like I think women are second-class. Because that’s just crap.” You don’t need to be confrontational,  just own your own growth.

See, all it takes for the haters to win is for the good guys to do nothing.

La la la I’m not listening (to online sexism).

One of the big stories this week has been around one of the (female) Bioware writers, Jennifer Hepler, being a target of rants on reddit. Naturally, because she’s female and they’re ranty gamers, this took on a sexist note very very quickly. I’m not saying that this per se is better or worse than the random death threats that male writers also get, but it’s definitely an unpleasant thing.

One thing this clarified in my mind is that how my favourite blogs and news sites respond to this type of ‘story’ is going to strongly affect whether I’m going to bother reading them in future. The internet is not about freedom of speech, it’s about being able to curate the views and content you receive. None of the websites that posted those hateful comments chose to moderate them out. They could have done, but they didn’t.

So I’ll stick with sites like:

(Both links are to coverage of this story which is respectful to Ms Hepler while still discussing her views, and gives no space to the haters.)

I realise there is a portion of the gaming fraternity for whom getting online and talking racist, sexist, homophobic smack talk is part of the fun, but they are not my community and I’m not interested in any websites which actively engage with them. I’m also not interested in playing any games with them. LTM (learn to moderate).