I Can Be Just As Capable. Let Me.

When I sit down at a computer, my left hand falls automatically into the inverted-V shape known well by all of you; middle three fingers arched across W, A, S and D. Pinky hovering over left-shift, my thumb resting lightly on the space bar. There's a poetic comfort in this for me. I do it without thinking. These letters are the ones I always come home to.

I'm protective about my natural gravitation to those four letters. They've opened up huge new worlds for me: I've been to Rapture, Azeroth, the cutting cliff-faces of Dear Esther. I spent three and a half years working towards a games degree. I write about games now. This year, I flew to Los Angeles for my first E3.

Those four letters on my keyboard define me: I am a gamer, they say. This is what I do, what I know and what I love.

So last week at E3, it wasn't disappointing press conferences, my ruthless appointment schedule, not having time to eat, or even the nightly drinking that broke me. It was my forced separation from those four buttons.

***

It happened during one of my first appointments of the show, a half hour I'd booked to check out the sequel to a well-known military shooter franchise. I'd checked into the publisher's booth as media and had been told to wait at a computer for the next available PR person to assist me.

So I sat down, fingers falling perfectly across the keyboard. Before me, yellow grass swayed in the wind, and leaning on the W, I began to move slowly through its blades, watching the brush give way to glimpses of crumbling buildings and battered vehicles. It was a meticulously detailed scene and I wanted to absorb all of it.

This was how the PR representative found me a few minutes later, though it seemed he mistook my marvel for a slow-witted lack of comprehension.

“Do you play PC games?” he asked, frowning.

One of the publications on my media badge was listed as PC PowerPlay. It shouldn't have been necessary for him to ask such a question, but I answered. “Yes.”

“Well, OK.” I sensed a disbelief in the guy's voice. “But do you play shooters?”

I remember the silence that filled this space beyond this question. I was horrified that anyone could even ask such a thing. Here I was, sitting with my fingers spread across WASD, admiring a game world — and somehow, for some obtuse reason, being assumed to be someone who didn't know anything about the world or how to interact with it.

“I think I better play it for you,” he said finally, prying my hands away and turning the keyboard towards himself.

And so there I was, hands twisted awkwardly and uselessly in my lap as a guy walked me through his game. In laboured detail, he explained to me simple mechanics that any shooter player would be well-acquainted with. He avoided the gameplay due to some apparent strange belief that I was not there to learn about shooting things in a shooter game, that perhaps my delicate girl senses might be offended by killing with guns and missiles. He pointed out rabbits in the grass with all the condescension of an adult trying to distract a noisy toddler, as if my interest in this simulation-grade shooter lay in some wildly misguided assumption that it would be full of adorable, fluffy animals.

I looked down the booth and saw gamers at the other computers playing their own games, their own hands controlling the avatars. No PR representatives were hovering at their shoulders, pre-empting that a lack of knowledge would lead to them playing the game “wrong”. I felt ridiculous and unwanted. I felt it ridiculous that I should feel unwanted.

I left that booth having learnt very little about the game, beyond that it apparently wasn't a game that should have interested me. I was evidently a nuisance to these people because... because what? I had made the appointment because of my own curiosity. I had rocked up of my own accord, eager to play what I believed to be a game interesting enough to write about. Instead my presence was underestimated, and I was brushed off as not wanting to truly be there. I couldn't figure out why — besides perhaps that I was a woman in a pink skirt.

It continued to happen through the next few days of E3. Upon checking into a booth, I would often be asked by the PR rep whether I wanted someone to play my “hands-on” demo for me. During booth tours, I would more often than not be guided towards the Facebook games. Following demonstrations, I was often offered fact sheets just in case I didn't “understand”. People would regularly take note of the publications listed on my badge and say, “But you don't really play, right?” I was assumed to be eye candy, the pretty face of a publication whose content was provided by people with actual talent. Every time I protested, the offender would say — as if it were a proven fact — “Well, girls aren't usually into this stuff, you know.”

And you might say that it's silly that I might still find this so hurtful. After so many years of getting underestimated for being a woman in online games, in a games degree, in games journalism, why would it seem that I'm still not used to this? Why am I not tired of it already? Why have I not yet learned to shut up and realise that things will never change? If I'm so offended, why am I not determined to just keep my head down and prove the unbelieving wrong by producing good work?

And honestly? It's because we're f**king beyond this already.

