Illustration: Ashley Goodall
by Sammi Taylor
In 2012, the lead designer of Borderlands 2 described a playable character he had created for people who “suck at first-person shooter” games. The character was the “girlfriend” mode, he said. In other words, it was a support character. Clearly not “lead player” material.
The comment was a slap in the face for women gamers. Many already felt they weren’t taken seriously, or weren’t welcome in the gaming community, especially following GamerGate, the 2013 harassment campaign that targeted female gamers and critics (and gave troll Milo Yiannopoulos a platform as the new poster boy of the alt-right).
Now new research has emerged on the experience of the “gamer girlfriend,” that is, the experience of women who play games with their partners.
Mahli-Ann Butt, the Australian academic behind this research, says in some ways being a “gamer girlfriend” is positive: by gaming with their partners, women are often shielded from the online harassment prevalent in the gaming public. But so-called gamer girlfriends, who are often introduced to gaming by their partners, also have a history of being viewed as a sidekick to their boyfriend’s gaming, and not a player in their own right.
We asked her about all that.