I’m looking forward to my godson’s birthday dinner this weekend. He’s in his early teens, an often awkward but exciting time of discovery for all of us. I like the age because conversation ramps up quite a bit in that sweet spot of time before kids become too cool to talk to adults.
I doubt I’m ever going to fall into the “uncool” category for him, though, unless something changes drastically. He’s obsessed with video games and therefore thinks me and my husband are the coolest people on Earth because we’re both gamers. His father makes video games for a living, but in the tradition of all teenagers since time began, even that impressive credential does not excuse him from being uncool, because he’s dad.
Our conversations typically begin with him asking me what I’m playing lately. After I recite the list, and maybe explain why I’m playing what games right now and with whom, he regards me with a look that is both gently skeptical and politely incredulous.
“Leah, do you really play video games?” he asks me, every time, as if such a thing were completely impossible.
Ah, the trial of justification for the female gamer. I don’t blame my godson, before we get into the meat of the discussion. He’s at the age where he’s trying to figure himself out, himself and his relation to his peers. He’s probably been disappointed at least once in chatting up a cute girl he thought shared a common interest only to find out she’s barely a casual gamer, maybe just checking in on a Facebook game when she logs in or a mobile game to tap the screen occasionally.
To top it off, it’s way cooler to be nerdy and/or geeky now that it was when I was a kid. Every girl at school is probably at least passingly into Doctor Who or Star Wars or Marvel or Pokemon. He’s still learning how to find people with common interests.
And yet the question, even in its innocence in this case, has implications, doesn’t it? Haven’t all of us ladies heard it, or one of its cousins, uttered in less respectful tones? Depending on the games she likes to play, and the frequency with which she plays them, a lady gamer might hear something like it every day. I have a friend who prefers first- and third-person shooters, and she’s so tired of being called a liar (normally after she’s fragged someone) when she’s asked if she’s a girl and she answers honestly, she doesn’t really use her microphone or in-game chat anymore. She just wants to play her game and have fun. Is it really so incredible that a girl might want to let off some steam by blowing people’s heads off in Call of Duty? Does it have to be The Sims?
Why is The Sims a “girly” game anyway? I’ve picked a game I’ve never played, but where I know personally guys and girls that play it. Is it because you “play house” by creating people and houses, and dress them up and decorate them? Because there’s no guns or actual violence (that I’m aware of)? It’s a life simulation game. We’re all alive, aren’t we? We might find it fun to have an alter ego that lives a more glamorous life in pretend-world, perhaps? Or maybe the player just wants to relieve stress without blowing somebody up. I know a girl that plays The Sims after she’s had a bad day, and I can tell you when that happens those Sims are going to get it. No matter what your gender is, I can see a lot of potential fun in being a Sim’s guardian . . . or tormentor.
I can tell you I don’t prefer most shooters. I like to play healers, I like cooperative play, and I prefer story driven games with role-playing elements. This is all, apparently, very girly.
And I couldn’t care less. People are always going to put labels on things. Who cares that some people think my play style is “girly”? I don’t play video games or tabletop roleplay because I have something to prove or I’m out to impress. I do it, have always done it, because it’s what I love to do. So no, I don’t care about this debate . . .
. . . until “girl” becomes a slam. Example: one day I led a raid in an MMO I play. As you know, I play healers. Upon our victory, to which I led a very green team, I was showered with compliments for my leadership. “Thank you, sir!” someone exclaimed in chat.
“Ma’am, actually 🙂 “, I replied.
“Oh, cool,” the person replied immediately.
“No way you’re a girl,” someone else chimed in the chat box. “You know the fight too well.”
My jaw dropped open. Which doubtless looked ridiculous as I was alone in a room with my computer. And surely more insane when I started yelling at the screen, clenching the arms of my chair so I wouldn’t type a deluge of well-deserved derision in the chat box. Now, I realize the person who wrote that was probably either young, trolling me, or an ass, which is why I didn’t rise to the bait by typing so fast and hard that I risked breaking my keyboard.
Why in the world does being female make me unable to competently lead a raiding party? Which in this case, by the way, was leading a thirty-two person team through a dungeon with multiple bosses, requiring a good deal of party coordination and detailed instruction of boss mechanics to people likely between the ages of twelve and ninety-two. What was it about being a lady that made me unable to have gotten through this dungeon enough times to know the fights?
When did this become about justification?
I know at least part of the answer. Maybe a guy has run across the stereotypical “sexy gamer,” a lady that dresses and acts provocatively to get male attention, acting like she loves gaming when she doesn’t like it at all. Or maybe he’s been annoyed by the “GM’s girlfriend,” you know, the girl at the gaming table who doesn’t know anything about RPing– which is NOT a sin in itself– but also doesn’t care to know anything about it, preferring to exercise her power over the GM with low cut shirts and flirty incompetence, causing the rest of the table to seethe with disgust.
And this is the part where I get mad and call them all fakers and tell them all to relinquish the title of gamer girl? Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to do it. I can’t get mad at people expecting me to justify my right to call myself a gamer and exist in the culture of gaming if I turn right around and do it to others, even if I suspect them of making things harder for the “true” gamer girls. If that’s how they want to play . . . well, I don’t like it, but they can act however they please. Dress sexy, or don’t. Play for others, or yourself. If I don’t have anything to justify, they don’t either. If you don’t like people that play a certain way, just . . . don’t play with them. You can make that choice.
At the end of the day, let’s remember it’s a game we’re talking about here. Something we do for fun. Gaming absolutely has a culture and a community, and it’s valuable to all of us who identify ourselves as gamers, certainly. We all want to talk to people that make us feel included and secure.
But every culture has posers. Every culture has people that want to label things, whether or not it’s right or accurate. We all want to have fun, and is it really important that we flash the proper, totally subjective “credentials” to play a video game? I play the games I want to play, with whom I want to play them. I’m sorry if some people have been defrauded by people posing as something they’re not, but that happens no matter where you go or what you like to do for fun.
So yes, I really do play video games. Some of them are “girly.” Some of them aren’t. It’s something I’ve loved to do since I was a little girl with my first Nintendo. I really do play and GM tabletop roleplaying games, I have since I played make-believe and dress up as a kid, long before my introduction to AD&D or LARPing. I’m here to play. So . . . who’s game?
Note: I know sexy gamer girls and GM’s girlfriends who are way past legit. Obviously I wasn’t talking about you.
Graphic Credit: Apparently from Firstcovers.com