I want to start by considering an image. It made both the front page of Reddit and was a top link on Pop Urls recently, which means a heck of a lot of people thought it was accurate enough to be worth sharing, up-voting and spreading online as far as they could. Behold:
The image struck a chord with a lot of people, and gained a lot of traction online. For me, it revealed something very important about the resentment that a lot of male gamers have for women who share their interest. It also demonstrated, very neatly, a few key flaws in a lot of the arguments that are used to challenge and de-legitimize women's participation in the tech and gaming industries. It additionally reveals a lot more about the author's (and all the subsequent sharers' and upvoters') insecurities and animosity towards girl gamers.
Part 1: You Just Got Here
I have never cared about baseball. As a kid, it seemed silly to me, a long and boring game that didn't hold my attention. As an adult, I developed a taste for sports, but of the quicker and more violent variety, like MMA and American football, so baseball still eluded me. A good friend of mine, however, is a ravenous fan of the sport. She holds season passes and is going to watch the Jays spring training this year; she has a way of seeing the grad narrative in the sport, and through her eyes players like Adam Lind and R.A. Dickey become mythic, heroic, archetypal characters in vast narratives.
And you know what? It's starting to rub off. I am starting to care. I went to a game with her and, as we drank horrifically expensive beer, she explained things to me carefully, with love. I started to read more articles about the sport, to follow press conferences and announcements. I am starting to care, just beginning to get invested.
The response from her, and from other baseball-loving friends and colleagues, has been wonderful. At the slightest suggestion that I might be interested in learning more about baseball, links to websites and articles started to show up in my inbox and Twitter feed. Never, for a moment, have I felt anything but absolutely welcomed into this new interest with open arms my diehard fans.
Why is it not this way with gaming? Why do male gamers want to keep the gates closed, to restrict access, to mock women for only beginning to discover joy in something that they love? Everyone started somewhere, and everyone was a new fan, just discovering what they liked, without history and knowledge behind them. That time of newness and discovery is something to be valued, a chance to see something you love through fresh eyes. Why should it be any different for gaming?
Whether a gamer starts playing at five or fifteen or twenty-five, no one starts off highly skilled and knowledgeable. That comes with time, and there is nothing wrong with celebrating it. But falling in love with a new interest, that spark and excitement, is also something special. Rather than denigrating those who are just beginning to fall for something you already have a long-term investment in, why wouldn't established gamers be overjoyed to welcome in someone new, regardless of their gender?
Part 2: I've Been Here All Along
While there certainly are a lot of women who are just now becoming interested in gaming, it is an absolute fallacy to believe that women's interest in gaming is a new phenomenon. For simplicity's sake, let me use myself as an example:
I have been here all along. The NES launched in Japan the year I was born; I couldn't have been more than six when we got a system at home, and before then I had played with friends. I've written about my formative Super NES years; we had a Sega Genesis at home too, and a Game Gear my brother and I not-always-diplomatically shared. Entire parties were held around playing Golden Eye and Mario Kart on the N64.
My love didn't wane as I grew older, though my tastes evolved from platformers, fighting games and puzzles to vast, complicated RPGs. One of my high school boyfriends modded Playstation consoles, and my grades dropped when I discovered Lunar: Silver Star Story in the late spring of the 11th grade. I played with the same fervour in graduate school as I did in elementary. I say all of this not to brag, but for context. This is not a fleeting fancy, but a lifelong passion, just as it is for you, gentlemen. And I am not alone; more that half my girl friends are gamers, and carry their love around still in their thumb calluses, Triforce pendants, extra life tattoos. Many of them have even grown up to make games themselves.
Every time an image, or article, or comment like this pops up, is seems to come from an alternate universe where my companions-in-arms and I simply do not exist, and never have existed, when in fact we've been here all along.