The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line! If you like Kristy’s work, don’t forget she’s co-host of our Flash Point podcast.
Recently I attended a huge LAN event. It’s been a very long time since I attended any sort of mass paid LAN and I admit that I was a little nervous about it all. The last paid LAN event I attended was a very long time ago, it was nowhere near this large and it wasn’t a good experience for me. I was the only woman there and well, I had numerous bad experience with the other attendees that I won’t go into right now.
My friends said not to worry, that they have attended these before and never seen/had a problem and they were right. The moment I walked through those doors I was impressed by the sheer size of the event. I walked in awe to my assigned desk carrying my bag of cables and peripherals (the monitor and computer had to wait their turn). By the time I put my bag down I was completely sucked in to the atmosphere of the event. I was surrounded by gamers and this was going to be over 24 hours of uninterrupted gaming goodness. What wasn’t there to like?
As I went to bring the rest of my gear in, I ran into my friends that were also just arriving. After quick jumpy hugs and comments that I was obviously excited, I was out the door to bring in my computer. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever plugged in and booted her up so quickly. I admit I felt weird but it only lasted ten minutes at most. It was obvious that no one cared that I was a woman. No one looked at me as I walked past, they looked at their screens. No one made comments, they yelled at their games. I was in heaven and I never wanted to leave. Things weren’t perfect – I had network issues where my internet wouldn’t so much stop working as just become unusable. I remember at one point in the night I couldn’t even browse Facebook. It meant too that I couldn’t always play the games I wanted. The constant flow of food and drink vans was very neat however. I think the coffee truck was the best timing I’ve ever seen and an awesome Chai Latte to keep me going was what I needed.
There was one part of the event I really wanted to enter – it was titled the Beast Rig contest and was advertised as being about how well a computer is built, it’s practicality, theme, general “Bling” factor and some personal opinion from the judges. I was excited at being able to show off my new computer. She took me two weeks to design and every piece has been picked for a reason. My computer is a reflection of who I am and I was looking forward to showing the world what I have made – plus the added bonus of being able to see everyone else’s creation and geek it up with hardware talk. Like all these things, the contest ended up running a little late – it was actually closer to midnight than the 9pm that was first mentioned. I thought it was going to be all showing off and benchmarks. I was excited to see how my little computer (who I designed around being simple, neat, organised but more than meets the eye) would compete against the huge boxes that surrounded her. I still believe that she will beat any other machine of her size in a benchmark test. Unfortunately it ended up being more just us talking about our computers. Disappointingly, they weren’t even plugged in nor did it take the full package into account.
I admit that if I knew this, I wouldn’t have entered. It was easy to tell from the beginning that the contest wasn’t going to be about practicability or bling or theme but more which one the judges would want the most. This article is about how I ended up walking away from that contest feeling embarrassed and humiliated by the judges. So what happened? I was number four of six, so I picked up my computer and went to move forward. Before I even put my case down, the words “Handles! And look you’re a woman!’ was said. I put my computer down and stood up thinking, ‘Ok, it’s just one comment. Hopefully they will move on’.
Before I got to even start talking about my computer, they went into a discussion about the print on my t-shirt which was across my chest. There was no discussion about what the other people were wearing but apparently it was ok to discuss my outfit when we should be discussing my machine’s outfit. They talked about my shirt for a good couple of minutes while I was getting more and more uncomfortable. I didn’t ignore this, I knew that now they were no longer judging my computer but focusing on me. So I called them out, I thanked them for admiring my chest. Apparently they did seem embarrassed by this (I know I was bright red myself). I was hoping this would kick them into focusing on why I was there and not that I was a woman.
I opened up my case and started explaining her personality. I knew I would have to sell her well because she looks very simple. Something that I was aiming for but not something that looks impressive. Let’s face it, when it comes to computers it doesn’t matter how powerful she is when it comes to staring into the case. Although a friend spent about ten minutes drooling over her when he first arrived at the LAN so I had a little confidence that she might be able to pull it off.
That confidence lasted less than ten seconds.
It became clear that they weren’t listening to what I was saying. As I talked them through her various parts and why I picked them, they were making a lot of eye contact. Normally a good thing when it comes to discussion, not so good when it comes to showing something off. When the other people talked, they all leaned forward and stared intensively at the machine, listening to everything they said. When I talked, they leaned back, staring at me and nodding their heads in encouragement.
When I got to her graphics card and mentioned the Titan, they talked among themselves about it. Mine was the first computer with a Titan and I was looking forward to talking about how it performed in real life over benchmarks but I wasn’t included in this discussion. When they had finished judging the Titan by sight and what they had read alone, they looked back to me to go on. I admit that by this stage, I really wanted to just tell them thanks for their time but they obviously don’t care and I could just take my case back to my desk and start gaming again. But I admit, I was a chicken who was already feeling so extremely humiliated and I didn’t want to be confrontational. I powered on, trying to describe her still and tell them things they can’t see like how she performs, how cool she runs and her personality.
