I probably can't expect much from a person with a username including the words "Pussy" and "Monster" in it, but even so, a message that I got last month from an OKCupid user was worse than the usual fare.
- Difficulty in forming complete sentences with logical thoughts and proper grammar? Check.
- Random sex solicitation before telling me anything about yourself? Check.
- Picture with a fedora? Check. Actually—the person's main profile picture was him standing in a dark room wearing Jedi robes and holding a lightsaber in the dark. Lord.
- Some indication of past experiences with "bitches," "sluts," and "crazy women" along with the hope that you aren't any of those things? Check.
- In spite of this, having his profile at some point list that he's a "real gentleman" who knows how to "treat a real lady?" Check.
- Abrasive message telling me he could probably kick my ass in a game but that he'd take it easy on me because I'm a girl, but, oh! It was so wonderful that you'd finally found me—as in the exotic creature called "gamer girl!" Uh, check.
Receiving a message like this isn't abnormal for most women on OKCupid, based on my conversations with acquaintances—but typically, it's just a few cringe-worthy things in a single message at worst. This message somehow managed to capture just about every awful possible element of an OKCupid suitor. Here's the thing: a lot of messages that I've personally gotten tend to hit similar notes... when the person is a gamer, who has found me by searching for women who also have video games listed as an interest.
I recalled a conversation earlier in the year with a bunch of women games journalists and generally driven gamer women who expressed difficulty in finding someone who (to simplify and generalize) had ambition and chased success while still being a nerd. The elusive key here was to have someone fulfill these characteristics without being wholly defined by their interest in gaming.
That was the weird part about it, how common it was to find someone whose devotion to games felt uncomfortable. Begrudgingly you can work with someone who is shy, insecure or any other elements ‘nerds' stereotypically have. But what do you do with someone whose entire identity revolves around a hobby, and why does that seem to happen so much with games in particular? A hobby that, mind, many of my friends are utterly devoted to. But it was almost as if there is an unspoken understanding that there are "right" ways to indulge in an interest. Healthy ways. Obsessing over games to the point of becoming a one-dimensional person wasn't it, and it was common to find people for who that was the case moreso than not.
And, to be sure, there's at least some degree of hypocrisy involved here. I'm no stranger to that when it comes to dating. Being unable to hold myself to normal human waking hours, for example, means I might find myself cruising OKCupid at 4am. But if you're checking me out at a similar time? Flags raised. What are you doing on OKCupid? Don't you have something better to do? (I don't.) (Single.)
It's the same thing when it comes to games. I kind of pause when I see someone is a gamer, even though I'm one. Maybe they're that perennial manchild misogynist gamer—this is more common than I'd like to admit. Maybe it's more innocuous, like having them seriously mention that their favorite game this year is Duke Nukem Forever. That actually happened, and all I could think at the time was "No." As in: "get away from me. Oh my god" type no. When you only have information to go on, detached from a person, it becomes easier to sort and discard profiles as if trying to find the most effective gear to equip in a game, regrettably.
But the big question was, do I want someone who likes games, too? Likes games as much as I do—because who else would understand late night review crunches, for example? Plus, why go out with someone that might as well be me? Can I approximate balance in a relationship when my worktime, playtime and private life all revolve around games and people who like them?
Whenever this discussion comes up this crisis seems to hang in the air, continually unresolved, and more importantly, continually single. But now, receiving that message from our good sir Pussy Monster, something games journalist Leigh Alexander said to me bubbled to the surface.
Maybe I shouldn't list games as an interest at all.
"I once had a female friend advise me not to put it on my profile because she thought it'd make people think I was creepy or too nerdy," Leigh explained, "And the weird thing is, based on the attention I've gotten in romantic contexts when it comes to gaming, I kind of get why she thinks that. I've been doing this for a long time, and when I see people who are aggressively all about their gaming hobby, even I take it as kind of a bad sign, like I'm going to be dating some internet comments troll, or RPGsBeBroke. I'm totally aware of the hypocrisy in that, but I can't really help it."
It almost seems like a brash move, doesn't it? How could I leave out such a crucial part of my day-to-day life? And even after managing to avoid the crazy fanatics and uber-nerds, there's another hesitation in not revealing one of my favorite pastimes: that a similar judgment might be unfairly passed on me. As much as I am aware of the stigma—that is all too often proven true in the depths of OKCupid—I'm afraid that by identifying with that community, I'm invariably identifying with that stigma.
Even if I'd say that games are what I ‘do,' but not who I ‘am,' or what ‘consumes' me, eventually I'd have to tell my significant other, right? What was I going to do, sit someone down and like... break it to them? In the same way I might confess to a significant other that I'm afraid I might be pregnant? Like I'm ashamed of it (but maybe I am?), like I might be afraid of what the response would be? Like it's worth hiding?
For all that I champion games, man, I don't know. The bad parts of this culture—the parts that try their hardest to keep certain people out, the parts that make "beat up Anita Sarkeesian" games just because she wanted to examine gender in games, the parts that refuse to acknowledge important titles as "games," or the ones that rage against the idea of games being more than mindless entertainment—those parts of the culture are pretty gross to me. Just because I've distanced myself from all of that, curated my way toward worthwhile games and people, found spaces where I'm comfortable and accepted, doesn't mean that other, sometimes uglier parts of the industry don't exist. The negative stigma games have, given this context, isn't wholly unwarranted.
And when I think about that aspect of the culture, yeah, I kind of am ashamed. I don't want to be linked to that, I don't endorse that. I don't want someone to take a look at something I listed, devoid of context, raise their eyebrows, and suddenly not consider me anymore—because they don't take games seriously, or because they expect I'm a member of the negative part of that community. Or worse! They think I'm an immature person—that's the more classic stigma surrounding people who play games, eh?
You'd figure I'd be better off if someone was quick to judge me like that, but it's not like I don't use OKCupid that way myself. I know how it works. Like I said earlier, it's hilariously easy to stop considering someone just because they worded something wrong, because they like something you don't like—any number of completely arbitrary reasons, really.
While I've not had any luck, at least a couple of my friends have had good experiences on services like OKCupid because they listed games as an interest. Colette Bennett, another games journalist, told me that while she initially kept her interest in games a secret, she still made great friends with online dating profiles. When she went on to be honest in her profiles years later, it resulted in its fair share of lackluster results at first, but then landed her an experience that made it all worth it.
Colette got a message from "The coolest gamer I would ever meet online, and later lead me not only to the beginning of my career writing in games, but also to one of the most valuable relationships I ever had. Sure, there's lots to stumble on when it comes to interacting with awkward gamers and figuring out whether calling yourself a 'gamer' on a dating site ends up being a good or a bad thing. If it wasn't for calling myself that, I wouldn't have ever written a word about gaming."
I don't discount the possibility that I could have a similarly wonderful experience. So far, no dice (not on OKCupid anyway. Twitter, meanwhile...)—only horrible or uncomfortable messages from men that consider gaming their end all be all and who apparently aren't up-to-date on statistics that reveal that yes, there are in fact women gamers. Lots of them, even.
For now, an experiment. I've taken off games as an interest in my profile, just to see what happens. So far the frequency of uncomfortable messages from Hardcore Gamer Dudes has dropped... which is not to say the overall quality of messages has increased. I might be getting matches with exactly the sort of person my profile warrants, who knows! But—for a while, at least—I know that whoever I do get isn't likely to adore games to an awkward degree, and isn't likely to fetishize my like of games, either.