The Oatmeal “Girl Gamer” Comic Was A Monumentally Bad Idea
By Alex Cranz
As we’ve discussed in the past, I used to be pretty heavily into World of Warcraft. I would play twelve or more hours a day. I was in charge of the tanking FAQ for a particular character class on one of the biggest WoW gaming theory forums that existed at the time. My characters were loaded to bear with the very best armor you could get in raids. I had crazy dragons I rode around on and I was one of the top people in my guild–the top guild for my faction on my server.
Guys I was a monumental geek and I loved every minute of it.
I also got to be really damn familiar with how women are treated in online games. So the recent Oatmeal comic that looked like this?
I recognized that! Not because I was that way. I was kind of awesome. I was the bratty woman who was all “just one of the guys.” You know the one. She’s kind of a traitor to her gender sometimes and makes rape jokes and junk? Yeah I was gross.
But I also knew that above girl. She had a breathy voice and her MySpace page featured her, like, squatting on a bed and looking seductively at the camera. She was young and gorgeous and she got many many free passes.
But was it because of that breathy voice and the killer MySpace portfolio?
Nope! It was because she was a healer and we needed her–even though she was one of the worst WoW raiders I ever worked with. Sometimes she’d come through with a timely heal before standing in the fire for an eternity.
But you know what she and I both had to deal with–what made us bond even though I despised how she carried herself in the game and how terrible she was at it? We both had to deal with dudes who, when they figured out we were women, liked to whisper us gross propositions and say horrible things to us.
On account of us being women.
What bugs me about the comic, and the corrected, and less offensive version:
Is how it kind of suggests, maybe, that it’s the woman’s fault. Look at that little smiling face and perky ponytail and her willful wasting of important gaming materials! Versus the guy in the comic:
Aw see. He wasn’t perfectly flawless. Meanwhile she’s laying waste to all life in PC gaming and getting verbal cunnilingus for it.
I get what he’s trying to do. I do. I get that exaggeration is part of the joke.
Only what both comics neatly avoid is the actual problem–in fact it actually kind of reinforces the problem. See that girl, she isn’t a gamer in that comic. She’s a guest. An anomaly. So she’s treated like a cyberqueen. We all know this isn’t true. Women game. Women love gaming. We’re a big chunk of the video game market. Women aren’t “girl gamers” they’re just gamers. Status frickin’ quo. Junk like this comic perpetuates the idea that we’re rare sunflowers and that in turn makes silly young male gamers gives us frustrating special treatment.
Matthew Inman, who is the cartoonist behind The Oatmeal, isn’t making some casual observation. He’s reinforcing a negative stereotype and inviting guys to giggle while women continue to feel set apart and uncomfortable.
Male gamers, next time you’re in a game with a female gamer stop a second and ponder this: are you treating her differently based on her gender? If you want to call her a jerk when she fails, go ahead, she’ll probably do likewise when you fail. Just don’t do disgusting gendered insults like those that provide Fat, Ugly or Slutty all their material (I think we all dream of a future where that site isn’t necessary). And if you want to praise her? Do a quick internal check–would you still praise her if she’s a guy?