Supposedly “hardcore” gamers claim social justice is killing gaming – but who are the real intruders here?
I’m writing this an hour before Super Smash Brothers 4 comes out for the 3DS in the United States in my time zone. My husband and I will be going to collect his copy at midnight. I’m wearing the Pokemaster Training Academy t-shirt I bought on TeePublic a few months ago, and he’s in the NES controller t-shirt he’s worn so many times the collar’s starting to get a little stretched.
My husband and I met because we both play video games. In the three-and-a-bit years we’ve been together, I’ve introduced him to the Elder Scrolls and he’s badgered me to actually finish my very first Zelda game (Ocarina of Time for the N64 – I swear, that controller was made for aliens with three hands, NEVER AGAIN). I was a DOS gamer as a kid (Epic Megagames fans, represent!), whereas he came from a Nintendo household, but we’ve both been enjoying video games since we were about three years old.
So we’re both giant nerds, is what I’m saying. But here’s the weird thing: only one of gets called a poser when they wear their videogame tees to GameStop.
(I’ll give you a hint – it’s not my husband.)
I hear a lot of chatter online about “fake geek girls” – this mysterious breed of woman who apparently shows up at Comic-Con because she loves being sexually harassed (oh, sorry – “fawned over”) by male attendees and only pretends to play video games because she wants male attention (…from the kinds of men who spend hours concocting conspiracy theories about women on the internet). And you know, I know a lot of girls who are geeks, from comic book fans to insomniac gamers to Whovian encyclopaedias to Trekkies who still greet me with “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” every time we meet. But I’ve never met a single fake geek girl. Not even once. Not ever.
It’s weird. I’m starting to think that maybe they don’t exist.
I don’t remember games being a dudes-only thing when I was a kid, though maybe that’s because my mother kicked serious ass at Star Goose and will still wipe the floor with you in Age of Empires II. In fact, my older male cousins enthusiastically shared their DOS game floppies with their “little sister” and didn’t seem to find my interest abnormal at all. Gaming was a kid thing, maybe, but not a boy thing. Hell, the protagonist of the very first game I ever played, Jill of the Jungle, is a woman (the titular Jill, basically a female Tarzan) who has to save a useless prince who’s gotten himself kidnapped.
I remember when I first realised that gaming had become a no-ladies-welcome space, though. That would be the first time I used a mic on XBOX Live.
It’s a kind of surreal experience, your first time being sent a voice message from a guy you just played in online matchmaking who wants to, uh…online matchmake with you. There’s the grossness of unsolicited sexual advances, the confusion (“wasn’t this the guy who just told me girls need to ‘get the fuck off Halo’ because they can’t shoot?”), and then the very discomfiting realisation that the guy messaged you because he assumed that if you were online and female, you must be looking for sexual contact.
I blocked that guy, but there were more. And more. And more. And they weren’t just on Live – they were on every video game forum, in the comments of every article about the then-just-a-rumour Elder Scrolls V, lurking at the fringes of every video-game related interaction I had. They very much wanted me to know that if I was going to be allowed to stay in their hobby, I needed to either a) be sexually available to them or b) completely desexualise myself so they wouldn’t be interested in me any more. I wasn’t a fellow gamer – I was a girl where girls didn’t belong.
I don’t play on Live with my mic on any more, incidentally. Actually, I let my Live subscription expire at the end of last year. Even when I didn’t talk, I was harassed by people who noticed that my gamer avatar was female. I spend most of my time playing retro Nintendo titles these days, and nobody messages me after I kick Ganondorf’s ass to demand that I show them my boobs or get offline. It’s a little lonely, but it’s safer.
Not that this has stopped me from being a target online. As a very femme woman who likes dresses and makeup and other devalued and derided “girl things”, I might as well be walking around with a giant “KICK ME” sign taped to my back. I have to use third-party Twitter apps to block the abusive messages I get from gamer boys daily, and even then, whenever I casually tweet about whatever game I’m playing (Xenoblade Chronicles at the moment, if you’re interested), I’ll get at least one dismissive message from some guy who absolutely needs me to know that women who display cleavage in their profile pictures can’t possibly really be playing video games. It speaks volumes of the internalised self-loathing of your average male gamer that they absolutely cannot believe that an attractive woman would enjoy some of the things they enjoy.
The recent “GamerGate” kerfuffle (I’m not going to call it a “scandal” because that makes it sound like the petty, sordid drama had a point to it, which it did not) brought angry male gamers crawling out of the woodwork to complain that Those Killjoy Feminists were stealing all their games (by…subjecting an art form to the same kinds of critique every other art form gets). But from where I stand, with my copy of Jill of the Jungle from 1993 and my thousand-plus hours of Elder Scrolls, they’re the ones who stole my hobby. They’ve made it unsafe and uncomfortable for me to game online, completely deterred me from attending fan events (as a child, it was my dream to attend SDCC some day – now, the thought terrifies me), and won’t stop harassing me when I dare to talk about this thing I love because I dare to wear lipstick while I do it.
I’m twenty-mumble years old and have been playing games since I was three. They’re in their teens, own all fifty or so Call of Duty titles and have probably never even heard of Operation: Inner Space. Who’s stealing from whom? This was my hobby first – mine and several other women’s, including women of colour and queer and trans women. We’ve been here just as long as the boys have. I know girl gamers who still have their original Commodore 64 systems. All we’re asking for is that the games we love treat us with a little less hate, and that the community we helped build doesn’t keep trying to kick us out.
Smash Brothers will be out in half an hour. We’re going to a tournament in a nearby city on Saturday. I’ve already decided Megaman will be my main, because the Megaman Battle Network series is one of my favourite game franchises of all time. Gaming has been a part of my life since I was so small I needed a booster cushion on my dad’s office chair to reach the keyboard and will probably be a part of my life for many years to come. All I want is a little space to keep doing what I’ve always been doing. If that seems like too much to ask, maybe you’re the one with a problem.
jaythenerdkid is the nom de net of Aaminah Khan, a queer Muslim writer, activist, tutor, former medical student and terroriser-of-bigots for hire. When she’s not tweeting, tumblr-ing, blogging, arguing with conservatives on Facebook or being blocked by Richard Dawkins, Aaminah reads fantasy novels, plays video games, argues with her husband about Game of Thrones and gets angry that there aren’t more characters like Abed Nadir on television.