At 23, looking back, I used to be a much more avid gamer than I am now.
My brothers and I would buy every other big console that came out, starting all the way back to the Sega Genesis, and ranging from N64 to the Xbox 360. In between each console being released, we also spent a fair amount of time playing handhelds like the classic Gameboy Advance and, for me, the Nintendo DS. On birthdays and religious holidays like Eid, we’d eagerly wait for a new video game, for each of us.
I learned pretty early on that video games had a severe lack of female representation. Before I’d even learnt to spell the words representation or feminism, I knew the gaming industry had a problem. I remember going to a store called EB Games at the local mall in second grade to look for an N64 game that had a female as a main character.
I struggled to find one.
My brother ended up choosing a game for me called Jet Force Gemini (look it up, it’s a hilarious concept for a game in retrospect). The cover sticker had three characters on it, a boy and a girl and their dog. In the game, you could play as either. That was the best we could find. Despite this, my brothers and I kept going back to the store, hungry for games like The Legend of Zelda (the original Ocarina of Time and of course Majora’s Mask), games which we spent a majority of our childhood playing and replaying.
The inherent love of video games that I harbor, regardless of how much time has passed, comes as a surprise to a lot of people. According to them, I don’t really fit the “image” of the average gamer (whatever that image is). I’d like to argue that it shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Action, adventure, and sports are not solely for men.
Are a majority of games made by and for men? Are they ignorant of most female experiences and points of view? Do they often sexualize women? Yes, yes, and yes. Absolutely. There’s tons of evidence to support this. Women receive harassment when gaming online if their gender is discovered. Women are used as characters in video games, but only for the sex appeal. Dead or Alive, Arcana Heart, and even Grand Theft Auto are just a few examples of this. Anything else is unfortunately the exception, not the rule.
However, many “male” aspects of gaming do not necessarily inhibit girls from playing and kicking ass at these games. Why do I say that?
Because most of the “masculine” aspects of video games that game makers use to appeal to men are not necessarily masculine in the first place. Swashbuckling adventurers, spies, soldiers, race car drivers, fantastical creatures, soccer players, etc. None of these are roles specifically for men. Even if the characters you play are male characters, and there are no other options, the actual player who picks up the controller could literally be of any gender.
Another reaction I often receive if the topic of gaming ever comes up in a conversation with a guy:
“You’re a gamer? That’s so hot!”
I’ve dated a few guys now that have said some version of this to me, and it’s not in a sweet, “That’s great that we share a common interest” kind of way. I usually explain to them that their surprise is unwarranted. If I display what you perceive to be a “masculine” characteristic, I’m hot?
Women are basically sexualized and fetishized for enjoying gaming, simply because it’s something men think is solely for their gender. That’s why, if we’re into gaming, we’re “special” or “different.” We’re allowed to like “guy” things, but only if it separates us from “other women” and only if it’s sexy.
Google up gamer girls, and you’ll see that majority of the search results make it seem like we all play video games topless in our best booty shorts (nothing inherently wrong with this!) and untangle the controller wires with our teeth seductively (that’s really bad for the cord though) *rolls eyes so hard they almost fall out*.
Here’s how a conversation with guy x continued:
Me: “What’s so hot about me playing the video game?”
Guy: “It’s just really cool. You’re not like other girls.”
You’re not like other girls.
41% of gamers in the US were girls in 2016. We are a significant part of the gaming world.
So I’m more like “other girls” than you think.
Listen up girls: there is no role that you cannot play and there is no game that you cannot win.