I didn’t grow up playing video games. At least that’s what I said when I first talked about them with my close friend, Ian. However, the more we talked, the more I realized I had played video games early in life. Pitfall!, Pong, Space Invaders, to name a few. Later, as a teen, whenever I was forced to hang out at the student union at the U,* I’d KILL on Ms. Pac-Man, often heading up the leaderboard. I l also played The 7th Guest with my brother around the same time. In my late twenties, I dated a gamer, and we went to an actual arcade. I was faintly disapproving of his love of games, but I figured that since I was there, I’d play a game of Ms. Pac-Man or two. I might try another game, but NOT a shooting game. Never. Ever. Ever. My ex (boyfriend at the time) introduced me to a game called Time Crisis II. It was a shooter, and I wanted no part of it. He coaxed me into just trying it, and the minute he placed the plastic pink gun† in my hand, I was hooked. I pumped quarter after quarter into the machine. He wandered off to play something else. When he came back to ask me how it was going, I shushed him and sent him to fetch me more quarters. He laughed, but did as he was told. Untold number of quarters later, I beat the damn game, and I was exhilarated.
Still, I considered that an anomaly and went about my merry way game-free. Kind of. I played solitaire on the computer, and I also started playing casual games. Hidden Object games, Match-3 games, Time Management games, etc. I didn’t consider that real gaming, however, as look! It’s right there in the name. Casual games. Those aren’t REAL games, no, not like Call of Duty or anything like that. I felt vaguely guilty for playing casual games, as if I weren’t hard enough, but I enjoyed them in part because I didn’t consider them video games; I would have recoiled if you said I was a gamer.
Then, Ian and I started talking about hardcore games because he’s an enthusiastic gamer. This was early 2012, and I was intrigued as I remembered the games I had played in the past. I confessed I played casual games as if were a crime, but that I hadn’t played a true hardcore game. I was, however, curious about them and asked him to pick one I might like. He suggested Torchlight as a ‘dip your toe in the water’ hardcore game, and a hundred hours later, the rest was history. I wrote about that time of my life in a post for Ian’s gamer blog, culturegamer, which you can read here. I explained that while I enjoyed games for a variety of reasons, I was not a gamer. Oh, and that I would never, ever, ever play a first-person shooter (FPS). Ever.‡
You won’t be surprised to learn that I tried FPS games soon thereafter and loved them, right? I wrote about that and my love/hate relationship with Borderlands here. It rattled me because for most of my life, I’ve been anti-gun, and the thought of shooting something repulsed me. Of course, leading up to my first FPS§, I recalled that I had played the aforementioned Time Crisis II and loved it. I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed the hell out of the subsequent FPSs I played, including Borderlands 2 and that shooting games were quickly becoming my favorites.
Saints Row IV is my current shooter, and while I have problems with aspects of it (I fucking HATE driving in video games. Fortunately, my superpowers that allow me to fly, kinda, make most of the driving obsolete. I have been avoiding most of the driving side missions), the shooting is downright addictive. It helps that the weapons are varied and some of them are funny (such as the dub-step gun), and most of them feel good to shoot. It also helps that my aforementioned superpowers means I can do things like freeze an enemy before shattering him to pieces with my shotgun. I still have qualms about how much I enjoy shooting things (note, the closer to reality the situation/target is, the more uncomfortable I become), but that doesn’t stop me from firing up my shooter games with consistent frequency.
That’s not the topic of this post, though, not really. Yes, I’m burying the lede and reaching it in my own sweet time, but that’s how I roll, so just ride along with me, bitchez! What is the actual topic of this post? The fact that I can no longer say I’m not a gamer. As I alluded to in the first post I linked above, I stayed away from the tag because of all the baggage I felt came with it. Yes, video gaming has become ultra-popular and mainstream, but even so, there’s still an image of a pasty, white-skinned adolescent male locked in his bedroom, hunched over a computer (or hooked up to his XBone) and compulsively pressing buttons from dawn until dusk with a half-finished bag of Cheetos by his mouse/gamepad. In his spare time, he’s making vulgar comments on Reddit about how women/minorities/gays are ruining gaming, only in less-polite terms. There is that subsection, yes, and they get touted at the targeted demo, but they are, in reality, a minority when it comes to purchasing games. Women make up nearly half the gamers in the country. Plus, women who are my age (43) play nearly twice as much as adolescent boys and more than our male counterpart. Granted, some of those women are buying the games for their kids, but we still wield a hell of a lot of purchasing power.
