Female Gamer Archetypes [The Gaming Beauty Myth, Part 2]

Since this blog is primarily aimed at people at least somewhat familiar with feminism, I often take it for granted that people know what I’m talking about when I say things like women are “the sex class” or that female geeks are made into “Second Class Geeks” by the way we’re treated as potential dates first and geeks second.

But what does that mean for female gamer culture?

I believe that the gaming beauty myth informs the typical archetypes attributed to female gamers. Whether it be conforming to the traditional stereotype of “geek” — the unwashed, unattractive, glasses-wearing, basement-living untouchable — or being the “hawt gamer girl” — the sex kitten supposedly out of every geeky guy’s fantasy — the two archetypes I will examine below share a common thread: percieved attractiveness.

Though I should hope this is obvious, I want to emphasize that I am not attacking any people who conform in whole, or part, to these archetypes. This post is intended to explore how the beauty myth interacts with the way that female gamers are seen by others as well as each other.

I. The Traditionally Geeky Female Gamer

When I open my mouth at any given time and state that I’m a gamer I get jaws dropping to the floor. I get the “But.. But.. you aren’t nerdy with greasy hair and glasses!!”

I think that the problem is this… for YEARS the only women who were seen in the gaming world WERE the less attractive women because it was a safe, tech driven world where they felt like they belonged. I was one of them!! I was the fat little girl with bad style, icky brown hair and no friends. Then, I decided to care about my looks a little more (figured.. the whole acting thing kinda pushed me that way) and I lost weight and “grew up”.

[From Pageant Hid as Revolution: Miss Video Game 2007, comment by Becky “Aktrez” Young]

Traditionally Geeky Female GamerThe first archetype I will be looking at is the Traditionally Geeky Female Gamer. Becky pretty much hits most of the stereotypes: wears glasses, “less attractive”, “fat little girl with bad style, icky brown hair and no friends”. You can add to that lives with family (and/or in family’s basement), has poor hygine, etc.

By definition, this archetype is part of the gaming beauty myth — she is “less attractive” than other women. This is further reinforced by some of the indicators of this archetype: wears glasses, fat, has bad style, and “icky brown hair”.

While there are people who can “get away” with wearing glasses if they’re of a fashionable brand, overall there is extreme pressure to wear contacts in order to look “better”. There are different reasons given for this — glasses hide your face is the most common one I hear — but ultimately it puts emphasis on beauty as conforming to one particular ideal: that of a glasses-less face.

Fatphobia is the next component in this, although I can’t at all say it’s surprising given the “obesity panic” that’s sweeping nations like America. I don’t want to spend too much time on this one, as it’s a whole field of study itself, but a decent starting point for information would be the posts linked in The Big Fat Carnival. Suffice it to say that issues of weight are included in the beauty myth.

I’m not sure how much style is talked about when discussing the beauty myth, but it is definitely used to promote the idea that women’s attractiveness is more important than anything else about her. Take, for instance, Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state. Her appearance and style get commented on way more than men of similar and lower positions — she gets called things like a ‘dominatrix’ and has had people commenting on her hair.

Which brings me to the last one on Becky’s list: “icky brown hair”. I’m not entirely sure how much of the “icky-ness” in Becky’s statement has to do with the idea that geeks have “greasy” hair and how much of it has to do with the colour. Regardless of the statement’s intent, brown hair is definitely not the most desired colour for hair or eyes. Although a woman can have brown hair and still be considered attractive, I do feel that in Western culture there is a ranking of the colour as being less attractive than, say, the all-American colour blonde.

II. The Girly-Girl Gamer

First you have the pretty girl gamer that post pictures of her on websites and always refers to herself as a girl gamer… Pretty gamers are usually the types to come on a site and scream, “I’m a girl gamer and I’m a hot too” as if to say they are special, but this really only kills our image for the female gamers that just play and don’t need to the world to know they occasionally wear a skirt.

