Evaluating Gender in Game Design

Initially, I planned to look into more than one type of representation in games: gender, race and sexuality. I felt it was a good choice as the geographical and historical differences of representation are often varied, so I could compare the findings against each other. After creating a plan, I transferred it into a timetable but realised I would be unable to conduct this amount of research in the time we were given. Having experience in studying gender differences, I decided concentrating on this would give me a head start to a short term.

To begin research I went to the library and took out ‘Gender Inclusive Games Design’ (GIGD) and ‘From Barbie to Mortal Kombat’ (FBMK). Over the next week I took notes from GIGD and found valuable sources and experiments that I could use. There was history of the Girl Game Movement that I would expand on by further researching the roots of gender differences. After returning the books I chose to purchase them from the Internet. We wouldn’t be discussing the topic of Representation in Games in our lectures until a few weeks before we were going to hand our projects in, so I decided that owning the books would be beneficial.

Upon reading the first few pages of GIGD, Sheri Graner Ray discusses the International Game Developer Association and how their Women in Games Special Interest Group mailing list had supplied her with valuable information for her studies. Knowing that I’d need more up to date sources than the books, I requested entry. Within a number of weeks I had a folder of links to articles that interested me, from both my own browsing and those sent via the mailing list.

A common debate found was the lack of games created aimed to appeal to women, and how women gamers seem to be part of an invisible minority. I am not suggesting the cause is lost, as a result of looking at games that host these sexualized women, the efforts of those that choose to defy this consequently stand out. I found that even when being brought up in the same environment, social or perhaps biological differences occur within each gender.

Another debate was the representation of women’s bodies, e.g. unbelievable proportions, beauty and sexual demeanour. Resembling women and heroines featured in comics, this kind of representation was around before games came along. However, the situation of the character must considered. Factors such as their history and role/job will determine how their physique is developed. Personality and narrative have a large impact on the way we judge characters. Lara Croft is often sexualized through advertising but her character always remained strong, independent, courageous, yet beautiful and with a body that indeed began with unbelievable proportions, but has been tweaked over the years into a more believable size. If one of the most popular woman in games has gone through these changes, this suggests hope for the female figures of the future.

Titles such as X-Blades, Bayonetta, Rapelay and Onechanbara are often accompanied by the outcries of gamers, both male and female, who don’t appreciate the high impact these games have in encouraging the stereotype they set. Though noticed by many (through media) they are not the most popular. However, these games are still being made and sold, so there must be consumers interested in these games. If you compare this market to other media, there are few successful films where the female is playing the alpha role such as those in the games named above. So as games are maturing, companies using sex to attract these consumers is proving harder. However, this is a western progression. Consumers in different cultures still react to sex, such as Japan, which possess a market for games such as Rapelay. Until consumers stop reacting, games will still be produced, as there is still money to be made.

Through the entire study I have broken down boundaries in myself in order to keep an open mind about the information I come across. My greatest weakness was holding on to the gender stereotypes I was comfortable with, allowing myself to become very defensive when it came to something I didn’t agree with. I understand there are vast social influences that affect both media and consumers. I felt my strength was my time management; I began gathering research material early so that I was able to use the rest of my time effectively, concentrating on the task in hand. However, I would of liked to of concentrated on looking into why gender is so important to people, and how this is portrayed in other media. This is something I would include if I carried my study on further, including the topics of race and sexuality that I mentioned earlier. I would also like to become more involved in online groups that are aimed at women gamers, and find out why they have made these and what their goals are.

Overall I am pleased with my research, as I believe I have learned from what I have discovered. Although I am unable to update the blog further for a period of time, once my blog becomes available again I plan to continue updating it, including research for the representation of race and sexuality.

‘Casual Games Don’t Count.’

