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I’m A Woman Who Plays Video Games And We’ve All Always Existed. Surprise!

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By Saswati Chatterjee:

If I was paid for every time someone asked me about the fact that I play video games (with so much surprise in their voice), I’d never need to work a day in my life. I resigned to the fact that being a woman, the world of video games seems automatically removed from me and yet I’ve been playing games as long as I can remember. Being a gamer has become part of an identity.

Despite this, I’ve never thought of myself separately as a ‘female’ gamer. I play games, I’m a gamer. Saying ‘girl’ in it just sounds weird. Do we say ‘girl’ cook? Or ‘lady’ tailor? No, because some things are just considered the domain of men and women. On the other hand, how many times have we heard, ‘female’ pilots, ‘female’ drivers and now ‘girl’ gamers. In other words, some things are male-dominated and adding the ‘girl/female/lady’ in front of it, is just another way of exclusivity. So to me, I’m just a gamer.

girl video game
A gamer. Period. Source: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty

But not if the world can help it. Among the people who do know me, my status as a woman who plays video games has long ceased to be a matter of any novelty at all but the online space is a whole different kettle of fish. I should note that I’m mostly not a really interactive multiplayer gamer and I mostly communicate with other people using chat and I never, ever use the microphone to chat. In that respect, I suppose I’ve been spared quite a lot of the direct abuse many women face in online gaming. Many of the people I play with are equally silent, usually commenting on chat. So I’ll freely admit that I don’t know if they are women or not. They might just be, or they might be men and perhaps they may also think that I’m a man. The standard response is to assume I’m a man, because women don’t play video games, right?

Not really. I personally play with a few women and they follow the same standard behaviour as I do: when playing multiplayer, don’t use mic chat unless playing with friends. Despite this, I still get the same reactions every time I tell someone I’m a gamer: wonder, incredulity, surprise.  (These two are actual responses I’ve gotten, by the way.)

As an Indian woman who games, this takes on a whole new dimension. I’ll freely admit that outside of my own friend group, I don’t actually know many Indian girls who play video games. Does it mean they aren’t there? I don’t think so. Does it mean they might be comparatively less? I don’t know, maybe?

What I do know is that, with video games being considered a boy’s pastime, girls face a pretty significant roadblock. I was pretty lucky in the sense that my parents let me do what I wanted to do in my free time (rather bemusedly though) and I was lucky to have a dad who encouraged my love of video games and enjoyed playing some with me. Not to mention, I was fortunate to come from a family which lets me build a gaming rig, which would support the requirements of modern gaming.

So yeah, if you want to talk strictly in terms of the latest console or PC games, I don’t know if India has the kind of mindset to be there yet. But I don’t think video games should be considered as only PC or console gaming. Throw in mobile games (which, by the way, are improving by leaps and bounds) and suddenly we have a whole other world open in front of us. The smartphone market is a fast-growing market in India and a lot more people have smartphones than they have consoles. And with a much more accessible platform, why would you ignore mobile gaming especially considering some of the cool games coming out on it?

True, the idea of mobile gaming as gaming hasn’t quite taken hold of the average gamer’s imagination, many of whom still struggle with the idea of the ‘true’ gamer versus some mythical ‘casual’ gamer. I suppose many female gamers would fall under the latter and would need to prove their gamer credentials. How long have you been playing? How many games have you played? Name the characters of the games and so on and so forth.

Another interesting factor of being a female gamer is many men assume that I get special treatment. Uh, from whom? Other gamers? Really, because that has never happened to me or anybody I know. And yet memes such as this exist, where it is assumed that asking for anything means that all the ‘girl-hungry’ gamers over the server swarm around to give the girls whatever they want. It’s an insult, both to the men (for assuming that they’re just skirt chasers and playing up the nerd stereotype) and the women (for a myriad list of reasons I don’t even want to go into).

So yes, I’m a woman who plays video games. I don’t have to tell you “I exist” because honestly, we’ve all always existed.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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