Saturday, April 28, 2012

Final Project: The kitchen or the computer? How about both.

As mentioned in my previous blog post about geeks, there tends to be a stereotypical image that the individual is a computer geek, loves games, white, male, straight, probably overweight, wears glasses, and lacks fashion sense. This typical image is wrong, because not all geeks are computer geeks in contrary to the mainstream portrayal of geeks. We can be math geeks, fashion geeks, art geeks, and yes, you can be a computer or a gamer geek too. And no, not all geeks are men. Though the word geek has been reclaimed all around recently, stigma still lies somewhere, especially for the gamer geeks.

Being an art geek could be seen more positive than being a gamer geek. As a person who is enthusiastic about their passion for art, they can maybe build a career from there and become famous some day. Or perhaps, they can learn to design a couple things and generate great revenue. In contrary to a gamer, there are more negative connotations than positive. Does “addicted to art” sound better or “addicted to games”? According to a thread asking how women perceive men who play games, a fraction of women mentioned that meeting a male who play games discourages them from continuing social contact. They view gaming as an immature hobby, have an immature personality, lazy, neglecting their family and friends, neglecting their social life, jobless, and a loser. This kind of stigma really stems from the idea that, in our society, only children play games and adults should move out of their gaming period whenever they graduate from college, find a job, take on adulthood responsibilities, and contribute to society. By remaining as a gamer in adulthood, he or she is being associated with the stigma of a gamer. They are neglecting their responsibilities and wasting their productivity on games. Unfortunately, if you are seen as a female gamer, you are more likely to receive twice the stigma compared to a male. According to the same thread mentioned earlier, a couple women replied, saying that as a female gamer, many men have turned away (and off) and thought they were crazy. There isn’t much surprise when we hear a man playing games, but why do people look at women in bewilderment when they tell people that they are gamers?

As simple as it sounds, the reason why people are amazed at the existence of female gamers is because they are seen as deviant. Women are not supposed to play games, and most games are not intended for women. The gaming industry has been targeting always men as their population, hence why gaming is generally associated with the male gender. Not much is spoken about women who play games in the media, and in fact, even encourage the idea that women do not play games. This myth is indeed a lie, as 40% of women do play games and women over 18 “represent nearly twice as much of thegamer population, than do boys age 17 or younger”. Additionally, women tend to play more casual games and men tend to play more hard core games like action or fighter games. Are these facts true or rather only socially constructed? We do know that women have typical gender roles such as taking care of the family, hence why people discourage women from playing games and find other kinds of leisure that will not step on the boundaries of a male-dominated leisure of gaming.

Whenever a female enters the gaming world of men though, not only they receive the stigma of being a gamer, but they also receive the harsh stigma of being a female gamer. As one of our readings “Everyone Knows Who The sluts Are” by Dunn have mentioned (as cited in Thio, Calhoun, and Conyers, 2010), whenever a behavior is not compatible with “old meanings”, such as having sex when you are not copulating, a female is seen as a slut unless she is in a relationship under modern context. In our situation as a female gamer, you are either seen as a slut, fat, or ugly. The female gamer does not correspond with the typical image of a male gamer (the “old meanings”) and she has crossed the boundaries of this traditionally male-oriented hobby. In order to shame the individual and to hopefully force the individual back into their proper space like the shaming theory suggests by Braithwaite (as cited in Thio, Calhoun, and Conyers, 2010), labels are thrown in hopes to re-integrate the individual back in the society (the norms, such as pushing women back into their narrow private spaces) and her gender has become her master status among the gamer community. “You can’t be just you”, describes a female game designer about the stigma and pressure as a female gamer by over achieving in games and representing her group to defeat the stereotype that women cannot and should not play games. The stigmatization of being a woman gamer can be counterproductive, as Braithwaite also describes, because the individual is being degraded. There is also a potential risk that the female gamer may even internalize the negative connotations of the labels as the labeling theory suggests and adopts the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy  (as cited in Thio, Calhoun, and Conyers, 2010) and learned self-helplessness from dealing with the shaming and vicious attacks from the community.

Additionally, the population of female gamers is slowly rising and the male gamers (and their masculinity) may have felt threatened by the increasing presence of female gamers, especially if their skills are more superior compared to males. Unskilled female gamers are forgiven since they are acting “like girls” by being horrible at games, as the comic above by The Oatmeal suggests, but if a woman has skills that may match those of men (which is deviant), the male dominant group’s position in the gaming world will feel threatened. This idea has been specifically mentioned by the movie Tough Guise. A part of the film mentions minority groups who are questioning the authority of white straight men in our society and how the dominant group responds to these threats by creating subtle messages that still reinforces their traditional values in the media, thus creating a backlash against such revolutions. The topic of queers, feminism, and Blacks (and other minorities) are constantly used for the sake of humor. “Woman, go back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!” or "Tits of get the fuck out!" are one of the sexist jokes we hear often in the gaming community. Just as there is a comedian making fun of feminism to skew the true purpose and value of feminist ideas, the same behaviors are seen in the gaming community where male straight gamers are attacking women with jokes or with sexually violent comments for being more skilled than the average male or by simply being present in the community to maintain their power as the dominant group. As reflective of our current societal gender issues, women are just as prone to sexual harassments in Online games as well.

