Just recently, we here at What’s Your Tag? had a little pow-wow to talk about our passion in gaming, and what we enjoyed most about it, and how to translate that passion into what we write about. Being an avid RPG player, the suggestion for me to write RPG pieces immediately came up. I, of course, agreed that it would be fun and I could probably think up some articles to entertain you, our readers with. But as the conversation went on, something kept nagging at me.
On a previous article I had written, a reader had rather scathingly commented stating that females always end up playing RPGs, 0r role-playing games, due to needing emotions and drama in the games they play. I won’t bore you with the details, but the entire comment had been full of the sexism that female gamers are, by now, completely used to. At the time of the comment, I responded as professionally as one is able, and dismissed it. I never brought it up to the guys, because I had handled it, and shut it down.
Or so I thought. That comment opened up a nasty little voice in the back of my head: Is the stereotype true? Do I love RPGs because I’m a girl, and therefore may not be taken seriously as a writer? Or is there another reason that liking RPGs seems like some kind of stigma when trying to be taken seriously in the gaming community?
Any girl who plays video games is used to some kind of negative stereotype, whether it’s to the extremes that Fat, Ugly or Slutty documents from user-submitted hate mail and sexist content, or even just a retail employee asking if that copy of Halo: Master Chief Collection is for their boyfriend or brother. For the most part, we’ve learned to brush it off. I take pride in my video game knowledge and surprising people with it, and I’ve made some amazing friends who didn’t expect me to be the person to wait at a midnight launch for Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm. (Where’s my Legacy of the Void, Blizzard?)
And yet, why is it that such a stereotype bothers me so much? Even worse, why is it that I feel that the gaming community won’t take me seriously if I’m a female writer that writes frequently about RPGs? My fears aren’t unfounded. I vocalized this fear to my fellow writers, and it was uncomfortably admitted that, while they personally didn’t see it like that, they could easily see where that fear was founded.
I’ve played video games all my life, and I’ve been surrounded by people both female and male that played video games. My mom was the Mario gamer, my older brothers and sister would fight over who got to play Doom, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the other classics. When I was a wee tyke, I used to pull up a chair to watch my dad play Duke Nukem. (Utterly not appropriate for a youngster, I know, but I had more fun reminding my dad where hidden secrets were and laughing in delight when he got a new high score than paying attention to the strippers in the game. In fact, I used to think they were hilarious and laughed every time I saw a poster in game with a chick in a bikini.) I used to watch endlessly, as being the youngest meant that I couldn’t play them nearly as well as my older siblings.
I started playing RPGs as a way to bond with my older brother, who would spend hours on Final Fantasy IX as well as action-adventure titles like Metal Gear Solid. I had every copy of Halo as soon as they launched and would spend countless hours with my other older brother trying to beat the levels on Legendary or seeking out the easter eggs that we had read about online. All of us played Pokemon, and everyone in the family played Need for Speed. We got a demo of Resident Evil on an old Pizza Hut disc and all took turns playing it. (Who else remembers the Pizza Hut demos?) When it came to strategy games, I used to beat the tar out of my brothers. (Who was the master of Starcraft in the household? That’s right, this girl here.)
When I began to play RPGs more and began to actively seek out new titles, I never assumed it was because I was a girl: I assumed it was because my childhood dream has always been to be a writer. And not a gushy romance writer where the girl gets the guy and it’s a happy ending. I want to write plotlines that make people think, I want to write characters that people love to hate, and I want wide political story arcs that make people realize that nothing is black and white, and that even if you stand alone, it can be worth it. I want to create vast worlds like Tolkien, Rowling, Jordan, Eddings, Britain, and the other authors that shaped my childhood.
And with that dream, RPGs were the closest thing to those wonderful stories I had read as a child. Like the best book, a good RPG is chock full of wonderful little surprises that only notice when you go through it the second or third time around. And every time you pick it up, it’s like greeting old friends again.
Clearly, I was raised in a household where there was no gaming distinction between male and female, and my taste in games followed my desired career choice, something that I’m still working on to this day with three manuscripts and counting. Yet why is it that outside of my circle of family, friends, and What’s Your Tag? fellow writers, I feel the need to quickly establish that I play more than RPGs?
When dealing with any stereotype or perceived image, one viewpoint isn’t enough. I began to ask around, ranging from close friends, to co-workers, to members of a rather large Facebook community on their views regarding RPGs and the stereotypes surrounding those who play them. What I found honestly surprised me, and it takes quite a bit to do that anymore.
“Has anyone ever made you feel like you weren’t as serious of a gamer because you might play more RPGs than say FPS or action-adventure?”
“When it comes to stereotypes in gaming, do [girls] feel like [they’re] expected to play more RPGs?”
