Q&A: Fangirl, A Gaming Magazine for Women
What began as a professional project for the MU graduate program is now an up-and-coming magazine. Fangirl, which focuses on representing the large female gaming audience, was started by Sean Morrison, Mollie Barnes, Caitlyn Gallip and Allison Lewis.
The group noticed the harassment women gamers faced and the lack of voices to talk about gaming in terms of social issues, like gender equality. Sean and Mollie shared the reasons they created the magazine and what plans they have for it in the future.
What do you do that’s different from other gaming coverage?
Mollie: There are a lot of people who cover gaming, but not a lot of women who do it. Women who play different video games, like Nancy Drew, might be hesitant to label themselves a gamer in that sense. For most people, being a gamer involves playing Halo. Games women like to play are different and we want to bring a voice to those games and other hardcore games.
Sean: We’re creating content where women can see themselves represented. Women, based on our study, value things like storylines, plots, character development and sound scores. There’s more interest in the aesthetics, as opposed to just being an action-packed shooter. That’s not to say women don’t enjoy that, but in terms of reviewing, it helps us prioritize what we’ll do in our reviews. We try to be more substantive on the content we look at because within the gaming industry and fandom community, we want to attack the social aspect of gaming, how games fit in with feminist culture and how they represent women.
What are some misconceptions about women gamers?
Sean: There are a ton. One of the main things is that women don’t play “real” games, stuff with blood and gore in it. That’s just not true. Every game is made for every person. It might be that advertising is tailored toward guys or the developer might be trying to target a male audience, but that’s outdated thinking at this point. People think that there are only a few women gamers. That’s simply not the case anymore. There are more female gamers than teenage boy gamers. The perception is that gaming is just a younger brother or nephew playing in his room for hours. Both of those conceptions need to be pushed aside for gaming to advance as a social construct and cultural art form.
Mollie: Even when I tell people I co-founded a magazine for video games, they assume I’m a nerd. But if you saw a boy and he was trendy and said he was gamer, people would say, “Oh, he’s cool.” Just because I am a gamer doesn’t mean I go home and spend 6 hours playing video games, but there are people who do that. I find myself not telling people right off the bat that I’m a co-founder of the magazine or that I play video games because people generally make so many assumptions about me as a woman if I say that.
How has Gamergate influenced what you do at Fangirl?
Mollie: Gamergate gave us a space for our magazine. Personally, I think the magazine could have started five years ago, but Gamergate gave us more traction to start. We’ve felt the effects online and on Twitter. We get a few trolls, and sometimes it’s clear they haven’t read the article or just assume what that article is about from the headline. People are looking for stuff to fight about, but disagreement happens with any publication.
Sean: We used it as a starting point. For us, Gamergate was a bigger step to give a voice to a community that isn’t represented. We didn’t want to stoke the flames. That’s not conducive to conversation. We work to find content that fits the audience we’re trying to serve.
What are the benefits, and challenges, to having women report on women gamers or having men write about women gamers?
Sean: That’s something I struggled with personally because I can’t put myself in a woman’s shoes. I don’t know what it’s like to be catcalled walking down the street. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to walk to my car at night. I don’t know what it’s like to be harassed on Twitter or physically threatened online. For me and all the other male writers on our staff, we have to really pay attention. We have a cautious and open approach to editing and writing because we make absolutely sure we are trying our best to come at this with a woman’s perspective. The last things we want to do are fail to represent our audience and give people the chance to delegitimize our work.
Mollie: It’s something we’ve been grappling with. It’s very important for us to find a mixture, a balance of men and women. The majority of people applying for editor positions are male. Men can write from a woman’s perspective, but we need women editors working with men, so that those writers are thinking about how they’re engaging with the audience.
You’re a white man, Sean. What made you want to start a magazine for women?
Sean: I grew up in a mostly Latino neighborhood. I grew up with a single mom, and my grandma helped raised me as my mom finished college. I’ve had a variety of different experiences, so I come from a place where I want to do whatever I can advocacy-wise, not just talk about it. Even if I’m not a female gamer, I want to help and I want to be able to contribute. If the other co-founders and I can make a difference, I want to be able to push something that needs to happen.
What long-term goals do you have for the magazine?
Mollie: We’re trying to debunk the stigma that certain games aren’t real games. There are nerdier subcultures we’re trying to bring out, like fan fiction coverage. A lot of women are a part of that, but many don’t talk about it in real life, just in the online community. We hope to encourage women to start talking openly about their lifestyles.
Sean: From a content standpoint, we want to be the best advocate for women and the strongest voice in the industry. And that’s been our mission since day one. What we’re trying to do right now is partner with MU to develop a holistic publication. We want students from strategic communications working on advertising and student from magazine writing to produce stories for us. We want to build up a talent pool in every aspect of the publishing process.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.