I am a gamer.
Hardly a controversial statement, but it’s not always entirely uncomplicated for me to make it. See, I suffer from a very particular sort of impostor syndrome: I’m never quite sure if I’m geeky enough.
Gamer Geek Cred
Whenever I meet someone new who is into gaming, there is that vaguely uncomfortable conversation where we gague whether we are the same sort of gamer. No matter how nice the person is and no matter how well we’re getting along, I always feel like I’m judged against a sort of Gamer Geek Cred Score. It looks something like this:
- Plays first-person shooters +10
- Plays real-time strategy (esp. StarCraft) +10
- Plays competitively (pvp or against highschore etc) +20
- Plays World of Warcraft +5
- …on a PvP server +5
- …in a proper raid guild +10
- …on a RP server, as an actual roleplayer -5
- …casually (no matter how many hours/week) -10
- …as alliance -5
- Mostly plays casual games -5
- Plays old cult titles +5
- Prefers playing on higher than default difficulty +5
- Prefers playing on lower than default difficulty -5
According to this scale (which I just pulled out of my ass, for the record), I’m usually somewhere around -15. I can’t play FPS because I am easily frightened and get very stressed by fast-paced action((There are many games in the genre I really, really want to play because of their awesome story (e.g. Half-Life) or because they just look so goddamn fun (e.g. Overwatch). I did give Half-Life 2 a very honest try, once. I had watched partners play through it a couple of times and really wanted to experience it for myself. I gave up when I got to Ravenholm.)). I find it difficult to play competitively because of performance anxiety and because I take it personally when people try to kill me. I’ve never seen an RTS that struck me as remotely fun to play. And when playing games such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect, which at least don’t score negative points, I always keep the difficulty setting low enough that I rarely risk dying. After all, I play for immersion and story, and the hero dying every now and then is extremely immersion-breaking.
All of this makes me secretly judge myself to be a Fake Geek Girl. Doesn’t matter how many times I have played through the Myst series or how many
hours days weeks(? who’s counting…) I have spent leveling alts in World of Warcraft. Unless I like blowing people up, I’m probably not a Real Gamer™.
The Fake Geek Ghost
Of course, no one has actually told me any of these things. No one has said I’m not a Real Gamer™ or True Geek™. Apart from a few veiled barbs from an ex, all my “fake geek girl”-shaming comes from within. I have been so programmed by society that I hold myself to bizarre ideals that I would never, ever hold anyone else to. I’m haunted by the ghost of a Fake Geek Girl that never even existed.
And it makes me so fucking angry.
The idea of the Fake Geek Girl is rooted in pure misogyny. It’s a bizarre form of gatekeeping into a community that proclaims to desperately want girls to notice its existence. But how are girls to feel welcome when who they are, what they do and what they like is constantly downvalued?
What girls like and how their channel their interest is always seen as Less Than. Consider, for instance, fanworks of different kinds. Women are overrepresented among people who create fanart and write fanfiction. And these things are at best considered a light-weight form of geekiness, usually contained with the term “fandom”.
However, people who build mods for their favourite games are mostly male. I have never seen this called “fandom” – but it’s definitely something that gives you geek cred.
I’m a Fangirl Baby, So Why Don’t You
Kill Me Go F*ck Yourself
I am not remotely ashamed to admit that I have spent a lot of time of writing fanfiction, primarily based on Dragon Age. And by a lot of time, I mean a lot. The longest story is some 80,000 words – that’s two novels’ worth of writing – that I wrote over the span of perhaps three or four months.
The process involved a lot of research: Playing out scenes in the game over and over to explore different nuances of character interplay, delving into lore to make sure I wouldn’t accidentally create an AU, reading the works of other fans for inspiration… And yet, when comparing myself to the (predominantly male) fans who instead spend that time crunching numbers to make sure they’re using the most effective armor for their build when playing on Nightmare difficulty with one hand tied behind their back and no health potions, I feel like my kind of fandom just doesn’t quite cut it.
And I hate this. It’s ridiculous. I am beyond passionate about the titles I love; when I get into my true fandom periods, I live and breathe games. There is absolutely nothing fake about it.
A Different Class of Games
It’s not just about how we express our love for games, but what kind of games different players tend to gravitate to. There is a huge industry around creating casual games that attract people of all sorts of ages, genders and lifestyles these days, but it’s not like avid Farmville or Candy Crush fans ever call themselves “gamers”.
Girls and women are far more likely to play casual games and games focused on stories and immersion, rather than the violent and competitive AAA-titles that have become almost synonymous with Gaming these days. And no wonder – these games often seem to be designed to actively repel the female audience, by being rife with sexism. Sometimes the almost-subtle kind where female characters are included in the story only as victims to give the male protagonist a cause, sometimes overt objectification (even being offered as a reward), always with the constant subconscious awareness that whatever game you play, you are likely to meet far fewer female NPCs than male ones.
The audience is given the very clear message that these games are not for women, they are for heterosexual men, and the gamers know it: Women who dare to enroach upon that territory despite all the warning signs are frequently heaped with equal parts sexual harrassment and downright abuse.
So – we have a class of games that are considered cool, and those are the games that men play. And then there’s the other stuff, for kids, women and whatever else is out there. It’s become a toxic, self-reinforcing class system.
But I do see signs of improvement. Most notably, Blizzard seems to be doing really well at making Overwatch a multiplayer fps that appeals to a wide audience. It really isn’t that difficult. Just make a point of providing a bit of diversity, and the divergent will come to you. We’re starving, after all.
So Many Games, Gotta Make ’em All
These days, I can (somewhat) confidently call myself a programmer and game developer. Fact is, although there are plenty of games I really would love to be playing right now, I simply don’t have time – I’m too busy developing. It seems that to my subconscious, this lends me a certain amount of geek cred that outweighs my deficits.
Yet I still worry that people I meet in the industry will assume that I like games I’ve never played, or that I know more than I do about certain topics. I worry that they will be disappointed when I don’t match these expectations, and that they won’t trust me as a developer because of my missing geek cred.
No matter what I do to distance myself from the gender binary and shake loose the remnant threads of narrative clinging to my mind, I still find myself mired in these internalized expectations. Well, I’m done now.
I’m a gamer, and that’s the end of it.