Two Dots & "REAL GAMEs"
I've always loved fantasy. In middle school, I worked my way through Dragonlance, Dealing with Dragons, and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. (There was a definite uniting trend to all of these. See if you can guess what it was.) I gobbled up books by Philip Pullman and Garth Nix and Tamora Pierce. I wrote my own fantasy series, and handed it in to my poor fourth-grade teacher to read. I think she gave me a gold star sticker, which I assumed meant that she wanted to read more. So sorry, Mrs. Brock.
So, when my brother started playing World of Warcraft when I was in high school, I thought it would be a natural continuation, an exploration further into the wilds of one of my preferred genres, And it was! Right up until the moment that I left the land of computer-controlled non-playable characters ("NPCs") and had to interact with other players.
It was just a different side of the same internet-world I encountered during my foray onto music fan forums: when I signed up for the Dandy Warhols board, I made the requisite introductory post, and was immediately greeted by a "Tits or GTFO" reply. Since my screen name was "BlueCanary," I posted a picture of a blue bird, with a big red arrow pointing to the bird's chest. Then I never logged in again.
Anyway, it quickly became apparent that interactions in World of Warcraft were going to be exactly the same. My brother played for years, but I stuck with Age of Empires and The Sims.
It wasn't until years later, when I bought Skyrim on a whim. I remember my feeling of--there's no other word for it--utter relief when I realized it was just me and a whole beautiful world of NPCs. Peace and quiet. And dragons.
It's the same relief I feel when I play Two Dots. "Quiet," I think. "Mine."
Video games are assumed to be a "boy thing," and when women question some of the internalized misogyny of video game culture, the response is often swift and one-note: you're ruining the fun. The "cool girl" is the one who can roll with the punches, who likes first-person shooters and doesn't get offended when her gender is the butt of a joke.
A "cool girl" understands that "tits or GTFO" comments are gatekeeping devices, and can laugh them off and ignore them, and is made cooler by that fact.
I want to make something clear: I don't for a moment think of these "cool girl" gamers as sell-outs. If you a a woman who loves gaming, often times you have to decide how you are going to react: are you going to roll with the punches and, therefore, be admitted into the circle of "real gamers," or are you going to not be a part of that group at all?
And I know what I am: I am not a cool girl. I am angry and easily offended. I will yell. I will cry. I actively resent having to jump extra hurdles because of my gender (something that I have no control over but is a fact of my being).
I'll just log off an never log in again.
And then I'll open up Two Dots, put on some headphones, ignore the world, and play until I run out of lives.
According to a very brief and utterly unscientific scan of the internet, in a 2015 Pew study, 48% of women in the United States reported having played a video game, but only 6% identified themselves as "gamers" (compared to 15% of men).
Further, according to a 2017 survey put out by Quantic Foundry, the game genres preferred more by woman than men were two: Match-3 games (like Candy Crush) and family/farming simulators (like FarmVille).
And why wouldn't women be more drawn to these genres? Most of these games have very low barriers to entry. Many are solitary games. Many are mobile games, meaning that you don't have to buy a nice computer or an expensive console. You can play it on public transit or at home. You don't have to buy any special controllers or equipment. There is no insider lingo to learn or gatekeepers to appease.
Further, many Match-3 or farm/family simulators are not considered "real games." These games are seen as skill-less, a fact I would very much refute, as they often require pattern-memorization, time-management, or other similar skill development.
If my hypotheses are correct, then there's a whole population of people playing video games out there (many of them women) who don't even know it. And I think that's a crying shame. I want to know what these people think about video games. I want to know what they're interested in playing. I want to know what sorts of games they would make. I want to know what they're excited about, and I want to talk to them about it.
But first they need to be properly identified as what they are: gamers.
I was talking to my partner about this, about how I feel like the fun-ruiner/party-pooper/SJW that video game culture seems to think I am, and he brought up board games. He said something along the lines of:
"When you go to someone's house to play a board game, you don't have to worry about being 'cool' to play the board game. The rules are there to structure your interactions. Imagine how tough it would be to also have to jump through hoops to show how cool and down you were to play."
And that's the heart of this for me: I love video games. I think video games showcase some of the most interesting story-telling out there. I think video games are able to explore ideas in ways that other forms of media simply can't do.
This is a long-winded way of saying that I've been thinking a lot about how being a woman has informed what games I play. Let's face it: the whole reason this blog exists is because I don't take much of a shining to "cool" games, with their explosions and/or jump scares and/or high-tension situations and/or online competition. (No Halo. No Bioshock. No Counter Strike.) I gravitate towards things that are solitary and/or quieter and/or "story-driven." In short, I am drawn towards stereotypically "girl-friendly" games.
Or, rather, the games I play aren't necessarily geared towards female audiences, but that they are more friendly towards women.
Or, rather, to continue the analogy I started above: I play games that invite me to sit at the table and play by the same rules as everyone else who might sit at that table, regardless of our gender, race, sexuality, or any other characteristic that is just who we are.
When I'm in line at the store, or when I'm on public transit, or when I'm on the toilet, I take out my phone and open Two Dots. I put on a podcast and connect the dots. I sit outside and I find the patterns.
I think about all the other women who are doing the same thing as I'm doing right at that moment. I think about the vast little world that we're exploring, and I think about how it's a little world that is no one else's but our own.
We don't get that too often. We think about what we're putting on before we go out into the world. We pretend to ignore comments that our shouted our way. We make ourselves polite and understanding at work. We take care, of ourselves sometimes but always of others.
We've alone, together.