Now, like all games with an open sandbox, a building aspect, and no rules other than survive, Rust gets weird. Real weird. People create gangs and punish other mob groups for perceived infractions. Some groups demand tribute in the form of meat and cloth like a post-apocalyptic Bug’s Life. I’ve been kidnapped at gunpoint and they demanded I chop wood for them and be their slave. Some users grow to infamy and carve out territory which new users are warned against trespassing into….
If you don’t believe me, boy do I have the video for you.
You see, in Rust, you are heavily dependent on the microphone. Imagine if you were in a Mexican standoff but you could only communicate to each other by passing notes. That’s what it would feel like relying on chat while playing Rust. It would only be a matter of time before someone went “fuck it” and started shooting as the silence grew more and more tense. The first thing people asked if they didn’t happen to shoot you on sight was “Do you have a microphone?”. Otherwise silence is considered an immediate threat and you could get shot or clubbed with a rock quicker than you can type, “I just respawned, please don’t kill me”.
But my game experience changes entirely when I start speaking. It must be surprising to hear a girl’s voice for most other players. Despite the fact that women make up 48% of the gaming population, it’s not a commonly accepted statistic. Combine that with the violence of Rust and the fact we are all playing as the default naked guy, it’s unexpected to hear. There is always a pause followed by a variety of actions until most guys come to the same assessment.
I have been handed guns. Food. Armor. Sometimes after I’m dead and they hear my voice over the microphone, they apologize for killing me, which is an expected part of this game. Once after I was sniped from a tower, the guy came and found me and promised to “escort me wherever I needed to go”, like I was a girl walking home in the dark from a nightclub, instead of through radioactive bear-infested fields. I’ve been mining cloth before and had a guy come over and “ask me what my name was” and “offer to just give me some cloth” like we are in a bar and I haven’t finished my drink yet. It’s astounding how two half naked guys chopping wood in a video game starts to feel like a typical Friday night to me. Men go out of their way to protect me and take me under their wing. They warn me against the other players on the server, that they won’t be as nice as the guy I’m currently talking to. That they will shoot me onsite but this guy won’t. I played with some of my guy friends and they would get shot immediately and I would walk away with a full suit of body armor from the same guy.
I can hear my guy friends now, “Poor Maddy, you get handed guns and armor and life is just so unfair”. And it’s true I’m surprised I haven’t experienced any hostile sexism or sexual harassment, which is great! No one has told me that I don’t belong in this game or asked for pictures or said anything lewd or derogatory. But this form of benevolent sexism is far more subtle, far more sneaky, and difficult to address. Because what’s wrong with guys giving me gear? Isn’t it a nice thing to do to escort me through the field of radioactive mutant wolves? I should be grateful for the attention, the protection, and men trying to make my life a little easier.
It’s here where the fight for equality really struggles. Benevolent sexism is the idea that women should be treated with attention, affection, and love and protected because we are not capable of the same things as men and need men to look after us. But it’s so hard to identify, so hard to talk about because on the outside, it’s just compliments and offers of help. How do you talk to men who have been taught that women should be cherished and protected, that this suppresses equality and creates a world where I am judged to be incapable before I’ve even done anything because of how I look or sound. I see this when I am successful in a video game. I’ve heard, “Wow you actually killed that guy, wow you are actually pretty good at this game, wow I didn’t know you knew how to do that”. My male friends would never hear the tone of surprise if they successfully protected themselves. My male friends are not escorted through the game or given gear or had bears killed for them because they are expected to be able to survive and defend themselves on their own. I made a lot of friends in Rust and I can say with 100% certainty that they meant no offense by the help they offered me and did genuinely want to support me. And I’m sure they didn’t consciously think, “Maddy is incapable because she is a woman and therefore I must help her”. And that’s the problem, it is so rooted in our society and our mindset that we have a hard time grasping why these compliments of "wow I'm surprised you could do that" can be sexist.
This problem spills over into my real life, when I apply for jobs, if I want to succeed in a science-related or tech field, or in my day to day life. Women are are offered less opportunities than equally qualified men based on nothing more than a female name on a resume. Because of our gender, we have to work extra hard to be perceived as competent as men. It’s funny in a game because when I am perceived as weak, men hand me food and help me “build my first shelter” but it’s less amusing when I and other women are applying for jobs and have dreams of succeeding in traditionally non-feminine fields.
I’m not sure what the solution is here. Shoot them and make them regret helping me? Lecture them for giving me supplies? It’s not going to be easy to change a way of thinking so ingrained into our upbringing. All I can offer up is ladies, keep playing these games. Play until hearing a female voice isn’t a surprise and a well-aimed headshot isn’t a lucky break. And men, when women talk about these issues and how chivalry can make us feel incompetent or less than, understand it’s not a thing to take personally, it’s something we are all working on moving past. And above all, let’s keep having these conversations.
Let me be clear that Rust isn’t a sexist game and wasn’t created to be so. Rust is a shell, clay to be molded by the user and that’s what made it so fascinating and engaging. But it’s alarming to me that when we are given a sandbox to play in and unlimited possibilities, we recreate the world we already live in, where women must prove themselves to be capable from a position of weakness. Because even in a world where everything has gone to shit and mutant bears attack you in your sleep, one aspect of our world remains and that is women are not as capable as men. It’s a shame our imaginations are still limited by that.