Words by Kellie Nock
Photos by Adrian Leuthauser
In a hobby fraught with masculinity and gatekeeping, women find themselves treated differently than their male gamer counterparts
She hits the power button, and the console surges to life. The room fills with the whirring noise of the system’s fan. She grabs the controller, and the game begins.
Courtney Ruggiero, a junior computer design and game animation major, is an avid player of both single player and online competitive games. Ruggiero used to focus mainly on single player games until last year when she started playing “Rainbow Six Siege” with her sister. Usually, she plays in a private gaming party with just her sister. Their experiences branching out into parties with multiple players have been mixed.
Ruggiero, along with the many female gamers, are faced with different circumstances when playing online games including online harassment and stereotyping. These circumstances may be leading the industry downward as women make up about half of the video game market, according to The Pew Research Center.
“In the past, we played ‘Call of Duty Black Ops 2’ —that was like our favorite— and whenever we’d be in a community, once people find out that we’re girls they usually like left the party, or kicked us out,” Ruggiero says. “There were some people obviously who kept us on like, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re so good blah, blah, blah.’ A lot of times once they found out we were girls it was kind of different playing. So that’s kind of why we just stuck with our friends after that.”
Ruggiero works at a GameStop as well, a popular destination for those looking to buy physical copies of their favorite games. The company is notoriously male-dominated from employees to customers, and Ruggiero notes that her gender sets her apart from her male co-workers.
“It’s like guys get this whole new sense of like awkward courage when they come in,” Ruggiero says. “There’s me and one other girl that works at my store, and there’s a lot of like guys in their late 20s that get creepy.”
Ruggiero is not the only woman who has experienced different treatment because of her gender. Junior psychology major Dani Walker is an avid fan of the online game “Overwatch” and enjoys cosplaying as her favorite character McCree, a male hero in the game. She is a member of Kent’s Overwatch Association.
Walker enjoys many aspects of the “geek culture,” that video games take a large part of. She particularly enjoys cosplaying as certain video game characters. Walker shared her cosplay pictures on Reddit, which received some negative feedback. One user said she should “be raped by a tentacle monster,” a harassment based on a specific genre within Japanese manga featuring tentacle monsters. Walker is a firm believer of letting people enjoy what they want to enjoy, and girls in geek culture should not be an exception to that.
Walker speaks on her experiences being “quizzed” by men who act as gatekeepers to this culture in order to prove that she is a true fan. She often used to visit a comic store when she was in high school.
“There were always guys there who were like ‘Well if you really like ‘Preacher’ (a favorite of Walker’s) then what happened in Issue 7?’ So it’s stuff like that,” Walker says.
While women make up 52 percent of the gaming audience, Walker says that it’s still seen as a phenomena for a woman to enjoy video games.
“We gotta stop being surprised that women like ‘geeky things.’ It’s not news to anybody except for all of those m’lady-type people who are like ‘I can’t believe a girl plays video games,’” Walker says. “And then when a girl does play video games they’re like, ‘Well you’re not a real fan.’”
While Ruggiero has never experienced those types of interactions, she has been on the other end of unwanted advances due to her position as a woman interested in a “male’s hobby.” She explains that male customers will sometimes ask her if she wants a “pal to play with.” Ruggiero doesn’t believe male co-workers have had the same experiences with theses customers.
During her freshman year, Ruggiero says most of her classes were filled with males—the game and animation design major is male dominant. She felt she and the other females in the class were looked at differently than the males. She recalls a class she took where only two girls were enrolled in the course out of 17 people.
“You can tell that they were kind of hesitant like why we’re in the major or we might not be great designers or have that imagination as they might have,” Ruggiero says. “But over the past two years I’ve noticed that more girls are in my classes and like this isn’t trying to brag, but freshman year I had one of the best projects in the class, so I think guys kind of realized, ‘Oh well crap, she actually knows what she’s doing?’”
In classes, however, there is comfort. Everyone is treated equally in their work.
“I think honestly we’re all even,” Ruggiero says. “I haven’t really seen any downgrading or anything like that even like with the teachers, my professor Mr. T he treats us all equally.”
Turan Koptur, known as Mr. T to Ruggiero, has been teaching game animation and design for two years and notes that most of his classes are an even split of males and females. Koptur says there is a stigma that only males play games. However, he doesn’t believe in this idea because he knows many females who enjoy playing games, including his wife.
“People are starting to accept the idea that there are female gamers,” Koptur says. “Whenever you would get into a game and in that particular game you would hear a female voice, everyone would be surprised and it was like, ‘Why are people being surprised for this?’ Females, they play games too. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Koptur says more females are beginning to participate in gaming. However, the games themselves are still fraught with toxicity, especially those with high competition.
“I guess the more competitive games you start to notice. If you’re playing online with like ‘Halo’ I guess, it’s not — because that’s not really a competitive game,” Ruggiero says. “But if you’re playing like ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘Rainbow Six’, ‘Battlefield’ for sure, those types of games they’re more like, ‘Get off my team if you’re a girl because you probably don’t know how to play’ type thing.”
Despite this, the community is slowly shifting and changing with the times. E-sports such as “League of Legends,” “CS:GO” and “Overwatch” have gotten more attention through media and the public eye, and professional teams are becoming more and more inclusive with their members.
“A lot of professional teams have women on their teams. So I don’t know why people are still so — I don’t want to say sexist, but they kind of are toward it,” Ruggiero says. “I’ve started to notice that a lot more girls are playing. A lot more girls come into GameStop. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh! There’s actually a girl working here.’ You know they’re like happy about it, so I think that kind of gives girls courage to play more online with people.”