The Problem

Gamer (n., 1960s): fans of wargaming, roleplaying, board, collectible card, computer, and video games.

Today, games are everywhere — and so are gamers.  They’re engaging, social, tech-savvy and goal-oriented people with a real drive to improve themselves and the world around them.  They connect with fellow gamers, in-game and in real life, and participate in making and playing games that have lasting social impacts.

But if this is who the “new gamers” are, why is there still a problem for girls in gaming?

Gaming was primarily invented by, and marketed to, boys.  This was especially true during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as board, card, and war games were being developed and popularized, when the voices of female inventors and players were sidelined — and often told through the eyes of men.  Yet early games weren’t gendered — many female video game developers interviewed by Polygon recall that they didn’t have a specific person in mind for games, and often didn’t even know who was playing the games.

We can see this in early video game ads, which featured families and young girls playing games.  In the Atari ad at right, the girl’s clothing and environment is gender neutral.  The text refers to the computer as “your whole family’s vehicle to a more imaginative, exciting and manageable world.”  The girl in this ad could be replaced with anyone of any age, and the ad’s meaning would be the same: the home computer is for everyone.

That changed after the video game recession of the 1980s.  With a focus on video games as toys, and a heightened awareness of the need for control, developers and advertisers decided to target specific consumers: young and teenage boys.  Through advertising and game design, gaming — especially video games — became directed solely to boys.  This made gamer girls a unique phenomenon — a rarity that was simultaneously celebrated and objectified.

This ad for the Atari home computer, at right, features a young girl and her dog engrossed in a video game. 

Gamer girl (n.): “In the background, there’s That One Girl. Maybe she works at the gaming store and she’s re-stocking the shelves.  Or maybe she’s hidden behind a screen somewhere, kicking ass from afar, planning to reveal her gender identity at the last moment.  She’s not ‘conventionally attractive,’ of course — she’s white, and skinny, and has perfect skin, but she’s got glasses or a set of headgear or some other visually distracting but theoretically removable ‘flaw.’  She’s never lumpy or acne-riddled.  She’s not too short; she’s not too tall.  her boobs are a C cup at minimum, and her clothes fit her perfectly.  Tight jeans and a T-shirt.  Maybe a flannel or a monochromatic hoodie.  If she took it all off and wore a Princess Leia bikini, she’d look ready to pose in a glossy magazine, but she doesn’t realize that.”  (Source: Maddy Myers.)

As time progressed and female gamers showed their gaming achievements, certain male gamers became angry at being bested — and attempted to subvert women through objectification and harassment.  This escalated with the advent of online gaming, which enabled players around the world to interact in-game in real time.  Many female gamers have received sexist comments and threats during gameplay, such as those shown at right.

Game developers also played into gamer girls’ objectification and harassment by developing female characters that were overly sexualized and stereotyped, or by leaving playable female characters out of games entirely.

In March 2015, 12-year-old Madeline Messer conducted a study on mobile “endless running games” and found that only 46% of games offered girl characters — and that only 15% of these girl characters were available to play for free.

Achievements

Wow, did u get those achievements in Borderlands or did ur boyfriend?

duhJeenyus sends a sexist message to a female gamer. Source:  Fat, Ugly or Slutty

A Bad Joke

hey how are u doing ? got a joke for you. let me know what u think. WHAT DO YOU TELL A WOMAN WITH TWO BLACK EYES ? ... YOU DONT NEED TO TELL HER ANYTHING BECAUSE SHE'S ALREADY BEEN TOLD... TWICE ;).

CAPO_theBUTCHER messages a female gamer with a sexist message. Source:  Fat, Ugly or Slutty

The Dark Side of Gaming

So how can we help to end this discrimination and support gamer girls — as well as get more girls interested in gaming?

First, we need to give girls a history that includes them and provides role models in the gaming community.

Second, we need to show girls how gaming can benefit them — as individuals, in creating communities and relationships, and in having lasting social impacts on their lives and the world around them.

Finally, we need to empower the gaming community to become its own police force — to hold its members accountable for their actions.  This enables them to become the creators of their own future — one where sexism and misogyny have no place in the gaming community.

History

Girls have played games since the dawn of civilization.  Two of the earliest known games are Senet and Mehen, board games from Ancient Egypt.  Though we know what these boards and their pieces looked like from Egyptian hieroglyphics dating to 3100 B.C.E., we don’t know how these games were played. Another popular Egyptian game was Asseb, also known as The Royal Game of Ur in ancient Sumeria.  Believed to be the ancestor of backgammon, Assebwas played with two sets of seven markers (one black and one white) and three tetrahedral dice.

The timeline below explores the history of girls in gaming, ranging from representations of gamer girls in art to the first girls to participate in developing games.  We’ve also included critical moments in gaming history, even if girls were not involved.  Keep in mind, this timeline is just a small sample of gaming history and girls participation in it — there’s a lot more out there waiting to be discovered.

Mehen board game, c. 2750 to 2250 BC. Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.

Individual

As the timeline shows, gaming has always been an integral part of various cultures — and girls have been part of that narrative.  But why do we love to game?

Well, the answer is a bit complicated — and it’s different for each person.  Our Why I Game gallery showcases the voices of gamers answering this question. Use the slider at right to discover what gaming has meant to a variety of girls and boys.

Why I Game: Bekkah

Junior Girl Bekkah Watkins writes about her experience with gaming, and how video games and board games have made her feel more connected to her family.

Gaming can improve and extend your life…seriously.

By Nikki Leduc

A lot of people who aren’t very familiar with gaming immediately assume that our pastime is a ‘waste of time,’ and suspect that gaming offers nothing beneficial to it’s player.  I get bombarded by mothers and angry parents on my Facebook page Elite Girl Gamers pretty regularly, who claim that their kids are mindlessly meandering through their days on their favorite gaming systems, and getting nothing in return.

I would argue that point by saying that gaming offers a wide spectrum of benefits. Any gamer can rifle off a list of several attributes they have received from their hours spent ‘simply staring at a screen,’ but I turned to my community for some real-life, positive examples of the benefits of gaming at it’s finest.

One member, Mitzi G., shares an amazingly eloquent and persuading example with us here:

“As I child I had severe eye problems requiring physical therapy just so I could read a full page of text without losing my place. I literally almost failed kindergarten–my eyes were that bad. My optometrist recommended video games to improve my tracking and to teach my eyes to work together. This gave my parents a reason to buy me an NES (Nintendo) and I have been a gamer ever since. I now have a masters degree, am a librarian professionally, and can only say that gaming has so much to teach our children if we would bother the get the syllabus together for it. For an example: “oh your child doesn’t want to read books, but wants the new Pokemon game? Wonderful! The Pokemon series has no voice acting and your child will be reading a small novella of text for abilities, story, and game mechanics. Enjoy and be sure to ask them about the game to test reading comprehension, help them find actual definitions for new words, and be sure to keep the dictionary on a shelf he/she can reach!”

What skills do gamers develop?

