Why I’m not a girl gamer (and why I am)
I’ve been a gamer since I could walk and talk, but when I was little I never thought of myself as a “girl gamer” at all. I remember sitting with my dad in front of his ancient computer and gleefully watching him load some D&D-type game from a tape recorder (!) while he tried to explain the controls to me. We played that game and many others together in those early years of my life, when I would visit him during the summers. It wasn’t long before the games started getting more complicated and I started showing the controls to him instead, as he got more involved with work and had less time to game. Eventually it became something I would do on my own instead of with him, but those formative memories of bonding with my Dad via gaming together have always remained with me.
I suppose I was about 9 or 10 when I got my Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas a few years later. I’m sure I must have whined to my mom about how much I wanted one for months beforehand. She didn’t really understand my love of games, but she indulged me nevertheless and I am sincerely glad that Youtube did not exist back in those days to memorialize my reaction. However, it wasn’t long before she was after me to stop running around like a tomboy, put those games down and be more “ladylike”. My girl friends were fun enough to do “girlie things” with, but they didn’t know Mario from Zelda. I got along fine with most of the boys I gamed with, but I also recall losing many a friendship because I wouldn’t let a boy turn his friend, who just happened to be a girl, into his girlfriend. These were just some of the ways that I found myself to be considered a girl gamer by others, whether I wanted to be or not.
Being the stubborn sort (and I think it takes a bit of stubbornness to be a girl gamer, when the world may tell you in so many ways that it’s not for you), I continued to be an avid gamer over the years. I started to pay more attention to the differences between how male and female characters were portrayed in the story. These differences became even more sharply outlined as overall quality improved in the industry and game characters grew more faceted and complex. Historically (with a few rare exceptions), there hasn’t been a whole lot of room for women in games beyond the dainty flower to be rescued or later, the hyper-sexualized eye candy to be ogled. Trying to talk about how much this frankly sucked with other male gamers was typically met with dismissal or annoyance (and this lack of empathy between male and female gamers hasn’t improved as much over the years as the pretty graphics have, unfortunately).
The role of female characters in games has slowly but surely been improving, with many impressive strides made in recent years that I’ve been thrilled to see happening. However, there is still quite a way to go in resolving what is still an unbalanced and frequently sexist mode of objectifying and marginalizing female characters in games. I’m a gamer (and not just a girl gamer) because I have a genuine and lifelong love for games that doesn’t need a qualifier stuck in front to it to be validated. I’m a girl gamer (and not just a gamer) because there are still many issues with how female gamers are treated, representation of females in the gaming industry and with portrayals of female characters in games. Girl gamers are a valid part of the gaming public that deserve to have their concerns and input about these issues recognized.