Firstly, I’d like to get a definition of what “casual” games are:

A casual game is a video game or online game targeted at a mass audience of casual gamers. Casual games can have any type of gameplay, and fit in any genre. They are typically distinguished by their simple rules and lack of commitment required in contrast to more complex hardcore games. They require no long-term time commitment or special skills to play, and there are comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer. Casual games typically are played on a personal computerweb browsers, although they now are starting to become popular on game consoles, too. Casual gaming demographics also vary greatly from those of traditional computer games, as the typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female with over 74% of those purchasing casual games being women. -Source

Old is the debate between “casual” and “hardcore” games, but are they still not classed as games? If 75% of women are playing casual games then why are only 40% of women classed as gamers? And if companies want to find out what women like in games, isn’t this a hint in the right direction? Casual games are said to be stress relieving, provide mental balance and are relaxing, perhaps women are more attracted to them because of these qualities. But “hardcore” games can be equally as stress releiving, but you do have to go out and buy the console in order to play them (unless you own a PC). So it could be that women enjoy casual games because they are right there in front of them on the internet, easy to access, and doesn’t require spending hundreds of pounds on a console. People who own an iPhone have access to the iTunes App store, which provides them with a huge collection of these “casual” games. I know both men and women who don’t consider themselves gamers yet have purchased games on the iPhone. In order to find the real percentage of male and female gamers perhaps companies need to look futher into the users of casual games and find out exactly what it is they enjoy in these games, and transfer this into the design of their own.

All Hail the Genderless Game

I remember my mother telling me a puzzle type dilemma when I was a young girl, as it was the first time I recall stereotyping gender. The puzzle goes something like:

The father was driving his son home and they got into an accident. The father was fine, but the son was sent to E.R. The surgeon replied “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son!”.

How were they related?

I couldn’t figure out the puzzle because I presumed the surgeon was a man, and so must of been his father too. When I was told the surgeon was his mother I was ashamed that I had presumed it was a man, and thus the puzzle stuck in my head ever since to remind me.

Whilst browsing through Henry Jenkins’ Confessions of an Aca/Fan, I came across an entry where he is discussing Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat in an interview with Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, and Jill Denner. One of the questions he asks is regarding whether games should be designed for girls, or if they should be “gender neutral”:

A decade ago, the core question was whether we should design games specifically for girls or so-called “gender neutral” games to be played by boys and girls together. Is this still a burning question? If so, what new perspectives have emerged over the past decade?

CARRIE: That question makes me schizophrenic. In the collection of research citations on gender and gaming that I have been curating, the two most frequent tags are “gender stereotypes” and “what women want.” The gender stereotype research tends to complain about girls and women are portrayed or conceptualized in stereotypical ways that ignore the wide diversity of female-ness. The what-do-women-want research reveals gendered desires and offers suggestions about how to create games to appeal to females.

[...]

In her chapter, “Are Boy Games Even Necessary?”, Nicole Lazzaro points out that designing for an extreme demographic reduces market size. An extreme male-typed game or an extreme female-typed game both leave out what players like most in most games. Games have changed enormously in the last decade, transitioning to become a mainstream medium and big business. With such an enlarged playing field, the answer from a business perspective is yes games for girls and games for boys and games for everyone. Gaming is large enough that it is beginning to resemble the magazine market. There can be very narrow market game franchises (paralleling the range of women’s interest magazines from Vogue to Ms.) and more mainstream game franchises (paralleling Time or Newsweek).

[...]

My own research with colleagues Brian Magerko and Ben Medler at Georgia Tech and Brian and Jillian Winn at Michigan State University is moving in the direction of considering player type and motivation. We are working to develop and study adaptive games that express different game features depending upon what each individual player enjoys the most. Thus, instead of creating a game for girls, or a game for everyone, we create a game that can transform to become better for each individual player.

YASMIN
: Can a game, or anything else for that matter, ever be ‘gender-neutral’? And who decides? Game design can and should be more inclusive; one doesn’t need to disrupt the narrative to offer more options for customization of characters or levels that are now common place for most games. That said, if we deal with younger players and school contexts, we need to be deliberate on what choices we offer in game designs to facilitate learning for various players.

