In my quest for an easy, lower-division class to earn credits toward graduation, I stumbled upon an entry-level film class called Video Games as Visual Culture. I have been known to occasionally enjoy video games, though I would never identify as a “gamer,” or even want to be identified with the recently broadcasted toxicity of a vocal portion of that community. Still, I thought the class would be enlightening, offering me information on a topic I had only minor contact with and could use to relate to many of my (especially male) friends—including my boyfriend, who is a gamer and a game design major. Five minutes into the first lecture, it became clear to me that I would have to seek that enlightenment while wading through gaming’s male bias, which was almost immediately reflected in the class dynamics.
Let me begin by expressing my relief that this gaming class is led by an incredibly astute female professor, who comes highly recommended by one of my favorite professors in the film department. She is assertive, experienced, passionate and confident in her material, and speaks to a 300-student lecture hall with ease and conviction. As I’m teaching a (much smaller) class myself this quarter for my senior project, I really admire her assurance before such a crowd. As a woman, I value learning from other women in general. As a somewhat-aware feminist, I think it’s incredibly important to hear female voices speaking to men, unhindered by death and rape threats.
Scanning the class on the first day, it is definitely male by majority. A brief glance at the roster confirmed this; the class is about three-quarters male. In a university that has almost always had a majority of women (about 60 percent to men’s 40 percent, give or take depending on the admissions year), a male-majority class is something to think about. Especially considering that the class is run by the film department, which is almost entirely staffed by women, from professors to administrators. And considering that women now comprise 48 percent of gamers, a number that only seems to grow with each passing survey year. These ratios aren’t compatible with the complete imbalance of male students in the class. It is clear to me that the male bias of the gaming industry and community has translated to the classroom.
It wasn’t long before this discrepancy was vocalized. As the professor took the first class survey—“What games do you play?”—men’s voices boomed from every corner, overwhelming the classroom with their over-reported gaming preferences. Out of about 20 responders, two who raised their hands were female. After they spoke, their answers were repeated louder by men surrounding them, even if the professor appeared to hear the response. This trend continued throughout the class. When the professor shared an image of the new PlayStation controller, continuing her lecture on changing game technology, the quiet hum of whispering gradually rose to a deafening chorus of male voices, presumably debating the merits of the new controller. Ignoring the lecture. Speaking over the professor. The women in this class, as far as I can tell from my seat roughly in the middle of the room, are silent, except the professor, who keeps talking. I have entered the live version of the comments section of a Kotaku article, but without the death threats (so far).
I acknowledge that my experience of the class will be somewhat limited because there is no way for me to listen to 300 people and take precise notes on who is whispering and who is not. And I acknowledge that as a senior in a freshman-level class, I have considerably more practice and life experience, especially with issues of social justice, than the majority of the audience who may be speaking from a place of unintentional ignorance, even in this day and age. I am not a perfect reporter. This is a judgement based solely on the first lecture, and perhaps more women will feel enabled to speak for themselves as the course continues.
This professor’s lectures are designed to invite and accommodate student perspectives and engagement, so all I can pray is that I don’t have to listen to 200 male freshmen drone about “League of Legends” or “Halo 3” whether the professor has asked them to or not. Furthermore, I can only hope that as a woman and self-identified feminist writing about gaming on the Internet, I won’t receive any threats for this piece. In the hunt for an easy class to earn credits for, I forgot that I would be throwing myself into a volatile and gendered lion’s den, into a community which makes me lose confidence in my own voice because I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a real gamer, despite my experience with a wide variety of games and consoles.
These days, those words from a woman’s mouth can incite unbelievable verbal abuse. This class, I think, will be more essential in filling in my education on gender bias than on video games as visual culture. I can only hope it has the same effect on my fellow students—or that in the course of the lecture, my first-week assumptions are proven entirely wrong, and that my classmates will surprise me with their awareness. I feel compelled to note that my experience of the gaming community has definitely been shaped by the sensationalist reporting of Gamergate (on both sides), the formation of the gamer nerd reputation as the new jock, and of women as “fake” gamer girls, who rest N64 controllers in their cleavage (presumably to impress cool gamer guys?). I hope that my experience in this class will change that and round out my perception of the “gamer” identity.
Through my four years at Berkeley High School and three and a quarter years at UC Santa Cruz, I have learned and internalized the habit of critical and cultural analysis. But as I am still at an institution, one that is hugely populated by people of all backgrounds (though largely white and probably somewhat affluent, at least until loan payments begin), I know to expect some reminders of the injustices of the real world. These injustices are so far-reaching that even I, as a middle-class white woman with no small amount of privilege, can feel uncomfortable in a class where my voice is drowned out by a sea of male gamers, whose online comrades have proven themselves to be violently exclusive.
This piece will be a work in progress through the rest of my academic quarter. My exposure to gaming culture is ongoing and I plan to document my experiences in and outside of this class.
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