(or, Why Aisha Tyler May Be My Newest Hero)
I admit, I wasn’t always a gamer. As a very young child with an all-pink bedroom and more stuffed unicorns than any sane person could imagine, I was told by society that video games were for boys. Yet whenever I was visiting friends or cousins and the boys broke away to play their games, I always wanted to watch, even if it meant bailing on the dress-up sessions and playing house, earning me the momentary scorn of my female companions. But I was a girl; the boys usually wouldn’t let me play, and no one got game systems for me for Christmases and birthdays. Luckily, my sister went through a full-on tomboy stage during the SNES era, and through her constant begging, pleading, and demanding, we finally ended up with a system of our own. That was when the obsession took hold in earnest.
I loved to play video games, and I was very good at many of them. Unfortunately, I had almost no friends who played at the time and my sister’s interest wasn’t as ravenous as my own, so I had very little guidance in finding and playing the gems of that era. It wasn’t until high school, when my circles of friends expanded and I started doing more research on my own, that I really became game savvy. Though it affected how “current” my gaming experiences were by starting a trend of going back to play old games I’d missed at the time of their release, I was never entirely out of the loop. By my senior year, I was even employed at a video game retailer, surrounded by games and news and experienced players and soaking up all the delicious video game exposure I could.
For the most part, my being female elicited positive or neutral reactions from people who learned I was a gamer. My guy friends thought it was cool, some of my female friends were able to share their own closeted love of video games, and guys who saw me working at the game store would react with anything from indifference to ecstatic surprise. There were a few detractors here and there, as I mentioned in my last article, but for the most part I felt like my supposedly rare identity as a girl gamer was considered a good thing. Rather than being ostracized by other girls for liking non-girly things, as I moved from high school through college, I found myself surrounded by people who embraced my geekdom and thought positively about me because of it. It felt wonderful.
Of course, there have always been people who rag on geeks in general; male or female, gamer or bookworm, sci-fi geek or fantasy buff. That strange desire of human beings to tease and ostracize people with different looks, beliefs, interests, and so forth always crops up in one form or another. In the eyes of a self-defined “normal,” there’s often no difference between a gamer who plays passionately as a part of their normal life and a hikikomori who locks themselves away with their games, replacing all normal social interaction with their fantasy worlds. Gamers have to fight hard against the stigma that society has built up against them even as games have become more and more mainstream.
That is something I can accept, even if it is senseless and degrading. The thing I have a harder time accepting is something I’ve only noticed in the last several years: the “hardcore” geeks and gamers turning against the rest. I was guilty of this myself once, harboring resentment toward “casual” gamers for causing the proliferation of simple, gimmick-based games while grander projects and RPG opuses seemed to be languishing. However, I soon learned that my reasons for disliking them were foolish. A casual gamer could easily be introduced in stronger titles over time. Little browser games and mobile apps can be like gateway drugs to more serious games, assuming we take all the negative connotations of that analogy and completely disregard them for the sake of me making a positive point. As such, since I love games and want to share that love, there should be no reason why I would want to discourage or detest the playing of casual games just because they’re not to my taste. If it shows someone, particularly someone who thinks negatively of video games in general, that games can be fun, where’s the harm in that? Besides, with the money that some casual games make, their developers can afford to take on bigger projects and produce new, exciting, and more in-depth gaming experiences rather than Farmville and Bejeweled clones.
Unfortunately, some people aren’t learning similar lessons. As geekdom and gaming have become more mainstream, there has been a lot of pushback from people who “were gamers before it was cool” or some such nonsense. I see a constant struggle to establish “nerd cred” that not only alienates people with new-found or casual interest, but also reflects even more negatively on the people whose nerd cred is established, given the persisting stigma. A strange cycle emerged where game publishers and similar organizations hire beautiful women to talk about and advertise their media in order to target a male audience, but in turn, real women and girls who love games, comics, and so on get labeled as fake and brushed aside. Yes, there are some few women out there who capitalize on the trendiness of geekdom, but they do it for their jobs, to make money. What reason does a girl have to claim she loves video games in her everyday existence except if she genuinely loves games? Now, I love my gamer guys, but I can say from experience that those who tout their nerd cred as a sign of their soaring superiority are likely not as great a catch as they think they are. A self-respecting girl or woman is not going to fake her interests just to get with them, and if she does, they should be respectful of the fact that she likes them so much that she wants to, heavens forbid, learn to share their interests.
It’s insulting and perplexing to me how this bias has developed. How female gamers are subjected to derision and rage by their male peers rather than being accepted and loved for what they are. It saddens me too, because even in a case where someone may not be as into or knowledgeable about something as you, there is so much potential for good times and bonding as you teach each other, good times you’ll never have if you just accuse the girl of being fake and move on to bask alone in your self-glory.
This is where Aisha Tyler comes in. If you don’t know who she is, she’s a comedian, a gamer, a feminist, and an all-around awesome lady. Last year, she was a host at E3, and for some strange reason, that earned her a lot of ridiculous hate. Her response to this hatred, however, was brilliant. This excerpt shows her point beautifully:
“I go to E3 each year because I love video games.
Because new titles still get me high.
Because I still love getting swag.
Love wearing my gamer pride on my sleeve.
People ask me what console I play.
Motherfucker, ALL of them.
I get invited to E3 because real gamers know I’m a gamer.
I don’t do it for the money.
I have plenty of money.
I don’t do it for the fame.
I do it because I love video games.
I don’t give a shit what you think about my gamerscore.
I don’t play to prove a point.
I don’t play to be the best.
I play because I love it.”
It all comes back to love, and we need more of it, both in the gaming community and the geekosphere as a whole. We label ourselves as gamers because we love games, not because we crave status (at least, that’s true for most of us). We are girl gamers, and we are here to stay, because we love games.
For one last affirmation of why Ms. Tyler is awesome, read this interview here where she discusses the post-E3 incident and sexual harassment in gaming.
Girls, keep gaming! Keep talking about games, keep trying to get jobs making games, and keep trying to make games better! I think it won’t be too long before we have brilliant female game developers standing alongside their male peers and making games so spectacular we could hardly imagine them now. And remember when some insecure hater out there tries to belittle or objectify you, you need only be true to yourself, nerd cred is meaningless, they are totally and unjustifiably in the wrong, and their judgments do not matter. Stay strong, and do what you love.