The article I read a few days back about how women in online games are expected to behave is still rolling around in my head. The article in combination with a +Google-shared NY Times article revealing how women athletes bodies are policed by surgical procedures and hormonal treatments in order to lower testosterone levels to “acceptable levels” – even though there is no scientific support to show that testosterone affects athletic abilities – got me thinking. The predominately male world of sports is so obsessed with fitting women who compete into a nice little pigeon hole that they are willing to risk other people’s lives to do it.
From all the widely spread stories on the web, it’s pretty obvious that gamer culture is policing women by enforcing “acceptable” behaviours as well. By keeping us out. By harassment or by being overly friendly, but never by treating women as people. The spaces where women can be just gamers and not gamer girls is small, although all women guilds and leagues are gaining ground. So on a meta level – as the player – women are not expected to be gamers, and the culture reacts accordingly, by rejection or by demanding complete assimilation.
In much the same way, the article by Linderoth and Öhrn suggest that “coming out” as a woman or girl in an online gaming environment sets the bar for the expected social behaviours of these ‘women’ – they’re expected to be less skilled and to accept subjugation in return for favours and chivalry.
In this case the gaming environment puts pressure on women to behave in a specific way. The stereotypical behaviour of male players using a female avatar to gain favours can of course complicate things. It makes the stereotypes manifest, and enforces them even more. For my part, I’ve been on the receiving end of men who just won’t take no for an answer. At one time I was followed by a player who kept whispering that (presumably) he wanted to help me level up, kept opening trade windows and trying to give me gold. Before I asked him not to (I was trying out the age old “ignore and hope it will go away”-tactic) he was all roses and sweetness (in an overbearing, sticky kind of way), but after I told him thanks but no thanks, the tone of voice changed drastically. He started aggroing and pulling enemies, whispered I was a bitch and a whore etc. It’s always fascinating how the rejection of expected behaviour is punished, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that if I had played along, that other side of my stalker would never have popped up.
This is what I mean when I write policing. The intent to make women conform to expectations.
But it’s not enough with the meta level of policing, and the in game level of policing. There’s also the visual level of policing. In real life, media is peddling an image of the ideal woman. If you don’t measure up – or so the media seems to say – you are a failed woman. Women’s bodies in games have been policed, or perhaps conformed, to specific ideals based on behavioural expectations and stereotypes, ever since the graphics allowed colour and detail enough to do it. We can more or less tell from a character’s body how they will behave and what they will do*. However, there is an element of sexualisation in most female characters, and there is in addition to the other ways that we restrict women in games also a visual restriction. We follow the ideals.
So there’s this triple effect on how we expect women to be. There’s the visual aspect. Lean, pretty and attractive. There’s the behavioural aspect, subordinate and receptive and on a meta level, if the women or girls are accepted as players, which they are often not, they’re not expected to be as invested in the games as their male counterparts.
There are a lot of rules and regulations floating around for women and girls who want to play. I’ve pointed out in a previous blog post (in Swedish), that this is the reason why we need separate, safe spaces to play. To not have to drag the stigma of being a woman or girl around. There has to be spaces where I can just relax and be myself, regardless of expectations.
* This is no less true for male characters, but as you have hopefully deduced after reading this text, men are not as rigidly policed as women are. There is no element of subordination in men policing each other. There is domination, but that’s something slightly different. Hmm… May be a blog post somewhere in there.