Pink Games Matter

I was like, 'I want us to stop using that term. I'm not a 'girl gamer.' I'm just a gamer.' The reasons I love gaming are the same reasons everyone loves gaming. Aisha TylerRead more at_
I got a Gameboy as a kid because I spent a lot of time inside. It was too hot during the Summer months to leave a little asthmatic like me out in the oppressive heat of the Texas Summer months. So out of school and with little activities, I was given my first handheld in 1998 with a copy of Pokemon Red. I had a magenta one, of course. And I have lots of memories from my first Gameboy Color. I remember Pokemon and Tarzan. I remember Donkey Kong Country and getting more Pokemon Games but the game I remember most is Barbie Ocean Discovery. For those of you who don’t know, Barbie Ocean Discovery is a game made for girls that features around Barbie exploring the ocean. You get to swim around, collect items, talk to fish, search for treasure and solve puzzles. This game absolutely is a Pink Game. Pink Games are games marketed towards young girls because apparently, gendered items are very real. Pink Games usually had pink art and pink game cartridges hence the title. Because if it’s girly: it’s pink.


So while I’m here to cop to some of the inherent misogyny that comes with Pink Games and game marketing, I want to sing some of the praises of Pink Games and Pink Gaming.


Pink Games get a really bad reputation for being deeply rooted in some ideas that the patriarchy has about what is important to girls: fashion, pets, cooking and the like. Pink Games assume that girls don’t want to be the very best or be world champion in a fighting tournament. Girls want to ride horses and swim with dolphins and be fashion designers. Sure, some girls do but this biological woman wanted to be both. I was always a weirdly gender queer kid, I suppose it makes sense. I always liked both. I liked sports and dance. I liked stuffed animals but with an edge (note, I recently found my much beloved Stuffed Velociraptor from my childhood).


So while I played a ton of Pokemon as a kid, as a teen, the games I remember the most is Cooking Mama. Cooking Mama is a very Japanese Pink Game where you play as Mama who is a dutiful housewife who cooks and cleans and has an entire game empire with cooking, crafting and running cake shops. You want camping or science? That’s up to Papa and he’s the one that controls the outdoor stuff or the science. Because remember: girls don’t like science. Girls like stringing fake beads.
And some of the earliest experiences I have with online gaming aren’t Runescape or Gaia, it’s dressing up Barbie online and playing Neopets. These little Flash games were intensely important to my early gaming career and that continued on despite the changes in handhelds and how much I cared about trading card games.
But as a stressed out college student, Cooking Mama was a welcomed distraction from my coursework and busy anime club. I took pleasure in being able to slice fake onions and blow into my DS mic despite being asthmatic. And while during college I played the hell out of Pokemon Platinum I used Cooking Mama to unwind. A lot of the recipes in the game I made for my friends and kouhai and it was comforting to have someone encourage me when I did well or scold me when I failed miserably and brought dishonor to the household.


If you open up the dictionary to “casual gamer” there’s an unflattering photo of me in it. Sure, I play a lot of games now: still mostly Pokemon but with the recent PS4 purchase I’ve gotten back into fighting games and into Persona 5 (a noted departure for me). But I wouldn’t be where I am now without the importance of some Pink Games. Ocean Discovery was one but it opened me up to realizing that I didn’t have to sacrifice being a “girl” and liking video games. Even now I struggle with being a “girl gamer” not just because I even struggle with gendering myself at times. I am a human person who plays video games and gendering items to me is silly. Some of the most talented people playing Overwatch that I know are biologically female and there are male friends of mine that enjoy Dance Dance Revolution more than I do (which is a lot).


Pink Games are often maligned for being too easy and pushing gender roles and yes, many of them do that. Super Princess Peach uses Peach’s emotions as weapons and is intensely dumbed down in places in comparison to some of the earlier Super Mario games and let’s pause for a moment of the metaphorical importance of one of the few female characters in the Mario franchise using her emotions as weapons to defeat enemies. But despite the thinly veiled misogyny, it’s a super fun game. I love me a good platformer and Super Princess Peach is a fun platformer.


It’s easy to shame NintenDogs and older pink games like Barbie Ocean Discovery but for a generation of girls, it was a great way to break into a world that to them seemed alien. Games just weren’t for girls. It just wasn’t lady like and I hope that most were like me and grew up with the sense or had the family and friends to later ignore labels and do what they wanted. I was lucky, I quickly found what I liked and stopped caring about being judged. I took pleasure in being the best Soul Calibur player that my friends knew and being an excellent shot in Halo. I had to. It wasn’t enough to be biologically a girl and to just be good at a game: I had to be the best. Even now, that means being the best I can at Street Fighter (which I am now very bad at) and doing my best in Pokemon (yes, still playing that damn franchise).


I’ll never forget playing Smash Bros in Travis Park on my DS and having a man stop me to say:
“Woah. You’re playing a game? I didn’t know girls played games.”
To which I promptly responded:
“Of course girls play games. But girls play games at home because men like you still feel the need to comment on girls playing games like me.”


