South Korean has one of the largest game industries in the world. And even though 40% of the players are women, they still have to fight in order to be accepted by the community. FAMERZ are here to prove that.
The Hallyu Wave, in its original definition, goes far beyond K-Pop. Started in the 1990s, the movement is abridged by every pop cultural product from South Korea, including audiovisual productions such as movies, dramas and even games.
For many fans of Korean culture, music and dramas are routine, but games are not always part of it, being more popular in the gamer community itself. According to Divas of South Korea’s Game Industry, event conducted by the independent media Korea Exposé*, South Korea one of the world’s largest gaming markets and currently its players are 60% men and 40% women. Just as in Brazil, these players girls face misogyny, and thus having to lie about their gender for better acceptance. But since 2016, the female Korean gamers community have a feminist group called FAMERZ, which seeks to make the environment more receptive to the presence of women and girls.
The feminist gamer group was formed under a different conjuncture than the expected originally. In conversation with K4US, Anna, one of the FAMERZ representatives stated that it all started during the protests in request of the resignation of the former president, Park GeunHye, in 2016. Upon the realization that even during the protests they ran at risk of sexual harassment, these protesting women formed the Feminist Zone to protect each other. Gamers in this group have since gone on to play together and engage in feminist activities – such as lectures and protests.
The group, which was initially called D.VA (National D.VA Association), doesn’t meet as often as they used to in the last two years, but is now working to open an online community. “We hold and participate in protests and lectures on feminist issues and we also work on several projects that denounce machismo in the gaming industry”, says Anna about the group’s activities, which also runs a Twitter account specifically for complaints of discrimination against female players.
According to the representative of FAMERZ, there is a commitment on the part of players and game companies to ignore the existence of women who play. They use the argument “women do not play,” they exclude the female presence of industry and gamer culture, but when women try to get noticed by the same industry, men use verbal violence and sexual harassment to ensure that women do not play. As online harassment isnt’ enough, the female gamers also suffer the consequences of sexism on a daily basis. According to FAMERZ, women are quiting attendance of PC Bangs (what we used to call as lan houses, here in Brazil and still are very much alive in South Korea) in order to avoid strangers approaching them while playing. Once again, just as in the case of the premise of “women do not play,” the main cause for the argument “women do not like PC Bangs” lies in the behavior of men themselves, who through verbal and sexual harassment make sure that the experience of a woman in this environment is as uncomfortable as possible.
According to Anna, the problem goes beyond gaming consumers and extends to women working within the industry. Those who express any support for the feminist cause run the risk of having their contributions to games erased or even lose their jobs. In some cases, severe punishments may also involve the person’s exposure in apologies publications. In one of the cases reported by Anna, an employee faced all these impacts by the simple fact of having liked some tweets about feminism.
On one hand the lack of women’s freedom who work with games, on the other hand, the total openness for men to fulfill their fantasies through the development of female characters. “All the female characters in League of Legends are weird and make me uncomfortable. The developers model all of them with breasts as big as their heads”, Anna comments on the objectification of the female body seen in the game. This factor points to the total lack of commitment to the women’s representation and the reinforcement of the idea of beauty linked to a unique (slim body) body pattern, both synthesizing the idea of the female character as a product made by men and for men.
Despite the existence of FAMERZ and the growth of the feminist wave in South Korea, there is still a long way for the country’s women to live in peace, however not even the new generations of men are contributing much to it.
There is an online community called” IlganBest “(something close to” The best of day to day “). This site was made about 9 years ago and is mostly frequented by young men of extreme right. In this community, they use terms such as “sam-il-han” (to say “women should take a beating once every three days”) and “bo-jeon-kkae” (to “you should put a lamp in the vagina and break it “) all the time and still post photos taken illegally from their sisters and girlfriends. And surprisingly, Ilbe has maintained its place in the ranking of sites with the highest number of men.
Despite the differences between Brazilian and South Korean societies, the reality of the two countries in the field of games is not so different. In Brazil the initiative which is probably closer to the FAMERZ proposal, it is the facebook League of Divas (LoD) group, which aims to bring together the female audience and LGBTQ+ from LoL.
