Closeted Girl Gamers

Delta Winds cover 2014Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Closeted Girl Gamers: An Analysis of Sex Prejudice in Online Video Gaming

Michelle Livingstone

We do not always show every facet of our personalities to every person we meet. We can act very reserved, or we can be our uncensored true selves. It often depends on the people we are interacting with. In each situation, certain behaviors are considered appropriate and others inappropriate. In my experience as a female gamer, I have learned that sometimes we augment our personalities to fit into groups that otherwise would not accept us. Because individuals wish to be included in and accepted by the group, some females conform to the gaming group's standards. Gordon Allport's concepts of sex as an in-group, the changing nature of in-groups, reference groups, and the group-norm theory of prejudice help explain the minority female's desire to be a part of a group that discriminates against her.

Some gamers believe that females do not belong in the male-dominated online gaming community. There is an assumption in the gaming group that females are not proficient at video gaming. Noticeable differences between the sexes exist, but these differences do not make female players less capable. As Allport puts it, "Such primary and secondary sex differences as exist are greatly exaggerated and are inflated into imaginary distinctions that justify discrimination" (72). Misogynistic gamers believe that a female's only value in video games is for their objectification. Females often experience unwanted sexual advances if it is suspected that she is not a he. Female gamers are automatically "outed" in games that require instant voice communication for success; she cannot easily hide the fact that she is a female from her teammates in these games. In my experience as a female gamer, women experience more sexual harassment when men hear their voices. When text communication will suffice, most female gamers that I have known will choose to type rather than speak, even when it is more inconvenient. However, prejudice against female gamers does not always produce negative results; some men will give known or suspected females gifts or allow poor performance to go unaddressed. But most females play video games because they enjoy playing, not because they crave male attention. Some females will change the way that they communicate in order to not stand out from the rest of the group.

A woman may feel that she is part of the gaming community, but some male gamers do not agree; they assume that females are uninterested in video games. Allport explains, "even two members of the same actual in-group may view its composition in widely divergent ways" (75). Who is included in a given group subjectively varies from individual to individual. When I was growing up, parents typically bought their children action figures or dolls to play with, but video games were usually reserved for the boys. No one ever gave me a video game as a present until I started playing Sega with my father. He did not purchase the system for my entertainment, but for his own. When I showed interest in the games he was playing, he taught me how to play, and ever since then I have considered gaming to be my hobby.

In game, if they do not call each other by their screen names, many gamers call each other "bro" or "fag," depending on their disposition towards their teammate. If a gamer complains, his teammates often say, "he needs to get laid." Because many females do not openly display the fact that they are females, some male gamers do not realize that lots of girls like to play video games too. This perpetuates the stereotype that girls do not play video games. When a female actually insists that she is a female, typically after being called a man, male gamers often reply "tits or GTFO" or state "she has a penis." Instead of trying to prove their sex, many females would rather avoid any actions that might cause a teammate to think she is a woman.

Some women who are ostracized in the gaming community for being female still desire to be included in the group's membership. Female gamers believe that they should be included in the gaming group because they share the same enjoyment of video games that brought every male gamer to the community. Insults and sexual harassment may diminish her enjoyment of the game, but she yearns for acceptance in a group that she feels she should be a part of. Allport explains, "[she] may be entirely loyal to [her] minority in-group; but [she] is at the same time always under the necessity of relating [herself] to the standards and expectations of the majority" (77) because "[she] would like to partake of the privileges of [the] majority, and be considered one of its members" (76). If she goes against the standards of the gaming community, she risks losing the tolerance of a group she seeks to be included in. When trying out for a team in an online game, I often keep quiet at first to get a feel for the team's standards and expectations. When I have a reasonable understanding, I attempt to conform as best I can in order to gain the group's acceptance. Sometimes, I learn that the group's personality is incompatible with my own. When I know the group and I would not be a good match, I will often modify my behavior to conform, even though I do not intend to join the group. Sometimes there is not another option for teammates. If a female wants to play the game, she may be forced to play with men who do not accept her. She can choose to be herself and risk harassment or force herself to conform to the group. A female gamer sometimes feels that, in order to maintain the group's privileges, she must choose her achieved gamer status and dismiss her ascribed female status.

Some male gamers discriminate against what they consider to be female outsiders. Because the prevalent view among male community members is that females do not play video games, males believe that females cannot be "gamers." Allport explains the nature of this prejudice by arguing that groups "develop a way of living with characteristic codes and beliefs, standards and 'enemies' to suit their own adaptive needs" (79). Groups invent enemies to exclude, believing that this will protect the group. Male gamers might consider females to be distractions. Other male gamers might believe that the group's success will be hindered by carrying an inadequate female player. Either way, females are the enemies or outsiders that will keep the men from enjoying their game, and they must be excluded. If females are allowed to participate, they must perform at the same level or better than the group members, or they will not be respected. This is true for all members of the gaming community; adequate performance and acceptable behavior are required to gain the respect of the group members. However, males do not face the negative stereotypes that females have to overcome in order to be accepted into the group in the first place. Males must perform at a certain acceptable level. However, females must prove that that they can get along with and act like one of the guys. And they must not be too slutty or whiny as to be distracting. Female gamers that I know, myself included, sometimes choose to refrain from complaining so that the men on their teams do not accuse them of being "bitchy females on their periods." Females who do not conform to a male's standards for membership in the gaming in-group are sometimes ostracized. Some females feel the need to change their natural behaviors and censor what they say in order to be respected by the community.

Based on previous experiences or on stories told by fellow female gamers, many females conform their behaviors out of fear of rejection. The majority of the online gaming community is not misogynistic. But on the Internet, we interact with many more people than we would in real life. We are bound to experience extremely pleasant and helpful people as well as horrible, hateful, angry people. We tend to weigh negative information more heavily than positive information, so these negative interactions can discourage us from approaching similar situations in the future. However, we may also choose to censor our personalities to conform to the acceptable behavior of the group in an attempt to discourage the group from discriminating against us.

Work Cited

Allport, Gordon. "The Formation of In-groups." English 1D Handbook Critical Composition. 2012. Ed. Anna Villegas. 67-86. Print.