Strategic Play: How Teenage Girls Manage Their Gaming Experience to Avoid Abuse

Whenever I cite the fact that almost half (44%) of America’s video game players are female I get scoffed at.  For example, I am told that the study must be vastly inflating the numbers by counting things like playing Solitare on the PC or Farmville on Facebook as “gaming” (and why wouldn’t they?  What should we call these activities other than “playing digital games?”).  I think it is so easy to dismiss these claims because your typical gamer is not often confronted with the existence of female players… not because they aren’t there, but because they are hiding from those who go out of their way to harass and abuse women online.  Thus, it is easy to come to the flawed conclusion that women don’t play games.  The logic is “Well I’ve never seen them!  And I play games all the time!  So they must not be here.”

The Pew Research Center released some interesting data about the strategies that teenage girls use to protect themselves while getting their game on and Kotaku broke down the numbers.

Almost 60 percent of the girls in the study (more than 1,000 teenagers of both sexes, surveyed last fall and this winter) say they play games on a computer, console, or cellphone.

Of those girls, 47 percent say they never play online. Another 27 percent say they never even play with someone else in the same room. (You can’t add those two numbers together. Some girls are in both groups.)

About a quarter of the girls who play video games do play online at least once a month. Unlike boys who play video games online, however, teenage girls tend to turn off their mics. Only 28 percent of the girls who play video games online use voice chat to talk to other players. (More than 70 percent of the teenage boys who play online talk—a lot, as I can attest after years of ethnographic study.)

These two numbers—only 28 percent of the girls who play video games use voice chat, and only 25 percent of the girls who play video games go online even once a month—are taken from two different samples in the study and can’t be directly compared. So I asked Amanda Lenhart, one of the lead authors of the study, to crunch the numbers to find out what percentage of all teenage girls use voice chat while playing video games.

It’s 9 percent. Almost 60 percent of all teenage girls play video games. Not even 10 percent of teenage girls open their mouths and speak in public video game spaces.

The thesis of my dissertation project (currently being converted into a book) is that masculine-coded identity performances are rewarded in online spaces while feminine-coded ones are punished.  Now, on the Internet, embodied performance is typically unavailable, so these performances instead take place via text: how does one write online?  How does one react to the writing of others, like trolls (emotional and passionate reactions are bad and mark one as a “newb” to online discourse)?  What genres of text/game does one engage with?

Thus, it is unsurprising that, when given the opportunity to re-introduce the body into an online setting via voice chat, most girls decline.

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7 thoughts on “Strategic Play: How Teenage Girls Manage Their Gaming Experience to Avoid Abuse

  1. This is certainly true of my personal experience. Another thing not considered here, is that many gamer girls pretend to be a guy, until we find a group of steady friends to play with that we trust.

    The competitiveness of playing online can be a real deterrent, in my opinion, as guys have a tendency to ‘shit talk’ each other. Some women are fine with ignoring this or even joining in, but as this also lessens your ‘status’ as a woman, it’s easier to keep the cloak of anonymity and just play to have fun.

    I used to play online regularly, and typically played male characters and only spoke in text. Eventually I revealed myself to be a woman, and within a couple years, my experience playing became rather unbearable.

  2. I’m gaming almost every day. 90 percent of the games that I’m playing are online games and I must admit, you hardly ever hear a girl speaking. A cause could be that male gamers go completely ham when they here a female voice. There’s only 1 games in which I heard females speaking and it’s WoW.. Our raid group consisted out of 25 people, 9 female and 16 male.

    • That is also my experience. When I get on Skype or Curse to speak to my team in a solo queue League of Legends game we have to schedule about 2 minutes of time to get all the “go make me a sammich” out of everyone’s system

  3. I used to play online regularly, and typically played male characters and only spoke in text. Eventually I revealed myself to be a woman, and within a couple years, my experience playing became rather unbearable.

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