What’s in a name? Apparently a great deal when it comes down to “girl gamers”. Join BeefJack’s Emily King as she takes us on a lingual quest for equality, beating down ‘girls who play Black Ops just to pick up men’ in the process…
This will be one of the few times that I will draw your attention to these two obvious facts in the same sentence: I class my gender as female, and I really enjoy playing videogames. However, I don’t like discussing this hobby of mine in relation to my gender. I detest the phrase “girl gamer”, and I feel quite adversarial towards women and girls who identify themselves as such.
Obviously I’m not someone who believes that girls and women don’t play games. Blatantly plenty do: I play them. And I do feel like kicking guys in the nads when they start off on any jokes or serious talk about how the “fairer sex” doesn’t like or know how to play videogames or are mainly interested in Farmville.
No, my issue with putting “girl” and “gamer” together to create a phrase that would – in an ideal world – cover a subculture is that we don’t live in an ideal world, and that the phrase has been hijacked by various groups to describe women and girls engaging with a hobby in a way that many don’t. Most appalling are the corporate interests that have stolen the phrase to put forward select groups of women who have above-average bodies on an aesthetic level, and who are then used to market games to boys and men.
No, these aren’t booth babes. These are women who are marketed as “girl gamers” who supposedly play games and enjoy them a great deal. They have perfect hair, teeth, cheek bones and busts and supposedly know their Wolfenstein 3D from their Dead Space. Yet in the various media channels in which these creatures exist, their commitment to a hobby will often come off as an act of cashing-in and nothing more than a facade that they put on to pull in the male punters.
And don’t get me started on the girls and women who play games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops online for the sake of picking up guys, but believe me they will be queuing up to nab Modern Warfare 3 next month. Yes, I have genuinely known of women who’ve played Black Ops for this purpose.
Of course, it’s great that these sorts of bravado-filled, male-dominated titles also have dedicated female fanbases, which is why, on the surface, the female-only clans which pop-up seem like a refreshing change. I’ll admit that if certain boys and men find out that they’re playing an online game with or against a member of the opposite gender, then they will become hostile. It shouldn’t be women’s responsibility to ensure they’re not looked down upon by others, of course – yet by closeting themselves in these gender-specific groups, these female players are further adding to the problem by allowing these boys and men to marginalise them.
But surely you can see how muddied the phrase has become? Those who say that females who play games should claim back the term frustrate me as well. Pointing out difference, which referring to gender does, is only a way of dividing people. Despite the obvious facets of sexist games and attitudes that persist within the industry itself, games can be and often are inclusive. The recent advent of Geek Girl Con has only further increased my ire at the idea that women and girls need to identify themselves separately from men when it comes to videogames and other – traditionally – male dominated hobbies.
Boys and men don’t say they’re “guy gamers”. Sure, the image of guys playing videogames is considered normal in many societies, and marginalised groups tend to band together: it’s simple sociology. Yet surely if girls and women want it to be considered normal for them to play games, then we shouldn’t be drawing attention to an aspect that marks us out as different from half of the world’s population. The logic behind the label just doesn’t gel with me, as it denormalises the hobby further.
I understand that gender issues seep into every element of society. Gender is everywhere, and it’s an inescapable fact that sexism, while much less prevelant, still exists. But I wish we could stop being so obsessed with gender. It’s only leading to more divisions in what should otherwise be a vibrant global community that treats its members equally. In the 21st Century there is no need to call up on something that makes people pay attention to differences that don’t mean a damn.
In fact, even the term “gamer” divides and denormalises a hobby that so many people are enjoying that the label needs to be scrapped. Playing games is no longer a subculture. It’s mainstream, like rock-and-roll has been for the past 50 years.