This is how the timeline went at our house: Atari, Commodore 64, Nintendo, Nintendo Gameboy, Sega Genesis, Windows-based games, gap due to college/us kids moving out, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo Gameboy Color, xBox 360, Nintendo DS. Everything from Nintendo GameCube on is still in good working order at my mother’s house, and she also has an original xBox.
When she was 5, my sister had calluses on her hand because she played so much Donkey Kong (I preferred Mountain King). As we got older, she sort of fell out of gaming, while I can easily get addicted. I can’t have a gaming system in my house, because I would seriously do nothing else, but I do visit my mom and family quite often. And oh, do we game.
I bring up this personal background because I know I’m not the only woman who games. Women game. The number of women who game keeps on growing. Also, it follows that since women game, perhaps some women might like to play female characters – I know that I am more apt to pick a female if I have a choice. I didn’t think that these things were still debated in 2012. But lately I’ve seen some distressing things.
Like this thread, which, granted, IS on a Men’s Rights board. The poster and subsequent comments go into great detail about how strong female characters are “subliminal brainwashing,” and that obviously women would not be able to keep up with men physically or mentally, in just about any type of situation. I especially chuckled at the reasoning that Samus from “Metroid” is OK, because she has armor that makes her strong, and she is “quasi-human.” Oh, and “non-feminist,” just trying to avenge her family.
Normally, when I happen upon an MRA board, I just shake my head and move on. But a lot of the attitudes on display here about female gamers and characters, especially the “Why are women encroaching on gaming? It’s for the MEN” attitude, are nothing new. These attitudes are certainly not only held by Men’s Rights Activists.
I am a big fan of the Left 4 Dead games, in which you are one of four characters battling zombies through different maps, trying to get rescued. The games are violent and creepy and hilarious, and very, very good. They have actually changed the way that I think about zombies – I have been terrified of zombies all my life, and 95% of my nightmares before these games were zombie-based. When I started playing the Left 4 Dead games, kicking zombie ass as much as possible, my zombie nightmares changed. Yes, I was still being besieged by zombies, but I was fighting back with whatever resources were available. Less “nightmare,” more “battle dream” – and I like the change.
Like most other Left 4 Dead fans, I have been checking on the progress of “Left 4 Dead 3.” I joined a Left 4 Dead 3 page on Facebook, hoping for updates and the like, but instead the page featured a lot of survey questions, including the usuals: “Who is your favorite character?” “Who is your least favorite character?” Both games currently out have female characters, Zoey in Left 4 Dead and Rochelle in Left 4 Dead 2, and I was saddened to see the amount of vitriol that came out when people talked about these characters. Easily more than half of the commenters named one of the female character as their most hated, with reasons like, “They’re useless, they’re always getting into trouble, they always need to be saved,” etc., etc.
The funny thing about the Left 4 Dead games is that the skill sets aren’t different for different characters. All of the characters start the game knowing how to handle guns, to reload and such, and no character is more accurate than any other. The accuracy comes in with the player, who does all of the aiming and shooting. So why all of the hatred for the female characters?
And why did so many of the female commenters, while hating on Zoey and/or Rochelle, declare that they didn’t feel the need to use female characters just because they themselves were women? Even on a female-friendly gaming board, a commenter immediately pops up to say that she doesn’t need to be a female character because she thinks more like a guy, apparently.
I see all of these distressing things, but I am also seeing things that make me exceedingly happy. Like Skyrim Mom (a 65-year-old woman who started playing and enjoying Skyrim) and Old Grandma Hardcore (she lives in Cleveland). Yahoo! just posted a story about a 100-year-old woman who stays sharp by playing her Nintendo DS every day. And, with games like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and the Zynga games on Facebook (Farmville, YoVille, Gardens of Time, etc.), the percentage of gamers who identify as female is growing quickly!
P.S. Right now my 61-year-old mom is playing Nintendo DS and swearing like a sailor. Oh, and yesterday I had to be Francis on Left 4 Dead because my 6-year-old nephew wanted to be Zoey. And right now, I’m about to kill some more zombies.