Childhood

“Kids aren’t naturally great at gaming the first time.  They develop mastery through disciplined practice — a path marked by dead-ends, wrong turns and blunders.  Yet gamers aren’t angst-ridden about making wrong decisions because games encourage a growth mindset.  Mistakes are how one figures out what doesn’t work and provides the impetus to zero in on what might.” – Aran Levasseur

Reading

Minecraft game manuals ranked at grades 8 to 11 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease scale, even though they were being read by kids in early elementary grades — proving that gaming helps children read way above their level.  Constance Steinkuehler and Hannah Gerber, games researchers, have each shown in their research that gaming motivates children — especially struggling readers — to devour written materials with no help and nearly perfect accuracy.

Critical Thinking

As gamers solve riddles, navigate dungeons and labyrinths, and battle foes, they are faced with many complex decisions — which often occur simultaneously.  Their ability to make these decisions helps them develop memorization and analytical skills, build self-confidence, and become critical thinkers.

Social Skills

Games engage a multitude of perspectives — in characters and in multiplayer interactions — to help players consider multiple points of view and generate empathy. Games also give the player a particular skillset, which may be part of a diverse team (like in many RPGs); only by working together, with teammates or non-playable characters, can players achieve in-game goals.  Exactly the same kinds of cooperative skills needed to handle real-world situations and relationships.

Creativity

What quests will you pursue first?  Who will you let live and who will you kill?  What side in a conflict will you choose — and how?

To make these decisions, players must become familiar with the game’s story and elements as well as handle the consequences of their in-game actions.  Gaming is, in this sense, a form of improvisation.

But the effects of these choices are not limited to the game world.  Many gamers have chosen to modify their games — called “modding” — by adding in new characters, quests, or other aspects.  By modding, gamers learn and practice coding essential to game development and creatively script these new elements entirely from their own imaginations.

Why D&D is Good for You

An example of all these benefits is the immensely popular role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.  Invented in the 1970s, D&D has seen several updates and spawned a multitude of game supplements, novelizations, and even movies.

D&D players can begin at any age, building off the concept of games as play.  D&D also involves intense cognitive skills, with complex decisions such as navigating dungeons and selecting spells or weapons; reading core rules, story lines, and backgrounds on the characters; and using imagination and storytelling to become active participants in shaping not only their characters, but the entire story.

Yet at is core, D&D is about the people, as Zak Smith recently explained in “Why I Still Love ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ in the Age of Video Games.

But beyond all that, the reasons that D&D is still worth playing are the people you play it with. As opposed to online RPGs where players interact through screens or headphones, when you sit down for a game of Dungeons & Dragons you do it with your people. In the same room. With snacks. Without the rest of the bar watching. There’s a story about three witches and a pack mule, which you all not only watched but invented, and then the witch threw a Dorito at you and drank your scotch.

 

You learn things about your friends during these times, too. Who are these people when the stakes are low and wagers are little and no one is cool? Poker night gives you permission to get into your friends’ wallet; D&D night gives you permission to get into their heads. Sometimes it’s no surprise: Patton Oswalt played a drunken dwarf, Marilyn Manson says he was a dark elf, VICE international atrocity expert Molly Crabapple played a thief—but would you have pegged our porn correspondent, Stoya, for a druid with a dog named George? It’s important to know when there are hippies in your house.

Very important life lessons I learned from ‘Skyrim.' Seriously.

By Sammy Nickalls.

For over a year now, I’ve been totally addicted to the game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As anyone else who is also addicted to Skyrim knows, you can easily spend hundreds of hours playing, killing dragons and taking names. There have been plenty of other games that have risen in popularity since Skyrim’sdebut in 2011, but I’m still playin’ Skyrim, because the addiction is REAL, guys.

Maybe I’m writing this article to justify the ridiculous amount of time I’ve spent playing this kickass game, but there are seriously some pretty sweet IRL lessons you can take away from this world of glory and destruction, even if said world includes mages and vampires. Behold, adventurers, before you take an arrow to the knee: The lessons I’ve learned (I TOTALLY swear) from Skyrim. 

Be observant . . . you never know what you’ll find.

In Skyrim, you’ve gotta check all the nooks and crannies for great stuff. Sure, you can charge through the game without checking any chest, barrel, or shelf, but you’ll lose out on SO much loot and so many things that make Skyrim amazing. Obviously, you probably won’t find potions or coins just laying around in everyday life, but being observant and paying attention to details will make life so much more enriching than just keeping your head down. (Plzzz guys, don’t take this to mean that you should steal stuff. Totally different.)

Treat your body right.

It can be tempting to go through the game focusing on the objectives and nothing else, but resting up and eating healthy home-cooked meals will give you bonuses in Skyrim. Sound familiar?

Practice makes perfect.

One of the best parts of the game, IMHO, is building up your skills. It takes a ton of work, but once you do it, it’s SO rewarding, and your character is able to defeat enemies and accomplish tasks you couldn’t even come close to beating before. Sure, this might be just a game, but this sort of dedication can apply to anything. Want to be an amazing painter, but you’ve never picked up a brush? Hey, you can do it — you’ve just gotta put in the “game time” to paint your masterpiece.

It’s better to be highly skilled in a few areas than average at everything.

Everyone who plays Skyrim knows that it’s better to totally kick ass at a few skills than to try and increase them all evenly. You can’t belong to every single guild right off the bat — you have to find your specialty. You’ve only got so much time in life, so find your thing . . . and totally OWN it.

Networking and connections are essential.

You can shoot arrows at anything and everything, but you’ll increase your skill level much faster if you know an archery expert who can teach you. And IRL, even though you can work incredibly hard and achieve anything you want to on your own, connections certainly don’t hurt.

Reading rocks. Read ALL of the books.

Many books you can read in Skyrim will up your skill level in ways you may not expect. Again . . . sound familiar? You never know what you’ll take away from a good book!

Words matter . . . and so does tone.

When conversing with non-playable characters (NPCs) in Skyrim, you often have different options re: what to say. Sometimes, those options all amount to the same general meaning, but they sound different dependent on tone — they can be threatening, kind, rude, etc. The NPCs reaction is almost more dependent on your tone than on the content of what you say. This is honestly true in real life too! Say it like you mean it, and say it kindly.

Always be prepared!

In Skyrim, if you don’t have the right tools and equipment, you’ll end up running away frantically from a fire-breathing dragon. On the other hand, if you have TOO many tools, you’ll be overburdened and have to drop a ton of precious cargo on the ground.

Maybe the whole fire-breathing dragon thing won’t ever apply to your real life (though who knows), but being appropriately prepared for your IRL adventures will never, ever hurt. Oh yea, and don’t overpack.

frostbitespider-e1432679474337Spiders are always the worst. Always.

Probably the most important Skyrim life lesson, because just look at these things.

SPIDERS ARE ALWAYS TERRIFYING.

This article was originally published on May 27, 2015. It is reprinted with permission from Hello Giggles and Sammy Nickalls.

Can games help us learn?

In Borderlands 2, players are introduced to real-life facts during several quests. In the image above, players are taught facts about scurvy while completing a pirate-related quest.

Catan Histories: Settlers of America, Trails to Rails involves learning resource management, negotiation, and geography. Players immerse themselves in the 19th century American West, discovering new towns, building railways, and delivering goods to neighboring cities.

HabitRPG gamifies life by turning all those “To Dos” into monsters that the player must conquer.  By defeating these monsters, players build their characters and earn prizes.  Players can also compete against friends or form teams to cooperatively beat bosses.  But watch out — miss a task, and you might just hurt the whole team!

