I have always been the kind of girl who is attracted to anything typically reserved for those with the Y chromosome. One constant that remains in my life is an inner defiance, a desire to show that women can do anything as well as, if not better than, men. But out of all the sports, activities, and hobbies I tried my hand at, video games still remained a mystery to me.
I have spent a small fortune on a brand new PS2 that wasn’t for me (most expensive birthday present ever), and have spent hundreds on games that I will never play. Despite a brief love affair with Duck Hunt as a young child, I never fully understood anyone having a fascination with video games.
Perhaps it was my lack of comprehension with all things technological, or maybe it was my penchant for breaking anything electronic I put my hands on. I distanced myself from the industry because I did not understand it, and ignorance is easier to bear than the humiliation that accompanies someone who really sucks at every game she tries her hand at. This was a feat I could not master.
As a result, I found my escape from reality through countless books and movies, a world I could understand. My selected forms of entertainment molded me into the writer I am today. In my ignorance I didn’t think it possible that a person could use gaming in the same way I used books, and I wrote it off as an expensive waste of time.
More and more, though, articles about female gamers infiltrated my everyday life and my social media, to a degree that I could not long ignore. I read Latoya Peterson’s article “Girls in Gaming: A Story Worth Telling”, where she described video games as a “defining medium of our time,” worthy of taking their place next to film, literature, and television.
How is it possible, I wondered, for these women to embrace the gaming world? Clearly I was missing something, so I set out to get some answers. I put a call out for girl gamers on my Facebook page and started researching what being a girl gamer means today.
EMPOWERMENT THROUGH ‘MARIO KART’
A cursory internet search shows that a lot has changed since the first known appearance of a female video game protagonist, Lady Bug, in 1981. There is the recently funded Kickstarter project, War Birds, a game featuring untold stories and experiences of women during World War II. In Batman: Arkham Knights, the first major expansion enabled gamers to play as Batgirl, fighting the Joker and saving her father, Commissioner Gordon. This year’s E3 conference made waves with a major boost in games featuring female protagonists; almost every game at Microsoft’s press conference had female characters, two of them leads.
One common theme among the female gamers I’ve interviewed was the thrill of conquering. Gamer Jenni Newman said that what she finds empowering is winning a game she feels uncomfortable playing, citing a deep respect and love for all games.
“Empowerment is being in first place on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart at 10cc and not falling off before you hit the finish line,” she told me. “It’s finding the Goddess bracelet and keeping gold armor on, beating the final boss in Super Ghouls and Ghosts.” Other female gamers, like Melody Bostwick, told me they look for rich storytelling and fleshed out characters. Sabrina Johnson, my sister-in-law and an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, thinks that women are drawn more to narrative-driven games because they are drawn to hobbies that act as creative outlets.
One game creator who focuses heavily on storytelling is Trisha Williams, Executive Creative Director at Pigeon Hole Productions, and she gave me some insight on how video games compare to other mediums. This is stuff most gamers understand intuitively, but for me it helped underline just what I’ve been missing.
“Watching a movie or reading a book allows follows the same ‘pattern’ of interaction although the stories change,” she said. “Even a sport, although very interactive and unpredictable, follows the same set of rules.” Video games, on the other hand, are unpredictable and ever-changing. And that’s exciting.
As I researched and interviewed further, it became quite clear that this was about more than the content of the game. Williams told me that as a child it was more difficult to find empowering female characters in gaming, so she focused on problem-solving. Games taught a young Williams to figure things out on her own, developing technical skills that she says carried on into her professional career.
Williams and her partner Joe Unger are doing their part to change the course of gaming. Gamer Girl Pinups is a web comic that represents a specific blend of geek culture; she saw a gap in web comics, and her answer was a diverse group of funny women who love games and comics. She says that the characters continue to remind her to enjoy and love video games instead of focusing solely on creation.
BOYS AND GIRLS
Not all girl gamers just want a good story, though. Some even relish the more violent gaming options that are typically viewed as more for men. In a recent study, Dr. Kasumovic found that women who are drawn to first-person shooter games view themselves as better partner romantically. When playing online, the lack of physiological difference between gamers allows for women to be in control, and the study contends that results in sexual confidence.
Regardless of the reasons, playing games is more than a way to pass time, for men and for women. Going into this, I wasn’t prepared for all the nuance, all the ways a game can mold a person. It’s not about girl gamers or guy gamers; this world is for everyone, and hopefully the emphasis on gender will dissipate over time.
Diana-Ashley Krach is a full-time freelance writer, author, and journalist whose work can be found on XOJane, Lumen, HelloGiggles and Barnes&Noble. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter @DARK81182
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