I hate the fact that playing online video games isn't as simple as just playing the game. It both is and isn't, really; I can play Final Fantasy XIV without worrying about people suddenly being misogynistic or transphobic. That welcoming environment lead directly to me sticking with the game when I was just starting out, and now I'm at well over 1000 hours. The fact that I can play well in the highest tier of content without people being assholes specifically because I'm a girl is wonderful, and it feeds back into making me want to play more. I can't say that about Valorant.
I love playing Valorant. It's one of my favorite games to come out last year. It's also become a game I hate, hate playing by myself. I've never played any other game where people just lose their minds as soon as they see a girl playing like they do here. And it's not a 'once in a while' thing, either; it seems like every other game, someone needs to point out that there is a woman playing a video game, like I'm some mythical creature that no one believes exists.
It's very annoying, but most of the time I can sort of tolerate it. If someone's annoying, usually they'll shut up about it after the first few rounds. But some people are just utterly, utterly dedicated to being the absolute worst human beings they can be when it comes to interacting with other genders. Yesterday, I played with someone who was the absolute pinnacle of misogynistic troll, and it takes the cake for the angriest I think I've ever been with anyone, in any game, ever.
I've been playing long enough that I can pretty quickly recognize when I'm going to have one of 'those' games. As soon as someone says 'Witchbride-'(my handle on pretty much everything) while we're picking our preferred agents, I let out a long sigh, because someone's either gonna flirt with me all game or be a misogynistic ass the entire time, or on a good day, sometimes both! This particular troll started with 'Why aren't you talking, Witchbride?', which was silly because there were two other people who were also not talking, but they didn't have names that skewed feminine, so of course he didn't care about them.
What surprised me the most- and disappointed me, to be honest- was that he was also in a party with another girl, who both encouraged him and was a misogynistic dingbat as well. There's something to be said about women who enable the behavior that makes gaming unwelcome for womxn and people of color; the desire to be a 'good one'- a woman that's not 'sensitive' like the SJWs who give a shit about trivial things like human rights- is ridiculous to me. To listen to someone you consider a friend call another woman a slutty cunt or joke about how I was probably raped and not only be okay with it, but encourage it, tells me there's so much work to be done from the inside as well as out.
The match lasted seventeen rounds and I hated every second of it. This very special kind of asshole would follow behind me, firing his pistol to give away my position, and using his character's abilities to either slow me down or block my movements with a large wall. Believe it or not, I have the thick skin that so many people insist I have if I want to exist in online spaces(Because it's so much easier to let people be toxic than it is to police it), but I have a fucking limit, and that limit is definitely somewhere around someone committing their entire match to making sure that people like me don't want to play the same game.
I wanted to talk about this and how angry it made me for a lot of reasons, but the largest being I'm tired of hearing the same excuses whenever women bring up these issues. The laziest one is just don't talk, which, if I can be blunt, I consider a bullshit hand-waving of the issue. I actually don't use my voice in online games, specifically to prevent situations like this, and I still get harassed regularly. Choosing not to say anything, let alone defend myself, isn't the Moral High Ground Solution a lot of people who will never have to experience this issue think it is, just like 'well-meaning' answers like 'don't have a name that sounds feminine'. That actually translates to 'Just like you shouldn't speak because you're a woman, you shouldn't be acknowledged as one as well'.
Another hand-waving pastime is to ;just mute them'. Just so we're all on the same page before we go any further, what someone really means when they say that is 'You can just miss critical callouts because you're a girl'. Valorant is a game where every moment matters, and knowing that someone is one body shot from death or if there is a sniper rifle aiming down a corridor can be the difference between winning and losing. When you mute someone, you're also not getting any critical information that could turn the match in your favor. I hate this excuse the most because it's just not a choice men have to make; you don't have to choose between being called a slut every other round or losing winnable ones because, by virtue of being a woman, you are excluded from the information you need to win.
