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.