• I am a woman who games, not a gamer “girl”

    by  • May 15, 2012 • Essays • 12 Comments

    While out at dinner with some friends recently, I found myself having a conversation with a well-intentioned male friend about why it’s not a good idea to refer to women who game as “gamer girls” and why he should instead be calling us “gamer women” or “women who game”. It was an interesting conversation because this well-intentioned friend seemed honestly baffled as to why anyone would object to being called a “gamer girl”, though he readily accepted the points that I offered without any hostility. So while I certainly don’t own a Hat of Speaking For All Women, I thought I’d expand a little here on my problems with the term “gamer girl”.

    Problem the first: I am a woman, not a girl

    I am not a girl, and have not been a girl for a very long time, and I very much resent it when people refer to me as a girl because it diminishes my perceived status within a community. If there is a situation in which you would refer to someone as a “man” and not a “boy”, then it should be similarly inappropriate to refer to an analogous female person as a “girl” and not a “woman”. Calling me a “girl” is patronizing and demeaning, even if it’s not intended that way. I am an adult, with all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges that that entails and I want to be recognized as such.

    I have seen others frame this argument in terms of biology – ie “I menstruate, therefore I am a woman”, or “I have had children, therefore I am a woman”. That’s pretty biologically reductive, though, so I prefer this argument instead: I work and pay taxes and all that other un-fun stuff that comes with being an adult. Therefore I am a woman.

    Problem the second: calling me a gamer “girl” carries the implied assumption that the default gamer is male

    When talking about gamers, you never hear people refer to men who game as “gamer men” or “gamer guys” or “men who game”. So why is it that when people talk about women who game, they feel compelled to identify their gender as part of that discussion? When male gamers are allowed to be simply “gamers” while female gamers have to be “gamer girls”, that reinforces the idea that the default gamer in any population of gamers is male; male gamers do not need to have their gender specified, while female gamers have to be identified as a special class. This is slightly infuriating, as women are very rapidly approaching 50% of the gaming population. Around 40% of people who game are women, and that gap continues to narrow. We’re not some rare and special species of gamer. We’re just people who game who happen to be female.

    Moreover, by continuing to talk about “gamer girls” as a distinct sub-species of gamer, that implies that women who game are a monoculture – which is anything but the case. I know plenty of women who conform to female gaming stereotypes, sure. But I know just as many women who game in traditionally “male” arenas of gaming. The gaming tastes of women are every bit as varied as the gaming tastes of men, so having conversations about “gamer girls” simplifies the situation in unhelpful ways.

    Problem the third: games for girls are not games that I want to play

    As someone very smart pointed out to me, it’s also a problem of marketing. “Games for girls” are a horrifying subset of the gaming market (that I’ve written about previously here) that are none the less played by many young girls. But I am an adult with adult tastes who wants to play games for adults, not games for little girls. What I find to be rewarding gameplay is not going to be the same as what an 8-year-old girl is going to find to be rewarding gameplay. As 40% of the market and the gender responsible for 60% of all consumer purchases, I deserve to be considered my own market segment and not to be lumped in with little girls just because we both happen to be female.

    But wundergeek! What about the women who call themselves “gamer girls”? And what about RPG = Role Playing Girl?

    It’s true! A bunch of us here at GaW worked on various iterations of a zine that called out women who game as “role playing girls”. But the purpose of RPGirl was to highlight the experience of women in gaming and to show that we’re not rare and special like unicorns. (Also, people don’t ever call them RPWs, and W is a much harder letter to work into a clever acronym.) So that extent, I wouldn’t call our use of the word “girl” in that context awful.

    And remember at the beginning, where I said I don’t have a Hat of Speaking for All Women? While I think the term “gamer girl” is awful, there are plenty of women out there who self-identify as “gamer girls”, and that’s okay too! Feminism is not a monoculture, and there are some awesome women out there doing awesome things while calling themselves “girls”. (See: Geek Girls Rule. See also: GeekGirlCon) And that’s okay – for them.

    For me? I am a woman who games, thank you very much. If you’re looking for gamer girls in my household, you can check back in a few years when I’ve managed to start my daughter-to-be on the path to nerddom.



    I’m an occasional game illustrator, and game designer, long-time LARPer, and player of tabletop roleplaying games (mostly indie games). I have a terminal addiction to board games. I also play both PC and console games – mainly RPGs of all stripes, but I do enjoy puzzle games like Katamari as well. My main source of gaming notoriety, however, is the feminist gaming blog Go Make Me a Sandwich. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am a photographer and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.


