- Belle. Beautiful bookworm wishing to get out from under society's expectations of her, loyal and brave in the face of gloom and danger, self-sacrificing for the sake of her family, and empathetic to the plights of monsters though ultimately weak and human, herself.
- Mulan. Beautiful klutz wishing to get out from under society's expectations of her, loyal and brave in the face of gloom and danger, self-sacrificing for the sake of her family (and friends), picking up martial activities, and with a failed attempt at mascarading as a man before she was "true to herself." Saves her country.
- Lara Croft. Strong, beautiful tomb raider, confident, deadly, and powerful. Barbie mixed with Indiana Jones, and given a darker pallet to add to a mysterious and dangerous glamor. Saves the world and hunts for shinies.
- Buffy Summers. Strong, beautiful vampire slayer, deadly and powerful. A teen Barbie who kicks ass and bridges the cheerleader-geek gap. She is supported by lots of other likeable female characters (a favorite being Willow), and saves the world. Repeatedly.
"Create your own character" games that allowed me to play as a female reinforced this: Morrowind, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter, Dungeons & Dragons. In creating my own strong female character, I helped define who I wanted to become, and that it was okay to be a girl without being "girly."
It's Okay to Game
This is, in my opinion, what being a girl gamer is about: breaking conformity and embracing your true self. That it's okay to fight for what you beleive in. That it's okay to be the hero. That you can be strong and beautiful without being a helpless damsel in distress. You can save the world without being a sidekick. If you want to do it in hiking boots or stilleto heels is up to you: just be yourself. That guys will still be interested in you even though you can speak your mind, and sometimes speak it through a Sniper scope in Unreal Tournament or a huge sword as you cleave through pixel-dragons.
Now, there is one other thing that these heroine images all share: beauty. This is a conformity that they retain, that of the idealized, perfect, super-model imagery. I don't think that it's just because the marketers want to appeal to male audiences as well: is it really any different than the Barbie dolls and Cinderella beauty stereotype? "You must look like this and go get married!" That stuff *IS* marketed directly for girls, rather than to both genders.
Many male role-model images are the same way: you must be handsome, fit, strong, and go save the world to get the girl. You must be exceptionally smart, confident, and/or have a great sense of humor: all things desired by potential mates.
Why? The Disney theme: "to find the one you love and get married and live happily ever after." After saving the world or overcoming a curse or bewitchment, in the case of some. Love is the ultimate goal of most, which biologically makes sense, as it benefits survival of the species, especially a species that requires such a time commitment to raising its offspring. The fact that appearance plays a part in selection is not incidental, and that's an aspect that overcomes society's gender-specific strictures on behavior and place. So, while stories of heroes and heroines can be breaking a society's traditions of a gender role, general beauty or handsomeness is one thing that is rarely degraded in its heroes and heroines.
Exceptions are stories like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera, where beauty is found in other ways, but can ultimately be viewed as tragedies rather than stories about role model heroes.
The unfortunate aspect of these beauty-based ideals is that relatively few girls can attain them without a) destroying their health or b) photoshop. Programs like Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty are designed to lessen the impact of the media and advertisements on girls' self-image, and many of the beauty images found in role models are less extreme than those found in model magazines and photoshopped ads.
While physical beauty seems to be important in role models, absolute physical perfection it is not the ultimatum for success or being a role model. Taking care of oneself and others, and having the self-sufficiency and confidence to protect those you love overshadows simple looks; beauty itself goes beyond the physical and into the realm of how these role models act and feel about themselves.
Regardless, some amount of physical beauty stems from physical fitness. While gaming in itself is not a very cardiovascular activity, we appreciate the fitness of those capable of pulling off the feats we accomplish in-game. Though some may not be able to do a roundhouse kick or run for miles without breaking a sweat, they wouldn't play it if they didn't, somehow, wish that they could.
(FYI, I am envious of parkour runners)
So many of our avatars are aesthetically pleasing. Some few may choose to be the wrinkle-faced gnome or decrepit undead or snaggle-toothed, snarling orc, but generally speaking, most females would rather have an avatar that looks nice. It is either a reflection of what they want to be, what they are comfortable being, or a mask to hide beneath.
The avatar itself is also, in most cases, physically fit. How else would they have the stamina to run from hither and yon, fighting dragons or aliens or enemy soldiers without so much as getting a blister?
These things lend themselves to girls recreating themselves in their avatars to match their role models, in physical ways they may feel they can't otherwise attain. Like the clutz who can't do a cartwheel is on her avatar doing loops in the air, or wall-jumping to reach a special power-up. While character and animated role models aid in providing that super-human image a gamer can mimic, seeing living-flesh role models who can do these things and still enjoy the gaming as a hobby serves as an inspiration to get up and try: try to become more fit, have more confidence in themselves, and generally become more healthy.
Of course, this in turn often results in sayings such as "do not try this at home." :) Those words are usually directed at the boys, but it's a good danger warning to females, too.
The Iconic Girl Gamer, for GIRLS
There are, I think, two kinds of girl gamer: the expressive, and the practical. The expressive is more flashy in dress and makeup, while the practical is more subdued, but both are likely to bear some form of peraphanalia/imagery from a favorite game or subject (fangirlism) rather than simple and meaningless patterns, flowers, or solids.
If I were to create some sort of pro-gamer-girl icon, it would be something to this effect:
- Good-looking, fit, aesthetically pleasing
- Nurturing, empathic: feminine ideals that are contrary to the competitive nature of most games, but are not impossible to reconcile as many games are also team-based.
- Practical or comfortable clothing with subtle imagery suggesting a game or geekery (to cover most bases, digital imagery ala "digital angel" would probably work best)
- Maintains feminimity in form, shape, and pose
While role models inherently portray sexual appeal, it is idealized and publicly permissible. The threshold must be maintained in order for the heroine to remain her place as a role model rather than as a marketing slut.
So, that is my long-winded ramble on being a girl gamer and the role models that support it. It started as a reply to Keredria's post on the Geek and Gamer Girls parody video, and ended up consuming my morning. Whoot.