This led me to think about “gender neutral” games, and how I believe that in order to create a game that is accepted, played and/or appreciated by each gender, then the in-game gender should be neutralized.

Hare-Mustin and Marecek (1990) are two psychologists who introduced the theory of Alpha and Beta bias in an attempt to explain two types of gender bias. Alpha bias is where differences between each gender are exaggerated, for example, there are obvious biological differences between men and women so they should be treated differently. Beta bias is where all differences are ignored, for example, believing that women and men behave in the same way, so should be treated the same way. Each bias has its pros and cons, and I find it difficult to choose which one I believe would work best. Instead, I have brought the two together and come up with: Biological differences in gender should be acknowledged, such as hormones affecting behaviours, whilst social differences can depend on each individual and so no individual should be treated in any way that would favour one gender from the other. Each individual should be treated as a distinct being for their individual social make-up, which includes the acknowledgement that the individual is male or female, black or white, Christian or Muslim etc. However, understanding there will be consistency between multiple beings that has been learned from social norms will be in be in play.

I hope that makes sense, that’s my attempt to transfer an abstract from my mind into words.

When I say ‘Genderless game’ I am referring to a game I will be playing where I don’t mind playing as either gender, for example, in Eternal Sonata you play as multiple characters throughout the game, changing from one to the other when in Battle Mode. However, when walking around the environments you control a boy named Allegretto. In my opinion, this games is genderless because I have no preference to any one character, male or female. Each character has equal but different abilities, and if they are kept the same level, the only difference is the weapon they are equipped with. There has been no point in the game where I felt they favoured one gender over the other, where any gender is made to look inferior or different to another.

Games where I am very aware I’m playing a certain gender usually use gender roles and stereotypes, for example in Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 it’s hard not to miss the high oestrogen levels of the women bouncing (literally) around in bikinis. From their high pitched squeels to the simple activites that seem to amuse these usually brutal fighters, such as rolling around in the sand taking photos of each other.

But is being genderless the answer? If gender is our identity and we eliminate it, then we are left with nothing. Not necessarily, in My Gender Workbook, Kate Bornstein suggests that we think of gender as one aspect of our identity.

Picture 1With the increasing amounts of women entering the games industry there is a higher chance that both these men and women will get together to help break down the issues of gender in games.

Sex Sells… Or Does It?

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A schoolgirl around 12 years old travels on a commuter train. A man who has been following her gropes and sexually molests her. Eventually the train stops and she runs frightened into a public toilet, followed by her assailant who handcuffs and rapes her. The assailant takes her prisoner and repeatedly rapes her in various locations. Her mother and teenage sister suffer the same fate. This family is targeted for rape as punishment because the older sister had previously reported to the police the attempted sexual assault of another woman by the rapist. This is the story line of RapeLay, a rape simulator computer game produced by Illusion Software and sold in Japan. Prior to issuing this Action Equality Now brought RapeLay to the attention of Amazon Japan which also sold the game. Since then it has removed the game from sale, however it continues to sell similar titles based on stalking and sexually molesting women and girls. – Women’s Action 33.1

According to this article, it does. ‘RapeLay’, a game where the player is required to rape and molest women and girls on a train, was distributed by Amazon Japan and could also be found on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk until 2006 when it was banned. Although banned, there are still similar  games being sold that involve raping and molesting women. I was shocked when I came across this information as I didn’t realize it was legal for companies to make these kinds of games in Japan.

