“You Have to Do It with Style: Girls’ Games and Girls’ Gaming”

June 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Girls are cooperative, passive, and avoid conflict in relationships

In this scintillating entry, I shall discuss girls’ games and girls’ gaming. But first, a confession: up until um probably seventh grade (Eighth grade? not entirely sure how to demarcate) I was a mean girl. I was bossy and forceful and basically did precisely as I pleased. Weirdly, teachers and authority figures generally just loved me, so apparently I wasn’t total hell, or at the very least was clever enough to know when and where to behave myself. I would have done well in Slytherin, is what I’m saying. So it was with some –let’s say bemusement– that I read Linda Hughes selection. It’s not a bad article, and certainly covers important ground — pulling from two years’ research in the grade school foursquare trenches, as well as the feminist folklore of games and gaming canon (lol there’s no such thing), she argues that folkloric accounts of girls’ play often emphasize and/or subsequently lament the passive nature of girls’ interactions, thus framing gendered play as “central villains in the process of creating and sustaining patterns of inequality” (133). That is to say, girls are trained to behave like girls; play reinforces those ideals. Because traditionally masculine qualities –aggressiveness, independence, competitiveness– are privileged over traditionally feminine qualities, girls’ play helps internalize both the experience and acceptance of feminine inferiority. Not only is it important to reevaluate the ways in which girls’ gaming is described (134), Hughes argues, it’s critical to acknowledge how and in what ways girls’ gaming challenges traditional accounts of female interaction (135). Only then might we know exactly what is at issue.

After all, although the rules of many girls’ games (scare-quotes implied, because wtf makes a game inherently feminine) may appear to corroborate the oft-cited assumption that nice girls play nice, the reality of girls’ gaming –you know, what happens when someone bothers to pay attention to what girls actually do— reveals an evolving and highly complex system of negotiation not just in relation to a particular set of rules but within a number of overlapping social spheres. Yes, friendship and cooperation and “playing nice” are often given a great deal of lip-service. But girls! They can be assholes, one of the unpleasant side-effects of being people. As one of Hughes’ participants coyly offered, it’s not that girls don’t have the same ultimate goal –#duhwinning– as the boys. It’s just that “You have to do it in style” (144), suggesting that the performance of play is as important as, if not more important than, the gameplay itself. Indeed, as Hughes magnanimously declares in her conclusion, “All girls do not lack skills in organizing and sustaining large-group activities of games with highly complex and elaborate rule structures. All girls are not incapable of engaging aggressive competition, and they do not all fall apart in the face of the slightest disagreement” (143).

To which I, as a spider-queen and general maker of mischief, can only reply OH MY GOD NO SHIT???

If feeder-question: The foursquare case study bores me and anyway on its own ain’t all that relevant to m’project, but some of the meta-insights could be helpful in terms of framing. Specifically the claim that “to have assumed that these girls competed as individuals just because they chose a nonteam game would have significantly distorted and oversimplified the social reality” (142) could be applied to trolls, who are often described/condemned as antisocial anomalies but are often highly social within their particular trolling community, itself subject to some form of hierarchy, either interpersonal or in terms of cultural fluency. So often, trolling is a performance for other trolls; the resulting lulz thus functioning as a kind of naughty bastard Boy Scout badge. You lose all that nuance if you refuse to see trolls as anything other than lonely wheezing basement-dwellers.

If stand-alone question: Same basic idea, idea that oversimplification oversimplifies. Hughes’ emphasis on shifting focus from what is played to how it’s played (134) is an important concept in terms of transgressive humor. Like, yeah we need to know what jokes are told, but the how and the why often have a profound impact on what the what actually means. LOL WORDS


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