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Posted by on Sep 11, 2010

Game of Life

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.

Vikki Blake

Vikki has a penchant for Yorkshire Tea, raspberry cider and swear words. In addition to founding and running GGS Gamer and LetsPlayVideoGames.com, she writes news for GamesRadar+ and IGN, and has written reviews and interviews for other places, including Destructoid, Eurogamer, and Xbox.com. She's Big Boss at Silent Hill Heaven and a rabid Halo, Destiny, Resident Evil and Mass Effect obsessive.

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14 Comments

  1. Great article Vikki, such a great insight into your world as a female gamer. It’s clearly very heartfelt and honest.
    I always find it disgusting the way that people speak to people they don’t know via the internet or online gaming, and most of the time I doubt they would say these things things to someone’s face because they don’t have the anonymity and face more repercussions.

    I can identify with what you say about hiding yourself on online gaming. Throughout my time at school, as well as my time at my former workplace, people would always comment on my “gay sounding voice” and the abuse which would came with this. It was bad enough when it was people my age at school doing this, but when it was adult customers at work it really shocked me at how awful anyone could be to someone they don’t know. Therefore, when I did have my first year on Xbox Live, I barely used it. I had heard about the sort of abuse people dished out on there, and experienced it happen to others in games I was playing, and it worried me; it was bad enough to get this abuse in school or work, but I couldn’t bear the idea of getting it in my hobby which I was meant to enjoy. Combined with my shyness I really didn’t get very far. I would only play online if I had a friend who would play with me, and even then I would barely say anything. When that years membership ran out I didn’t renew it.

    I only got another years membership when I joined here. I was older and more hardened to other people’s comments. I knew there would always be people would always be unpleasant about me, but I knew that the members of this team were trustworthy as well as being good people. I still resist playing online with people I don’t know, but I am far more comfortable with myself so I can bring myself to game online now.

    • Thanks for your detailed reply, Mike. It’s actually really interesting to read how this kind of discomfort isn’t unique to females. Thanks for your honesty too!

      And so glad you got yourself back into it and renewed your XBL subscription. ;)

  2. This is a fantastic article, Vikki. Very, very thought-provoking. As a gay man, seeing footage of the horrific sexist, racist and homophobic abuse against gamers playing popular titles like Halo and Call of Duty has discouraged me in similar ways – not using a headset unless playing with a party of friends, seldom playing online at all, etc.

    Much like my every day life I don’t draw attention to my status when playing online – being gay doesn’t define me – but I have to admit, to a degree I’m conscious of my voice and any aspect of my personality that might give me away, for want of a better phrase. That’s something I’ll overcome in time.

    • I can quite imagine that the experiences of gay men mirrors that of women – particularly given the recent perpetuation of the word ‘gay’ and ‘fag’ as synonyms for crap or stupid.

      It’s amazing how different people can be cowering behind a headset.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. This is a great article! I really enjoyed reading it, and found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what you talked about. Like a lot of you guys, I don’t wear a headset outside of party chat, though with me it’s a lot like my hate of talking on the phone.

    I’ve always been known among friends and family as a gamer, right from when I was young. So with a lot of people I know it’s not been strange, it’s just been part of furniture as far as I go. Though saying that, I’ve been regarded as an ‘ordinary’ girl as a result, and have been described as having ‘boyish’ interests and generally a bit of an odd ball.

    I’ve never really tried to hide my gender online, and the flak that can come with that just doesn’t bother me. Verbal gymnastics have always been a strong suit of mine, so it’s never taken long to piss on their parade. But it’s certainly not something that anyone of any gender or whatnot should come to expect and therefore have to put up with.

    I especially loved the description: ‘A chorus of loud, but brilliant female writers and gamers’, I think that’s a great summary of what we have going on here!

    • Ha! Thanks, Jen. :)

      I’m pretty good linguistically too, but I think after the 9830598th time, it just get tedious. Just look at the asshats at SHHF to see what I mean. :P

  4. I have a similar existence, with a few exceptions. My family’s never really be interested in gaming, but they’ve never been against it. I got girly gifts as a child, but was never expected to not join my cousins with Legos or play cops & robbers with the neighborhood boys. I remember beating a few of those boys at Street Fighter on someone’s NES too. I was allowed to play the games I wanted, and although I didn’t understand that significance at the time I am so greatful my parents let me be me as a child. I was always weird in school and as a result made weird kids as friends. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my “I’m a gamer” awkward moments in a crowd of “normal” folks.

    Gaming is new and the idea of it as a hobby/interest should be like anything else. Some people like football, some like gaming, and some enjoy both. As long as you’re a decent human-being towards others it really shouldn’t matter.

    As long as I’ve read your blog I’ve admired your style and storytelling. Thank you for this post. It’s not my exact story, but it really sings to a common problem.

    • Thanks so much, Audrey – I’m really glad you enjoyed it and felt that you could relate to some of what I was saying. :)

      And you’re not weird, k?

  5. Thanks for writing this article Vikki. I really enjoyed it!

    I’m glad about how you talk about your family, and growing up in a household that allowed you to be a gamer– and really just be who you wanted to be. Growing up, I was an only child, living with my single mother, and I remember when we would play Nintendo together, and I remember when she got me my Sega Genesis. When I went to visit my father, he would always play Sega with me, and I loved it. I loved having my parents being part of something that I enjoyed. So throughout my life, I’ve always had a game system of some sort.

    In contrast, one of my best friends grew up with her parents and two brothers. She used to be into video games when she was young, but after a certain age her parents refused to by games for her anymore. Interestingly enough, they bought games for her brothers. So she lost enthusiasm for it. Only recently, after I introduced her to Professor Layton and the Curious Village on my DS, did she decide that she wanted a DSi and get involved with video games again. Which I happily went along with her to choose one!

    I’m also sorry to hear that someone would leave an awful comment like that. I wish more people would take a moment to think about what they’re writing. If you shouldn’t say it to someone’s face, than you shouldn’t be writing it for all the world to see.

    • Thanks for taking the time to reply, Allie. Always good to hear that people enjoy reading. :)

      How interesting to hear about your friend, and her parents’ decision to keep buying for her brothers and not for her. It’s not uncommon, but it still surprises me nonetheless!

      Thanks for your own story, too. :)

  6. A great article, and regretably, all too true. The thing that bugs me more than anything else is: Why are many people so cruel to a person they may never see or hear from again? They gain nothing, and may actually be punished for doing so.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. :)

  7. Loved this article tremendously because I can relate to it too. I was so frightened to play online on psn for a few months because I felt that once people heard my voice they would immediately assume I wasn’t good enough. The result, I played without mic practicing for the day I could ‘compete fairly’ with the boys.

    5 months later I’m trying out my first fps, joining my first clan and actually fitting in, leaving my fears behind me. The experience was a great one due to mature members and no tolerance for any discrimination whatsoever.

    However, every now and then I would encounter someone who searched for a female gamer in the member search bar and added me as a friend because of it. I even received a message from a guy telling me I had shattered two myths, I was pretty and I was a gamer. Yes it was shallow. I reacted to it jovially because there was no other way, I did not want to be the girl who bitched.

    It’s sad that such superficial attitude is present but I’m glad it’s being addressed.

    As for playing to find a boyfriend, I honestly would not look for a future partner in a community which can be so cruel and childish (with exceptions of course) while risking humiliation and sheer bigotry at the hands of my peers. We play for the same reasons men play, for the love of it, for fun, for acceptance.

    • Great to hear your own experiences, Delphium – thank you so much for sharing them. It’s both good and bad that I’m not alone in my story.

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