In early May, Equality Now released a statement saying that in Japan the gaming industry profits from games featuring violence against girls and women. It also criticized the growing market for pornography found in Japan known as roricon, or “Lolita complex,” which has a child pornography theme. – Japanese computer game featuring rape creates international outcry

So what does this say about both the game designers and the consumers? Would a game like this encourage a player to go out and rape/molest a woman? Maybe, but this argument is similar to the violence in games argument, where it is believed video games can encourage violence. However, I played many violent games when I was younger, watched violent movies and listened to aggressive music. But I wouldn’t consider myself a person with violent tendencies. So it would be hard for me to argue that if I had played a game such as ‘RapeLay’ when I was younger that I may want to rape/molest someone. It’s difficult to tell as, in the end, it’s all down to individual differences. Which leads me to this thought; if violence is acceptable in games, why isn’t rape? If you were to commit either crime in real life (say you killed someone in an act of violence), you receive the same sentence: Life imprisonment. Who’s to say that violence is OK and rape isn’t? Before writing this blog entry I would of picked (and defended) Halo over RapeLay, but now that I think about it, there just as bad as each other. The social acceptance of violent games has almost blinded us from we’re really taking part in. At least Japan is being consistent with their laws, where the UK and US merely dips their toes in the forbidden waters. I seem to have veered away from the topic slightly, so perhaps I will address this issue in a later post.

lara_croft_sexy

So where was I? Using sex as a way of selling products has been popular in the advertisement industry, especially in games. This could mostly be due to the fact the women can be created digitally to look and wear whatever the creator wants. For example, you can easily find pictures of Lara Croft that are nothing to do with the game. The image above shows her wearing no clothes, in a provocative position with absolutely no relevance to the game. But Lara is not alone here, women are often subject to sexualization by making them wear little clothes. In my opinion, Lara Croft (in the actual game) is a well dressed character. She is wearing suitable clothes for her activities and is portrayed as a capable, confident and un-sexualized character. It is only the way they advertised her that I don’t agree with. Some examples of other games that use female characters with inappropriate are Bayonetta, Dead or Alive, World of Warcraft, Blades, and many more.

kasumi

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2:

Uses the female characters from the original Dead or Alive, which is a fast paced fighting game, and puts them in a world where they play volleyball and a series of other beach-related mini-games.  The game uses ‘Jiggle Physics‘ to emphasise the women’s breasts bouncing up and down when she moves. The ‘physics’ they claim to use that are meant to resemble real life movements are far from accurate, with every step the girl takes resulting in the same extreme bounciness as you would see if she was jumping up and down. The advert is clearly using this to sell the game, but does it work? As a woman I find the unrealistic bouncing quite repulsing, especially as each breast bounces at a different time, and I was surprised to hear some of my male friends agreeing with me. Perhaps this would of sold to an audience of horny individuals, but if they just wanted to see them bounce, they might as well save their money and just watch the trailer over and over again.      Game info

sexy_night_elf

World of Warcraft:

Just one example of a scantily clad female character on World of Warcraft (WoW). When a male character wears the exact same armour as she is wearing, it will appear completely different, with his covering most of his body and actually doing what armour is supposed to do- protect. Emphasising the body by sexualising female characters is one way of selling the game to anyone that wants to stare at half naked women.

Game info

X-Blades

X-Blades:

Need I repeat myself? The girls body is being used to attempt to sell the game here; her posture, lack of clothing and emphasised features. They may also be trying to appeal to a different market here by giving her a very young face.

Game info

BayonettaBayonetta:

This witches’ outfit is made out of her hair, as she builds up combo attacks, her hair-suit slowly disappears until there is nothing left but small areas covering her nipples and crotch. Her ridiculously long legs and ability to fight in heels are also features she should be proud of.

Game info

If sex sells, then why arn’t these games top sellers, apart from World of Warcraft? World of Warcraft is the only game in the list that uses both male and female characters, and apart from the armour, rarely uses the women to sell the game. An article in The Guardian argues that gamers have “grown up”, and with the rising percentage of women playing games and entering the industry, that they are reaching a more mature level. I doubt that there will ever be a time that games like this are not produced, because they do sell, so there must be an audience out there that compnies can make money from. However, if games ever want to recieve as much credit as films, music and other media, they do indeed need to reach a more mature level. With titles such as Mirrors Edge and Flower experimenting with new types of gameplay, I have high hopes that games are not only receiving more apprechiation for beng experimental, but that there are teams of people out there that want to make games like this.

