Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gaming While Feminist, Part 1

This video needs to be watched by everyone who ever has or will play a video game, or anyone who knows someone who has or will play a video game, and everyone they know.

Full transcript here. It's long video, but well worth your time.

I'm a unabashed, unashamed, in-your-face feminist. It is a major part of my identity and something I feel extremely strongly about. I am also a gamer, albeit a fairly casual one, and have been playing video game for a long time. For a while, one of my favorite possessions was a red Gameboy Color, and I played the crap out of Pokemon and Super Mario Bros. I also used to play Legend of Zelda once a year at the hotel in Little Amana, Iowa and got very good at the first two hours (you had to pay by the hour). Now my games consist of Angry Bird, horse games, and Nancy Drew on my PC. I don't own any special consoles (although now that I found out that Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is available on the Wii, that may change), nor do I spend vast amounts of time gaming. But I do consider myself both a casual gamer and a feminist.

In my experience, there are two types of games: level-up and storytelling. Level-ups are fairly straightforward: you increase your skills and try to keep moving up the levels until you beat the game. They're not necessarily easy (Angry Birds tends to frustrate me frequently), but they tend to be fairly simple. Storytelling games still have the level-up component, but there's another layer of "why". You're not leveling up for it's own sake, you're leveling up in order to find out the rest of the story, and the gameplay tends to be a bit more complex. Angry Birds and about half of my horse games fall into the leveling-up category. The other horse games and Nancy Drew fall into the storytelling category. Personally, I tend to prefer the storytelling games. I like being given a "why" beyond simply beating the top level. And so those are the games I end up playing the most.

The leveling-up games tend to be gender neutral. The horse games allow you to choose the gender of your character at the beginning of the game and I don't think the Angry Birds or Pigs have been assigned genders. So, not a lot of feminist influence. But the storytelling games I play tend to be feminist friendly. The main character is always a young woman, either trying save the family farm/horses or lead her school to victory, along with increase her and her horses' skills. There's almost always a love interest (which turns out VERY badly in one of the games. Good lesson on being careful in relationships), and in the end, our heroine leads her team to victory and/or saves the ranch/horses. Very positive role models. And Nancy Drew? Nancy kicks ass. She goes on all sorts of adventures, from a ranch in Arizona to a manor in England to a haunted inn in Japan. She always finds the culprit and brings them to justice, mostly using her wits and skills. And the games are always well-researched (the game that heavily involved horses impressed me quite a bit. All the horse related information was extremely accurate. Colic and founder information? Always check your cinch/girth before mounting up? Horses aren't machines, so don't ride them too hard? Pinch me, I must be dreaming). Nancy is also a great role model.

And we need more female role models in video games. It's a multi-billion dollar industry, with lots of people playing many different games on many different consoles. It's a HUGE industry that can appeal to a wide demographic which includes women. But it's so hard to find positive and strong female characters in games, and they're more the exception than the rule. And it shouldn't be that way. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 47% of gamers are female and women over 18 is the one of the fastest growing group of gamers. But many games seems to developed for and marketed at guys under 30, with any other group of people who may also be playing these games a mere afterthought. And if you try to point out that many video games contain bad stereotypes of women, some people freak out. The woman in the video, Anita Sarkeesian, became the target of horrifically vicious harassment and abuse when she simply created a Kickstarter to fund the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games project. It was astounding how cruel these people were. But in the end, she raised nearly $160,000 for the project (she started with a goal of $6,000) with nearly 7,000 backers. Obviously people want to this issue is important and want to discuss it. And I'm one of them.

I'll be following the series and posting the videos and transcripts as soon as I can. So far, this is the only video that's been released, but I'm very excited to see the rest. I'm very happy this project is going forward.

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