“Don’t read the comments.” It’s widely cited as the cardinal rule of the internet, and for good reason. Internet trolls seem to have some kind of superpower that allows them to turn the most innocuous material into fodder for divisive anger.
And yet keeping a remove from the free give and take of the internet takes away some of its principle value—the opportunity to interact with others, to learn from them, enjoy them, and just geek out together about something cool. The internet can show us all the ways in which we’re not alone—but at its worst, it makes us wish we were.
As a female gamer, it can be particularly hard to find the sweet spot between finding common ground with new friends and preserving your sanity and sense of personal security. Game forums can be ugly places indeed, and many are badly moderated, tending to attract the lowest common denominator of players. You might post in the forums asking about a boss you’re having difficulty with, but if your name or avatar even hints at femininity, you may be sternly instructed to “go play Hello Kitty Island Adventure” because obviously this game that you’ve probably sunk a lot of time and money into is too hard for your little brain.
Where’s a self-respecting hardcore chick to turn?
Fortunately there are oases of civility where you can share your challenges, triumphs, questions and fangirling without fear. Here are a few of them:
Reddit gets a bad reputation, mostly because its worst users are…well, unrepentant rapists. But Reddit is also probably one of the most interactive communities of thoughtful and helpful people on the internet today. Using subreddits (forums devoted to specific topics) helps you create the kind of Reddit you want, tailored to your interests, tolerances, and needs.
R/GirlGamers is the primary subreddit for women gamers (and it uses the “girl” title in a very conscious, tongue-in-cheek way), and the wonderful thing about it is how diverse the discussions that take place there are. People discuss gameplay, choice of consoles, and updates they’re looking forward to, but also share game-based nail art, frustrations with the misogynistic discourse of the gaming community, and look for friends in games they’re new to. I smiled when I saw a recent thread partially titled “In desperate need of non-cancerous discussion” because I’ve been there, sister. I smiled even more when I clicked through and saw she got exactly that from a bunch of thoughtful fellow enthusiasts.
Best of all, the GirlGamers group organizes monthly “playdates” for co-op play in popular games like Overwatch, Ark: Survival Evolved, and even older games like League of Legends. Finding a gaming buddy just got a whole lot easier.
Twitter is very much a Wild West due to its completely open format and lack of any kind of meaningful moderation under most circumstances. It can be a deeply hostile space, especially for vocal women who “trespass” into traditionally male preserves. But it’s also where all the critics, devs, Twitch streamers, and fans you want to hear from hang out.
Fortunately, founder of Online Abuse Prevention Initiative Randi Lee Harper has developed tools that can help filter out some of the noise. Her Good Game Autoblocker is a script that blocks accounts that are known to harass under the GamerGate banner, and Shields Up, available but still in development, allows for a dynamic response to the “dogpiling” that can occur when a popular harasser points out a potential victim to their followers. These are the tools we all hope we’ll never need—and will be very glad to have if we do.
Like a lot of people of a certain age, I have a love/hate relationship with Tumblr. On the love side, it’s a vibrant, respectful community where young people, many of them female, share their voices. On the hate side, Tumblr’s interactivity tools are virtually nonexistent, and it can be hard to make friends or find meaningful discussion due to the heavy visual orientation of the site. Replying to a post usually means reposting it with your own commentary, so that a particularly lively topic can appear on your feed dozens of times as the people you follow add their own take on the subject. Still, if you’re a fan of anime games or other genres that skew young and female, you’ll find a warm, welcoming home on Tumblr. Mashable has an excellent list of 12 Top Tumblrs for Gamers to get you started.
The Idle forums date back to 2004 (so, practically antediluvian in game years) and predate the popular podcasts that the Idle crew produce. They’re a warm, inclusive place for gamers of all stripes to congregate and discuss games of the moment and pro gamers or find friends for multiplayer, but there are also forums dedicated to “Idle Banter” on other topics, and book discussion too—in short, the Idle forums are a true community extending beyond a shared interest in games.
Idle Thumbs co-host (and veteran game composer/designer) Chris Remo cites with particular pride the community-run Wizard Jams in which individuals create their own games based on the rather absurdist titles of podcast episodes (“Shoot That Pizza,” “Psyching Out That Bear,” “Trash Can Sally,” etc): “In my humble opinion, it’s one of the best ways for newcomers to dip their toes into game development: there’s a dedicated game development forum where people help out beginners (year-round, not just during the jams), and the community is incredibly helpful and enthusiastic…the results are always astoundingly diverse and amazing. I’m really proud to be at least partly indirectly responsible.”
The internet is what we make of it, and if you’re not out there adding your voice to the mix, then the online gaming community is just a little bit less awesome and decent than it could be. Go forth and be bold—the internet needs you!