Most things in the world don’t inherently conform to gender labels. Gaming is one of them. Guns, cars, speed, wrestling – women can do it as well as men, if not better. And if it’s on-screen, then even flawed notions like “men have more physical strength” stand nullified. Women on the Indian gaming scene are proving this day in, day out. 18-year-old Sanya Khatri is one of them. She is among the women leading a pack of PUBG players, and how! 

Khatri and her team, who go by the name Team Xhibit, had reached the ESL PUBG Masters League quarter-finals this year. They will now be playing in the Summer 2020 PUBG Grand Finals organised by ESL India Premiership, which will stream live on Disney Hotstar+ between July 16 and 17.  A total of 16 teams will play 10 matches to clinch the top title and a huge cash prize.

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For the uninitiated, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, popularly abbreviated as PUBG, is a multiplayer video game that has taken the world by storm ever since its release in 2017. Up to 100 players can play at a time, wherein one can either play with their own friends or teams of random players. The gameplay is basically a fight for survival, where players compete to remain the last one alive.

Ahead of her national-level championship, Khatri spoke to SheThePeople about her journey as a gamer and what it’s like being a woman in a playing field dominated by men. 

Sanya Khatri’s Journey as a Gamer

Based in Delhi, Khatri is known in PUBG circles for her superior gaming skills. Two years into the game, she is already a champion with credentials that speak for themself. But she was already a gamer long before PUBG took the world by storm. “I was six years old, and my uncle (chaachu) used to play Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed on the PC. I used to sit there beside him, and when he drove, I would press the ALT key to speed up his car. That was the maximum I would do,” Khatri recalls with a laugh. She even “gamed” with cousins who visited, so much so that they “broke the PC” she admits.

From PC to mobile gaming, Khatri’s journey as a player has seen a good trajectory. When she started playing PUBG, her parents “were not at all happy” with her addiction, she says. “They forced me to stop playing because they didn’t want me to fail my exams.”

Now, her PUBG skills have come to excel so much that she even found streaming space for people to watch her play. She says, “I had a contract with an app, and I used to stream my PUBG games there. I don’t have a YouTube channel as of now dedicated to streaming. But I have the audience because I have been in the community for a really long time… ever since it was formed.”

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You’re a Woman and You Play PUBG!?

It’s 2020. But men still have a hard time accepting that the field of online gaming is not their exclusive domain. Khatri, with a chuckle, recalls the shock men express when they find out that it’s a girl they are playing with. “‘Oh my God, there’s a girl in our team!?’ – this is the general reaction when they find out,” she says. “I’ve been playing for two years, but people are still shocked. They say things like – ‘Don’t worry, I’ll cover you in the game.’ But it always happens that I end up helping them in the game.”

“Just yesterday, I was playing with a few mutual friends. I died in the game, and exclaimed – Oh shit, I died! There was a guy playing, who said, ‘That’s what girls do.’ I asked him what are girls supposed to do in the game then. He said girls should help with the medicines, ammo, bring the vehicles, call other team members, etc. and then die.”

Khatri tells me that if the PUBG game is ever boys versus girls, “It never works out for us girls, because it is a male-dominated community. I think the ratio is 90:10.”

PUBG Locker Rooms Also Exist

It’s agonising enough that the streets are not safe for us women. But things hit a whole new low while gaming, Khatri tells me, because harassment is rampant on the PUBG roads. So do men get aggressive while playing, especially since it’s a violent game? “Yes, they do. I’ve had breakdowns because of it.”

She recalls an incident, “This one time a guy got killed by a girl in PUBG. For 20-30 seconds after that, he continuously threw abusive words at her. This was the third time it was happening – same guy, different girl.” She says that guys even influence each other against the girl who is playing with them, keeping the cycle of hate rolling.

And unfortunately, the locker room culture exists even in gaming communities. Khatri says, “There was a WhatsApp group with both men and women, and on that, they objectified girls who played PUBG, made fun of them, demoralising them. I wrote about this on social media, and the people I had called out, tried to force me to take my post down – they were all big names, managers, organisers. And all their followers came at me – in my DMs, comments, pictures, they abused me. I used to cry myself to sleep every day.” Despite the threats, Khatri held her ground and didn’t delete the post.

Also Read: 15 year old held in connection with Delhi Boys Locker Room chats

Depiction of Women in Video Games

There’s only so much that holds toxic masculinity together. It hangs by a fragile thread, threatening to break at the most basic of things. For instance, women with muscles.

Recently, video game players got riled up when the sequel to The Last of Us was released. One primary reason for the outrage was because a female character, Abby, was depicted with a muscular frame. Players rejected the character, saying that she was “unrealistic” and looked like a “trans woman”, simply because she had muscles. The game developers, Naughty Dog, received violent death threats from players for this and had to issue a statement bashing the harassment. Khatri condemned the outrage, saying, “A woman can be just as strong as anyone and not just in the game, but also in reality. “

Likewise, Grand Theft Auto has long been notorious for its sexualisation of women and objectification of strippers. PUBG is relatively better, as here women can create their own characters and dress them as they like. Although, the outfit choices almost inevitably also include hot shorts and dresses alongside cargo pants and jackets.

Also Read: Vanessa Guillén’s Death Puts Spotlight On Sexual Harassment In The US Military

What’s Ahead for Khatri?

Khatri has always been an all-round sports enthusiast. She is trained in swimming, skating and athletics. When she’s not gaming, she likes to sing, paint, write and is vocal about social issues like feminism.

She is now looking to be a social media influencer in the Indian gaming scene. She says, “The entire gaming community is really growing and there’s a lot of audiences involved. So I want to be a mega-influencer here, not just for PUBG.”

Despite the trolling and misogyny that litter her path, Khatri is bound to her love for PUBG. She wants to pursue a degree in Psychology but gaming will continue to be a priority for her. She says, “I’m really proud of whatever I have, and I have done so much to be where I am right now. I’m looking forward to what’s coming ahead for me.”

Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. 

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