My last entry on this topic covered bases that have been covered beautifully elsewhere by others. Namely the strange desire of games designers to put their female characters in armour that would almost certainly get them killed were they to face so much as a chilly day in the real world. In Azeroth, and many fantasy landscapes besides, facing the scourge of undead, a dirty great big dragon or an orc with biceps bigger than its head is apparently a breeze in nothing more than a chain-mail bikini. When so much thought goes into the tiniest detail in worlds like this, it strikes me as odd that such an obvious and difficult element of disbelief is suspended for the sake of minor titillation.
What is certainly even more strange is the strange myth of the Girl Gamer who simultaneously does not exist and exists but is attention seeking and rubbish. I have countless examples of this attitude from WoW forums, but believe me this attitude exists anywhere you’d care to look.
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The refusal to believe in Girl Gamers can be witnessed in its purest form in a story I read over on LiveJournal. You can read the whole thing here, but the gist of it is that somebody inherits a guild and is forced by their new position as Guild Leader to speak on Vent for the first time. Everybody is shocked and amazed to discover that this person they’ve played with for two years is a girl. For two years, they had assumed the big male orc character was played by a boy. Not exactly a wild stab in the dark, but wrong nonetheless. It’s a delayed revelation but many guild members get over their initial shock and get on with their lives.
However, one guild member in particular starts talking about how he’ll miss his old buddy, apparently under the misapprehension that “female” is a euphemism for “dead”. Now, this person was clearly so convinced that “girls don’t play this game” that as soon as he learned of her gender, it created a paradox and his brain deleted her. Really, it’s no wonder that this girl kept her gender secret so long. Especially when the stereotypical gamer girl gets such a bad rap in the first place.
The kicker is if they’re acknowledged at all, girls are largely assumed to be either really rubbish or just there to flirt with boys for gold/other in-game perks. Oh and they don’t play other games for fun, only for attention from boys. They only have a Wii. They’re totally not a threat. They don’t play even play real games.
Gamer Girl stereotypes exist and are perpetuated even by Gamer Girls who do not fit the mould. Sure I know of instances where girls have sent naked pictures to male friends for in-game perks. I also know of several boys who pretend to be girls and have cyber sex with other male players for the same reason (they say it’s for gold, anyway). I also know someone who pretended to be a girl for months, decided he was bored, so pretended to be his own brother to tell everybody Jane* had died of cancer (when in reality she had never existed.) People are weird, y’know?
I’m not saying that the Gamer Girl stereotype comes from nowhere, that this has never happened. People manipulate each other, I’m not saying they don’t. What I am saying that this strange insistence that the problem is a female one means decent gamers with vaginas keep their mouth shut because the second their secret is known they cease to be taken seriously.
MMORPGs attract weirdos of all genders, it’s just that confirmation bias means people forget about the boys. The problem girls have is that by virtue being perceived as a deviant or minority in the community, they are constantly subjected to attitudes like this:
Replace Math with WoW. Pretend that instead of the equation it's the gates to Blackwing Descent.
However, because they’re perceived that way, girls tend to keep their gender to themselves and therefore continue to be perceived as a minority.
Things are not all bad, the tendency seems to be for people to be more accepting, not less.This article from 2005 outlines a lot of similar stuff so it’s not like we’re progressing at breakneck speed. I think people are generally aware that sometimes some girls play some games. I am not constantly barraged with crap about my gender when I play. I don’t talk about my gender when I play, but if it does come up it’s a thing. It’s mentioned, commented on, considered. Not by everyone, but always by someone.
I was lucky enough to play for a long time in a guild where the Guild Leader was a woman as were two of the Officers and many of our regular raid team. However once in a while in a random group, we would reveal our perverse secret identities and have a DPS immediately drop group. Or receive demands for “pics nao” (I mean really.) There is no correlation between gender and kick-assness in game. There is no difference. The fact that I know this and other people know it does not change all perceptions.
For this reason I am assumed to be male. I play a character who looks like this:
I didn't want to look at an Undead spine all day, all right? And Orcs were clearly animated by a blind drunk person with no hands. Blood Elves are a perfectly valid race, ok?!
and I am resigned to the fact that people will assume that it’s because she looks good from behind, unless I want to shout from the rooftops that I am a girl. For the sake of visibility, I should do that. Girls should not have to become invisible to play.
Because of minor improvements as people get acclimatised to the idea of Girl Gamers, articles like this get written, which means the problem will remain because it’s “only” people whispering you inappropriate things. It’s “only” getting extra attention from people when you’re trying to enjoy your game time. It’s “only” the occasional “prickly” PUG. It’s only little things but it’s a lot of the time, and it’s representative of something much deeper and more sinister: Girl’s aren’t supposed to play games.
Less malicious but just as irritating are stereotypes like “Girls only play healers!”
Because girls care for stuff!
To put this person’s comment in perspective, of the 10 classes it’s possible to play, 4 of them have healing capabilities. Odds are if you pick a class to play at random, as many new players do, there’s a 40% chance that it will be able to heal.
So, basically what he’s saying is that the girl players who play characters that could heal, even if they don’t, are still conforming to his preconceptions of what a girl should be. The one’s that don’t are “tomboys”, therefore not proper girls and one person he knows doesn’t even play a healer and she’s pretty good! These are evidently crazy times we live in. It’s almost as if his theory holds no water at all! The confirmation bias is strong with this one. It’s just an example of a boy gamer talking loudly about what all girl gamers are like while casually ignoring the many girl gamers he knows who aren’t like that. And that’s just the ones he thinks are girls.
So, girl gamers. There is no mystery here. We exist (hi!) We don’t want your gold, or your Officer status nor are we dying to get our chesticles out for strangers on the internet. We’re not desperate to patch you up when the nasty dragon burns you, nor to inflict our hormones upon you on special days. We just want to kill some pixels. Doing so as secret cyber-transvestites should not be necessary.
*Clearly that is not a real name. Fake name for a fake person.