Never Alone helps preserve the cultural heritage of the Inupiaq people of Alaska.  Developers partnered with nearly 40 Alaska Native storytellers and elders to create a game steeped in traditional Inupiaq lore.  Gamers play as a young Inupiqt girl, Nuna, and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard that threatens their survival.  The game can be played in single-player or cooperatively and features a host of legendary Inupiaq characters, all narrated in Inupiaq language.

Oregon Trail debuted in the 1970s to teach school children the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the real Oregon Trail.  The game was immensely popular, as players assumed the role of wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  It sold over 65 million copies and has had 10 iterations over the last forty years.aq language.

Do games lead to careers?

So what options exist for girls interested in gaming careers?  A lot!  These include: CEO, such as Julie Uhrman of OUYA and Brenda Brathwaiter of Loot Drop; game designers such as Kim Swift (Portal) and Teeuwynn Woodruff (Wizards of the Coast); writers for games and game-related content, such as Susan O’Connor (Bioshock), Amy Hennig (Uncharted), and Christine Love (visual novelist); and reviewers and LetsPlayers such as Alanah Pearce (“Charalanahzard”) and voice actress Sara (“AviGaming”).

The interviews below explore potential careers in the gaming industry.

 

Alex Ripple, a.k.a. PearlPixel, is a composer, sound designer, and session player for films and video games.  She is also a student at Berklee College of Music, and plays the flute, oboe, and effigy flute.  You can check out her work on SoundCloud.  While you read her interview, listen to her track, “Okay? Okay.”

 

Composer: Pearl Pixel

So, on your website, I saw that you became a gamer pretty early in life. For our readers who may not know, can you tell us the story of how gaming became part of your life?

So when I was 5, my Dad got Donkey Kong 64 for his birthday along with a Nintendo 64. We were hooked on the first day of playing, and our family gaming just escalated from there! We’ve moved through all the Mario Party’s, Animal Crossing, and a mountain of other Nintendo titles. One thing stuck with me throughout the years however and that was the Donkey Kong 64 soundtrack done by the one and only Grant Kirkhope. Yet I wouldn’t realize just how much that soundtrack was going to impact me until I hit middle school.

Why have you stayed a gamer throughout your life? Did you face any challenges, like bullying or sexism, in gaming?

I’ve stayed a gamer because games have brought me smiles, tears, friends, love, and now even a career. I really couldn’t ask for more from games but in the end they always keep on giving, except when they take my money. On the plus side, I’ve never experienced a negative impact from being nerdy or a girl gamer. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by those who support me and have similar interests, however, I’ve seen bullying and sexism within in the industry and amongst players and in no way tolerate it.

When did you figure out that you wanted to be a game composer?

For the longest time I actually wanted to be a pastry chef, from grade school until I was in the 7th grade. I also came to the realization that I hated practicing my instrument as most middle school kids do. However, unlike other the others, I found a way to change my hate for practicing by finding the site ninsheetmusic.org. There I could download all of my favorite video game piano scores and practice my favorite tunes for free! I quickly became better at playing my instrument and realized I wanted to be like those people who inspired me to play awesome music. I wanted to be one of those composers, because that was and is still a surreal job to me!

How did you start in music? What really helped you start your career?

Oh dear, this is one hilarious instance in which peer pressure changed my life for the better. My elementary school best friends were joining band and I happened to not have any classes with them that year, but band was a potential way of having a class together. I took the opportunity by picking up the flute, and it was a typical beginning band class full of wrong notes and silliness. Fast-forward several years to my senior year of high school when I actually started to compose music. I still kick myself for having the dream to be a composer for music for so many years and not do anything to kick-start that dream until then. However, once I did start writing, I was hooked. It was so much fun, and I couldn’t stop writing. As soon as I finished one song, I’d start on another, getting better each time. That persistence is what helped really start my career in video games and continues even today.

What games have you worked on so far? Any favorites?

So far I’ve worked on several tablet games, most recently a game called Age Linker for a Brazilian based game company. As for favorites, I can’t say I have any. Namely because when I write for each of them, they all ask for something different from me for the music. This summer I’ve been working closely with music and sounds for 6 teams. They’ve all asked for vastly different music, which sounds complex and admittedly scared me when I found out I would be working with the initial 4, but has been a huge learning experience and unbelievably fun.

What would you say is the best experience that gaming and/or sound design has brought to your life so far?

Both gaming in general and sound design have brought me friendship. And not some friendship that’ll last through high school and dwindle after graduation, but friendship that’s going to last a lifetime. The people I have met in the industry have been so kind and willing to collaborate. We can collaborate to the point where collaborations become friendships, and even in my case one of my friendships has evolved and we’re getting married in 2016! So although I can’t say it’s brought me one distinct best experience, it’s brought me a lot of best’s.

What do you hope to do in the future?

Truthfully, I’d love to make a full-time career out of music. I know it’s going to be a hard road to get to that point, but I’m certainly going to put in the time and effort. As for my end game, I would love to be able to say that I inspired others to write and play video game music just like Grant Kirkhope has inspired me to do. That full circle would be incredible, and finally show those who told me that making it in the games industry isn’t possible, that the cake is totally not a lie because we can make our own cakes.

What advice do you have for girls who want to have careers in gaming?

Persistence and teamwork is key! This is a cutthroat industry no matter what gender, race, or brand of robot you are, you have to keep at it! Those who fall behind are likely those who aren’t in it to win it. Yet on the same note, you have to realize that those who work around you are the ones who are going to rely on you just as much as you’re going to rely on them, so you need to have a great attitude and be ready to work as a team to get where you want to go.

You can view more of Alex’s work on her website.

Christina Antoinette Neofotistou, a.k.a. @castpixel is a pixel-artist and game developer who loves pixelart and animation.  She develops games for Ludum Dare and has been a hardcore gamer since 1984.

 

Artist: CastPixel

So, let’s start with the basics.  How did gaming become a part of your life?

My parents had a Commodore 128 when I was 6 and I was allowed to play (and draw sprites, on the dedicated SPRDEF editor). Before that, I was fascinated with coin op games at the local arcade. I was an eighties nerdy girl, before gaming began being marketed to just boys.

Did you face any challenges, like bullying or sexism, in gaming?  

Not really, apart from being invisible to some male gamers and/or told to my face that I’m a fake geek girl. Geek cred is like 2d6 lower for female geeks. I did get a lot of harassment and even abuse for being a feminist gamer/game developer though, since Gamergate mobilized a large section of misogynistic gamers under its banner. All my gamer friends, of any gender, are super-cool though.

This is a series of mockups for a Steven Universe game called “Garnet’s Quest.”

This is a series of mockups for a Steven Universe game called “Garnet’s Quest.”

When did you figure out that you wanted to be a game developer and artist?

When I was 6. I dreamt up whole worlds revolving around flying mechs or slimy platforms, spells and caves. When I was 14, I made some (long gone and best forgotten) games with a game making software called Klik and Play. I had no formal art training.  In fact, I trained to be a doctor for 6 years, but then I figured out that what I really wanted to do is make games.

What really helped you start your career?

My career is mostly illustration. I don’t know if I have a game development career, apart from my LD [Ludum Dare] games. So I guess LD really helped me get into making games on my own.