In addition to LoD, the first female professional League of Legends team, Athenas e-Sports, has recently been forming. “We noticed the lack of women in the professional universe of League of Legends and it made us look for girls who really wanted to enter this scene as pro players”, said Bianca Muniz, the CEO of the project. According to her, there is great difficulty in simply being taken seriously by male players and contacting sponsors interested in a project exclusively made up of women, making the female presence limited to amateur championships.
Sexism exists within LoL, CS, and any other competitive electronic game. But when we talk about the most played game in the world and we see that there is no female team in Brazil to represent the community, something is very wrong. We are here to change that.
– Bianca, Athena’s
Both South Korea and Brazil seem to have a large share of people who still do not understand the purpose of feminism, so often women in this environment need to continually explain the obvious. “I don’t want people to think that we are above men at any cost, I want them to think that we are equal, with the same potential and the same strength to win” , said Barbara.
Initiatives such as FAMERZ and Athena’s e-Sports show the dissatisfaction about the way women and girls have been treated in the gaming world. But not only that. It also points to the fact that, in difficulty or not, the feminine union can take us far.
We are thrilled only that you know us and look for us. It is tragic that women in different countries, speaking different languages, always face the same hatred and discrimination, feeling the same way and coming together through it. But at the same time that we comfort ourselves, we realize that we have SISTERS out there, struggling like us. It is wonderful.
We will continue to fight for future female players until they can play quietly.
We play to win
– Anna FAMERZ
K4US: How did you come together and formed FAMERZ?
Anna: We, Famerz, rallied around to demand resignation of the former president in winter 2016. The accumulated number of people gathered at the rally was over 10 million, which was overwhelmingly full of revolutionary spirits. However even in that rally no women was free from danger and contempt of sexual assault. Against this, women who attended the rally made ‘Feminist Zone’. In this zone, we stood together against misogynic words and lend a hand for each other when something happened, like sexual harassment. Feminist gamers who were gathered that time formed a group, have been playing games together and doing feminism activities.
K: How many members does the group have now?
A: Around 10 activists are in our group.
After the establishment activists ran the group and held small non-public meetings with our members(which were less than 100 people) for the last 2 years. Nowadays, we closed membership meetings and are working on an online community which will soon be opened.
K: What do FAMERZ members do? Do you only play together? Do you report sexist behaviors? Tell us a bit about how FAMERZ operates on behalf of the members.
A: We do many activities that we can do as feminist gamers in Korean game culture. We hold or take part in protests and lectures about feminism topics. Also, we work on various projects that report about sexism in gaming field. Last year we opened an event named ‘FeGTA(Femi-Gamers Take Action)’ inspired by GeekGirlCon from the movie ‘GTFO : Get the F&#% Out’. Furthermore, we’ve been running a twitter account ‘Account for Reporting Misogyny in Gaming Field’ to uncover discrimination for female gamers in gaming field. You can visit our tumblr for more info about our activities – it has brief descriptions of what we have done in english.
K: Do you girls face a lot of backlash because of the group?
A: Probably, every single feminist in Korea and are aware of backlash. Among other fields in Korea, gaming field is especially suffers from the backlash because of the extremely high male-ratio. When our organization was just established, they didn’t even recognized female gamers’ existence in the gaming field/culture. At that times, dozens, hundreds of malicious posts were uploaded in male dominated sites. Just like they did to other feminists, the comments were mostly shaming about appearances or sexsual harassments. Some even sexually harassed D.va from Overwatch instead of us, because she was our mascot at that time. (They thought that was mockery for us. So low.)
We’d like to add some more words about backlash, it’s not our own issue though. After Feminism Reboot in Korea, male gamers’ verification on gaming industry workers’ beliefs became a serious problem. Workers who commented about feminism(using feminist words in personal SNS, supporting feminism issues) got fired or their works were deleted from the games. This incident happened too frequently this year. Getting fired and erased work was not all. Workers had to post an apology and an interview with company’s representative as an official announcement on the game sites. These absurd backlash happened to them because she pressed ‘like’ on some tweets about feminism and ‘liking’ it shows high probability of ‘antisocialness’ of her ideology and it might turn out as a ‘criminal act’ Can you believe this?
K: Korea is known as a conservative society. Do you see this changing with the new generation? Do you think the Korean Feminist Wave has an impact on today’s society?