The idea that games are still considered to be not ladylike is a struggle. We’ve made lots of progress since I was a youngling back in the time when dinosaurs roamed but we still have progress to make.
And this is the place where I’ll let the folks in the back say:
“Well, the trends show that women don’t play games the same as men.”


Sure, there are some games that women are more likely to play: Bejewled, Candy Crush, Farmville. Those types of Mom-Bored-At-PTA-Meeting type of games are very commonly played by women but that ignores all the men playing Words with Friends online. Yes, there are genres of games almost entirely played by men but that speaks to the issue of girls “talking” about what they are playing. Have we all forgotten GamerGate and the moment when girls had to return to the shadows with our charging cables and game cases?


I have fond memories of playing girly games. I still play Cooking Mama and I still stick to girly characters in fighting games because they are fast. I still have the best dressed character in Pokemon and still run mostly with contests and happily a member of the B-Button Club. I loved my pink Gameboy color, my purple Gameboy Advance and there’s a purple sticker on my Gameboy Advance SP. And while it’s easy to say “just separate gender from gaming” this is also a person who legit cried during Pokemon X/Y when I could make a little brown character that looked like me down to the impeccable fashion sense. Denying that a person can be girly and be a serious gamer is not incompatible and that also doesn’t mean that a male or male-aligned human can love the hell out of some DesignStar.


And gender aside, there was a certain safety in in Pink Games. They were safe spaces. There wasn’t a ton of smack talking, no abuse, no one being cruel to each other except for me playing Babysitting Mama with friends and spiking the Baby Doll stuffed up with the WiiMote because it wouldn’t stop crying. Hop on any Call of Duty server and watch the abuse flow like water. Not to say that it’s unbearable and that many women don’t face such a thing with great tact or with an immense lack of tact (no shame, ladies. ). But for many women (this biologically female author included) use games to escape and my escape doesn’t need violently chirping voices in my head. I’m much happier going through an AI run in Castlevania: Judgement. The only person being cruel to me when I play Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is Mama when I press too hard on the piping bag.


I hope you all appreciated this little dive into Pink Games and gaming in general. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what sort of games you’re playing. If you ask nicely, I may even swap Friend Codes or PSN names with you.

The Case for Gatekeepers

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. (1).png

I come from a darker era for comic book fandom and really, general nerd-kind. I remember being told over and over again that I wasn’t a real fan because I was biologically female. I was told that I couldn’t be that into comics. I was clearly just doing it for attention. I was clearly just there because I only thought the covers were pretty. And psychologically, that’s really hecking damaging. It’s frustrating having to constantly prove that you are a fan of something. I was quizzed, questioned and dismissed so many times that I just came to accept it and now that we are in a halcyon era of comic book movies and nerd acceptance but maybe… just maybe gatekeeping wasn’t so bad in places.

Let’s take a minute to go over some vocabulary. Gatekeeping is a sociology and recently appropriated fan term that essentially means more “experienced” fans act as, well, gatekeepers and use their knowledge in a certain property or fandom to keep novice or newer fans out. We see this sort of phenomena in a lot in the cringe-inducing comic book guy in most television shows. Think The Simpsons or the literal entire cast of The Big Bang Theory or literally any other popular thing. They all have the same comic book dude who can’t hold a conversation about anything real but will be mad at you if you don’t know exactly what shade of pantone pink the Star Sapphire uniforms are. The normal avatar for this sort of person is usually a white, cis, hetero male and because of that, the view of any other fan that is of color, queer, or female (or a combination of any of those things) is somehow immediately less of a fan. This is also sometimes called fan-gating but that term makes me giggle so I’m just going to use gatekeeping.

The problem is that Gatekeepers think they’re doing a good thing. They think they are protecting their beloved media and often times, they are. Comic books were not always as mainstream as they are now and the knowledge so many comic book fans had (have) was not always valued and was often a source of ridicule and persecution. I was often teased for being able to recite Etrigan’s spell from memory. (I still can, don’t judge me.)

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way advocating for the gatekeeping of ye olden days. That gatekeeping meant to keep women, queer folks, POCs and others out of comic books, videos games and the like because it was a white man’s hobby. And while, no, that isn’t the view of every comic book fan or generalized nerd human it certainly was the driving force for many of them in the comic world in the 90s and early 2000s (when I was a young impressionable comic book reader). To this day, there are still men who insist that girls only read comics for cosplay and that POCs simply don’t read comic books (It’s almost like black people didn’t make their own comic book line or anything like that…).

Here is also where I’ll pause for all the folks who think that me being quizzed over the canonical order of the Robins in Batman is a valid thing to do as I try to purchase a comic book from a store. (Real thing that happened: ask Carlos.).

I’ll wait.

Glad to have you back. This chapter in Moon Knight was getting a little intense.

So after all that talk about how dehumanizing, exhausting, racist, sexist and miserable gatekeeping was and is…why would I possibly ever say that maybe it isn’t so bad?

