Counterpoint: "Gamer Girls"

DISCLAIMER: The thoughts expressed in this article are those of Shawn Trautman and not to be intended as the thoughts of Empty Wallet Gamer.

- Shawn Trautman

A few days ago, Eric Lee Lewis posted an opinion piece on Empty Wallet Gamer regarding the terminology “gamer girl” and “girl gamer” and the separation from the gaming community at large he felt those terms imply. His essay created a bit of a conversation, and I had a number of problems with it that I would like to address. You can read the original article here:

The main thrust of Eric’s article is that using the term “gamer girl,” and having female-focused message boards and the like, only serves to fracture the gaming community, to create division and inequality where none truly exists anymore. He says that women feel like they are being cast out of the larger gaming community, but then dismisses that with the terse phrase, “That is not it at all.” Here’s the thing: members of a dominant, oppressive, or otherwise privileged class DO NOT have the right to tell the oppressed or marginalized classes that their discrimination is over, that it no longer exists. Further, we do not have the right to criticize the way they identify themselves or cope with their situation.

The idea that women and gay men do not face discrimination and humiliation in the gaming community is patently false. There’s a very quick way to prove that assertion. Begin a match on any current popular online shooter. Stay muted for a while, and then quietly let it slip that you are anything other than a straight white male. You will be immediately treated to the most awful, hateful, despicable conduct you can imagine. Offers and demands for sexual favors or sexual violence come fast and furious. Anyone who is not a straight white male is immediately, and brutally, shunned. The world of online FPSes is certainly not the only place you can experience this, but it is the most accessible and visceral.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the myth that gaming is some utopian community where all societal divisions and privileges have vanished, here is my next question: what is so wrong with maintaining a female identity in gaming? Eric asks in his piece, “if a black man plays games, does he call himself a black gamer?” I don’t spend enough time on forums or online games to answer that question, but if he did call himself a “black gamer,” I don’t see what the problem would be. If that’s in part how he views his identity, he should be able to express that. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a problem if there were websites devoted to “Philadelphia gamers” or “Swedish gamers,” because they are just expressing a small, but perhaps important piece of their identity, and we have no legitimate right to tell them they shouldn’t. 

In the original essay, Eric writes, “The aforementioned terms just need to go away.” I don’t know what it is about privileged classes that makes us not only strive to keep our privilege, but to also deny its existence and wipe any mention of it from the public discourse. We come up with dismissive terms like “politically correct” to avoid any confrontation with the truth. Being a female gamer can be, at times, a fundamentally different experience than being a male gamer. It makes a boatload of sense that women who love games enough to put up with all of the discrimination and abuse might have something in common, might have shared experiences, and might want to form a community and an identity that says as much. Why should they not be allowed to do so? Who are they harming by expressing themselves in this most basic way? How does this hurt anyone?

The gaming community needs to stop pretending that sexism and other forms of intolerance are not legitimate issues, and stop being dismissive and hostile to any attempts to change it. The community would do better to take all the energy they currently spend shouting denials, and use it to actually begin crafting an inclusive, diverse community where every member is valued.

Lastly, the implied connection between female gamers and the notorious, nude “gamer girl” photo phenomenon is a bit of a straw man. Yes, if you do a google image search for “gamer girl” (please don’t), you will see a number of mostly nude young girls holding various game controllers or consoles. But the implication that those photos represent or have anything to do with the larger community of female gamers is just not true. Perhaps some of those girls actually play games, but that’s not the issue. What you are seeing when you view those photos is the cold-hearted business sense of pornographers who know that there are millions of lonely, outcast male nerds who love the fantasy of a hot girl who plays games, and who may just click on their website if a naked girl is holding up an SNES controller. When we talk about female gamers who label themselves “girl gamers” or female-centric gaming communities, we are not talking about these nude models. Or at least we shouldn’t be, because they are not one and the same.

Ultimately, I believe Eric when he says he likes women being a part of the gaming community, and that he does not believe what he is saying to be sexist. I believe he wants “equality,” even if he seems to say that it has already been achieved. But there is the overt, “get back in the kitchen” sexism, and there is more subtle sexism and privilege which can be invisible to those not affected by it, and his article displays a lot of the latter. As gamers, we need to work to root out and eliminate this kind of rhetoric if we truly want to be a part of a community where everyone can feel welcome and valued.