A: If you’re questioning about conservatism of men, we can never say that new generation is better than older one. There is an online community named ‘IlganBest, which means DailyBest (a.k.a Ilbe in Korea). This website was made about 9 years ago and mostly young far-right men hangs out here. In this community they use words like ‘sam-il-han(short term of ‘women must be beaten once in three days’)’, ‘bo-jeon-kkae(short term of ‘you should put a light bulb in vagina and break it’)’ all the time and upload illegally taken photos of their sisters or girlfriends. And surprisingly Ilbe has been maintaining its ranking the most highest number of hits for male online sites.
Women definitely have changed. Since Feminism Reboot, feminists have remarkably increased in number and are keep increasing, becoming more common in Korea.. Women have shut down a website(which had more than 1.2 million members) that is used to share illegally took photos and videos of women. Also they have been hitting the street mainly for ‘Issues about abortion right or punishment for illegally filming/cyber sexual violence’. Before the ‘Me too’ action in the Hollywood, in Korea, there was already a similar hashtag movements #sexual_violence_in_( )_ field, which led to reporting a lot of sexual violence. Surely backlash is getting stronger as the wave of feminism hit Korea. Today before writing this, two women were beaten by 4 men until her skull got exposed. These men assaulted and called two victims “feminists” because they didn’t wear makeup and had short hair cut. It’s so hard to believe these two womens are beaten up just because they were feminist. The backlash is extremely harsh here.*
K: I assume you guys might have seen the K/DA debut. Since it’s a girl group formed by female characters from League of Legends, I’m curious about your opinion on the project.
A: A woman who wear clothes showing her belly and breast saying ” You are no match for me, because I’m a picture-perfect face” seems perfect example of backlash referred in lots of feminism books. All female characters in League of Legends are weird and make me uncomfortable. Developers model every female characters’ breast as big as their heads. I’m not sure you have heard of the terrible news about Riotgames recently sued for sexsim in company. Isn’t it so deceptive to upload video that sexually objectify women when lawsuit about their company’s sexism culture is ongoing? I’ll attach this link that you can refer to: https://kotaku.com/inside-the-culture-of-sexism-at-riot-games-1828165483 / http://meagan-marie.tumblr.com/post/176788011970/six-months-at-riot-games
I played League of Legends for over 5 years. Nevertheless, I deleted the game because that lawsuit and K/DA’s music video are sickening me.
K: What’s your perspective for the women’s presence on the gaming field?
A: Male gamers and game companies say “Women don’t play games” and exclude women from game culture and industry. And when women voices out to prove their existence, mens make them to leave from the game culture/industry by harassing them using violent words or sexual harassment. Then, they just say this again “Women don’t play games”
Someone in our group actually couldn’t use voice chat until she joined Famerz. She was afraid of being attacked by men when they find out she is woman. Therefore, sher never used voice chat to hide her gender. After the Overwatch came out, many people realized that this ‘fear’ is not just one women’s paranoid, because it was proved in Korea since loads of women got attacked by men in voice chat. FUNNY.
Someone say that Korean PC Bang(Internet cafe) culture is cool, but in that culture women get erased again. When a woman play games in PC Bang, men come to her and try to teach her, dash at her or speak about her with friends secretly, or even overhear her. In game communities, gossips like ‘witness of woman in PC Bang’ are uploaded occasionally. More and more women can’t go PC Bang, being tired of these total men strangers making her uncomfortable. Then men just say ” Women don’t like PC Bang”
Now we know that women in gaming field are attacked when someone find out they’re women. This is the reason why we decided to voice out our demands. To make men realize that a person they called “bro” in the game is actually a woman who doesn’t talk. Until now women in gaming field were erased and silenced, but now we, women are someone who make the loudest voices here.
A: We are heartened just by you knowing us and reaching us. It’s tragic that women in different country using different languages have always been through similar hatred and discrimination, feeling the same way and bounding together. But at the same time we get comforted when we can notice that there are SISTERS out there, fighting just like us. It’s just wonderful.
We will keep fighting for future females until they can play games in relief.
We Play to Win!
The K4US team is very thankful for FAMERZ and Anna’s avaiability to answer our questions and grant us such a complete and clarifying interview. We’re also thankful for Athena’s e-Sports, we wish you the best to follow a path that men insist to make it harder than it should be.