Girls and Gaming Or, Why I Choose Female Characters.

When I was young, I loved to play Spider-Man and the X-men Arcade’s Revenge on our Super Nintendo. I was spectacularly bad at it, but I loved to play it anyway. Mostly, I loved to play it because I could be Storm for a few levels of the game.  And her levels were both more difficult and more fun.

spidermangame
Spider-Man and the X-men Arcade’s Revenge Super NES game

Storm was a badass. I liked her character in the animated series that I’d seen–she was strong, beautiful, and she could control the weather. And she was a playable female character at a time when playable female characters were even scarcer than they are now. In the game, she jumped higher than the male characters, ran faster than they. This was very different from the princess-rescuing of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda, games that I enjoyed but wished had more character options.

Even now, playing games with Little Jedi, I find myself choosing female characters when I can, getting excited when they show up and are awesome. I’ve been glad to see that in the popular Skylanders franchise there are some really cool girl characters, and all of the Lego games we’ve played so far (the Batman games, Lego Movie game, Marvel game, and Harry Potter games) have had a variety of girl characters to choose from.

Last week, Little Jedi was playing video games with a friend’s children. My friend’s daughter was far more interested in joining the game when she realized there were girl characters who weren’t Princess Peach and didn’t need to be rescued. And I was reminded, of course, of myself, of my own experiences playing video games at her age.

I wasn’t very good at video games, but I did like them. They were like interactive books, each with their own story and illustrations, even when the story was a rather thin one. But not being very good at them was also frustrating, so I’d play for only short amounts of time, and I didn’t often play around other people—I was embarrassed by how bad I was. When I played the Super NES, it was my brother’s console at home, and I was generally alone. I’d been poked fun at before, and I wasn’t eager to be poked fun at again, so I just watched others play when I was at a friend’s house That was fun, too—like watching a book being interacted with.

I convinced my parents to spring for a Nintendo-64 a year or so after it was released, but I hated the new style of controllers, and I wanted to spend my extra cash on clothes and books instead of video games. I lost interest in the N-64 fairly quickly, and I didn’t play many more video games until I was in college. By that time, video games had changed quite a lot, of course. I still noticed, though, that I rarely got to choose a female character to play the story-line. Women were faces in the crowd, or they were prizes to be one, or they were princesses to be rescued—or they weren’t there at all, sometimes. There were a few notable exceptions (like playing Fable and being able to customize so very much of the character or the uber-popular Tomb Raider games), but they were few.

contrast
Contrast, one of my new game purchases

And so I didn’t really play again until Little Jedi was old enough to want to play video games. His grandparents gifted him a console 2 Christmases ago. Naturally, the kiddo didn’t want to play alone—and he had difficulties reading instructions—so I sat down and played video games, too. We still play together, and just a few weeks ago, we bought a 3rd controller so we can play together as a family. I find myself enjoying them more now, even if Little Jedi is already better at them. I even have a few games of my own, quirky games with beautiful art and odd story-lines.

And I choose the girl characters. I choose Hermione and She Hulk and Harley Quinn and Wyldstyle. I choose them because they’re more like me, and part of the fun of interactive fiction is in imagining myself as the character, really experiencing the story. It’s a fairly simple concept–representation matters. It matters on a personal level, and it matters on a cultural level. Our girls, and our boys, need to see varying representations. And they need to be able to interact with them.

Advertisements

40 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. I’m not a gamer and I have played only a little in my lifetime (well, so far), but I can relate. I love female characters, too, especially if there is woman power involved 🙂

    By the way, thanks for the FOLLOW. I’ve just read the description of this blog at left and have decided I am interested and am going to FOLLOW back 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since I was young I tended to choose female characters when given the option. Maybe this is just because being able to float across levels as the Princess in Super Mario Bros. 2 made the game easier, but even in more modern games that offer character creation I choose to play as a female character.

    It could be because most games feature males as the default, so it’s nice to have a female character taking on a more active role.

    One thing I dislike is when strong female characters are made to be more sexual, something that happens frequently in fighting games. This is something I actually went into depth discussing on my own blog. Design decisions like that ruin the game for players of all genders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I loved the option of floating with Peach! It was like she got to do something that Mario had to have a special outfit to do, and that was cool.

      I agree about the sexualization of female character designs, especially in fighting games. I think that’s a real issue that could use more discussion.

      Like

        1. Cool, I hope you will! We’ve just shut down for a few weeks, but we’ll be back up and running soon. Meantime, there are feminist posts here quite often. 🙂

          Like

        2. I’m not quite sure how, but I wrote and tagged my most recent post “Feminist Friday” in hopes people with similar interests may find it.

          To be honest I’m a bit inexperience as socializing through blogging, but I’m trying. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        3. How long have you been blogging? It can definitely give you a fish out of water feel for a while. 🙂

          Feminist Friday tag is actually how I found you, so it worked!!

          Like

        4. On my personal blog, only about a month or so.

          I have another blog that I’ve been running for two years, but it’s not very fulfilling. At this point I mostly do it for the little bit of ad revenue it generates.

