It’s like we’ve regressed while evolving. A month ago when I went to Otakon, I met a transgender individual who shared that some of their female friends who game have gone through some pretty negative experiences with the male gaming community; to the point where they now hide their gender on forums and social media, and are treated fine until somehow the bomb drops that they’re female. When I was growing up, gender in gaming was never a thing, so why is it now?
As a casual gamer, it’s been amazing to ride along the gaming world’s journey. I started out with my very own Sega Genesis at age 7. ALL of my cousins gamed, boy and girl. And when their friends came over, we all gamed together still. There was never any “Girls can’t play” or “Boys club” nonsense. We practiced Mortal Kombat finishing moves on each other, sped through Sonic levels, and bullet-barraged in GoldenEye as equals. We chainsawed Tediz in Conker, helped snag difficult stars in Super Mario 64, and woke up rubbing the crust from our eyes first thing bright and early to grab the controller and take down Wizpig in Diddy Kong Racing.
Going through middle school, gaming was definitely still considered a nerdy hobby, so it wasn’t really broadcast much. We stayed under the radar so as not to become targets. I kept it hidden behind the scenes, indulging with my family and my bestie, who could be counted on to marathon Super Mario World with me in one night, being overly cautious not to accidentally nudge the glitchy console in any way, lest the save not work properly after having played for hours. I quietly played my RPGs in the safety of my room and found gaming companions in AOL chat rooms. I ducked my head in my GameBoy in isolated corners of the school yard.
In high school (and I admit, the fact that my H.S. population was 75% Asian could have something to do with it) it became much more socially accepted. Dedicated teams set up YuGiOh and Magic rounds religiously every day after school in the cafeteria. I encountered my first IRL Zelda fan who loved to share tips on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. I got invited to a birthday party where we each built our own mini-Gundams to take home (Deathscythe, baby). Gamer T-shirts and swag became more widespread.
College came and my love of Smash Bros. continued to blossom. I formed a purely battle relationship with a dude who’d come around to visit his girlfriend down the hall, and always dropped in just to play a few rounds and demolish me. In fact, there were quite a few Elite Smashers in college, and I was surprised at how many others loved it too! I befriended another girl who beasted in Smash and we took down our friends in Team Battles. And then there were other gamers still, happy to lend their assistance to the excruciatingly tedious puzzles of Prince of Persia or MarioKart training, or collaboratively get back to Funkatron in Toejam & Earl.
The gamer’s life had become a breeze of approval. Twitter wasn’t even a thing back then. Is that why everyone was so nice and accepting? Because in-person, things are different? Because a lot of people gain that web-courage, when they’re behind a screen? Or because the younger generations are more likely to be douchebags now?
Once again, I may have been caught in some kind of bubble (I’m starting to believe myself to be a unicorn in life). I was never once called out for my gender. I was never once interrogated, scrutinized, laughed at, harassed, or belittled for being a girl and having this hobby. It wasn’t considered a “cool” thing to do or pretend to like. It wasn’t a trend, as nostalgic things tend to be now. It was strictly a hobby, done for your own individual entertainment. A gamer was a gamer.
It’s interesting to see a hobby I once kept on the low explode into something that can make you Internet-famous now. But it’s also great to see how much more open and accessible the gaming lifestyle is now. I LOVE that I can find controller earrings on Etsy, Triforce handbags on Amazon, support indie artists geeky tee and hoodie designs, actually be a part of a gaming community on social media, connect with Smashers just by logging into the network on the WiiU, and pop up on the Tetris Friends site for a bit of mind-numbing block-dropping. I love that bars are incorporating arcades, Nintendo World at Rockefeller Center is a thing, Pokemon is still going strong, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this,” has become a meme, and retro-fans recognize and appreciate the question-mark tattoo on my shoulder.
As a casual gamer, (and I’m not speaking for the industry side of things) I don’t feel like women are marginalized any more so than anywhere else. Are there hypersexualized characters in gaming? OF COURSE. Hypersexualization of women is everywhere in the world. We can’t expect it to magically not be in this particular medium. Grand Theft Auto is not meant to be a respectable game (you are absolutely an asshole protagonist), Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball does nothing anime doesn’t already do, yes, Lara Croft is known for having large breasts in the Tomb Raider series, that was their thing, and also seeing Valentina’s boobs jiggle when you attack her in Super Mario RPG is hilarious (because they do jiggle in real life sometimes). But how can we forget about the numerous other female roles over the years? Easy-going Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Calculating Bellena from Skies of Arcadia (which also happened to have two female co-protagonists). Battle-worthy warrior Marta from Tales of Symphonia 2 (because Lord knows Emil needed to grow a pair) as well as the power-hungry, pint-sized sadistic Alice who put fear in even the largest man’s heart. Xelha from Baten Kaitos was one of my least favorite female characters, mostly because I didn’t find her cute at all. Yeah, sounds horrible, but I like my characters to be cute. I much preferred Mizuti with her crazy mask and garbled voice, who everyone was shocked to find out late in the game that she was a girl anyway. Because if a character is not going to be cute, they should at least be cool and have some depth to them. I see Twitter highly in favor of the fact that Twintelle from Arms has an ass. Sexualization or adaptation of the latest fit and trendy body-type?
Having that knowledge dropped on me at Otakon, that one would have to hide their gender orientation around the community they love to participate in, left me surprised, even though I’ve heard stories before. Over the Internet. I’ve just never heard a real-life story from twenty-somethings in person. I was certain there’s the chill, accepting, mature generation of gamers who love the hobby in person (because don’t Millennials accept everything accept right-wing conservatism?), and then there’s the Internet-thugging 12-14-year-old virgins experimenting with cursing behind their headsets and safety screens because they’re not ready for the real world. And I’m not threatened by children. To my fellow gaming ladies who have experienced such nonsense as this, I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’ve been told I can come off as intimidating. Let some little ignorant troll come at me for being a chick who games.
I would skin them. (And trust me, you could probably take them too).