I was scrolling through the catalog over at J!NX the other day when I came across this shirt:
If you can’t quite see it, it is a lavender women’s t-shirt that reads “I love my gamer” with a red pixelated heart standing in for the word “love.” Now, J!NX sells”clothing for geeks and gamers,” and the company has a significant collection of women’s clothing for sale. But, something about this shirt really rubbed me the wrong way, and so I spent some time and went through every t-shirt for sale on J!NX
I was hoping that there might be a variation of the “I love my gamer” shirt available in the men’s section, but there isn’t. Instead, unsurprisingly, I found a black t-shirt emblazoned very simply with the word gamer in a typewriter font.
When I found the “gamer” shirt, I went back through the women’s section on the off chance I had missed a comparable shirt sold there. I hadn’t. So, not only is there no “I love my gamer” shirt marketed specifically to men, there is no “gamer” shirt marketed specifically to women.
By now, you can probably guess where I’m going with this. J!NX is a company that actively markets to women gamers. They sell literally dozens of items for women who play games. But, while they sell a number of women’s shirts that imply that the wearer is a gamer, they don’t sell a shirt that directly states it. And, while they sell women’s shirt that implies the wearer is romantically involved with a gamer but is not herself a gamer, they sell no such comparable item to men.
While in this specific instance, we can point to J!NX’s merchandising choices, this isn’t an isolated occurrence; it’s part of a massive set of cultural assumptions about who games, why the game, and how they game. The fact that J!NX sells so many women’s items is somewhat refreshing (even if their women’s size range cuts off pretty small compared to the men’s range going up to a 4X).
However, the shirts together carry a whole lot of cultural baggage — that gamers are men, that men who are gamers are heterosexual, that women are girlfriends instead of gamers. Of course, the shirts can be used or worn in other ways. There is nothing, for example, to prevent the non-gamer half of a same-sex couple from wearing the “I love” shirt, just as there’s nothing to stop women from buying and wearing the men’s shirt. But, the marketing of these items still makes assumptions that gaming and gamer identity are just for straight dudes.