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Game Like a Girl

Much to Nick’s shock, I will not be writing about nail polish or cosplay.  Additionally, much to Tom’s shock, I will not be writing about my cats.  Those are other blog posts for other days.

I do, however, want to write about what I want to see in the gaming industry.  I feel that I have a fairly unique perspective.  I play video and tabletop games, and (now this is shocking) I happen to be female and a girly girl.  I am not at all saying that I represent all women and girls who game or who work in the gaming industry; rather, my point here is that I am representative of a portion of female gamers.  I am not the only or the strongest voice for them, but, since I am sitting at a keyboard, I will articulate my opinion to all of you lovely readers.

This year at Gencon, I went to see a “Women in the Gaming Industry” panel.  This panel featured the fabulous Lillian Cohen-Moore, Jennifer Shahade, Elisa Teague, and Nicole Lindroos.  I encourage you all to Google each of these ladies and see what contributions they’ve made to the gaming industry, but I will tell you about Nicole Lindroos.  She worked for Green Ronin Publishing and helped make a super cool game called Mutants & Masterminds.  As a hardcore superhero addict and M&M fan, I was particularly excited to hear what she had to say at the panel.  She told the audience that she had received some flack about the blonde-haired-blue-eyed superheroine featured on the cover.  The hero in question was also wearing a pink shirt that said “Princess” in what I assume would be sparkly letters.  Some people felt that it was insulting to presume that a woman who had all of these amazing powers would still look like that. “That’s my daughter,” Lindroos told the crowd.  “She looks like that and dresses like that and I want her to be represented in games too.”  I couldn’t agree more.

There is a huge difference between oversexualizing the female form and giving representation to all body types.  Some women are busty with tiny waists and big butts.  Some women are slender and lithe.  Some women are bigger without tiny waists.  And there are a million body types in between.  Each one needs to be represented in gaming.  The problem comes when the character’s body cannot be found in nature.  To some extent, game companies employ artists, and artists will give an interpretation of the world.  That is fine.  But, when the only images of women are highly sexualized, the whole system breaks down.  Obscenely curvy characters whose only armor just barely covers their naughty bits is sexist and gross.  It furthers the message that it’s not the size of your great axe or how hard you swing it; it’s the size of your bust that matters in this game.  Additionally, it is not realistic.  Why on earth would my barbarian leave all of her vital organs exposed?  Arrows hurt.

I’ll do my best to address a tricky topic here: how does adding pink and sparkle hurt the cause?  I am an advocate of pink.  After yellow, it is my favorite color.  And I would be lying if I said I don’t choose my polyhedral dice based on the amount of sparkle and the color.  While I’m beating down a gaggle of goblins with my fireball attack, I want to simultaneously blind everyone else at the table.  My d6′s have even been dubbed “The Barbie dice.”  I’ve also been known to browse Polyvore and make sets for my characters on my obnoxiously pink phone when my character isn’t involved with what’s going on.  All this being said, it’s not surprising that having a pink, sparkly game will at least make me pause to look at it.  That alone, however, is not enough though.  The game has to be well developed and intriguing beyond the advertising.  Also, having a pink, sparkly title that has nothing to do with the game will immediately turn me off.  It makes me feel like the developers think that I’m so stupid that I’ll blindly buy anything that attracts one of my many interests.  That only works when you get a free bottle of whiskey with the game (developers, take note).

I also wish there were more fantasy games.  I’m not talking about high fantasy per se.  I mean straight up Disney, but, you know, for adults.  I would like nothing more than to be able to wear a ball gown while fighting an evil witch alongside various woodland creatures.  This is really something you can’t do in DnD or a lot of other roleplaying games without significant deviation from the setting and rules.  As cool as a herd of awakened mice would be, it puts a lot of stress on a GM who may not be as passionate about it.  I want a game that is the bastard child of Snow White and Tomb of Horrors and I want Snow to be the hero.

Many of the games out there that fit these requirements are clearly not meant for people over the age of 6.  I love that games are being made for young girls, but I am an adult.  I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree and I am planning on getting my master’s degree shortly after.  I also pay bills and vote.  I’m all about playing the occasional game that some would say I’m “too old” for (I’m looking at you, Pokemon Master Trainer), but the games I play the most tend to employ more strategy and roleplay than a lot of children’s games on the market.  There are key differences between children’s and adult’s games.  Pink and sparkly is not included on that list, however.

I very strongly feel that it is part of my duty as a female game developer to be vocal about these issues.  A lot of gaming companies, including Derailed, have taken it upon themselves to make an inclusive environment for all gamers.  The battle is not yet over though.  Nearly every game has the potential to be enjoyed by any person, but there definitely are still holes in the market.  A hole that I see is strong girly games.  I don’t think it makes me any less of a gamer if I like to make my nail polish match my dice, yet there are people who would disagree with me.  It’s upsetting that this is still an issue in 2014.  It hurts the industry and it makes it easier for people to dismiss gamers and gaming culture.  I’m not suggesting that every game be marketed toward girly girls, but it would be nice to see some that are not of my own invention put out by other companies.

Fiona L.F. Kelly (@FionaLFKelly)
Fiona L.F. Kelly is a writer, editor, and podcaster. She has published numerous articles about all things gaming and pop culture on websites all across the internet, was also a writer for Trinity Continuum: Aberrant 2e, and has been published in books and magazines. She is an editor for the pop culture and media website GeekGals.co. In addition to her writing and editing, she has also been a guest and host on several podcasts. She hosts the Project Derailed podcast Big Streaming Pile, produces and performs on Fables Around the Table, and plays the githyanki pirate Rav’nys on Tales of the Voidfarer. Buy her a coffee: ko-fi.com/fionalfkelly

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