Sunday, December 10, 2017

Gaming Masculinity: Trolls, Fake Geeks, and the Gendered Battle for Online Culture by Megan Condis

A while ago, I reviewed a fairly popular fantasy novel. I gave it a mostly negative review, saying that while I liked the idea behind the story, the execution left me wanting - particularly since the only female character in the story serves as an object of desire for all the male characters, and even though she rebuffs them multiple times, ultimately, the male hero triumphs and claims his prize: the woman. I received a very rude comment in response for this review that contained a backhanded compliment amounting to "you sound smart, but I'm still going to treat you like an idiot because you're a feminist and a woman" and was then informed that fantasy novels weren't written with women as the audience in mind, therefore we didn't need to be catered to.

Geek culture is on a lot of people's minds right now, because Ready Player One just made it to theaters, and it's basically a celebration of all things geek: but from a primarily white, heterosexual male perspective. I loved the book, but I recently came across a really great article by Beth Elderkin called The Trophy Woman of Ready Player One. It's a criticism of geek misogyny, and the treatment of women in portrayals of geek culture. Pop Culture Detective's The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory does the same thing. Basically, the argument goes, the male geek is the polar opposite of the hyper-masculine alpha male, "the underdog," and is seen as "harmless" or "amusing." Therefore, when this character stalks a female character, repeatedly ignores her "no's," and goes to outlandish and often grossly inappropriate lengths to get her attention - and a date - it's acceptable, because we are supposed to infer that the female character just hasn't figured out what a sensitive, nice guy he is, because she's too stuck up.

GAMING MASCULINITY explores geek misogyny in the gaming community. Megan Condis taps into a wide variety of concepts, from lack of LGBT+ storylines in mainstream games and censorship of gay terms in game forums, to the online bullying of feminist and female gamers like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, to the implicit assumption that people online are white, straight, and male by default unless they choose to "out" themselves, and the equally implicit assumption that any hate or harassment an individual who has "outed" receives as a result of said "outing" brought it upon themselves by violating the status quo and trying to politicize or polarize their identity. She also writes extensively on internet trolling, and the psychology behind provoking reactions in people with extreme and offensive (and not necessarily heartfelt) statement. The toxic environments of gaming culture sometimes aren't addressed because it's considered an inherent attribute of said culture; and that to take away this crudeness, this "locker room talk," would be to destroy gamer culture.

This is such a fantastic book. As a gamer and a feminist, I found so much to relate to. I used to play an MMORPG and let me tell you, men can be so creepy online. I was seventeen when I first started playing, and I'd have men soliciting online sex, or "cybering," stalking me from world to world, calling me names (especially if I kicked their butts), and just in general being total trash people. People are so quick to condemn women as casual gamers or attention seekers, and even with women who play with their boyfriends, there's an expectation that the woman isn't supposed to play more or better than the guy she's playing with: she's just a cool add-on, no more, no less. And yet, there's also an expectation that this woman is also supposed to be totally in the know about everything canon, lest she be called on her knowledge, trivia-style, in order to prove her "cred." It's a totally unrealistic expectation, and male geeks and gamers are not subjected to this treatment - or at least, not to the same extent as their female counterparts. But lest you ask, "Wait, what about other disenfranchised groups in the gaming community?" - Condis goes into that too. Intersectionality? Condis has you covered. She discusses how LGBT+ and people of color are affected by this Boys' Club mindset of certain geeks, and not just women. From the exclusion of LGBT+ storylines in RPG games and dating sims to the incredibly racist hate speech that can surface as "trash talk," it's incredibly effective in getting the point across that there is a problem.

The takeaway message here is that women are autonomous agents and we enjoy consuming geeky pop-culture paraphernalia, even if it doesn't reflect who we are, even if we get a lot of garbage for it - and we shouldn't have to get garbage for indulging in what we love. We shouldn't get garbage for speaking critically about what we love. I love READY PLAYER ONE, Big Bang Theory, and Revenge of the Nerds, even if they have problematic content. I love a lot of games, even though they don't have a lot of great female characters. The first time I got my hands on Pokemon Crystal, I was so excited - because finally, I could play as a character that I identified with: a female character with blue pigtails, instead of a boy with a little red cap. Am I going to talk about the problematic content and the lack of representation? Yes. Does this make me less of a geek enthusiast for doing so? No (or at least, I don't think so). Going back to my original point in the beginning, about women not being the target audiences of such franchises, I'm going to posit that that's a symptom and not the cause. Maybe the reason that women aren't as interested in games and geek ephemera isn't due to a lack of interest; maybe it's because they were excluded from the target audience from the get-go, with warped representations (or no representations at all), and storylines written entirely from a male lens, about an entirely masculine construct of the geeky Übermensch. Stop making us the girlfriend or the escort mission or the prize; make us the valued partner or the hero, and we'll come running.

P.S. Her essay on Bioshock: Infinite had me watching 2 hours of Bioshock cut scenes. #amazing

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4.5 out of 5 stars


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