In other words, why the fuck aren’t game developers catering to us? At the recent E3 convention, Ubisoft caught shit because they said that they couldn’t be stuffed to include a playable female character in the new Assassin’s Creed. They originally said it just couldn’t be done practically, then they tried to back away from that statement by saying given the setting, a female character would not fit historically. An ex-Ubisoft developer refuted the original claim, and the war raged on on Twitter.
Here’s an insider look at how the game developing process occurs, and while I think it’s fascinating, he’s missing the point of the indignation. He also throws in the straw man of making his team work overtime is not OK, careful to mention that some of his team are women, as if asking for a playable female character is somehow going to negatively affect real-life women. He casually reference the fact that there was a female prototype early on that never was developed – which is the salient point and not a footnote. Here’s the thing – if it were a priority, it would have been done. Period. That’s why people are pissed – not just ‘offended’. The idea of adding a female character is an afterthought, an option, and something scuttled so the product can be delivered by a certain date. Can you imagine the reverse to be true? Oh, we were going to put in a male character, but we ran out of time. Sounds ridiculous, right? I’m not picking on Ubisoft, by the way. They’re not the only company doing this, just the most notable recent example.
I spend an inordinate amount of time on my character creation when I’m allowed to do so because I want my character to look like me as much as possible, even if I never see my character. The pictures in this post are of my character in SRIV. I spent over an hour creating her, and I update her from time to time, changing her hair, her scars, her tats, etc. I use her as my avi in Twitter and Facebook, and as long as she keeps her sunglasses on, she looks as much like me as I’ve seen in a video game. I made her big-boobed and on the heavy side because that’s what I am. Her hair is as long as it can be, and she swears like a motherfucker (that’s programmed), which is like me as well.
Yes, I know you play video games to escape. I do, too. But, I can’t tell you how alienating it is to never see anyone like me in a game. I’ve written about it before in relations to other popular cultural media (movies, television shows), but it’s even more important in video games because it’s interactive. When you’re allowed to create your own character, it’s a double slap in the face when you’re told, no, you can’t be female or Asian or fat or whatever. Video games are a reflection of society in general, and this is a not-so-subtle reminder that not only do I not belong in video games, I don’t belong in this society, either. When I can play a character who resembles me, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I actually have a place in the world.
Wow, I veered hard onto a side road, didn’t I? That’s also not the topic of this post, though it’s relevant. I shied away from the gamer tag because of the culture that surrounds it – it’s the same reason I don’t multi. The assholes. They are the minority, but they are so fucking vocal and virulent, they pollute everything they touch. I can deal, somewhat, with the casual isms that run through gaming culture because that’s our society in general, but the assholes who seem to pride themselves on being as dickholish as possible are more than I really want to stomach. I think because games are interactive, it’s easier to be jackasses while playing them. I mean, if you’re a movie aficionado, you can go to a forum and talk about movies, but you’re not really going to watch movies with other people online the same way you game. You’re certainly not going to be calling someone a pussy or telling him to suck your dick while watching, say, Guardians of the Galaxy.
I’m Asian, female, and bisexual. I make no qualms about that. My brother suggested I write about gaming and when I mentioned the problem with being female and vocal about gaming (never mind the other two), he said I should write as a guy and forget about it. It’s not an unreasonable suggestion, but think of what it says about the community that a viable solution to the virulent sexism is to pretend you’re a man. Fuck that shit. I’m asiangrrlMN online, and I see no reason to hide that. But, I know that if i play an MMO such as, oh, LoL (which I wouldn’t, but just using it as an example), I would get shit on from so many directions. It’s also why I don’t play the multi portions of games such as Path of Exile, which I really like, by the way. I ain’t got time for that shit when I’m hacking and slashing. In addition, when I’m gaming, I’m not there to get hit on – I’m there to fucking game. It can wear on you to be called the ugliest of names, even if you don’t believe them to be true. Not to mention the threats that female gamers regularly receive.
