(Editor's note: This article is printed at Rydis's request; she has approached us with the story, and wants it to be told.)
There are no girls on the internet. In fact, if you claim to be a girl, you're either faking it for free stuff, an attention whore, unattractive, crazy, or a mixture of any of these. But you most certainly aren't a gamer. Only men can be serious gamers, and EVE is frequently the most serious of games. Want to rise to the top in EVE? Be male, or show your corp members your tits.
This is the reality, in the eyes of many, of what it is to be a gamer girl. However, I've never been overly concerned with the plight of female gamers. I'm not female, and I've never treated anyone any differently based on how they happened to sound on voice chat. My assumption was that this lack of discrimination was the norm for mature gamers, and I figured it would be even more true in a game like EVE Online, which tends to draw what I consider to be a more sophisticated breed of gamer. This happy illusion of mine was smashed to pieces recently when noted EVE personality—and noted girl—Rydis said to me, “I've got a secret.”
What was the secret? It was that nearly everything I knew about Rydis was a lie.
First, some history to put this into context. Rydis is one of the most successful war leaders EVE has ever seen. She has successfully organized and executed more successful campaigns than almost anyone in EVE. During the process of coordinating these military operations of tens of thousands of players, she endeared herself to thousands. By any measure, Rydis has risen to the very top of a fiercely competitive game and is among EVE's most decorated and accomplished players. She's certainly the most accomplished and visible female fleet commander. However, this is jumping ahead to the end of the story, so let's start at the beginning—the beginning of Rydis' meteoric rise through EVE, and the beginning of “the secret.”
Rydis started playing EVE some five years ago and it was her first MMO. Shortly after she started playing in 2007, a member of what was then Goonfleet offered to sponsor her in to the corporation if she posted a picture of her breasts. So, as requested, she posted a picture of her red-bra clad breasts with “Goonfleet” scrawled across them in red marker. “I had no idea how much that picture would affect me for years,” she sighed.
Eventually, Rydis left Goonfleet and went on to found Amok. and Minor Threat in late-2008. In the space of about a year and a half, Rydis went from MMO neophyte to alliance leader. When asked about this incredible accomplishment, she said, “I did realize that picture made people think of me differently, and in the pubbie world, it gave me extra standing and extra help. But I wanted to be the girl who didn't just work in the background quietly doing logistics. And not the girl who giggled a lot and got things for free.”
Several years went by and Rydis found herself once again applying to Goonfleet, which was going by the name of LODRA. But by this time, she was by no means an inexperienced MMO player. She was now a seasoned alliance leader, corporate CEO, fleet commander, and one of the top one hundred killers in the game. Nor was it her intent to join up just by herself. She wanted a long-term home for the community she had spent so much effort building—she wanted a home for her corporation as a whole.
Indeed, Rydis was instrumental in securing the place of Amok. in LODRA; Instrumental in this case meant that she was remembered as being “a real life girl” who had posted her barely clad torso on the forums some three years prior. Unsurprisingly, the Amok. introduction thread on the Goonfleet forums was filled with requests for this particular picture, and an enterprising goon complied. With that, the thread became awash with comments about boob jobs and how people thought she was really a guy. To be fair, this introductory thread did include some requests for one of Rydis' corp mates to post a picture of his penis, but males aren't boxed in by gender in video games as are females - thus the penis pictures are completely forgotten, but Rydis—who was still after three years “that girl who posted tits"—would continue to be known not for her accomplishments, but for her gender.
Amok joined LODRA in April of 2010, when Goonfleet was at its lowest point following the devastating humiliation of the loss of Delve and the theft of the alliance name. Rydis and the rest of Amok invested a huge amount of time into rebuilding the alliance, and soon Rydis was made Sky Marshal of what was then Goonswarm Federation. For those unfamiliar with the term, in Goonswarm, the Sky Marshal is the military leader of the alliance. As Goonswarm transitioned from rebuilding the alliance to building a coalition, Rydis assumed control over coalition military command as well, first DekCo and then the CFC. I was a diplomat for Goonswarm when Rydis directed and controlled one of the most powerful military coalitions of New Eden, and I distinctly remember that questions from allies tended to follow a fairly consistent theme when I wasn't talking business—and sometimes when I was. “What does Rydis look like?” “Have you seen those pictures of Rydis? She's hot!” “Is Rydis single?” “Man, Rydis sure does have the voice of a phone sex operator, doesn't she?”
But even then, at the peak of her prominence, Rydis was living out a fantastic deception: she wasn't the girl in the picture she posted.
As she told me about her big secret, I asked the first of two inevitable questions: “Why did you do it?”
She laughed and said, “I didn't feel comfortable showing my chest to a bunch of guys on the internet. I thought it would help me get into Goonfleet, so my friend offered to do it for me.” And she was right, she did get into Goonfleet, entirely on the basis of that picture. But that picture wasn't Rydis, and so began a dual identity that, until this article was posted, was known to an amount of people you could count on one hand with fingers to spare.
So I asked her the next obvious question. “How did you pull this off for so long?”
