Makers’ space: Digital tinkering, gender roles, and the SIMS

I tend to fall into specific Youtube holes, the kind that keep me up late at night looking at the next suggested video. Usually, I’m just watching and re-watching old Tony Award performances (which, I maintain, is the best night on television). Sometimes, it’s badly translated conspiracy theories. Very rarely, it’s videos Penn & Teller’s Fool Us.

Despite the vacillation between my masochistic hatred of Penn Jillette’s unchecked libertarianism and my love of slights of hand, I found it hard to avoid noticing that 99% of the featured magicians were men. In fact, even outside of Penn & Teller’s surely shady curational choices, I have a hard time thinking of many women who perform as magicians, and can’t think of any who have, say, headlined in Vegas.

What I can think of, very easily, is the history of women acting as psychics and mediums. From the Fox Sisters to Ms Cleo to the Long Island Medium, the realm of psychic acts have predominantly fallen on the shoulders of women. While men may have gone out and performed magic in a theater, or on the street, or to whomever in the world was willing to watch, women were quietly creating a show of their own from their houses, one that was predicated on leveraging ideas of a woman’s “natural intuition” to paranormal heights.

In her book, Ready Player Two: Women Gamers and Designed Identity, author and video game theorist Shira Chess discusses “player two,” the (imaginary) woman for whom “girly” video games are designed. By looking at the design and marketing behind video games aimed at women, Chess shines a light on greater cultural expectation for gendered behavior. Though video games might seem a large leap from discussions of folks who traffic in the mystical, there’s something evergreen in Chess’s discussion of who has access to leisure time:

[I]t has been remarked on that leisure—particularly leisure at home—is a difficult thing to map, often because women have more responsibilities in the domestic spaces than men do. While many men find the home a place for relaxation and leisure separate from work, many women are unable to have the same kind of unconditional leisure that men have in these spaces. (pg. 19)

To be a magician, one must first need some amount of leisure time, as well as the ability to move and travel outside of the home with some large amount of freedom; to be a psychic, one must be seen as having higher-than-usual levels of perception, empathy, and intuition, and one could conduct the business from inside of a house (either one’s own, or the house of the client). In other words, though both magicians and psychics might be born from the same audience desire to experience something out of the ordinary, psychics/mediums could develop their practice from within the home and, as such, could be seen as a sort of paranormal housework. (Clean the laundry, tend the children, commune with spirits.)

In Ready Player Two, Chess discusses how video games marketed towards women often make the gameplay into a sort of housework model as well, either in actual game design (e.g. time management games like Diner Dash, Cooking Mama), through allowing the games to be played in small chunks that can be interspersed with other daily chores (e.g. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood or the Nintendo DS’s tagline of “Do something with your nothing”), or as a part of actual mothering (e.g. marketing campagins around the Wii encouraging mothers to use the console as a way to engage with their children. So, video games for women are designed to be a virtual housework.