Diversity & Advancement in Gaming Culture

Like quite a lot of people my age, I grew up gaming. My start was perhaps not as early as others, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my dear, old, OG PlayStation and Spyro the Dragon. Even before that though, I played games. My mom bought me plenty of educational video games that, quite frankly, are probably what helped me excel in school. After all, I’ve always hated studying for the sake of studying, but dress it up as something engaging and fun? I’ll learn whatever you want me to learn! So for me? I’ve always seen gaming as something more than a mindless waste of brain cells. Video games helped me learn math and reading, and they fostered creativity, so even as a kid, I was defending the merits of this particular medium until I was blue in the face.

All of that is to say that I, like many others, am so thrilled to finally be seeing gaming taken as something more than a joke or a gross, concerning hobby only pimply (male) nerds who had no friends could participate in. Screw that! I’m a girl, and I like cooking and pink and flowers and frilly dresses; I have amazing friends, some of whom I’d have never even known if not for shared, nerdy interests; and you know what else I am on top of all of that? I’m a gamer!

We’re finally seeing the day that society is accepting that people can be both a functional, productive member of society as well as enjoy video games. Gaming is finally starting to be taken as a true art and form of expression, up there with movies and books. Gaming is pushing boundaries between entertainment and education and scientific breakthroughs that other things can barely touch. These are things that are finally possible in today’s landscape, but as an adult, I recognize why these were perhaps things that weren’t thought to be possible when I was a child.

Ten to fifteen years ago, when I was still a young teen, there was a pretty good reason why the gamer identity was something of a joke. I mean come on, look at what dominated the spectrum – Grand Theft Auto, Halo, God of War, Dead or Alive. Not to say I didn’t play some of these, not to say they’re all awful games, or that they aren’t fun or good games. I’m just saying that these are the stereotypical male fantasy. As a girl, there was very little I could ever see of myself in video games. The whole reason I love the Dead or Alive franchise hinges on the very aspect that I could play as a pretty, feminine girl who could simultaneously kick some serious ass! Sure, that game is a whole other spectrum of problematic, but back then, I didn’t recognize the sexism behind it. I was a teen girl who was just happy to have another game to add to the handful of others that I could play as a girl versus the veritable sea of games in which I could play as a man.

I have no issue with stories that feature a male protagonist. I love many games that do. However, despite my intellectual interest in gaming, when I come home at the end of the day and want to pop in a game and relax, some days I’d like to see myself in them. Most gaming is about living a fantasy, and as previously stated, I’m a bit of a girly girl. My fantasy isn’t being some muscle-bound guy who gets all the girls. I’d much prefer being a kick ass lady (getting all the girls and/or boys is totally optional). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to derive the most enjoyment out of your media.

Things are finally changing. Now, if I log into Steam or PSN or Amazon (the three places majority of my games come from these days), there are more games than I could probably ever find the time to play that offer me the option to play as a female protagonist. Diversity and representation are finally happening, and sure, it may seem slow moving in many cases, but if you think about it in comparison to the age of the industry as a whole, this progress is fairly monumental.

This sort of progress is also a huge part of what is so instrumental in gaming becoming and remaining relevant. I truly believe that had video games stayed the course in pandering exclusively to male fantasy, there would have been very little of the growth we have seen as an industry. It is through exploring all different life experiences, no matter race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ect., that gaming has grown to be considered a legitimate art form. These are the things that the gaming community needs to embrace because without that forward momentum? Without that relevance? We gamers would have remained a joke that society at large considered worthy of pity and in need of fixing. Instead, gaming has become a hugely varied medium, blurring lines between art and entertainment and education. Gaming has become mainstream, and while I know there are those that would argue that’s a bad thing, I would love for them to give me a definitive answer of why. When things are not accepted by the mainstream, they ultimately go away. And just because someone who plays Crandy Crush on their phone may consider themselves a gamer, I fail to see how that invalidates anyone else’s identity as one. I’ve been playing video games for somewhere close to twenty years now, and I’m actually thrilled I get to share my excitement about something I’ve always loved with friends who would have found Final Fantasy VII or Tekken completely inaccessible.

None of this is to say that there isn’t a lot to be concerned about in gaming these days. There pretty much always has been. Are video games promoting violence; are they promoting sexism; are they promoting laziness or addiction or the “gay agenda”? No matter what side you take in any issue these days, there’s an argument that can be made for why gaming is evil. And while sure, with things like Gamer Gate happening, along with the myriad of other socio-political issues that have always been present in gaming, there is probably, or even definitely, a case to be made for some of those. However, I look around at the environment of gaming today compared to even just ten years ago, and I think it’s so amazing how things have changed! I’m excited to see how far gaming culture has come, and how it is turning into such a relevant medium. Sure, I come across disheartening articles on Flipboard every day, but most days I feel like I find so many more that just blow my mind with how awesome they are. I’m constantly bragging to friends about one thing or another, whether it’s the controllers Sony created for a man with cerebral palsy or the studies showing that gaming can actually help get kids ahead and be more well-adjusted. We’ve come so far from the stigma of the pimple-faced nerd boy who lives in his parents’ basement, doesn’t bathe, and can’t talk to girls, and that is something for which we should be immensely proud!

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