Professional Female Gamers: Unlocking Achievements

As a child, I grew up playing all sorts of console and computer games with my older brothers, but I often had to fight (literally and figuratively) for my turn. I realized something: as a female entering a ‘male’ world, I had to adopt certain ethos in order to be accepted – I had to become immune to ridicule (i.e., recognizing that my gaming skills weren’t a reflection of me), aggressive, and goal-oriented. I had to adopt some of the characteristics that were expected in this ‘male’ discourse community.

Now, there are professional female gamers who make careers out of gaming.  Not only are there websites, forums, and other venues for female gamers, but women are also  “going pro” and earning the respect of an industry that traditionally pushed them to the side. As Time reports, “According to a recent study by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), almost 40% of video game players and 43% of online gamers are now women. […]But only in the past five years or so, once professional leagues like WCG began creating women-only divisions to encourage more female gamers, did they start going pro in more numbers; today, WCG officials estimate 20% of professional gamers are women, some of whom earn salaries of up to $60,000 a year” (Castillo).

Okay, so the “playing field” is still not leveled, but female gamers, especially the professional gamers, are forging a new ethos. Not only are as competent as the men who game (sometimes even better) and able to obtain sponsorship, but they are also breaking stereotypes in what has been a male-dominated venue (i.e., “girls” don’t play video games or women aren’t good at console games, etc.).

However, there are still obstacles for professional female gamers, as Time explores: female professional gamers make less than their male counterparts, some men are rude to female gamers in online play, female gamers are bombarded by the unwanted advances of male gamers, and some male gamers are not accepting of female gamers. Also, advertising companies and the game manufacturers didn’t believe that men would “take seriously a product endorsed by a woman” (Castillo) and have only recently begun to recognize the female gamer population.

The female gamers’ ability to create an ethos in this male-dominated industry reminds me of Christina de Pizan and other early female rhetoricians who pushed for women to enter a “man’s” world by performing in a way that would be acceptable- rattling the cage of convention while participating in the game (“Chrstine” 542).  In fact, it seems that many of these female gamers have ‘become male’ in their performances, even referring to the behavior of other professional female gamers in terms typically associated with men (emphasis mine): “Some professional female gamers get too defensive, Gunn [pro female gamer] says, and end up acting like unmannered stereotypical rude jocks. When guys would diss her online, “my parents had to remind me not to be so aggressive and crude,” Gunn says” (Castillo).

These women have created an ethos to allow them to fit into the male world and, in a sense, ‘become male’ just as Christine de Pizan, “…clearly views gender as a social, not only a biological category – she shows how sex roles are socially constructed and how the expectations placed on women give them a group identity and solidarity” (“Christine” 542). In other words, these female gamers have ascended the limitations imposed on their gender (albeit the creepy male fans who want to date them) by adapting some of the male gamer behavior in order to enter a new realm.

They, too, are creating an identity with women like Katherine Gunn who recently competed on a national TV reality for the Syfy channel, and professional gamers/game review and strategy show hosts, like Jessica Chobot and Morgan Webb, who maintain a “femininity” (i.e., they wear dresses, makeup, current fashions – most likely imposed to attract the male audience) while also ‘talking the talk and walking the walk’ of the traditional male-dominated gaming industry. All in all, it makes me want to strengthen my Nintendo thumb and contribute to the ethos of females in the gaming industry (not that they need my help)!

Works Cited

Castillo, Michelle. “Video Games: When Girl Gamers Go Pro” Time, 11 October 2010. Time. Web. 13 October 2010.

“Christine de Pizan.”  The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present . 2nd ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2001. 540-551. Print.

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2 Responses to Professional Female Gamers: Unlocking Achievements

  1. mojoofrhet says:

    Melissa, I enjoyed the hell out of this post! I too battled an older brother and numerous guy pals and roomies for the controllers of countless nintendos, play stations, ps2’s, wii’s, game cubes. . .And, of course, I had to constantly shake off insults, and teasing. I played Super Mario Bros. 3 until 2 o’clock in the morning every night of summer vacation in sixth grade just to beef up my skills and “prove” myself to my brother, Robert and his jerk friends.

    Why do I tell you all this? Partly to bond 🙂 – and partly too to confess to (and reinforce the truth of) the aggressive and crude “masculine” gamer ethos your post outlines. When I beat a guy at a game – any game – I am downright obnoxious. This is because, in my experience, the female gamer has to make fart noises with her armpit, say “dude”and “fuck” a lot, and give the ribbing right back to the boys when they mess up. And isn’t this ethos reflected in the design of the games we grew up playing? I mean, until the mid to late nineties, there were no games with female avatars to use in game play, for the most part (except Metroid’s Samus, Peach, and that one chick in Street Fighter) – . The entire world of video gaming was the ultimate androcentric realm – if we wanted in, we had to be Link, Mario, Luigi, Guile, Sonic, – whatever main male hero designers asked us to be.

    Samus and Princess Peach are weird late 80’s/early 90’s exceptions, too. I mean, Samus was in boy drag through the entire game until a surprise gender reveal at the end (like designers wanted a female hero, but had to trick guys into not rejecting the game as a result). And Peach wore a pink frilly dress and had the super power – to, um – float with a dainty parasol. With Princess Peach, designers threw girl-gamers a bone – one nobody chose to use as an avatar because she sucked at jumping, fighting, and running. Just like real girls, right? But the good news is, interesting things are happening with gender performance, ethos, and gaming – which I will discuss with you over coffee, because this comment is out of control.

    • Melissa says:

      Morgan, I literally laughed when you wrote: “Samus was in boy drag through the entire game until a surprise gender reveal at the end (like designers wanted a female hero, but had to trick guys into not rejecting the game as a result).” Sooooo true. Let’s get together and throw down some of our old school skillz (with a z for emphasis on the old school)! Yes – let’s chat!

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