Releasing the inner man-child

If you have got here because of this image, whoops.

If you have found this article because of this image… whoops.

A long time ago I wrote an article about women in games. It was a reaction to the slew of ‘how do we get more women in games’ articles that had emerged at the time, most of which were condescending travels through rote arguments like make games colourful, make them cute, make them about gardening or similar constructive themed pursuits (ladies like to build not destroy), etc.

I was sick of these fluff pieces that seemed to be less about how to engage with a new audience and more like one of those ‘top ten how to get your girlfriend into games’ pieces that used to crop up.

My original piece was not well-intentioned; it was railing against my perceived manipulation of an untapped market and the attempts of a bunch of cynical gamers to say ‘come join our tree house; we made it pretty for you… but pictures or GTFO’.

The problem is that my rant, when read in a certain way, just comes off as another variant on the same theme. I might have been arguing that these attempts to engage female gamers all sounded like bullshit, that it was just big companies trying to exploit another market, that it was gamers trying to make sure people fitted into their preconceived ideas of gender and sexuality.

My issue, now, is that the rant could be construed as ‘you’re more than welcome in the tree house, so long as you find your own way there and enter on my terms’.

This is the dichotomy we live in as self-defined gamers. (It is kind of amusing that we do this to ourselves, naming ourselves after our hobby, but unlike other subsets of nerds who identify themselves by their pass-times – LARPers, trainspotters, role players – there is nothing particularly creative about what we do, nor is there anything particularly physically active in the way we engage with it. The hard core of our kind has pretty much rejected the Wii and the Kinect. Of course the same cannot be said for our presence on the world wide web, where we are more active and creative then you can possibly imagine.)

I want to blame other elements of popular culture for this tree house attitude. For example, as far back as we can see music has always romanticised unrequited love and the guy or girl standing in the wings hoping that the object of their desire will finally notice them.

For me personally there are lasting memories of seeing ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ top the charts while the film it was promoting, Loser, floundered. In ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, the story goes that this guy who is all nerdy and into metal longs for this girl, ‘too perfect’, to notice him. By the end of the song it turns out that she is way into him for things that he likes even though he is a self-confessed ‘teenage dirtbag’.

The reason the film the song was attached to failed was because, aside from being shit, the film is actually about a male who is a fuck up – the eponymous ‘loser’ – with squandered potential who spends far too little time improving himself, or committing to compromise.  When he finally comes to terms with this and sorts his shit out, he wins the girl.

Oh Jason Biggs, you were never goood, but you tried.

Oh Jason Biggs, you were never good but you tried.

This idea does not appeal to the average nerd (the target audience for the film). We self-define as winners; every action we make leads us towards the end of a level or beat a challenge. It is understandable that something like The Breakfast Club appeals more to our ‘romantic’ nature. After all it is a film in which women – unless they are conventionally pretty – have to adapt to what the men they’re pursuing are looking for, while the boys get to keep their identities.

To try and blame these other art forms for our digressions is easy. We’ll happily point out the inequality in sports, business or the music industry. Look, we will say, that there is the root of the problem. Why should we as gamers change? That or we will point at something far worse: there are places in the world where vaginal circumcision is forced so why would you care so much about this little thing… this little thing we hold so dear and might as well be our whole world.

There are also the other apologists who look at an article like this, note that it is written by a guy and think ‘oh for fuck’s sake, not another article about this, we all know about this, move along nothing to see here’. There would be comments how boring it was and how I should be writing a GTA review or some such shit.

If I was female the reaction would be way worse.

Maybe I’d be considered a hypocrite: I posted a picture of some boobs once so now everything I write is invalid. Maybe I’m just some ‘ugly, fat slag’ or ‘whore’ trying to draw the attention of a proper man. This would serve as reason enough to all those apologists as to why I was posting such ‘lies’. It would all have been done to provoke a reaction from virtuous beings on forums and comments sections.

Because I forgot to say it before, but fuck The Breakfast Club, it is m,assive piece of shit that people hark back to without realising how terrible it is. It stifles great 80s films like 'Say Anything'.

I forgot to say it before, but fuck ‘The Breakfast Club’. It is a massive piece of shit that people hark back to without realising how terrible it is. It stifles great ’80s films like ‘Say Anything’.

Whatever the reason I would clearly need saving or correcting so that I could stop writing this nonsense. The final option, of course, would be to make sure I got punished. I’d be taught a lesson for my own good; I might not appreciate it straight away but I would understand eventually.

The idea is that it is not the readers as the protagonist of ‘Loser’ who needs to realise their shortcomings, it is the writer as the girl in ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ that has to fit in with those shortcomings. 

I go into this being all kinds of heavy handed but I do think that it is wrong to think that gaming isn’t fragile. To many gamers, unless a game scores at least a 7 out of 10 then it is clearly no good. In other mediums that might mean you were close to perfect; in gaming that means you are at best okay.

Just look at what happens when someone scores a game 9 out of 10 and then points out a failing. To the eyes of Gamespot readers this reviewer should be fired for not understanding that gamers strive to be better than everyone else.

A person – oh who am I kidding – a woman broadcasts her dissatisfaction with how run of the mill portrayals of women are in games. The response? Teach her a lesson.

Fuck, look at games developers. We expect them to change to fit in with our perceptions of perfection, but if they change too far in a way that doesn’t fit in with what we had in mind then they need to be boycotted. It doesn’t make business sense to put a woman as a major character in GTA; that won’t sell because, well, fuck you. On the flipside, don’t localise my favourite Japanese RPG because it doesn’t make financial sense to do so? Fuck you too.

No one really wins.

You figure it out

Sometimes it is hard not to feel like we’re looking at a group of children making products for another bunch of children to sell the very same children, and I’m one of them.

Looking back on my rant from yesteryear, in which I ask the question ‘why do we need more women in games?’, the answer is still ‘we don’t’ but only from the perspective of that article. We don’t need more women here to justify our hobby (we already spend enough hours doing that ourselves) and we don’t need them to make games financially viable (Halo and Call of Duty put that to rest).

What that original article failed to understand is that this is not about being right, not about upholding some standard and isn’t about winning – although modern, mainstream gaming might tell you otherwise. Gaming should be about learning. It might be that what you’re learning is an attack pattern in a bullet hell shooter, a puzzle in an adventure game, or maybe it is a little more meta than that.

The learning can be that sometimes we are wrong, but that we can change and, although we should never resign ourselves to second best, we can embrace the challenges that face us rather than destroying them with hellfire and brimstone and a predator drone loaded with rape threats.

I know that today I am better than the article I wrote all those years ago, and I hope others are too. The problem is that more people want to be Judd Nelson than Jason Biggs.