Game of Life
It’s an invisible thread, isn’t it? Gaming. I can look back over my life and see it weaved all the way through. There are times when the thread is thicker, more prominent, than at others, but it’s still an unflinching and unwavering constant. It’s my foundation. It shaped who I was, where I went, what I did, who I became.
The only daughter, I grew up in an seemingly unremarkable working class family that obsessed about technology and gadgets. I have no memory of ever being without a gaming platform, be it my Dad’s shitty computer, our beat-up old Atari or, latterly, our super-shiny NES and Super NES. One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories is sitting cross-legged on our living room rug, pink NHS glasses at the end of my nose, watching my father get lost (and increasingly frustrated) as we battled through Hyrule in the Legend of Zelda. This was a family that didn’t eat dinner around a table but would, however, sit down together to watch each other play Super Mario Bros. These were parents that cheerfully permitted their children to ring up the Nintendo Hotline because they just could not – FOR THE LOVE OF HOLY GOD – defeat Ganon. I feel that we were a family that didn’t see eye-to-eye far more often than we did, and yet it was gaming – and the many facets and aspects thereof – that seemed able to unite us when other activities simply didn’t.
Well. Gaming and an obsession with The Simpsons.
I say that we were a seemingly unremarkable family but the truth is, there was something special about my parents. They didn’t impress on their children any traditional notions of gender conformation. There wasn’t ever an issue about me using the computer or gaming. I didn’t realise that there was an issue – a perceived societal assumption of how women should or should not behave – until much, much later, until I’d absently drop a gaming term or story into conversation and have everyone – male and female alike – gape at me as if I’d just offered to eat a frosted turd. And at that point – terrified of being different, of standing out, of being unacceptable to my oh-so-critical peers – I roped it all back in. Feigned disinterest. Played in secret. Fought against the person I intrinsically was and pretended to be somebody else. Someone who wasn’t different. Someone who didn’t play video games. Correction: someone who didn’t waste their time playing video games.
Fast-forward to my teens. I meet a guy. He’s gorgeous. Kind. Funny. Great arse. He doesn’t game – doesn’t know very much about gaming at all, actually – and when we move in together a few years later, the PSOne and SEGA Megadrive beneath the TV are mine. Yes, gaming is back. The guy’s indifferent to this fact; he neither loves nor hates the fact that I can now play through Metal Gear Solid with Snake wearing a tux. I’ve grown up, matured, settled back into my skin – albeit perhaps not all that comfortably at that point. He’ll play Sonic with me or watch as I scream and creep stealthily (badly) around the environments of Silent Hill, but it’s usually only under duress. We get married. My parents gift us a PS2. Without 24/7 access to my brothers’ game library my collection is kind of sad thanks to other grown-up priorities like mortgages and tax bills and HP sofas, but there’s a handful of dog-earned titles on the shelf. We get babied. The game collection looks even more miserable now but I still game, even if it’s because it’s 3am and I need something to do because the baby woke me and now I just can’t get back to sleep.
Does it get a little more important to me then? Maybe. I join a forum about the video game Silent Hill 2 to ask how to get hold of the soundtrack, and life becomes much different. Eventually I’m Vixx, Queen of Silent Hill. I leave said forum. I start my own with a friend, with a small, kind of empty website on the side, and it takes over my life. It’s huge. Bigger than I ever anticipated, bigger than I can comprehend sometimes. It throws me head-first into my first gaming community, into discussions and arguments with gamers. I don’t know any gamers in real life – this is the only frame of reference I have. Seriously – is this how we’re supposed to talk to each other? To be so rude, offensive, insulting, sexist, racist, homophobic? I meet real resistance and gender-based dismissal for the first time. As long as they think I’m a guy, it’s cool – I’m cool. They find out I’m female and suddenly it’s Armageddon and I should eat shit and die.
Of course I’m making a sweeping statement. Not everyone’s a chode. Most guys? Most guys are really accepting. They’re like me; able to gauge a person without needing to take account of the contents of their underwear. But while I say most, don’t think that I mean that the assholes were few and far between. While I’d love to say that I’ve only encountered one or two rouge dissenters, it’s regrettably not the case, and it still happens with tedious and exhausting regularity. It’s why I stopped using my headset online. It’s why I removed gender identifiers from most of my public profiles. It’s why I hesitate before sharing skype or MSN details. It’s why for years I used a different, male-centric gamertag and a male avatar. It’s less hassle. Less drama. But it’s a lie. I’m concealing who I really am. I’m forced to make choices because I think it’ll make my life easier, and not because they’re the choices I actually want to make. And I’ll think that we’ve turned a corner, that the industry and communities built around video games stop playing the gender card and start accepting everyone on face value . . . and then something happens and it kicks off all over again.
Case in point? This was posted on this very site yesterday:
Why don’t you […] go suck cock. Or better yet why don’t you bitches post you [sic] naked body on the site and [get a] tattoo on you [sic] manly tits […] Fuck off bitches …
If a guy posts a controversial or provocative statement on his website he’ll undoubtedly get dissent. The internet’s a cold place and some people think it’s acceptable to throw around slurs and insults (usually those cowardly souls who don’t have such bluster or balls in real-life – but I digress). But is he called a bitch? He might be told to go fuck himself, but I doubt he’s told to strip, expose himself, go down on a girl. I doubt anyone asks to see naked pictures of him. I doubt he’s told to shove a controller up his ass. I doubt much of what he gets is as offensive as the comments I have to routinely moderate on this site. I’d bet that it isn’t as derogatory, as degrading, as sexually-offensive. Because half of the staff here at GGS are female, apparently that means we aren’t as able. Aren’t as capable. Aren’t as worthy. Apparently we only play video games because we want a boyfriend.
I’ll repeat my earlier disclaimer: no, not all guys are like this. I haven’t written this to be argumentative or kick-off another shit-storm of Male vs. Female-esque debate. Honestly. I write it to illustrate my reality, to put flesh on the bones of vague impressions and misdirections of what it is to be a female in a male-orientated industry. I’m not saying that all women experience this, but I am saying that I have. This is my truth.
Today, comments like the delightful one above are more likely to reduce me to exhausted sighs than tears or tantrums. It’s not good, admittedly, but I suppose I’ve become accustomed to this occasional, offensive commenter. I can see the fledgling foundations of change in an often inadvertently misogynistic industry and have hope that an emerging female chorus in the community, a collection of loud but brilliant female writers and gamers, will continue to grow in both size and influence. Until then, I’ll be here, tall and proud and content no longer to pretend to be someone I am not.
I’m a gamer with boobs. Get over it. I finally have.