Saturday, December 10, 2011

My World

Okay, I have a confession to make. Deep breath. Here goes:

I have never, in my entire 32 years of living here, on Planet Earth, in the United States of America, in the shape and form of a female of the species Homo sapiens, been told that I should or should not do anything based on my gender.

When I was eleven, no one told me that I shouldn’t collect baseball cards with my little brother because I was a girl.

When I was in high school, no one told me I shouldn’t play soccer or baseball or kickball or whatever-ball because I was girl.

When I was in college, no one told me I shouldn’t sleep in the boys dorm...wait, yes they did. They had strict separation rules about those things, for good reasons. Wink wink. Teenagers are naughty.

But more than anything else, no one ever told me that I shouldn’t be playing video games because of my ovaries and XX chromosome pattern. Not once. Never ever.

Maybe I’m lucky. My first video game memory is playing Atari at my neighbor’s, a home that contained primarily three women as the man of the house was often away on business. When my little brother received a NES for Christmas one year, affectionate fights starting breaking out as to who was going to play it more often, him, me or my mother. When I was twelve years old and moved away from my hometown to a bigger, scarier environment (rural Idaho, population 4000), I was welcomed into a new community of peers via a Tetris watch that I started lending out during study hall. A GameBoy on my belt never attracted any negative attention, and falling for a pixelated Setzer in FFIII (SNES) and later a white-haired villain named Sephiroth in FFVII delivered nothing but amusement and affectionate ribbing amongst my friends. In art class I painted silhouettes of Magus and taped video game posters in my lockers. And all of that was a-okay. I never encountered a single soul who thought otherwise.

In fact, I can’t recall a single instance in my youth when the notion of being a female gamer evoked anything other than admiration from the gentleman in my life. With the exception of a few incredulous “I can’t believe you just kicked my ass at [Killer Instinct, SSX Tricky, Soul Calibur 2, etc]” moments that at first prompted some swearing or controller throw-downs, all my guys, after learning I was ‘adept’ at gaming, would want desperately to play alongside me, as though they had been awarded some precious gift to be treasured. The idea that I would sit silently and just watch an entire run through of a JRPG was something new and refreshing, and I was never admonished or berated for my hobby. And none of them told me I shouldn’t be doing it. After awhile, any excitement or surprise would peter out, and playing video games would become part of normal life, just as any other chosen pastime between couples or friends.

So now that I am old and couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about the things I choose to do or not do, I tend to ignore all of the he said-she said sexism debates ever-circulating around the gaming community. Because none of them have ever offended me, personally. Getting all up in arms about my role as a female gamer is silly and divisive, when all I want is to have the best experience I can have within my chosen hobby. I don’t really play online, as I enjoy the more personal aspects of video games, so I get to avoid all of the icky name calling and colorful adjectives spewed by shabbily parented twelve-year-olds. But if I was in the middle of an amazing run in a multiplayer environment and someone with a XY called me any of a dozen offensive female-directed four-letter words, I am smart enough to realize they are just totally uncivilized and ignore them completely, not run straight to my blog to write about how oppressed I am as a female, and how misrepresented I am by developers and how giant boobs on female characters in Dragon Age games makes my self-esteem plummet or other such nonsense. My husband occasionally swears at the television and the Xbox during particularly difficult gaming moments, but I don’t think either device takes it personally.

Recently, a mini s-storm started up online because a particular journalist said that adult women don’t know about Skyrim. He meant it as a gentle riff towards nerdy male gamers, but sectors of the female gaming community got all miffed about it anyway. The truth is, he is probably right. If I polled my female-dominated workplace and asked all the ladies over 25 what Skyrim is I would primarily get one of three responses: my child plays that, I saw a commercial for that during Modern Family, or I is that a new type of airplane? (I work in the travel industry.) Notice I said “primarily”, as sure, statistically a few of them would either recognize it offhand or know about it intimately based on a primary source, such as a friend/roommate/significant other playing it or playing it themselves. But jeez, the response demons his offhand remark summoned were genuinely boring and tiresome. It’s as though a team of female gamers have a telephone tree and a template standing by just in case someone steps over the line and offends them, even in jest. And I can’t help but think that these people are supposedly defending me as an female gamer entity, right? So why do I feel like they are talking about the opposite of me? Why can’t we all just be gamers, play whatever we want and feel free to say things that are probably true without being terrified about offending half of the community? Can’t we just take things in stride? Why is everyone so defensive about what is, for most people having the conversation, a hobby, not a life imperative?

And before everyone starts stabbing me with lectures and reminders about our oppressed sex*, let me remind you that I have never experienced any of those things. I have received nothing but encouragement and praise from primarily male blog writers and friends. All of those who have requested words or opinions from me concerned gender neutral topics, and no one has flamed me about any of my overly romantic paragraphs concerning Assassin’s Creed or my loving attachment to Fenris in Dragon Age 2. Maybe it’s because I am so openly a girly gamer. I play what I want, I say what I want, I feel what I want and I have no shame about any of it. I have never censored myself or tried to be anything other than what I am. My non-gamer friends love and support me, and get excited when I get excited about something in my virtual habitat, even if they have no idea what I am talking about. If someone were to try to provoke me based on my gender I would shake my head and ignore them, as any child is told to do in the schoolyard when being bullied. To be honest, after reading and writing within a teensy little corner of the gaming world for almost two years now, I can visualize my fellow ladies being more critical towards me than any of the gents. This sort of sharkish mentality is famous amongst women, as we tend to be way cattier than boys concerning anything that can be construed competitive in nature.

Bottom line is, if a huge balloon of sexism exists in the gaming world, I have never experienced it firsthand. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it exists, but I think that angry dog-piling onto anyone who makes even the slightest mention of a potential line between the male-female gaming community is probably the wrong tactic. Whether video games are something you play on the bus, via a handheld, or in your living room, via a controller, it is a personal experience. And no one can disrupt that experience if you don’t give them the power to. If you like Call of Duty multiplayer but hate the boy chatter, mute the damn thing, or find a group of girls to play with every night. Yes, the whole environment should be sunshine and unicorns, but reality says differently, so instead of beating against a brick wall, just become empowered and create your own world.

And while all of you are nitpicking each other to death, I will continue to play video games, unheeded by anything or anyone, because I love them like peppermint and ice cream and I can do whatever the fuck I want, as no one ever told me I couldn’t and even if they did I wouldn’t listen to them anyway.

*Total Disclaimer: Of course, I don't believe that all female gamers have these streamlined opinions about gender exclusions within the community, because I believe the majority of them are like me, and enjoy it as a face value experience, without analyzing its deeper sociological meanings. They are awesome.

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