What games have you worked on so far?  Any favorites?

Panda Poet for Spryfox, a few iOS titles, an online MMO for kids called Pandalife (in Greek), a few jam games of my own.  I did some sprites for Deer God.  My favorite so far is Ice Story because it’s my first game that’s kind of fun.

I noticed that you also participate in game jams.  What are those like, and how did you start participating in them?  What’s your favorite part of the jam?  

Game jams are fantastic. It’s like treating myself to 3 days or a week of just thinking about gameplay, game design, and pretty sprites. A friend told me about Ludum Dare back in 2012. Together we made Kumiho, a fun bullet-hell shmup.

What would you say is the best experience that gaming has brought to your life so far?

I don’t know. Fallout 1 and 2 were pretty awesome. Also Captain Blood. Ultima Underworld I spent months on. All my childhood is linked to games. I suspect trying to make my own games is the best experience so far.

Mockup for Night Pearl, a 64x64 pixel pirate Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG).

Mockup for Night Pearl, a 64×64 pixel pirate Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG).

What do you hope to do in the future?

More of this! Finish a mid-sized game and make sure it’s a fun experience for somebody out there. Then move on to more grandiose stuff.

What advice do you have for girls who want to have careers in gaming?

I don’t know, I still ask other female gamers and gamedevs for advice. Don’t burn out, self-organize in communities and enjoy the ride is common advice that floats around women in IT circles.

And I also noticed that you run Pixels Weekly (@pixelsweekly), a weekly contest on Twitter for pixel art.  What inspired you to start the contest?  For girls who want to start participating in that, what advice do you have and how can they get involved?

See, pixelart is a little misunderstood. It’s not just a way to churn out small things fast. It can be a craft. And it takes patience and some knowledge. The excellent Pixel Dailies is taking care of keeping people dabbling in pixelart. With pixelsweekly, I hope to inspire other pixel artists to go a little more in-depth. The themes so far have been limiting in size, colors and scope. My own fascination is with super tiny pixelart, I find it can have a lot of charm. Girls and women who want to participate don’t need anything, they can just come. I try to keep the space female friendly, non-racist, non-discriminating. I’d welcome some help with moderation!

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Embrace critique on games, it’s going to make future games more awesome.

You can view more of Christina’s work on her PixelJoint.com site.

Crystal runs the Geek Piñata blog on gamer and geek girl fashion.

 

Fashion & Blogging: Crystal of GeekPinata

So, let’s start with the basics.  How did gaming become a part of your life?

When I was 6, my next-door neighbor had a Nintendo and I became obsessed! I would always be at her house playing Super Mario Bros., Duck HuntPopeye and Paperboy nonstop. My father saw how much I loved it and eventually got us an Apple IIe with a ton of games on floppy disk for me to play which was a lot of fun. Then SNES came out and my uncle bought it for me for my birthday and of course I loved that too. Gaming stuck and was a part of my life ever since.

Did you face any challenges, like bullying or sexism, in gaming?  

I typically avoided and still avoid multiplayer because I would hear the horror stories that other women go through, so I managed to avoid most of it. I did run into some people paying attention to how “good” I was though, and using my skill level as a representation for ALL female gamers. I really love games, but I’m not particularly skilled at certain styles, so it can be frustrating to be used as an “example” that way.

I also wear my Mass Effect N7 hoodie a lot, and I have been asked at least a few times if it was my boyfriend’s hoodie. Another time a guy saw me wearing it, scoffed, and asked me if I “even ever played the game.” Stuff like that gets really frustrating and annoying.

You run blog on geek fashion — what was your inspiration for this project?

It was always a strong personal interest. I remember one of my first geeky clothing items was a “Body by” t-shirt from Jinx. It said, “Body by” and had a Playstation controller underneath it. It was a men’s t-shirt though so it wasn’t particularly flattering on me, but I just loved it so much I couldn’t help but wear it out anyway

I started noticing over time that geeky clothing for women was available via sellers on eBay – these were fellow fans taking these geeky men’s shirts and altering them to be more flattering for women – so of course I bought a ton of them. Then Etsy came out and there was a lot for women available there as well.

I was already shopping for myself, so I figured why not share what I find on my personal social media accounts. Friends started asking me how and where I found these items, and they started sharing them with others. It was then that I decided I should start a blog for women who are interested in such merchandise to find it easier.

How do you find geek fashion to blog about?  

I already am searching for this stuff to buy for myself all the time, so I always end up with plenty to blog about. I’d probably blog even more if I had more money to buy all the things I find! Haha! 

Also, I’ve noticed there’s some backlash against geek fashion companies, as many don’t provide sizes for bigger girls.  What’s your take on this?  Is there a problem, or is it being addressed?

I completely understand this backlash. People come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so I can see how frustrating it would be if you are a fan of games or other geek culture but can’t wear what is being offered. I’ve seen places like Her Universe start to offer additional sizes, but it’s been a slow process over all. The thing is that businesses that sell geek merchandise are still businesses, and they want to make money. If they don’t know people want it, they probably aren’t going to make it for fear of losing money. It’s important that people continue to make their voices heard via social media to show these companies that there *is* a need, a demand and buyers exist out there.

Why is it important for girls to have spaces that integrate fashion with gamer culture?  What benefits do girls gain from this?

I see integrating fashion with gamer culture being all about expressing yourself. Clothing is something we wear every single day, and it’s fun to wear something that shows the world what you are all about or are interested in. A benefit that I personally see for girls in particular is representation. It’s been a long time since people thought games were for “boys only,” but it’s a slow process and it’s still ongoing to this day. This is just another way to show that yeah, we are here, and we love this stuff too!

What would you say is the best experience that gaming and/or your blog has brought to your life so far? 

The best experience from both gaming and my blog has been all the people I’ve met through these hobbies! Whether it’s just via online or by meeting up at various conventions such as PAX Primer or SDCC, it’s so amazing to meet people with the same interests and to just geek out over stuff together.

I also noticed that you have a career in web development.  If you don’t mind us asking, what do you do and how did you start?

Before my geek fashion blog, I had a personal blog and I recall not liking any of the templates most of the blogging systems had. In order to change the look of a site though, you have to know some front-end code. I ended up teaching myself because I wanted my blog to look the way I wanted. I kept making websites and layouts over the years and finally realized that these skills are something I could translate to a career.

I decided to go back to school and study Art/Multimedia, which included a more formal way to learn HTML, CSS and some basic JavaScript. A year and a half later, here I am! I am actually moving on to another position soon which includes web development AND design, which is really exciting. In most companies those roles are separated, but I’ve always loved both code and design since they are so closely related. You can’t see a great design on the web to come to life without the support of that front-end code!

What do you hope to do in the future?

I hope that I am still doing what I do now – blogging about geek fashion and working as a designer and developer. In an ideal world, I’d run my own online storefront with geek fashion that I have designed myself! But I still have a lot to learn about running a business, licensing and how patterns work for sewing before I ever dive into that. Maybe one day. 🙂

Crystal 2

Crystal.

What advice do you have for girls who want to have careers in gaming and STEM fields?

