I game, but I don't identify as a 'girl gamer'

Long-time gamer and director at Atteline, Bianca Riley, shares her thoughts on gender equality in the gaming industry...
I game, but I don't identify as a 'girl gamer'
CosmoBy Cosmo -

My sister and I have played video games for our whole lives. We’d run over to our cousins’ house on a weekly basis when the weather didn’t allow for us to play outside and our parents let us switch on the N64. From when we maneuvered Mario to Bowser’s castle to rescue Princess Peach, all the way up until this morning when I launched a killstreak on the opposing team in Modern Warfare and paid off my home debt on my Animal Crossing island. And to be honest, until we were adults, Sierra and I never noticed a difference between ourselves and our cousins Zack and Jared in terms of ability nor the amount of fun we had while playing.

For many, that’s all it is about - entertainment. At the end of the day, most who turn to video games are looking to take shelter from their busy work days and personal stressors and just relax.

For that exact reason, it took some time for me to understand why Zack and Jared were labeled “gamers”, and my sister and I “girl gamers”. Are they then not “boy gamers”? Or indeed are we all not just “gamers”?

I’ll refer to my thoughts and position on this via an analogy -  Gaming as a girl can often feel like you’re at an  all-boys birthday party where you, a girl (shock, horror), heard about it on the playground and turned up uninvited, and hence the distinction of labeling.

Why must we put successful female gamers in a box when they’re doing the exact same thing, and a lot of the time at the same level if not better? To put this in perspective - did you know that almost an equal number of women and men are playing video games, and even more women playing mobile games than men?

It’s not just about ability. Unfortunately, women face roughly three times more harassment than men when playing online. I, too, notice this mostly during games like Call of Duty and Fallout 76. I have felt scared to speak in online game chat as, based on past experiences, it would only lead to inappropriate flirting or rude comments about ‘getting back in the kitchen’. And yes, these incidents were as recent as March 2020.

Recently, my other half’s brothers both noticed my Activision username as my actual name and immediately warned me to change it at the risk of such harassment. It’s a sad truth, but it was starting to dawn on me that gamers and girl gamers are two different things in a lot of people’s minds. And if you look at the industry with a critical gaze, you can understand why. Finding a female character in a video game that doesn’t have a pinched waist, hourglass curves and barely-there outfits is arguably more of a challenge than the game itself.

It’s not always that aggressive, but unwanted attention is still a distraction to women just looking to play the game. Ultimately, until we let women and girls just play videogames in peace, the term ‘girl gamer’ will continue to be a label.

The gaming world is slowly realizing it has to change. Anyone you speak to will agree that gaming is no longer just a boys-only club, but we still have a long way to go before gaming becomes a gender-equal world.