Despite the ubiquity of games in everyday American culture, the term “gamer” itself seems to still be strongly associated with younger males with too much time on their hands. Playing video games is still seen as a primarily masculine activity, even though everyone and his or her grandmother has played “Angry Birds” at least once in their life. Is there truth to the stereotype?
Most male gamers at Drake claim that they have met very few girls who play video games. Junior Bryn Start, part of the Drake Starcraft Team, suspects that “the ratio (of male to female gamers) may be colossally imbalanced.” All of them were surprised that 40 percent of American gamers are female. In fact, more adult women (33 percent of gamers) play games than male teenagers and children (18 percent of gamers). Of course, the fact remains that the majority of gamers are male, but the ratio is not as imbalanced as one might assume.
Regardless of what the stats say, these stereotypes still exist. How does this affect female players and their gaming experiences?
Emily Garnett, a senior biochemistry, cell and molecular biology major and avid adventure/role-playing game gamer, said that she does not care that she does not fit into the male gamer stereotype.
“It’s a little weird to be treated as aberrant because I game,” she said. “Apart from seeing expressions of considerable surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I really dig ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ I can’t say I really feel like I’ve been stereotyped or that it’s had a lot of impact on me.”
Garnett also said that she is respected by male gamers for being legitimately interested in the same games that they are. Her experience, however, may be due to the fact that she tends to play with people she already knows.
Laura Warren, a member of the Drake Gaming League, said that she dislikes playing multiplayer games with strangers.
“The couple of times that I tried, I was called rude names for being a girl and a newbie,” she said.
Warren’s experience stands in contrast to Start’s assertion that female gamers use their gender instead of their skills to gain attention. However, he did say that male gamers who respond to female gamers with stereotypical behaviors are to blame as well.
“I think that many male gamers don’t take female gamers seriously, and
I find that sad,” Warren said. “I think it’s getting a little better, but there is still the stigma that all female gamers are really nerdy, and that even then they aren’t as good as male gamers.”
Junior Michelle Levine, secretary of the Drake Gaming League, said that if you are a girl and you go to a gaming store, you’re very likely to get hit on.
Most gamers are aware of this stereotype, but none of them really subscribed to it, saying that practice increases skill regardless of gender.
“I have every confidence that if I actually enjoyed first-person shooters and fighting games, I would be just as good at them as my guy friends are,” Garnett said. “As it is, however, I don’t have the drive to improve my skill at them. And that’s what I think it comes down to; whether or not you, as an individual, are willing to invest the time and energy that it takes to become good at a game, not your gender.”
Second-year pharmacy student Michaela Stephan, a “Guilds War” player said that the time is important to become a better gamer.
“I believe the difference in gaming ability comes from differing amounts of time playing each gaming medium,” Stephan said. “Growing up, my brother always hogged the gaming console, so I would play computer games instead. Over time, my skill in computer gaming improved while my brother’s skill in console gaming improved.”
Anastasia Olashaya-Grill, a recent Drake graduate and avid role-playing/first-person shooter gamer said that gaming is like art.
“Gaming is like any sort of art form, really,” Olashaya-Grill said. “You can be a great novelist, poet, painter, sculptor, musician (or) whatever regardless of what your sex and/or gender is.”
She also said, however, that “perception might change depending on the balance of estrogen and testosterone in your body, but that’s just general perception.”
Start acknowledged that any one can be a good gamer, but he said that gender does play a role, “I think that female gamers could hold their own against male gamers under the circumstances of an equal supply of gamers from each gender for each game,” he said, “but there are biological differences between genders that I believe might make one gender more likely to play a certain kind of game than the other gender, perhaps furthered by gender roles that kids are exposed to at a very young age.”
Olashaya-Grill had a slightly different view.
“Being a good gamer comes from talent and practice,” Olashaya-Grill said. “Sex and gender have nothing to do with performance, save for stupid gender roles getting in the way of access to certain games.”
Do gender roles influence the frequency at which females play games? Or does it have something to do with biological dispositions?
“As one of the few females playing Guild Wars, I can only guess at why girls are less inclined to play,” Stephan said. “Perhaps it is because they feel it is not feminine or not for girls. Maybe they feel that it is too nerdy. Maybe it is because of the Internet trolls. Perhaps they feel they do not have enough time to play. Maybe they are playing ‘World of Warcraft’ instead of ‘Guild Wars.’”
Garnett suggests that it has less to do with biology and gender roles and more to do with the androcentric content of the games themselves.
“It seems to me like a lot of games are geared more towards men than they are towards women — not to say that women can’t like demon-slaying, gunfights or fast cars, but the fact of the matter is that these are stereotypically guy things,” Garnett said. “In addition, there’s a serious dearth of female characters that have any complexity at all in video games, and more often than not, women in games are simply presented as fan service. That can get old.”