Friday, July 30, 2010

Gamer Girls Gone Wild

There are few signs more obvious that gamer culture is male-dominated than the existence of booth babes. For the uninitiated, booth babes are skimpily-dressed models hired to stand next to products at conventions to draw the eye’s attention. Specifically, the male eye’s attention, using sexuality as the lure. After all, sex sells, right? And gaming companies are here to sell to men. That’s their target market, their cash cow, that 18-35 group of guys that they are certain will universally respond to a bit of T & A better than just about any other advertising technique on the planet.


Personally, I outright loathe that kind of shameless profiteering off the female form. Not only does it objectify us, it also puts a glaring spotlight on the inherent assumption that gaming is a straight guys club only. It’s really not a positive message when one thinks about it too hard. It’s also one of the reasons I spent the money to attend Penny Arcade Expo over other cons; I appreciate their “no booth babes” policy, and according to their recent poll, I’m far from the only one in this camp.

Given this, it’s usually with great annoyance and sadness when I find gamer girls not just supporting, but outright emulating, the exact sort of female conduct that companies are using to garner that sexual male attention.

Some of my most pointed and outrageous examples of this behavior have come from my long-term experience leading an MMO guild. New female applications usually start out well enough. Our newest recruit gets our jokes; she’s smart, witty, and knows how to play. We all spend some time together and get down to gaming business. Some internet dragons become toast. Everyone’s thrilled - especially me.

And then... slowly, surely, the flirtatious behavior starts. In the beginning, it’s slightly innocuous, such as the picture-posting thread where the new girl’s plastering fifteen photos of herself with the top of her cleavage poking out or her hair down in a dramatic pose. So she’s proud of her looks, I tell myself, resolving to ignore it. But then it escalates: not too long later, she’s detailing what her ideal gamer man is like to an audience of single guys over the guild chat. Next thing you know, a typical night’s Ventrilo sounds like this:

New Girl: -yawn- I am so sore today!
Male Guildmate: Oh yeah? What’s up?
New Girl: I went over to my friend’s house and she’s got a stripper pole in her basement, and -
Me: A stripper pole?
New Girl: Oh yeah, and she let me play on it. I was playing on it for like, hours.
Male Guildmate: ...

I wish these examples were exaggerations, but they’re not. They’ve all happened, in varying forms, multiple times, over the past two and a half years of guild leadership.

Truthfully, as I’m asking these girls to leave to find a different guild, I’m always so disappointed. I’m disappointed because I hate to lose any of the few girl gaming acquaintances I have, but I’m even more disappointed that our recruit didn’t feel like being smart, witty, and competent at games would be enough to garner her positive attention, causing her to resort to sexual influence instead.

It’s incredibly frustrating as a woman and as a gamer to have to ask them to leave, but even worse is the perception it creates. During this year’s annual summer MMO hiatus, a close friend and long-time guildmates told me one night, “I’m glad you’re the only woman left in our guild. It seems like most of the time, when we let another girl in, she turns out to not really want to play video games at all.”

Although it was part of a larger compliment about how grateful he was that I wasn’t “like those others”, it still hurts. I don’t want my guild, or gamer culture at large, to be some boys-only club in which I have some privileged status based on my girly parts. I want to have female gamer friends who are here for the games, who like to pwn, melt face and kick ass with the best of them.

What I hope can be taken from this post is a very important truth: We ladies are very much in charge of the way we’re perceived based on how we conduct ourselves. The less we encourage that sexual commodity status through unnecessary sexualized behavior, the better for all of us. Someday, I hope my guildmates won’t have to worry so much that the woman that wants to join up is just there for the attention. And I hope she kicks their asses.

7 comments:

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  2. After checking this out afew times I just wanted to kinda mention that though it is possible for a woman to go overboard with the flirtatious behavior in a game setting slight flirting or abit of sexual tension can also add a certain spice when dealings with members of whatever sex you happen to be attracted to at the time. I'm not saying girls should behave like Jezebels in order to get help in gaming situations lord knows I've dealt with plenty of that back in my WoW days. But girls aren't guys and probably shouldn't try too hard to be one of the guys.

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  3. I think that's something that's really effed up when it comes to the gaming community. You're either one of the guys or you're a hoe. lol

    I'm not sure why we have to have it one way or the other. You can be into video games, have some femininity, and not act like a slut to express that femininity.

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  4. You might be onto something with that "one of the guys vs ho" thing, Eye. There's still a (completely false) perception that nice, normal girls aren't big into video games. Because what you mentioned are the two recognized stereotypes, maybe girls who are looking to be recognized as a fellow gamer end up gravitating to one or the other.

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  5. I remember back when I was highschool I managed to talk a perfectly "normal" girl into playing InfantryZone. Still trips me out to this day when I think about it, girls make awesome base defenders.

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  6. Actually I've always found that to be the case in the gaming community. Either you fit into the "sexy flirtatious nymph" role, or the "one of the guys" role. Stray anyplace else and you're shunned or ignored because people can't figure out what to do with you. The gaming industry and community supports and popularizes this by using the Sexy Nymph for marketing and advertising, congratulating "One of The Guys" for not being "like all those other chicks" and *combines* the two into an Ideal Female Gamer archetype and presents her as some sort of cherished fantastical rarity that only the best male gamer can attain (you know, like a fucking piece of elite armor at the end of a particularly grueling dungeon). All the while denigrating and putting down anyone outside either spectrum with the tired old "you must be fat and ugly" trope. (Don't even get me *started* on that one.)

    Which is total crap ALL THE WAY AROUND. Especially once female gamers buy into it (because it's pervasive, because it taps into self esteem issues, etc) and start shaming other females in the community into "behaving properly".

    Do you see what I'm saying here?

    I'm smart and kick ass at some of my games. I understand strategy, tactics, how to defend my base, and help out my team. I'm also funny, flirtatious, attractive, and sexy as all get out. I can rock sweats and a t-shirt or dress to the nines - it doesn't matter. I shouldn't have to censor myself and change who I am in order to fit in, belong, or be accepted in this community. *Especially* this community, that so often these days congratulates itself on being inclusive and "for everyone".

    Pretty Gamer should be about ALL of us. A safe place to celebrate all of who we are - not just the parts that fit into neat little boxes for marketing, advertising, and stereotypical purposes.

    Annnnd this seriously could have been a post. Dammit. =D

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