For those who have not yet been exposed to the abomination that is a “Gamer Girl”, firstly, lucky you. Secondly, here is all you need to know. They are unicorns. Gamer Girls, as portrayed by social media (The only opinion that seem to matter anymore), are unicorns because they are incredibly powerful icons, creatures of great beauty and wonder; and also, they don’t actually exist. I’m sorry to be so blunt guys, but show me a woman who needs to whip her girls out and bite the controller during an average play session, and I’ll show you a westerner with a correctly interpreted Chinese tattoo. In social media, Gamer Girls are likely well known for pictures involving controllers, headphones, misunderstood references, and of course-sex appeal. Maybe they are just overly attractive women that feel confident taking endless selfies? No, they are assuming the role of someone such as myself. Someone that knows the lead character of Zelda games is not Zelda. In my opinion, it’s just a stunt to get attention from, what in the past, were a very niche group of like-minded men and women. If you weren’t into their fandom, and couldn’t hold a conversation about their favorite game; it’s likely they wouldn’t be very interested.

Being a Gamer Girl is a quick way into the gaming world, which has evolved so voluptuously that everyone from your grandpa to your sweet girlfriend is now gaming in some fashion. The desire for instant gratification that the ‘likes’ on a photo or endless private chat boxes is understandable. However, when considering things from this angle, I realized, sure, I was angry at Gamer Girls for making women look incompetent by association, but at the same time, I couldn’t deny that I empathised with the desire to “fit in”. There was once a time I pierced my nose and belly button, and then died my hair black, so I felt I could fit in with the “Punks” because casually liking the same things didn’t help. Later I learned to surf and got a tan, which as a red head this was disastrous, and still, I wasn’t one of the “Surfies”. Yes, Gamer Girls are unbalancing things for those of us that love to game but are not so fond of our assets being more important than our kill streak, but I believe every one of them is just trying to fit in, and I can’t stay mad at them, after all, they would have diminished, not flourished in numbers, if it weren’t for the response they get. Gamer Girls, if I meet one of you in person I can’t promise I won’t slap you with the biggest walkthrough guide I can find, but for all I care, you can continue being a unicorn until you find your own fandom.

With that being said, there are still several other culprits in the battle of gaming fairness; one of which are young male gamers. Now before you all get indignant and furiously wave your mage staffs at me. I want to be clear. It’s nearly always the few that ruin it for the many. Take online gaming, for example. At first, I wanted to say that I was forced to hide my gender while playing, but this seemed like too strong a statement to print. Additionally, I didn’t want to sound as if I was making a mountain out of a molehill either, and so, I reached out to 11 other female gamers to get their perspective on the topic. Subsequently, each of them answered a set of questions so I could compare our experiences, and now am I glad I asked! Every one of the women interviewed has uncannily similar complaints, which was a relief, as I can now move forward knowing I’m not the only one experiencing these issues.

Unsurprisingly, online players were some of the biggest sexist offenders. In every game I played, I would create a name that had no gender attachment as this afforded me leeway in chats and roaming the worlds. I could enjoy competition or companionship for mutual benefits without a gender mention. I spent the most time on Rune Scape as I found that once I’d mastered crafting, I could forge amour to rival most players, and most importantly, I had the option of either a plate skirt or pants. Before long, I was a fully suited high level character, leading a huge clan, sporting impressive weapons with a PvP history to boot all without ever having to bring up the gender issue, also known as ASL, and it was fantastic! It was months before my feminist senses started tingling, and it was only when a woman I had been questing with logged on with top of the range armor out of the blue. She proudly admitted to “making” one of the guys craft it for her. I was furious; I booted her from my clan, and assumed it was all her fault for flaunting the fact she was one of only a small handful of females in our group when it suited her.

