OPINION: Gaming doesn’t have to be gatekept

A person wearing a headset plays a video game on their desktop computer.
The gaming community must be more inclusive to newcomers, especially to female gamers, writes Anna Tolkien CM ‘24. (Lillian Visaya • The Student Life)

Let me set the scene for you. You’re twelve years old and love “Minecraft” and log into your favorite server. The moment you join a voice chat and they hear your voice, much older men make sexually demeaning comments. Some creepy old man tells you to show your boobs. Defeated and embarrassed, you close the application and decide to not play games on servers anymore. You keep playing on your own, building castles and aquariums and treehouses. 

Unfortunately, this experience is typical for women when gaming. Gaming switched from being something that was imaginative and social to something that scared and embarrassed me. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved video games – especially Nintendo. “Wii Sports”, “Nintendogs”, “Cooking Mama”, “Mario”, “Kirby”, “Zelda” and “Style Savvy” were all religions for me. I treasured my Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Gameboy and Playstation. I’d love going to my friends’ houses and playing games together, and I even remember playing the Wii with my whole family. 

But, in the seventh grade, everything changed. Sleepovers stopped being Minecraft building sessions, instead they were all about gossip and painting our nails. I started to notice that things I enjoyed like “Minecraft” and Nintendo were considered babyish. But for the guys at my school, gaming was still cool. They went onto online platforms like Skype and Discord to form gaming communities, which I was left out of.

This gendered gaming divide widened as I got older. By the time I got to high school, gaming was exclusively a male hobby. Whenever I joined my guy friends to play games like Call Of Duty or PubG, I was always on the outskirts and not fully accepted into their community. I was deemed girly and not a real gamer for being into story-based and world-building games rather than shooter games.

I wasn’t accepted in the gamer community at large because I liked playing games like “Animal Crossing” and “StarDew Valley” instead of ultra-violent shooter games. I was a novice, immature, sandbox gamer, and my girl friends made fun of me whenever they found out I was playing games at all. Girls around me thought it was weird for me to be playing video games in general, and guys around me thought the games I was playing weren’t valid. This made me feel like I didn’t fit into either community. 

But the preconceived notion that gamers are all male is false. According to Forbes, women make up 46 percent of gamers. Yet, 79 percent of video game main characters are men. This is a literal representation of how unrepresentative and closed-off the gaming community can be. 

Women and new gamers often face gatekeeping when they first enter the gaming community. There is a huge focus on being a “real” gamer, and you’re labeled a “noob” (newbie player) if you don’t have the right equipment such as a microphone, headphones, multiple monitors or a specific type of chair. There’s also a focus on what games you have played; for instance, if you don’t have a PC and play on consoles like Playstation or Nintendo Switch, you are essentially considered less established than PC gamers. There are also certain games, like “CSGO”, “Dark Souls” and “League of Legends”, that are considered tests of whether you are a real gamer. 

Such perceptions all need to change in order for the gaming community to expand. However, many individuals in the gaming community fear that if gaming becomes widespread and open to anyone they will lose the safe space it gives them. Gamers have faced judgment and bullying in the past and so many retreat and close off their servers or groups. They see their private Discord servers as places to be unfiltered, send edgy memes and be around people who share their interests. 

However, doing so inevitably excludes others from enjoying video games and further creates misconceptions that gaming is something that only guys can do, or that it’s nerdy or that it’s something that only certain people can enjoy. If we could open up the gaming community instead of focusing on someone’s gender, what equipment they have and if they’ve jumped through arbitrary hoops of which games they’ve played, the gaming space would become a lot more inclusive and exciting. 

This exclusivity in gaming is even reflected in game design itself. For example, one of the most popular gaming companies, Blizzard, reported that 76 percent of its designers were men. It raises the question of how many wonderful, creative and unique games could be made if women didn’t feel excluded from the field. We could make games that everyone can enjoy, and hopefully bring even more women into gaming. 

So, gamers, the next time you see a newcomer trying to get into video games, don’t shut them down or exclude them from your servers. Have sympathy, remember what it was like when you were first starting out, and welcome them no matter what place they are at. Have fun out there, gamers! 

Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is a literature and film dual major. She loves her pugs, creative writing and iced coffee.

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