Here is the thing.. YOU may not post your picture online but I, and millions of girls do! It doesn’t mean we are attention whores or wrong. It means we like to take pictures and we like to get feedback. We LIKE to look pretty and yea.. we LIKE the attention. Is that a bad thing? No.. it’s human nature! If that’s not you then fine. That doesn’t mean what I am doing or what MILLIONS of girls are doing is wrong.

[From Pageant Hid as Revolution: Miss Video Game 2007, comment by Becky “Aktrez” Young]

Girly-Girl GamerThe second archetype is what I’m calling the Girly-Girl Gamer. These are the women who have chosen to embrace the beauty myth full on and to capitalize on their attractiveness to further their popularity as gamers. While Faith sees this as a bad thing, Becky calls it being a “glam gamer” and sees it as challenging the stereotype of the Traditionally Geeky Female Gamer archetype… as long as one isn’t being a “faker” (more on that later in the series).

Removing the question of morality, however, and focusing on how this archetype interacts with the beauty myth, what are the important elements here? First of all, there’s an emphasis on being “hot” as being tied to a gamer identity. Then there’s the picture taking aspect, which is tied in with seeking attention/validation through physical attractiveness.

Faith emphasizes the idea that the Girly-Girl Gamer often states two things: that they are hot and that they are a girl gamer. It is important to this archetype to be seen as the ideal feminine, which, of course, includes being physically attractive.

Displaying photographs of oneself is also here tied to the beauty myth — and may well be related to the photo spreads of attractive women in magazines. The internet allows all women to become “models”, and some of the women, like Becky, are actually professional models as well as avid gamers. Not to mention that one of the first things that female gamers tend to be asked on forums is to post pictures of themselves. The male gamers, I should add, are under no such pressure or obligation.

III. Conclusion

Although these archetypes seem to be polar opposites, they are both tied into the beauty myth that pervades our culture. These are two of the more prevalent archetypes out there (though by no means the only ones), and yet they reveal nothing of relevance when it comes to the gaming habits of these women.

Do they prefer FPSs, RPGs, Puzzle Games, Strategy? What are their favourite consoles, or are they strictly PC gamers? Are they interested in the industry beyond just playing games, or are they just concerned about when the next game they want is coming out?

Questions like that are made secondary to the issue of if they are conventionally attractive and if so how they use that beauty. Stuff like physical beauty, what one wears, what one’s body type is, or whether or not someone posts pictures of themselves should not even be on the radar here.

Yet it’s almost always the main concern when female gamers are brought up and that’s exactly what I mean when I say that women are the “sex class”; that we’re viewed first as objects of attraction, and second through our gaming habits and preferences.

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12 thoughts on “Female Gamer Archetypes [The Gaming Beauty Myth, Part 2]

  1. The problem with setting up the “girly-girl gamer” as a positive reaction to the “traditional geeky female gamer” is that not everybody wants to, or is able to, choose this role. It’s also a way to avoid looking too closely at our assumptions about beauty. When we choose the “girly-girl gamer” as a (or as the primary, or the only) positive representation of women in gaming, we’re reinforcing the idea that the “traditionally geeky” traits are undesirable, and that the people with these traits are inferior.

    The complaints about backlash remind me of thin privilege, and the complaints about backlash thereto; while obviously nobody should be taken less seriously based on their appearance, the people complaining about the backlash never seem to question their own privilege. “Don’t hate me because I’m pretty, and did I mention I’m pretty?”

  2. The mere existence of Miss Video Game 2007 is proof enough of the Beauty Myth problem. Can you imagine a male equivalent? Neither can I. I agree that this sort of event does reinforce the “sex class” problem; the message to girls and women is, “If you want success or notoriety – even in something as new and unconventional as video gamee playing – the same old rules still apply: Hot, or Not?”

