Why are girls not just underrepresented, but misrepresented too?
I’ll start by acknowledging that the woman posing as a gamer in the featured image has not thought to switch her television on for the picture. Even though this may seem counterproductive to my argument, it actually supports it, because it was one of very few pictures of girl gamers I found in my search. I never realised how underrepresented women are in the gaming industry. When I was younger, I didn’t have many male friends, so I never had the opportunity to be exposed to ridicule for being a girl gamer. I do remember that none of my female friends were particularly interested in gaming with me, and I just couldn’t understand why. As I grew older it became clear that girl gamers are a rare breed. However, as they’ve grown in numbers and attempted to take the gaming world by storm, they’ve been constantly knocked back by abuse and naysaying. In preparation for this article I attempted to gather some opinions on the subject, so I Googled “can women game?”. That’s some top class journalism right there, I know. To my surprise, the top five links were all relating to ‘mind games’ that women play in order to get men to do what they want. So what I’ve discovered is that apparently women and gaming are two words that even now are not popularly mentioned in the same sentence.
I don’t know if I was more offended by the sexist nature of the comment, or the implication that if I had been cooking a pie, I would have been burning it.
The crazy thing is, until I got to university I never realised the animosity that girls can suffer at the hands of male gamers. I didn’t even know these stereotypes existed. Not only had I never come across other gamers before, I had never been beaten. So I was surprised when I turned out to be lame at a game in comparison to my friend. He wasn’t surprised at all, but his reasoning wasn’t that he was just better at that particular game, it was that I was a girl. Once, a friend even exclaimed how impressed he was that I was holding an Xbox controller the right way round. Another said he was surprised that I “figured out the buttons” without help, or be told that the general premise of the game was to shoot each other. It’s not even really a comment on the capability of women to game; it’s an insult to women’s intelligence. Once I proved that I wasn’t a total gaming moron, it stopped being an issue. I even converted one of my male friends to gaming. He went and bought an N64 on eBay to make up for all the time he’d missed. It’s easy enough to be accepted by the people you know and see every day, but try telling some faceless 16-year-old in the US that you’re as good as you’re claiming to be.
It is not only girls who find puppies cute, and it’s not only men who like to shoot virtual people in the face.
Everyone gets abuse online. It’s just not a friendly environment to be in, even if you’re gratifyingly normal. The anonymity seems to encourage people to display the prejudices they secretly harbour but don’t say out loud for fear of being judged themselves. I’m not going to pretend it’s just women who get it; everyone who plays online has been called a number of names. The common go-to insult for girls, however, is that they can’t play. If they can play, it’s that they must be some kind of fat, ugly recluse. Last time I checked, that was the stereotype of a World of Warcraft addict, not a young, intelligent women. It’s not just gaming either, women are undermined in most technological or ‘geeky’ professions, even though we are just as capable as men at gaming and coding. I was once told on a forum of Computer Science students that I should give up on coding to tend to the pie I must have burning in the oven. I don’t know if I was more offended by the sexist nature of the comment, or the implication that if I had been cooking a pie, I would have been burning it. I doubt they would have said it to my face or in front of others, so anonymity is playing a big part here. As actress and girl gamer Felicia Day has said “You can call me a dog, you can say you want to have sex with me, that’s fine; you probably won’t. But start talking to me about ‘you’re not a gamer, you’re a fake’ that’s when I start to get pissed off.” Women need to be doing more to represent themselves in the world of games and technology. We must take the cowardly, anonymous insults on the chin, and build towards a future where we’re just as readily accepted as men.
Girls shouldn’t have to fight for a chance to prove their worth, but since it’s come to that, there’s a film about women in the gaming industry being produced to show what we go through. I for one am sick of people referring to games like Nintendogs as ‘girl games’. It is not only girls who find puppies cute, and it’s not only men who like to shoot virtual people in the face. Women are underestimated, but if you have a real talent for it then there will be no denying that you’re a ‘valued’ gamer, whether you’re a female or not. People make judgements and assumptions all the time because it’s human nature. People assume that you’re nerdy if you like computers, that you’re poor if you’re a stripper, and that if you’re a girl you must be awful at video games. With women such as Felicia Day and Shannon Sun-Higginson helping to get the message out there, we’re closer to proving the vast majority of men wrong.
Feature Image: theKrappen via Imgur