I am not and never have been a gamer. My interest in various fandoms (I’m a Whovian) and my friendship with progressive feminist women who do identify as gamers has given me a window into the community, but it has always been as an outsider looking in. As I’ve followed Gamergate and various controversies over sex and gender in video games and in the wider cosplay community, it has always been with a certain feeling of detachment.
And now, here I am.
My six-year-old daughter hangs with the boys, self-identifies as a “gamer,” and has already started begging me to take her to Comic Con next year.
Wow. Suddenly this whole Gamergate thing feels much more upfront and personal.
I’m not going to rehash the whole Gamergate controversy, and honestly, the problems existed long before Gamergate. Video games have chronic problems with the underrepresentation and exploitation of female characters. And that’s without even touching on the sexism that is often rife in the dialogue between players on online multiplayer games. I already have to be careful when playing Minecraft tutorials on Youtube for my daughter—I had to turn one off the other day because of the rape jokes. Yes, rape jokes.
Sally is still so innocent of all of this. If I refer to a Minecraft villager as a “he” (because let’s face it, they look male), she corrects me. “It could be a girl villager, mommy,” she says. And the aforementioned rape jokes? They went completely over her head, because she doesn’t know what rufies are.
Oh, and the boys at school? If one of them tries to exclude her from the group (as sometimes happens), the others jump in in her defense. “Sally’s okay, she’s cool,” they explain. It’s probably because she can talk Star Wars with the best of them and plays a better game of Minecraft than most of them. But none of this changes the fact that her gender is treated as a de facto liability, something she must overcome to be deemed “cool.” Sally’s a girl—but she knows everything about Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and she’s a boss at working with redstone, so we’ll overlook that.
I know that as the years go by, Sally’s naïveté will gradually evaporate. As she grows, she will need to learn to navigate a terrain that will often make more of her female-bodiedness than her knowledge, interests, or skills. The boys at Sally’s school are at the “eww, girls are icky” stage, but they won’t stay there forever. Someday their voices will be the ones telling rape jokes in Youtube videos and making sexist jokes during online multiplayer games.
Unless—is it too much to hope for that things will change in years before Sally hits puberty? Maybe—just maybe—the boys at her lunch table won’t tell those jokes, or make those comments. Maybe—but given the grudging nature of their inclusion in the present, I’m not overly hopeful. Sally is only six, and already she has to overcome her female-bodiedness.
I want to simultaneously maintain Sally’s innocence of all of this and gift her with a thick skin. Is it even possible to do both of those at once? At the moment, Sally takes it for granted that she will learn to program. In her mind, computers are one more thing she needs to learn in life. She has yet to file computers away in the “for boys” category. I don’t want to tell her that some people think computers are for boys, because I don’t want to plant that idea in her head, but I also don’t want her to be caught unawares the first time she hears it. Sigh.
For the time being, I suppose, I must be satisfied with telling Sally that she can do anything she puts her mind to if she’s willing to work for it.
And so I want to salute all of you female gamers out there working to make gaming more inclusive. Seriously, I want to hug you. Thank you—thank you. What you do is not just for you. What you do is also for Sally, and for other little girls like her.