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Gaming Can Be Different For Girls

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I want to tell you a story about boys, girls, and macho bros raging at fighting game tournaments. But before we get there I have to tell you a bit about myself. See, I'm a trans woman and a gamer.

When I was growing up gaming was a boys' club activity. Which was great -- folks saw me as a boy, after all -- and blinded me to just how much the "girls can't play games" mentality had dug its way into my brain. I grew up with games about army dudes and starships and testosterone-fueled gore fests. Of course girls didn't play games! Sexism is like an ear-worm; it burrows deep into the unconscious mind until it's uncovered by some sort of cognitive dissonance.

I'd been lucky enough to know some awesome gamers in college who complained loudly about how women are presented in video games, but again, girls-don't-play-games was hard to overturn when girls weren't around to play them (going to an all-male college ensures such). It wasn't until after college that I got a chance to break the the spell by, well, becoming a woman.

Once the spell was broken I was forever ruined for the Old-Guard way of thinking. Once I was a woman, I ran head-long into why my girlfriends hated gamers. Turns out that some guys still hang onto that girls-can't-play mentality.

Anyway, tournaments. That's what you came for, right?

I jumped into a casual Street Fighter IV tournament after realizing I was passable enough to not get hassled at those kinds of events for being trans. The group I was with wasn't exactly positioned to be the next Daigo; in fact, we were hoping to make it through a round or two, tops. We came up with a silly team name and had a great time acting like we were actually decent at the game. (Oh, and as Team Sassafrass we were all super gay, but that's another story entirely.)

My first match was with this guy who acted like the next MLG superstar. All frowns and seriousness shrouded beneath the cold gray of his hooded sweatshirt. Meanwhile, I approached the table like a giggly teenager. "Omigosh! These sticks look like the ones my brother played with back in arcades!"

One of the first life lessons early on in transition was that people always assume that women are incapable. I don't know if it's just the way society works, a side effect of being held up as objects of beauty, the roots of gamer culture, or what, but almost as soon as I started presenting successfully as a woman, people talked down to me. This was especially true with games. Show up to a hobby game shop and the clerk immediately directed me to the kid-friendly games instead of asking what games I enjoy. Mention you play a FPS and some jerk asks if your boyfriend got you into it. Talk about obscure games and people are more impressed that a girl knows about games at all rather than just talking about how awesome they are. Seems like the gaming community still holds to the "pretty good for a girl" neoteny that says girls can't be good at anything. I should know -- I used to do the same thing.

Back at the tournament I'm giggling as I tap the buttons. "This is so fun! I need one of these at home!" My friends are trying to hold in their laughter; they know I've got a stick at home, that I've run my fair share of sets, and done my time in the lab. I'm not great but certainly better than a giggly girl who's just in it for kicks. The guy beside me is shaking his head. On the character select screen I choose "the guy in the bathrobe" and trade pleasantries with the only other girl in a room of thirty. The guy across from me considered a character for a moment, but then switched.

Gauging by his play he was trying to go easy on me. So I put on a super-femme personality and proceed to wipe the floor with his face. The crowd, amused, proceeded to poke fun at the guy being beaten by the girly-girl.

He was the only guy I beat at that tournament but the whole experience helped me see what I had been before. See, back before transition I would have been that guy: amused by the girl trying to play a man's game and trying to give her a good experience. It's the same reflex that prompts my friends to introduce me as a female gamer who is "actually really good at games," as if this is something that just isn't possible in our normal gaming life. Most times it's necessary, too; people are always amazed to meet a girl who actually knows how to play those boys' club games, let alone a woman who can take the fight to them.

This, more than anything, informs my interactions with the gaming community. Women don't play games. Farmville and casual apps, sure. They'll give us that. But to have a woman who likes fighting games, or knows how to use her five-foot move, or, dare I say it, might be better than most guys at games? These things are still anathema in the pockets of "enthusiast gamers" into which I tend to run. The bright side to all this, of course, is that the gay gamers I've met and played with are far better with all this than the general community. It may just be an anecdotal observation, but the "queer people = less crap about being female and a gamer" equation is becoming a theorem in the gaming community.

So, if you happen to find a woman in your game thanking her lucky stars that the folks in chat sound gay, don't take offense. We just struck gold and won't have to deal with the boys' club for a while. And don't be surprised when the girly-girl turns out to be really good, lest you end up like the gray-sweatshirt bro I sharked at the tournament.

10 Comments

Sound Ships said:

A fun read and a great new perspective! I can't wait to hear more from you Tomboy :)

Stephen said:

Welcome to GayGamer Austen! I look forward to reading your pieces here.

This post brought back great memories of Smash Bros.

WaxingTurtle said:

Finally, a chick gamer with a good head!! As a girly-girl with four brothers. I was never really 'allowed' to play because I was girl. And when I did play, they often had to "do it" for me, meaning, I hit a tough spot and instead of letting me figure it out, they got frustrated and stole the controller. Typically, I never got it back. It was so insulting, I don't play games to this day. I want to want to game, I just haven't found the right group/game. So far the only games I can stand are Atari remakes. Maybe Tomboy will help me learn?? :)

Chris said:

Welcome to GG! I can tell you're going to be an amazing addition to the castle.

Excellent piece.

Nick said:

Welcome to GG~! ^_^b If you play on PS3 at all feel free to add me. I'm always on the look out for SSF4 friends. I'm not awesome at it but I love to play often. Roeark on PSN.

g_whiz said:

Awesome piece, thought provoking and clever. Gender and video games, there's always a lot to be said there. Looking forward to more.

Agius said:

Hey, small world! Well written; looking forward to more from you.

Channing said:

Interesting to see in this perspective, but I found it strange that you didn't seem to take into account western culture. It is entirely fair to say that more males play and compete in the fighting game scene. As such, wouldn't it be completely logical to be shocked at seeing a girl, and even more shocked when she's talented at something that our culture (not just men) views as a male's pass time?

The condescending remarks are quite uncalled for, but even when you take something like basketball, a game played professionally by both sexes, people are still likely to be shocked when a girl comes out and shows up a guy. You'll still have the remarks like "are you actually any good?" and "do you know how to play?", and this is NOT just from the men. It's also from the other women.

I find this especially true of my female friends that play games seriously and play genres "for boys" like FPSes and Fighters (which, partially they are; the young male IS the target demographic). Other females often shun, criticize, and generally look down upon for being interested in "guy stuff".

So I suppose this is the question at hand, one you're uniquely qualified to answer: should there be "guy stuff" and "girl stuff"? Or should we shirk all gender association?

Sox said:

"He was the only guy I beat at that tournament but the whole experience helped me see what I had been before. See, back before transition I would have been that guy: amused by the girl trying to play a man's game and trying to give her a good experience. It's the same reflex that prompts my friends to introduce me as a female gamer who is "actually really good at games," as if this is something that just isn't possible in our normal gaming life. Most times it's necessary, too; people are always amazed to meet a girl who actually knows how to play those boys' club games, let alone a woman who can take the fight to them."

And those people are right; women who are really good at games ARE a minority. Statistically, most gamers are male, and most female gamers aren't dedicated to gaming and prefer casual games. So why are you making a big deal about those people's reactions and general views? If people see something unusual, they're going to react like they've witnessed something unusual. That's not sexism, it's common human behavior.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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g_whiz on Gaming Can Be Different For Girls: Awesome piece, thought provoking and clever. Gender and video games, there's always a lot to be said there. Looking forward...

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