    As for “Aktrez” (ye gods…): Sure, most people – men and women both – would like being attractive and getting noticed for it but isn’t there a point at which that comes to define and control you? If she doesn’t think that things like MVG 2007 are 90% about the “Miss” and 10% about the “Video Game” (if that much), then I have a bridge to sell her. Just because you play the Sex Appeal game and win doesn’t mean the game ain’t fixed.

  3. Jeff: That kind of false hierarchy that both Becky and Faith have established in their own ways is actually the subject of my next post. I’m hoping I’ll have time to get it out this week.

    Brain: I agree, although I think that the contest is more a symptom of the problem than a cause. Although I also believe that it, in turn, reinforces the beauty myth.

    As for Becky, while I sympathize with her not wanting to be attacked because of the path she has chosen, her own language is also deeply problematic (as I will further explore in the next parts of this seres).

    In the end, I really do think it’s a crap shoot for all female gamers; there’s always someone waiting to condemn us, and half the time it’s another female gamer. But, then, that’s the subject of another post.

  4. I’m so happy that you’re writing this series–the beauty myth in gaming culture was an issue that I was toying with, but alas, wasn’t able to put it in my capstone.

    Great analysis!

  5. “there’s always someone waiting to condemn us, and half the time it’s another female gamer”

    Amen to that, Tekanji.

    I personally think that female gamers need to realize that the reason they’re putting other female gamers down is for approval of (surprise surprise) men. If they want male approval, go ahead, nothing wrong with that, but please call it what it is instead of pretending to be a great crusader for women gamers. I am sure we can all individually stand up for ourselves, thanks.

  6. On my own web site, I asked friends the following question based on Andrea’s post here:

    What are the most-discussed (prevalent) archetypes of male gamers–or what are the prevalent archetypes of gamers-where-gender-is-not-discussed?

    I assume they are not “typical (conventionally unattractive) gamer” versus “studly gamer.”
    What are they, though?
    Andrea implies that they generally have to do with gaming preferences, but she doesn’t explicitly say so. Is this how gamers at large and how male gamers are most commonly sorted out and discussed?

    I had the following conversation with one friend about it (formatting slightly altered):

    “Girl gamers” are considered one thing. Rare. Guy gamers are excited about the prospect of someone sharing their hobby, especially gamer types that typically are on the shy side of the spectrum. As a result there is a certain degree of fantisization of the girl gamer into something sexier than she might otherwise be simply because the idea of a girl that shares your hobby is understandably appealing.

    I find this extremely understandable and I have done the same thing with regard to men who share my hobby. The fact that guy gamers are common doesn’t make them less appealing as partners. The advantage of having something to talk about and share with is still there.

    The other side she might be referring to are things like the “Frag Dolls” and the pervasive use of female sex objects as game characters and in advertising (booth babes at E3 for example).

    Personally, I think this is a separate issue and is indistinguishable from the use of female sex objects in any other male dominated hobby (such as car racing, pro wrestling, etc).

    So the way images of women are used in advertising and at cons has not made you feel awkward just being a gamer who has the same body parts as these objectified advertisers? They haven’t made any of your friends feel awkward? The presence of booth babes hasn’t made you or your friends feel like there are extra expectations put upon your “hotness” as a gamer than are put upon a man’s “hotness” as a gamer?

    (“Extra” as in unfairly beyond the rarity and common-interest components to what makes someone a prized, valued, and “hot” person to have around.)

    I assume that Andrea has felt this, but if you and people you know haven’t ever felt it, then that’s fascinating!
    It sounds like for her, the two types of ways of looking at female gamers have gotten very muddled up, but for you, they really have stayed separate.

    I don’t think it’s any more muddled for gaming specifically any more than it would for a girl who watches racing or WWF or is a math major. Same issues wherever there is a huge gender imbalance. Guys will be interested in you because you have common interests so you’ll get attention.

    So it’s just a matter of how much you are annoyed by it. I’m annoyed by the objectification of women in general and specifically in games I see it a lot because of my interests.