So to be undervalued by the people promoting the games that I wanted to cover — games that I personally chose to cover — was a hurtful underestimation of my capabilities, both as a journalist and as a gamer. I wanted to accurately write about the games that I saw; instead, it was too often assumed from the outset that I would not be able to do this as a woman, and PR representatives took it to task to feed me condescension-laced spoonfuls of their games, lest my apparent black hole of knowledge sucked their product into the empty deadness of inaccurate, female-penned games journalism. And such behaviour on their part only confirms what they assume based on my long hair and my mascara — of course my hands-on recount is not going to be accurate, not when my own hands are batted away from the thing so that someone more “capable” could take point.

It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that being prevented from playing a game myself leads to only shallow coverage of it, and to have it bylined with a woman's name only reinforces the idea that a woman might be no good at covering games anyway. Why this, when we've made such progress? It's not just an insult to me — it's an insult to my editors, to the publications I write for, to games journalism, and to gaming.

It's unbelievable that this is still happening. If this is how PR people feel about women's capabilities, no wonder the promotional side of games is so sexist. No wonder marketing people still think it's, on some level, OK to have a trailer feature a man ripping into a band of sexy nuns. No wonder we're seeing it filter down into the developers, who implement in-game achievements for looking up the skirts of 19-year-old women dressed like schoolgirls. No wonder we're watching it filter down into the gamers, who tell the ladies amongst us that they can't possibly know anything about the online games that they play. After all, what proof is there of that when women are not allowed to speak on an authoritative level?

When we've come so far, to have a woman be underestimated at such an internal, integral point of the games industry tragically diminishes what the medium can achieve, and undoes so much of what we've worked to overcome.

***

When I sit down at a computer, fingers automatically fanning out over WASD, I shouldn't have to be made to feel as though it's not my place. As if I'm a fraud, or wasting the time of the people who develop, promote, or publish games. I can be just as capable as any other writer or gamer. Let me.


Comments

    I am a female that works in apartment maintenance and I get the same thing. I knowmits going to happen, and it still bothers me.

    I get this every time I even walk into a games, electronics or IT shop. You spend 30 seconds browsing or reading packaging and the guys on staff immediately treat you like a small child or an idiot. The most frustrating thing is that when I'm with male friends, they're treated far more respectfully, even if they know less than me, and they themselves tell me I must be making up the fact that I'm treated differently - they can't see the difference.

    If it were racial, rather than gender, people would be outraged into action. As it is, we're told, "that's a pity." And that's it.

      If it would be racial, people would still say with a pity. Sexism is no beautiful unique flower, its just one more ugly face of prejudice, misconceptions and ignorance.

    Next show, bring an honest to goodness clipboard with a notepad on it. The first time (or any time) one of those chauvinistic clowns start in, you hold up a hand, say "one second, please" and start writing while speaking what you're writing out loud, as if distracted - "PR Rep for X games just as condescending and annoying as the others. Won't believe women are gamers. Remember to try to not let this affect scoring." Then hesitate for effect and add: "... much."

    I am a male gamer, and I feel offended now. Why?

    Because you did not stand up right against those pseudo gamers. No Video-Game-PR men are not gamers per default, even when they promote games at E3. And to use the true Scotsman facility , no real gamer would denial a other gamer an impression of his game. Watching someone else play does not give you an impression, as you do not feel how responsive the game is, how it feels, how immersive the game is, and so on.
    The only conclusion we can have here is that the PR puppies you met, are themselves no gamers, as they would know this and let you play. And you should have told them so! You should have told them how bad they play, you should have told them to aim for the head, you should have told them to adjust the fov , you should have told them that you want to load your own keyboard configs, as every pc gamer has there his own preferences. You had the perfect opportunity to ask all this questions while that dude was playing, all those questions why are ask not often enough ...

    ... and now I could start a real rant about bad console ports, bad fov configs, etc

    Back to topic:
    In my humble opinion your situations sucked, but you could have used this to your own advantage, because actually many pc gamers are interested in such stuff that is not directly related to the game, but makes all the difference to the gaming experience, and in the case of field of view all the difference of the need of painkillers after playing a long gaming sessions.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    That's a damn shame.

    Don't let this discourage you. You're clearly a talented writer and you love games. There's a lot of us guys in the industry who welcome you and your perspective.

    Just a quick note, Those fact sheets that are handed out after a presentation/ demo experience are you so can quickly reference a game's key points, or often times even find the web page for the game.