The Story of Mr. Blue and Ms. Pink

I was standing outside of Gamestation browsing through their window display that contained Nintendo DS lites, Xbox and Playstation bundles, iPods and various other electrical items. A woman with her young daughter in a pram pulled up next to me and she started talking to her partner about some of the items in the display. She then noticed the Hello Kitty Nintendo DS lite and turned to her partner and said: ‘Oh look at that! A Hello Kitty one, she would love that! [looking at her daughter] You’d love a Hello Kitty one wouldn’t you?’. The child in the pram didn’t say much and just giggled when the mother spoke to her, mimiking the words ‘Hello Kitty’. I was so glad she’d said that because I needed an example to use in this blog, and that was a perfect one. I presumed the girl knew what Hello Kitty was, unless she was just repeating her mothers words, but she did get excited when the name was spoken. However, the mother did not go ‘She’d love the green one! Wouldn’t you?’ and then wait for her reaction, which i’m sure would be the same if they are a) Getting a toy b) Getting attention and c) Being smiled at.

For years the colours pink and blue have been gender specific colours, with pink being for girls and blue being for boys. However, before the 1940’s this was the other way round. With pink being a masculine colour that’s derived from red, seen as a solid colour, and blue being a feminine colour that shows ‘daintiness’ and is associated with the Virgin Mary. Due to social desirability the gender specific colours inverted, and are often displayed in children and advertisement for girls and boys. A perfect example are these images that I found on the Argos website:

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boy12

On the top the girl is dressed entirely in pink standing over a plastic oven, that is also pink. This image was taken out of the ‘Role Play’ section of pre-school toys. It came as no surprise to me that girls are modelled with toys that are relevant to cooking, cleaning and caring for dolls. Interestingly, blue was not the dominant colour in boys toys and the image above was only one of a few I could find. However, boys did model toys such as tool kits, construction including work benches, power washers and toy cars, which are seen as masculine activities. The colours of these toys were usually a bright colour such as orange or yellow accompanied by black. As I was browsing other areas of the pre-school toys I came across the musical instrument section and decided to check out if they associated certain instruments with girls or boys. Instead, they produced the same the toy instruments in both blue and pink.

boy22pink21

The ‘Beanstalk Sing Along Keyboard with Stool’ is exactly the same product in both images, except one has been produced in pink. I imagine that they both function the same, and so the most likely explanation of this marketing technique is that they don’t think the blue keyboard will attract girls, and so it’s produced in pink. If children are exposed to these kind of gender specific colours from such a young age it’s not surprising that they learn to discriminate themselves from each other. An abstract from a journal named ‘Sex Roles’ describes a study that attempted to explain the environmental gender stereotypes in the first two years of an infants life. They found that ‘The results showed that boys were provided with more sports equipment, tools, and large and small vehicles. Girls had more dolls, fictional characters, child’s furniture, and other toys for manipulation. They wore pink and multicolored clothes more often, had more pink pacifiers and jewelry. Boys wore more blue, red and white clothing. They had more blue pacifiers. Yellow bedding was more frequently observed in the girls’ rooms, while blue bedding and curtains were more prevalent in the boys’ rooms.’. To back this theory up even more, I came across a company that sells a pregnancy tester-type test for pregnant women that determines the sex of the baby before it is born. The company is called ‘pinkandblue‘, and it works by telling you if you have a girl by turning pink or a boy by turning blue.

