_milktea is a former competitive Super Smash Brothers Melee player who currently designs for TED. Recently featured on the Smash documentary, she aims to raise awareness in the community.
If you’re interested in a behind-the-scenes peek of our week in Los Angeles, CA for the E3 Smash 4 Invitational, check out my vlog :D. I made it in hopes of providing everyone who was not able to attend a glimpse into the experience. Feel free to leave feedback, too!
This is my first vlog ever and I might consider doing a few more in the future. I released this video a few weeks ago but forgot to post it to my Tumblr! Oops :3.
The Super Smash Brothers Melee (SSBM) community kicked off 2013 by raising nearly $100,000 dollars for breast cancer research, snagging the last coveted spot for the game line-up for EVO in Las Vegas. There, they broke the record for the most watched fighting game, the live-stream peaking at 130,000 viewers. By the end of the year, a Smash Brothers Melee documentary had been released, a piece dedicated to encapsulating the history of a blossoming grassroots community. Throughout the remnants of the year, our community’s leaders cultivated a never-seen-before online presence that helped us grow in unimaginable ways. All these factors served a role in the gaming world witnessing a dying, ten year old game, revitalize itself in what seemed like a heartbeat.
The next step to maintaining our thriving community is, without debate, to continue expanding and diversifying. This leads us to one of our biggest and undeniable downfalls. If you have attended a tournament, you understand what I am referring to. Where are all the women? Why are there so few? How can we call ourselves a competitive community that seeks the best competitors if we are alienating a demographic as large as the entire female population? And most importantly, how do we go about fixing this?
This is where awareness becomes vital. The spreading of knowledge regarding the treatment of women in the SSBM community holds the power to nurture our scene into one that is welcoming for all. While there are certainly misogynistic jerks scattered about, a large part of the community is likely perpetuating disrespectful behaviors unknowingly. Not every person who has ever offended a female player does it intentionally, torches ablaze, pitchforks out, mentally chanting, “I’M BEING A SEXIST JERK RIGHT NOW AND IT FEELS SPLENDID!” The fact that awareness is a constant work in progress is one that we forget, but it is so integral for change. Awareness is not a magical cure that will produce results overnight. It takes time, but with time comes gradual improvement.
Before you roll your eyes, close the tab, and dismiss this as yet another article stereotyping male gamers as sexist, let us review one more aspect that is often overlooked. Many female players also perpetuate these sexist, disrespectful behaviors (just ask 17 year old Milktea). This post is not attempting to wage war against male players, or anyone at all. Pointing fingers only causes more defensive barriers to be erected, further inhibiting progress. It is absolutely critical to realize that reforming the competitive SSBM culture is a task that we will all need to tackle in unison.
Now, let us begin debunking girl-gamer myths together for the sake of aforementioned awareness.
Girls who play video games are doing it for the attention.
Rather than traveling down the usual route of debating over whether or not female gamers are playing solely for attention, let’s approach from a different angle. Why is it not possible to enjoy both gaming and attention simultaneously? There are plenty of male players that openly adore being in the spotlight but still take their gameplay seriously. Their dedication is never questioned, nor are they followed around by a group of skeptics doubting their every action.
A lot of animosity is directed at female gamers when they receive disproportionately large amounts of attention compared to their male counterparts. But, attention is a two-way street. It needs to be given in order to be received. Players who provide said attention are just as much a part of the equation. In actuality, the core issue actually has nothing to do with attention, but instead, equality. Treating female gamers the way you would treat males ones will fix this imbalance. If a male gamer does not garner this much attention for his actions, then neither should a female gamer.
But is she a REAL gamer? Prove it, pls.
The idea of testing all new male competitors to ensure their legitimacy as real gamers sounds ridiculous, right? So why do we subject all female gamers to this? The act of hazing all female gamers upon entry is toxic. Aside from its elitist undertones, it essentially thwarts any chance of further engagement and potential interest in our community. Poisonous attitudes like this do not make our scene inviting, and if anything, deter its future expansion.