When I posed that question to a group of over 9,000 people- with at least a hundred active on a daily basis- the first responses were what I expected: Immediately denouncing that they had ever heard of stereotypes, and that girl gamers weren’t any different than other gamers. But a couple of brave souls began to share stories or negative feedback, and the doors opened. The responses varied: Some had never experienced gender discrimination, some had experienced a ton. Some only liked to play Eastern RPGs, some only played Western RPGs, and were made fun of for their taste in RPGs. Some played everything from RPGs to FPS to puzzle. Some touched on the stereotypes that females only play puzzle games and The Sims, which led to an educational discussion about ‘sims’ in Japan.
But I began to notice a trend in the comments. While many expressed confusion that RPGs would be seen as something one gender would be expected to play over others, many of the people responding to my impromptu survey would offhandedly remark that RPGs weren’t usually taken seriously. Out of the over three hundred comments that the survey was at when I checked last, only a handful of people noticed that and remarked on it.
It was an accepted rule of gaming that RPGs were not serious gaming like FPS, Fighting, or MOBA games.
And like the final puzzle piece, I knew where my fear of being typecasted as a writer who authors RPG posts came from: It wasn’t because I was female, but because there was this unchallenged viewpoint that RPGs were not serious. And this wasn’t from one demographic. These were people of varying ethnicity, genders, world regions, and age groups. While I was relieved to realize that my gender wasn’t an issue, this still came as troubling to me.
Who decides what is casual gaming, who decides what’s taken seriously? Are FPS, Fighting, and MOBA games taken seriously because of international tournaments and championships? Why is the gamer that spends fifty hours mastering Call of Duty or mastering the moves of their favorite character in Street Fighter considered a step above the gamer that spends fifty hours unlocking all the secrets of Skyrim or Final Fantasy X? Why is it believed that RPG gamers don’t need to think as much compared to FPS gamers? Isn’t it possible to play mindlessly in both genres, but to unlock the game’s full experience, attention must be given?
“I’ve had one or two [people] in Gamestop say I’m not a real gamer because I had a copy of a RPG in my hand” – Becca J
Is the same level of detail not given in both games? Do RPGs not use voice acting, frames-per-second, rendering, mo-capping, extensive testing of mechanics and all the other details that go into making a game?
How is it that one genre can be considered more ‘mindless’ compared to the other? If I can blaze through an RPG without paying attention to the storyline, I most certainly can do that in an FPS, or button mash in a Fighter. But to fully master the game, I have to immerse myself in the story, in investigating every nook and cranny, in strategy to beat massive bosses, the same way I would have to practice for hours to master a map on Call of Duty, master the moveset of Asuka in Tekken, or practice strategies with my team in League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm to truly dominate.
Why do gamers from all steps of life have to validate how serious they are of gamers by stating that they play more than just RPGs?
“But most of the time I do get comments like rpg’s are boring, you have to play this and that shooter. So when people think that I am only good at so called boring RPG’s I ask them for a match, doesn’t matter if its a fighter, shooter or race game. Usually they quickly apologize after they have tasted my skill.” – Emma G
But when it comes right down to it, this is hardly the only harmful stereotype that has been erected in the gaming community. A father shouldn’t be judged because he only has time for FPS games in his limited free time. A mother shouldn’t be laughed at because she enjoys playing otomes, or Japanese dating sims, while her toddler sleeps. Teenage boys shouldn’t be mocked because they’re sending their parents to the store on Day 1 of the newest Madden launch. It’s fine to jest to each other and lightly ribb on each other’s tastes, but stereotypes hurt more than they help.
Call of Duty players aren’t all swag-infested Frat boys or thirteen-year-olds, fans of the Tales series aren’t weeaboos who want to live in an anime. Bejeweled and Candy Crush Saga players aren’t pathetic gamer wannabes, MMO players aren’t perverts who have no life.
“This may sound harsh and there may be a bit of segregation, but I’ll say it anyway. Real gamers, True Gamers, we shouldn’t care. We live the lives of our characters, their pain is our pain and their joy is ours as well.” – Brian S
While I am relieved to realize that, for once, a gender stereotype is not my issue, I am still more than a little disturbed that RPG players are still told, to this day, that we need to play ‘real games’. But that is hardly the only stereotype at issue in this complex pool of genres, and honestly, it needs to end. There should be no reason why one gamer is considered ‘less serious’ despite putting the same amount of time into one title versus another. If you put more than twenty hours into games a week, you are, in my book, a serious gamer. Especially if you manage to balance work, family, school, and so forth.
All quotes were used with permission of the parties involved. A major thank you to everyone who participated in this survey. Thank you to the random friends, co-workers, and miscellaneous online faces that I pulled into this survey. And most of all, thank you to the members of the Facebook group, Dead Fantasy. It was an absolute delight to see gamers of different walks coming together to discuss stereotype and gender issues with astonishing grace and very little conflict, even if the conversation got derailed to Cheetos and female urinals…
Kayla Swenson is an aspiring author and former DJ from Seattle, WA that procrastinates far too much with video games to get a book out. When she’s not gaming until carpal tunnel sets in, she’s working on dreams of being a voice actor as well as a published writer. Fond of RPGs, she will happily disappear into the void to tackle whatever bad voice acting awaits. Contact her at the email above, or on all major systems/networks as Beltravi.