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.


ZeldasRevenge said...

I hear ya on this issue. When I was growing up, my babysitter's son had a NES, and I used to play on it when ever he let me. This was what sparked my interest- over the following years I collected a whole bunch of consoles and games. (my sister was also initially interested, but grew to like just watching me playing the games, although she still expresses an interest occasionally in playing co-op) I love video games with a passion, but feel isolated as a female gamer. Its like we're an invisible demographic. And don't get me started on those 'girl' versions of games like Harvest Moon. I think you're right about women generally being unwilling/afraid to try video games- and its absolutely about the culture pointedly excluding them, theres no marketing or positive inclusion in effort. AND much as I love Nintendo, I think their Revolution idea is fantastic... but don't you think the whole 'more accessible' aspect is condescending in the extreme? Oops that was a bit of a tangent. Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with your post.

100LittleDolls said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm really glad that Tekanji brought up personal experience because I think that's where everything intersects.

Have you played both versions of Harvest Moon? I haven't played either (the whole marriage aspect of the game has chased me away) and I'm interested in knowing the differences (besides the whole courtship thing) between the two. I can't believe that they had to make “His” and “Her” versions of the game.

And yes, I feel that in regards to Nintendo (and also in some of the promotions for the Xbox 360) there's a lot of condescending, coded language that goes back to the same issue of men scratching their heads and asking "What do women want?"

zeldasrevenge said...

Exactly. From the sorts of promotion we see, I'd be very surprised to hear that there are any women in the marketing departments at these companies. Personally speaking, I'd just like to be treated like a human being- with as much intelligence as the next gamer, male or female. Special treatment is not the answer.
I've played the default (eurgh) version of Harvest Moon but the following points kept me away from the girl version:

Choose the option of wearing six different outfits

Have the opportunity to get married and continue on with your character's life

Five girls from Friends of Mineral Town will return and become your rivals

Much more dishes, recipes, and anything else to make living such an incredible blast!"

I ignored the marriage part of the default game, so I didn't get very far in the end.(prefer animal crossing infinitely :p)
I've been thinking more and more about gendered representation in videogames, and how it excludes (generally) anyone who's not white/male. It seems to be the case that in order to play a great game (i.e. god of war) we as women are always displaced from the suspension of belief in the game by the constant reminder of the avatar/voice/obvious gender of the protagonist, including interactions with NPCs. I'm sure I saw a thread somewhere (Guilded Lilies?) saying the same kind of thing.

100LittleDolls said...

Hey zelda, Thanks for telling me about the differences. Pretty lame, I must say. I've been playing Animal Crossing (it's been the game that won't leave my DS) and I'm happy with that. Especially when I found out that you can unlock all the hairstyles of the opposite sex as well.
I saw your comment over at Srendi's blog, I'm glad that you're joining in on the discussion. There more of us that there are talking about this really gives me a sense of comminity, something that has been out of reach--and with discussion, I'm sure something can change...hopefully