Friday, November 9, 2012

Is the Answer to Gender Equality in Gaming Parenthood?

"The father of one little girl decided he'd change the gender of one of Nintendo's most iconic characters so he hacked The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. While playing the 2003 Gamecube title with his daughter Maya, Mike Hoye had been reading the game's text to her, switching the pronouns to match her gender."

This article on Kotaku reminds me strongly of the article  "Why Can't I be a boy fairy?" that came out in 2010. Which covers some of the same ground. One of the most interesting things I find as my generation (and those near mine) mature is evolution of attitudes toward media over time. I'm part of the first group of people to grow up with video games, from arcade to Nintendo to consoles.

I'm a girl who enjoys playing those games but I'm a casual player and while I know my way around a multiplayer map, I know people who are way more hard core than I am, and people to whom I am an obsessed expert. For me, there is a level of trepidation that does come from the fact that even though women play in this space, keeps me from engaging in some ways. For instance I go anonymous in public multiplayer maps because I don't feel like even bothering with a whiff of harassment, even though I still chose female avatars when they're available.

The steps being taken, like the huge ones at Microsoft, to make the gaming environment more enjoyable for people of all genders are big, big steps. But they're coming at a time when the gaming industry is reaching maturity in a new way. There are generations of kids now who have never grown up in a world without Playstations and  XBoxs, and their parents are in my generation, now examining the games they love and the environments around those games with a very different, parental skew.

I've wondered for a while about the impact that having a daughter would have for many of my friends who might be described as trolls, or acquaintances who argue with me about gender identity in media. The simple fact is when you have a little person who is looking to you and wants to participate in the things that you love and you are responsible for what messages they are getting from that content. Every pronoun carries more weight. This is not to say parenthood is the ONLY way to gain different perspectives on content, but it is sure a powerful mindset shifter.

In the past, I've remarked that my own daughter thinks it's rad that I play video games, that I can vanquish monsters and the like. But every time she comments on the scary monsters, the robot potato game or the bad ninjas that Mommy is diligently slaughtering, it's a concern for me as a parent.  I want to be able to enjoy entertainments that I've always engaged in, but I'm thinking about them differently, and I take the games that she plays even more seriously.

I'm not particularly jazzed about getting her a hand-held gaming system like many of her friends because I'm not that enthused about her playing hours of fashion designer by default because that's what games are out there that aren't about slaughtering things. At the same time, the hunting sequences in Assassin's Creed 3 have led to some very important conversations about what eating animals means (in her words, "That's so Yucky" )

Video Games are part of my kids' environment, there's no getting around it, and I want to monitor carefully what it is that she's devoting her time to, as well as making sure that what I'm playing is appropriate for her to be seeing. For instance, we won't play war games or horror games when the kids are awake, and check in with the kids regularly to talk about the games we do play when they're around to see them.

It comes as no surprise to me that folks with the means to change games that they love in order to better engage their kids are doing so. While it might take parenthood to make many folks realize that the plethora of male-specific gender options are limiting I welcome the innovations that may come from it. It's exciting to see these new trends in the way gaming is evolving and while there will always be pockets of people who object to it, just as we find disagreements about gender and tolerance everywhere in human life... new perspectives, like those that parenthood brings, help us all make better art in the end.

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