My Love of Video Games and My Disappointment in Their Culture


*This is my version of Commander Shepard from Mass Effect…my favorite video game series

Karen + Video Games = Love

I love video games. It all started when I was five and my father plunked me down in front of the computer with a game called Mixed Up Mother Goose. In the fantasy land created by the game, nursery rhyme characters had been separated from an object integral to their story. For example, Jack-be-nimble had lost his candle stick and it was my task to reunite them. And reunite them I did…over and over and over again.

Fast forward another few years. It was the early 90’s and my dad was showing me this cool new thing we had called the internet. He had connected to another cool thing called a bulletin board service and we could talk to people through the computer. Best of all, this bulletin board service had both online games you could play with other people and games you could download for free! Anyone remember arcade style Mario?!? Then came years of assorted console games; a few favorites were 007 Goldeneye on N64, assorted Final Fantasy games on the Playstation (everyone knows VII is the best), and of course Halo on Xbox.

Sadly, I went to college and lost interest in games for a few years until one day an ex-boyfriend of mine introduced me to a game that would become a catalyst for learning, creativity and friendship. I played the World of Warcraft for about 6 years. I loved so many things about it, the story was interesting, the content was challenging, the competitive environment it fostered could be exhilarating, and the 24 hour a day, 365 day a year social scene was satisfying.

The Social Side of Gaming

At first, I was awful at the game. I didn’t understand the mechanics like more experienced players did and as a result, people were mean. Eventually one person I had bumped into several times took me under his wing and decided to explain the finer points of strategy to me. Part of that strategy was that I should adopt the supportive role of a healer because “that’s what girls are good at”. I didn’t think anything of it. It was friendly advice from someone looking out for my in-game social welfare.

As I became more and more involved in the game my competitive side really started to shine through and I began seeking out more competitive guilds. This is when I really began to notice that the ‘guys’ (and they were pretty much ALL guys) treated girls differently and that I would have to adjust my social strategy if I wanted to be accepted as one of the group in a competitive raiding guild. While I didn’t realize this at the time, it seemed there were two strategies for acceptance, to play the role of the sexualized ditzy girl, or to convince them that I was just one of the guys.

It was common, everyday conversation to hear jokes about women and kitchens, sandwiches and refrigerators in WoW. It was also rare that you could go more than a few hours without being the victim of some sort of gender related verbal abuse. In fact it was so common that there is a website dedicated entirely to documenting these comments. The website is called fat ugly or slutty and is named after the most common themes to the suffered insults.  ‘Rape’ was a term used in a variety of contexts. People would say “I raped that guy in the arena” to indicate that they had been victorious in a competition or if someone’s avatar died for whatever reason and it was seen as funny someone would inevitably chime in with “get raped” and much laughter would ensue.There was also a distinctly homophobic undertone to the entire community. Also frequent, was the jerk who would discover my true identity as a woman (usually through voice chat since it’s easier to coordinate groups that way) and start asking inappropriate questions, asking for nude photos, or offering nude photos of himself. When participating in pick-up groups (a group of strangers working together to accomplish a task), if the leader of said group discovered I was female I would often be delegated the least demanding position or simply be kicked from the group. This was the case even though I was visibly a member of the most successful competitive guild on the server. The easiest way to avoid being kicked was to have a male friend vouch for me, to say that I was competent. The worst part of all of this, is I never even once questioned it. All of these experiences seemed normal and accepted amoung gamers and so I never thought anything of it. At least not until I went back to university to study sociology.

Video Games + University 

Throughout my undergraduate degree I have taken every opportunity to research and discuss video games in my courses. During this research I stumbled upon feminist frequency, the website of feminist and pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian. Having watched some of her videos and reading about her story (you can read about it yourself at her website), I began to think critically about my experiences playing WoW. Through a project in my violence and society class, I learned and developed the tools and skills to analyze online gaming through a sociological lens. I began to understand that much of the sexist and arbitrary verbal abuse I was subjected to while gaming online could be boiled down to a backlash from a patriarchal sense of entitlement felt by men and boys who were threatened by the presence of women and girls in ‘their world’.


Online Piracy….Arrrrrrr!


