I’ve been a gamer my whole life, since I snuck into my parents’ room at the age of six, determined to touch the forbidden Super Nintendo Entertainment System. My younger sister, then an infant, became my accomplice - for three hours each day, in between the time school let out and my father came home from work, she would sit next to me silently, mesmerized by the shapes, colors, and sounds racing across the screen as I played through Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Then I would meticulously wrap the controller cords the way my father had left them and exit the room. If my mother knew of my subterfuge, she never let on.
I’ve been gaming longer than I’ve been an activist (10 years) and longer than I’ve been a feminist (17 years). I’ve been playing since gaming aficionados counted graphic advancements in bits. I remember when console makers used mini-discs. This is to say: It’s been a long time.
I’m no insider, just a player. I’ve played with women and men; in arcades and at home. I’ve met game designers, voice actors, and even a few gaming journalists. Occasionally, I’ve written commentary on games, but only rarely, when game world intersected with one of my other areas of expertise. Jane McGongial’s “Reality is Broken” keynote at SXSW in 2011 felt like a tipping point - finally, games were poised to emerge as the defining medium of our time, to take their place alongside literature, film, and television.
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a world-changing TED Talk in 2009. With 8.7M views, “The Danger of a Single Story” defined a major issue in the framing of people’s lives through one aspect or one story. As Adichie warned, “All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Right now, the story of women in gaming is a single story. It only tells of victimization and harassment. The richness and vibrancy of created worlds, the shared bonding over levels and games, or even the simple, pure love of play all seem to be an afterthought, shoved aside for a dominant narrative that is defined by fear and disdain.
But games are so much more than what happens on the internet.
In the coming months, Fusion will be presenting another take on women and gaming, one where we interrogate the building blocks of games, the psychology behind play, and the power of storytelling. We will explore everything from why there isn’t (yet) a female answer to the iconic strategy board game Settlers of Catan, the racial politics of consent and tentacle porn, larger questions of art and interactivity, and perhaps the most important question of all: What do we talk about when we talk about games?