Initially, I pitied the male player that had used half his account’s contents for her. Well, that was until he explained his reasoning, which was: “she was a woman and needed the help!”. Never before then, or since that moment, have I wished my toon had the ability to make complicated facial expressions. At that point, in the middle of a huge clan bank trade, I removed all my armour in a click, exposing the generic female dress you start with. I had no idea i’d be so furious over it, but in front of everyone, I used the voice chat for the first time and said, “Yup! Pony tail and a dress. Should I kill you in PvP or are you leaving now?”. After my outburst, the balance was forever in shambles. Sexism from some men, offers of aid from others, and even several online marriage proposals. Fortunately, there were still those few that said “cool hair” and never mentioned it again. Online gaming had been a fun escape from my everyday life, but once they all knew I was female, it became subtle politics, and small, yet constant stresses. Even after the countless hours, effort, and all the friends, I packed it in, deleted my characters, and quit for good. Online gaming had been ruined for me. All it takes is to find a game, and decent people to enjoy it with. However, I no longer have the patience or time to waste on the exception, and I find that really sad.

Moving forward, the next culprit is “the masses”. Love them or hate them, the masses arguably control the world’s general perspective. Stereotypes are not a new thing, and especially not when it comes to gender typing. Society has come a long way since females were almost required to enjoy sewing and knitting, which is something I’m eternally grateful for! Although, in fairness, Men didn’t have it that much better once upon a time as an interest in anything seen as unmanly would have been disastrous for a gentleman. However, in saying that, these days no one blinks an eye at the guy baking macaroons or sewing a cosplay outfit with finesse that could embarrass your Nan. Professionally, gender roles appear to have improved, but to me it seems like little has changed. A simple argument for this is male nurses; granted it is a predominately female profession and has been for a long time, but do we honestly need to put the world “male” in front of it? I thought I’d ask “the masses” or 20 of them at least! I listed 13 titles and asked for their instant gender response. Naturally, I wasn’t surprised by the results. There was one person who said male for nurse, but he was one. Teacher, receptionist, stripper, and hairdresser were almost %100 answered as female; while IT, principal, postie, dentist, and gamer were almost entirely male.

I wasn’t startled with the responses I received, but I was surprised that my estimates were 99% on the mark. What does it matter if roles are perceived as gender specific? Who cares if we continue indefinitely using terms such as “Male Nurse”, “Male Stripper”, or “Gamer Girl”? As a society, we could not be clearer about declaring to those employed in a particular role that they’re in the wrong job. And yet, within well respected career such as a Doctor, the gender label is suddenly not necessary. It shouldn’t be the value or respect of the position that drops the unnecessary description; to paraphrase the theoretical astrophysicist Sam Carter, “it shouldn’t matter if your reproductive organs are on the inside or out”. Sam, short for Samantha, may be only a fictional character, but still, it’s very well said! While to those of us who know better (that the gender of a player doesn’t matter), to the selection of peers I consulted with, it clearly is just another gender-typed role. So while Gamer Girl insists on being a recognized and approved term no matter how incorrect it might be, I will henceforth add gender allocation to everything; good morning “Lady Doctor”, hello “Admin Boy” or call me again during dinner, and I will hunt you down “Miss Telemarketer”! Yes, it really does sound this ridiculous when you throw around gender titles.

In truth, developers and designers are also responsible for the representation of females in gaming, and more often than not, they’re not doing us any favours. In fairness, there have been quite a few positive examples recently as seen with the reboot of Tomb Raider, Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite, and Ellie from The Last Of Us. However, this is more so an exception to what’s common place, and it can sometimes be a struggle to remain neutral, and completely avoid feeling self-conscious when your hero, or the non-playable characters, are an unholy combination of Barbie’s gravity defying proportions and outfits that would cause pneumonia. I’m lucky enough to have been raised to feel confident, understand self-worth, and not get weighed down by others and their insecurities. However, I’m still only human. Creating avatars online can be great fun; huge colourful hair you’d never pull off in real life, oversized weapons and accessories, and custom armour and outfits. The issue is that this is often approached from an extremely sexist position. From the games whose gender options force you into a role, such as the only female option being a mage, to classics like Mario, where for many years the only female was utterly useless and fully dependent on a hero. Another glaring example of unfair gender specifics is with the armour. Put tough armour on a male, then switch it to a female, ta-da! Most of the outfit has disappeared!

