The Mommie Gamer is a weekly column covering the topics that affect all mothers who game. In this I intend to look at both the dark and light sides of gaming not only from a parent's perspective, but also from a woman's.
I'd like to say that it all started with a video. The thing is, it goes back much further than that. This video was just the latest spark on the fire. Over the last couple of weeks several issues have arose that highlight a very ugly part of our gaming industry, one I struggle to come to terms with. I'm struggling even as I write this, because I enjoy (and curse on a daily basis) a moderate level of anonymity here on Game Geex. We are a small site with an even smaller readership, and as such we as a writing team have a greater amount of freedom when it comes to what we write about. It's that freedom that I am risking here when I even bring up this subject, but if I don't talk about it, really I am allowing the bullies to win. And that is the wrong message any parent should send.
So here goes. I apologize in advance for starting off this column with two very dark subjects. Honestly there was a story I was writing a few weeks ago that was even darker. I think that it speaks to where we are as an industry in that when I talk about the intersection of being a parent and a gamer, I have to talk about my gender even before I can get to the lighter stuff. The thing is, in order to not let this negativity fester inside me, I have to share it. And this negativity isn't about anything other than being a woman, and wanting to play games that respect all the members of their cast, be they male or female. Because somehow, being a woman and being a gamer are quickly becoming a crime punishable by hatred.
I think a little context on me is in order to frame this discussion. I have been playing games since I was 12, but didn't really identify with the term "gamer" until my late teens. My desire to make games is actually even more recent than that. If you had asked me as a child what I wanted to be, I always said "a writer," and what I meant was that I wanted to write bestselling novels like my hero Anne McCaffrey. I connected with games through narrative, and realized that gamers were a way to interact deeply with stories in a way books never could. This was a powerful moment for me. And even before I was a writer or a gamer, I was a Christian, raised with the belief that everyone has value on this planet, and no one deserves to be wounded for who they are.
None of these roles though -- gamer, writer, Christian -- have anything to do with my gender. In fact, grammatically these are gender neutral pronouns, and that's a good thing: We game, write, and belief out of our mind and reflexes, not out of our reproductive organs. I consider these roles to be gender neutral, something outside of what I was first -- which was a girl.
These roles, all of them, including the girl one, are also completely comparison-free. I am not the best writer, the best gamer, the best Christian. I am just one of many of those things, and I accept the right of others to also be gamers, writers, whathaveyou, and to not feel myself superior over them. Maybe one day I will no longer be a gamer, no longer be a writer, but these are what I am now, and how I view the world is informed by them. I realize that one role I have taken affects the others, because they are all inhabited by me. My writing has largely been inspired by my gaming, and all of what I do is filtered through my Christian background and experiences. In the same way, being female informs the way I see things, and when I see things like untold amounts of hatred for one segment of the communities I have chosen to join, I can't help but internalize their pain. And there is a lot of pain going on right now.
I believe in the Christian tenant of political neutrality, and as such cannot identify myself as a feminist. I cannot be a part of any activism group, but I can learn about what they belief and see how that informs my roles as a gamer, as a writer, as a girl. I consider Anita Sarkeesian to be one of the modern sages of the game industry: People who are elevating the discussion about games and improving how we see the medium of interactive entertainment. If you haven't heard of Anita, she films a video documentary series called Feminist Frequency, where she discusses tropes in video games in relation to how they handle female characters.
Her most recent video deals with the trope of women as background decoration and calls out a handful of games that are offenders when it comes to using this lazy form of writing to elicit emotional reactions in their audience. As always, she makes a very valid point about the idea that the assault of women has somehow become a shorthand for illustrating that a game world is gritty. She points to games like Red Dead Redemption, BioShock, Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto, and gives us examples of where these games are using female characters and the assault upon their bodies as background decoration to "mature" up their content. What's fascinating about this is that she calls this practice into question completely separate from the conversation on the quality of these games. As she states at the beginning of her videos, even if a game is actually enjoyable, it's still valuable to have a discussion on where they are failing in their treatment of women. Game reviews use a similar tactic: You can say you liked a game, but that it had horrible controls, or that the voice acting was attrocious.
It's a reasonable discussion about some of the more lazy aspects of video game design, but a segment of the male gaming community has taken this discussion as a personal attack and have responded in kind with a hailstorm of hate. I will not be linking to any examples of this sort of behavior. I don't believe I need to. What I do need to do is point this out as the opposite of what the gaming community usually is. Gaming is about entertainment, coming together as a group to experience an interactive odyessy. Sometimes you play through someone else's story, sometimes you build your own, but all of this is for the pure joy of fun.
But whenever a hardcore gamer touts that the "casuals" aren't real gamers, when the Legend players in Hearthstone tear down others for "Net Decking" and especially when women are abused verbally and driven from their homes, the joy is gone. This is the worst sort of bullying, because not only is it attacking women simply for having opinions on how to make games better, it's coming from the place they love most -- games. You would think that in gaming we could feel like we outcasts could at least be safe here, but not so. The outcasts from society are attacking those they don't feel worthy, are creating outcasts of their own. Outcasts because of their gender. This makes no sense.
I wish I could say that I was immune to this, sitting in my little ignored corner of the Internet, but even I am a product of this negative culture. Women in this industry seem to only have value for their appearance. I admit being a victim of this; I have made a conscious decision not to vlog because I don't fit the "Hot Girl Gamer" stereotype and don't want comments on my videos to be filled with hateful slurs against my appearance. What I have to say is being stifled because of what the bullies might to do me. I almost didn't write this article for the same reasons. I realized though that I have come to a crossroads here: Do I back down and stop writing about games because of the threat of attacks against me? Or do I continue on, stating my opinions and ignoring the growing sense of dread in my gut? I guess the answer will be revealed when I decide whether or not to publish this article at all.
I don't have any answers for how to fix this, but there are plenty of others in this industry that do. All I can do is call attention to the issue, and endeavor to inhabit my roles as consistently as I can, remembering that all of them are valid, all of them deserve respect, and none of them are going away any time soon.
[image via sakimichan on deviantart]