Gender Games

So recently a friend brought this comic from The Oatmeal to my attention.

What is interesting about it – speaking as a female gamer who doesn’t always “suck” – is that regardless of the sexist nature of the reactions being depicted, the artist (Matthew) has a valid point. What he doesn’t mention is that when a female gamer is actually good, she is often accused of one of several things: 1) that she’s really a 13-year-old boy; 2) that she’s the “real gamer’s” girlfriend and is simply speaking over the headset; 3) that she’s a lesbian; or 4) that she’s hideously ugly and has no other reason for gaming than that she is incapable of attracting a boyfriend or friends.

To be fair, this sense is diminishing – and rapidly so – as more women take up gaming, which is why I’m going to share a story about my own experience playing Team Fortress 2 on Steam.

Let me begin by saying that while I may be fairly terrible at Call of Duty and Gears of War 3 multiplayer, I am good at TF2. Really good. Once I began playing in earnest, I was usually first or second on the leaderboard. My favorite classes are Medic and Heavy, with some Pyro and a little Engineer thrown in for variety. During the incident about to be described, I was playing Medic and leading the board by a fair margin.

I had also been called a “dude” more than once – “Hey, dude! Heal me!” – likely because I had yet to speak over the headset (as was my customary behavior, not wanting to deal with the inevitable name-calling, accusations of boyhood, or requests for photos to “prove” I was really female). I am not complaining about this assumption, since the majority of players are male and if you’re going to choose a default gender, male is most likely correct.

Then a new group joined the game. They were from Argentina. They spoke Spanish. The rest of the players already in the game (all male, except for me) spoke English. At one point, one of the Americans decided to demonstrate his Spanish skills, and announced “Yo quiero cabeza!” This prompted outrageous laughter from the Argentinians, as the American had annouced “I want head!” instead of what he thought he was saying, which was “I want beer!”

At this point, I decided to intervene: “You mean ‘cerveza,’ not ‘cabeza.’”

Silence.

“Dude… you’re a girl?”

“Yes.”

Immediately followed by, “Eres una chica?” (the Spanish equivalent).

What was amazing about the rest of the game was that they immediately got over my gender and focused on the fact that I was capable of translating requests and orders from one half of my team to the other. By the end of it, no one cared that I was a girl. They cared that I was good at the game and capable of helping them cooperate. And – amazingly enough – everyone was polite, even to one another.

My point is that while The Oatmeal is right, the opposite can and does also happen. And every time a group of guys treat a female gamer like just another gamer something amazing happens – it’s called leadership.

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