I always end up hearing about how rare it is to meet female gamers, but there are plenty of prominent women in gaming society as we know it. On one hand, we have groups like the Frag Dolls and the PMS Clan -- gamers who happen to be female and, in many cases, attractive. I have my reservations about their methods but, since they've proven their skills time and time again, I have no real issues with them. There's no doubt that those very skills are still called into question, but that's a whole other box of breadsticks. On the other hand, we have groups like WatchUsGame, who call upon the "masses" of female gamers to band together and... actually, I'm not sure what their true purpose is.
I'll be completely frank with you. Stuff like that pisses me off.
I've been meaning to speak out on this issue for some time now, but I wasn't quite sure how I wanted to go about it. I mean, I spoke about the issue briefly in a previous installment of "Got Game?", and I batted around the idea of doing a complete essay on the stereotypes in gaming society rooted in gender. Reading Candice's "lost episode", however, inspired me to write this. It's not a critical piece or a retort, by any means, but more of a complementary sidebar, a different point of view from a similar platform.
Let me get this out of the way first: I don't have an issue with those who apply the term "girl gamer" to themselves. If you'd like to be labeled as such, more power to you. I would like to think of myself, however, as having enough skill to compete with anyone regardless of my anatomical makeup. This is my main problem with the label -- the fact that gamers separate themselves by gender creates this sort of unspoken segregation, especially in a woman's case, and it manifests itself in ways that seem to push us back down rather than lift us up to an equal level.
You know, my rage toward WatchUsGame and their counterparts (groups and bloggers alike) isn't due to the fact that they feature pretty girls who are pimping out their images, so to speak. It's directed more toward the way they're going about it. Women have always used their natural assets to get ahead of their male and female peers and, unfortunately, that's something that will probably never change. It's the fact that, instead of being honest and saying "hey, we're a bunch of pretty girls that want attention because we happen to play games," they say that their purpose is to go to conventions and such to speak out about gender-related issues in gaming. It's hard to take that claim seriously when they have enough time to feature a slideshow of all the members' user pics and not any content about gaming itself (minus the flash games and their opinion on who's the hottest videogame character ever). The site comes off as an issue of Seventeen, complete with controller-wielding cover girl.
Ladies of WatchUsGame, I realize that first impressions do count for something but, when all of your profiles feature women more suited for an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog and with nary a double chin, I can't help but wonder that if I were to use, say, a picture of myself with my four-year-old daughter as part of my profile submission, would it get "lost" or it deemed of "inadequate quality"? Is your site really out to "disprove the ever prevalent myth that we don't play video games and/or all of us who do are anti-social with appearance and self-esteem issues" (lifted directly from your front page)? It's funny, because I didn't even realize that the very concept even existed as far as female gamers were concerned -- if anything, I think that you're just perpetuating the more common opinion that all female gamers are, well, attention whores.
It seems, at times, that the fight for respect as a female gamer is one that is being fought within the trenches of our own camp. The problem as I see it is that many of the higher profile women in gaming don't care if their male counterparts see them as equals. Plain and simple. The women that do want to be accepted in their own right aren't willing to play those games, to bat their smoky eyes and pucker up for the camera, and as such, can't compete with the others.
It's important to note that I'd be in a state of extreme error if I began to claim that women are the only one who suffer from stereotyping. In some ways, I actually feel that men have received the brunt of the blows, only because the actual acknowledgement of the female demographic has been fairly recent. Many men have grown up with magazines, websites, and the ilk pushing "jokes" in their faces about how they're socially inept, immature recluses who are unable to initiate and/or maintain any sort of emotional or physical relationships; because of this, many men seem to have written it off as just a typical facet of game journalism. It's an ugly facet, that's for sure, but one nonetheless. It's gotten to the point where some of us (of either gender, mind you) don't see the point in keeping silent any longer, and that in itself creates its own rift of "oh, just ignore it and move on" or "why put up with this any longer?"
There is a flipside to all of my points, and that is that, to an extent, we all are buying into the very stereotypes that we claim to detest. I'll admit to writing off some of these girls' possible talents due to their image -- almost as if they're compensating for a lack of skill by posting the most glossy-pouted photos that they could find of themselves. At the same time, I'm sure that some of you have been guilty, at one point or another, of making the correlation between a love of gaming and lack of anything else. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if some of you have written me off as well. It comes with the territory, I suppose.
I believe that in order for gamers in general to make any sort of headway in smothering these fires once and for all, we have to start within the media. In print and on screen, everyone from developers to advertisers to editors alike need to realize that, as gaming itself is maturing, so is its audience. Not everyone wants to be talked down to as if they're sixteen and in high school, and the medium needs to start marketing itself toward all demographics instead of blocking out what potentially could become their biggest audiences.
Before we can make any sort of headway in that battle, though, we have to be able to unite in our community to achieve this gender equality that... well, seems so unrealistic that it might as well be the setting of a fairy tale. Let's be honest with ourselves: while it's an issue that certainly warrants action, do any of us really care enough to make the first move?