          It’s a lot more gratifying to be expressive on a variety of topics and engage people with different interest, thoughts, and ideas. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I agree! My brother and I started our blogs right around the same time as part of a collaborative project, and I’m not sure I’d have kept going if we didn’t have that.

          Like

  3. I’ve never spent a lot of time analyzing why I don’t love video games (other than being quite bad at them) but I think this is some of the reason. Good post! I’m not sure if we’ll ever enter a time where there are too many strong female characters in fiction or story games, so we can always use more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I think we can always use more strong female characters, but I am also open to different interpretations of the word, not just women who can break your neck with their thighs. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This post resonates so much with me! I remember when I played the first Torchlight, I went for the class that was a female character. It turned out I actually loved the class, but it wasn’t what motivated my choice. I tend to mostly play RPG games and I always enjoy being able to create female characters. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. STORM! She was my absolute favorite female character on X-Men, after Jubilee, but I think that had to do with the problematic personalities of the rest of the women (less Jean Grey, who I just simply never liked). I usually picked male characters in games, but I also didn’t play many games that were that flexible. Games like Final Fantasy didn’t let you pick your lead character, only designate your team, and mine was pretty 50/50. I lovED Lightning from XIII, until they made XIII-2 and everything that had made her a great lead was stripped away to give her bigger boobs (yes, part of her “redesign” and on purpose) and a more fashionable (read: revealing) wardrobe. I was so disappointed I’ve basically sworn off FF, which is sad, since it was my favorite franchise. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I loved Jubilee!! She was definitely my favorite overall. I had a soft-spot for Rogue, too, but Jean Grey was never really on my radar.

      I didn’t get into the Final Fantasy games much, as they were popular in the time when I wasn’t playing many games.I had a lot of friends who were really into the franchise, though, and it was always such a pretty game.

      It’s so irritating when characters are “redesigned” just to make them sexier. There are already enough cheesecake characters out there—no need to transform non-cheesecakes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved Rogue, too, until she abandoned Gambit out in Antarctica, haha. Gambit-love outshined my Rogue-love, I guess. I still love her psychology, though. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I play games more now than I have probably ever before because Little Jedi likes them so much and it is something we can do together. It’s improving my hand-eye coordination, so there’s that! lol

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, Little Jedi plays ball and such with the kiddos at school, and he plays on the playground that is across the street from us. But we’re in a house without a real yard right now, and our neighbors don’t have kids, so home activities are puzzles and games and toys.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. My wife always has a laugh every time she sees the representations of women in some of the games I play. “How come this world has no women over thirty, and how come they all have tiny wastes and big boobs?” Sigh. She has a point. Women have not been well represented and it would be refreshing to see more female characters or games made with a female protagonist.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes! I am a train wreck at anything but Tetris, but my daughter is a total gamer. She’s ten and tends to pick her characters by their individual abilities, but I do see her getting a bit excited when the female characters are the ones that can do badass things in the game. Gaming is still a man’s world, I guess, but it seems like some progress is being made.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There has been progress, yes—but there are unfortunately still a lot of misogynist attitudes in the gaming world.

      My kiddo tends to choose his characters by ability too, and he kind-of gets a kick out of how I choose mostly girl characters.

      Like

  8. Totally resonates.
    My brothers got a NES (after much negotiation and a very entertaining contract with my folks), which I played sometimes but I also wasn’t terribly good at it so didn’t end up playing so much. I do like games where I get to play female characters, and know I really enjoyed Mario 3 (I think it was Mario 3… maybe?) Where I finally got to play as the Princess, not just rescue her.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve gotten to where I won’t even play a game unless I can choose a female character. I feel like that option should be a no-brainer by now when they create games. But I know, just like in books, sometimes the main character is male. Which is fine, and if the storyline itself is awesome I’ll still play it. But yes, Tomb Raider was definitely my favorite ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, those Tomb Raider games. I always wished she had on pants, because to me that just made sense for what she was doing, but it was awesome that she was the star of the show, and such a good one at that.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I must admit that I was exceptionally bad at that Spiderman, Xmen game as well, especially during some of those Spiderman sections. For me it’s less about the character I’m playing and more the decisions I’m forced to make. I like the freedom to choice the decisions that are most applicable to me, that are the choices I would make under similar circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a really difficult game—the controls were a bit wonky, as I remember.

      I agree re: the freedom of choice. I think that’s something video games have gotten much better at in recent years. My return to video gaming came because games like Fable sort of blasted open the kind of choices you could make in a game and the effects they would have. It’s fascinating.

      Like

  11. We all figure out how the world works from observation, starting at an early age. If the only people we see who are strong, brave, effective, or generally badass are also always male, then it’s harder to realize us girls can kick some ass as well. Maybe sometimes better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree. I think that it’s easy to forget how much representation creates our ideas of what we can and can’t do, of what is acceptable, especially if one is part of a group that is nearly always represented. All of this gets even more complex when talking about women of color, who are even more underrepresented.

      Like

Talk to Me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s