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Wednesday
Mar072012

« Any Woman Who Knows »

Within the last week, the drama surrounding the streamed fighting game competition, Cross Assault, has traveled through various Internet forums and gaming websites like an earthquake and its following series of aftershocks. Amidst the commotion have emerged incredibly disconcerting responses both from gaming media and community members alike. From the side of gaming media, websites such as Destructoid and Penny Arcade have held Aris Bakhtanians, and even the fighting game community as a whole, up as symbols of the most deplorable manifestations of sexism and sexual harassment. Interestingly enough, some of the same sites condemning such behaviour have been accused of using sexual abuse as a point of humour in the past (Penny Arcade's strip 'The Sixth Slave' comes to mind). 

The other common response I have seen emerge has been the polar opposite, placing contestant Miranda Pakozdi as the point of blame. The most frequent method of allocating blame to Miranda had been to question her response, or apparent lack thereof, on stream. Some, mostly men, asserted what they would have done in the situation. Of course, the point that they had missed was that men in a masculine space would never be in this situation. Upon noting this, the almost immediate response to me was: “What would you have done?”

It is this series of responses that prompted me to write this article, because I believe that no woman's experience or hypothetical reaction should be used as a singular model that can and should be applied to all women. To ask what I would have done is irrelevant; I am not Miranda. I am a woman shaped by my own experiences, which have included a long history of being bullied and having spent years in chat rooms, on gaming forums, and developing a propensity for heavy sarcasm because I am, to quote Horse ebooks, 'a full-time Internet.'

Above all else, my desire to write this article comes as a response to the casting of Aris as, unquestionably, a villain. In demonizing him, the larger picture is missed and worse, it is replaced by a more easily solved, overly simplified and more tangible problem. The problem within gaming communities cannot be confined to one event; the problem is a social structure that pervades communities across time and space.

First, let me distinguish what I mean by the fighting game community. I mean the collection of people who meet either in certain venues, homes and arcades in order to compete and, in competing, attend a variety of tournaments wherever they may be. I refuse to conflate fighting game communities with a strictly online, non-competitive presence that makes itself known in stream chats, forums and forms of social networking such as Facebook or Twitter. That is not a fighting game community; that is the Internet. I am more than willing to assert that the majority of insults slung online come from people who by and large do not compete in a social atmospherethey are strictly online and at home. 

With that said, the sexism I do see takes form in ways not always visible to those who have had the privilege to not look for it. It is not always in the form of sexualized harassment, but it is important to notice that the harassment women encounter, in general, in these communities is often gendered. It is not your run-of-the-mill trash talk where you shout that someone mashes DP, nor is it turning to your opponent and calling him or her a 'fucking scrub.'

Generally, I've found sexism is much more subtle. It is the simply-stated, but constant, questioning of a woman's presence in any of these spaces. To put it bluntly, the question that arises upon seeing a woman at an arcade or tournament is, “Why is she here?” This difficulty in negotiating a woman's presence in these masculine spaces can lead to a more accusatory line of questioning: “Is she an attention whore?” and, if she is playing, “Is she any good?” or “Good or good for a girl?” Admittedly, this surveying of skill can be asked of anyone, but it is with more regularity that it is asked of women who play, while for men who are not particularly good or outright bad we haven't much to say about their presence unless they are thrust into the spotlight. 

Sherryjenix Player Card from NCRMore insulting is the wholesale collapsing of women into one singular, equal identity and placing them at the stream station in order to have female representation on stream. What I mean, specifically, is that while most of the men who appear on stream are players and express knowledge of the game, the women invited to converse and commentate vary greatly from NOS representatives, to fighting game players, to players of completely separate genres. When there are women who play and competeSherryjenix, whom I greatly respect, comes to mindwhy is it that the presence of any woman will do? This sort of indiscriminate positioning of any woman on stream tells me, and tells audiences: it is not about women who play, it is women on display.

Through all of this, a common critique of the fighting game community has posited that it follow an eSports model, and that it very specifically become more like the Starcraft II community. The problem, however, is that sexism is neither a defining characteristic of the fighting game community nor is it exclusive to it. I think that even those who operate and compete outside of the FPS community are aware of the reputation of Xbox Live interactions that have since lead Microsoft to more closely monitor the profiles of its users. Even the all-female groups that have emerged, more notably the Frag Dolls, are indicative of a need in different communities for spaces in which women feel that they can operate and compete comfortably. 

Even in the RTS communities such as the Starcraft II community, where a female player such as Linda Liao is presented on websites in contexts that have absolutely nothing to do with her skills as a Starcraft playerin bed in a tank top and shortsit is obvious to me that sexism is still prevalent in other communities as is reflective of societies in which these communities are a part. The existence of all-women leagues and teams, even tournaments, has already reflected the need for safe spaces within and across these communities because of the discriminatory social structures through which they operate. The insistence that within professionalism there exists no sexism, racism or classism wholly ignores the reality that we are socially divided within the professional world. 

Super Yan at SouthtownArcade. Photo Courtesy of Wired.com.In fact, the constant comparison of the community to that of eSports models has lead me to two possible conclusions. The first is that those who have placed, for example, the Starcraft II scene as a model toward which we should move to improve are naive individuals who mistake subtle racism, classism, and sexism for its absence. My second conclusion is that perhaps our marginalization is being used as a tool to push for an agenda that has very little to do with the well-being of women, or anyone else for that matter, in the fighting game community. 

In critiquing these communities, I want to make clear a few things as I conclude. First and foremost, it is that I believe that neither Aris nor Miranda should be vilified. They both serve as a tangible scapegoat for a much larger social issue. The second point is that these structures of discrimination and hierarchies of power operate across all gaming communities. The social problems within the fighting game community are not unique to it, but occur in the Starcraft II, DOTA, Call of Duty, or Battlefield (et al.) communitiesin fact, in all communities. Third, and incredibly important, is that I write this critique precisely because I love the fighting game community. I have loved and watched it grow from pockets of players in arcades to a more national, and now international, consciousness. It is a diverse community in which some have rejected me, and others have accepted me as the awkward, slightly tactless and assertive Latina I am. It is a community through which I have made a majority of my friends. 

It is because of this that I have written this article, not to shake a finger or to place blame, but to point out that there is a larger issue that we need to address to progress as a communityto progress as human beingsand that this community I love so much should not falsely be singled out as the problematic community. It is a community that is flawed, a place in which sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ethnocentrism and many other societal problems exist, but I believe it is a community that has the potential to move forwardand has already begun doing soto be welcoming of men and women alike. What I think is most needed in these moments in which we are made aware of sexism or any other -ism is a rational and ongoing dialogue through which we can learn and improve.

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