So, yeah. I resisted the gamer tag for a very long time. There is much I don’t like about the community or the gaming industry, and I’ve never been much of a joiner. Plus, it’s a bit embarrassing to call yourself a gamer at my age, even though as I noted above, we are legion. Here’s the thing, though. I’m a gamer. By definition, I mean. I play games every day. I have a pile of shame that is threatening to break the hundreds. I played all the way through Diablo 3, both Torchlights, both Borderlands, and Cook, Serve, Delicious. I don’t even want to tell you how much time I’ve spent playing these games or my current obsession, Nuclear Throne. I just had my brother build me a new computer specifically so I could game, for fuck’s sake. Ironically, when I bought my laptop three years ago, I told him I didn’t need a graphics card because I didn’t game.
In addition, I watch Let’s Plays and have done a few with Ian as well. I listen to game podcasts. I read articles on gaming and anticipate games well before they are released. I buy games on the regular, especially when there’s a sale going on (such as the yearly Steam summer sale). As I said, I have countless games that I’ve bought and haven’t played. I feel triumphant when I beat a particularly difficult boss, and I suffer from the ‘just one more level/game’ syndrome that gamers know so well. I even have an Xbox controller that I use to play certain games. I can no longer get away with saying, “I play games, but I’m not a gamer.”
I’m a gamer, full stop, but I’m still reluctant to embrace the name. It’s the age-old question of whether or not you can change a culture from within. I don’t know if I want the baggage that comes with calling myself a gamer, especially with the dreaded ‘girl’ affixed at the front. Some guys rant about ‘girl gamers’ and how they’re fake geeks who just use their boobs to sell their YouTube channels. Let’s be real. That’s what people want. Take Dodger, who would eschew the tag. I like her, and she’s not all about tits and ass. She knows her shit, and she has a GREAT voice, but let’s face it, if she didn’t look the way she did (she’s cute as hell), she wouldn’t be as popular as she is. In addition, she’s very lively and upbeat and quirky. It’s hard for me to think that she’d be as popular if she were more dour or overweight or a crank. There’s no fucking way she could look or act like her podcast co-hosts, TotalBiscuit (whom I like) or Jesse Cox (whom I…am up and down about), and make it in the business. She doesn’t talk much about sexism in the gaming industry or in games, and again, I doubt she’d be where she is if she did. You can’t become semi-prominent in an industry by trashing said industry. The thing is, she’s one of the best female YouTubers out there, and I LIKE her (just making sure that point is clear). I’m just noting what it takes for a female to make it as a YouTuber in the gaming industry and how restrictive the parameters are in comparison to those for male YouTubers.
I try to imagine if I were to do Let’s Plays or have a YouTube channel or blog about games how I’d be received. On the minus side – I’m old and fat and cranky. On the plus side, I’m Asian and have big boobs and am charismatic. Would I wear tight shirts and jiggle my boobs? Hell, yes. I’m a firm believer in using your assets to draw in the eyes and then deliver quality content that keeps people coming back for more.** I’m not giggly and perky, though, so people would have to deal with my deep voice and sarcastic attitude. In the end, I doubt that I have what it takes to make it in the industry for many of the aforementioned reasons (which are the same reasons I’m not fit for general societal consumption, either).
My brother mentioned the importance of a brand when pushing a product on the public. If I ever blogged as a gamer, I’d probably brand myself as the anti-gamer or the ‘why can’t she shut her fucking mouth’ gamer. My guess is that I would have a small, but loyal following if I decide to blog about games on a regular basis. I know I would also get a lot of shit because of who I am and because I can’t keep my fat mouth shut, even when it would behoove me to do so. I don’t know if I want to subject myself to the vitriol that any minority who speaks out in the gaming community faces; if I do, however, it’ll be as a reluctant, but full-fledged member of said community.
Hello. I’m asiangrrlMN, and I’m a gamer. Deal with it.
*Tons of Taiwanese events held there.
†My memory may be a bit hazy on the actual color, but I think it was pink.
‡You know what this is foreshadowing, right?
§Technically, Portal, but Borderlands was my real first FPS.
**It’s how I feel about affirmative action. It just gets my foot in the door that wouldn’t have been open to me otherwise – I’m still the one who has to do the damn job.