It seems that the child is doomed to discriminate as it’s parent picks out a ‘cute pink outfit’, or decorates the room blue before it is even born. Until it’s old enough to think for itself it’s decisions have already been tainted by the choices of it’s parents, and so a girl might not beg her parent to buy a game because ‘it’s for boys’, or a man might not want to dress up his child because ‘that’s what girls do’. So how is this relevant to gaming? As I just mentioned, computers are seen as a ‘masculine’ object, and so why would a girl that has been discouraged to use one all her life decide to pick one up and play it? As you can see in the advert below, Nintendo is trying to aim their product at girls by bringing out a pink version of the DS lite:

Note that in the advert, all of the extras in focus are women except one man on the bus. The slogan used here shocked me quite a bit, to me “Great Games for Girls” would imply that someone is saying ‘these games are for girls only’. Any boy that watches this advert may no longer want to purchase them as it implies the games are not masculine. Also, girls may only buy the selection of these games, and no others. In a later advertisement Nintendo uses two members of Girls Aloud (a popular girl band with a huge female fan base) to promote the game Nintendogs. Again a pink DS lite is used, and during game play you see that she has decorated the dog with little yellow bows (at least they’re not pink, but the abstract above stated yellow was also a feminine colour) again reinforcing the gender stereotype. However, in a more recent advertisement using Girls Aloud, they are using 5 colour variations of the DS lite, with only one member holding a pink one. I much prefer this advert (and Nicole Kidman’s advert) to the previous, as it’s showing that it doesn’t matter what colour they are, they’re all having the same amount of fun.

When browsing Nintendo DS adverts I came across some games that reminded me of those that were made during the Girl Game Movement, such as McKenzie & Co. ‘My Make-up‘ is a game produced as one of a ‘My game’ series, with others including ‘My Dress-up’ and ‘My Secret Diary’. These adverts are using every pink prop possible, with pink backgrounds, accessories and clothes and again, a pink DS lite. Oh, and no boys of course. I only hope that from the bud of these girl-specific games will gender exclusive games bloom, designed for both boys and girls to enjoy on equal levels.

My main example here has been the Nintendo DS, but they’re not the only one’s to use gender specific colours in their products. Sony PlayStation released a pink version of their PlayStation 2 and PSP. Microsoft also released pink and blue controllers for their xbox 360.

Women in the Computer Industry

It is known that men have always dominated the computer industry, but why? Writer of Masculinity and IT: Computing Gender in the Industry, Sue Lewis, cited reasons for women choosing not to enter computer education in the same numbers as men:

  • Construction of the science, engineering, technology and maths curricula as abstract and disconnected from social and human concerns;
  • Software being written by and for men that unwittingly assumes male lives to be the norm;
  • Domination of computer training programs by boys, men and male values;
  • Perceptions of computer professionals as nerds and antisocial ‘computer heads';
  • Sex stereotyping of toys and activities;
  • Sex biased computer software and games;
  • Differential availability of female and male role models;
  • Different learning experiences of girls and boys in the gendered classroom
  • boys’ greater access to school resources and teacher attention
  • differences in self confidence, self esteem and risk taking behaviours
  • different mathematics choices at school for girls and boys
  • limiting of career options for girls by subject selection in secondary school.

Then why is it so that some women will rise to the challenge and pursue a career in computers, yet others don’t? Sheri Graner Ray discussed the computer as a ‘male’ object, where:

picture-1picture-2-An extract from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market-

In my experience I never had to share a computer in school, and I would spend a lot of time using it during lessons for work and break times playing games. However, the other females in class would often choose to write in their books when they had the option and didn’t use the computer during break times. Sheri Graner Ray explains that women see computers as an object to co-operate with, where men choose to dominate them. If the girls found their experiences with computers a stressful one, perhaps because it was not ‘co-operating’, for example not doing what they want it to, they may associate them with stress and choose to use their books. However when men come acrross a problem, they overcome it as they ‘dominate’ the computer. And so, the problem vanishes and they carry on as normal, with a sense of accomplishment over the machine. My explination of this situation is that I had a computer in my home before they arrived in school, and I was often encouraged to use it by my father, who also used it frequently. The other girls, my friend for example, did not use their computer at home even though they had one. Their parents didn’t use it unless they had to write and print documents for work, but the interaction would end there. And so facing the computer alone could seem like a scary situation. Other classmates may have not had a computer at home at all, and found the idea of learning to use the computer whilst being expected to produce work on it a daunting one.

