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From Annoying To Downright Insulting: The Shit ‘Girl’ Gamers Have To Deal With

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By Saswati Chatterjee:

Do women play video games? That’s an old and tired question and everybody would think that with the overdose of information from that sector, everybody would agree that yes, yes they do. Of course, being a woman in the Indian gaming scene, the scenario is a little different. Gaming in India is, still, relatively small compared to the rest of the world but it’s a rapidly growing industry. Of course, the basis doesn’t change. We know that women also play video games, but really do we actually think about it?

yana gupta video game
Yana Gupta plays a video game. Source: Getty

The easiest way to think about this is when playing online, against other real life players. The statistics tell us that a healthy amount of women play video games and a decent amount of that should be also playing online games (just like guys!). In which case, when playing video games, how many people consider that the players they’re playing against are women? While many people agree that they do consider the different genders of the players they’re playing against, many also agree that it just doesn’t come that easily. According to Nibedita Sen, she tends, “to default to assuming they’re men, unless proven otherwise.” This obviously brings up the extremely ingrained idea of the video game being a male-only space when even the women playing it, fall prey to it. Speaking as a gamer myself, I rarely stop to think as to whether the opposing player is anything but a man unless explicitly stated otherwise, even though I am a woman playing.

Of course, there doesn’t have to be the binary of, “Is it a man? Is it a woman?” all the time. As Sourya Majumdar puts it, at least as far as MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) are concerned, he, “tends to associate the gender of the avatar (or player character) with the gender of the player, even though they may not always correspond. Considering how much more common female avatars are in games such as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2, it’s an interesting reversal of the initial situation.

One of the more common sentiments regarding women in video games is the insistence that they receive ‘extra help’ and are actually ‘privileged‘ because, obviously, other male gamers are obviously killing themselves over having a woman near them. Insulting, either way. The question of whether such preferential treatment has ever really impacted players remains. For Nell (name changed by request), it was in the middle of trying out a dungeon in an MMORPG Shaiya when, “This guy asks me in the middle of the run if I’m really a girl (because my avatar was one). I said that I was and he was really nice to me throughout.”

While Nell’s might have been a pleasant experience, not everyone views such help similarly. Nibedita, while factoring some of the help as her having, “the fortune to pick MMOs with good communities”, explains that some of the help can easily be read as unnecessary hand-holding or ‘mansplaining‘, the term that has taken parts of the internet by the storm. Of course, everybody needs help when playing online video games at some point or the other (trying to figure out game mechanics, figuring out where the next boss is, etc.) but the insistence of helping out some players just because they are women smacks of the kind of thinking which states that women need to be helped. Irritating, especially in the case of seasoned female players who play the game as well as anybody. While its great if people are nice to you, ideally, people should be nice regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman and sometimes the ‘niceness’ can be really unnecessary.

On the flip side of course, we have the question of harassment in video games. Video games have garnered themselves a bit of a reputation for having a toxic community for female gamers, with several recent events such as the Gamergate controversy not helping things. While there appears to be a section of people who dismiss such claims, more and more women are now coming out to speak of their experiences. To absolutely clear here, harassment doesn’t just mean rape or death threats. It can range from what people might think are overused lines (“Go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich!”) to the aforementioned rape or death threats to outright sexual harassment. For Diya (name changed on request), it was being ignored by certain male players while for Nell, it was the gendered slurs that were often used (“stupid cunt”). Outside of video games, while not harassment per se, there is the general idea of disbelief whenever a woman speaks about playing video games whether it’s a, “But how can a girl be good at this game?” to “Wow, my first girl gamer!” Annoying at the very least, downright insulting otherwise.

girl gaming
For representation only. Source: Adam Berry/Getty

All of which contribute to a general atmosphere of hostility and fear on both sides. As Rizal Saifullah puts it, “Most women I have interacted with, have either been hostile or suspicious when you’re nice to them as they think you have ulterior motives.” This is the point at which where many gamers (despite meaning well) find themselves unable to talk to each other and hence the cycle continues. And despite the continued discussion of women playing video games and women coming forward with stories of their gaming experiences, the perception of gaming as a male-dominated space continues. Much of this is probably similar to Sujayendra Krishna’s experience where the idea of gaming as a male hobby was so “ingrained into my mind that I cannot help but feel surprised at the number of women I meet today that are into gaming.” Neither is it something restricted to just the male players. Upasana Agarwal recalls how difficult it was to get many girls, she knew at school, to get into gaming with her. “Maybe because of the gendered aspect of it, but also this idea that video games are not ‘serious’ enough and so no one really recognised it as the art form it really is.”

Well for gaming to be recognised as the art form it wants to be (and considering the absolutely amazing games out there, it deserves to be), it needs to be more open to criticism and this includes treatment of its players and/or characters. Despite all of the above, things are changing, however slow it may seem. Many see the Gamergate scandal as a sort of wake up call for the gaming community, especially considering the large amount of press it got. As female gamers stop being a novelty, the trope of the ‘gamer girl’, will die a quick death. Gaming is evolving, not just as an art form, but also in how accessible it might be in the future. Playing video games now still requires significant hardware (such as a pretty up to date PC or gaming consoles such as the Playstation or Xbox). The advent of mobile gaming is pushing against these boundaries. While mobile gaming still lags behind PC in terms of sheer hardware and therefore is still not recognised as a legitimate form of gaming (more like gaming as a hobby rather than hardcore gaming) by many gamers, it’s not difficult to see it becoming its own thing in the future. It is also not difficult to see many women (considering how many people have smartphone/tablets as compared to gaming consoles) could consider this as their entry into the world of gaming.

At the end of the day, the ideal is simple: there are no ‘girl’ gamers just like there are no ‘guy’ gamers. Gamers are just gamers and whether one expresses that through swearing at everyone equally (as long as they’re not gendered) or not treating it as something so amazing so as to make it exclusive, the recognition that we have a shared hobby that we love and enjoy is the important part.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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