What image comes to your head when you think of a video gamer? Possibly an awkward, antisocial, pimply and nerdy-looking teenage boy, who locks himself up in his room all day staring mindlessly into a computer screen, while his fingers are busy clicking vigorously on a mouse, a keyboard or a controller. For many years, I had believed that this perfectly describes the gamer demographic in a nutshell.
Tereza Krobová, wearing her hair up in an effortless messy bun and a loose striped T-shirt, is a “girl gamer” and feminist, born and raised in the Czech Republic. This down-to-earth woman in her twenties is a subversion of stereotypical images associated with gamers. As a young girl, Krobová picked up video games under the influence of her electrician father, who fell in love with computers after the Velvet Revolution. She first started playing games with him merely as a father-daughter activity, but she very quickly developed a huge passion for video games. Ever since then, the world of gaming has become an integral part of her life.
"I have to admit, I am a person open to every opportunity," Krobová said. She wasn't satisfied with her role only as a “player”; she wanted to be actively involved even when she’s not playing games. Thus, she decided to take her love for video games to the next level by pursuing career paths related to this field.
Krobová keeps herself busy with several different positions: she works as a teacher, journalist, programmer and student researcher. Krobová teaches three different lectures at Charles University, two courses at one private university and Video Games: Culture and Industry at NYU Prague. Four months ago, she also started a special project at a local high school, introducing video games into the lives of socially disadvantaged students.
"I still maintain my journalist status", says Krobová. As a freelancer, she regularly writes for game, movie and art magazines. She is also a programmer for the Czech Public Television. She and her team are working on an educational TV show about video games for young children.
She is currently a Media Studies Ph.D. student researching the gender and sexuality aspects of computer gameplay. She has done research on the representation of femininity, masculinity, homosexuality and "queer playing" in video games. One of her theories argues that "the world of video games is, thanks to interactivity, a free virtual world that allows us to experiment with our gender identities." The interactive nature of gaming enables players to explore different worlds and construct their own stories. Krobová loves the possibilities that games create, specifically how video games allow players to put themselves into different personalities. "You can be a woman, you can be a huge masculine soldier or a lizard witch from a fantasy world,” Krobová named a few examples with excitement.
However, her engrossing career life isn't all smooth sailing. A major part of her research is based in the Czech Republic, geographically and culturally. At the same time as it offers insights into the local gaming scene, the location could be a significant limitation.
One of the difficulties she had faced as a gender studies researcher was the inability to carry out discussions in the public sphere because these topics are seen as controversial by the people. "I do not want to be cruel, but unfortunately, I think [the] Czech majority, in general, is still very sexist and racist." Krobová expressed that it is hard to be liberal in a society where a majority of its people hold hostility against refugees and elected an anti-EU populist to be the country’s Prime Minister who is leading the country towards illiberality.
Moreover, the concept of gender studies, especially regarding topics on feminism and the LGBTQ community, is still not fully accepted in the Czech Republic. “Czechs are not very open to differences.” according to Krobová. She pointed to a delicate piercing on one side of her nose and said, “I was called out for looking like a lesbian for this.” Growing up, her liberal mindset and determination to fight for civil rights have made her stand out from her peers to the point of being bullied in high school for being different. However, the judgments she has received turned into her motivation. Inspired by controversies, she devoted her first research to the representation of strong female heroines in video games.
A male Czech student from a class she teaches has once said to her that she is the first feminist that he “doesn’t want to kill.” Krobová shook her head as she explained that gender studies and feminism are still perceived by the majority as “a dangerous ideology and a totalitarian doctrine that wants to castrate men and destroy traditional values."
As an activist and a gamer who advocates and defends both gender studies and game studies, it can take quite an effort for her to summarize her positions to the others. "My grandmother still doesn't understand what I do," Krobová joked, "she tells her friends I'm a sociologist."