I have lots of gamer-friends that are men. Quite a few of these men play female avatars. Since gaming is innately trivial, I try to make my peace with men playing girl avatars. We are gamers, and it is about the imaginary world, not about the pixelated concept of “self”. I am also a person that tries to see gender-rights from both sides. Fluidity, too, of course. However, as a woman in the gaming community… I still pause whenever I find out a male character is a female. Other males do not seem to pause when they find out that another “dude” was playing a “chick”. This is where I get frustrated. Most emotions in the gaming community are chalked up to “just get over it,” “it’s just a game,” and “stop being so triggered”. I understand that many players simply want to enjoy their experiences, and that pixels are just that. For me, though, there is an emotional layer that has been peeled back over a decade-long gaming excursion. I spent much of my formidable years online, playing with men and women. Mostly men. This is why for a research essay I chose a directly feminist topic. Though I meet many feminist authors with irritation and contempt, I was curious about the topic. Much of what I found wasn’t feminist drivel, nor was it an “ode to the angry woman”. Instead, what I found was that for women, our virtual reality is a complex and very real thing… it is an extension of self. Thus, when women are met with a condescending, “Girls don’t actually game”, for many of us, we bite our lip and laugh. Out loud. Inside we may be wondering what makes us different from our male counterparts, if anything.
The impression that girls don’t game has been flipped on its head by statistics. Finicky thing they are. As far back as 2011, research indicated that, ” not only are women playing games, 42% of gamers are women”. The margin of half has been inching ever closer over the last decade. Women are gamers.
I have the ability to laugh at much of the stigma on women. I’ve taken part in stereotypical behaviour in ways that were fun. I know I am imperfect when it comes to a conversation about interactions between men and women in the gaming community. It is this imperfection, mixed with a questioning nature, that has pushed me to explore my thoughts. Why exactly am I bothered by men playing female characters? I don’t particularly mind persons playing part-cow, or undead, or cat-shifting-werewolves, so why am I still bothered by men playing women? Some of my best gamer-friends play female characters and are straight males. They are still my friends. They have not disrespected me, they have not persecuted my femininity. Some even prefer the female models because they’re “prettier”. I would easily accept a character who is transexual playing out their true gender in virtual form. That wouldn’t bother me either. Why, then, am I still bothered by the idea of men playing female characters?
Perhaps men playing girl avatars has just been a manifestation of some of my deeper psychological views on being a woman and a gamer. Research has some possible suggestions that narrow my desperate search for answers. According to a study, “female players underreported their playing time compared to males, with a discrepancy of nearly three times the males’ rate. This finding is in line with gender role theory, which predicts that individuals will seek to avoid sanction for gender-inappropriate behaviors”. Somehow women have been trapped in a corner where we feel berated by our gaming hobbies. The idea that “girls don’t game” is certainly changing… but some women may still feel as though we’re not being listened to. Finding another female character in game — only to discover they are a a man — can quietly reinforce the idea that you are an outlier. You are not the norm. The female avatars are merely a tool for the current male player bases to reinvent their own digital persona.
This may not be entirely true. However, it can appear to be for women who hop onto a voice server and are either berated for femininity, or treated as an other character. Something different from the usual community member. Sexism. Cruelty. Berations. I have yet to meet a female gamer that has not experienced these behaviours. Some of us, like me, laugh it off. Some of us have come to terms with the male oriented society, and are comfortable in its bounds. Sometimes, though, I feel the lack of womanly presence. As we grind through levels and I pause because I’ve received a shirt that makes my character look “beautiful”, but my male counterparts urge I “keep moving”, I have to wonder whether or not my experiences are being understood.
My irritation is not necessarily at men. It is at a community in general that lacks games for women. It is with my female peers for not jumping head-over-high-heels into the development world. After-all, iMethodology and the “male” system of doing things is only in place because people make what they want to see. Men make games men like to play. Women make games women want to play. Men and women working together, like at BioWare, make games that men and women like to play. I am glad that there are more opportunities for women to show their feminine pride in games. I’m glad that people can choose digital identities that have growing customization.
I don’t want to stop men from playing female avatars. They have just as much right to do so as I do to roam around changing my character’s appearance on a whim. What I do mind is when men are shocked that I am a woman. I mind when men think that I can be treated strangely because I may have different ideas of how to play. What we should all play – gender, class, and race aside, is a compassionate human being. Even when we’re pwning idiots. Even when we’re interacting with strangers. We must remember that while it’s just a game – players are just people. People with lives and complications. People with problems and heartaches. We are all people and the online community can be one of great inclusion.