My advice is to never ever give up. If you love it, pursue it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, and if anyone does try to tell you that you can’t, IGNORE THEM. Also, be proactive! School is great and I think everyone should get an education, but definitely look for additional resources and other ways to learn. Go after an internship. Networking is also important, so if you don’t already know anyone in gaming or STEM fields, get out there and find them. If you don’t know of any events going on in your area, social media is a really fantastic way to find people. Search #gaming or #stem hastags and look at peoples profiles to see what they do for a living. Talk to them, comment on their posts and try to engage in discussion, ask them if they would be open to mentoring you or giving advice.

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

I am SO happy people like you exist! I grew up an only child for the most part (my little brother wasn’t born until I was 14), so games were and are something very near and dear to me since it was pretty much all I had. Gaming was something that I experienced alone for a long time, so meeting and knowing other women are out there that love games too makes me feel part of a really awesome community. I hope you all feel the same way too. Keep gaming! 🙂

You can follow Crystal on Geek Piñata’s Twitter feed and Facebook Page.

As we’ve seen, games can impact players as individuals in a wide variety of ways.  From cognitive development and education to careers and everyday decisions, games fundamentally change players while also being engaging and fun.  Yet there’s still more that games can teach us, and it lies within how games help players form communities that positively impact the real world.

Community

Over 70% of gamers play their games with a friend, either cooperatively or competitively.  This has huge implications for gamers, as it encourages in-game and real life interactions.  Games help individuals to develop bonds of fellowship and collaborate on a variety of tasks while also encouraging them to engage in friendly competitions.

 

Fellowship

Games introduce players to people who share their interests.  Online games can bring many individuals of different cultures and backgrounds together, uniting them through their love of a game.  Players find a sense of belonging, make new friends, and discover that others in the real world share their passions.

They can also provide a support network integral to helping individuals deal with difficult times in real life, such as the death of a loved one.  The image at right describes how the Mod Community of Skyrim banded together after the death of a player.  Upon his death, the player’s brother logged in to his Skyrim game and shared his last save point.  A mod was made that erected a monument at the save spot in-game, enabling players to install the mod and pay their respects to their deceased comrade.

“When the online multiplayer adventure Phantasy Star Online was released in 2000, it was one of the first connected console titles to invite and support a global community.  However, the game was released a month early in Japan, giving its domestic audience a significant advantage in terms of levelling up their characters and improving their skills.  And yet, when American players eventually started to hit the servers, they were welcomed largely with friendship.  Using the game’s icon-based communication system, veteran players helped the newcomers, shared tips and items and acted as guides.  Whatever happened after that, there was an instinct to share rather than destroy.” — Keith Stuart

There are also real-world fellowships built through gaming, such as the Girl Scouts patch “Make a Game.”  The Girls Scouts of Greater Los Angeles partnered with Women in Games International (WIGI) to create the first video game patch in 2013.  They hope the badge will get girls excited about technology, science, and careers in the video game industry.  Early feedback of their patch showed that 70% of the girls continued building their games at home, and 100% stated that building and designing the video game was their favorite part of the program.  Even if girls aren’t inspired to pursue a career, such programs help them learn to work together and build friendships.

Games also help girls build friendships by forming specific communities around certain games or gaming in general.  Many of these communities are virtual, enabling players to connect with others around the world.  One such community is the d20 Creative Alliance.

 

Collaboration

Gamer communities lead to amazing collaborations in game and in real life, which sometimes intersect in unexpected ways.

WAY is a game released in 2011 that sends players into a 2D environment: “At first, players navigate the game area alone, trying to make sense of what the game experience is meant to be.  Moments later, the game reveals that your journey is happening simultaneously with another, unnamed, random player.  Both players can see the movements of the other player but cannot interact directly.”  Through this gameplay, players must work together to communicate and solve puzzles through gestures and simple, emotional grunts.  It crosses the real-world barriers of language and geography to show how two individuals — who may be polar opposites in real life — can work together in pursuit of common goals.

Gamers also work together in real life.  Best seen in YouTube Let’s Plays, gamers collaborate in games and provide guidance to other gamers around the world.  One gamer girl community is GamersIntuition, an online resource by women for video gamers.  They review games, write articles, and provide game guides through their website and YouTube channel.

Also, through collaboration, the Stronger Together project has worked with Ethiopian partners to create game clubs that help girls in Ethiopia acquire the social capital and skills they need to solve real life problems, including isolation, early marriage, and gender-based violence.

 

Competition

Competitive gaming is a big, and growing, industry.  There are more than 20 professional international leagues, with players from all over the world competing in games like Rock BandCall of Duty, and Tekken 6.  And there’s prize money to boot.

Yet only about 20% of professional gamers are women.  Many also face gender disparity in pay, with women making up to $60,000 a year as competitive gamers while their male counterparts earn up to $100,000.  That means that for every dollar made by male pro gamers, female pro gamers only earn $0.60.  That’s worse than the global gender pay gap, which stands at women earning $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by men.  But this doesn’t stop girls from competing — and winning.

Lilian Chen is a semi-retired competitive Super Smash Brothers Melee player.  Lilian started competitive gaming at age 16, and within a year was traveling the country to compete.   In the video below, Lilian gave us a first-hand look at competitive gaming through her experiences at E3.

 

There’s also competitions to make games.  The National STEM Video Game Challenge is a multi-year competition to motivate interest in STEM learning among youth in the USA.  It began in 2010 with over 600 entries from students, teachers, collegiate developers, and professional digital game makers.  By 2015, the competition had over 4,000 entries — and the winners were 15 middle and high schoolers.  The competition also features over 50 game design workshops and events around the country.  These events help connect students, educators, librarians, mentors, and families through gaming.

Some gamer girls have formed communities around competitive gaming.  One is the PMS/H20 Clan.  The PMS Clan began in 2002 and has become the world’s largest multi-platform online female gaming group.  In 2004, they launched the H2O Clan as the male-only counterpart to recognize males who support females in gaming.  Members support and compete against one another around the world.  They also sponsor teams that participate in competitive gaming competitions.  Members are bound by a code of conduct to ensure that all players are respected and having fun.

Whether gathering at an international competition or collaborating online or in-person, gaming brings players together into diverse communities.  These communities are fun, supportive, and increasingly inclusive of the diversity of gamers out there.

Impact

These communities have the potential to impact the world around them.  By uniting individuals, they open up dialogue about players’ other passions.  Commonly, those passions unite again when players join up to make positive impacts on the world around them.  Through games, gamers are making strides that improve our well-being, solve real world problems, support charities, and become advocates for social justice.  In doing so, they show us that gamers — when united — have the immense potential to change the real world.

Well-Being

It starts with the act of playing games.  Research has shown that 30 minutes of online gaming a day can significantly increase happiness, far more than pharmaceuticals, and may be instrumental in treating clinical depression.  Moderate gaming also provide a healthy source of relaxation and stress management, including links to emotional stability and reducing emotional disturbances in children; socialization, with players of online MMORPGs forming friendships comparable or better than their real-life friendships; and increases in self-esteem by letting players express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life and in ways that let them be more like the person they wish to be.

There are numerous games that are designed to help people improve their well-being, including:

 

Pain Squad and Re-Mission help cancer patients by making patient diaries fun and interactive, while also providing doctors with information they need to provide better treatments.  Pain Squad helps kids and teens track the intensity, duration, and details about their cancer pain while playing as crime-fighting heroes.  Re-Mission puts players inside the human body to defeat cancer, and is designed to motivate patients to stick to their treatments.

Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where players are immersed in the experience of being depressed.  Players choose paths to take, and their choices affect how depressed they are.  Additionally, the more depressed that the character becomes, the less action choices players are given.  Just like in real life, deeper depression makes it harder to get out.  The game is available as free or a “pay what you want,” with a portion of the proceeds donated to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Superbetter helps achieve real-life health goals.  Its primary focus is to build personal resilience: the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult challenges.  It was created with the help of doctors, psychologists, scientists, and medical researchers and hopes to give players the ability to lead epic lives.

Solve Real-World Problems

Games also allow players to have an impact in the real world — an impact that could be felt for decades to come.  Jane McGonigal, PhD, is a games researcher and designer who believes game designers are on a humanitarian mission — with the hope that, one day, a game developer will win the Nobel Peace Prize.  She’s created award-winning games in over 30 countries and researches the impact that games have on the real world.  In her TED Talk, “Gaming can make a better world,” Jane explains how we can harness our in-game powers to solve real-world problems.

As Jane states, games give us the power to achieve “epic wins.”  And it’s these epic wins that the real world needs more of.  So what kind of real world problems can gamers solve?

First, there’s scientific research.  FoldIt is an online protein folding game in which players figure out the many possible structures of proteins by competitively playing to fold the best proteins.  Since proteins are the “workhorses” of every cell in every living thing, they are key to understanding how our bodies function and human diseases.  By playing FoldIt, players help scientists learn more about protein folding and design new proteins to combat and cure diseases such as cancer, HIV, and Alzheimer’s.

Second, games can help us become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly societies.  Citizen Science is an online flash-based game in which players must help to stop pollution of their local lake.  Along the way, players learn about the many causes of freshwater lake pollution and create “arguments” that can be used in the real world to preserve our water resources.

Finally, games can help us discuss and solve social issues such as poverty.  Spent explores how homelessness can be “just one decision away.”  It immerses players in the experience of becoming homeless. Spent challenges players to think about their conceptions of homelessness and become advocates for discussing this issue in real life.

Giving Back

Gamers’ contributions to the real world aren’t limited to what they achieve through games.  By forming communities, gamers not only celebrate their shared passion for gaming — but also their shared passion for making the world a better place.  The Extra Credits team explores the good that gamers do in the videos at left.

Additionally, gaming-based non-profits give back to their communities in a variety of ways.  Through these organizations, gamers harness the power of games and communities to bring hope to sick children, positively impact the lives of the disabled, and directly benefit a range of charities around the world. For example, AbleGamers serve as advocates to increase the accessibility of video games and achieve further inclusion of the disabled in the gaming community.  To date, they have reviewed over 200 mainstream titles for accessibility, provide free consultations to developers on accessibility, and deliver grants to the gaming community of accessive technology.

Then there’s one of the biggest names in gamer charities: Extra Life.  The company was founded in 2008 as a way of honoring young Victoria Enmon, who had lost her battle with cancer. In November of each year, gamers around the world participate in Extra Life’s 24-hour gaming marathon.  Players register and create personal fundraising pages.  They then get family, friends, and others to sponsor them at $1 per hour (with each sponsorship being $24).  Then, they play games of their choice for 24 hours straight (with potty and meal breaks).  All the money raised goes directly to Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in the U.S. and Canada.

Advocate: Gender Equality

Finally, we come to the inspiration for Gamer Girl and one of the biggest issues in the gaming community: gender equality.  Gamers don’t just benefit charities or play games to discuss solutions to problems, they work in the real world to effect positive social change. One of the biggest movements has been the advocacy for greater gender equality and inclusion within the gaming community.

There are numerous voices in the calls for greater equality in gaming.  Below, we’ve showcased the voices of some girl activists in the gaming community.  These women are working not just for gender equality, but for the evolution of gaming communities to become a positive space in which all can share their love of gaming in a fun, respectful, and safe way.

Brianna Wu, the founder of game development company Giant Spacekat, discusses how her startup faced challenges particular to women in the gaming industry — and overcame them in the toggle below.

Choose Your Character

By Brianna Wu

Illustration by Revolution 60

Illustration by Revolution 60

I belong to an elite order, the technological Illuminati of game development. My spellbook is a 2011 MacBook Pro with dual SSDs and $7,000 worth of professional 3D software. I am consumed by an endless internal fire to transform my passions into practical, playable reality.

It’s the third mission today: a story conference with my lead animator, Amanda. I’m exhausted. Level creation is now on my long list of job duties, taking on the work of someone I fired. It’s just an average day leading an indie-game development team.

Amanda is my best employee, and a yin to my yang. She was a cheerleader and president of her sorority, then spent a decade as a retail manager before she changed careers and went back for a degree in 3D animation. She has a calm, considered presence, a counterbalance to my relentless impulse to charge forward.

We finish discussing the storyboards and decide to book our voice actresses for another round of sessions. I think we’re done, but just as I start to edge my way out of the conversation, she sits down. “I need to tell you something, Bri, because it’s going to seriously affect you as my employer.”

Our game, Revolution 60, would not be coming together without Amanda. I’ve come to count on her, not just for her animation skills, but for her perspective. I brace for impact: She’s moving, she’s quitting, she’s found another job.

“I’m pregnant,” she says. I don’t reply immediately, and I’ll mull over my tepid response for weeks.

“Congratulations?”

The only way to win is not to play

Like most professional game developers, I grew up in thrall of Nintendo and Sony. But unlike most who wind up in my field, I found the women in those games to be more than pretty faces. They were deeply aspirational figures. I grew up in Mississippi, but there was little I could relate to in the small-town worries of whose daughter was in which beauty pageant. Final Fantasy’s Terra, an esper raised by humans, had an internal conflict that rang fiercely true to me. Reality never stood a chance.

One Christmas, my mother gave me $1,000 to buy a PS1 Net Yaroze development kit. My deeply religious parents rarely understood my interests, but they always supported them financially. I became obsessed with uncovering the secrets of developing a game, trying to figure out how to bring the girls I had been drawing since I was eight into the digital worlds of Terra, Celes, and Rydia. Fifteen years later, my wildest dreams are becoming a reality.

I never set out to create an all-girl game development studio. Amanda was my first employee, but her résumé was initially tossed aside in favor of several male candidates. My husband had been helping sort through the hundreds of résumés and discarded it. By accident, I spotted it in the reject pile. Her clip reel showed a cheery girl leaping up, waving her hand with exuberant personality.

“We’re making a game based on my art style,” I said. “Don’t you see how this is exactly the kind of animator we need?”

“It’s pretty girly,” he replied. “I guess I just don’t get that stuff.”

I don’t blame my husband. His reaction was a milder and more polite form of the response I’d received when showing the first round of character designs to some of my friends:

“Why are they all white?” sneered a liberal friend of mine before launching into a 20-minute screed about how offended he was by the naked shower scene in Heavy Rain.

“I don’t like playing games with women characters,” said a conservative friend of mine. “Their sexuality is distracting. I don’t need to see that!”

“Why doesn’t the media show my body type?” demanded one girl. “I am tired of being the punch line. You can be overweight and healthy, and games like yours need to show that to our daughters.”

