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Girl gamers: Easy to be out and proud?

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Girl gamer in the boys' domain

I think we’re all in agreement around here that it would be great if more women were gamers. Or, more precisely, if more women were the type of gamer who actually discussed their hobby.

It’s important to make this distinction because game-playing girls are definitely out there. For years now, studies have revealed a near 50/50 gender split when it comes to gaming. So women are definitely playing. However, they’re not talking about it.

While women are happy to discuss the novel on their bedside table, or dissect the twenty million moments in Grey’s Anatomy that had them in tears, gaming isn’t common dinner table talk. While other entertainment mediums are great chat fodder, you’re unlikely to find a woman enthusing about an upcoming Wii release, or, for the more “hardcore sisters”, moaning about a pain-in-the-ass boss battle.

To put it differently, not a lot of game-playing women are loud, proud and out of the console (or computer) closet. And you have to ask why this is? Frankly, I think a lot of it boils down to the difference between being a girl gamer and publically declaring yourself to be a girl gamer.

Girls who game are in a pretty good position. Most male gamers are a welcoming lot. Demonstrate your genuine interest and you’ll be happily accepted into their ranks, receiving whatever encouragement or assistance you need without reservation. Even if you, ahem, screech through Livin’ on a Prayer during a Guitar Hero session.

So it’s all good and well… until you actually call yourself a girl gamer. As soon as you do that the eye rolls start. As soon as you do that you’re stuck in the middle of a gender minefield, having to contend with multiple, frequently clashing conceptions about what it is to be a girl gamer. Is every single game-playing woman a girl gamer? Do you have to play FPS or RPGs to qualify for the title, or is a FarmVille addiction enough? Is the term only appropriate when you play across genres and gaming systems? The reality is that there is no one single definition, and no matter what, you will always be grating someone.

For the record, I am talking more specifically about women attaching the gamer girl – or geek girl – label to themselves in the online social realm. Because that’s where most discussion around the pastime takes place. Unfortunately it’s also the place that opens these women up to the easy and conveniently anonymous fury of the Interwebs.

Granted we’re talking about an extreme, vicious minority, but I’ve seen game-playing girls dubbed “special snowflakes,” accused of being attention sluts – and much, much worse – and then promptly have their every gaming-related comment ripped apart and discredited. It’s nasty stuff. And the threat of such attacks is hardly encouraging for girl gamers keen to discuss their passion.

Of course, the flipside of this is that there are sectors of the Internet that DO encourage women to embrace their inner gamer. Femme-centric gaming sites fly their Girl Gamer flag high, promise a female perspective and filter out a lot of the excess testosterone – so that the ladies are encouraged to discuss games without fear of being flamed.

The problem here though is that these sites are ghettoising and sub-dividing the gaming community, instead of bringing people together around the activity. For a long time there’s been the argument that we shouldn’t use the term “girl gamer” at all. In terms of this thinking, it’s better and more productive to just speak about gender neutral gamers, instead of separating the girls and guys.

But then again, if everyone is together, will space still be made for the sometimes very different concerns and wants of women? You know, like a Zumba Fitness review or a glistening hunk as the day’s In Other News model. When it comes to gaming, it still seems like male interests are prioritised at the expense of female ones a lot of the time.

I don’t have a definite answer as to why more women aren’t taking the step from playing games to talking about games. I just see different hurdles that no doubt put many girls off a more public display of their interest. It seems to me though that the nonjudgmental inclusion of women’s gaming views in the shared community space is probably a good starting point to kick-start the trend.

Last Updated: June 22, 2011

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