Ramblings of a retired gamer

_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.
t: @_lilchen | e: milktea@lilchen.com

Growing up in the Super Smash Brothers Melee Community as a Girl

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.


_milktea