“Why aren’t any of the characters guys?” complained another. “Are you trying to say that women don’t need men anymore?”

“They look anorexic,” came one reaction.

Everyone brings their political agenda to the table when it comes to female characters in videogames; everyone complains if the women don’t match their particular vision. I start to wonder if the only way to win this game is not to have women at all.

Nega-Brianna

I’m late for a programming meeting with Maria, and don’t have time to be stuck in Boston traffic. So instead of grabbing my car keys, I don black, skin-tight leather armor and leap on my motorcycle. It’s a 2009 Honda CBR600RR in racing red — something straight out of Akira. I’ve leaned into highway turns at 80 mph feeling nothing but speed, the air whipping all around me, and my thighs gripping a 212°F engine for dear life. My emotional connection to this 410 pounds of fuel and metal is intense.

Idling at a red light, I see a woman waiting to cross. She has my figure and looks to be my age. The frazzled look of motherhood is about her: disheveled hair and perpetual distraction. She’s hunched over to hold the hands of two kids so beautiful that my heart gives an involuntary lurch — an instinct hardwired into my brain in ways I don’t understand.

It hits me hard, as if this is an alternate-reality version of myself crossing the street. A Brianna that had made drastically different choices. The woman notices me. “Look at the girl on the motorcycle!” she says to her children. Our eyes meet. I recognize my gray-blue shade in her eyes.

I was adopted, and I had planned to do the same. But recently I’ve changed my mind. I wonder for the billionth time if the right decision is to concentrate on my job.

I’m certain that if I had children, I would be failing at my job.

I’ve hit my 30s, a period when it seems as if all of my friends suddenly have kids. That’s a priority shift completely incompatible with my goals. Startups require that you give it all or go home, routinely requiring long nights, longer weekends, and blood and toil. If you aren’t willing to put in the hours, eager replacements are standing behind you. If I fail, the women I work with will be out of their jobs.

The light turns red. I release the clutch and twist the throttle, and my doppelgänger and her children disappear in my wake.

A New Challenger appears

Maria’s been working for us on weekends, but she spends her days as an administrative assistant at a radiation research company. She’s my age, and brilliant at anything related to her job, but she might just feel less than brilliant outside of it. When we need the impossible to be possible, we send it to Maria.

With our next round of funding in hand, we set out to hire another full-time programmer. I ask Maria to sit in on the interview, as she has the right coding background (C++) to evaluate the candidate and will be working closely with him — all the applicants so far are male. Our potential hire has the easy confidence of a guy in his mid-20s. Better yet, he’s personable, a rare trait among gamedev coders. He’s our lead candidate. Maria is quieter than usual.

A few days later, Maria and I sit down to talk about her role over the next year. She’s as introverted a person as I’ve ever known. Talking to her, you can sense the storm raging inside her mind, like she can’t quite decide which lightning bolt to hurl. She manages to blurt, “I’d like to be considered for the lead programmer job.”

“I’ve been wondering why you didn’t apply.”

“I didn’t think I had enough experience,” she stammers, “until I saw the résumés of people you were interviewing.”

“iOS Unreal is less than two years old.” I say. “No one has experience with it yet.”

Maria’s managed to catch me off guard. I see so much of myself in her. If it were possible to reach into my chest and give her some of the fire that drives me, I would. I like our top outside pick, but I know I’ve got to bet on Maria. She’s meant for so much more than answering phones.

“Can you start next month?”

Choose your Destiny

“I don’t know if I can do this, Bri,” says Amanda. It’s the day after she told me she was pregnant. She’s more scared than I’ve ever seen her, and she sounds like she’s never felt more alone. She’s been with her boyfriend for five years, longer than I’ve known my husband. She’s worried what people will say. She’s worried her parents will be disappointed in her.

I’ve loudly proclaimed my feminist principles from the rooftops for my entire life. But now those beliefs are in direct conflict with my responsibility to ship our game. Amanda is the linchpin of the company. I’m terrified I’m going to lose her, just as I have friends after they have had children and disappeared into the routine of family and schools.

“This is happening at the worst possible time. I’m 30, I just started my career over, and I’m worried if I stop now, I won’t get another chance.”

This is the real stuff of womanhood, not the videogame fantasy we’ve spent so many hours creating. It’s a gut check. What do you really want, Amanda? And what will you sacrifice to get it?

“I know all of that, and I’m terrified,” she cries, “but having this baby is something I need to do.”

I take a breath. In indie-game development you have to bet. Am I willing to bet my company on Amanda sticking with the project after she’s become a mom?

“What do you need to make this happen?” I ask.

Paradigm Shift

I find myself reading academic articles on the psychology of introversion, trying to understand why the hell Maria and I can’t stop butting heads. I’m an ENTJ, and she’s an INTJ. Small difference; all the difference in the world.

We’re having an all-hands meeting, and I’m doing all I can to not lose my temper. We have a major development deadline to hit, and it’s one that’s going to require a lot of extra hours from Maria. I’ve spent the last week learning about one of her job functions in order to add my labor to hers. My intent is the height of altruism: I want to be the kind of leader that gets down in the trenches, not a desk jockey dispatching orders.

She is not pleased with changes I’ve proposed.

“You can’t implement touch-to-move points,” she says matter-of-factly. “You’d have to do it in Kismet and not UnrealScript, and that means the player can’t look around with the camera.”1 It’s the first of many of my ideas that will be shot down during this meeting.

I’ve come to understand that it’s hard for Maria to collaborate without preparation. I like to talk through problems with people; she prefers to think through problems on her own. This does not make her instinctive “no” feel less irritating. Nor does the fact that I know she’s right.

Afterward, I suggest Maria and I go get sandwiches to help smooth things over. Despite the headbutting, we’ve made tough, productive decisions. “You have to be proud of how much you’ve grown this year,” I say. “I can’t believe you used to work as a secretary.”

“I was an administrative assistant, Bri,” she corrects. “And it was part of a huge leap for me! Did you know I saved money for two years to come here and go to school? There were so many times I thought, ‘Crap, I owe a lot of money!’ But it was the first step on this road.”

She’s usually not this talkative. You have to coax her out of her shell. My gut instinct for direct communication has been completely wrong. “Do you feel like us giving you this job helped you grow past your shyness?” I ask.

“Our relationship sometimes gets tense because of our personality differences, but it’s forced me to be more flexible,” she says. Maria takes a breath. “Bri, I was talking to my brother,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve earned a portion of our sales as a bonus after we ship. I’ve earned it.”

And just that quickly, the emotional shield comes up and I have to retreat back into boss mode. But behind that shield, there’s a smile. I know the shy Maria I met a year ago never would have had the guts to bring this up.

The journey is the reward

Other gamedev companies have Christmas parties, and after two years of working together I’ve decided we need one too. The big attraction is a Mario Kart 64 tournament. A $100 bill is waiting on the TV, bounty for the winner.

We’ve brought a game designer, Jenna, onto the team as a contractor. She’s recently gone freelance after leaving her job at a major Boston game developer. She and her fiancé are curled up on the floor, awaiting their turn.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with you,” says Jenna. “I’ve never had a work environment like this. I feel like my ideas are really respected, and I haven’t felt a second of politics.”

