I originally wrote this as a speech to deliver at public speaking training at work – but it’s a subject I feel strongly about, so I decided to publish it here.
When I told people I was leaving my job at the BBC to join Twitch, it felt like everyone I told was puzzled; non-gaming natives, they had either briefly heard of the platform, or had no idea what it was.
I say everyone – my mother was horrified. Her highlight of my career so far was meeting Robert Powell and his ridiculously blue eyes (famous of being those of Jesus in the Zefferelli film Jesus of Nazareth) – and artists formerly known as Jesus were unlikely to turn up at gaming expos…
Even those familiar with Twitch seemed confused; “but you do even like video games!?” they questioned skeptically, as people still do today when I tell them what I do.
And I could concede that they’ve got a point – because I don’t like video games. I love them.
From playing Bat and Ball on my nan’s BBC Micro Computer and Alex Kidd on the SEGA Master System, to buying my own PS One from savings (which I’d later dip into to buy a gaming PC and a Wii), video games have always been a constant and consistent part of my life. A former editor of mine back in my Channel 4 interning days even gifted me a Dreamcast he had going spare, given my fanatic enthusiasm for escapist gameplay.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t an occasional bump in the road in this relationship; when I moved to Newcastle for a radio job, with nothing but my Xbox 360 for company, I excitedly began the long arduous journey that is Final Fantasy XIII. 30 hours in, I decided to take a five year break, resumed when the eve of Final Fantasy VX kicked my paradigms into gear.
After I joined Twitch I decided build a PC for the first time and possibly became the first person to upload a video of themselves jubilantly screaming “fucking BIOS” on the internet. It was an emotional moment – firstly because I’d had some Power Supply Unit (PSU) issues, but also because I saw that certain people online reacted to by progress by asking me to – as one charmer put it – “leave PC building to the men”. (To this charmer I simply enquired why his masculinity felt threatened by a woman building a PC.)
Aside from being desperate to play Overwatch in my own bedroom, after founding team Overlunch with office manager and kickass Mcree Nell, I also wanted the PC to up my streaming game. As you would expect from someone who would shout “fucking BIOS” on the internet, I’m pretty emotional on my channel – it’s a place where I can rage freely and people are more likely to join in than judge. I am accepted as what I am – a fan of video games.
In the wider world however, I am viewed as an anomaly; despite the fact I don’t think I’m at all unusual or unique. I am a “Girl Gamer” or, as some of the gaming community types when they see me on an industry event stage, a “GRILL”. To put it bluntly, I am “other” – just as the singer in a “female-fronted band”, a “female comedian’’, a “girl boss” or even a “male nurse” is. It is this culture of gendered language, where a “gamer” is alleged as solely male, and a female gamer is a “girl gamer”, that makes me appear unusual.
In 2014, the Internet Advertising Bureau surveyed 4,000 UK residents and found that those who identified as ‘gamers’ skewed 52% female. And yes, many of those are playing on their phones, but it is still relevant. Many women may even play but simply don’t “out” themselves – I’ve spent the best part of a decade showing off my self-proclaimed genius at defeating Final Fantasy X’s last boss Yu Yevon in two moves – and a lot of people, male or female, don’t even know who that is. Until the female audience for gaming is amplified, “hardcore gamer” titles will remain targeted solely to men, and this budding market won’t fulfil it’s growth potential.
Language is one of civilisation’s most powerful tools. When we use it to single out a group, we change their status from the norm, therefore creating a set expectation for them. We expect the England Football team to be a team of men: we expect the England Ladies’ Team to feature a mixture of full and part-time pro players, many of whom earn less in a year than I do playing video games. When I skimmed through Netflix the other day, I noticed it has created a category called “films featuring a strong female lead”; the idea is so beyond acceptable mainstream cinema, it has had its own genre invented.
When we call someone a “girl gamer”, therefore, we expect them to be less proficient than a “gamer”. When we place that “GRILL” on the stage, we expect them to be there because of the way they look, not because of what they think.
So no, I’m not a “girl gamer”. I’m not a “GRILL”. I identify as a woman who plays video games – a “gamer” – because I believe in creating a world where gendered language no longer exists in order to hold me back.
Now who’s up for a game of Overwatch?