To preface this article, let me wind back the clock: it’s Devastation 2010 and I am standing in the ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center. I’m playing casual matches of Super Street Fighter IV, long after my tournament run has ended. As I move to the peanut gallery after losing my set, I notice there is a girl standing amidst the players. Much like me, she has a fancy arcade-style controller and is waiting in line to get her chance to play. We catch eyes for a moment, offer a polite smile of greeting, and make a little small talk.
“Playing Street Fighter?” I ask.
“Yeah. Trying anyways,” she answers back.
“Did you play in the tournament?” I respond, unsure of the answer despite the expensive, very specific controller she’s holding.
“Yeah, yeah I did,” she says, “I won my first match, lost the next, then I got scrubbed out in losers by this Honda.”
As she finishes saying this, she’s up to play. We exchange goodbyes, and I’m laughing to myself. Scrubbed out, she says? That’s the word we use, I think. Y’know, us fighting game players. And here’s this girl saying it too! Isn’t that wacky?! And she knows that E. Honda is one of the better characters in the game! I acted like it was a conversation with a talking dog, something that you would never expect in a million years.
Yes, I was doing the exact thing I shouldn’t have: I assumed she wasn’t a serious player just…because. Clearly I had a lot to learn.
Flash forward to 2016. Street Fighter V has just released, and I’m at my first major tournament for it in Southern California, West Coast Warzone. I’m at a local curry joint, waiting for a table next to the group I rode to the tournament with: three guys and a girl. We’re talking to one another as the glow of each of our respective cell phones is lighting up our faces, looking at the results of the day’s tournament. There’s a bit of a heavy air; we’ve all been eliminated from the tournament and are feeling what I call the “bodied blues,” when suddenly, the young lady speaks up.
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing I wore this,” she says, referencing her t-shirt. It’s a bright red one with a big picture of gloved hands clasped in prayer, with a circle of text around it that says “Please, God, don’t let me go 0-2,” a reference to losing two straight games and being eliminated from a tournament. She had actually won a few games and avoided the dreaded 0-2 scenario that day.
“Yeah,” one of the other guys responds sadly, he not being so lucky, “I coulda used that. I was fucking free.”
“Aw, don’t worry,” she comforts, “You just gotta do more random dives, nobody avoids that shit.”
We all share a hearty laugh, then continue to talk about the game and the tournament. Not once do I question this girl’s knowledge of Street Fighter or her commitment to the game; we just shared a moment as players in the brotherhood of competitive play.
And that’s what we seem to keep missing.
Lately, there’s been a bit of a flare up again with regards to women in the fighting game community that was spurred by a series of tweets from top European competitor Marie-Laure “Kayane” Norindr. For the folks at home, Norindr has been a top level competitor in her native country of France and around the world since she was 9 years old. Whether it be Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive, or Street Fighter, Norindr has always found a way to be strong.
As you can see, Norindr’s no Johnny-come-lately. She has been playing since she was very young, and has helped to organize a great amount of tournaments in Europe as well as serve as an ambassador for the fighting game community amongst the larger realm of competitive games. There’s a lot of things one can do with that kind of platform, but Kayane chose instead to bring attention to the kind of harmful mentalities that still exist in the FGC. As classy as the tweets were, as nonthreatening as they were, it still invited responses like this:
Now obviously when dealing with the cesspool that Twitter can be, this is the kind of troll response you will see when many of the FGC’s female members speak up about the difficulty that comes with being a female in the FGC. Either you go straight to using pejoratives directed specifically at women or bemoan the state of the community where girls just can’t be happy with being allowed to play. We’ve seen this before, and it’s honestly (sadly) expected at this point. But I specifically wanted to bring attention to a response tweet from Kayane that I think nails what the actual issue is:
Norindr is pointing out here the exact type of attitude that I used to have: “Wow, that girl is really something! She knows all the fancy words that I know!” Never mind that we had the same access to the same tools and same information needed to get better, I found it bizarre that a girl would take interest in this type of thing. As Norindr further elaborates, too, it’s not like I was being a chauvinistic pig or anything, but all the same I was contributing to a mentality that severely limits any female players and creates the othering that many female players struggle with.