Remember that statement I made about comic books and other geeky, nerdy things now coming into mainstream popularity? That was not a thing even 10 years ago (back when the first Avengers movie was barely a concept and we were all still angry at Joel Schumacher for ruining Batman.). And there were plenty of people (me included) who have now found themselves in a curious place. Suddenly, the things we love(d) are now very popular. And that means those folks that teased many of us (me included) now suddenly very en vogue. I’ve had old high school friends suddenly claim that it’s so cool they know a cosplayer: the same folks that 10 long years ago was a sore subject and the butt of many jokes towards me. Now the jock that used to make fun of me for liking The Green Lantern is very excited about Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Now, can people change? Sure. Am I being a little petty? Always. But I think it brings up a valid point. With the influx of new fans, the conversations can be a little strained now. Now we have plenty of folks who say they know comics based on the movies but likely couldn’t tell you much beyond that. Now, casual fans are fine and I love them but most casual fans don’t claim to be experts. It’s the folks that will step to other fans and say they know comics but only do because they’ve seen Captain America: Civil War three times. In so many other fields, I am a dirty casual. I’m a casual gamer, pretty novice with RPGs and while I used to be a strong tournament contender in a few things, I’m by no means as good at Street Fighter as I used to be.

“Stay in your lane.” is a shorthand for that kind of thing I use a lot and a few of my friends have picked it up, too. When Carlos and Ricky are talking stats in Tekken, I tend to shut up and let them. If they ask about stitches, well, it’s my time to shine then.

Another aspect of gatekeeping is one close to my heart and a topic we’ve tackled before. It’s the topic of having convictions, discussions and not being reduced to name-calling when someone doesn’t agree with your ship. During many a gatekeeper’s conversation, I’ve had to defend which Lantern Corps I was in. Which Harry Potter house I was sorted into. I had to explain why I liked a comic and had to prove my knowledge of it frequently. And sure, it was demoralizing and exhausting but it made a fan with iron-clad convictions. When I was on my dear friend Heather’s show ( seriously, listen to it and enjoy several minutes of us fangirling over each other. ) we discussed this sort of phenomena and it comes down to attachment styles. Because I had to constantly fight and prove what I loved an why I was a fan: I have now been able to form secure attachments to my fandoms. Newer fans that have not had to constantly prove themselves have formed insecure attachments often times because they are not being challenged. Because of that, any challenge is perceived as a threat on their person rather than an often times valid criticism of the piece of media they wish to defend.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I wish for the same horrible experience I had as a fan to happen to newer and casual fans. No, not at all. But there is something to be said about challenging a fan. I have this problem a lot with recent film criticism where Internet critics will bash a thing from a comic book movie even though it is likely the most authentic part of the film.

There’s something to be said about being challenged from time to time. There’s something to be said about having to defend your ship. There’s something to be said about being proven right or wrong. And there’s always room for a good, spirited conversation that doesn’t devolve into racial slurs and casually calling someone a homophobe.

In the comments: I’ll be answering questions and ranting about how amazing Damien Wayne is.

Thanks for reading!

 

621.4 Miles Later

I downloaded Pokemon Go because it was popular and I sold my soul to Pokemon many years ago with Pokemon Ruby. I added the app to my phone because I was sold on a trailer that promised me Pikachu in my apartment. The early parts of the game were…buggy. And I admit, I stopped playing for a while. But then, after being laid off, the game became a way to reconnect with friends and gave me tangible goals that helps me deal with some of the darkest moments of the depression that followed my unemployed stint.

I’ve given this game plenty of time, none of my reason money (as of now) and it’s caused conversations, arguments and rivalries both friendly and less than. I’ve taken the long way around to find a Pokemon not in my Dex yet. I’ve ducked out of places early or late to find something new and I’ll stop to take over a gym or to get more items.

So as I get my “Jogger” badge: which is claiming over 1000 km, I wanted to talk about Pokemon GO and being committed to a game.

 

Let’s go over a few basics first:

Team: MYSTIC.

Favorite Pokemon: In the current gens available for the game probably Eevee.

Most Worthwhile Catch: Girafarig probably.

Favorite Event: Halloween Ghost Event!

Favorite Starter: In the current gens available is probably Squirtle.

Pokemon That You Want the Most: I want another Lapras.

Best Egg Hatch: FUDGING LAPRAS.

 

But my feelings around the game have not been all positive. I struggle with how disconnected I feel from the rest of the world. I admit I think it’s rude when people play in front of others and I feel rude when I play in front of others. I don’t like the divisions people created by the team designations. I dislike how I’m now sort of tied to the game and hit a bit of a pay wall. I’m now an advanced enough level that getting items and things is actually sort of hard without putting money into a game I didn’t initially pay for and there is a lot of opinion in the gaming world about paying for free games.

But a year and a half on and 622-ish miles, I’m still playing Pokemon Go. Despite flaws, arguments and catcalling and turf battles: I’m still playing and still racking up steps, gym battles and eggs.

Here’s to many more gym takeovers and more raids. Here’s to questionable night time catches and going out of your way to hit a PokeStop.

 

Catch on, my friends.