There was a line that stroked me hard when I was playing a third person video game – Fortnite with a guy, direct quote, he said: “Wow, how do you know all the gun models?”. This sounds confusing to me because, why is that a surprising thing for a gamer to know about guns?
Nowadays, gaming has been evolved into more than just a leisure activity, rather, it is becoming more prevalent to have games that are organized in a professional and competitive manner. Games such as Counter-strike, League of Legends and Overwatch have their own league competitions, as well as annual world-cups, just like an actual sport, which these competitive games are refer as “E-sports”.
Yet, when we talk about video games, most people will associate it as “boy’s activities”. In this male-dominated field, in 2017, 46 % of gamers are in fact female across all platforms (Osborn, 2017). More than that, 30% of e-sports fans are female, while 23% of e-sports fans that watch e-sports on a weekly or more basis is female (Mitrevski, 2017). With such high percentage of female participants in the gaming industry, and predicting that such trend will be prevalent for a while, as a female gamer like myself would like to discover the reason why women is invisible in the industry and in media coverage.
The following discussion will rest upon the concept of gender, critiquing the domination of hypermasculinity in E-sports. According to Sloop, gender was read as being accompanied by multiple gender specific signifiers, including the body, movement, desires, clothing, and hobbies(2003).Therefore gender is a social construct which we agree on. But then, dos these social agreements providing equal opportunities for both genders in E-sports?
E-sports is sports
First and foremost, before entering to the discussion on the gender issue in competitive gaming, it is important to acknowledge the discussion is base on the premise that E-sports is a real sport. Since E-sports is a new emergent category that appears in recent decades, there is no single universal definition of it, thus, scholars resist to define E-sports as real sports. One of the main reasons is because the games are not measuring physical fitness of competence in the “real world” ( Hamari & Sjöblom, 2017) . However, there are several features of E-sports that can consider it as a real sport. The competitive nature is a vital feature that are shared by both E-sports and traditional sports. According to scholars, competition is “The only way of winning [an eSports] match is to find and execute strategies that outperform the strategies of the opposing team (Jenny, Manning, , Keiper, Margaret , & Olrich, 2017). , in which E-sports can explicitly perform such feature. In addition to that, spectatorship and socialisation in E-sports is as prominent as the traditional sports. The games are mostly being stream online in multiple platforms, which live chat functions are mostly available for viewers to interact with each other. In 2014, boasted a global viewership of over 71 million people (Jenny, Manning, Keiper, Margaret , & Olrich, 2017). The high viewership also brings financial benefits that are similar with the benefits from mega events such as world cups and the Olympic games. Therefore, E-sports shares same and similar traits that traditional sports have.
Hypermasculinity in E-sports
While there are more and more female players strived for getting into higher levels of competitive realm, advocating gender equality through their professional skills. Yet, gender stereotypes and gender expectation still has not been busted, male-players still have privilege in terms of opportunities and rewards of becoming a ‘pro’.
Competitive players in E-sports are often being refer as athletes, but mostly referring to heterosexual white male. As mentioned in the previous section, E-sport’s competitive nature is similar to traditional sports, meaning that the social connotation on sports, hypermasculinity, is also heavily transferred to the virtual world. Hypermasculinity refers the violence against self and others, aggression, individual skill, and the desire and ability to inflict pain and humiliation over those less capable (Taylor, Jenson, & De Castell,2009). In the context of gaming, these traits can be displaced in athlete’s playstyle and character choice. Referencing an interview with a successful player from NerdCorps, stating that women simply lacked the “testosterone” to compete on a level playing field with men, in competitive gaming (Taylor, Jenson, & De Castell,2009), which he means that women do not have the ‘guts’ to handle the aggressiveness in the competition.
Even when female players made it to the higher position of the ladder, female players are subtly being pressurized in being passive. In role selections, they are bounded within supporting or healing roles in the game, which those perfectly fit the social expectation on women of being caring, nurturing, passive than being assertive and aggressive (Ammers10, 2017). From personal experience, players will assume that whoever takes the female support role is a girl, which a lot of embarrassing conversation happened onto my guy friends. Hence, the social connotation on gender and its performative traits are heavily bonded on female gamers. They can game, they can compete, but only if they are within the frame which will not threaten the existing patriarchal domination, the framework which girls are not masculine at all. So female players to do not even have the same compete ground of in the first place.
