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Player Perspectives: XXX: Girl Gamers Go Wild

By Isabelle Parsley on July 15, 2011 | Columns | Comments

XXX: Girl Gamers Go Wild

But not in the way you think.

I’ve avoided the gender issue in gaming on this column so far, because I’m not sure my flame-retardant suit has enough asbestos left in it and because it’s really a little outside the scope of what one can adequately deal with in 1500 words or less, but a discussion I overheard in game the other day riled me enough to make me decide it was time. The discussion itself was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing I haven’t heard on a regular basis for the last 25 years, ever since I started playing tabletop role-playing games, but that’s part of the problem. I’m an optimistic sort, and it’s depressing to realize that some things, or some people, just don’t seem capable of abandoning their prejudices.

First off, I’m very tired of hearing that girls don’t play games – because guess what, we do and we have for some time, in increasing numbers. I’ll admit that 20+ years ago we were a rare sight even in the pen’n’paper world, but we were there. And even back then, at the preset tournament games (yes, I was that much of a geek), there was a tendency to give us the characters wearing the sissy robes – you know, priests and mages, because girls just don’t know how to hit things but they’re really good at taking care of the menfolk.

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Ironically, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to gender issues in gaming back then because 99% of the people involved were in their teens or early 20s and the prejudices were mostly due to youth: you can’t come into my tree-house, you’re a girl and you don’t know the seekrit password! Once you got to actually talking with people it was just a bunch of geeks all doing something they loved. I do remember one male player being given a female character and looking at it in mild panic; at one point in down-time he looked down at this character, looked up at the rest of us and said “Uh… I go off and, uh, do girl things.” Nobody actually asked him what that might be, but I’ve wondered ever since.

That might be part of the problem with online gaming, however: you very rarely, if ever, get to talking with people face to face, and it’s very easy to look down (consciously or not) on people you never actually have to meet. But I’m increasingly tired of being referred to as a ‘girl’ or a ‘female’ – I don’t call men ‘males’ or ‘boys’, at least not often, and I certainly don’t tend to lump them all together as one gestalt entity with all the same characteristics and flaws. I’m long past being a girl (sadly) and yes, that simple word is an issue because there are implications of lack of maturity, lack of capability, and lack of capacity. All in one word? Yep. If I call someone a jerk, there are plenty of implications there too, whether it’s done in jest or not.

Words matter, especially in MMOs where, for a long time, words on the chat tab were the only way in which we communicated. Here’s another thing: ‘girls’ in games aren’t all actually men pretending to be women, though chances are the one coming onto you with all the subtlety of a charging rhino probably is. None of the women gamers I’ve known, and I know a fair few, have ever gotten into an MMO in order to find a sugar daddy or a real-life boyfriend: all we want is to kick some internet dragon ass, just like the boys.

We do not spend all our free time dancing naked on mailboxes whining for handouts; again, the few people I’ve actually confronted about this have all been men (and usually very young ones at that). Me, I’m far too busy leveling, improving my stuff, working on my rotations and face-planting people in PvP to either want or need handouts. A few of the men I’ve known in gaming have persisted in trying to treat me as though I’m a semi-invalid who can’t fend for myself and really needs someone big and strong to give me stuff and help me do stuff, but that’s their problem, not mine: I give more help than I ask for, and always have.

The most common argument I hear isn’t “Well, women gamers are inferior.” That kind of intolerance is almost easier to deal with, because most of the time I can just decide to have nothing to do with people who are that obviously close-minded. But the “I really don’t see a problem here, you’re just being overly sensitive and emotional” argument is what gets me. It’s just as bad but it’s passive – and it’s worst when it’s spouted at me by people I otherwise genuinely respect. Smart, mature people who somehow seem to have a blind spot for something that doesn’t affect them and that therefore either doesn’t exist or isn’t important.

That MMOs are a form of entertainment and an escapist medium isn’t a valid argument either. We all take issue with blatant cheating or bullying, even in games. We may escape to these virtual worlds but we don’t entirely leave ourselves or our attitudes to others behind. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because there are many ways in which games can be very beneficial; I know a lot of parents, for instance, who use games to teach their kids about cooperation and interacting with others. Why then, can’t we use games to challenge other social issues, especially if they’re present there whether we like it or not?

To give you boys some credit, most men who play MMOs are just regular guys who don’t give someone’s gender a second glance and who could care less what chromosomes someone has as long as they do their bit when it comes to killing Boss XYZ. Needy, emotional and incompetent comes in both gender flavors, and I’ve seen my share of male drama-llamas over the years. Actually, when it comes to being asked for help by someone who just doesn’t want to put in the hard work of leveling or making money, most of the time it’s been by adolescent boys who just want the goodies and can’t be asked to actually, you know, play the damn game.

I’m not asking that we change the world here, especially since change is extremely uncomfortable for many people and there’s a certain amount of defending what was once seen as an exclusively male preserve. But MMOs are a microcosm of our wider social world, even if it’s a somewhat skewed microcosm, and there’s no reason why we can’t use them to improve ourselves while we’re killing internet dragons. As someone once said, the only thing I can’t tolerate is intolerance; and yes, I do challenge it where I find it, especially when it’s passive.

So the next time you’re tempted to say “Well, she’s only a girl, what do you expect?” take a moment to check yourself for prejudice hives. I try to rein in my own sexual biases and not assume that every male player I meet is a raving misogynist, just because a few of his gender-colleagues happen to be so. It’s not always easy, but the easiest way isn’t necessarily the best way, even in MMOs.

Isabelle Parsley / http://stylishcorpse.wordpress.com