    12 Responses to I am a woman who games, not a gamer “girl”

    1. avatar
      May 15, 2012 at 16:15

      “calling me a gamer “girl” carries the implied assumption that the default gamer is male”

      This is not something that I had considered, but it’s very true. Thank you.

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    2. avatar
      May 15, 2012 at 18:38

      Thanks for the note about RPGirl and solidarity with folks who do identify as girl gamers! I think the RPGirl project got it’s name from the wonderful synchronicity of RPG = Role Playing Girl. But WomenGamers and GamingasWomen are great monikers. Maybe a name change is appropriate for future zines???

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    3. avatar
      May 15, 2012 at 18:41

      And remember at the beginning, where I said I don’t have a Hat of Speaking for All Women? While I think the term “gamer girl” is awful, there are plenty of women out there who self-identify as “gamer girls”, and that’s okay too! Feminism is not a monoculture, and there are some awesome women out there doing awesome things while calling themselves “girls”.

      A lot of people despair at that point – they see avoiding problematic speech as jumping through hoops, and when they realise that everyone has a different set of hoops, they throw up their hands.

      There’s a particular point that I think would be useful to emphasize in discourse about what sort of speech and expression people find problematic. I’ve no doubt this point is out there, but I can’t think of many places I’ve seen it. I’ve definitely seen it here on GaW – it came up in Vivian Abraham’s response to the WOTC article.

      That point is this:

      “You are going to offend people, no matter how hard you try not to. You should still try not to.”

      I think a lot of people are left to draw this conclusion for themselves, and I think a lot of well-meaning people don’t get there.

      The logic goes something like this:

      1. Observation: “I see X number of people outline what they consider problematic.”
      2. Observation: “I see inconsistencies between peoples’ outlines, and in a few cases I even see contradictions.”
      3. Inference: “I’m going to offend people no matter what I do.”
      4. Inference: “Purely on the basis of what does or does not offend people, no option is preferable to another, since every option is going to offend someone.”
      5. Conclusion: “I might as well ignore offensiveness as a criterion for my actions.”

      That’s the generalized case as I see it. I think a lot of well-meaning people will be uncomfortable with the logic, but will fail to come up with a viable alternative to it.

      I think if point #3 is openly stated by the person outlining the problematic behaviour, that speaker has a fighting chance of heading off #4 and #5. (Should the speaker have to emphasize this point? Probably not. But I believe it would be effective to do so.) Just like a forceful “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying” is often a useful response to an incredulous “Are you saying ________?”

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      • avatar
        May 15, 2012 at 19:19

        I think the best policy in general is to use language that is as inclusive as possible and know that sometimes you’ll screw up. Everybody does. But like you said – you should still try not to!

        In this specific instance, I would make an argument for referring to women who game as “women who game” as being the best default. While there are some fantastic women out there who identify as “gamer girls” or “geek girls”, I honestly doubt that they would be offended if you referred to them as gamer “women” or “women who game”. And that way you avoid annoying the gamer women who do care and who don’t want to be called “girls”.

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    5. avatar
      May 15, 2012 at 20:47

      For those that self-identify as “gamer girls,” I can’t help but wonder if there is a generational or age-based component involved in using that naming convention, as opposed to being a “woman gamer”. Is that group younger, ie Millenials or youngish Gen-X, versus older Gen-X and baby boomers?

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    6. avatar
      Michelle Lyons-McFarland
      May 15, 2012 at 21:49

      There’s also the cross-reference in gender issues in that “girl” is synonymous with young and attractive, while “woman” does not carry that idea of culturally attractive or in demand with it. Women are supposed to want to be girls and be mistaken for girls. Thanks again, Victorian Era.

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    10. avatar
      June 22, 2012 at 17:51

      Personally, I self-identify as a “gamer” or sometimes “game player” (as I’m not a hard-core gamer). When it comes to discussing gamers of different genders, I prefer to use the words “female/male gamer”. After all, as the article said, we don’t talk about “gamer boys” or “men who game”.

      Having said that, I find that most people around me refer to me as a gamer, game developer, or game designer… without feeling the need to point out my gender to me (or others). Which I think is wonderful. :) I hope this trend continues and one day we’ll read this article and say “pssh, things were funny back then, weren’t they?”.

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      • avatar
        July 12, 2012 at 21:35

        I’m with steamgirl on this issue. I generally just identify myself as a gamer. No need for to distinguish my gender in most cases. If there is a need to be more specific, “female” and “male” have worked best for me. But I would much rather erase the divide that gender specific names create. I am a gamer. I don’t like male games or female games. I just like games.

        People need to be sensitive to the gaming culture just as much as any other culture. There is a mix of gender, race, and age, so deal with that, but don’t stereotype everyone in those categories.

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