#1reasontobe

I don’t feel like I’m any kind of hero for sticking it out to become a woman working fulltime editing RPGs. It’s pretty much a dream come true, and I’ve never been more accepted and respected. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have little to add to #1reasonwhy there are so few women in gaming—I feel a bit like I lead a charmed life that way.

Nevertheless, sometimes I’m aware of a weight on my shoulders as a woman in a male-dominated field. This is all the more apparent when I look at my children who are immersed in gaming in many ways. I realize that I’m a role model whether I want to be one or not. I’d best not fuck it up.

But that’s my primary #1reasontobe—I feel like what I do matters. Sure, I’m helping people make games. But games can change the world. Really. At least they can help change culture, and that in time will change the world. It’s that glacial kind of change, the kind our grandchildren will probably benefit from more than we will, but it still matters. If we work against the culture that makes it hard to be a woman in gaming, our daughters will see that this is a field they can be part of. And it will never occur to our granddaughters that games are for boys and that women can’t be equally involved in making and playing games.

(Or that games are only for for cisgendered white people to make and play. This is absolutely not only about women. However, as a cisgendered white woman raising a cisgendered white daughter, please bear with me if that’s my primary example since it ties in with my personal experiences. But I believe that battles for equality are more alike than they are different, and as walls come down for one group, they’re at least weakened significantly for other groups as well.)

For the most part, I see an openness and inclusion in the gaming community that I’m part of that I would like to see in the world as a whole. It’s painfully clear that not everyone is like this—I’m horrified by some of the overt misogyny, racism, and homophobia that other people have experienced in gaming, shocked and saddened that there are people in the world who could possibly say such things in this day and age. In my little bubble, those people are very much the exception and that kind of thing isn’t tolerated. I don’t mean to say my peeps are saints—we get on each other’s nerves and bicker from time to time and once in awhile someone says something stupid, we all get bent out of shape, feelings get hurt, and usually there are apologies and we learn something and we move on. But for the most part, people who are part of my circles are respectful of each other. The ones who aren’t stand out as the exceptions they are.

That kind of thing is contagious. As those circles of respect widen, more people join in and learn how not to accidentally be jerks (of course, it doesn’t help the ones who are proud of being jerks, but some humans are like that). And as youngsters grow up in these circles of respect, there’s so much they’ll never have to unlearn. Inclusion will be normal to them.

So my main #1reasontobe is because I want to be part of why a gaming community is welcoming and inclusive. I want to help create games that reflect a variety of people and that any gamer can look at and picture herself or himself as part of that game in the art, in the characters we present, in the themes we explore. I want to create the gaming community where my daughter and my son will be welcomed and nurtured. I want other women to look at gaming and see me at the gaming table, in the booth selling my books, in the credits of lots of games, and I want them to feel like they won’t be alone here.

I may “just” be making games, but I also think I’m helping make a better world for my children and my grandchildren, regardless of gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation.

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5 Responses to #1reasontobe

  1. Pingback: #1reasonwhy | ayvalentine.com

  2. Thanks for your well-worded and thoughtful post! I’m glad you approached it from the aspect of ‘individuals should be treated with respect, regardless of gender/race/etc’, rather than the unfortunately commonplace ‘we should cut out any part of game design that may offend women’ route that often crops up.

    That seems to be the crux of the problem from what I’ve seen. Grouping women into one single category, as if there are no individual opinions, and that all women ‘should’ be offended and outraged by games like, for example, Tomb Raider and Bayonetta.

    As a girl who loves gaming, especially ones with incredibly stylish characters, it’s painful to me that so many people attack me for liking ‘sexist games’. I consider Lara Croft to be an intelligent and strong female protagonist, who has an interest in archaeology and exploration, and chooses not to care for money or boyfriends as she prefers to take a more adventurous lifestyle in exploring ruins for artifacts.

    But, when I say this to people online, who think they’re ‘improving’ gaming for women? I’m frequently attacked by people insisting that Lara Croft is ‘offensive to women’, and for liking both the character and game design, I’m branded as ‘supporting rape culture’. I kid you not. Their reasoning is that ‘women should find attractive characters offensive, why can’t Lara be ugly?”. Perhaps because as a character, she’s confident, works out, is young enough to be recently out of university, and has a sense of pride?

    In the end, this whole ‘men vs women in gaming’ thing should stop. Saying that I should be offended because I’m a woman -is- sexist. Saying that I support ‘rape culture’ because I like stylised character design is ignorant and 0ffensive in itself.

    People should be treated like individuals. If someone else is offended by Lara’s chest size, then that’s fine, they can choose not to buy the game. (It’s awkward to say, but if having a large chest is offensive, does that mean I’m offensive to everyone too?)

