Real Live Hot Gamer Chix!: On female stereotyping in geek/gamer culture

By | February 15, 2011

Female Shepard, from Mass Effect 2. I took this image from the BioWare forums; if it's yours and you hate that I'm using it, let me know and I'll take it down.

Gratuitous picture of Fem!Shep, because I looooove her. I'll just leave this here.

This evening, I ran across an article on lady gamers that got me peroclating: Play girls: The life of a female gamer in Chicago. In the course of discussing a local gamer group, the author takes the popular route of trying to frame female geekery as an either/or situation — you can be in favor of the “sexualization” of ladygaming, or against it. Alas, if only the world were so easily reconciled. Says the article:

The idea of gamers’ flaunting their own female attractiveness–or “hotness” as many gamer sites call it–has divided the girl gaming community. Some gamers aren’t the least offended by the sexualization of their hobby, while others say that it harms gender equality in gaming.


“When I play online, I get a lot of comments like ‘Show me your boobs,’ ” [freelance video game writer Fruzsina Eordogh] said. “If a girl wants to be sexy, that’s fine, but I wish I wasn’t held to the same standards. I just want to play games, not be stereotyped.”

Part of why I quit playing MMOs* was because it became so difficult to reliably hook up with decent groups of people to play with. Sure, I could play with actual out-of-game friends, but if no one I knew was online, I’d get stuck trying to meet reasonable strangers. In the time before TeamSpeak –this was my golden era of MMO-playing — the gender question was easy enough to elide. My characters were always female in appearance, but dudes play as female characters all the time, and there were few enough Real Live Girls around in MMOs then that people tended to assume you were male — especially if you played “like a guy” and chatted “like a guy”. The fact that I have never played a pure caster class in my life and preferred to tank probably confused the issue even further.**

If my ladyness was revealed by some misstep on my part, in most cases there’d be an odd silence in the chat window, a tension, especially if I’d been playing with a certain group of strangers for a long period of time by then. An unasked question seemed to hang in the bracing air of the Butcherblock Mountains: Why didn’t you tell us? Why should I have to? Must I volunteer this information, immediately, as a warning, as soon as I joined you? Look out, there’s a girl in the boys’ clubhouse! It was enraging and depressing at the same time. Once TeamSpeak became the norm, I fell away from MMOs because I was so tired of dealing with the harrassment and assorted bullshit. My voice gave my gender away immediately, which meant I could no longer “pass” as male. Quitting isn’t really something I regret: MMOs are damned time-consuming, and when I get into something, I get really into it, so these things combined meant I wasn’t accomplishing much else in my life during my MMO-playing years. (Well, I got a couple of Master’s degrees. But nothing of value, har har.)

Back in September, a polished parody of Katy Perry’s magnum opus “California Gurls”, entitled “Geek and Gamer Girls,” turned up on YouTube. The video features four young women, all of them pretty and slender — and sometimes naked — singing about their love for video games, comic books, and assorted geekery. It also has cameos from such geek luminaries as Seth Green, Stan Lee, and Katee Sackhoff (<3). While I thought the video’s concept was marvelous, I was a little bummed by the result. It’s awesome that gorgeous women play games and look gorgeous. It is! Women should damn well be empowered to do whatever they want, and be taken seriously, no matter what they look like. My discomfort with this video stems from the fact that it reproduces sexified images of lady geeks/gamers in a manner that, in my opinion, fails to interrogate those images at the same time. I would have liked to see the epic nudity balanced with some less traditional female-identified representation. Where are the chicks decked out in full Spartan armor? Where are the wimmins dressed like The Doctor? Where are the….. um…. I just got totally distracted by the mental image of a hot butch dressed like The Doctor. What was I talking about?

Oh right.

I can already hear the objections of the courageous few who have read this far: “Lesley, you don’t like it because said girls are hotter than you!” To speak to the latter point: Well, duh. I’m in my mid-thirties, I’m a great big fat person, and I’m not pretty. I ain’t even trying to compete, y’all. And yet I still play motherfucking video games. Which brings us to the former: It’s not that I don’t like it. I neither like nor dislike it — I found the video a bit disappointing, because while it’s cute and all, I feel like this production squandered an opportunity to do something that could have been snappily satirical, thought-provoking, and entertaining, all at the same time.

I do resent the perpetuation of the hot-gamer-chick stereotype, to some extent, because I am not a hot chick, and still I play games and engage in other geeky pursuits, which means the stereotype affects me whether I like it or not. The promotion of a hot-gamer-chick image creates an expectation that women who game or geek should still be hot and fuckable in a culturally-acceptable way. This expectation thereby puts pressure on individual gamers who maybe, astonishingly, don’t give a shit whether you want to stick your penis inside them. Really! I know this is hard to believe, but lots and lots of women — be they attractive by mainstream cultural standards or no — are uncowed by your majestic ween.

Most gamer dudes I know protest vigorously against the stereotype of the slovenly basement-dwelling compulsive masturbator, and you know why? Because the stereotype is both damaging and unfair. It is damaging to the mainstream perception of gamers and geeks, and it is unfair to those gamers who do fit parts of the stereotype, because the stereotype shames them. The hot-gamer-chick stereotype may seem more “positive” on the surface, but it’s still a stereotype, and therefore also damaging and unfair, and it also shames women who can’t live up to it. The responsibility to eliminate the sexism in geek and gamer culture — the tip of which iceberg this post only gently nudges — does not lie on the shoulders of female-identifying gamers alone; dudes have to participate, and work on being less heinous on an individual basis. Given that they can relate, via the example above, this shouldn’t be as much of a challenge as it occasionally seems.

Here’s the really important part of this post, so if you’re skimming, you want to stop and read this paragraph: I am not suggesting that conventionally-beautiful young women shouldn’t be seen, or shouldn’t play video games, or shouldn’t make YouTube videos, or shouldn’t do whatever they damn well please, looking however they want — they absolutely should. Women of all sorts should be able to have fun and be fabulous according to their own definition. Even I love playing NES games while wearing legwarmers at a slumber party!*** However: this cannot be the only, or even the primary, representation that female-identifying geeks and gamers get to have. It’s limiting for those of us who aren’t hot and don’t care to be. It makes social gaming difficult for those of us who don’t want to flirt — we just want to play motherfucking games, and we want to be treated like real three-dimensional humans, not like vaginas with thumbs. And you know what? Odds are good that the ladies who are accurately represented by the “Geek and Gamer Girls” video also want to be treated like three-dimensional humans, and not like empty-headed hot pieces of ass.

Dudes, be human. Ladies and other female-IDing types, be awesome, no matter what you’re into or what you look like. Can’t we all just kill each other and not be assholes about it?

* MMO = Massively Multiplayer Online (Role-Playing Game). My MMOs of choice were Everquest, Everquest 2, and the late lamented Star Wars Galaxies, which began as the site of some of my favorite gaming memories in my whole life, and died when they let everybody be a Jedi. Also-rans were Guild Wars, Warhammer Online (this one was actually loads of fun — I was an orc!), and the inevitable World of Warcraft.

** Traditionally, I prefer dwarves, though I have also played as ogres. One of my first-ever MMO characters, in the original EverQuest, was a dwarf cleric, and my RL ladyness was less of a surprise to people when I played as her, probably because who the fuck else but a woman conditioned to caretaking would want to play the weak-ass EQ cleric class? But my womany reality was always a great shock to my groupmates when I was playing a warrior.

*** That’s the jam every weekend around my house. I will pwn your ass at Bubble Bobble.


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