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[Gamer Diary] Self-segregation and “Girl Gamers”

2012 September 11

I am a gamer. First and foremost. My physical sex and gender identity do not factor into this. The only other identity-factors that come into play when I talk about gaming are age, time and style preferences: e.g. “I’m a twenty-something gamer, I’ve been gaming for over 17 years and I play FPS games a lot, with single-player RPGs in second.” Simples, as the cool ‘kats say.

I’m also a bit of an amateur linguist; I look at the language people use and what it means to use it in different circumstances for no other reason than it interests me. I’ve been considering a discussion on the language of gaming with BadRep for some time now, and I think this would be a good first topic: the problem with ‘girl gamer’ as an identifier.

Obviously, everyone is welcome to self-describe however they see fit, but I’d just like it if people could think about this term a little bit before applying it to themselves or others.

Let’s think about ‘gamer’. We all recognise this as meaning ‘someone who plays games’ with the extended connotation nowadays that this means computer- & video-games (as opposed to card games or board games). There’s no other extended definition: it’s not exclusive to male players. A gamer is just a person.

Now: ‘girl’. I have a serious problem with the general use of this word when referring to adults, anyway. A girl or a boy is a child. Use of either when speaking of an adult is insulting, infantilising and diminutive. (I won’t even use the words boyfriend or girlfriend if I can avoid them). The problem with coupling ‘girl’ with ‘gamer’ is that it accentuates the misconception that the gamer in question isn’t mature enough or capable enough to play with the adults – thereby widening the void between male and female gamers and adding to the sexism that some experience.

~Insert disclaimer on how we all know that not all gamers are sexist. Furthermore, it’s not just male gamers who are sexist in gaming either.~

Using ‘girl gamer’ on one’s self and others is just adding fuel to the sexist contingent’s fire, because it’s a way of self-segregating, and not a very positive way at that. We rarely hear of other segregated terms – you don’t nearly as often see references to black gamers, white gamers, asian gamers, boy gamers, gay gamers, intergalactic invader gamers – at least, not in the same way. So why should we encourage the use of ‘girl gamer’ if at the same time we’re trying to fight against being segregated based on sex or gender?

Sure, if we’re actually talking about children, then by all means use ‘girl’, as long as we’re willing to use ‘boy’ alongside it. In the adult world, however, self-referral as a ‘girl’ plays into the patriarchal control mechanisms of English, which then eke their way into the gamer consciousness. Unfortunately, as English-speakers, we get to speak a very sexist language, historically used by the powerful to subjugate and cling to power. In the past, those powerful people have primarily been male, so there’s no surprise that the language of the realm has been adapted to keep others out of power and quash protest.

You can see this simply in the way people talk without even touching on gamers and gaming. How many times have you heard someone refer to male and female adults as ‘guys’ and ‘girls’? ‘Guy’ is widely accepted as referencing an adult man, whereas ‘girl’ is a word for a child, and puts the women in the inferior position.

Language is important and so is the use of language. Any linguist will tell you that, regardless of their sex or gender. If you pause to think about it, anybody can realise how important language is. The words we choose to use are always vital to building the way we want to describe, discuss, identify and progress. ‘Girl gamer’ is problematic. It’s used as a derogatory term by some in the community to imply that female gamers are separate and inept, and that they should be kept that way. Attempts at reclamation of the term are fraught with complications as no matter how positive the intention, it still perpetuates this segregation, infatilisation and dismissal from the realm of The Gamer.

We need to remember that within gaming, it’s the game that matters. Games are forms of escapism, so why should anything about us personally be important when we’re gaming? Yes, our identities come into play when we discuss development and progression of our preferred art form/entertainment source, but when we’re playing, they’re irrelevant. You don’t need to be male, female, trans*, gay, straight, bi, queer, old, young, white, black or anything else; when you game, you are a gamer. Anyone can game, and we have the potential to create and mould a fantastically inclusive community to wrap around our favourite hobby – we just need to take care with how we define ourselves and the language we use.

We are all gamers.That’s it.

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