    But just because that one person is offended, it doesn’t mean ‘all women’ should hate it, and that stylish settings and confident intelligent female characters should be stamped out of gaming. It just means that more varieties of games need to be made that cater for different individuals.

    Likewise, if one employee had a sexist boss who ignored her idea because ‘she doesn’t know better’, it doesn’t mean all game companies are sexists. It means that one boss is sexist. And you know what? Outside of the dramatics this past year, in gaming culture, I’ve never seen so many people craving and celebrating female talent, because yes, it is in the minority when it comes to games.

    Women in gaming isn’t a minority because people hate it. People really, really want more of it, and to say that it’s a boy’s club because it’s ‘shutting out women’ is crazy. It’s a boy’s club because for a long time, most girls just weren’t interested in games. There’s nothing wrong with that. Again, respect them as individuals, don’t try to ‘convert’ them into pursuing game design if they want to go into modelling, business, fashion, owning a store, or enjoying life in clubs. Let them enjoy what they like, they’re happy with their own career choice. And hey, let us gamers, male or female, enjoy what we like, too.

    • ayvalentine says:

      I don’t know exactly what conversations you’ve been part of, so I’m coming at this from an uninformed angle. However, the primary way I’ve heard Lara Croft discussed with rape culture recently was due to the upcoming Tombraider game which is an origins story – in it, someone attempts to rape her. Part of the uproar is about why one of the few really strong female lead characters in video gaming has to nearly be raped in order to become an ass-kicking woman later. And I do think that’s problematic and indicative of a bigger problem (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/13/tomb-raider-lara-croft-rape-attempt). I agree with you, though, that enjoying playing a certain game shouldn’t be something you’re slammed for – many people have widely varying tastes. You should be able to decide what you want to play based on your own interests and preferences. It’s OK to like problematic things, but it’s still good to recognize how and why they’re problematic for some people.

      I do think and hope that slowly the culture is changing. And parts of it are much better than others, I think. I work in small press tabletop gaming and the people I work with tend to be really wonderful. But it doesn’t take much to find stories of women who have been horribly attacked for speaking up online or who have incredibly sexist things said directly to their faces – I don’t think the people participating in #1reasonwhy are lying about the things they’ve dealt with, and these things shouldn’t be happening. If you go to a game convention, women are visibly still in the minority. The question Luke Crane asked about why there are so few women game designers is valid, especially as women start playing games more.

      I agree that in conversations like this, it’s easy for individual opinions to get lost. And there is always the concern that we just end up with a different group of people telling women how to be women, and that’s obviously problematic. But many of the people participating in #1reasonwhy are feeling marginalized, attacked, and excluded because they’re women. And I think it’s important for all of us, even those of us who have managed to avoid those pitfalls, to stand with them and say this isn’t ok.

      • In regards to the Tomb Raider scenario, written by Rihanna Pratchett, her origin story presents her as somebody who wouldn’t kill another human, and her approach to confrontational situations is to take the civilised approach, stay unfazed, and discuss things with intelligence, or flee. For a character to go murdering somebody at the first sign of a fight is, well, unbelievable at best.

        As the story goes, it’s only when she’s presented with a scenario where she’s not able to flee, and not able to fight back, that murder is the only way out of the position where she will be abused and killed. In that respect, I find that it is, indeed, a believable storyline. It’s not saying that ‘all men are rapists’, nor is it saying ‘all women need a reason to kill’ (though in fairness, having a reason is a good start to character development, rather than people killing for fun). It’s saying that Lara, in that one specific situation, knows that murder is the only choice, and it’s a regrettable choice at that.

        To say that both the scenario and Rihanna Pratchett herself support rape culture because of this scene is, once again, absurd. If anything, it addresses it with taste, shows that it is completely unacceptable, and further develops the character’s context, experience, and reasoning where other games fail to do so.

        As for the tweets listed in 1reasonwhy, there are plenty of unacceptable things in there, and yes, like all industries, this kind of behaviour needs to be shown and made clear that it is unacceptable. However, I still feel claiming that the game industry is inherently worse than any other industry is highly misleading, and it’s very easy to focus on a handful of negative experiences out of an entire lifetime of positive and inclusive ones.

        • ayvalentine says:

          I still think it’s valid, though, to ask why they couldn’t simply have threatened to kill her without raping her first. I’m not saying the game is pro-rape by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one of so very many many stories in which women are sexually assaulted in the process of becoming strong. It gets old.

          I’m not much of a video gamer and I’ve never played Tomb Raider, so I can’t get into this discussion very deeply. But I can understand why fans of Lara Croft may be legitimately upset that she has to grow through threatened rape. Lots of books and TV shows have a similar trajectory for their female characters, and I think it’s worth questioning why that keeps happening. Sexual assualt as reliable shorthand for character growth disturbs me.

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