What does “real gamer” even mean? What qualifications need to be met to be considered an authentic one? The varying degrees of what being a gamer entails are infinite. Do you think that all one hundred and thirty thousand viewers on EVO’s live-stream attend tournaments? Likewise, does every person who attends tournaments compete? Does every competitor enter expecting to win? There are many aspects to a competitive gaming community aside from the competition itself.
Just get really good, then you’ll get some respect.
Since when did you have to become absurdly skilled in order to escape disrespect? Everyone, regardless of their skill level, is entitled to at least basic amounts of respect! High skill levels demand respect in relation to gameplay. But, there are many components to a competitive gaming community aside from its competitive edge. Commentators, streamers, tournament hosts, social network gurus and more constitute the social aspect of our community, contributing just as much to the hype as top players do. It should not come as a shock to anyone that many, if not most, of our players admit to playing on behalf of the great community. The idea that skill level at Smash Bros. is the best way to measure someone’s worth to our community is a dangerous belief, not only to female gamers, but male ones as well.
Just deal with it.
Women who join the Smash Bros. Melee community are inherently disadvantaged from the get-go. It has nothing to do with their actions. Their individuality is completely neglected, actually. Females are immediately branded with negative girl-gamer stigmas simply because of their gender alone. As if this is not enough of a burden, they are then expected to overcome arbitrary hurdles just to earn the basic level of respect that random male gamers intrinsically have.
While there are some women who have endured this negativity for years, that does NOT justify this type of behavior. I applaud the women who have put up with such adversity, good for them. But does that mean that every female who joins our scene should have to deal with this hostility? Does it change the fact that our current attitude will still discourage potential newcomers? The approach of “deal with it” will not alter the status quo, so unless stagnancy is what we are aiming for, we need to move past this mindset. It is not the responsibility of female gamers to endure this bullshit in order to be a part of the community. It is our responsibility to provide a healthy environment that they willingly want to engage with.
Why complain? You get so much attention, everyone thinks you’re really hot, and they are super nice to you! This is female privilege.
This is easily the most deceptive side to the issue of sexism in gaming. The misleading nature of this subject reaffirms my belief that some players are unintentionally perpetuating sexist behaviors.
Constantly receiving compliments on our appearance, being dramatically sandbagged against so that we have an advantage, and being coddled like a recently-born kitten are some of the “nice” perks women have. Female privilege, mirite? Here’s the catch, the underlying problem has nothing to do with the perceived kindness of these acts. The issue lies within the distinct lack of equality behind these actions. Are these behaviors something you would subject a male player to? Would you fail to see past their physical appearance? Would you severely handicap yourself in a match against them assuming they could not handle the match outcome? Would you feel the obligation to babysit them, as if they were incapable of grasping the gameplay for themselves? These are just a few examples, but the answer still remains: no.
These are not privileges. They are a form of “reverse-sexism” (see ambivalent sexism). “Reverse-sexism” is sneaky and deceitful. On the surface, these kind actions appear to harbor good intentions and often, people honestly believe that they do. Instead, they underhandedly reinforce condescending views of women. Whether the implications are that female gamers need special assistance and handicaps or that their only role is to serve as eye-candy, these behaviors are damaging to our community’s attitude and perception of women. Even if these actions are genuinely not meant to be patronizing, they are by nature. The best thing we can do to prevent these behaviors is to treat female gamers the way we would male ones.
I truly believe in the Super Smash Brothers Melee community’s ability to make large strides regarding female gaming issues. Armed with awareness and a touch of empathy, I am confident that we will begin to witness uninformed behaviors turn into knowledgeable ones. The SSBM scene is at such a dynamic stage in its life, one brimming with both reevaluation and reform. Now is the time to open our arms wider than ever to invite the world to experience our scene at large. I hope that one day our skewed gender ratio will balance itself. Perhaps, with more women in our community, we will even discover a handful of pro female Smashers.
Spreading awareness about this issue is the first step. What is the second? I am not entirely sure myself, which is why I would love to open this issue to discussion. How can we, the Super Smash Bros. Melee community, make this a reality?
