Locally, gamer girls take no prisoners. And they haven't for a long time.
We all know the Hollywood cliches: A lone man sits, bathed in the glow of a TV screen and covered in chip-dust. Occasionally he’ll jerk his hands up (so you can see the Xbox controller he’s holding) and yell at the TV as he either kills his opponent or dies himself.
Or, it’s a group of pimply-faced young men, gathered in a basement (it’s always a basement), pretending to be knights, wizards and elves and and spouting dialogue crafted to tell us they are fighting against both a dragon and their own self-loathing.
So, what’s wrong with all that? Well, lots of things, really. But the main thing that’s missing from these depictions of the modern “gamer” is women.
While gaming, in all its forms, is traditionally considered a thing men do, women have been gaming for as long as there have been games. I’ve been gaming since I was about 13 years old, and I’ve met a lot of girl gamers along the way. While they aren’t as common as the boy gamers out there, they are just as competent and competitive. (And always, much better sports.)
Now, when I talk about “gaming,” I mean gaming in all its forms: board games, card games, parlor games, video games, consoles and PC-based. If you regularly play a game, and you enjoy it, congratulations, you’re a real gamer!
So, when The Pulse asked me to look into this under-served part of the gaming community, I jumped at the chance. I set up an afternoon of gaming at the Infinity Flux game store in Hixson and ended up interviewing 11 women, ages ranging from mid-20s to early 50s, about their experiences with gaming.
One thing that immediately jumped out was that most of these women got their start with gaming the same way: Playing games on an Atari or Nintendo system. “Legend of Zelda,” in particular, was a favorite that was mentioned over and over. “Super Mario World” is another game that everyone seems to have played at some point.
These are classic games, that everyone knows. But once you’ve got the bug, and do a little digging, you find that there is a whole universe of other games (and types of games) out there. These women all dove in head first, moving on to things like “Dungeons & Dragons,” “World of Warcraft,” “Dominion,” “Wiz War,” “Halo,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Beyond Two Souls.”
According to Janey: “I was around 17 or 18 when I was first introduced to a role-playing game (RPG). That RPG was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It had weird dice, heroes, monsters, little metal miniatures, but most of all it required imagination, lots of imagination and creativity. That’s what I liked most about it.”
Of course, trying new things usually means interacting with new people beyond your family and friends. And, sadly, there are some men in the gaming world that just don’t react well to the “intrusion” of girls onto their turf. Some even going so far as to claim that girls can’t be “real” gamers, simply because they’re girls. I asked the girls how they may have been treated differently by the men they had encountered when gaming. Some, like Sarah, have had trouble with the men they game with:
“I’m not taken as seriously, nor are my choices. I’m often teased about being a female player. When I was younger I was even accused of ‘ruining the mood of the game’ because a girl was present. Fortunately most of my gamer friends have grown out of it.”
While others, like Alexis, have not:
“… I’ve never been treated differently, even after speaking on voice software. Being a girl isn’t what seems to matter at all, if it’s anything, it’s my very pronounced Southern accent. No one cares that I’m female, they care that I sound like Forrest Gump.”
Krysten, while having had some trouble, seems to also have the best solution: “When I played Halo online in my college years, I would never turn the voice chat on. Every time I spoke, it never failed, guys would almost instantly start messaging me or calling me out. Usually teasing me for being a girl player. But in the pauses when they went to send me private messages, it was super easy to kill them with a well-placed headshot.”
Ouch. Let that be a lesson to you boys out there.
In online games, some women have tried to turn the tables by playing male characters. Because, in an online game, nobody knows what gender you truly are—unless you let them know. Even then, however, interactions with other players can be strange.
According to Aslyn, when she plays as a male character, “Other males will speak to you more harshly, and are more reluctant to offer help.”
Shellyta, who mostly plays male characters online, told me that, “In the beginning I was treated differently, mostly by other girls. But eventually I guess I proved myself.”
Back in the real world, the anti-girl-gamer sentiment can even affect women where they least expect it: at work. A couple of the women I spoke with had worked at game stores at some point in their lives, and that had led to some uncomfortable encounters.
Aslyn worked at a big-name store for several years and told me, “This was before nerd culture had really infiltrated mainstream culture like it has today, and much of our clientele sort of fit the ‘shut in’ gamer stereotype...I got the distinct impression with many of our customers that they threw themselves into gaming as a distraction from dealing with life’s pressure, particularly social. Having a girl confront them in their zone was clearly unwelcome for many of them.”
Hilary also worked for the same chain of stores and noted “[After working there two years], I asked for a promotion to assistant manager, because I had been doing the job for months while they looked for a new one. I figured at that point I had the training and experience, so I put my name in. I was told very plainly that I couldn’t do that job because I was a female and that no one wanted to buy games from a female.”
Not all interactions with men are bad, of course. Some gaming groups last for years (even decades), and the people involved become great friends.
Janey: “I do have a group that I regularly game with. We have been getting together weekly to play D&D, Pathfinder or Mutants and Masterminds for over 15 years now...If I think about it, it may seem strange that I hang out with a bunch of men and play games, but we’re all friends and I’ve known them for a long time and it doesn’t feel as strange as it may seem to others.”
And, while it happens less often than Hollywood would like you to think, there is the occasional bit of romance. Alexis told me, “My significant other is someone I’ve known a long time and previous to gaming, but we reconnected over a long distance by playing World of Warcraft together and our relationship blossomed out of that. Two of my raid and guild-mates [fell for each other] and have been happily together ever since, even moving cross-country to be with one another. A lot of people I know either met their partner via gaming or game with their partner in the same games.”
The bottom line, however, is that women game because gaming is fun! The world of modern gaming is so vast, complex and rich in subject matter that no matter what your interest, there’s almost certainly a game that will suit your tastes.
But beyond the enjoyment and challenge of gaming, it also has the ability to build self-confidence and other skills in unexpected ways. So, if you have a daughter (or son) of your own, consider instituting a family game night. And keep in mind the following bit of wisdom from Meagan, about how gaming has changed her life for the better:
“Wiz War is my first and favorite game. The guy I was playing against had been playing this game for more than ten years, and he was a big online and board gamer and a role player. Using a heavily considered strategy and a little bit of sneakiness, I was able to beat this player who had so much more experience than me. I had no idea how good I was going to feel after I won that game!
Since then, I’ve begun to see just how smart, clever, and strategic I am, and playing board games has been a big part of attaining those skills…before, I played games just to have fun. Now, I’m thinking about how I’m exercising my brain and challenging myself all while enjoying a game with friends. I don’t even feel the slightest bit upset when I lose anymore because I know I’m engaging my mind with other smart people.” (