More often than I would like, I have interactions with people that remind me that not everybody thinks like me. Bummer. This is especially disappointing when it comes to stuff that I’ve been writing about for a long time, like the prevalence of sexism or the crap women have to go through to be fans of anything. I immerse myself in those subjects so much that I think surely other people will have heard of this by now, when, in the real world, not a whole lot has changed.
The other day, the interaction was about video games.
The first video game I ever played was Halo 2. I was taking a computer tech class in high school (admittedly, only to fill an occupational-ed credit), and because it was first period, one of the guys would bring in his new Xbox so he and his friends could play Halo 2 before class. Occasionally, they would let me play. Naturally I spent most of the time not knowing which screen I should be looking at, and inevitably discovering I was the one stuck in the corner, spinning around with my gun pointed at the sky.
(I relied heavily on Needlers during that period.)
But I learned, and I got to college and started playing more video games. I got my own Xbox. (Okay, it was an Xbox shared between three people, but I was the majority shareholder.) I played the rest of the Halo games, Fallout 3, Need for Speed, Assassin’s Creed, and of course way too much Mario Kart and Guitar Hero. For me, the experience of playing video games fell somewhere in between reading a book and living out a movie. I finally found a place where I could play the hero, and it was awesome.
So when I discover (or rather, rediscover) that people still don’t think women should be playing video games, or that video games are only shoot-’em-up military games with no story, I just feel sad. I feel sad in the same way that I feel sad for vegetarians who can never share in the joy of a bacon cheeseburger, or for people who live in the Midwest and can’t get to the beach easily, or for people who don’t like the same books I like, because obviously all the books I like are awesome.
Suffice to say, all those things make me very sad. Which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to address some video game myths that apparently still need to be addressed.
1. Video games are for loners. You know the stereotype: the overweight dude with neckbeard, who’s in his 30s but still lives in his mom’s basement, who lives on Cheetos, trolling, and Mountain Dew. Sure, many video game players are that guy. But some of them are me. Some of them are my friend Tess, who plays Mario Kart socially and has dabbled in Zelda. Some are this dude who loved a particular game so much that he built a customized pilot’s chair specifically for that one game.
Some are cosplayers. Some draw fan art. Some follow indie developers religiously. Some camp out waiting for the newest console. Some are perfectly happy to exist on used games.
Some play on their phones or tablets. Some play on PCs. Some play on consoles.
Some play story-intensive games, and play them alone. Some play games that are designed to be played with thousands of other people. Some get together every week to play with their friends. Some play online once a month as a means of keeping in touch with friends who live far away.
Bottom line: there is no one type of gamer, and there’s no “right kind” of gamer. If you think there is one acceptable “type” of gamer, you’re gatekeeping, and we’d like you to stop.
2. Video games are only for boys. Half of all gamers are women. There. Okay? That’s all there is to it.
Okay, fine, here’s more. That’s up from 36% in 2006. 38% of Xbox users are female. 30% of women who game play stereotypically violent games, like Call of Duty.
Video games still cater largely to men, but do you think Tomb Raider would’ve gotten such a dramatic makeover if so many women weren’t playing video games and demanding fair and realistic representation? And women aren’t just playing more – they are becoming more involved in the industry, too. It’s a slow crawl, but from 1989 to 2012, the number of women in the gaming industry went up 9%. (It’s up to a whopping 12%, but given growing demand and increased awareness, that number is sure to keep climbing.)
Plus, video games are becoming more of a family and kid-friendly activity. 51% of US households own a gaming console and 35% of parents play video games with their kids weekly. The Lego franchise has sold over 50 million games to date – same as the Halo games, and more than the Guitar Hero, Gears of War, and Mortal Kombat franchises.
Which is why my hackles go up every time there’s an incident involving women being shut out of, or mistreated in, gaming communities. It’s like saying only English girls can drink tea, or only fifth-graders can read Harry Potter, or only men can eat bacon cheeseburgers. It limits people’s exposure to something cool, and worst of all, it normalizes this. As long as developers keep excluding women and conventions refuse to enforce sexual-harassment policies and forums refuse to admit there’s a problem, the problem will continue. Daughters will grow up thinking only their brothers should play video games. Parents will continue to think their kids’ habits are bizarre and antisocial. (Okay, they could be, but maybe he or she is making friends on another continent he or she would ordinarily never have a chance to meet.) Men will continue to harass cosplayers at conventions because they think they can get away with it.
So yes, every time this comes up, I will address it, until I don’t have to anymore.
3. Video games are only about violence and shooting and killing things. Want to take a guess at the best-selling video game franchise of all time?
I’ll give you a minute.
Ready? It’s Mario.
The Mario games have sold over 400 million units. The best-selling stereotypically violent game franchise is Grand Theft Auto, with 185 million units sold. Call of Duty, arguably the most popular modern first-person shooter franchise after Halo, has sold 120 million units. Gears of War, famous for its gory alien deaths, has sold 19 million. Simply judging by the numbers, the violent, gory games are not the most popular, nor are they the most in demand.
I’ve already mentioned the Lego games. There are a slew of sports games, music related games, puzzle games, racing games, RPGs, and old-school side scrollers. There are games where you fight with guns, swords, flamethrowers, hidden blades, sledgehammers, magic wands, turtle shells, guns you build out of vacuums, or with no weapons at all. There are games where you don’t even fight. Limbo is one of them – a beautiful, black-and-white adventure about a little boy trying to find his missing sister. Along the way, he evades electrified traps, giant spiders, and murderous forest people, and he does zero fighting.
And there are plenty more. There’s Little Big Planet, where you can team up with your friends to solve puzzles and explore beautiful levels with a handcrafted aesthetic. There’s Rocksmith, in which you can actually learn to play guitar. There’s Depression Quest, a game designed by Zoe Quinn to help teach people about depression, and to help sufferers cope. There’s Okami, a beautiful game where you save the world with a magic paintbrush.
And there are dozens more games that I haven’t had the chance to play, like Journey, Gone Home, Portal, Minecraft, and Fez, all of which are nonviolent. And of course there are plenty of violent games that I’m looking forward to trying: the Bioshock games, Tomb Raider, the Metro games, Destiny, and The Order: 1866.
Shoot, that’s a lot of games.
I’m very glad I live in a time and place where I feel free to play them.
Now I just need my tendonitis to clear up…