I’m not naïve to the idea that some women might enjoy playing characters such as these, in order to award a powerful yet sexy POV to their gaming experience. In fact, I even agree in part as playing a hero who possess every aspect of perfect or awesome can be thrilling and fun. However, I’m still not willing to trade skill, bravery, and wit so that my character can wear a third of a dress. If it was interchangeable, and men were just as skimpy, there wouldn’t be such backlash… or would there? Gaming is a business, and attractive characters attract money. Truthfully, wouldn’t we all prefer to look at someone appealing? This isn’t the fault of the industry, just a trait of fabulously faulty humans. Even when faced with visions of women in JRPGs with heavenly bodies, and half a foot of material, we as women and men need to recognize it as nothing more than exaggerated beauty for entertainments sake; be comfortable enough in yourself to laugh at their ridiculousness, and be sure they kick some ass. While these icons continue to bring in business, it’s likely that this isn’t going to change anytime soon.

In no way am I pleading a case to designers and consumers to stop creating and supporting these ideals. All we want, and more correctly, deserve, is more of the RIGHT stuff. For example, take the aforementioned reboot of Tomb Raider. While watching my Dad play the original growing up, at first I wondered if the short shorts and ominously pointy physique was what gave her appeal and admiration. Was it just how good she made khakis look, or her abilities as an adventurer? As a gamer, not a feminist, and having a positive male role model alongside me, it soon became clear what made a hero so enviable are their actions. The latest reboot gave us that, with a brilliant narrative, real character growth, and investment in a strong protagonist. Not to mention, she did it with a full outfit, and not once relied on feminine wiles. Is it unreasonable to want to see more of this in the future?

When you encounter a hero in a game, in my opinion, the first thing that you need to feel from them is that they are capable of being a hero. They may not look like one, or initially even act like one, but you need to believe they are capable. Overwhelmingly, it appears women have to prove the same capability that is just a given with men. Granted in real life, I have no drive to go questing in unknown lands for riches and glory. However, if I wanted to then who’s to say I’d fail? It is as ridiculous as the assumption that women are not meant for the armed forces, and subsequently, no worse than the archaic mindset that has forever caused a divide between the sexes. Women, like men, should be assumed capable of saving that one kid during a zombie apocalypse, not because she has special training and secret spy history, but because who is to say she can’t? Over and over, the women I’ve spoken to say the same thing: we have to be better than the male players to be good enough! No one ever just says, “hey good game!” It’s always, good game bro. Be careful fellas! Next time you tell a woman to get back to the kitchen just remember: that’s where we keep the sharp objects, gaffer tape, rubber gloves, and garbage bags.

I’d like to conclude with a confession. Until quite recently, I never considered things such as Gamer Girls or the 13 year old boy’s fantasy representation of women in games to be an issue. I’ve been a gamer most of my life, and have chosen to surround myself with like-minded people, and separate myself from those who would try to ruin it for me. When I see a female character who looks as if she should have dollar bills hanging out of her “outfit”, I usually just roll my eyes and move on. When I’m expected to best the guys to be considered passable, or when immature outbursts from losers make me wonder if the victory is different because of my gender, I just laugh at the fact that they’re so terrified of being outdone by the fairer sex. Essentially, it’s up to the perceptions of each individual, and in turn, these are just my thoughts on the subject. Although, in saying that, to the vast majority of players that live in this expanding realm, thank you for letting us do what we love without being pigs or bigots.

While I don’t presume to speak for everyone, I feel I can confidently sum up the collective feelings of both myself, and the women I interviewed. To the Gamer Girls, get the controller out of your mouth, for pete’s sake sanitize it, and then play; play because you love to, there is no other reason. To the vocal minority of male individuals who still perceive it to be the 1950′s, please, grow up. And finally, to the developers, please continue to implement more positive female role-models in your games! In time, it is my hope that the industry will develop into an all-encompassing community where what matters most is the experience and a mutual love of the culture; regardless of your gender. It’s an incredible medium, and I think every player should have the right to enjoy it.

Bernadette Russell
Bernadette is living her childhood dream as a freelance writer in Geraldton, WA. With a life-long console habit and a self-imposed MMO ban, she fantasizes about the day when all she'll have to do is game and write. Oh, and also about meeting Link. HYAH!