Can Video Games Turn Us Into Misogynists?

Can Video Games Turn Us Into Misogynists? January 30, 2017

Samanthafieldby Samantha Field cross posted from her blog Samantha P Field.Com

For most of my life I didn’t consider myself a “gamer,” mostly because I had an incredibly narrow understanding of what a gamer could be. I was usually more interested in books and film than I was in video games, so I didn’t think I was “allowed” to describe myself as a gamer. Over time I changed my mind.

That happened in graduate school, and the first time I self-identified as a gamer a bunch of boys tried to laugh me out of the room. Mockery, derision, dismissal … I was an English major, a book nerd– and they were being extremely honest when they said that I was “too pretty.”

For weeks I tried to establish my cred– that I’d grown up with the TurboGrafx-16, the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, N64, Gamecube, Playstation 2, and Wii. That I’d played Doom and Warcraft. I can still cycle through all the different responses you’d get by clicking on an orc grunt and the StarCraft Terran medic (“where does it hurt?” still makes me giggle). I still cry when I think about Kerrigan (and I played through that mission so many times before I figured out that it was rigged). My family hosted Unreal: Tournament LAN parties. I can hum the theme songs from Sonic the Hedgehog. Diddy Kong Racing and Star Wars Episode I: Racer are still my all-time favorite games, and I downloaded an N64 simulator just to play them. That guy who proposed to his girlfriend at a Con by cosplaying Link and Zelda and then saying “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this” while offering her a ring makes me sob like a baby.

In high school I played EverQuest, Anarchy Online, Star Wars Galaxies— I even played Lord of the Rings Online from beta and all the way through grad school. I love all of the Fable and Assasin’s Creed games and I’ve played through Portal a half-dozen times. Currently, I’m saving up money to get Bioshock Infinite.

It was extremely frustrating to have all of that dismissed like it didn’t matter. I was a girl, and that’s all they could see, so they did everything they could to ignore me. Had I played every single Halo? No, only 3? Not a real gamer. Had I ever played Call of Duty? No? Not a real gamer. It was endless. I eventually realized I didn’t have to prove myself to them and I walked away, but it still irks me at times that those dumbasses were so smug and arrogant and they still think that I couldn’t possibly be a gamer because I was a girl.

So, yeah: video games and sexism? In every single encounter I’ve had with “gamers,” they go hand-in-hand.

Which is why I’ve been paying some attention to #GamerGate. Anita Sarkeesian is one of my all-time favorite people and YouTubers, so she’s how I found out about it, and I’ve been keeping up with it since about early September. If you’re not familiar with it, this post is a good synopsis. I also really loved this video, which covers the base assumptions of #GamerGate.

There’s already posts and articles and forum threads and twitter conversations aplenty covering what’s wrong with this “movement for journalist integrity” (coughbullshitcough), but there’s one argument I’ve seen pop up quite a bit, and I want to address it: video games cannot make players be misogynists.

This is not an argument unique to #GamerGate– I’ve already heard it a number times, usually in response to the Feminist Frequency Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series. The argument usually follows this pattern:

  1. Research shows that violent video games don’t increase aggression among players (which some research does support; but then, some research says no, it can make people more aggressive and hostile).
  2. Ergo, video games can’t make people be sexist, either.

I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, but in a way that argument makes a certain sort of sense to me. I don’t think that video games can make a non-violent person go on a shooting spree at their high school. I’ve grown up around incredibly violent and graphic games, and I’ve enjoyed camping with a sniper rifle while picking other players off, delighting in “FIRST BLOOD” and “HEADSHOT” being shouted out of my speakers during an Unreal: Tournament deathmatch– but I have never once wanted to pick up a gun and shoot anyone, or even become a sniper. I’m not a violent person, and playing violent video games didn’t change that. That is also true for most of the people I know.

However, saying that video games can’t make people violent so they can’t make people sexist, either is a false equivalency for the simple reason that everyone is already sexist.

Video games that uncritically (key term) show sexism, misogyny, violence against women, rape, sexual assault, sexist slurs, domestic violence, casual sexism, sexist tropes/costumes all contribute to our cultural assumptions about gender and women. There isn’t a culture of “regular” people walking around cities robbing, looting, defacing, and killing indiscriminately like what the player does in the Grand Theft Auto series– however, there is a consistent problem of violence against sex workers, a problem that GTA engages in by allowing players to murder sex workers in order to retrieve their money.

Sexist video games capitalize on the already existing oppressions in society. The sexist tropes that appear in video games don’t show up in these narratives completely out of thin air– they are present in games because they are present in our culture, and every single time we encounter one of these tropes or patterns it can reinforce the patriarchal narratives our minds have been steeping in since birth.