    I am not annoyed by gamer guys talking to me. They are generally nice, and we have something to talk about which is cool. And I definitely don’t get the impression that they are expecting me to be incredibly hot or see me as a sex object because I am female and like games (despite many jokes we all make to the contrary).

    Another commenter wrote:

    Women are often described by their attractiveness if they are particularly attractive before anything else about them is brought up. Of course, I’ve heard the order of description applied to men just as often.

    So generally, the description would read as, if simplified into just a list in order of importance:
    girl, hot, D20-playing
    girl, D20-playing (if she is not hot).

    Interestingly enough a girl who games and is of arguably normal appearance or outright ugly is not usually described her appearance. That she games is more interesting than her appearance at least among male gamers.

    As to men, the archetype breaks down by type of gaming more often than not.
    Role-playing gamers and PC gamers are generally not considered sociable or attractive.
    Console gamers are too broad a category to really classify.

    I, for example, will not admit to role-playing, but console gaming is perfectly acceptable.
    LARPers are another story altogether.

    A third friend wrote:

    Interesting. If you look at it in terms of simple supply and demand, it’s the male gamers who ought to be sorted by attractiveness.

    With such a majority of gamers being male, gamer ladies (or non-gamer ladies willing to date gamers) have their pick of the lot ^_^

    I also asked my friends this question:

    What do you think, gamers?
    Is Andrea onto something that exists in your world?

    Do you think that if this ridiculous, arbitrary, and unfair situation exists, it’s got a better chance of getting fixed in the gaming world than in Western society at large?

    (My hunch is that it might, because in my experience, gamers generally come from a part of the general population that’s often educated, open-minded, and willing to change behaviors based on convincing arguments. Then again, I’m not intimate with the culture or the people, so I could be wrong, or this could be irrelevant to changing these particular behaviors & trends.)

    A response:

    I think that this problem does not have a better chance of being fixed in the gaming world.

    Some gaming males have given up on ever getting a real-life girlfriend, and what do they use as a substitute? Comic, game and anime girls–not the players, the fictional characters. Think of what female bodies look like in comics, anime and games.

    Now think of the cumulative effects on gamers who are not regularly exposed to any other kinds of female bodies. Yeah. If anything, the beauty myth is worse for these guys. Even a gamer guy who hasn’t given up on real-life girls is going to have major trouble if his expectations become skewed due to all that exposure to stupidly unrealistic female game character bodies.

  7. I’m going to do the readers digest response to this ’cause I don’t have a lot of time, and most of these subjects deserve a post (or series) in themselves!

    As a result there is a certain degree of fantisization of the girl gamer into something sexier than she might otherwise be simply because the idea of a girl that shares your hobby is understandably appealing.

    For this point I will refer you to rakehell’s comment and Jeff’s response on another thread of mine. It’s not wanting to be with someone who has similar interests that’s the issue, it’s when the fantasy/sexualization becomes part of a culture of entitlement that it crosses the line.

    Personally, I think this is a separate issue and is indistinguishable from the use of female sex objects in any other male dominated hobby (such as car racing, pro wrestling, etc).

    It’s all part of the beauty myth, of course. But the beauty myth encompasses such a broad range that I think a lot of times people — especially those who have geeky habits — feel like it just doesn’t apply to them. But the point of my series is that I’m saying it does apply to gamers, and exploring how it does and what impact it has.

    Can this be applied to other areas? You bet. I’m not using any new concepts here; just bringing together ones that already exist. But how else do you reach an audience except through writing about things that resonate with them?

    And I definitely don’t get the impression that they are expecting me to be incredibly hot or see me as a sex object because I am female and like games (despite many jokes we all make to the contrary).

    This gets addressed a bit more in the next part of my series. Suffice it to say, I’m guessing your friend has never been part of an online gaming forum. There is inevitably a “post your picture” thread aimed primarily at women and there is a tangible amount of pressure for the forum women to conform.

