The myth of the ‘gamer girl’, or more generically a ‘fake geek girl’ is one of the more enduring and damaging elements to being a female gamer in modern times. It operates around the single premise that a woman or teenage girl – a popular target when it comes to society’s collected derision – is playing video games in order to ‘impress’ a male in her life, or collectively males in general.
Of course, I have no doubt that there are women out there who don’t play video games – it confuses and scares me, but then again I don’t eat pizza and that confuses and scares the vast majority of my friends. These women may have partners who game, and may occasionally pick up a controller as a compromise. This is much different to the ‘gamer girl’ stereotype of which I speak.
I have interacted with video games from a very young age – an enduring memory of my youth is being roughly eight years old and watching my stepfather play Silent Hill 2’s demo – no comments on the parenting technique, please. As such, I have been through many stages of being a female gamer. And yes, there was a stage where I was very much aware that I was different. Not a lot of girls my age played video games, and when I mentioned that I did, there was often a certain degree of interest shown towards me – non-romantic, of course. This, from a more grown-up viewpoint, I can attribute to a societal scorn towards females playing video games and thus a lack of females having a common interest in games. This has shifted, dramatically, in recent times, and now 47% of gamers identify as female – if I announce that I play video games in a roomful of people, there is about as much reaction as if I’d walked in and told a roomful of people that I enjoy breathing air.
Why then is the myth of the ‘girl gamer’ so painfully enduring?
It is time for a little bit of an aside, and a shameful one too. I believed in the ‘girl gamer’ too, and I scorned her. Here we see the tendency of society to encourage women to see each other as competition, to judge each other based on constraints we simply would not put on males.
The ‘gamer girl’ allows males to acknowledge female gamers without allowing them to interrupt or influence the boy’s club that is gaming. Yes, they are present, you can then argue, but they do not matter. There is no need to tailor games towards women who are just playing ‘to impress’. You do not need to make merchandise, as women who do not actually care about the game they are playing would not buy it. You do not need to make convincing female characters, as the male gamers you are playing for do not want them – another myth that shows how dangerously out of touch the game companies are with their own player base.
As another aside – many apologies – most male gamers are not in fact the neck-bearded, fedora-wearing meme-factories that the internet likes to satirise them all as. They are normal, average human beings who do not actually believe in this ‘fake geek girl’ image at all. Remember Hanlon’s Razor: ‘Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.’ These people are not actively contributing to the demonization of female gamers, but they are perpetuating it by not challenging it. I know a lot of male and female gamers, and there is no discrimination at all. Do not think I am generalising to all male gamers here, because that is the last thing I wish to do.
To return to topic, you do not need to take into account a player base that you can ignore simply by negating their entire existence with ‘they aren’t really gamers’. You can continue to churn out vaguely misogynist games with merchandise that completely ignores an entire 47% of your target market – which doesn’t seem like a viable business strategy to me.
Another problem with the ‘fake geek girl’ and her ‘gamer girl’ subtype is that it somewhat implies that the world, for a woman, rotates around males in some way, shape or form. As I said above, a woman who is otherwise not interested in gaming may pick up a controller a few times a week in order to engage with her significant other’s hobbies. That is called compromise, and it is delightful. That is not what we are talking about here.
What we are talking about here is that somehow, a proportion of the world seems to think that it is acceptable both for a woman to spend a large proportion of her time making herself attractive to men despite having no interest in the subject at hand – thus implying that her time is not hers, but simply to be used in order to make herself attractive to males – and also that it is then okay so deride her for that same standard that she is being held to. This is objectification, and it is most certainly not okay.
Women are judged by the games they play when men would never have that question asked. You play World of Warcraft? So does everyone, you casual. You play Skyrim? Congratulations for jumping on the bandwagon. This is merely a vent for a serious problem with elitism that pervades all elements of gamer culture, but here I choose to focus simply on gender-specifics.
The ‘girl gamer’ stereotype is used to enforce gender segregation on leisure activities, objectify women, belittle them in the eyes of other women and men alike, and presenting the ideal that a woman’s time should be centred around males whilst at the same time enforcing the fact that that is the idea. The next time you see a female playing a video game – whether or not she is bad at it, good at it, playing with her partner or playing alone – just let it go.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and DPS for my party (I can’t heal for heck). My guild raids at 5pm. Tally-ho!
Stephanie Downes is a blogger who is interested in investigating social issues such as feminism and how they affect modern media, in particular video games. She also enjoys writing, specifically steampunk and horror. She is available on twitter at @SocialSoliloquy, and WordPress at asocialsoliloquy.wordpress.com.