The Confessions of a Girl Gamer

By Jennifer Allen

“Every age has its storytelling form, and video gaming is a huge part of our culture. You can ignore or embrace video games and imbue them with the best artistic quality." ~ Andy Serkis

I still remember that summer day back in 1978 when my dad walked in the door with a large, yet somewhat slim box that he carefully slid over into my mother's hands. After opening the brown box, inside was… another box. This box, however, had a colorful shiny graphic that said, “Video Computer System by Atari". Yes my dad had slyly slipped our first gaming console into our lives, and soon the clunky Atari 2600 console was hooked up semi-permanently into our downstairs TV stand.

Fast forward to 1985. My dad is in a weekly bowling league in the evenings after work. I tag along to get out of the house (and out of my mother's hair for three hours). I have two choices while we're there. I could sit there with five men in their mid-40's as an 11 year-old girl (which wasn't as creepy then as it sounds now) or my dad could slap a $5 bill in my hand and send me off to the arcade down the hall. I think you can guess which one he opted for me to choose.

Fast forward again to the fall of 1988 and us going to the Toys R' Us the night of my birthday to buy me a Sega Master System console with three games. Most of my friends had a Nintendo console at the time, so I wanted to be different. Sadly that first Sega console ended up not selling very well, but I did play my games on it as long as I could before it finally died.

You have to remember that in the 80's and early 90's you had two options for keeping teenagers entertained outside of the house. You either played outside, or went to “The Mall". Often it was just easier for parents to drop the kids off for an afternoon with $20-$30 in their pocket for food and whatever else they planned to do. These were also simpler times when you didn't have to worry so much about kids getting kidnapped. We often went to the mall in groups anyways so the chance of that happening was generally pretty slim.

As a rule… the popular kids generally went shopping and to the movies while the non-so-popular kids went to the comic book store and the arcade. The only time those lines crossed were in the Food Court during lunchtime, and even then we'd usually sit at opposite sides of the court. The only real “neutral zone" where everybody truly mingled was in line at the Pizza Shop, and even then it wasn't always harmonious.

High school is when I started to truly embrace and accept my “nerdy" side. I went to my first Star Trek Convention at 14. I'd been collecting comic books since I was 7 (thanks Mom) but I finally walk into a full-fledged comic book store until I was 15. I also became a regular at our local mall arcade. By this point I was thoroughly more entertained watching everyone else playing rather than play the games myself. Call it cheap, if you like, but hey it worked.

A wild ride

Whether you consider yourself a gamer or not, there is no denying that video games have become a major industry all over the world over the past 60+ years. Yes, you read that right. The first video game was produced in 1958, though many consider 1972's Pong to be the first commercially successful game. What a wild ride we've been on as we've shifted from two small rectangles of light hitting a tiny slip back and forth to photorealistic adventure games with only our own imagination holding us back.

Threatened by a girl

The biggest problem that I personally face is that whole misconception that “Girls don't play video games" or if they do, they don't play them as well. A girl is only there to impress a guy or that she is simply his “arm candy" and doesn't really care about the game itself. Trust me. I've never been “arm candy" and never will be. When I was watching others play the games in the arcade as a kid, I did it so I could not simply enjoy the game from afar but also learn how the game is played. There are still those guys who feel threatened by a girl being better than them at a game, and often toss harsh comments out there. You have to develop a tough skin learn to brush the negative away.

Gaming keeps your mind focused, and it can also influence someone's interest in the STEM fields. If more girls would play video games, then they may become more involved with engineering and computer science down the road. Honestly we need to encourage more women to study fields of technology, and having them learn about games is a perfect stepping stone. I actually learned how to do computer code, graphic design, and 3D design because I wanted to work in game design. I even owned an online business for five years where I made digital products, and this was akin to logging into a game.

Games have become more appealing

You also have to realize that not all gamers are kids anymore either. Almost all of my fellow gamer friends are 35 and older, and the male/female/other gender split is just about even. While women have made a lot of strides to being more accepted in the gamer genre, I feel that some game developers still think that their core audience is 18-35 year-old heterosexual males. However, as society shifts and the overall gamer demographic changes, the games have to evolve along with them. Fortunately there has been a lot more female involvement as of late in both development and the player base. Therefore games have had to become more appealing to a wider audience. We've seen more games recently with intelligent female protagonists who are are not in a scantily clad outfit.

Let's enjoy it together

I'm not ashamed to be a woman who happens to like games. I'd rather be seen as a good player rather than “Wait, you're a girl? No way!" Honestly the term, “girl gamer" should probably fade away into obscurity and instead we simply appreciate people in the gaming world as we should anywhere else… with no judgement of color, religion, lifestyle or gender. We all just happen to enjoy one particular thing… so let's enjoy it together.

I find it amusing to this day when my dad calls and jokes, “Did I catch you on the computer?" My path to becoming a gamer was his own doing, and I think secretly he realizes it. Gaming has helped make me who I am, and I will never be ashamed of that.

Now, who has a quarter? I've got next.

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The ZANEKONPU Youtube channel which posts beautiful videos set in the Final Fantasy XIV game put up this video about being a girl gamer in Japan.

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Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer, Graphic Artist, Martial Arts Practitioner, and all around Pop Culture Geek.