Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Rise and Rise of The Girl Gamer

As a culture we, gamers, have a problem embracing change. We're getting better at it, but the last few years have proven time and time again that gamers are generally not as open minded as many of us would like to believe. The number of people who play games has grown to the point where there is almost no such thing as the typical 'gamer' anymore. This diversity is echoed by the emergence of new gaming experiences this generation has brought on. For a long time, so called 'hardcore' gamers were opposed to this growth, claiming the influx of new demographics would erode the demand for more traditional games. This hasn't happened, nor was it ever going to.

Now, thanks to the publicity around Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a website archiving abusive PSN and XBL messages aimed at girls ranging from simply sexist to face-palmingly dumb, we know that not only are there people who believe games should be made just to suit them and their tastes, but also that there are men in the world who feel that there is no room for girls who share that taste. I feel it's time to share a little of my personal life.

My girlfriend is a reluctant gamer. Wary of the specific skill-sets each new game requires her to learn, and the time comittment many solo campaigns demand, she is particularly choosy about what games she plays. However, having been raised on a gaming diet similar to mine, Sonic, Golden Axe, Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider etc., her taste, in my opinion, is generally quite good. LittleBigPlanet, Kingdom Hearts, Bioshock, LocoRoco, even some Final Fantasy titles have all found themselves places in her heart.

But there's a bigger point to this rant. She may be picky about her games, and she may avoid playing certain titles for reasons many would mock her for, but it has to be said; she's good. Dead or Alive 2, Killzone, Burnout 3, Soul Calibur 4, BlazBlue, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., all games she has bested me in at some point or another. When she watches me play single-player platformers, she frequently figures out where to go next before I do and if there's a puzzle to be solved, she's got it solved from the sidelines in no time. Sometimes it bothers me she doesn't play more, she's clearly got the head for it.

Recently, at her house after Christmas I coaxed her into trying the multiplayer in Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. As expected, she was reluctant. Conscious, and nervous, about wandering into its murderous-multiplayer environment as n00b, let alone a female n00b with an obviously female PSN name, she eventually agreed to give it a shot.

Firstly, I feel it should be said that as far as online-multiplayer goes, AC: Brotherhood is not only one of the best experiences I've had, but also one of the fairest. It's very difficult to feel hard-done by when playing, even when things aren't going your way. The incentives are there to do well, and even when these incentives are used against you (poison knives, guns etc.) they only serve as reminders that they will be in your hands soon enough if you just plough through it. My girlfriend was about to experience this for herself.

Once she'd grasped the basic premise and pulled off a few kills she'd developed a taste for it and lo and behold, was quite good at it. Soon enough she found herself placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd in ranked matches, often ahead of players of much higher levels than her. Within less than two hours she had shot up 14 levels. Inexplicably, I found this incredibly attractive. In fact, part of what really endeared me to my girlfriend when we first met was the fact that she was into games at all, never mind how good she was with them.

So initially, I found it hard to understand the derision with which my fellow man viewed girl gamers. On reflection, however, it is condusive with the social journey games have gone on since their inception. At first, games were exclusively for geeky boys, because geeky boys were the only ones who liked them. The Nintendo/Sega era widened this demographic from 'geeky boys' to 'boys' and at that point, probably some girls. Playstation changed everything and gave games a sense of cool they'd never enjoyed before and since then the market has only gotten wider still. While socially introverted geeks/nerds such as myself find the idea of girls playing games socially reassuring and appealing, if we liken the late-comers to cool kids or jocks, as juvenile as that may seem, their frat-boy-esque chauvenism is easy to understand. Those who understand gamings colourful social history are happy to see it take in all kinds of newcomers, those unaware of its history see it as something to keep outsiders away from. Perhaps I'm taking them too seriously. The spelling ability these men showcase would definitely make one think so.

I was hesitant to write about this 'girl gamer' issue because I like to think there are bigger things to think about with regards to games than whether or not girls play them. In talking about this gender divide, all we do is create the consequences that we claim to detest. We fuel the idea that girls playing games is an odd thing, in turn justifying unwarranted self importance in both the girls who play and the males who take issue with it. If even half the people who know better just shut up about it, the egomaniacs and chauvenists would be exposed for just that and soon, I believe, would find themselves in a very distinct minority.

In short, if we ignore it, it will go away.

TL;DR: Girls play games. Get over it. Everyone.

Andy x

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