When you think of the stereotypical gamer, what image comes to mind? It’s usually something akin to the Comic Shop Guy from The Simpsons, or the merciless troll in the “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode of South Park. As much as stereotypes are somewhat based in reality, the example above is the exception rather than the rule, since every gamer I know is a normal person with a life outside of video games. On the flip side, gamer culture is highly social and highly competitive, and like all communities, discrimination and lack of acceptance is commonplace. One particular demographic is often stereotyped and underestimated, and that is female gamers.
Conventional wisdom says that gamers are usually men and that girls lack the understanding or tolerance for video games, and if they do get into them, it’s usually party or “casual” games that require little time or dedication. Like all hobbies, the truth is not always black and white. As a child weaned on Atari and tempered with Nintendo, video games were a big part of my life and I had several female friends who regularly came over to play, many of whom were able to achieve higher scores and get farther into games than I ever could. These girls also enjoyed “girly” thinks like skipping rope and collecting dolls, but the gender roles that apply to so many other hobbies never seemed to apply to video games. Flash-forward to my teenage years, where the girls I dated were into “nerdy” hobbies like video games, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic cards, and believe it or not, they were not the outcast “geek girls” that you see on TV. I remember having friends over to play Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64, and the girls usually mopped the floor with the boys, so there was never this concept of video games being a “boy’s thing”. Sadly, this point of view is not shared by a lot of people. There are some girls I know today who think that video games are a kid’s hobby and a complete waste of time. Some are in relationships and they do nothing but complain about their partner’s enjoyment of gaming. However, I think this represents personal taste rather than being indicative of an entire gender’s attitude towards gaming.
Girl gamers today face a variety of challenges, most of which surround the stigma of their aptitude games and the attitude that other games have towards them, especially in multiplayer gaming. Many of my female friends have told me that other gamers, usually young men, either make rude comments about them or get downright abusive when they play online. This is usually the result of bruised egos that result from being beaten in a game by a girl or just plain immaturity, something that shouldn’t be taken seriously but it gets rather hurtful when it happens enough. Sometimes, the comments are simply trolling by saying things like “I want to bone you” or “woman, make me a sammich!”, but I’ve been in game matches where people used the C-word openly and threatened violence and rape. For this reason, some of my friends hide the fact that they are female because they just want to enjoy some gaming, or they limit their online play to people they personally know and trust. I think abuse and immaturity is something that anyone should be prepared for when going online, but it seems especially problematic for the female gamers I know.
Worse yet, there seems to be this prevailing image of girl gamers either being sex objects or butch and unattractive. Doing an image search for “Girl Gamer” on Google brings up a variety of misogynistic images of naked girls with video games and peripherals strategically covering their parts, while other images show girls who are overweight or stereotypically nerdy. It is true that a search for “male gamer” brings up equally unflattering images, but these are more comical than offensive. Funny enough, there is also a sub-culture of female “gamers” who are not really into gaming, but they take pride in being “nerd bait” and acting up by posting sexually suggestive pictures and videos for guys to “get their nerdy rocks off” to. I have absolutely no respect for these people and I don’t think they represent gamers or should be taken seriously in any way.
Here’s the reality check when it comes to numbers and demographics. According to a study done by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), 40% of gamers are female. Another interesting myth debunked by this study is that most gamers are children or teenagers, because the average age of typical gamer worldwide is 34 years old, but that’s a topic for another article. While the slim majority of gamers may be male, females make up an impressive percentage of the gaming population and they are becoming a more formidable presence. Being an active follower of the Youtube gaming community, I see regular videos by female gamers where they openly discuss their passion for video games. Such “Youtubers” include Stephs2Def, Charassic, Doginmylense and GameMeetsGirl, among others. They all bring a fresh perspective and intelligent opinions to the community, and I gain a lot of gaming knowledge from their videos and I have bought many games on their recommendations. They all have impressive game collections that they clearly take pride in, and I watch their videos without the fact that they’re female being in the front of my mind. A gamer is a gamer to me, regardless of gender. I have also gotten to know some female gamers over Xbox Live and the Playstation network and their Gamerscore/trophy count is higher than I could ever hope to achieve, and as I’m fond of saying, one of my best friends is a girl and she can kick my ass in any game of her choosing.
In closing, just like the stereotypes surrounding male gamers are largely untrue, the same applies to female gamers. As a gender that’s been considered less apt in certain areas, I think that girls have had a harder time gaining credibility in the gaming world, but thankfully the tide is shifting and these pointless gender roles apply less today. A gamer is someone who loves video games, and I would measure a gamer by their passion and knowledge rather than something like their gender, age or personal background. People who hate on girl gamers are often trying to pump themselves up and compensate for their own insecurities, which I think is not even worth taking seriously. Girl gamers are equally valuable and equally skilled as their male counterparts and I find it laughable that some people are still stuck in the 1950’s mentality of gender inequality, so hopefully these people will eventually grow up and learn to respect others.