Friday Slide: How Things Have Changed For Female Gamers

Last week, I talked a little about old video game advertisements. Sony had recently orchestrated a commercial attack against the iPhone in the name of the PSP, and it struck me as a bit silly– not unlike some of the commercial wars Nintendo and Sega fought when I was young and the world was 16-bit.

Then I got to thinking about video games and nostalgia in general. Look up a YouTube video of any game that existed prior to this current generation of games. The top-rated comment is almost guaranteed to feature some sloppy weeping over the “good ol’ days of gaming” when games were programmed by people of actual skill. The music was supposedly sweeter, the graphics looked better, there was real innovation instead of “all this fps and casual crap,” and the game cartridges had high nutritional content.

I’ve been playing video games for the vast majority of my 30-year life span, so I’ve seen a few generations of consoles come and go. And though I hate to deflate the ideals of YouTube commentators, I don’t see much evidence to support the idea that games are careening down into hell. If anything, this is the richest, most diverse era that games have passed through– and if you’re a girl, it’s easy to feel like this is the first time that developers have even thought to include you.

Now, retro games are my favorite kind of game. I like to (re-)play them, and I like to write about them. But that shouldn’t have any standing on my opinion of the industry, because I know that games aren’t about me. They’re for everyone. That’s what makes me happiest about modern games: They really are for everyone.

Think back to the 16-bit era, which seems to be an overwhelming favorite with gamers mired in nostalgia. Their accolades are well-placed: The SNES and Sega Genesis had some pretty brilliant titles. But it was also a lonely time to be a gamer, especially if you were an awkward girl who was just beginning her high school career. “Hey everyone!” I said. “Let me tell you about some really awesome games I played! First there was Mega Man X, and then there was Final Fantasy III, and then there was Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Chrono Trigger– hey, is anyone listening?”

No, they weren’t. There was still something of a taboo surrounding games in the ’90s, at least where I lived. Kids who grew up with the Nintendo didn’t always graduate to the SNES. Either they outgrew video games of their own accord, or they were pressured into it by their parents. Even so, a number of boys still played games. Girls, not so much. I wasn’t exactly an outcast, but I had nobody to talk to about Bubsy (probably a mercy, thinking back).

You can imagine what a difference the Internet made to me when I found it. It’s actually a comfort to know that young girls aren’t only encouraged to get into games these days, but they also have hundreds of communities to sign into and exchange criticisms and ideas.

The relationship between girls and the games industry still needs a horse-sized dose of equality and understanding (refer to an article I wrote a couple of weeks back, What a Girl Wants From a Video Game Heroine), but at least my friends and elders don’t give me a worried look when I mention that I like video games, and then attempt to bribe me away with pounds of makeup and accessories. That’s a good start.