As I get older I’m finding the “girl gamer” moniker harder to live with. It’s so at odds with how I see myself. There are many playing fields where women are still (sadly) not equal, gaming is young enough for women to not have to make a distinction.
Gaming can be a fractured community as it is without putting gamers of a specific gender above or below anyone else, but that said girl gamers should be demanding more from the game development community.
My primary problem with the term “girl gamer” is that it sells an entire genders aspirations for our community very short. It’s a well-documented fact that women play games, I think that’s a total given. Girl gamers should be aiming higher. Women who deem themselves as girl gamers shouldn’t just be trying to raise awareness of the fact that they’re playing games, but raising awareness of the fact that women are not adequately reflected at every point of game development. I want more than a mere acknowledgement than I am here, I want more gaming experiences that speak to me, made by like-minded people rather than a team that doesn’t adequately reflect the gaming population guessing at how to accomplish that.
I’m less bothered about proving women play games, I’m more concerned about the near-complete gender bias when it comes to how games are made. More women should be programmers, animators, and developers, if more women are playing games than ever, why are women in game development still mere punctuation in a largely male landscape? The ladies that are there are incredible and making their mark (as a female web developer I know the difficulties well, the two career paths are definitely comparable) but I cannot help but feel the lessened number of female faces means a shortfall in gamings overall output.
For example, it must have a direct effect on how female characters are portrayed in games (there are some great female characters out there, but some consistency would be an ideal starting point). For every empowered female character there are ten or more patronising or insulting ones.
There is a consistent a lack of features that women might desire in a game (basic things, like being able to choose a female avatar), and then the wider consequences of female absenteeism, namely how we as women gamers are treated and perceived in the occasionally brash gaming community (if you think it can be soul-destroying playing a multiplayer FPS online, you can and do often generate more antagonism with a female voice).
A severe lack of female faces
It’s certainly not always easy for a girl to play games, I will acknowledge that. I’ve occasionally been accused of being able to vocalise my love of gaming more because I am a girl, as if somehow the very fact that I am female automatically nulls the stigma associated with playing games. This is a misconception, and is perhaps why the girl gamer movement is so tempting. Gaming is still a very masculine pastime, and I am looked down upon outside of the gaming community as equally as men are – just for slightly different reasons. Namely the fact that I am interested in things that depart from most people’s understanding of the normal feminine persona (if such a thing exists).
I think the games community as a whole (and that means both men and women) should be championing the women who develop and design our games more, so that overall perception of women in games are improved. Girl gamers should refocus their efforts, rather than the championing the role of women who simply play, let’s champion the women who play and create. It’s not my intention to belittle the girl gamer movement any, but we can’t demand better from the game development community if there aren’t enough people (from a mixed background) working hard to learn how to make games and understand the concepts involved.
There are some great women in gaming out there (this may be a subject I have to return to), but I think a good litmus test is how much visibility people outside of a particular industry have. I’ve no doubt that someone outside of the gaming community could mention a couple of key male figures in the game development industry – but how many women could they name? Not many, if any. It’s a sobering thought.