Moving Rapidly Onward – Thoughts From a Female Gamer

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency with games she purchased as part of her research. She was targeted by Gamergate harassment for speaking out on feminism in video game culture. (courtesy Anita Sarkeesian from her Feminist Frequency series)

 

Here’s a neat thing about video games. They are fun and girls play them too. This is not a new concept. What a time to be alive.

This is a difficult topic to begin explaining because there are many ways to look at being a lady gamer, and I can guarantee that gaming isn’t for everyone. And there are aspects to playing games that are generally overlooked or taken for granted when people view you as “just another video game nerd.” It is also a whole other side of things to be a female and to be fairly heavily involved in the gaming world. So here we go.

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It started with a purple Gameboy Advance. I was pretty young, around 8 or 9 years old perhaps, and had never owned a console or handheld game device of any kind before. The Gameboy was a Christmas gift from my parents and came with the game “Super Mario Advance.” It changed everything.

That Gameboy went with me on nearly every car ride longer than 20 minutes after that. I went through so many AA batteries keeping that thing alive for hours at a time until my mom would tell me to turn it off so I could do basic things like eat and sleep.

At school I was psyched beyond all reason to share with my friends the wild new world that had opened before me through this technology. But, for reasons my young brain could not fathom, the majority of the other girls I told could care less about the great accomplishments I was making in the gaming universe. Even some of the boys scoffed, because apparently only having a Gameboy was not on the same tier as having a Nintendo 64 or a Gamecube.

I don’t want to say it was a unique thing to play a lot of video games as a kid because so many people my age did just that. And it wasn’t even that unique that I was a girl playing games in a stereotypically “boys” world. There were just less girls that cared about video games that I personally knew, and that made a world of difference.

So it became kind of a secret – something I didn’t tell people unless explicitly asked. My family understood that games were entertaining and my sisters would play certain games with me once in a while. But there was a deeper emotional connection to locking in to a world that was not this one. It was the greatest escape, and it was a lot more entertaining and simple than real life.

Shadow of the Colossus This game was recently remade and it’s ridiculously beautiful. Those graphics updates though. Yeees.

In middle school I got a PS2, my first real TV console, which introduced to me more complex games on a bigger screen. It was very exciting. Around this time I was 12 years old and finished my very first RPG (Role-playing Game), Shadow of the Colossus.

There is a very distinct feeling that comes with finishing a game all the way through for the first time. It is similar in some ways to finishing a beloved book, but different in that unlike with a book, you control a character and their decisions and actions. You strategize, problem-solve, follow directions, and spend many hours delving into the intricacies of whichever game is being played. There are secrets to be discovered, new combos and levels to uncover, quests and subplots that weave into main story lines … or maybe you just play a game like League of Legends because you hate yourself.

Either way, the common theme between these examples is I spent a lot of time playing games on my own or with maybe one or two other people once in a while. Many people at school had larger multiplayer options through games like “Halo” on the Xbox, but those games were on a console I did not have, and my mom would likely have frowned upon me playing them in the first place so I never bothered to ask. Because game violence, ya know.

I didn’t play a real multiplayer game until seventh grade, when a friend’s younger brother got me hooked on “Runescape” the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). This game. Hooo boy. Brings back the memories. The version I

Wanna go to the wildy?

played is now fondly called the “old school” version, and I was so addicted I would sneak reeeaally carefully down the creaky stairs of our house, throw a large, heavy blanket over the computer and pray my mom wouldn’t hear the dial up noises from upstairs as I connected to the internet.

At some point it must have dawned on me that being a female and being a gamer were not entirely looked upon with favorable popular opinion. It’s not that it was frowned upon or anything, but in my experience girls who did not play games just thought it was weird. And some of the girls that did play video games were people I was not close enough to in school to talk about it too often. It was middle school and everything was horrible enough as it was, so it was a lot easier to keep my head down and not bring it up too frequently.

The few times I made the mistake of letting it be known that video games were interesting to me were mistakes. Every single time.

There was always a double standard and an unspoken “girls vs boys” mindset, where boys, because of their amazing testosterone and high intelligence, were obviously superior at games and girls, due to our weak and dainty demeanor, were bad at them or played boring games. It didn’t matter if you argued to prove your point, or showed even the slightest bit of knowledge about games. At least, this was the consensus that the majority of middle school boys presented to me.

It also showed me that online gaming is a double edged blade because the online world of games is a scary and vicious place for anyone, but as a female it’s worse.

Most of the time I would create male characters in games to avoid being called out as a girl. It allowed me to steer clear of unwanted gross comments and uncalled for blame if the game went south since I was just another dude. And so many games had a lack of female characters to choose from so you were left being a dude anyway. Remember Gamergate? Look it up. While you’re at it, go ahead and simply type “female gamers” into Google. The suggested results include things like “abuse” and “harrassed.” Neat.

As time passed it became easier to be less secretive about the amount of time spent playing games, and once I got a boyfriend in high school who actually liked that I enjoyed games it was far easier to play games and be less judged for it. The best thing was finding a few other girls who also liked games that were in the same friend circles I ran in. Knowing that other ladies out there liked games the way I did – not overly competitive, just gaming for fun… that was a great feeling. Getting a female perspective on games I’d grown up playing and sharing thoughts on ones that resonated with me hit home in a lot of ways.

It’s easy to escape from real life and fall into an excellent book or movie, but in a game there is more to control, more to experience from your own perspective, and more choices to be made that can affect the ending, if you choose for it to end at all.

At least the popularity of gaming and how it is portrayed nowadays is working to defeat the stereotype of people who view gaming as one lump of people who lay on their couches unmoving for hours covered in potato chips. (Which is okay to do sometimes, but maybe not all the time. I’m saying this because I’ve been there. Thanks, Skyrim.)

The stereotype

Thankfully with the evolution of video and streaming services like YouTube (obviously) and Twitch, the amount of lady gamers has increased, and a lot of that is due to females seeing females playing games and hopping on board because finally there’s some representation out there for us. Games are slowly starting to feature more female characters and embracing more diversity, and half of all gamers these days are female.

But we’re still considered a minority in the gaming world and it’s an uphill battle since women are still massively discriminated against in many online communities. But with more ladies stepping up and taking a stand, more internet personalities embracing gaming and more increased online presence, we’re kind of hard to miss. It’s 2017 and about damn time women who are interested in games get out there and play them without fear of judgement from salty internet trolls.

If you want more sources for lady gamer power the Twitter hashtag #girlsbehindthegames works to bring awareness to the wonderful artists, designers, players and spokespeople who advocate for more equality and recognition for female gamers. Explore around on Twitch and YouTube. Talk to girls who play games (we aren’t as rare as people seem to think).

And ladies? Keep doing your thing.

 

 

Renee Brown is a freelance writer living in Southern Minnesota who really does have more interests than being a member of her generation, but you’d have to ask her about that. Contact her at rebrown13@gmail.com or on Twitter at @JinjahSnap.

 

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