On Fake Girl Geeks and World of Warcraft

(Gabrielle Mayer)– I am simultaneously amazed by and pitiful for my father. For the past 19 years of his life, he’s lived in an estrogen-dominated environment that’s only worsened with time. (The most recent addition of our family dog brings our apartment to an alarming 5:1 female-to-male ratio.)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the Mayer women are far from stereotypically feminine…but we also boast some of the more conventional characteristics of our sex. Time and time again, my dad has strolled into our living room to find groups of girls entranced by a Nora Ephron marathon. On days when thought processes stray toward the superficial, dinner table conversations turn into lengthy exchanges about makeup and nail polish. No, we’re not a family of hair-twirling cheerleaders, but I think we can all agree that my father’s endurance in these surroundings is somewhat impressive.

Like any individual finding himself in such hostile and strange territory, Dad has carved out an enclave community of comforts within our home. His dimly lit study boasts the sign “Man Cave” on its door, a small visual testament to this fact. But perhaps his most significant contribution to our 9th floor apartment is his deep, unwavering commitment to the video game world. Where most parents are reluctant to spend money on gaming consoles, my father has happily subsidized new models of GameBoys and Xboxes. He partakes in loud, ruckus-filled rounds of Rock Band and counts down the days to the newest Assassin’s Creed installment.

And so I’ve grown up as part of two distinct recreational worlds: one filled with homecoming dances, the other made up of Halo marathons on my couch. For much of my life, I’d never thought of these two as diametrically opposed existences, nor did I ever view them as particularly gendered in any way. I saw video gaming as my father did: as escapes into new worlds, exercises in logic, or experiments in interpersonal interaction. If this pastime had any relation to gender at all, it was only that it maintained one man’s sanity in a house otherwise ruled by women.

It was therefore a bit surprising to discover that others considered my familial hobby to be somewhat of a novelty. People were flummoxed – and, for the most part, weirdly impressed – by my extensive knowledge of Super Smash Brothers. I’ve since learned to keep my hardcore World of Warcraft-playing past a secret, simply because of the incredulity it engenders. The reason for these sorts of exaggerated reactions has never been a secret: no one expects a long-haired, Pride and Prejudice reading girl to double as an avid gamer. I’m simply “too female” to be part of that universe; my presence in it is a distinct deviation from the norm.

A bit of Internet exploration confirms that my experiences are not unique in any respect. The archetype of the “girl geek” is a contentiously debated one within the various forums, chat rooms and Reddit threads of nerd culture. Much to my chagrin, popular opinion has concluded that femininity and geeky-ness (at least, in the context of PS3s and comic books) are mutually exclusive. Now, the presence of “girl gamers” isn’t flatly denied, but it is fetishized by way of memes (see below for a prime example of this unfortunate trend). Apparently, female nerds are things of fantasy – they only exist as part of some wish-fulfilling alternate reality that bears little resemblance to actual life.

Badass Digest has a great YouTube series (aptly named “Fake Geek Girl”) that explores this gender-biased phenomenon in greater depth. While the video covers an expansive array of topics, “authenticity” remains a recurring theme among the panelists (one of whom you might recognize as Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran Amber Benson). At one point or another, all three women have felt the need to prove and defend their nerd status to others, simply on the basis that they are female, and therefore less capable of such nerdiness. One panelist goes so far as to conclude that girl geeks feel the need to “subdue their femininity” in order to be taken seriously as gamers, Cosplayers, or science fiction writers.

This last comment resonates with me. I inevitably think back to all the times I’ve sought the same sort validation by “bro’ing out” my speech and mannerisms while discussing SkyRim with my male floor mates. All things considered, the feminist in me is a little ashamed. My Mario Kart victories suddenly don’t feel quite so empowering.