A Gamer By Any Other Name
A look back on my experience as a female gamer growing up in a male dominated world and my perception of things today.
A Gamer; Only this.
Hello. I’m female.
You’re probably thinking this to be a somewhat random statement. If I’d come out with this line in most situations I would be met with blank stares from those around me as they try to discern if I’m a bit simple in the head. That or I’m just very heavily into stating the obvious. In general though, my gender is completely redundant to my current setting and purpose. The only time it has ever mattered was when I met my fiance.
Rightly so, it’s now the 21st century and gender is something that should no longer be an issue. Women have had the vote for years and have been practicing in professions such as medicine, law and politics for long enough now that no one bats an eyelid. We play football, go fishing, enjoy motor sports and if we’re so inclined there are ways for us to go to the loo standing up.
So why is it that when I state I have a love of video games or it becomes known I’m a woman in a virtual land things begin to go a bit weird? Through the looking glass weird...
I’ve been playing computer games ever since I can remember. My parents had one of the first Amstrad CPC computers. You may recall the cumbersome, ugly boxes which games had to be painfully loaded onto via tape. It’s no lie when I say you had to have the ability to predict the future and know when you’d want to play because it could take eons just to get your game up and running.
Dad used to sit me on his knee and we’d happily play together for hours at the weekends and so I grew up thinking this was just an ordinary behaviour. Once school began I somehow managed to miss out on the early console years as my mum believed it would distract me from what was important. Once I was old enough to assert some independence though, I bought my own Playstation with a copy of Final Fantasy VII and never looked back.
Somewhere in my early teens I found I was spending more and more time in front of my PC and so it was only natural I began to use this as yet another gaming platform. My love of fantasy kept me interested in RPGs and it was probably only a matter of time before I found Evercrack - err - Everquest.
I was only 14 and had no set monthly income but the premise of the game intrigued me so much I begged my mum to set up the monthly subscription and I’d buy the game and it’s expansions. At first I think she thought I was a little odd but she didn’t deny me the request and thus, I lost my virginity to the cruel God of the MMORPG. If only there had been a warning about the effects of worshiping the great Jus’til I’Ding. So many lives so callously ruined by the malevolence of such a demanding Deity.
Thankfully, I always seemed exceptionally bright for my age so I found little problem in meeting players and banding together with them for tireless hours of epic adventuring. Gradually, I began to know certain people very well and I acutely became aware that the company I was keeping were all much older men. At this point though, it wasn’t my sex that troubled me but the fear of them realising I was little more than a child in their eyes.
This lead me to be very ambiguous with who I was personally. It was never a problem to them though and looking back, I suppose they probably assumed I was just like them. I doubt by this point many of them would have met young, teenage girls in their little escape from reality so they had no reason to be suspicious.
It was around the age of 15 or so when I began to swap female friends for male company. Very few had the same interests as me and I found games and action films infinitely more appealing than discussing the latest scandal of that fashion faux pas in the school yard. I had a tendency to keep the company of the more “geeky” guys and they let me into their circle with no qualms whatsoever. I suppose it was rather cool for them to have a girl in their ranks, even if she was unpopular and not pretty enough to be classed as one of the social elite.
I carried on blissfully unaware of just what a rare creature I was and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a new MMORPG called World of Warcraft. This is where I felt my world suddenly lurch and spiral into the twilight zone.
At first I kept who I was very much to myself but as I got settled into Azeroth I became comfortable with my comrades and decided that if my age and gender should ever come into conversation then it would do no harm for me to tell them. They already knew I was a more than capable player and I’d proven this on countless occasions. It would change nothing. It never had before.
Several things happened when it became know that my sexual organs were of the internal variety. The first of which was that I suddenly seemed incapable of actually defending myself in the eyes of some of my companions and that I was a precious thing to be taken care of. How was I to know that I would suddenly be transported into the Victorian era and that everyone was a gentleman wishing to protecting my virtue?
Little gifts would start arriving in the mail that would benefit me in some way or another. Where once I would graciously tip my fellows for services rendered things became free of charge as the pleasure was merely enough. Heck, I couldn’t even go for a stroll round Silithus without many offers of accompaniment when their assistance was never even asked for let alone merited.
At first I must admit I was flattered by such decorous behaviour. I’m actually quite susceptible to the notion of chivalry and I have absolutely no problem with a man if he wishes to conduct himself in such a way. As long as I am treated to it in small, yet meaningful doses. This was something they failed to grasp.
Before long I was becoming exceptionally irritated by their attentiveness that never seemed to wane. I was less privy to their usual boisterous conversations and was instead treated to the censored, tepid versions and if someone should so much as forget this or loose their rag in my presence they were called out and made to feel ridiculous that I should have witnessed them in such a state. They forgot so quickly that only months before I was snickering along with them at their crude jests and knob gags.
The way they began to treat me in dungeons and raids also changed. They seemed to scrutinise everything I was doing and made a point to keep checking I had the correct buffs up and that my rotation was still being executed in the same manner it had been done since I began such encounters. This and anytime I got into the slightest bit of difficulty I had a handful of avatars ready to pounce and “rescue” the damsel in distress. Even loot rolls became biased towards me when someone else could clearly use the upgrade more than myself.