Most of all, I'm angry that I can't have this conversation and have people approach it genuinely. I know what's going to happen if this article gets into the hands of bad actors, because this has happened before. I'm not going to name who it happened to(because it's starting to die down and I will not be the vector that leads to them to receiving more harassment) but that doesn't change the fact that it shouldn't happen at all. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and not just from the developers, but from the people who considers themselves part of any community that actually wants to retain its marginalized members.
From a developers standpoint, if you don't communicate that something has happened when a player reports someone, your system is already a failure. If we don't know that the person who negatively impacted our experience was appropriately punished, we're taking you at your word, and after being disappointed with so many reporting systems across so many games, I'm immediately disillusioned with any game that can't reliably tell me, 'Yes, we've punished the bad actor for breaking the rules'. I also wouldn't mind heavier steps to keep them from just making another account, which almost always happens in free-to-play games.
From a community member's perspective, your job is much more simple: When you hear someone spewing hate or misogyny, tell them to shut it. You don't need to get yourself reported- for the love of God, don't tell them to harm themselves or anything else egregious- but make it clear that the person choosing to be an asshole isn't welcome. That's it. All I need is that bare minimum, 'Hey don't be a garbage human being'.
That little thing, just saying something, speaks volumes. I'm accustomed to people who say nothing, even when they know someone is being harassed. Remember, there were two other teammates in my story from earlier. Neither of them said a word while the scumbag and his friend went out of his way to make the game unplayable for me and, by proxy, our team. Silence is violence; even when I tweet this and people say 'I would never let them someone get away with that in my matches', I have to ask, do you mean you actively try to intervene, or do you just ignore it because it doesn't affect you and you don't want to get harassed yourself?
As simple as it sounds, honestly, I just want to play the damn game. I don't need everyone to get on their knees for me just because I'm a girl(Which also happens and I hate it just as much, believe me). I also don't care if someone says I'm trash because brutal honesty, as a game journalist people are gonna think that way about me regardless so whatever. But this isn't about trash talk, this is about 'harassment'. I don't have a problem with people being snippy with me because I missed an easy shot, but I have a massive problem with being treating differently because of something that has nothing to do with the game I'm playing. It's that distinction that makes me upset, and one that always gets lost in the noise.
Want to know what the kicker is? The game immediately after that one, despite a desire to drag my tilted ass to bed, I had the time of my life. Not only did we win pretty cleanly, I ended the match as the best player on my team. All of my teammates were absolutely wonderful, just the nicest people, and that's what I hate the most about being told to just mute people. Yeah, absolutely, I could just turn chat and voice comms off entirely and play in peace. Ignoring the 'critical information' issue from before, I play this game for fun. I want to be able to chat and have a good time with my teammates. I want to be able to play and make friends with people- because this is a video game, after all- without being harassed for existing.
I shouldn't have to make that choice. I shouldn't have to choose the lesser of two evils because I choose to exist publicly as a woman. This isn't some plea to be nicer to your fellow gamer, though I'd encourage it anyway. This is a request for you to not just be against harassment of women in games, I'm asking you to fight against it. Just like how you have to be anti-racist instead of 'not racist', you have to actively push against these environments that keep womxn, queer folk, and people of color from feeling welcome in these spaces.
Despite the negatives experiences I tend to have, I'm gonna keep playing Valorant. I'm gonna keep playing it because I love the characters, the gameplay, and because it's just so fun in a way I can't experience anywhere else(that isn't CS:GO, because I refuse to play CS:GO). I'm gonna do so regardless of what whatever misogynistic, racist, transphobic asshole has to say about it, because they don't get to ruin my fun. But while I do, I'm going to go out of my way to make sure other marginalized folk get to have just as much fun as I do, without feeling bad about it.
Or, get so good at the game that it doesn't matter what anyone says, because I'll be better than them. And really, isn't that what gaming's all about?
Natalie 'Witchbride' Raine is very tired, but she persists regardless. She writes frequently both here and on 100 Word Gaming. She can be found- maybe!- on twitter @Witchybride.