It began with some minor issues my husband and I were having regarding video games. He used to be the stereotypical gamer: a male in his late teens or early twenties who plays online multiplayers like Halo or Call of Duty into the wee hours of the morning (for the record, he also loves games like Zelda, Mass Effect, Metroid, Portal, FIFA, NBA 2K, etc.). Now, however, he’s approaching 30, married, and a parent of a toddler, and so we’re facing situations our parents, who did not grow up with videogames, did not have to deal with. For instance, what’s appropriate to play with a two year-old around? If our child grabs a controller and sits on the couch, pretending to play, does it mean we are encouraging sloth? Where do we belong in the gaming community, overall?
That last question prompted me to do a little research. Many gamers, I thought, are getting older but continuing to play. How are they handling gaming and parenthood? How is the videogame industry reacting to this older group? So, I did a little reading and learned that I was wrong about a few things. First, the average gamer is actually not a teenager, and this person is not always male–in fact, this gamer is 35 and very often female. I admit I was surprised and incredulous. I read more closely and learned that “gamer” included anyone who plays games on tablets or phones, and my gut reaction was, “Pfh, well then real gamers are still probably male.”
I know. WTF, right? Luckily, I’m self-aware enough to stop this kind of bullshit thought in its tracks (most of the time). This is precisely the issue at the heart of last year’s Gamergate–the idea of a “real” gamer as male, and female gamers as interlopers or frauds. So, realizing that I had internalized this idea of “real” or “hardcore” versus casual gamer, and connected the word “real” with “male,” I threw out my definition of gamer entirely. Instead, I returned to my question: “Where do we belong in the gaming community, overall?” Instead of “we,” however, I used “I.” According to data from the ESA’s 2015 report, 33% of gamers are women over age 18, and 30% of gamers overall are between the ages of 18-35. This means that I’m part of a large and growing group. In 2013, I basically was the average gamer. Knowing this, I still didn’t feel comfortable with that title. It wasn’t how I self-identified. Yet… maybe…
<insert flashback harp music here>
The first videogame I remember playing was an educational Sesame Street game for either NES or Super Nintendo. I can’t recall which. We had Duck Hunt and Mario Bros., too, of course, though I watched those more than I played them. On our old computer, however, I played Mixed Up Mother Goose and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? in MSDOS. With each advancement in gaming technology came something new–Donkey Kong 64, Mario Kart, Mario Party, The Sims, The Sims2, Okami, The Sims 3, Nino Kuni, Pikmin… As it turns out, I have been playing videogames of some kind for 25 years. A full quarter of a century. And I didn’t stop as an adult (which you’ll realize, if you know when Sims 3 came out or you follow me on Twitter at all). I played Sims all through college, Okami in graduate school (along with Harvest Moon on occasion), more Sims after college, a bit of Zelda Skyward Sword, and then, when I was home on maternity leave, I played Nino Kuni as I breastfed. Now, I play Sims 3 a few times per week–sometimes every night–as often or more often than I manage to read a book or write.
I assumed that I was alone, that I was weird, and that because I hate being in GameStop and find Halo incredibly annoying I was not part of the gaming world, and was a demographic unto myself. As it turns out, I’m part of a large portion of videogame players. I’m not alone. And how is the videogame industry reacting to this?
Inadequately, if you ask me. I may not be alone, but I’m still, as far as major developers are concerned, an outsider.
What I want–what I hope for–is (of course) more women writing and developing for videogames. Beyond that, though, I want to feel that someone within that huge industry is considering, on more than a superficial level, that their market includes women and parents, too–parents that are playing, not just buying for their kids, and women who are interested in creative play, challenge, and more than Zumba, kitchen help, or mindless time-wasters for smart phones. Maybe I wouldn’t hate stepping inside a videogame store if I thought anything in there was for me (or if there weren’t giant cardboard cutouts of men with guns or unrealistically buxom women in physics-defying outfits).
As for questions of being a gamer and being a parent–we’ll have to play that by ear. I cannot believe that it’s okay for anyone younger than, say, 25 to play Call of Duty, but when it comes to issues of violence in film or games, I don’t have much tolerance or understanding. I’ll probably have to compromise there. For now, I’m looking forward to the release of Splatoon (TM), which, according to my spouse, offers the same strategy and gameplay as Call of Duty or Halo, but without all the shooting and death–making it something he can play and enjoy while our daughter is in the room. As our child grows older, I hope that she has as much fun playing (in whatever form that takes–videogame or otherwise) as we do, that her options are broad, and that her inclusion in her community is a matter of fact, and not debate.