Gaming for All

A friend of mine was talking about an assignment he has in one of his college courses. They're studying the acting of playing by playing and then discussing it. It's a BS assignment, through and through, but he mentioned that a lot of the guys in the class are talking about how they like to play video games and how it's so special and cool that their girlfriends/fiances take part.

Comments like that do annoy me. That's not to say that I think girls shouldn't game or to make some blanket statement that women don't game. Quite the opposite -- I'm a feminist through and through (because, in the end, I think we need equality for all in everything). What annoys me is the condescension towards women inherent in the idea that "girl gamers are special".

What do I mean? Well, let's look back at the history of gaming. Video games, and RPGs, and whathaveyou, are considered the preview of dudes. The classically depicted nerd is a guy -- slovenly, ugly, brainy. When a nerdy dude in pop culture comes up against adversity they conquer it through the power of their intelligence. Contrast that with girls who, when they are depicted as nerdy, find their power, their cool, but unleashing the pretty girl inside them. She's All That is mocked for using that trope, but even a recent movie like The DUFF falls prey to that same issue.

When it came to gaming, a pursuit for the nerds back in the day, there weren't a lot of female heroes for girls to hold up to the same level of Mario, Simon Belmont, or Sonic. Sure, a lot of series got female characters to play as eventually -- Princess Peach Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2 -- but before they were heroes they were prizes in a castle to be saved. And, often, after they had their time in the sun they went back to being something to be saved. Princess Toadstool is more often than not captured by Bowser so the Mario Bros. can rescue her. She's had four games where she was a playable hero out on an adventure, and in one of them (Super Mario RPG) she was still the damsel in distress for most of the game.

This would seem to put games out of reach for most women. "These are games where we save you. Go play with your barbies and let us do the work of men." Games marketed to girls suffer the same issues as toys marketed to girls -- they're candy colored and feature fairies and unicorns. Just look at Disney for an example of this -- they have Marvel and Star Wars, but all the toys are for boys despite them having a female fan base itching for female heroes in those universes. Disney won't release a Black Widow figure, though, because those toys are for boys. It's dumb.

Which gets us back to the issue of classifying "gamer girls" as special. Why is this condescending? Because girls, like boys, want to play. If we say, "these toys over here are for boys," and then a girl wants to play with them, it makes her an oddity. She's wrong, some how, for wanting to play with the toys, for wanting to play the games, and by saying "you're special" we're in effect just giving her a pat on the head before she goes back to her barbies.

Instead of saying that "girl gamers are special" and making a point to show this, instead we should say "girl gamers are our equals." They play the same games everyone else does, they share the same toys everyone else does. Everyone gets a chance to have a Black Widow and a Princess Leia in their their Mario and Contra Dudes.

The attitude that put girls apart from boys in gaming is what causes men to react so poorly to women gamers, sexually harassing them and chasing them out of the industry. This needs to stop. We're all equals and whether you want to play as a dude or a chick, and guy or a girl, whatever your gender or sexuality, gaming in all it's forms should have room for you.