    Oh hey! Isn't that a Razer Lycosa in the first image? I have one.... But the touch pad glitches out sometimes.
    You shouldn't be so surprised about the industry being so sexist though, considering many of the people in that industry grew up in a world where calling a gamer a girl was considered an insult.
    But look at it this way: If they think you can't be a gamer because you're female, just find them online and own them at all their favourite games.

    My impression is that the fps gamer world is the most difficult for women to be a part of. I am not directly interested in fps, but am a big fan of rpg. This is podcast about girl gamers who play fps, and might interest you: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00s9jly. This might also interest you: http://radoff.com/blog/2011/03/14/pax-booth-babe-controversy/

    I've played against some hardcore, bloodthirsty and downright bloody annoying* gamers in TF2, and only found out they were female when they joined in the voice channel with comments. If I learn something from another player, I'm always happy to see them in the players list.

    It doesn't matter to me what gender the other player is, so long as I can depend on them in my team, or take their heads off in opposition.

    "Oh, they're gonna 'ave to glue you back together ... in Hell!"

    *dominated my butt.

    Look, I agree with you against the few idiot guys out there who can't comprehend a girl playing games, but this article was just cringeworthy for me to read. Do you want to ruin girls reputation in gaming?
    "I looked down the booth and saw gamers at the other computers playing their own games, their own hands controlling the avatars. No PR representatives were hovering at their shoulders, pre-empting that a lack of knowledge would lead to them playing the game “wrong”. I felt ridiculous and unwanted. I felt it ridiculous that I should feel unwanted."

    It wasn't playing the game wrong, but you did something embarrassingly wrong - why didn't you assert yourself, why did you just answer "yes" when he asked if you played pc games? Why did you say nothing when he asked if you played shooters?
    TELL HIM
    If you don't tell somebody they're wrong, how are they going to learn? Don't be sarcastic or put him down, but for goodness sake don't essentially tell him he's right, sit there and let him help you to confirm he's right, and then write a spiteful article about how wrong he was!

    If, rather than confirming somebodies stereotypical view of you, you had been the confident gamer you claim to be and said "yes, I play a lot of games actually and I've been looking forward to this one" then hey presto, you'd have been the single most wanted person in that room. Girls who accept and even take an interest in the hobbies they share are most of their dreams, and it can be hard for them to really believe they exist til you tell them, it's not all because they think women are useless!

    Sexist behaviours and patronizing are viewed as unidirectional, from males to females of our beloved human species. That is so, mostly, but sometimes it goes the other way (would that be "matronizing"?). When I buy 8 one-liter-packs of milk and 1 liter-pack of cream (sorry, I'm metric) at the small store close to my home, I'm always told by the cashier (a 30ish woman): "hey, that's cream, not milk". I've never saw her tell that to a female customer. When I buy diapers for my kid, I'm always reminded that I should see if they're the correct size (as if by having a penis I can't know which diapers I have to take for my kid). When I buy ANYTHING for the "Universe-of-Cooking / Cookingdom", I have to listen to advice I never asked for and I have even to endure suspicion, like "hmmmmm... what are you going to use that for? Are you sure you need this? Why won't you take THAT instead?". As if by being male I am deprived of any knowledge or possibility of cooking. Last week I had another great example. Someone calling at our door. It was a nicely dressed middle-aged woman who offered free samples of some new formula Skip Intelligend Washing Powder (or maybe it was liquid, I can't recall), but she was to give it ONLY to women. As if men wouldn't know what's that about and wouldn't know how to do the laundry at home. Not to mention old ladies always telling me (when my kid was even younger) that my kid was crying because he was hungry ("why don't you give him some milk?") or that "he should have a jacket on, it's cold", or that... etc. No one ever told those things to my wife. And there are more examples, but this is too long already. And sorry for my engish (it's not my native tongue).

    Yeah thats the difference between america and here, most hardcore gamer girls over there weigh 200 kilos and live in their bed, you'd be hard pressed to find a hardcore gamer over here that even exceeds 80, why? just the lifestyle i mean cmon they got places like heart attack grill, and stuff over there weigh over 350 pounds... eat free, and i believe we can agree that gaming is not conducive to exercise... and is conducive to fast food XD and not just aus, but china, korea, an a whole bunch of other countries have the same hardcore gamers without that problem. But once again like a narcissist 'merica rears its ugly head and believes the stereotype there is the stereotype for all places.

    Last edited 19/03/13 4:57 am

    I am curious. I will try this myself on the next Gamescom in Cologne. I will go there and ask them to explain the game and I will dress up with mascara, a sexy shirt and a skirt. I am super interested what these people will tell me and on which aspects of the game they will focus.

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