I refuse to game online. Does that mean the trolls win?

By now, even if you’re only vaguely connected to the gaming community, chances are you’ve seen them. The rape threats, the vitriol, the blatant disregard for the possibility that a woman can create video games, or work in the industry as a whole, or even just be a gamer without the core goal being to “impress men.” In case you need a primer, or if, like me, you were uncertain of the specific cause of the most recent nastiness, I refer you to an article from the always-excellent Mary Sue which summarizes what’s been going on the last few weeks.

First of all, my whole-hearted support and a massive thank you goes out to every single woman mentioned in that article, as well as the many other women who have stepped up and spoken out, only to receive the same harassment themselves. (I’m looking at you, Sam Maggs.) The amount of bravery that it takes to stand up against those threats is nearly unimaginable in and of itself, but these women all keep themselves safe while holding their heads high and that’s just damned impressive.

I hasten to add that I haven’t had any sort of experience as traumatizing as the women mentioned above. I’m by no means in the trenches on this. But, it does have me thinking about my own, quieter experience as a woman gamer. And here’s the thing: I’ve always been a proud, vocal gamer, and I have argued in the face of men who’ve told me I wasn’t a real geek for a wide variety of absurd and inherently sexist reasons. I don’t by any means hide from those fools, or avoid calling them out on their behavior. But I also don’t game online. I actively refuse to take part in MMO’s, and can’t imagine changing the decision I made over a decade ago to pass on any games that required interaction with people I don’t know. When I was younger, that decision was made for one simple reason – I genuinely don’t care for MMO’s. I loved LANs, and smaller gaming nights with my friends, but when it comes to depending on some random person I don’t know to help me storm a castle, I’m not interested. For me, gaming is solitary and quiet with a few rare exceptions. I just prefer it that way. Plus, the sorts of games I like to play don’t tend to be the ones where you need that sort of online interaction – sure, fighting games are fun, but I’d rather run through at least a marginally solid story while I shoot things, thankyaverymuch. Only very very recently, with predominantly next-gen games like Titanfall and Destiny, have I been even remotely tempted to game online.

But I still haven’t done it. As I’ve gotten older and (theoretically) wiser, I’ve read and thought about the assaults that women go through every moment they so much as pick an avatar and a gamer tag that may possibly hint that they’re a woman, much less those who speak outloud, or work in the industry. I’m not proud of this, but I’m anxious even at the thought of getting involved in an online gaming platform, and having those guys get to me not in a public setting, out and about in the world, or even on social media, but privately, while I’m taking part in one of my favorite hobbies from the (again, theoretical) comfort and safety of my own home. While my own little corner of the internet is filled with wonderful, supportive men who would never shit talk me just on the basis of my gender, the gaming community doesn’t work that way as a whole.

Even now, I feel an urge to defend myself and my choices, to say that I get that shit talk is an important part of gaming, and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously (large-scale threats aside, obviously) and what am I so scared about. But the reality is that every single woman who ever wants to game, be it on the network or off, has to wonder – should I take that threat seriously? Where’s the line? At what point do we draw a designation between “cheerful, competitive jibes” and harassment? It’s a damn fine line, finer than most men realize. It’s the same feeling I get walking down a lonely street at night with my keys in between my fingers. We can’t know whose threats are real and whose aren’t. It’s a constant battle, and there is no easy answer.

I don’t feel like less of a gamer because I stay away from gaming online. But I do wonder if I’m giving those guys a pass; actively staying away and letting them have their “no girls allowed” bullshit, giving it permission to live another day. And that feeling, that I’m implicitly giving them a space to continue to be horrible, has started to grate at me. So maybe, on the day I finally cave and get a PS4, I’ll change my mind. I can’t say for certain what I’ll decide either way. But I do know what I’d get if I do, undoubtedly, and that’s a deeply upsetting reality.

Really. Don’t we all deserve more than this?

In Defense of Mary Morstan

All of this #221Back hubbub reminded me of something. Or, should I say, some people discussing what they hope happens post-haste in Season 4 reminded me of something. I LOVE Mary Morstan. I’m surely not alone, but somehow she’s turned into a polarizing character in fandom and she certainly has her detractors. And this leaves me all types of confuzzled.

(Obvious Note Time!  I’ll be discussing Season 3 of Sherlock in full. Spoilers, if for some unknown reason you haven’t caught up yet.)

Full Disclosure: I’m not generally a fan of Moffat-written women. I don’t hate him by any means – I will defend Moffat when I think he deserves it and loudly complain when he deserves that too. But, I do tend to find his portrayal of women troubling and simplistic. I’ll save a deep-dive into my schizophrenic views of Moffat for another day and another post, but this all goes to say that when The Empty Hearse premiered on New Years Day, I was beside myself with giggly adoration, not just for Sherlock’s grand return or Watson’s perfect headbutt, but for the character whom I quickly declared the first Moffat woman that I hands-down-from-word-go loved.

Mary is awesome, guys. She just IS. She’s clever and alert and hilarious and not even remotely afraid to have a difference of opinion from the men who surround her. (Which shouldn’t count as something to be lauded, but hey, #lowbar.) I give you: the moment I knew I loved Mary.

My greatest fear about how the writers would handle Mary was that they’d, for lack of a better phrase, Yoko Ono her. How many times have we seen this go down in the public sphere?  Women used to pit the men against each other, used as a tool to be fought over, or fought with, or vilified in whatever fandom they’ve had the misfortune to anger. It’s heinous and annoying and I hate it. I especially hate it when we lady geeks buy into the arguments against these women, which is what seems to happen in some more puzzling sectors of the internets when you bring up Mary Morstan.

