Girls, G.I.R.L.s And Everyone In Between: Gender Identity In Video Gaming And/or Why I’m Male On The Internet
First of all a brief word about the title’s acronym for those among us who may not be aware of its meaning. G.I.R.L. stands for “Guy In Real Life”, a pejorative term used for somebody who pretends to be female in online video games for their own material gain.
As an erstwhile player of World of Warcraft, I can attest to people – usually, but not always, heterosexual males – being fleeced in this manner. However, with this often advantageous deception in mind I have a confession to make.
Despite being and (for the most part) identifying myself as female, I have done something similar. Online I have, more often than not, pretended to be male.
As anybody involved in online gaming can attest, gender politics play a big – if sometimes subversive – part, and there were easily at least several notable instances during my World of Warcraft career when my gender caused more issues than it should have.
The first was when I initially began to get into high level instances and raiding. At that time on our server tanks were scarce, and I was lucky enough to be friends with a few fairly reliable ones. One seemed to have become markedly better disposed towards me when he found out I was female in real life (I first met him on one of my female-avatared characters and we got chatting; I tend to play a pretty balanced mixture of genders), engaging me in idle small talk and frequently offering help whether I needed it or not. When making groups for instances, friends who knew of this particular individual would try and persuade me to ask him to tank for us, saying that he’d be bound to accept for me, a woman. My subsequent refusals resulted in many awful PUGs (oh, the repair bills) while the aforementioned tank was happily strung along by skinny blood elf after skinny blood elf (my main character at that time was a hefty Tauren druid and proud).
Another fairly significant incident was when I first joined a proper raiding guild. My then partner was also a member, and for some reason he simply couldn’t stand the idea of me remaining gender anonymous (a threat to his own identity/sexuality perhaps?). Indeed, he was so irritated by the fact that he ended up purposely “outing” me to the guild, much my chagrin. Needless to say, that didn’t last long.
Anecdotes aside, however, the fact remains that gender continues to be a huge issue online. A woman who identifies herself as such on a forum is often flamed beyond recovery, dismissed as an attention seeker and called many other derogatory names besides. While there definitely are some female attention seekers out there there are, of course, just as many from every other gender and persuasion. The sad thing is that I’ve seen many women making legitimate points, points that require the citation of their gender in order to make sense, only to be shot down for the sake of some kind of habitual misogyny.
I am far from ashamed of my gender, but unfortunately online I feel the need for privacy or, at the very least, anonymity. If this means, sadly, that I must masquerade as male in order to avoid possible prejudice (as I was made to do recently yet again by a well known eSports site who refused to restore my gender to the default neutral, instead forcing me to be recognised as female) then so be it.
Ella is an outright devotee of video games and has been since she was small. She has a BA in English literature from the University of Sussex and is currently on her way towards an MA. When not studying she works as a copywriter (most recently for GameStop ), and when not working she’s usually found up to her ears in primarily PC games. Those interested can find her ramblings about the latter and sometimes more) on Twitter.