I was sat in my room playing "Rise of the Tomb Raider" when my sister walked in. Born in 2005, she lives in a world more liberal, equal and advanced than the world of my childhood, only a decade prior. She recently remarked to me that a character in a book she's reading is gay and that it seems crazy to her that gay marriage was ever illegal. She grows up in the era of unquestioned gender bending - with a female prime minister and Hillary’s campaign for presidency, girls can have it all, it would seem.
Gaming culture misrepresented by the zeitgeist
And yet, something odd happened when she saw me playing "Tomb Raider". She sat down beside me and watched for a minute.
Lara Croft threw herself from rocky wall to another, shot some attackers in the face, found some buried treasure. And my sister remarked; “It’s cool that you’re playing as a girl.”
“A girl?" That’s Lara Croft!” I said, greeted by a blank stare. I gave her a quick review of the last 20 years of one of #Gaming’s chief icons, before it hit me - what stunned her wasn’t that Lara has been with us since the late 90s, wasn’t the 'Uncharted-esk' gameplay or visuals, but the fact that I was playing a game as a girl. And something clicked. I asked her what other #Games she knew where she played as a girl.
Gaming and games culture is massively misrepresented by the zeitgeist. For many, the idea of a gamer still conjures a young to teenage boy, spot covered and basement dwelling, hardly beyond the 80s image of hackers. And yet, studies have shown consistently that the majority of gamers are middle-aged, and more than half of mobile gamers are female.
I’ve dated several gamer girls, but the fact that I have to even describe them as such shows how prominent the gender issue is in the industry.
Careers and gender roles
This past Christmas my brother and I got our sister a Raspberry Pi, complete with some basic software and hardware. She loved setting it up, she thinks it's neat that she built her own computer, I'm helping her learn to code on it. Why everyone isn’t teaching their children to code is beyond me, but that these interests or pursuits should ever be seen as ungirly or somehow "incorrect" for my sister to pursue, wouldn’t occur to her. It's saddening to think how many women have these interests either ignored or negated. It isn’t to say that parents turn their daughters away from sciences or #Technology, simply that we’re all so normalised to interests or careers having gender roles, most barely see an issue worth contemplating. Meeting a girl into Linux is like finding a unicorn.
There have been prominent women in gaming, but they’re still so rare as to be defined by their gender - Samus Aran's reveal of herself at the conclusion of the landmark "Metroid" was a shock, a twist, something so unexpected - “I defeated the aliens as a girl?” - but the most famous of the medium, Princess Peach, harkens even now to the damsels in distress of the silent era.
Princess Zelda is hardly better, more often than not the prize at the end of the adventure, the reward bestowed at the conclusion; doubtless, the Princess will love Mario once he defeats Bowser, as likely Zelda will love Link once he slays Ganon. What other choice do they have? These women are agentless at best. We've moved beyond the era of simplistic gaming narratives, and so too should the characters.
I turned to my sister and told her, “There’s nothing stopping you creating girl characters,” and I often try to remind her that her gender plays no part in her interests or passions, despite contrary realities. She is unabashedly a tomboy, and calls herself such; my only hope is that at some point during her life she realises that she doesn’t need to justify or excuse her interests.