In the end, I really just stopped talking. The only feedback I got was someone asking about the cooling in which someone else jumped in and answered for me. Never once did I feel like I was part of a discussion. The gentlemen standing behind me all had very animated and in-depth discussion, I had a speech which was filtered through nods as if they were pleased that I could talk and say all the right words. When my computer didn’t make it to the next round, I was so very glad. I quickly took her and slinked away. As I walked off thinking well at least this was over, it wasn’t. One of the admins managed to sum up how patronised I felt with a ‘Good job though’ as I walked past. I don’t think I could even manage a fake smile. I was worried that I was being a bad sport by leaving immediately after I lost but after that line, well, I felt completely justified.
I tried to calm myself down afterwards but I just couldn’t. I was so surprised that all the admins and audience just stood back and let this happen. Surely it should have been obvious how the judging panel treated me so differently? That I felt so embarrassed, humiliated and patronised by their inability to get over that I was a woman. I think even if you asked them now about each of the computers they would first mention ‘woman’ when they remembered mine. The worse of it all though was that their behaviour wasn’t done with malicious intent nor was it done consciously. The truth of the matter is that none of them could get past that I was a woman. This is how they unconsciously think I should be treated, that I am not as serious as a man. I have no problems with me being a woman and I make jokes about it as much as the next person but their dismissal behaviour wasn’t appropriate and should be called out.
If I had gotten one of my male friends to take my computer up, I think I would have enjoyed it more. I could have got him to explain my simple but powerful design. How I was able to achieve this without over loading my case with a lot of useless things. Why I prefer to be minimal than boastful. I like control, I like efficiency, I like power in as small a package as possible.
My faith was restored when a fellow attendee came to ask me a few questions about my case. He had the same case but was having troubles with it. I was finally able to geek it up with him and one of my friends while he tried to explain his problem and I explained how mine was set up. This was what I was hoping for during the contest with the admins. I ended up walking over to see his machine and was able to fix his problem which was really simple. He was embarrassed but not because I was a woman telling him where he went wrong, but because the problem was so simple and he had missed it. I had actually done the same mistake, the only difference was that I realised a lot sooner than he did.
I went home straight after I helped this nice gentleman with no intentions of going back the next day nor helping to pack up like I volunteered to. I went on Twitter to express my disappointment at what had happened. The initial response was sadly the standard please send us an email with your details which never works but I did end up talking with a very nice gentleman from the LAN and we were able to have a wonderful discussion about what happened and how we can prevent it in the future. Twitter of course didn’t know about this discussion and spent the next couple of hours pretty much attacking everything I said and did, twisting my words and filling in any gaps with misinformation. They had no details but that wasn’t going to stop them calling me things and doing their best to prove why gaming is still a hostile place for women while arguing that it wasn’t.
You see, this continues to happen to women. This stuff happens to us and we stand up and speak out about it only to be abused and attacked. I was accused of wanting to do nothing but cause trouble simply for sending one tweet, of being a troll and of seeking out random people online. I have no idea who these people were but they seemed to think they knew me pretty well. This is why I took it to Twitter and why I am writing this article. This stuff shouldn’t be happening and when it does, we need to stand up and speak out about it. It’s the only way we can stop this unconscious negative treatment of women. Their anger shouldn’t have been directed at me but at the admins that treated me like a song bird singing all the right notes. No one disagreed with what had happened to me, only that I had no right to speak up about it publicly.
The gentleman from the LAN committee has no problems with my feelings, opinion or behaviour. They are happy for me to write this article because they agree it shouldn’t have happened and are doing everything they can to stop it from happening again. They want more women to attend their event. This event was the first time I’ve seen the attendee showing the admins how they should have behaved which I think is a step in the right direction – not a leap but a nice step. I think while women are becoming the norm at these sort of events, they aren’t getting so involved. There are still only a few women admins and I only saw one other woman enter a contest. I would have loved to seen other women standing up there with their beast rig at their feet and pride in what they have achieved and I would love to see the admins give them the attention and respect that they and their machines deserve.
The gaming industry has a huge problem with forgetting. We tend to focus on the current big news and then a week later it is forgotten. The more we speak out about any bad behaviour publicly, the more likely we are to remember that not everyone is treated the way they deserve all the time. This is why I am speaking out, this is why I am not naming the LAN but personally would love to give them some positive advertising. They messed up once when none of the admins spoke out when it was mentioned that I was a woman and allowed the negative mood to be set. It’s certainly not worth the hatred on Twitter or fear of bad mouthing.
It is not white knighting to speak out when you see poor behaviour. It’s not inappropriate to express distaste at unfair treatment. It’s not trolling or stirring the pot to speak publicly. Nor is it a reflection on everyone and it shouldn’t be seen as a personal attack to anyone.
This sort of sexist behaviour is such an unconscious part of our community that the only way we can move forward is to call each other out when we see it. I know that I’ve said and done things in the past unconsciously and I am always glad to be told so I can correct it.
Things are certainly improving for all gamers but we still have a lot to fix and it’s something we all need to work together to achieve.
[This piece originally appeared on Kris’ own gaming blog]