My junior year of high school was the peak of my teen angst. I’d failed to find solutions to my problems in the real world–in hindsight I don’t consider them petty–so I turned to the internet for counseling. The internet became my outlet to self-destruction. I involved myself in a large online video game community.
The message board was part of a video game music website, but was hardly the focus of discussion. There were subforums dedicated to video games in general, politics, the media, intimate advice, introspective community discussions, and a free-for-all where anything was posted from nude pictures of posters to polls about which forum members you’d have sex with.
About one in ten of us identified as female (although we found out later three or four were posing). At the end of the year, contests were held for the hottest member of either gender, but it was in the “hottest female” thread with the most activity, and flaming. Those of us who posted pictures were scrutinized like we were standing before reality TV judges, ranked for our hot features and criticized for specific physical flaws. (I looked weird when I smiled too hard.) The post popular among the gazing men was a woman quick to debate with anyone uncomfortable with her nude pictures. She was the first one to prove if an image someone else posted of herself was fake. She played the same game I did… I just didn’t have a digital camera. I never became close to any of the other women who posted on these forums, but I had more than one man pursue me (I was underage at the time) and egg on this competition. The women were pitted against each other for their entertainment, and I participated because I wanted the top posters, the in-crowd, to like me.
This was not my first encounter with masculine entitlement. I’d experienced it in dating battles, and it was actually entitlement that led me there. Before finding the video game forum, I trolled (as much as you can behind your real name) the unofficial message board created by and for Advanced Placement students in my high school. (I know teachers lurked on the board, yet my multiple posts that said, “I’m depressed and want to stop feeling this way” were never answered by adults.) On there, I developed an online friendship with another poster (a senior at my high school) who liked video games. He invited me over and we hung out. I was his first friend he’d had over to his house, and he started telling people I was his girlfriend. I hadn’t consented to the title. He spent over a hundred dollars on my Christmas present (Lunar 2 for the PSX was pricey back then). I wasn’t into it, but how could I object? I’d cuddled with him and he’d spent so much money on me. How could I object to dating him? He didn’t notice I wasn’t into him, but I still felt awful when I told him I didn’t want to be his girlfriend.
It was this guy who introduced me to the video game forum, and I had other experiences on that message board I may write about in future posts. After more than a year, I withdrew from the community and cut off contact with most its members. I found online communities a hostile place where there were no immediate real life consequences for exaggerating the roles granted to you by your gender. I want to be a member of a video game community that is egalitarian and based on respect, and I’m willing to help build it.