After playing World of Warcraft for the first time at 13, I realized that voice communication was going to be a helpful tool for completing quests, socializing with other players, and adding a whole new dimension to the game.
It wasn’t easy convincing my parents to purchase a headset. Heck, it was hard enough convincing them that the game in it of itself was “safe.” As an only child who grew up with strict parental units, almost everything I did was monitored very closely, including my computer habits. (Rightfully so, looking back. I was a 13-year-old girl talking to strangers online in a time where the Internet was generally misunderstood).
Turns out, my case was convincing after all. After a few weeks of playing the game, I got a basic, $25 Logitech headset that looked like it belonged in a call center. I was ecstatic! I could finally chat with my two newest friends, Mojo and his son, when questing through Darkshore. It opened up a new world of human connection during my otherwise lonely childhood.
Soon, I grouped with a guild and joined their Ventrilo (an ancient predecessor of Discord) server. I regularly had people to chat with about in-game nonsense, IRL drama, and hopes and dreams. Sometimes, we would even storm other guilds’ Ventrilo servers and play silly sounds on repeat via a downloadable soundboard. The possibilities with voice communication were seriously endless.
As I progressed in the game and reached max level, voice chat was particularly helpful for both PvP and PvE. When queuing up for a 2v2, 3v3, or battleground with a group of friends, I now had a way to communicate my real-time decisions to my teammates. I was able to call out my CC chains, cooldowns, and cry out for help when needed!
I met people from all over the world. Some of these people crossed my path temporarily, but some became lifelong friends.
I had always wished I was older when I joined this community because my guildmates scheduled in-person meetups with frequency. If I thought convincing my parents for a headset was challenging, convincing them to physically meet up with strangers would be equivalent to trying to fly.
Luckily, I finessed a way into meeting one of my closest in-game friends at the age of 15 while I was on vacation in Virginia. She lived nearby to where I was visiting, so we planned a sneaky meet-up and got to take selfies in our WoW t-shirts for our guild! It was one of the most wholesome and exciting meet-ups that I will always cherish.
All good things have a dark side. Unfortunately, things ended up getting weird in every way of the word when people found out I was a female via voice chat. After playing for so many months and feeling at peace for finding this community, my feelings on voice chat shifted dramatically following several experiences.
Although I played female characters, it’s never clear who is behind the toon unless you speak with them. When people finally made the connection, I started getting treated very differently. Typically, one of two things would happen once I spoke up in a new Ventrilo server, raid group, or duo match:
Whoa, a girl! Where do you live? Are you single? Are you hot? Can I buy you something to win your affection? Send me pics!
Ugh, a girl. Now we’re definitely going to lose this match.
These night and day reactions (problematic in their own unique ways) ultimately caused me to, most times, pretend that I didn’t have a microphone. I’d go back to typing in chat but listening to my teammates. Sometimes, people would get frustrated with me for not turning on my microphone, and then when I did, I would once again be met with one of the two reactions above.
I felt like I had to hide the fact that I was a woman in any way possible, so I even changed the sex and name of my main character. I began playing primarily as a male toon to (hopefully) signal that I was a dude IRL. Only some of my closest friends were in on “the secret”—those who I felt comfortable being myself around because they didn’t treat me any differently than the human I was.
Unfortunately, things got increasingly more toxic (unsurprisingly) when I steered toward the League of Legends universe at age 17. For most matches, I played with my then-boyfriend and his friends. We were all learning the game and knew each other, so it wasn’t so bad.
It was when I decided to play competitively by joining active online communities and tournaments that things got really sour. With more frequency, I would face salty boys who were upset with a female on their team. Sometimes, other teammates would stick up for me, which was nice, but I always felt powerless to stick up for myself in these moments.
As such, my performance was always being monitored and analyzed more than my male counterparts, and everything that went wrong in the game suddenly felt like it was all my fault. This was the first time I started to question my fit within this community.
The comments that were made to me after being exposed as a female gamer had taken a toll on me that I was unaware of at the time. Looking back, the way I was treated as a female had a massive effect on my gaming performance and identity.
Particularly when I joined the LoL community, I found myself becoming increasingly uninterested in competition after playing a handful of tournaments for prizes. Why? One of the rules was that you needed a microphone to participate (which makes sense).
However, I’d be so anxious to introduce myself to the team I’d be placed on, that sometimes I would freeze up and lie about my microphone being broken. Or, I’d speak up and introduce myself, but say nothing for the duration of the match, and my teammates would ream me for it.
It felt like no matter what choice I made, there was a price to pay.
It was particularly difficult to find other female gamers to relate to and talk with outside of my WoW pal, because from what I understand, they were hiding, too. It felt like us females were impostors among a boys club and we had to keep it on the DL to avoid unfair criticism.
Hiding my identity as a female online had long-lasting negative effects IRL. I had become self-conscious of being a female in this space, and it inhibited me from reaching my potential on the playing field.
Climbing the ranks became unattainable to me in my mind, because I’m a girl and we “suck at games.” After being told something so many times by so many people, you begin to believe it.
People do not understand the power behind their words. Be mindful of what you say to someone online, because you never know how it will affect them. Being positive and inclusive costs nothing, it just makes our community stronger.
A Note from the Ritual Motion Team: If you have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly like Monica has, it’s important to talk about it. Our brand promotes inclusivity, diversity, and honesty and we encourage you to share your experiences via our platform so we can all learn from them together.