5 Stages of Geek Girl
by Lynsey Tamborello
Dateline, July 25th, 2012: Red-headed, multi-talented geek girl icon/goddess, Felicia Day tweets “Dear reporters, getting a bit tired of being held up as an “authentic” geek as you write posts against women who “exploit” geek culture.” (1)
As I read Ms. Day’s tweet, I reflected on my own gaming adventures, particularly from the early “Aughts.” At that time, I could often be found engaging in nightly gaming campaigns on the Sega Dreamcast MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game), “Phantasy Star Online.” Despite racking up some impressive loot, levels, and adventures, it always amazed me that many other online players did not believe I was, in reality, a girl. Sure, my avatar was a buxom, unrealistically proportioned, pig-tailed hottie with a badass gun. But even as other players gave my digital babe all sorts of fun and explosive booty (was I “exploiting” the geeks? probably), many still maintained the illusion that a dude was at the helm of my avatar.
These days, there seems to be less denial regarding the existence of women gamers. So, does that mean the new mind shift is something like “Gamer girls exist, but they must be ‘exploiting’ the geek culture?” Am I jealous of the mainstream media attention showered upon these adorkable geek girls like Felicia Day and Team Unicorn? Absolutely! But I still recognize how both represent a fundamental shift in thinking about girl gaming and geekery. Team Unicorn’s name refers to the idea that, like unicorns, girl gamers aren’t supposed to exist. (2) Not that Team Unicorn should change their name, but girl gamers aren’t mythological creatures anymore. Society used to be in denial about girl gamers, but now, according to some numbers-crunching nerds, about one in three gamers over 18 years-old are women. (3)
There will always be haters, bullies, etc, both within and outside of social norms. Despite some of the sensationalism that Felicia Day was subjected to, I think we’ve moved beyond that “bargaining” thought process. (And, hey, give a thousand reporter-monkeys some bath salts and a word processor, and one of them is likely to write “do popular gaming girls exploit the geek culture?” It’s just the law of averages, people).
Anger and Depression:
This missive is titled “The Five Stages of Geek Girl,” as in, an ode to the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief, but I will skip over anger and depression for now. Besides, those two stages tend to occur most frequently in the geek girl realm when you smash a controller over your boyfriend’s head after he goes all “Leeroy Jenkins!” during a particularly important Skyrim quest. We want to stay positive here.
So have we leveled-up to “acceptance” of gamer girls? I believe the fact that gaming itself is now accepted as a “popular art” that is protected by the First Amendment (the Supreme Court ruled on this in 2011) goes hand-in-hand with its own internal acceptance of women gamers. Say, when you were playing Super Mario Brothers and reading your Nintendo Power Magazine back in the early 1990s, did you think that you would one day influence national policy? Ok, some nerds have always been over-achievers, and I’m not going to deny your moment in the spotlight here, but the rest of us may need a moment to think about this & say “Zoinks!”
Although I applaud the girl-centric gaming companies proliferating these days, what’s always been a constant for girl gamers is gravitation towards damn good games. Sure, there will likely remain some gender differences regarding preferred types of games, and girl characters will undoubtedly continue to kick-ass while wearing physics-defying tiny swaths of clothing over their nipples. But these days, the differences in gaming preferences within gender seem to be greater than the differences between genders.
For instance, after I told some of my friends about the trial version of Tomb Raider that I played at Nerd HQ this year, there was very little difference between my guy and girl friends in terms of their enjoyment of the original Tomb Raider. Almost everyone commented that what drew them to the original Tomb Raider was the game’s expert integration of story-telling, action, and puzzle-solving. All indications are that the upcoming 2013 Tomb Raider will similarly appeal to both geek boys and geek girls.
These days, I do occasionally miss feeling like that unique and mythical unicorn when it comes to convincing other gamers that I’m a girl gamer. As Felicia Day’s recent tweet alluded, some reporters continue to feed their own need for sensationalism by labeling popular girl gamers as “exploitative,” but that is certainly not the reality these days. Despite girl gamers remaining a distinct minority of total gamers, it is hard to deny our growing presence and influence on the gaming culture. Indeed, we have enough of a consumer voice to say to game manufacturers: keep designing damn good games, and the gamer girls will be there to kick ass on them.
1. Felicia Day. https://twitter.com/feliciaday/status/228195664713105408, July 25th, 2012.
2. Team Unicorn, FTW. http://teamunicornftw.com/. Accessed July 27th, 2012.
3. “2010 Sales, Demographic and Usage Data: Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,” Entertainment Software Association, 2010
Photo Credit Felicia Day