As a gamer, whenever I discover I’m speaking with a fellow gamer I immediately feel like I can shrug off my inhibitions over geeking out. But because I’m definitely a girl as far as biology and gender go and don’t fit the stereotype of girl gamers, I surprise some people. I’m physically active, like fashion beyond the Japanese Lolita look, and I don’t game to attract attention from guys. I like a few flash games and apps, but I’m really all about PC and console RPGs (role-playing games) such as Fable, the Elder Scrolls series, and World of Warcraft.
In my experience, I notice that the most notorious stereotypes for female gamers are: the basket case who spends more time on her guild than on her hygiene, what I call the “Vanity Gamer” (i.e. a girl who posts her pics on sites like hotgamergirls.com or who plays only to please her boyfriend), and the casual girl gamer who sticks to the Wii and apps. Furthermore, the stereotypes normally portray girl gamers as Asian or white, not women of color.
However, when you play online games oftentimes your avatar is that all other players see, which should allow for more neutrality and equality (unless you’re speaking into a headset). When you play online games, you’re only judged on how skilled you are and not because of your sex, race, or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, because of that anonymity, some users let their consciences take a nosedive. Bigoted or inflammatory users typically don’t target individual girls or women—instead, they usually make boorish blanket statements about girl gamers and reiterate the aforementioned stereotypes either to get a rise out of other users or to express opinions they can’t articulate in real life without making themselves pariahs. In “real life” I’m sure the users making sexist comments probably don’t spew prejudiced rhetoric in public, but in-game is a different story. For girl gamers, including myself, who enjoy gaming online, the dialogue that goes on in the chat interfaces can range from aggravating to rage-inducing. It’s ironic that one few “places” girls and women can go where people won’t judge them based on appearances is also a place where bigotry, particularly sexism, runs rampant.
Play WoW on any server and you’ll sometimes see talk of girl gamers in the chat interface—statements like “girls don’t play WoW,” “only fugly chicks play MMOs (massive multiplayer online games),” and “lolz only girls who can’t get laid play (insert game title here).” Other misconceptions include the idea that girls suck at “real” games (especially first-person shooter games like Call of Duty or Halo) or that they identify as gamers so that lonely nerd boys will lust over them.
But what about the facts of the gamer girl demographic, and how do they compare to the stereotypes? From 2009-2010, the Lifetime network, strangely enough, executed a thorough, thought-provoking study of women gamers and created a dichotomy of female gaming “types.” The diagram below shows five gaming personalities for women based on how much social interaction they prefer in games and how much time and energy they invest in them:
The percentages come from a survey of over 1,000 women and a pool of men conducted by Kris Soumas, head of games for AETN Digital Media, and Matt Lashey, vice president of strategic insights for Lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, the highest percentage of women gamers fell into the Competitors category—meaning you can find these social, challenge-driven women playing anything from Wii Sports to Halo: Reach. Furthermore, 38 percent of the “Competitors” identified as either African-American or Hispanic, which shows that the population of serious gamer girls is fairly racially diverse.
Also, according to the survey results, the least common female gaming types consist of two extremes: Immersives (overwhelmingly introverted, stressed-out escapists), and Dabblers (women who play simple, non-interactive games to slack off). The Lifetime study shows that the “stereotypical” female gamers—Immersives and Dabblers—don’t constitute the majority of female gamers.
So now what? The Lifetime study, along with a slew of studies published in the last five years, provides hard evidence that the population of female gamers is a motley one that defies stereotypes. True, widespread knowledge of such studies won’t put an end to the juvenile and mean-spirited talk on chat interfaces, intercoms, and message boards—this is one of the big reasons why in-game customer support exists in the first place. I’d like to see this enlightening information as a sign that recognition of girl gamers as a viable force in the consumer market is on the upswing, and that that will help pave the way for women to have more agency in the gaming industry in the future.
For more on the Lifetime network’s study, go to Business Insider’s piece entitled “Inside The Minds Of Girl Gamers.”
–By Jenna Cooper