Gamers aren’t being forced to become misogynists against their will by playing these games– these games are simply relying on shallow depictions of women, on clichéd storylines and tired plots, and a player who absorbs the gendered messages of these games without analyzing them is having his or her beliefs confirmed, not invented.

#GamerGate is such a perfect illustration of this, too. Without even realizing it, these gamers who are so worried about “journalistic integrity” have only even gone after women, none of whom were journalists. You’d think that if they cared about journalistic integrity they would have en masse attacked the journalist that Zoe Quinn supposedly dated in order to get positive reviews (which don’t exist, by the way), but they didn’t. This “movement” hasn’t turned any Gater into a misogynist– they all just already were.

moreRead more by Samantha Field:

Socialization is Not a Freaking Joke!


Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverful, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.

She blogs at

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  • Allison the Great

    I consider myself to be a gamer, but I don’t play online. I don’t play online because of their attitude towards female players. I don’t need to prove I’m a gamer to some stranger who is not someone who I would like to call friend anyway. I play video games to blow off steam and to have fun.

  • yulaffin

    Am I still a gamer if I only play a couple of games (WoW, GW2)? Oh yes, I am!

  • Astrin Ymris

    I think some insecure men want to believe that gaming is a male preserve. The actual existence of females involved is firmly denied as they claim that this is a guy thing is repeated over and over.

    To a lesser extent, this is true of science fiction/fantasy in general, despite the undeniable fact that women have been crucially involved from the get-go. There was a recent Marvel comics online poll which showed an even gender split. This threatening result was immediately scrubbed due to an unspecified methodological error, and “corrected” results showing that “only” 40% of fans were female. Most people would consider that a large representation, but in some way this justified Marvel’s decision to consider comics fans mostly male, with an insignificant number of aberrant females involved.

  • Allison the Great

    They scrubbed the results? That sucks and that’s pretty shitty. I have a cousin who gets angry when women “steal” his hobbies like gaming and comic books. I always call him out over it and try to embarrass the crap out of him when I do it, because why the fuck is this something a grown man throws a fit over? I always ask him if he’s still seven years old if he is, him not having a job would make sense. I know I’m rude, but it’s equally rude to try to exclude half of the human race from a very enjoyable activity or hobby based solely upon what genitals they have.

  • AFo

    I’ve noticed that when a girl says she’s into a stereotypically “guy” thing like games or sports, any guys in the vicinity immediately have to “test” her in the most ridiculous way possible. It usually goes something like this:

    Girl: “I like football”
    Guy: “Oh yeah? If you like it so much, what’s was the blood type of the quarterback coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995?”
    Girl: “Whaaa?”
    Guy: “You don’t like football. Go back to your Barbie dolls, I only want to talk to ‘real’ football fans”

    Yeah, you really made a statement there, champ. The funniest part is when they then attempt to get into the same girl’s pants later on. How tone deaf do you have to be?

  • ChrisFromNewEngland

    I don’t think videogames can turn people into sexists any more than Marilyn Manson can turn teenagers into school shooters; home life and upbringing have much more to do with it.

    With regards to Anita, bless her heart if she truly believes otherwise. My biggest concern with her is the fact that her output has been greatly exceeded by the donations she’s received.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Doesn’t it occur to him that if there are women who like the same thing he likes, this gives him a much higher chance of someday getting a girlfriend?

    Assuming this is something he wants; you get the feeling that some of these guys want nothing to do with any woman, no matter what they protest to the contrary. I’m wondering if their real concern is that having a “Guy Hobby” is their proof that they aren’t gay, and acknowledging that women are also into the same pastime destroys this psychological defense.

    I understand your annoyance, but rudeness has a near-zero chance of persuading him to change his attitudes. When people feel attacked, they either strike back or raise the barricades. Neither is conducive to actual self-examination.

    It might be better to ask him, “So why do you feel that this is a bad thing? How does it negatively impact you if women game or read comics?”

  • Astrin Ymris

    Sexism and misogyny are not necessarily the same thing. A sexist might like individual women and have warm relationships with them while having oppressive beliefs about what roles women “should” fulfill. It’s prejudiced, but it’s not the toxic scorn and fury that MRAs show.

  • Allison the Great

    I actually tried that. I think my rudeness to him was a response to him being rude his entire life. This is a guy who, when he was a kid, kicked my dad in the face when the man was just trying to put a bandaid on his food. I should have added context to this, haha, but there is no being nice to this guy.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Hmmm… Why do I suspect that this fellow describes himself as a Nice Guy™ in online discussions?

  • Allison the Great

    Probably. Most people, including our own grandmother, absolutely despise him.