Imagine being paid to play and stream video games with hordes of adoring fans watching online. But if you’re a gamer or streamer, this comes with additional obstacles that your male counterparts might never experience. ‘Well played for a girl’, ‘go back to the kitchen’, ‘you play like a girl’, so on and so forth. Too often pegged as highly sexualised beings with incompetent anomalies, the country’s gamer girls are a growing tribe. And they have had enough of the iniquity.
A lawyer by profession, 21-year-old Manasvi Dalvi has had to endure everything from subtle jabs to sexist ideologies, but the frustratingly dismissive attitude has not prevented her from pursuing her passion for live streaming. Believe it or not, this reflects into the competitive sphere of gaming where women in India are slowly gaining popularity.
At 12 years, little Manasvi made a choice that would impact the rest of her life. She recalls how her gaming stint would have never been possible had she not been relentless. “I was introduced to the world of gaming in the first grade by my father. One fine night, he came home with a console, and I was totally hooked on to it. Although this isn’t my profession, I enjoy streaming now, as much I used to, years back. It is a good place to meet new people with different perspectives. I thoroughly enjoy it,” she admits. “My major achievement as a gamer would be becoming a YouTube NextUp Graduate that happened last year. I was the only female creator there out of 12 channels. I have earned more than Rs. 1,50,000 last year.”
And no matter what gender you identify yourself with, the notion of being able to slay competitors and setting out on a quest to shut out the comfort of your couch can be pretty appealing. That might usually be the case, but even as streaming becomes a popular new subculture for most Indians, it is not somehow unusual to grasp how the largely male industry systematically excludes the women. “People say, ‘tu shaadi ke baad bhi streaming karegi kya?’ There are so many male streamers out there, they don’t ask these kind of questions to them. And why are people so concerned about my marriage? Why is marriage the ultimate goal for a woman?” says an exasperated Manasvi, who streams live game videos through YouTube channel ‘Manasvivi’ with more than 37,300 subscribers.
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But, why the discriminatory discourse towards women? Are women not as adept as men when it comes to critical thinking and strategies? Or do men not want women to join in? “They say we are women get a lot of ‘good attention’. That mindset is there. They say ‘if you put up a pretty face and seek help, anybody will come and help you’. There are a lot of times I get special attention. But I never asked for it. Nobody wants to be told, ‘you were asking for it’. If I was a man, I would have still sought help when needed. In fact, if you’re in a team, they’ll purposely not support you because you’re a woman. If you change your thoughts according to my gender, how is it my problem?” asks Manasvi.
Much to the delight of most gamers like Manasvi, live streaming has increasingly become a prominent facet of the commercial landscape of video games. The gaming scene in her family, she says, has not been as confining, as opposed to her experience with the outside world of being overlooked or sidelined. What this new-found identity has done is to highlight the ambitions of wonder women like Manasvi, and their ability to overcome all metaphoric hurdles that get in the way. What is her advice to fellow women gamers? “Don’t get carried away by what people say about you, there will be haters. I’ve been there too. Be confident of yourself, take charge. That’s how things will fall into place,” she explains empathetically.
There is no end to the heated conflict over the place women have occupied in the gaming culture. But, one’s belief in the vast potential of games as a medium continues to remain as strong as ever, so does one’s admiration for all the women gamers who continue to fight for a better, more diverse, and inclusive industry.