Sunday, April 09, 2006
Androcentrism to the Xtreme
Tekanji's post, "Girl' Gamers Not Welcome," has inspired me to write about my own experiences growing up as a geeky gaming girl. I want to focus specifically on gaming, but I want to say that I’ve found this to be true in regards to comic books and anime as well. When I was younger, I always would watch my brother play games: the King's Quest series, the remake of the first Hero's Quest, Sonic the Hedgehog and Flashback. It wasn't until we got a Sega CD that we started playing together. At this point we never competed against each other, we’d played co-op. One of my favorite memories is of us beating Streets of Rage together; it was the ultimate achievement after so many hours of watching him play.
When my brother bought Brutal for the Sega CD, we started to play against each other. I couldn't keep up. He would always beat me, which made me frustrated to no end. I kept on wondering if it was because I was younger? Because I was a girl? Fighting games, unfortunately, became my brother's favorite genre. As a last attempt, I personally saved up my allowance in order to buy Popful Mail and Lunar 2 so that we could go back to what it was like before. However, my brother was becoming increasingly busy with school and extracurriculars, so after we beat those games, that was it. I'd replay games by myself, but stopped reading EGM, and I stopped looking for new games for us to play together. From the end of middle school to the end of high school, I became a spectator of everything videogame-related. It bothered me, but I kept quiet knowing that because I was out of practice I wouldn't be able to compete with any of my guy friends. It didn’t help that they never thought that I’d be interested in playing. (Plus, so much of the time, they'd play sports games. Gross.)
Around this time I began to collect comic books and anime in order to satisfy my geeky nature, but by the time I reached high school, I dropped them for fine arts and poetry. No lowbrow culture for me, thank you. I think I did this because I had no one to relate to in fandom, while in art I had Frida Kahlo and in poetry I had Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
Everything changed when I met my current partner. A feminist ally and geek through and through, he was one of the few guy friends I had in high school who knew about my secret comic book obsession. As an avid gamer, he couldn't wait to get me back into gaming. Right away, I tried playing Mario Brothers on the GBA, which would only turn out nasty. Because I was so out of practice, I couldn't get anywhere. So we started out slowly, only playing co-ops and RPGs together: Champions of Norrath, the Dynasty Warriors games, and Xenosaga.
Videogames has now become an element in which has helped shape my identity to the point where I have the need to proclaim myself proudly as a woman gamer. I’m relieved that I realized that the reason I don’t like first person shooters or that I can’t play survival horror games without throwing the controller and shrieking has nothing to do with my gender or sex and everything to do with my personality.
Yet, a lot of my frustration still exists. And it's not just because of the tendency towards poor representation of women in games. I have a Mario messenger bag that I wear everywhere. Because of this bag there have been times, such as when I’m attending a convention, when I've been asked to pose for a picture so that the photographer could prove to his girlfriend that girls actually like games and attend conventions. Sometimes before or after class I have guys come up to tell me that they're surprised—I don't seem like the kind of person who would play games.
It’s lonely to be a woman gamer. I’m tired of just talking about videogames with guys, especially when so few of them care of what I have to say about them. I hate the fact that when I go to with my partner to his family gatherings where all the guys gather around an Xbox360, they only play Call of Duty 2 (a game I loathe). That when my partner tells his family that a good present for me would be a used copy of Baten Kaitos or a boot disk for our Japanese Dreamcast, they automatically assume that either he’s joking or that he’s trying to get extra presents for himself.
I try to have parties where I have my poetry group come over to play. The women in the group never participate, claiming that because they've never played, they don't even want try, even after I promise to teach them. This speaks volumes: I think videogame culture is more alienating to women than most realize. It’s the combination of bad press that videogames receive, poor representations of women, and the attitude of gamers.
I really believe that we need to take a proactive approach to the issue of women and games. We write, we discuss, hell, some are going to put together a review site that discusses women’s representation in games. All of this is important and needed. But it’s also tiring as all hell.