The Playable Female: Reclaiming the Term “Girl Gamer”

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for the past ten minutes trying to explain why I feel the need to display my gender along with my hobby. I had a fellow gamer tell me once that guys don’t call themselves “guy gamers,” so why should I label myself as a “girl gamer?”

BioShock Infinite

Women are severely underrated in this industry. Within the past few years there have been wonderful female characters featured in titles such as Mass Effect, BioShock Infinite, and The Last of Us … but the key word is featuredFemShep is not the default or “canon” Shepard, Elizabeth wasn’t a playable character until a DLC was introduced, and Ellie was only playable for a short amount of time (until a later DLC was released as well). These female characters are not the star of the show—they are the other option.

Take, for example, Tomb Raider or Mirror’s Edge. The protagonists are female. There is no option to switch her to a male. The story revolves around her, and was created with her in mind. She is the default. I want more female protagonists as the default. If you agree that you’d like to see more strong, fully fleshed out, dynamic, interesting, relatable women as the default—then I consider you a girl gamer.

I used to play Left 4 Dead online religiously when I was 14. I would go over to my friend’s house with my copy and the two of us would play against other gamers. We would share a headset between us, and I was usually the one wearing it. One night while waiting for the game to start, someone asked if I was a girl.

“Yeah, I’m a girl,” I said, not thinking much of it.

Girls play video games?” they asked, sounding completely bewildered.

I was utterly confused after this encounter. I’d grown up watching my brother’s play Spyro, getting my ass handed to me in Crash Team Racing, and arguing that it was my turn to play Halo. I grew up with the impression that girls did game, but this was when I became painfully aware of how I would come to be treated in the future.

Crash Team Racing, Bandicoot

But what, exactly, does a girl gamer look like? What kinds of games does she play? Is she actively involved in forums?

My answer to that is: anything and everything. There seems to be a preconceived notion that a girl gamer must either play x, y, or z in order to be considered a “gamer.” Even if a girl plays nothing but casual apps on her iPad, I still consider her to be a gamer. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but a gamer nonetheless. My point is, a girl does not have to prove herself ‘worthy’ in order to be accepted by the community.

I want the industry to recognize that girls do game. Not only do girls game, but girls also create games, critique games, write for games … we are very involved. But we are not represented to the degree that we should be. 

I have a suggestion, and this one goes out to my fellow girl gamers. Treat each other with kindness and respect. There’s nothing worse than competing against each other or bullying one another. 

“This is what a real girl gamer plays.”

“This is how a real girl gamer looks.”

I’ve seen these accusations too many times to count. We need to embrace our differences, but more importantly, find community within our similarities. After all, aren’t we on the same team?

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4 Comments on “The Playable Female: Reclaiming the Term “Girl Gamer”

  1. Absolutely! This sort of thing makes me crazy. While I am glad that Shepard is fairly interchangeable male or female, there are actions that make little sense with the Female Shepard. It is the ‘other’ option. It makes me crazy. And of course women game, women have pretty much always gamed and have always been ignored. I kind of want to scream about it despite knowing that it won’t change anything.

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    • I hear you! While I’m glad Femshep did eventually appear in marketing campaigns, it’s a shame it wasn’t until the third game. Interesting point – though I’ve known several guy gamers who played as Femshep, I know zero girls who’ve played Broshep even as an experiment in multiple playthroughs. This shows a demand for diversity in game protagonists from all sides, which I hope the industry is taking note of. Plus Jennifer Hale is a superb voice actress.

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  2. It’s so annoying that as a female you constantly have to prove not only yourself, but your entire gender. I used to think of myself as someone who is stronger than worrying about what others think, but a few days back when a (male) teacher, who I know is a gamer, asked my (male) friend who was playing a game something, I did not answer despite knowing it, out of fear of getting it wrong. When they talked about a game I knew (but never played) I did not join in because I didn’t want to say something stupid and lose my already very little “gamer cred” (and we all know why it’s little). I did not talk about one of my interests, because I was scared to not be considered “one of them”. The worst part was that I did it subconsciously. I only realised a while later why I didn’t say anything. It seems I have been succesfully been trained to shut up, and I’m very disappointed with myself. I hope with this whole movement, there will be a time that I, or anyone, will not have to prove themselves, and that just liking games is good enough to be considered a gamer.

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  3. Pingback: #FridayReads: A Reading List of Feminism, Queer Identity, Problematic Faves, & More Games | FemHype

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