I've read many blogs that try to uncover why there are a lack of females that are into “hardcore” gaming. Most are blogs that generally point the finger at the objectification of women throughout games and game conventions. While I will admit this assertion contains some truth, it cannot solely justify the lack of a female presence. I've yet to see anyone go into considerable detail on the social aspect of gaming and being a female gamer. Of course many females know that being a gamer has its ups and downs and quite a few women take advantage of this knowledge. However, getting into intense gaming also means getting into a more male dominated environment. While one may not see a problem with this, I can only conclude that it is because they have yet to experience the true social dynamics within online video games.
Starting with Ultima Online, I have been playing MMOs since the age of thirteen. I turn 24 soon (yikes). When I first started playing I remained oblivious to social gaming, seeing as I spent most of my time playing with my father and uncle. After they quit, however, I dove into the social aspects of gaming which included in game chat, voice and messaging systems, and forum browsing. Recognition in PvP came from flexing more than one kind of fighting skill. Fast forward to a couple years later and suddenly I am thrown into the ring with some of the most dramatic and cut throat people I had ever met and yes, they were male. Instead of running around in Ilshenar killing rotting corpses on my lumberjack or farming dragons in Despise on my bard tamer, I’d run around Yew and Brit moongates on my disarm thief, mage tamer, or nox mage, all of which were female characters that had pigtails and wore a green bonnet.
I will admit to making the newbie mistake of letting on that I am a female. I even posted photos of me. Perhaps it was because I was young, didn’t think it’d hurt (other people were posting photos of themselves), and I wanted to be accepted. However, the reason does not matter now. Unlike most girl gamers I was quick to realize what a mistake I had made. I experienced harassment on all ends of the spectrum. Suddenly there were other female gamers spreading rumors about me and men jumping on their bandwagons like lost puppies. There were a remarkable amount of people slinging sexist slurs at any chance they could and some even took it to a level beyond acceptable by diving into my personal life and trying to harass me outside of video games.
I took this as a lesson learned and, after joining World of Warcraft in 2007, finally decided on making a different name my default. While I will not disclose the name, it was somewhere along the lines of Brbowflexing and Spraynpray. In other words, it was not a very feminine name and that was the point. Those that knew my gender were those that were my friends. I decided to make my main an undead male priest (I liked the dance); though I will admit I made a blood elf death knight because I thought they were pretty. I successfully ran a small guild of people, some of which hadn’t known me beforehand. When it was time to do raids, many were shocked when they first heard my voice in Ventrilo, simply because I was not the male I came off as in game.
After my gender being revealed to various people (in guild, pugs, etc), the effect it had was quite different than my previous experience. I didn’t get teased, taunted, harassed, or stalked. I retained my composure in game and out and refused to use the “girl gamer” status to any advantage. I did not want to be acknowledged for the fact that I was a girl, but rather for my ability and dedication to leading a guild in PvE and PvP content. No matter how far we got in the content, I maintained respect by being patient and willing to work with those with less experience. I did not discriminate against a certain age, race, or gender and thus, we became successful in our own right.
I guess, if anything, over time I learned that the industry cannot be the sole blame for the treatment and portrayal of women in hardcore gaming. Women need to stop trying to ostracize themselves from other gamers by using the line “I’m a girl gamer.” It does not assert some sort of privilege or grant special powers over another person, so stop pretending like it does. If women want to fully integrate themselves into the “hardcore” gaming scene, then the only way to do so is by gaining the respect of those they’re gaming with. Otherwise, if women simply want to gain the attention of men, that is what bikinis and public pools are for. Perhaps gaming is not the correct choice.
In conclusion: Females pretend to be males in video games to avoid getting treated like “girl gamers.”