Outside the virtual world
Interestingly, the situation would not be improved even if female players express their aggression and the “testosterone” in game. Moreover, female players need to show discipline, fulfilling obligations outside the game in order to gain recognition. Studies show that girls spend less time on gaming due to heavier workload at school and home (Winn,& Heeter, 2009). Girls are required to perform well in the role of student, and as the role of a ‘mother’ at home, which these are what the society look for in femininity. On the other hands, these expectations are not imposed to male athletes when they pursuit gaming as their career. Fatal Fantasy, a young female NerdCorps players who is one of a few vocal players who actively participate in both FFA (‘free for all’ mode, which winner needs to get the most kills in a set time) and team-play, has similar experience. She recalls her parents demand her to assure being ‘proper’ before letting her to attend her tournaments overseas (Taylor, Jenson, & De Castell,2009). This exemplify that women’s femininity cannot be compromised in work field, or in pursuing any of their goal. Their personal life is also being judged on, even school performances and washing dishes do not affect the ability of gaming, especially in this masculine environment.
The ‘toxic’ environment
From time to time, there are some funny clips showing how girls have advantage of just simply using voice chat in games. Since girls are still the minorities in gaming industry, gaming becomes an attractive trait of girls
Unfortunately, a lot of the cases are the opposites. female gamers are reluctant to identify and reveal their gender is because of constant harassment or hatred from other gamers, particularly from male players. Offensive languages are commonly seen in chat such as sexist comments, threats, more likely towards women. When female players are skilled and outstanding in the game, they will be got into the suspicion of hacking and cheating. Heather ‘sapphiRe’ Mumm, a professional CS:GO player is reluctant in going voice chats. She explained when she goes into game, her only goal is to complete the mission, but she was being called a hacker when she successfully completes the mission after she joined the voice chat (Zacny R, 2015). The challenges that female pro-player face is more than just harassment, but even their endurance of those unfair threats. Despite female gamers are usually the receiving side of the discrimination, they become the ones to blame on when they stand up against those comments because they are not ‘manly enough’ to endure those verbal violence. Some female players, like Geguri, a Overwatch top player, consider use programs to change their voice so that they can avoid those violent comments. How would this a fair environment for women to climb into higher game tier when female players are being accused for voicing out? Even in real life those harassments are firmly unacceptable, how can it be legitimized in the virtual world simply because “it has been like this the whole time”?
Yet even guys might not be immune from those harassments. Sometime guys can also receive those comments from picking a more “girly” character, or the roles that are less aggressive. “Femininity”, “girl” those vocabular and impression are being associated with negative connotation of being weak, ‘no guts’, being a cowards. Even some male players genuinely enjoy being a support player, they are being looked down, as a “girl”. Thus, semiotic associations with girls and female are seriously being depreciated and looked down on.
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The Future E-sports: what can we do?
Recently female-league are being promoted by E-sport organizers. It creates a relatively friendly and fir environment for female E-athletes to compete According to the statistics, female viewership of female league in creased 15 to 30 percent, showing that gender segregation does encourage more women to participate in it (Gera. 2014). However, this is just a the first step of the journey of gender equality of E-sports, there are more work need to be done as to tackle the fundamental problem of this issue. Along with female-league, organizers can target their market to the ladies, meaning to take women as one of their main market group, not just audience. The shooting game Overwatch is a great example of attracting female players. Among all the first person shooting games, it has the highest female gamers ratio due to the varieties of characters. Developers can consider adding more female-friendly elements into games, or rather excluding elements such as revealing character skins to make female players less resistant to games. More importantly, since toxicity in games are severe, Developers and government need to collaborate to resolve such problem. A report system can be improved by adding harsh penalties to toxic players to promote a friendly gaming environment. On top of that rules and regulations need to be review and reform to legislate laws that regulate cyber violence, to let people know those violent comments are not being tolerated even in virtual world. At the end, like Sloop argues, gender should be based on individual self-identity (2012), the perception on gender needs to be widen so that gender equality can be seen across the E-sports.
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