    Of course, I’ve heard the order of description applied to men just as often.

    I’m not sure what poin that friend is trying to make, when they go on to cite evidence to the contrary in the rest of their comment. But I am intending to do a Postscript to the series that discusses, in brief, men and the gaming beauty myth.

    Now think of the cumulative effects on gamers who are not regularly exposed to any other kinds of female bodies.

    I do agree that the representation of gaming characters has a chance of skewing the male perception of normal, healthy female bodies. That’s one reason why I often push for a more varied representation of body types in games. I’m not sure that it’s all that much worse than traditional media, though: ads (especially now with photoshop being the norm) are not of real people, but “idealized” ones who have their body shape altered; many famous women have had at least one kind of plastic surgery (usually multiple); etc.

  8. I think this is such a good topic. I could say so much on this, yet dont have the time to do it completely, yet I will reflect some points that I have.

    First of all, I would like to state that I would love there to be more gender equality in gaming. I, like many others, find that running into a girl who takes gaming seriously can be very rare indeed (in some places more than others. And when I do find one, I am almost never attracted to them in other areas (personality, looks, etc.). I think a lot of the problem is with how games are created, targeted, and marketed.

    In Japan for instance, the games take on a more universal approach, and only now we are seeing a taste of it with the Wii (which for some girls is their first experience in gaming that they enjoy). The games created there are targeted towards both genders’ main interests as well as mutual interests, almost like we had GI-JOE and Barbie, but both girls and guys would both play with a slinky. Same principal.

    Here in the West, I think it’s the way games are targeted and created that drives many females’ lack of interest. Most games are targeted towards the same audience that is in love with voilence, aggressiveness, and other male themes and characters. This really doesn’t appeal to many girls. When the games change, I think we will see more of an influx. But it’s a give/give situation. Companies wont make games for girls if they think girls are interested. Theres also the factor that many females are brought up, raised, and conditioned to feel like video games are for boys, and in some areas of the country it’s worse than others. Mothers will prevent daughters from playing video games and tell them “those are boys games”, etc. You will find in smaller rural towns, and in certain areas that girls have never touched a video game and would never care to, and it’s sad because they dont know what they are missing!

    I think slowly things are changing and we will see more feminine gamers, rather than girls who have a “geeky” stereotype. Once the concept of gaming moves from a “nerdy pastime” to a “normal pastime”, people will open up to it more and more types of people, including females, will become more serious about it.

    For now though, I hope the girls out there continue to break the chain and not be afraid of what people will think if they decide to have video gaming as a hobby.

    Good luck!, and One Love!

  9. Very nice piece. Almost all of my gaming experience has been on one specific MUD, over the last 16 years, so they’re idiosyncratic. Particularly so since a majority of players in the game are female, and the majority of characters are male. The only rule regarding genderbending is if sexual activity is involved in game – then notification is mandatory.

    This is a role-play enforced, politically fragmented environment, and for the first 6 years or so had no forum. No OOC conversation or IM conversations were allowed. Of course that was violated, as the emotional bleedover from IC relationships created desire for OOC relationships. However – that was not initially based on knowing anything about who the other person was except as played IC.

    This led to a great many strong friendships among characters, but not always their players. However, for women who were adept at working their way up the power structure, playing off the male stereotypes to use underestimation as a strategic weapon was an advantage. And when every relationship is political, the standards of attractiveness change. It’s d20 first, no matter the gender or orientation.

    It’s an over-21 game, so the players come in at an older age (yes, there are still kids who want to play MUDs). The players who stick around are bright, and continue to maintain a world where sexual harassment or abuse can very shortly end in the death of the perpetrator. And banning from the game, of course – but the players usually deal with it IC and first.

    I’m writing this at length because it reminds me of the “behind the curtain” symphony audition tests. It was discovered that far more women were judged best when the judges couldn’t see who was playing. While I don’t see this being completely implementable in any major way, it seems a counterpoint and support to your discussion.

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