Monday, June 29, 2015

Authenticity, Normal, and Gamer Girls - Which One of These Words is a Unicorn?

It doesn't happen too often, considering my group of friends, but every once in a while something like this picture pops up on my Facebook feed. I generally ignore these posts because I know they don't pertain to me personally. I know this for reasons I won't list here because 1. I feel no need to justify myself and to do so would undermine what I will be discussing after the jump and 2. if you are reading this you probably know me, but if you don't you can find a link to my homepage to the right. 

Now maybe that all sounded a little cocky, probably because it is. I am very confident in my identity. For many years I have strolled through life without being directly questioned on this. Yes, I get the same initial "kid gloves" when some new guy meets me, and I once had a very awkward moment when a girlfriend-who-got-dragged-along tried to make an ice-breaking joke, but these types of behavior never last long. Besides, I don't expect strangers to know anything about me when I'm not actively cosplaying. That would be unfair.

Of course this was too good to be true. I am splashed all over the intertubes just enough that someday someone was going to say something ignorant about me. 
Well ... it wasn't about me personally ... per se ... but about Ladies, Lairs, & Lager, which I've blogged about before. L3 is the Pathfinder game I play with some friends on We all play because it's fun. We broadcast it because one of the women owns a geek bar and she has a Twitch channel as a part of her business. Furthermore, why not? Broadcasting is fun too. I like having fun. 

Interestingly, there is a voice form the ether that has some thoughts about how my friends and I have fun. Below are her thoughts in quotes, followed by some necessary translations.

"it makes my friends and I feel weird and uncomfortable that you are putting women up on a special pedestal."
   - Men broadcast on Twitch which is normal, but when women put
    themselves online it is a special pedestal because it is not

"I'm not interested in seeing 'women' called out as a special interests group in gaming or implying that we are different or need our own gaming broadcasts to show how cool or interesting we are as opposed to men gaming."
   - Women can't have their own
     gaming broadcasts without
     men because that
     automatically implies they
     are different, and not
     cool or interesting. Men can have their shows because that is
     normal and authentic and therefore doesn't imply they are a
     special interest group. 

"Also the 'lagers, ladies, and lairs' thing is really off putting as a woman of similar age range. Just the cloying desperation of having these 'lady gamers' on a pedestal makes me cringe a bit."
   - I can't stress this enough, women in public is tantamount to
     women on pedestals. Leaving the house reeks of desperation and
     trying to say they are "gamers"? Next you'll tell me unicorns
     are real. 

The translations offered here are admittedly mean-spirited, however, they are also the subtext I see when I read these types of comments. These comments are just like the many "gamer girl" memes. No matter how one tries to frame it the message is the same - male gamers are authentic and normal, therefore female gamers cannot be real - they are fake.

The problem here is the idea of authenticity - what is real. I've dealt with this issue quite a bit, especially while trying to explain to non-game-scholars my research on WoW power gamers. This may not immediately seem like it relates, but it does. See part of the problem here is nostalgia for an imagined past. In the introduction to Digital Anthropology Horst & Miller talk about this in relation to how some people perceive the digital world and life today as somehow less mediated and authentic than the imagined world of the past(see page 12 especially). Just as some people today wax nostalgia for an imagined time when women weren't gamers (or nerds or geeks).

But this invented past never existed - though its invention and people's belief in these myths have very real repercussions in the present. Such as one woman, quoted above, buying into the idea that male geekness/gamers are normal and female geekness/gamers are not. She never uses the word normal, but her claim that 4 women choosing to broadcast their gaming is somehow creating a "special pedestal" implies this. The assumptions she makes about a group of people she doesn't know feeds the myth of male as the default and sets up women as a special interest group far more than my internet presence ever will. 


  *Thank-you to all the talented people who made these memes and screenshots that then went viral. I don't know who you are, but if I did, I'd give you credit here. Furthermore, as for linked credit to the woman quoted above - I'm not going to do it. That just seems mean. 

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