Girls at Arcade

Things I don’t shut up about: when did it become odd for women to play videogames?

My life doesn’t function without videogames nearby.

When I was born, the house already had an Atari 2600. I once tried to feed it purple Kool-Aid. Turns out that was proof that when you’re at the age where people don’t actually describe your age in years but months? You’re actually who warning labels were made for.

Later on in my young life, my parents purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System. It wasn’t for me but for my sister. It was also technically a family machine because my dad also played some videogames on it. Eventually I came of age to play videogames on my own and that started with Super Mario Bros. Eventually the Legend of Zelda came out, which angered my sister and father because whenever I tried to play I would end up deleting their saves.

When I was smart enough to play without deleting the saves, I still was too young to know how to read. I would always ask my mom or dad what the old men were saying. Eventually my mom told me she was tired of having her life stopped all of the time to tell me what the text was saying and offered to help me learn how to read. I eventually did with the “See Jane Run” books. The first message I had to read afterwards? “Dodongo Dislike Smoke.” Almost gave up reading right then and there.

My mom didn’t play the NES much. I remember her trying out Paperboy and Tetris and we also once bought Taboo: The Sixth Sense because the idea of the Nintendo becoming a Tarot card reader was just too enticing. But whenever we found a pinball machine, my mom would sheepishly mention liking them and once we gave her a quarter or two and went elsewhere, we’d come to find her with a high score and a free play. Hopefully some reading this aren’t too young to know what a pinball machine is.

When I became old enough to goto the arcade armed with my allowance, it was first an arcade in Chatham, Ontario, Canada called the Eight Ball. A little later it was the Wild Zone. There was also a small arcade in the mall but I don’t recall the name of it. All three of these places had a regular rotation of machines. The Eight Ball I played the most in and from memory, it was mostly boys (because it was also a dingy bar and I wouldn’t have trusted my daughter there). The Wild Zone was attached to an indoor amusement park of the low income variety and that was an unquestionable mix of gender. Girls and boys all played arcade games and nobody was shocked to see girls in the early 90s playing Street Fighter II or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It wasn’t rare to see four girls all playing the Turtles in Time machine. I had an older friend by about five or six years and when we went to the arcade he was looking for girls to flirt with while I just wanted to play X-Men Arcade or Terminator II. It was a place for a guy to pick up girls and vice versa. It was a hang-out for anyone.

My dad played Final Fantasy for the NES so when it came time for me to have my Nintendo, it was the Super Nintendo. The second game I had after Super Mario World was Final Fantasy II. That was my Final Fantasy. One time I got stuck finding the Crystal Sword. My paper boy played videogames and we “talked shop” about it a lot and he told me to go over to his house because his mom knew where to find it. His mom loaded up her copy of Final Fantasy II, where she was pretty much max level and showed me where the invisible bridge was. This was around 1992 I believe. I believe she was in her 40s.

Point being, none of this is weird. But it might sound weird to you.

Today, there’s this weird divide whenever I see conversations about men and women and videogames. This attitude where girls like inferior games on Facebook or dog simulators on the DS while guys prefer the intellectual masterpieces of the AAA market and can properly enjoy a “real” videogame. That’s a bit of hyperbole but not far from the mark of the people screaming WITCH at Anita Sarkeesian or calling someone a bitch in an online game. I’ve seen friends of mine on Facebook post how they don’t believe cute girls who like the games they do exist and when one of my female friends posts their PC rigs and talks about the games they play, they suddenly act like they just met a coelacanth not only surviving extinction but well versed in English. There’s this bizarre backlash against anyone asking for women in gaming to be more than just damsel’s or sexual objects and it’s all treated like this brand new terrible thing. Political Correctness ruined game creativity or some shit.

I don’t know where this started. I have my theories but none of them I’ve really seen anyone do research on. It’s really just me trying to make a timeline of my own life. While I stuck to Nintendo systems like it was the sports team I cheered for (even purchasing a Virtual Boy. Wario World is a good game), a lot of friends, especially the ones who loved RPGs, they went with a PlayStation. At the same time, mature gaming was really starting to bud on the PC after Doom. Tomb Raider soon came out and was this weird time where women were supposed to appreciate an asskicking heroine while ignoring her ridiculous polygon boobs. For me, I had a Nintendo 64 and while I could only find guys to play me in WCW vs. nWo Revenge, I knew lots of girls in grade school who also had N64’s and played Mario Kart 64 and Banjo Kazooie. In the late 90s, I was getting connected to the Internet and talking to girls in my city and all over on ICQ. Talking about videogames wasn’t weird yet.

It feels like around the time of the X-Box and Halo was also around the time people started playing more games online, especially first person shooters. Halo was more a college thing where people got together and played eight player matches but these were usually guy affairs. And soon came Call of Duty, which while I know a girl who murders swaths of soldiers online in Call of Duty whenever she’s bored, it’s still something that really feels drenched in sort of the guise of “masculine first” appeal. A lot like how the majority of sports nerds that obsess over statistics and try to become amateur mathematicians discussing CORSI and Moneyball tend to be men. It isn’t because women do not like these things but it’s a bit intimidating for something that really feels dominated by insecure, socially inept men.

Again, I’m just trying to figure out when it started. The online game seems to be the biting point for me, since unlike the arcade, you get to wear that mask of anonymity. Hearing a woman’s voice when you’re already an immature douchebag seems to set off alarms about space and territory. In the arcade, you saw the women. You saw them enter their quarters and play the games. But online? When you’re already playing something about a bunch of men going to war and killing other men, women getting involved feels foreign. At least I’m guessing that’s the feeling. Whether it be girls I’ve been friends with, girls I used to be intimate with, my sister, my mother or the mother of the paper boy, they were all fine playing videogames. Violent games even. There was nothing weird about it. But there is now. And I feel ill-equipped when talking to a guy blathering about how feminists are hurting videogames and how women don’t play real games. It’s like a guy telling me that women don’t really know how to walk. Or women really don’t know what colours are. It’s bullshit because I’ve grown up around it. Why haven’t others?

I don’t know. But it’s something I don’t shut up about. And I wish I understood.

photo credit: Darin House via photopin cc

Contact me on Twitter @AaronWrotkowski or send me an email Have a good one.

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