The most common defense against this idea that female players feel alienated is the idea (myth, really) of the grand FGC meritocracy. “Look ladies, I know it can be tough to get in, but if you just try real hard like the rest of us and beat people, you will earn your respect!” This gets trotted out a lot, and honestly, a lot of people say it with the best of intentions, which you can’t blame them for. Just as many if not more use it as a disingenuous talking point in order to make the girls look bad, but I will give that a decent amount of people say it in good faith.
Just one problem though: it’s actually bullshit.
See, the FGC operates on, to steal a term from professional wrestlers Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, a “good brotherhood” ideology. Like any social circle there are castes and cliques, but at the end of the day, everyone is willing to shake the hand before or after a match and acknowledge their fellow player as someone who shares their interest and passion. A brother, if you will. At major tournaments with many out-of-state players you see this a lot because sometimes only a few members of a scene can make it out, and regardless of what games are played they stick together and cheer on the others out of a sense of duty, almost.
I’ve known this myself: at a tournament I attended in California in 2014, I was playing on the big stage, and I heard whooping and cheering from behind me. When I turned around to see who it was, I was surprised to see a mishmash of players from my local Arizona scene making all the noise. I didn’t know all of them, and some had even made disparaging comments about the game I played, but they knew saw a fellow player was on the stage so they felt the need to brother it up and lend me their support. If you’ve never felt it first hand, I can tell you that it’s a wonderful feeling and probably the best part of maintaining a relationship with your local FGC.
Any male player, regardless of skill, will probably get to enjoy this at some point, but for a lot of women, that experience either never comes or does so with strings attached, regardless of their skill.
When a female player sits down to play at a tournament, I guarantee one of these four thoughts go through the average male opponent’s mind:
- “Oh look, someone brought their girlfriend to play.”
- “She’s just here for attention from top players”
- “I wonder if she actually plays”
- “Is this actually a girl?”
Notice that none of those assume the person is just another player, like them. If a rando guy stepped up to play, no one would wonder if he was somebody’s boyfriend, if he took the game seriously or not, or if he was just there to score. These four things all form together to gatekeep girls from being in the good brotherhood of FGC players, because for some reason they are the only ones who have to justify their existence. Not everybody goes to a tournament to win, but for some reason females have this double standard where if they aren’t there to play they are there to get attention. It couldn’t possibly be a fun social event to chill with friends or meet new people, something a lot of guys do, it has to be a serious gaming endeavor and nothing else.
You may be thinking to yourself “Well it’s only the lowest of the low who think that kind of crap. No one who matters would ever endorse this!” Au contraire, said Pierre.
That’s Joshua “Wolfkrone” Philpot, asking if losing to a girl in a fighting game is the end of someone’s career. Krone has been a figure in the scene for many years, including being a finalist at Evolution, and while he’s no stranger to courting controversy, this was dumb even for him. His sponsor, a team called Circa, did make him tweet out an apology for this, but the apology was really only notable for how sincerely insincere it was. The original tweet was deleted, but here is the text:
“Sorry to everyone that I offended from my previous post. I did not know it would offend so many people, I definitely would not have posted it if I knew.”
He goes on to say that he’s taking a break from social media because he knows now he can’t “mindlessly post like before.” Notice there is no part of that which brings up what he said and why people would be offended, he’s just sorry that they were offended. Well bully for you, Wolfkrone, but that doesn’t exactly make it better.
He’s not the only well-known player to have some bad opinions about women in fighting games either. I’ve brought it up before, but here’s former Evolution champion Chris G. on “black female gamers:”
I’ll ignore the oddly racial connotations of Chris’s rant; I’m not nearly well equipped to tackle those. What I will point out, however, is that once again Chris boils his talking points down to that old meritocratic talking point. If a girl gamer wants to be “respectable” (there’s so many problems with that), then dammit, she’d better care about video games! And if she does, then we’re gravy! That is if they measure up on the ratchet scale, of course. Chris also offered his own “apology,” but much like Wolfkrone’s, it was devoid of any sincerity and in fact lectured people for bringing it up.
Both of these really just nail home the idea that if you’re a girl trying to compete in fighting games, there’s strings attached to you that their wouldn’t be to any rando male player. Random guy upsets a person in grand finals of his local to win? Seen as an awesome moment, shared a bunch of times on Twitch clips, etc. Woman does it? “Is your career over?” With Wolfkrone’s case in particular, we truly see that the meritocracy doesn’t matter; that player won her local event and it’s seen as an embarrassment.
