Guest Post: The Oatmeal’s Women and Gaming Comic, And Making Games Safer Spaces

By Alli Thrasher

Yesterday The Oatmeal ran a comic about the differences between online gameplay experiences between the genders. In it, Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman, depicts his own experience playing a few rounds of Left 4 Dead online. In the panel below, he showcases the ease with which a clueless girl gamer accidentally trashes her teammates and receives pleasantries and accolades for her faults:

Naturally the comic sparked outrage across the interwebs. The piece drew ire from gamers across the board, largely for its totally flawed portrayal of the realities of online gaming. At first, Inman seemed to miss the point, responding with a pseudo apology post in which he wrote, “a terrible female gamer gets away with more than a terrible male gamer.”

Cuppycake, Lead editor of The Borderhouse Blog, summed up, perfectly, why the above statements are not only erroneous, but also evidence of the privileged perspectives that make gaming often unwelcome for women: “You know what actually sucks about being a woman who games? Being harassed because of my gender…When I make a mistake in games, it’s because I’m a woman trying to play games. When you make a mistake, you just suck at the game and made a mistake.”

After receiving, and obviously digesting, further messages and tweets about the comic and the follow up post, Inman made a huge step in rectifying the situation by not only making a large donation to The Women Against Abuse Foundation, but also noting that he really and truly effed up: “I’m a guy and I barely talk into my mic, so I’ll concede that my view of things is probably very skewed.”

I commend Inman for skewing away from the typical mansplaining of “stop being so sensitive” that often accompanies the response to pieces like his comic. That he recognized his position as privileged and went even further to show that he came around to understanding what the problem with the post was is HUGE. The entire situation, however, brings to light, again, the true realities of online harrassment in the video games community.

As part of his apology post, Inman asks readers, “Outside of steam, it sounds like it’s still pretty horrible for women to play games. Is this true?” Yes, Mr. Inman, it is.

Need proof? Check out or And guess what? The above include posts from all over the sphere of gaming – Steam, XBLA, and beyond. While I’m very aware that trashtalking is the nature of friendly competition, for women gamers (or gay or lesbian gamers, or gay gamers, or well basically anyone who doesn’t immediately present as a white straight male), our mere presence online opens us up to language that goes well beyond trashtalking. I’ve gotten cursed out playing Uno. And it’s not just “idiotic 13 year olds” doing the harassing. Research proves that the average gamer is 37 years old and that eighty-two percent of gamers are 18 years of age or older. Speaking from personal experience, the worst harassment I ever received as a gamer or community manager came from a man in his early 30s who had a job, a long time girlfriend, and most definitely did not live in his basement.

Truth be told, I’m thankful that the whole debacle occurred for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, it’s HUGE that a very public, internet celebrity, like the Oatmeal creator, can have his eyes opened to the experiences and realities of other gamers. Second, the reaction, to Inman’s original post, highlights again, that a sizeable portion of the gamer community is very aware of, and not cool with, the unfriendly nature of online gameplay. Finally, it provides an opportunity for all gamers to proactively look at how they address harassment when they witness it.

I think all gamers are invested in their play experiences being fun, productive, and straight up awesome. Moreover I think we all want the spheres we play in and the communities we participate in to be welcome places. So what do we do about all of this? Simple, report, call people out, and refuse to accept that violent sexist language is part of our culture or experience. If you’re a guy playing online and you hear someone trash talking, call them out. Feel free to say, “hey, that’s not cool.” Better yet, feel free to report and block them. Refuse to play with them. If you’re a moderator for an online community, enforce guidelines regarding hate speech. Educate members of your community about how their language can alienate other players. Don’t be afraid to use the banhammer.

And finally, if you’re a woman playing online, don’t stay silent on your end of the headset. I know this is tougher—who likes opening themselves up for abuse? But it’s high time that we stop hiding. Women make up over 40% of the gaming population – we’re a huge part of this community and we should not let ourselves be made invisible. So turn on your voice chat, ladies, and let the folks on the other end know that you’re there, you’re playing, and you’re not going away.