I will never forget the first time I saw Pong on one of those old-school Apple Computers. (You remember, the ones that came in either green or orange?) “What a miracle of technology,” my young mind exclaimed. That was, until my cousins fired up the Nintendo on their big-screen TV…and Super Mario Bros in glorious color changed my life.
What does “Gamer” mean?
In the 80’s, I had never hear the term “gamer,” much less associated it with gender. No one thought I was unique because out of my cousins, brother and myself, I was the only girl holding a controller. I just figured video games were for anyone who had thumbs (and a quarter, depending on where you played.)
“Gamer” later came to mean someone who played a lot of table top games, like D&D, and I played those, too. But still, it wasn’t a big deal that I happened to be female. (Except in groups of young men who rarely interacted with one.)
What does it mean to be a GIRL gamer?
I suppose it means that you are a person of female gender who really loves to play video games. In my experience, it’s a badge that women use to feel united in their interest. Sadly, my first experience with the term wasn’t a pleasant one.
The term “girl gamer” or “gamer girl” was all but unknown to me until about 8 years ago, when I began pursuing a career in video game journalism. I applied to write for a what appeared to be a site for female gamers, but was in fact a pedestal for a handful of “hot” girls who wrote on a video game blog and the male commenters who showered them with compliments. I was rejected in favor of a girl with a Duck Hunt tattoo above her rear end. The site closed down soon after, so I didn’t miss anything.
Soon after, I began writing for GirlGamer.com, who recruited me based on my writing skills and had no idea what I looked like, since I used an icon for my profile. Here was an honest-to-goodness site for girls, by girls. The comments were from girls! The articles were by girls! I was so happy to meet like-minded gamers, but a part of me was still very much confused as to why we had to separate ourselves to be counted. When the site went down and I founded Video Game News Source, I did some soul searching and made the conscious decision to keep it gender-neutral.
Being a Girl Gamer – PROs
Breaking stereotypes, nurturing communities
Saying that you are a Girl Gamer means that you are proud of your favorite past time or in many cases, career, and you don’t care what anyone says. The video game industry has, historically been a boy’s club, but that has changed dramatically in recent years. I firmly believe that it’s important to highlight positive role models for girls who may want to enter the video game industry, and I’d really like to see more female eSports players! For this reason, I did keep the Women in Gaming column on VGNS.
For many women and young girls, being a part of the “girl gamer” movement can bring confidence that they might not have had before. I’m not going to pretend that online harassment doesn’t exist, and having like-minded women backing you up can be the difference between keeping your chin up or giving up your favorite past time. (At least in public.)
Being a Girl Gamer – CONs
Pressure to look and act a certain way
Like many labels, being a Girl Gamer can come with some expectations, whether real or assumed. As one of the head staff at GirlGamer.com, I felt the need to prove myself; making sure I broadcasted when I played games via Raptr and earning as large of an XBox gamerscore as I could so people wouldn’t think I’m a poser. I shouldn’t have cared, but I did. I was embarrassed to admit that I played casual games – surely that would make me fake.
On that same note, I’m not what you’d call a “hot” girl gamer. I’m not saying I’m ugly, I’m just not…that. Part of me can’t help but feel that I might have been more popular on YouTube interviews if I were…or at the very least, I wouldn’t have been called a transvestite so many times in the comments…but, oh, well.
The pressure to prove that “girl gamers aren’t fat and ugly” is a ridiculous one that women sometimes succumb to, and that’s sad. In my career, I have met and worked with women of all shapes, sizes, and nationalities and I have to admit – the only ones I didn’t respect were the ones who tried too hard to be sexy without substance.
So what if you ARE sexy and you just love gaming? Awesome! Good for you for being ridiculously good looking. The sad reality is that many people will automatically assume that you are gaming for attention only – but only if you’re a girl. Would you look at a handsome guy playing video games and say, “oh, he’s just doing it for attention”? Probably not.
Equality in Gaming
There has been a lot of controversy recently regarding equality between the sexes in the video game and technology industries. I’m not going to open that debate here, but I can say that I have been fortunate to see both sides of the coin. I have been harassed and treated fairly. I have been respected and ignored. In the end, I remembered many times in which men asked permission to join our site. Were we making them feel like outcasts?
To nurture equality, I don’t want to just demand it, I want to create it. I don’t want to isolate anyone by saying my site is just for girls, although such sites can do amazing things for building self esteem. (I loved how GirlGamer was a safe place.) I don’t want to say I’m a “girl gamer”, but I don’t disrespect those who do. I understand both sides, but from experience, I can say this – ladies, no matter how you identify, it’s okay to just be a gamer.
This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.