In other ways, though, the cultural phenomenon of videogame merchandise defies gender expectations. It offers a platform, however seemingly trivial, for women to stand on equal footing with men in the eyes of the industry. After all, purchasing power is purchasing power, regardless of the gender of the consumer behind it. Fittingly, interviewed women and men seemed interested in essentially the same products. And though it's clear that the companies who make swag are a little slow on the uptake, a girl can finally get a decent, fitted video game shirt in this town.
Moreover though, game merchandise brings into question expectations for male gamers. Cuteness, no longer abhorrent and "girly," but aesthetically pleasing, becomes an important, male consideration. And men have entered whole-heartedly into what, in larger society, we consider to be an almost wholly feminine realm: shopping.
Because, in the end, that's what we swag-lovers are: shoppers. Whether we do it online or in real life, we're members of an economy before we're members of a culture. Even when dealing with non-purchasable merchandise (Take, for example, gamer Scott Jon Siegel who has "a Star Fox 64 box sitting in [his] basement that's roughly the size of a toddler," which he took from a local Electronics Boutique.), we are consumers.
Often we're so caught up in gaming that we forget to think of ourselves this way - perhaps because, strangely enough, the things we consume are not consumable, like figures that sit on a shelf and cannot be used up. This is perhaps even more a reason that we are not defined as gamers just by the games we play, but by the things we buy, by the merchandise we keep.
Bonnie Ruberg is a video game journalist specializing in gender and sexuality in games and gaming communities. She also runs a blog, Heroine Sheik, dedicated to such issues. Most recently, her work has appeared at The A.V. Club, Gamasutra, and Slashdot Games.