A girl overhears a few guys in her class talking about video games, and turns around to join the conversation. She tells them about her version of Shepard in Mass Effect, and asks them if they’ve played the latest Assassin’s Creed game yet. The boys look at her in dismay and say she’s weird for playing RPGs and adventure games like that. They make fun of her for it, right before they themselves go home to play Skyrim.
This example has happened to a couple of my female friends, and they were both upset after these incidents. Rightly so, I say. It’s no secret that players freak out when they hear a girl’s voice in the voice chat. Why is this? A lot of males are surprised to hear about a girl playing video games, but some think that a female who plays isn’t a legitimate gamer at all. Is this fair? A friend of mine told me that she was once told that she was too attractive to be into this sort of thing. Why do we think girls who play video games should look a certain way? I want to address these questions and give my best explanations.
I play a lot of Call of Duty, and I know that what I hear in the chat a majority of the time are male voices. My old roommate, who has been playing Call of Duty multiplayer since the first Modern Warfare, estimates that he only hears a female’s voice eight times each CoD year. Players are used to hearing male voices for months, so imagine players’ shock when they encounter a female player. It’s like any other change of pace. When anything you’re used to changes, you’re going to react in some way. Don’t mistake my theory as an excuse to treat female gamers poorly, though. It is fine to be surprised and even express your shock in a friendly way, but harassing and degrading a player because of their gender is unacceptable.
Some females aren’t treated in such an understanding or comical way, however. A close friend of mine says she has been harassed and discriminated against for her love of video games. When she attended the midnight release of Assassin’s Creed III in her assassin outfit, she was approached by men who told her she was trying too hard to look like a gamer. Men assumed she was only there for her boyfriend. They even quizzed her on her knowledge of the game, just to prove she wasn’t a “legitimate” gamer. When they asked if there were any females in the game, she smugly gave the name of Altair’s wife and mentioned Aveline from Liberation.
The same friend used to work at GameStop, and would receive comments such as “nice to see a woman working in a man’s world,” and was constantly tested on her gaming knowledge. Because, you know, females obviously don’t know anything about video games. They didn’t believe that a female could be a “legitimate” gamer, much less know anything about them. I believe that most people have their ideal version of a “true gamer.” (This leads into the Era-and-a-half-old argument of what exactly makes a person a “gamer”, which I won’t discuss just yet. That may be a later post.) Most female gamers are viewed as trying too hard or only pretending in order to get attention. While this does actually happen, with both males and females, this is not always the case. I also believe that the lack of encounters with female gamers allows males to subconsciously form the idea that females just don’t play video games.
I don’t believe that most males are able to comprehend the fact that a girl can like video games just as much as they do. While there’s no good excuse for this type of discrimination and harassment, their surprise is understandable. While growing up, who did you walk next door to and play video games with? Most likely a male. If you ever received a video game from your parents as a gift, wasn’t it most likely your father who admitted to choosing which game to buy? When I look back on my childhood and who I spent most of my time with as I grew in the gaming world, I realize that it was extremely rare for a female to be somehow involved. Perhaps this may be part of the reason why girls are treated poorly by male gamers. It may be that males just don’t know how to express their surprise, or that they have an idea of what is normal based on their experience in the past, and, to them, it seems wrong for a girl to like video games.
The final issue I wish to discuss also involves this same friend. While it doesn’t directly involve video games, I believe the example is still relevant. She was at a bookstore once, and she stopped by the sci-fi and fantasy section. She was approached by another customer who mentioned that she was “too attractive to be reading these books.” So now gamer girls/”nerds” have to look a certain way? For some reason, this person’s idea of a girl who reads fantasy or plays video games is unattractive. Maybe this is because, while growing up, he thought he knew what attractive girls liked to do. Perhaps what happened to me also happened to him. Normally the girls I had crushes on rode horses or were into fitness and sports. These girls I believed to be attractive never told me they liked or disliked video games, but they did tell me what they liked other than video games. And if this happened to me, I’m sure it happened to many other boys. I suppose that years of this caused males to subconsciously make the decision that attractive girls just didn’t play video games, and that only unattractive ones did.
All of this being said, I don’t want to forget to mention that I once thought that girls didn’t play video games. I didn’t think that they weren’t supposed to, but I figured they just didn’t like them. I remember when I was in the 5th grade and a girl told me that she liked to play Grand Theft Auto (whichever one was out at the time). I was so taken back that I had to ask her again and again to make sure I heard her right.
I write this editorial to say that I’ve recently started to look at all gamers as equals, and that while some are more hardcore than others, none are unworthy to speak to. And I’m trying to be more aware of the presence of female regulars in the gaming community, and to recognize them not as girls who like games, but just as fellow gamers. Next time you encounter a girl who says she plays video games, don’t be so quick to judge or be skeptical. She loves games as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter that she’s a female. She’s a person; a person who happens to love video games.
This editorial is obviously chalk-full of opinions, and I encourage you to voice your own, as always. If you see any flaws in my reasoning, what do you think differently? Do you have any similar or original examples of your own? Feel free to share any insight on this topic.
As always, thanks for reading. Play hard.
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