Play Nice: The world of the Female Gamer

So I wanted to write about the abuse that female gamers get when playing videogames online, but there is honestly enough maddening information on that subject on the blogosphere already, so I’ll leave it — for now. Instead, I’d like to introduce you to the wholly more positive world of women playing videogames together, in the absence of men (or at least with them muted!)

Firstly, I don’t want to, nor can I, write of all female gamers’ experiences of playing in a group of women. I can only document my own exclusive and limited exploits in the matter, although these do range from MMORPGs, RPG co-op campaigns and FPS online multiplayer, right on through to XBOX arcade puzzle and Nintendo DS games. I’ve also never had the good fortune of cooperatively playing with a group of women I have not previously met. I have next to no experience of the PS3 community, so for all I know it’s completely different.

There’s definitely a huge market for female gamers (as opposed to “girl gamers”, an already established demographic of gamers who relish playing with the boys and accept the rules of the “boys club”) especially in games which can be played cooperatively, seeing as we are generally the more social gender of our species. XBOX “parties” for starters can be seen as an social, online, women-only safe space, if the players so wish; at the very least, the parties can be policed by kicking people from the group or switching it to an “invite only” gathering. When this kind of online gaming is compared to other online social spaces such as social media sites or forums, women definitely have more control over who gets involved.

When switching from playing XBOX with a group where I was the sole female, to a group of all-females, vast changes present themselves. I have found that female gamers are more patient and will wait for their friends to be available (finish work, install updates, etc) rather than start playing without them, especially in a campaign situation. Female gamers in cooperative gameplay are also more likely to be just that: cooperative. In some online games (notably the Borderlands games, but also games such as Gears of War and World of Warcraft) players have the opportunity to help a fallen teammate, but often only by putting themselves at risk. Feminist gamer twitter account @GamerFems recollects instances where male players have “left [a female player] to die. As long as they got what they needed, [they] didn’t have to care”, whereas female players are more likely to help and less likely to get angry at a fallen teammate.


One of the most interesting differences I’ve observed is that male groups appoint a “leader” figure, or they’ll all fight for it at least, as well as appointing a “runt” figure, who will be teased throughout. When a male player joined one of my all-fem groups a few weeks back, his first question to the group was “so who’s like the ringleader here then?” which shows just how ingrained this type of mentality is with male players. In comparison, female groups will discuss tactics and everyone usually gets listened to. That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair share of teasing and fun within female groups, just that it is more evenly distributed.

Similarly, when there is a “loot” element in an RPG, male players have a tendency to smash and grab the best items for their character, whereas women are more likely to decide amongst themselves what works best for the group, which incidentally is something psychologists and sociologists already know about women in real life situations anyway. Whilst I’m sure a lot of men (and probably a lot of women) enjoy this cut-throat type of competitive gaming, this is an element which I have yet to come across in an all-girls team. For inexperienced players, sharing and helping each other really works as a welcome into the gaming community, as it means their items will be just as good as everyone else’s regardless of who got there first. The game also becomes a lot less frustrating if you are not constantly being left behind to die, which encourages you to stay with the game even when it starts to get tough.

Possibly one outcome of this relaxed approach to gaming is that the entire team has a more light-hearted way of tackling the actual narrative of an RPG. My Borderlands 2 group have been criticised more than once for “messing about” (read: crashing into each other in our cars in the desert for 40 minutes) rather than getting on with the story. In the even more serious world of online FPS such as Halo and CoD, I think this laid-back attitude is also somewhat of a defence mechanism, as we’re all pretty aware that we do not “belong” nor have we “earned” the right to be playing online with the male characters. (A friend told me of time when she had been repeatedly killed in a game by her fellow teammates and called a “bitch” in order to force her to quit.) By playing seriously, any failures would definitely be contributed to our genitals, and the abuse would be horrific, but when you’re comfortable with being shite you can laugh it all off when it goes badly, and celebrate a good game.

The gaming community privileges white boys and men, from teenage through to adult years, and the relative anonymity and lax regulation of the online services on games means they can police their domain however they see fit – usually by alienating women and girls, or at least the women and girls who don’t fit their idea of how females should behave. Some more serious female gamers feel they have to prove themselves when playing online, and these seem to become the elitist and bitchy almost stereotypical “gamer girls” I mentioned earlier. Another friend told me of incidents where females on the same team or on opposite teams have become competitive in the presence of a second woman, and have been encouraged (by the men) to start “cat fights”. A lot of this behaviour I would imagine stems from the idea that female gamers cannot be “real” gamers, and thus the two females both attempt to reveal the other as a “poser”, and themselves as worthy in the hypermasculine world of online gaming. (Sadly, you get a lot of girl-on-girl abuse online, saying that someone isn’t “really” into the culture, or doing it for male attention etc.)

Hitting it up, "girlfriend-mode"

Hitting it up, “girlfriend-mode”


4 Responses to “Play Nice: The world of the Female Gamer”

  1. 1 AllThingsAlex January 23, 2013 at 12:45 am

    As a guy who has genuine female gamer fiends, some who live nearby and some who i met online, I must give you the biggest thumbs up! I love that i can enjoy gaming online with some female companions and not be drowned in testosterone and immature behavior.
    Kudos to you!

  2. 2 structured April 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

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