My online friends had become consumed with currying favour with me to the point of compulsive obsession and I wondered if this was how they acted in the real world where women were concerned. Yet I knew they clearly didn’t as I had male gamer friends I saw frequently and to them I was just another guy.
There was an even darker side to my revelation and this disturbed me more than the rest.
Bare in mind that I revealed little of my personal life to anyone in-game. Even though many now knew I was female there was little else to take and run with. This did not stop some men developing a very unhealthy interest in who I was.
Before long I found there were those who would constantly be trying to engage me. At first it all started with harmless private messages enquiring as to how I was and what I’d been up to. It wasn’t long before the questions became more personal. Prying. How old was I? Where did I live? Did I have a boyfriend? Did I like the person with whom I was currently chatting to?
I kept the answers vague and as civil as possible, refusing to answer any questions I felt were too personal. This seemed to work for a little while but then these men suddenly felt they had a right to me and that I owed them answers. They wanted to know everyone I had been interacting with and if I was stringing other admirers along. They would find my email from guild forums and I would receive explicit messages and photos with a request for some in return. All very unhealthy and frightening things for a teenage girl.
It finally got to the point where I felt I could no longer enjoy myself on my server and so I switched realm and started over again but it seemed something in me had changed. People just knew these days from having enough conversations with me that I was an impostor in their male dominated world. I had nowhere to hide and spending my time on a MMORPG alone was a ridiculous and melancholy fate. So, I left.
This strange phenomenon wasn’t merely restricted to while in game worlds either. People in online gaming forums became prone to such behaviour and when I once decided to step into a Games Workshop out of sheer curiosity, it turned into a scene from a Western where the criminal had rolled into town and received silence and unwelcome stares from the locals in the first saloon he stepped into. I was left feeling incredulous and jaded towards the hobby I had come to love so much.
My gaming life began to then revolve around people I knew in real life and I would never play without them for fear of what would be waiting for me again if I tried to make my own way. The years went by and I eventually became disassociated with the industry and gaming became a forgotten memory for me.
Some time later, through a strange pang of nostalgia, I returned to the realms of social fantasy pixels. I was older and hopefully more capable of dealing with those I encountered in my initial forays back into my old life. Much to my surprise things had moved on quite a bit. Women, although still a minority, were more accepted as a member of the community and despite seeing many of the old demons rear their ugly heads it was fewer and far between.
I always felt a small undertone of suspicion in my interactions however, and it gradually became clear as to why so many men had changed their stance. It seemed some women, instead of being unnerved or insulted by what I had experienced earlier, had come to use it to their advantage. They preyed on the generosity of salivating men and thought nothing of using their sex to elevate them in the gaming ranks whether they deserved exaltation or no.
Woman began to understand there was an untapped group of males, oft socially awkward and lacking in female interaction, they could use for self gratification by appealing to them through the medium that would originally cut them off from so-called normalcy. It made them feel wanted and special to have such adoration and worship from men they may not have in their own, real world lives. It was suddenly not only cool to be a geek but also to be a girl gamer.
So the rise of the “average girl” becoming exceptional in the closeted world of gaming men had come to exist. Each using the other as a prop to amend and justify their existence. Oh how I cringed. Things were just see-sawing wildly and it maddened me that people were still cultivating such tripe.
There were also those who would always see the female gamer as an anomaly. We’d tend to be the woman on the fringes of society and not acceptable in any of the defined ways in which a woman is expected to act. To those, a female with a controller in her hands is about as mind boggling as a man doing needlepoint. It’s against nature and should never be.
Stereotypically we’d be overweight heifers of women with greasy hair, small beady eyes and a piggy face that could only be improved with the strategic placing of a well-made brown paper bag. We’d cloth ourselves in men’s apparel, shun make-up and beauty treatments and be devoid of any feminine charms. Common believed myths can be cruel.
Today it’s all very much the same. I imagine things are never going to change rapidly for us. Even though there are more women than ever who are gaming we are still seen as a strange species to be revered and fearful off. There is progress though. More couples can be found online together pwning n00bs with the best of them and we’re popping up more and more in guilds and clans.
It’s heartening to hear more female voices on chat when in raids and attend any event such as Blizzcon and you’ll find a healthy presence from us there also. We’re in high street game retailers or you’ll notice us on public transport with a handheld. If you look you’ll see we’re permeating the fabric of reality at a steady pace and yes, people are beginning to respond to this in a congenial way.
So, for all this, can we not begin to remove gender from the equation completely and just all see ourselves as one large collective? The industry is already steeped in enough problems and the last thing we need is to start segregating ourselves within our camp. There may not be as many of us women out there but our voices and concerns count.
There will always be those who treat us differently and the Internet will always bring the oddly psychotic into light and their machinations will forever be lingering at the periphery in some form. However, at the end of the day this is no different from humanity as a whole. All we need to remember is that we are gamers and only this.