The answer to this was a great deal more complex because, you see, Rydis became that picture. She became what she thought people wanted her to be, the slight, flighty blonde. She would occasionally post more pictures of her friend to keep the deception going, changed her in-game avatar to look like “her,” and resolutely refused to meet up with other members of the corporation or alliance in real life. And it worked flawlessly, for more than five years.
Rydis has, up to now, carried out what is perhaps the longest running and most effective scam ever executed in EVE. She was entirely consistent in keeping up the facade, and admits that it did make things easier at times. She played up to the outlook male gamers have, and gamer culture in general, and used it as one more tool in her already substantial toolbox. Clearly it worked; she turned the traditional power structure in EVE on its head, and subverted and co-opted misogyny to her own ends. Not for isk, not for fame, but for a chance to do what she wanted to do in the game.
In Goonfleet, Rydis found something different that what up until then she had taken to be the norm in EVE. Despite the initial furor over a “real life girl,” Rydis found an organization that accepted her on her terms. “Until I got to LODRA/GSF, I felt like I got all those in-game lessons and opportunities because of who people thought I was, not because I had an aptitude for the game and was good at what I did. It was a relief to rejoin GSF in 2010 and see the directorate didn't give me opportunities and teach me how to lead FCs and sky marshal because of what they thought I looked like. Goons gave me these things because I had an aptitude for it.”
Therein, however, was the problem. As she became more comfortable and certain that the Goonswarm Federation directorate didn't care what she looked like and weren't treating her differently because of her status of “real life girl,” the strain of maintaining the facade finally started to bleed through.
“It sucked, I couldn't be myself. I couldn't meet up with my friends. I had to be who they thought I was.” Rydis had so completely taken up her role as “blonde girl on the internet” that she dared not reveal herself. Though she wanted to meet up with people who she genuinely liked, and who genuinely liked her, she constantly faced the question of “what would they think if they knew the real me?”
This then is the greater issue. Female gamers are judged, harassed, and subjected to pressures to which male gamers can't begin to relate. If she's lucky, a girl reporting fleet movements might get a chorus of nerds noting the fact that yes, she is indeed a girl. If she's less lucky, she might be subjected to all manner of reprehensible behavior. E-stalking. Propositions to have sex online via text or voice, even to hook up in real life. There might be accusations of being an attention whore or allegations of hysteria (itself an incredibly loaded word). In extreme cases, it can get truly creepy or scary. If nothing else, the EVE community should be better than that, and this is one part of the reason Rydis is stepping forward - bravely so I might add, as she has herself dealt with this sort of harassment.
So who, then, is Rydis?
Rydis isn't a blonde, flighty girl from the internet. She did animal rescue work in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. She trains dogs, including search and rescue K9s, dogs that are capable of human remains detection and live recovery. She's worked as a bootblack in gay bars, knows the lead singer of OK Go, and showed me pictures of her with Wolfgang Puck and Al Jarreau. She adores the EVE community, even if she finds parts of it distasteful. Rydis has performed stage shows that involve fisting watermelons. She learned French and hitchhiked to Montreal for the jazz festival. Rydis is a badass. She's not a girl on the internet—she's a gamer.
As she told me more about who she was, I asked if there was anything specific she wanted people to know. “I might want people to know I worked with George Lucas in conjunction with the Star Wars Exhibition. That's a pretty cool thing.”
But…what does she look like?
Careful readers up to this point will note that I've left in a fair amount of gendered language. That I can even say such a thing as “female fleet commander” and not cause any blinks of surprise is indicative of how entrenched this problem is. You will never, not ever, hear of a male fleet commander being called a “male fleet commander.” Instead, he's just a “fleet commander.” This is how pervasive this issue is. This article isn't going to change anyone's outlook immediately. But my hope is that it will cause people to rethink their relationship to the community of EVE, particularly to its female denizens. I don't want to read about EVE in The New York Times with regards to misogynistic behavior unless it is with regards to how EVE is leading a progressive charge towards better treatment of women gamers. We're better than this.
“I got this tattoo when I was working at the museum,” Rydis explains when I ask. She's shown me a handful of pictures of the real her now, most of which feature her short dyed hair and pale blue eyes. In one, she's getting ready to get her tattoo. In another, taken in New Orleans, she's with her dog and clad in combat fatigues. She looks happy and full of life. Attractive and fit, though no waif. So I'm left with one final question: Why didn't she end the charade sooner? “The problem was, all this time, all of these people thought I looked like my friend. What would they think of me? Of not telling them the truth?”
She's decided to risk it, so from now on EVE will deal with Rydis on her terms. This article is only the beginning. Henceforth, she won't have to playact for the patriarchy. She won't need to dodge EVE meets in real life. She'll be free to continue to play the game with people who admire her for her, not who they think she is. She won't need to keep up the facade, and as should be more than apparent by now, the real Rydis is far more interesting and complex than any generic stereotype people might have of female gamers. She's willing to make that stand for herself, and for the rest of the female gamers who play EVE, and she knows that she's opening herself up to personal attacks and vitriol from the male dominated culture of EVE.
So why then is she taking what is most certainly the more difficult of paths open to her?
Because that's the real Rydis.