I am a pirate because I’m broke

First, I would like to start off by saying my name is Karen, and I am a pirate. Now, before you start the name calling, the moral judging and informing the authorities, let me explain why. To start, the plain and simple truth is that I am a student and I’m unbelievably broke! I’m not broke because I don’t work, I’m broke because education and living expenses cost a lot when you combine them; I work full-time while I’m in school full-time to pay the bills. Unfortunately, my low-wage job doesn’t leave me with a lot of cash for fun. What it does leave me with is a lot of stress and a strong need to unwind. Personally, I like to unwind by watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard blow up some borg, interspersed with his crew philosophically debating some social problem or another (for those of you who don’t understand the reference, you need more star trek in your life! Seriously.) Another way is by playing video games. Anthony makes the argument that digital content is too expensive, often even more expensive than standard versions of the same game/album/movie etc. (Anthony 2012). All jokes aside, entertainment is expensive and I know I am not alone when I say that I absolutely cannot afford to purchase much of the entertainment media I consume, in fact this article summarizes reasons why people pirate and one of the more popular reasons was “because I am poor” (Hoffelder 2011)

I am a pirate because I only want to pay for what I use. And that’s assuming I can even find someone selling it!

The second reason I break the law is directly related to the first, and yet different enough that it warrants its own paragraph. I absolutely refuse to pay hard-earned money to receive 148 channels I will NEVER watch, to get the 2 channels I will. This is how the local television service provider breaks down their costs (Rogers 2013). To get to the good channels, you have to buy all the ones you don’t want first! I’m not interested in daytime soap operas, reality tv, children’s shows, teen melodramas, dreamy doctor shows, fake crime series, or any other number of other dreadful network television shows. When I have a precious hour or two to watch a show I want to watch one of a very specific few, usually involving a zombie apocalypse, Spartacus, or some kind of spaceship (I’m not picky). As I mentioned before, I like to watch star trek and very, very few channels broadcast it, though I can’t for the life of me understand why. I imagine someone wanting to watch a show aired in another part of the world, but not here would feel the same way. The argument has also been made that it takes entirely too long for movies to go from the big screen to home screens, leaving people to resort to pirated copies (Wager 2012). What this means is that until television providers can find a new delivery format, and stop putting up annoying country specific barriers on their legitimate streaming sites (I’m talking to you Hulu), I’m really not interested in giving them my money. It doesn’t make sense! If someone was to say to me, “Hey Karen, for $20 a month we will let you watch your top 5 favorite current television shows each week”, I would be more than happy to pay.

I’m sure what some of you are thinking is something along the lines of, “not liking the options tv companies give you doesn’t mean you should feel justified in breaking the law and stealing people’s hard earned work!” My response to this is, just because there is a law that says it is wrong does not necessarily mean it is wrong. Laws do occasionally have to be challenged in order for a society to progress. Many things that we take for granted as a normal, every-day sort of thing was once illegal. Besides there are lots of weird laws that don’t make any sense! I mean, did you know it’s illegal to pretend to practice witchcraft in Canada? Seriously, check it out here (Criminal Code of Canada 2013)! I wonder what would happen if someone actually practiced witchcraft instead of just pretending?!?

I try to pirate responsibly

I want to make one last argument before you start internet trolling me for being an immoral person and robbing artists blind. When it comes to independent or fledgling artists, I always pay for their work. This seems to be a strategy supported by many pirates as they feel they are not wasting their money on corporate publishers (Anthony 2012). I understand that in order to create something it requires cash. That being said, I am much more likely to donate to someone who provides their content for free and asks for donations to offset their costs. This seems like a way more honest way of getting their work distributed. I also feel pretty strongly about purchasing thing you truly appreciate. While I have been known to pirate video games here and there to try them out, I always buy the ones that impress me. I almost feel like it is a way of rewarding those who create great entertainment and not supporting those who do not. I paid for the Mass Effect Trilogy (for both PC and Xbox!), I will not be paying for Dragon Age 2…nor should anyone…shame on you Bioware. This was touched on by a game developer who asked his fans why they pirate his games. Apparently many of them responded much the same way this argument is made and since then he has promised to implement demos of his games in the future (Harris 2011)

Basically, what I’m trying to say here, is that I do not believe pirating everything you want, because you want it, it’s easy to pirate and it’s free to pirate is a good thing. What I do believe is that various industries could go a long way towards making content more easily accessible and affordable to people worldwide. That is the beauty of the internet. For now, I am going to continue acquiring entertainment media via devious methods until a viable alternative is presented to me.

Anthony, Sebastian. 2012. “Why I Pirate.” Extreme Tech.

Criminal Code of Canada. 2013. Section 365(a)(b)(c).

Harris, Cliff. 2011. “Talking to Pirates.” Positech Games.

Hoffelder, Nate. 2011. “Why People Pirate.” The Digital Reader.

Rogers Communications Inc. “TV Packages” Wireless, High Speed Internet, Cable TV and Home Phone – Rogers Communications Inc.

Wager, Kyle. 2012. “This is Why People Pirate.” Gizmodo.