I just smile. In the last year, I’ve learned to conduct meetings while a baby causes blind, screaming chaos. And I’ve learned not to leap feet-first into every problem with Maria. Giving Jenna a little room is no problem.

The evening turns to the centerpiece, the Mario Kart tournament. Jenna has just smoked my husband, ensuring her place in the finals. The next numbers are drawn from the lottery. “It’s Maria versus…Brianna!”

“Oh god,” mutters Amanda.

A look of intense determination flashes in Maria’s eyes. Boss or not, she’s playing to win. And though she’s been quiet most of the evening, an easy smile is on her face. She’s colored her hair bright red, and Nintendo cartridge earrings playfully dangle from her ears. She almost didn’t make it to our party because of the boardgame club where she’s been spending her weekends.

Amanda’s daughter Emma crawls into the room. “Oh, I have the best Christmas present for her!” I say, passing Amanda a wrapped present. “I saw this on Amazon, and I just had to buy it for her.”

“What’s this?” says Amanda to Emma, reaching into the bag and gasping. “It’s a puppet of Elmo!” Emma’s face lights up, and she lets out a squeal of joy, recognizing the smiling red face of her favorite Sesame Street character. Amanda wiggles her fingers, and Elmo gives Emma a giant hug.

The first time I met Emma, Amanda asked me if I wanted to hold her. I was terrified I would break her. I’d never touched anything that seemed so simultaneously small yet heavy. Emma stared at me so intently I started to feel uncomfortable. There was a quizzical look on her face, as if she couldn’t quite figure me out.

Last week, Amanda and I were musing over coffee. “I needed to have Emma,” she said, “But the thought of losing my identity kept me up at night. That’s why I work so hard on Revolution 60. It’s how I keep ‘me.’”

I think back to my lukewarm response a year earlier and how much we’ve accomplished since. We’re right on track to deliver a killer game. “You didn’t lose yourself at all,” I replied. “You’re more tired, sometimes a bit scattered, but you consistently kick ass.” It was harder for me to speak aloud my next thought. “It makes me wonder if I made the right decision,” I admit. “Because you showed me it can be done.”

There’s a long pause. Amanda said, “For right now, we’re both doing exactly what we need to be doing.”

At the party, I watch Amanda as she plays with her daughter, studying the way she interacts with Emma. It comes so naturally to her. This silly language she has with her daughter is not one that I speak. But now it doesn’t seem as intimidating as it once did.

“Can I try?” I ask, reaching for the puppet.

————

Originally published on The Magazine, Issue #14, April 11, 2013.  Reprinted with Brianna’s permission.

Brianna Wu is the head of development at Giant Spacekat, a company specializing in cinematic experiences using the Unreal engine. She’s also a frequent speaker on women-in-tech issues. In the past, she’s worked as a journalist and a politico. When she’s not developing software, she enjoys racing motorcycles and running marathons.

These calls aren’t limited to just including girls and women in the gaming community.  They are part of a broader movement to show how games can increase equality and human rights for all.  One example is the University of Chicago’s Game Changer Lab, which is currently developing Bystander: an interactive RPG that explores the responsibility of a bystander in various scenarios.  Players play as Casey, a high school junior who vividly imagines bystander scenarios in sexual violence situations.  Based on personal experiences of sexual assault, Bystander challenges players to become “active bystanders” both in the game and in real life.

Another example is in improving the way that female characters are portrayed in video games.  There are many articles and videos out there that seek to tear down sexist female characters in games.  However, what has been sorely lacking is discussion on when video games have gotten female characters right — and what makes a good female character.  Also lacking from the discussion has been an analysis of young female characters — those who, in game, are aged 21 or younger.  This is important because, to inspire more girls to begin gaming or pursue gaming as a career, we have to give them relatable female characters who prove that you don’t have to be grown up to go on great adventures.

In our podcast series, GirlSpeak, we address these topics.  In August of 2015, we dared to ask, “Who are the good young female characters — and what makes them good?  How much should physical appearance alone dictate how we judge a female character?  And where should we go from here?”  To listen, click on the media player below:

Reflections

Following the events of Gamergate in 2014, I was inspired to create an exhibition that would showcase the positive side of gaming — both in general and, specifically, for girls.  I’ve been a gamer for most of my life, and Gamergate forced me to recognize that part of my gaming experiences have been highly gendered and, at times, sexist.  I’d played games because my boyfriends liked them.  I had flaunted my gaming skills — or allowed my boyfriends to flaunt them — as a way of both flirting and inciting jealousy.  Simultaneously, I also faced anger and resentment when I was successful in gaming — so much that I can recall nights spent just watching guys play games rather than actually playing.  Looking back, I was objectified and excluded simply because I was a girl, and I did nothing to stop it.  In fact, I perpetuated it as the status quo.

Would I want the same for my daughter — or for any gamer girls that I know?  NO WAY.

But what could I do?  So much of what surrounded Gamergate was negative, and I didn’t want to become just another voice amongst all the hate and rallying cries.  I wanted something more — something positive and inspiring.  I wanted to help change the conversation from what was wrong in gaming to what was right — and how we could make gaming even better.  It didn’t take long to figure out that I could use my public history skills, my work at Girl Museum, and my passion for gaming to create something positive: Gamer Girl was born.

This exhibit has aimed to showcase the many ways that gaming benefits girls — as individuals, as communities, and as advocates for positive social change.  I’ve aimed to tell stories straight from their source whenever possible, and to provide numerous resources for girls to get involved in the gaming community and become active participants in shaping its future.

Yet I also didn’t want to be exclusionary, as gaming benefits everyone involved in it.  I’ve tried to include as many stories about the diversity of gaming as possible, without losing sight of Girl Museum’s mission: to preserve and present programs about the unique experience of being born and growing up female.  The voices in this exhibition are primarily female, but that doesn’t mean we want gaming to become dominated by women.  We merely want equality: equal opportunity, respect, and acknowledgement of our passion for and participation in gaming.  And the way to do that is by inspiring current and future gamers with positive stories from the gaming community.

As Joss Whedon recently stated,

“My idea is that stories that we then hear and see and internalize–and wear hats from and come to conventions about… We all come here to celebrate only exactly that: storytelling, and the shared experience of what that gives us.”

Gaming is one of the ways that we tell stories in the modern world — stories about our history, our potential futures, and our dreams.  These gamified stories are ultimately what helps us envision our real-world lives as epic adventures and set out on the quest to become the heroes of our own stories — and maybe solve global issues and help others along the way.

Gamer girls are claiming their place in the world as individuals, as part of a diverse community, and as agents of social change.  They — and all gamers — show that when we celebrate and unite around our common passions, we can achieve amazing things.

So game on, ladies and gents.  Game on.

— Tiffany Rhoades, Curator

Cosplayers as Pac-Man characters at MegaCon 2015. Source: Tiffany Rhoades.
One of the Sisters of Battle from Warhammer40k, a tabletop war-game. Source: Tiffany Rhoades.
Warhammer40k being played at a game store. Source: Tiffany Rhoades.

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Credits

The curatorial team for this exhibition was Tiffany Rhoades, Emily Holm, Katie Weidmann, and Victoria Parnell. Special thanks to all the contributors, past and present, to our Why I Game gallery, and our exhibit contributors, who brought life to our project and helped open our eyes to the diversity of gaming

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