“I was fielding comments that were sexually violent – hoping I’d choke on semen, that my vagina would be stapled shut, that they’d rape me and force me to keep the baby and kill us both. That they wished me dead.” 
– Author of Apple Cider Mage blog

The dehumanization and demeaning comments towards women are nothing new, especially women working in the sex industry. In the film “Live Nude Girls Unite!”, Exotic dancers are seen as deviant since their nature of work is seen as morally wrong, hence their work rights are very minimal, especially since their industry is run by men (just as how the gaming industry is controlled by men as well, only 11% of women are in the workforce). Additionally, violence against women seen in games is prevalent as well, just as we see violence against women in the sex industry. The idea that sex and violence sells is true according to our societal values. As a result, no sympathy is given for sex workers (or female gamers) and they are subjected to sexual harassments as if they deserved it. “These women wouldn’t have to face degradation if they hadn’t done these kind of behaviors”, as most people think when using the achieved versus ascribed argument.

Fortunately, the gaming industry is starting to steer their attention towards women’s needs and other minority groups, taking into consideration that, yes, there are more than just male straight gamers. A Canadian game developer company, BioWare, released a popular fantasy role playing game called Dragon Age 2. The outstanding thing is that they have introduced a revolutionary idea to enable the possibility for their players to have sex with anybody in the game, and that includes having relationships with characters of the same sex. The company’s main goal is to show that any relationship is possible, and not simply catering to the preferences of the white straight male. In response to this deviant act by this prominent gaming company, a player was outraged by their deviant behavior. The player, speaking as “the white straight gamer”, spoke about the company ignoring the main population of straight male gamers by implementing a same-sex relationship function in game. He insisted that the company should focus in pleasing the white straight male population. A spokesperson from BioWare proceeded to stand up for the queer population and the minority, stating that being a straight male gamer is not a privilege to them. Privilege should be shared with everybody in order to reduce imbalance between groups because minorities tends to be ignored and oppressed. Being part of the majority does not mean that these people are “right” and should be prioritized, and this is what exactly Johnson points out in his article “Privilege, Power, Difference, and Us” (as cited in Kimmel and Ferber, 2009). If game companies are continuing to ignore the minorities in their gaming population, then they are taking the path of least resistance because risks are minimized and their decision will not be seen as deviant by mingling with the dominant straight while male group.

In addition to a change of target population, there is also a change within the company. Slowly, there is an increasing number of female developers and that means good news. By having more women in the gaming industry, the opinions from women will finally be valued and heard. For example, in the upcoming release of Guild Wars 2, a Massive Online Multiplayer Role Playing Game, some of the people who were in charge of character designs were women. The “it’s a female, just put breasts on it” mentality will be challenged as these women create characters who look more natural, playable, and less sexualized. Usually, we tend to see oversized breasts and a thin waist on female characters no matter their race in games but in Guild Wars 2, these female developers did not add oversized breasts to their female feline characters. In fact, they have none, just like felines in nature. “The result is the female of the Charr species looking every bit as powerful and deadly as the male, but with a more feminine appearance (at least, feminine according to human standards)”, writes Brinstar from the blog Acid for Blood.

Warning: Video below contains profanity. Viewer discretion is advised.
I also would like to remind viewers to watch this clip with a touch of humor.

Resistance: These ladies get revenge.

These kind of positive messages from BioWare and the slowly growing female workforce in the gaming industry is indeed encouraging. More companies need to step into that new and refreshing direction to get away from out-dated ideas and myths. Often, we hear arguments such as the industry will not benefit from changing their target population towards women since they are more “casual”, and that decision is risking the wealth of the industry. Near the beginning of this post, I did mention that almost 40% of women play games and that number is increasing. So, the female gamer population isn't that small after all. Moreover, who says that non-gaming women will not pick up a game some day to try out this new gaming hobby? What people often forget is that many behaviors are socially constructed (and not related to one’s gender) in order to shape men and women into idealized pictures according to the dominant straight white male group. So, is it true that women only like casual games, or is it because they are being told that games are for boys during childhood and underreport their gaming style and frequency for the sake of maintaining their safety?

Word count: 2,029 words


Kimmel, Michael S. and Abby L. Ferber, ed. 2009. Privilege: A Reader. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Thio, Alex, Thomas C. Calhoun, and Addrain Conyers. 2010. Readings in Deviant Behavior. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


  1. I randomly came across this blog but this was an incredibly well written, entertaining, and well argued post! I enjoyed reading it (and I don't usually read blogs) :)

    1. Thank you for commenting and dropping by! (I have no idea how you found my blog haha)
      I usually don't read blogs either, but there are some that are really worth reading ;D