Sunday, 2 September 2012

Girlfriend Mode: A Retort

This article was originally written for my fortnightly column on Forces of Geek for Thursday 23rd August.

I apologise in advance, this week's column will be a little bit ranty but stay with it! I'm not a fervent equal rights supporter, nor am I okay with terms that deem my gaming abilities bad. Especially when those terms have nothing to do with my actual skill, but rather the virtue of my being a woman.

However, the whole 'Girlfriend Mode' debacle of last week has got me thinking about my own prejudices.

For those of you who missed it, last week Lead Designer of Borderlands 2, John Hemingway (such an awesome last name!) described a new character called Mecromancer who has an in-built skill tree for gamers who aren't as competent in first person shooter titles. The skill tree idea itself is fantastic and I'd support any game that incorporates this mode or one of similar ilk. However, poor Mr Hemingway, despite using the precursor "For lack of a better term" called it the "girlfriend skill tree".

Cue days of backlash, angry girl gamers (myself included) and uninformed retorts from people who don't even play games.

He claimed using the word 'girlfriend' was unintentional and I'll agree that the only thing he did wrong was choose the wrong word but this doesn't make it acceptable. The fact that it was unintentional, in my opinion makes it worse. It highlights the deep rooted casual sexism that exists within the games industry.

By my own admission, I am not what you'd call a pro-gamer. I'm pretty good at a handful of games, I love the Halo series and I'm not too shabby at it but I'm in no way a Halo-demon and I can't drive a warthog to save my life (literally).

I know a lot of people (male and female) who love games and play them regardless of their skill. Yet, there seems to be an elitism within the gaming community when it comes to ladies; mostly when I play multiplayer online games I turn off my microphone for fear of being hit on or accused of bringing the team down despite playing well. It doesn't happen every time but it happens enough for it to be a problem and it does hinder my enjoyment somewhat. "But, Em", I hear you say, "if you still play the game then it can't really be that much of a problem, right?"... Wrong.

I shouldn't have to defend myself or be in a scenario where I'm forced to turn off my microphone in the first place. I'm not saying this doesn't happen to male gamers too and I'm not calling myself or other girl gamers helpless victims. If someone teabags me when I die or picks on me because by sheer luck I just so happened to be born with double X chromosomes, I will seek revenge in game. In fact, it makes me even more determined to prove that I am good at the game. But my point is, I shouldn't have to. I am tired of always having to prove myself.
I have no idea who created this image, but it is awesome!
It's not fair especially when almost half of the people who play games are female. That's right - almost half, a fact that the majority of people in the gaming industry and it's communities seem to conveniently ignore.

I don't agree with catering to different markets either; Male, female, pro, casual... IT SHOULDN'T MATTER. I'd just like the stigma that girl gamers are worse players or that they are to blame for easier games to dissipate. I don't care for how females are portrayed in the industry.

And trust me, the view of women in the games industry is incredibly warped. Booth babes, who are paid to look pretty and attract attention only serve to convince hordes of male gamers that accusing female gamers of only playing games to get attention from guys is okay. It's not okay and it never is.  

Frag Dolls - good or bad example of girl gamers?

I'm not without my own flaws, I sometimes make sweeping generalisations. Take Jessica Chobot or the Frag Dolls for example, I would argue that they do a disservice to female gamers by adding to the illusion that you can only be a girl gamer in the public eye if you're attractive or will utilise your sexuality by licking a PSP to get a job. Although, perhaps the fact I put them into this category makes me a hypocrite of sorts.

Don't judge lest ye be judged and all that...

There's also the fact I have an aversion to sports games and racing titles. I don't play them so really I have no valid argument when I criticise them. I openly dismiss certain titles without having played them, unfortunately the majority of these are sports-based. If I were a man, this would be considered a preference (as all gamers have their preferred genres) yet because I'm a woman, I worry that I am perpetuating the girl gamer myth by ignoring these titles, despite the fact I don't play the cutesy, colourful, easy games that I supposedly play.

This realisation has led me to analyse my gaming habits and challenge my own prejudices, there's no point harping on about equality in the industry if I openly ignore games that are considered as men's only or by criticising females within the industry.

I am fans of the games I choose to play and I can't continue to define myself as a 'gamer' if I restrict myself to a handful of titles from my youth that I feel nostalgia for, RPGs and any game where I get to shoot at zombies or aliens.
True Story

I need to branch out. I will play FIFA, so that when I still dislike it afterwards I have a leg to stand on when I attack it. I'll then have a valid reason, rather than "I hate sports games", which as much as I hate to admit it, is a stereotypical girlfriend response. Or, I might enjoy it. After all, I don't dislike football, I even played it during my time in the air cadets back when I was a teen (I was a pretty mean defender, actually) and my family have always been avid West Ham United fans, meaning by default, I am too.

As much as I despise ranting about issues, I also despise sexism. Like I said, I'm not an avid feminist and I don't spend my time campaigning for women's rights, though perhaps I should be? Time and time again, various sexist situations and arguments repeat themselves in the games industry and this simply isn't good enough. But I can't complain if I sit here and do nothing about it. That's why I hope you understand why this week's column is a bit of a rant, whether you're male or female, when you're playing games try to remember that we're all just people, insignificantly living under the same sun, on the same unimportant planet in a universe bigger than we can comprehend.

Despite the fact they are unrelated, I am a girlfriend and I do game but as of now I'm now on a mission to branch out, push my ignorance aside and put down the Halo discs for a series of games that I haven't played...but my boyfriend raves on about. What better place to start? It's a franchise he's passionate about and one I've just let pass by; Assassin's Creed.

Right, rant over, see you next time.

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