*Please do not interpret this post as, “BE EXTRA NICE TO THE LADIES WITH CHERRIES ON TOP.” Many articles on this subject get misconstrued for demanding that everyone be nicer to female gamers simply for the sake of being nicer. That would contradict the very idea of equality. I cannot be more blunt: treat female Smash players with the same amount of respect you would treat male ones. Do not treat them like mythical creatures. Do not treat them like physical manifestations of our community’s problems either.
Special shoutout to friend and old school CT Smasher Jam Stunna for encouraging me to start writing about my concerns on these issues. He also gets credit for helping me edit my terribad grammar.
Where to begin? The Smash Brothers Melee community is a man’s world. I do not doubt for a second that the experience of being a male in the community is incredible and fulfilling. Unfortunately, I am not male.
I joined the community in 2005, and since then, I noticed that my dating life and physical appearance are discussed far more than my actual ability to play the game. While I have dealt with misogyny quite a bit in the SSBM community, it is not the best word to describe my overall experience. Sexism appears in multiple forms and it is not always in the form of hatred or negativity. I was viewed as a gift from the nerd deities for being a girl who enjoyed video games at a competitive level, but then labeled a “whore” for dating people with common interests.
When I joined the community at age 16-17, I didn’t fully understand this “reverse-sexism”. I relished in it for a while, unaware of the underlying issues that the attention really represented. I made an effort to look cute when attending tournaments after discovering that being a “girl gamer” was notable for some reason. This was fun for a while, until I noticed that people started to believe that this was my sole reason for playing Smash Brothers. The fact that I had played for years before even discovering the competitive scene did not matter; I was just competing for the sake of attention, apparently. I guess it was not possible to want to look good while also having a passion for the game. As the years passed, these preconceived notions only got worse.
From 2006-2008, I was on par with every other average, competitive male in the community. While juggling school and devoting maybe less than half the amount of time that my friends did, I was able to hold my ground and consistently place decently in tournaments. I can remember spending hours watching matches online, taking notes on match ups, and practicing tech skill in my room alone. While I never placed top five or anything close at my prime (in singles, at least), I also never placed last in tournaments. In teams, my partner at the time and I had some solid wins, often placing better than when he teamed with people of higher skill level than me.
What was the community’s take from all of the above? Nothing. I was either A’s girlfriend, or B’s girlfriend, despite playing competitively before I ever met A or B. Random guys I encountered would sandbag me, regardless of the constant practice I got against opponents far better than them. Any successful team accomplishments were attributed to my partner almost instantaneously. People questioned why I was ever placed in my state’s power rankings. These doubts did not only come from random people. I have close friends that have said extremely offensive things about my playing the game, because yet again, my ability to play was never considered, just the fact that I am female.
I spent years trying to prove my worth as a player, only to find out that my skill level was ultimately irrelevant. This realization, coupled with other pressing life obligations, led me to finally give up on competitive Smash Brothers around 2008. Even afterwards, I could not play a friendly match without people flocking to watch over my shoulders. Every friendly I played seemed to dictate my skill cap to my viewers, and even worse, the skill cap of female players overall since I was viewed as the “iconic, female Smasher”. Within a few years, comments emerged about how I played at a level as if it were still 2007. While I never got credit for being solid at the game early on, I received a gargantuan amount of credit for being “bad” once I stopped trying, which only further cast a negative light upon myself and female competitors.
In addition to a few other issues, the aforementioned points are primarily why I stopped playing Super Smash Brothers Melee competitively. From 2008 onwards, I allowed myself to become only a social aspect of the community, like I was seemingly limited to from the start. It was intentionally a quiet departure. As I stated earlier, the SSBM community is a man’s world. I never posted this because it would not have mattered. I still believe that it ultimately will not, but I thought that giving my friends some insight into my personal SSBM journey would not hurt. As negative as the issue of gender roles in the SSBM community is, I would like to acknowledge that I have forged invaluable friendships and irreplaceable memories from the past seven years of being a part of the community. I also had (and have) extremely supportive friends and mentors who did not fall into the vast majority described above. With the bad, comes the good.
*Disclaimer: I only say “Smash Bros. Melee community” because it’s the only gaming community I’ve been in, not because I’m targeting it specifically. I’m sure you could swap it out with “gaming community” and my implied points would still hold. I’m also aware that sexism is not only an issue within gaming communities.