Worst of all is the 4th thing I mentioned up there. If a girl steps up to play, you can guarantee the stream chat is going to be full of people wondering who she’s sleeping with and saying it’s too good to be true, so she must be trans. You really can’t expect better from garbage on the internet, but imagine the double whammy of anxiety over participating in a male-dominated genre along with having to watch thousands of viewers speculating about your genitalia. It’s awesome that the FGC has high profile trans women like Ricki Ortiz and Leah “Gllty” Hayes, but for some reason this has empowered the riffraff behind their computers to just double down on harassment of cis women, but even moreso on trans women. Despite the fact that the two I mentioned above have been around for a long time and commanded respect, the trans community suffers righteously from this because, for reasons God only knows (to be self-assured in their own sexuality? It’s deeply phobic of something, that’s for sure), the spectators in the FGC are obsessed with “real” women, despite the fact that trans women are ALSO “real” women with “real” feelings that apparently don’t matter as long as they were assigned the right way at birth.
Don’t believe me? Check this shit out:
That’s a tweet from one Kana “Tanukana” Tani, showing off her passport. Tani has been making quite a big splash in the FGC for her strong showings in Tekken 7. She’s the first female Japanese player to ever be signed to Red Bull’s E-sports team, and the first Tekken player as well. Despite that host of accomplishments, she felt the need to clarify her gender to the internet, who kept wondering. She’s an adult woman, she doesn’t need me to speak for her actions, but think about the kind of community that we have fostered where a girl might feel the need to post something like that, as if it mattered. Makes you think, huh?
Add all this together, and maybe it paints a better picture of why the scene has struggled to incorporate female players, both cisgendered and transgendered. Some people will say “Oh this stuff was a long time ago, we’ve moved past it,” or “It’s only the stream monsters, the people that actually go to tournaments don’t act like this!” Well sure, most prejudiced and bigoted people don’t go ranting and raving in public, but as Kayane said at the beginning of this post, language as innocuous as “She’s the best female player” is just as limiting and exclusionary even if you’re being nice about it. No one cares about being good at a game if they get othered so bad that the winning barely matters because people treat them like the lady checking receipts at Wal-Mart instead of a fellow FGC brother.
I can’t speak for all of the ladies in the FGC, but I imagine that no, they don’t really care about being thought of as good just for their own sake; they would just like to be apart of the brotherhood without having it shoved back in their face that they are different. It’s weird that the FGC, for how diverse it is in terms of ethnicity and LBGTQ representation, has this problem including women in the mix. I don’t even mean to say that it’s just an FGC problem either; all competitive video games seem to struggle with female gamers in their midst. Even pointing out bad behavior in the scene often leads to nothing just because no one seems to want to be seen as “that” guy.
So what can we do? I won’t pretend to have the answer, because it’s clearly very complicated. Whatever it is, I don’t know if it will be anytime soon. As much as we like to say that the worst of it is behind us, the past is very much a part of the overall scene makeup. Those people who have said horrible things about women are still big figures in the scene, and there’s no way to get rid of the ever growing number of spectators who fill up the stream chat with misogynistic garbage.
I know the best thing I can do is highlight all of the female FGC members who are doing their best to change things, whether it be the active players like Tanukana and Kayane or those working behind the scenes like Samantha “Persia” Hancock or Yuko “Chocoblanka” Momochi. Here are a few others!
- Emily Sun and Lil Chen have done a lot to advocate for a more inclusive Super Smash Bros. community with their group, The Smash Sisters
- ComboQueens is a FGC group that holds meetings and seeks to encourage more female players to join tournaments, founded by Carolyn Dao, Jemmillion, and DaPurpleSharpie
- Amanda “Romanova” Rose is a cosplay enthusiast and fighting game player who has a website, Firsttoten, where she conducts interviews with other community members, male and female, with a focus on the NRS scene
Thanks for reading this week folks. I’ll be back in a week or two with pt. 2 of my journey through Mortal Kombat 9, but before that I will be at C2E2, one of the largest entertainment conventions in the country, in Chicago this coming weekend. Until next time!