So here’s why I’m so confused. Mary doesn’t ever want to break up our very favorite Consulting Detective Team. She brings out the best in Watson and in Sherlock alike. She plays them both with her wedding plans, letting them both think they’re in charge, she folds to Sherlock calling Watson out on the mustache-to-end-all-mustaches, she’s charming and lovely and – oh yeah – she’s a totally badass assassin. She isn’t used as a wedge in their relationship – if anything she lets Watson see how thoughtful Sherlock can be, and lets them be closer emotionally than they imagined with that spectacular Best Man speech. Would that have happened if Mary wasn’t great in Sherlock’s eyes as well as John’s? No. Not it would not.

Yes, she’s a sign of change, which I know can be hard for us nerdy folk to take. And, er, she shoots Sherlock. Yup. She does. She had no choice in the matter, as Sherlock explained and as John came to agree with. Her decision to hide her badass assassins past hurt John. Very true. Find me an honest representation of a marriage where someone doesn’t get hurt. When Sherlock confronts her on her assassin-ie lies, with John hiding in the backround, it’s brutal and all three of them are in remarkable amounts of pain. That said, she doesn’t force John into accepting her again, or manipulate him into deciding to stay. John Watson is a big boy and he made his own decision based on all the love and care that the two of them had in their relationship up to that point. I could go on, but really, here’s the headline:

John loves her. Sherlock loves her. She’s a quality female character with a fascinating past and a ton to add to the dynamic of the show. What’s not to love? I’m the first to fight against a Moffat-woman-failure, and this ain’t one.

I don’t get it. I don’t want to believe it’s because people want Johnlock to happen *that badly* but I don’t know what else it could be. Please, leave a comment and help a girl out if you think you can explain this to me. I don’t think I’ll agree with you, but at least help me understand!

Fangirls and Gamer Girls

Fangirl is now in the dictionary. So’s shipping, but we’ll discuss that another day. Most of you have probably read by now that Merriam-Webster recently added a bunch of words to the dictionary, as they do every year, and fangirl is one of them. (In case you were curious, fanboy was entered in 2008. Et-hem.) To their credit, the definitions of fangirl and fanboy are identical, except for gender. But are the implications the same IRL? Of course not.

A lot of us struggle with the word fangirl. It can be tossed around to make us feel diminutive, or condescended to, or dismissed, or all three simultaneously. But frankly, so can fanboy, and I for one will admit to having used the word fanboy in a less than admirable fashion. Mostly when shit talking  XBox/Halo fanboys, which I will forever stand by. I digress.

I’ve never had a conscious problem with other people calling me fangirl, or with calling myself one. I love my fandoms, and I love talking loudly about them. But I do know there’s sometimes an underlying tone when I call myself a fangirl – it’s with a dash of shame, a little too much defensiveness, just enough I’m calling myself this so you can’t throw it in my face. I’ll use it with a headshake if I’ve fallen down a Tumblr hole of David Tennant gifs and I’m ever-so-slightly ashamed of myself. I’ll also use it with pride in reference to my ever-growing geeky t-shirt collection. Sometimes it doesn’t carry any inherent weight one way or the other and it’s just something I toss out. Strangely, I have a very different interaction with the phrase gamer girl. That title’s a point of pride. (Obviously, I don’t speak for every gamer who happens to not be a man. Just my opinions, not a blanket statement, blah blah blah.)  For me, being a gamer girl means I’m taking control of this thing that is typically male and calling it my own, while the word fangirl tends to bring up ideas of teenage obsession and Teen Bop posters hanging in your room. My internalized fangirl shame has whispered that being a gamer girl is empowering, but that being a fangirl means I have to prove that I’m no longer 13.

But we all know that’s nonsense. And for the record, more power to those 13 year old fangirls with posters plastering their rooms – someday they’ll start awesome geeky stuff that we’ll all love. Besides, I was that girl, with Star Wars posters as far as the eye could see, and just because I’m now nearly 29 doesn’t mean I love it any less or any differently. (Full disclosure on my Star Wars fangirl status: George Lucas did a number on it with his revisions and re-releases, but it’s certainly not the fault of my classic old posters or the Han Solo action figure that’s on my desk as we speak.) There are all kinds of fans, boys and girls, and yes some of them are on the superficial side. And sometimes, those “kinds of fans” can make us all just a little uncomfortable.  But so what? As long as no one’s getting hurt or stalked or whatnot, it’s impossible to be a fan “wrong,” and expressing the way you love a thing differently than someone else doesn’t mean you love it any less, or any more for that matter.  It’s just another one of those internal hierarchies that we put upon ourselves to try to draw lines within fandoms and mimic or control the judgement we all get from the “outside world.” It’s nonsense, and those far more eloquent than I have argued why. See: the best possible essay I’ve read about this from Katrina over at Verity! Podcast. I do think it’s interesting to note that, more often than not, we all have a moment when we stop and declare to the world – screw you! Yes I’m a fangirl and that doesn’t mean I’m stupid or childish or single-minded about my fandoms! So there. Harrumph. It’s empowering, and from my little corner of the internet I see a lot of intelligent, geeky women reclaiming and defending fangirls against the masses, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

The larger issue here is that six year delay I threw out in a parenthetical up at the top. Fanboy went in the dictionary in 2008. Fangirl in 2014. Same definition, ignoring the cultural stereotypes of fanboys versus fangirls, but a six year gap. Women have been geeks for much longer than that, and while there certainly has been an influx of us talking loudly about our interests on the internets these last few years, we’ve been here a long time and the fact that fangirl went in so much later than fanboy is just a sign of how much farther we have to go.