So why are there women working in the computer industry? They may be a minority but they still exist, and if Sue Lewis and Sheri Graner Ray were right- how and why did they overcome the expectations? I’d like to introduce a few important female figures that had a large impact in the computer industy:

ada_lovelace_1838

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, a.k.a Ada Lovelace was a highly talented mathematician and scientist in the 1800’s. She is known for being the first female computer programmer  and worked closely with Charles Babbage developing the first analytical engine.

gracehopper

Grace Hooper a.k.a ‘Amazing Grace’ was an American computer scientist and U.S Naval officer. Her work includes computer programming for the Harvard Mark I computer and developing the first compiler for computer programming language. She also worked on programming the UNIVAC computer.

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Most famous for her work with graphical adventure games, Roberta Williams was creator of the popular King’s Quest series. Along with her husband, they founded the company Sierra-Online and went on to make titles such as The Colonel’s Bequest, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, and “Phantasmagoria”.

Sister Vs Sister

In my previous post Her Initiative and Beyond: The History of the Girl Game Movement I briefly touched upon the differences between my sister and myself in terms of our experiences with games. I concluded that she preferred games that more resembled toys e.g. The Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon, where I also enjoyed those and additionally those that included goals, levels and more conflict such as Max Payne and Tomb Raider. In this post I am going to address the sociological differences between us both in hope to find a meaning behind our differences.

Nikki is two years older than me, and so, experienced two years of independence before I came along. Although young, within this period she would have to explore the social world alone, seeking attention and interacting with those around her. Perhaps this is where it all began? Once I was born, I had someone to interact with at all times, it would be easy for me to hide behind her in any social situation I felt was daunting, as she willingly stepped forward to seek interaction as she had always done. This human shield behaviour still exists to this date, I know that I’m safe in a social situation (meeting a new person for example) if she is by my side, because I know she’s more capable of getting a conversation going and entertaining them. So I relax, only giving input when I’m confident there will be a good response. Unfortunately, this behavior as a child didn’t help me when it was time to leave the nest and face the world alone for the first time, and I have subsequently adopted a shy personality. However, this is not entirely the cause. I was always the rounder child (“puppy fat”) which exposed me to the odd comment through primary school, and as that became less obvious through secondary school, the attention was focused towards my face and “geek” personality. Around this time spawned my first gaming addiction, Pokémon cards. And not so long after, I became enticed by the series of Pokémon games for the Game Boy Colour. I would spend every break and lunch time huddled in a small group, unaroused by our peers screaming and chanting to their own games of hop scotch and football. I was far more interested in this fantasy land and thus missed out on years worth of potential social interaction that would occur during our free time.

Moving on to secondary school, I had put down the Game Boy and become more interested in the home computer. I was more interested in socializing with my friends than before but would still spend hours on the computer when I got home. So I would still say my shy disposition was very much in play, (although I was more than outgoing around my friends) I would still retreat to the online world of acceptance. As we only owned one PC, it was required for Nikki and myself to share. Though we both got very different things out of the internet, Nikki would use MSN for socialising with her friends and look up amusing images on google. I also used MSN, but the majority of my friends consisted of users from around the world. Most of them I befriended from the online Lord of the Rings role play chat room. I was also an avid user of GaiaOnline, the first forum I joined where you could create and dress your own Avatar, something I was very fond of. I also used Habbo Hotel for the same reasons, though became less interested over time due to having to buy ‘credits’ to get more clothes and objects for your ‘rooms’. Gaia let you build up small amounts of ‘gold’ for free as you visited each page, and you could earn more by posting comments, playing their mini games and trading. There were hundreds of outfits to dress your Avatar in, amusing me for many years until I became bored of the attitude of the majority of people using it. During the time I was interacting with these identity-less people, my sister would be out (under age) clubbing and hanging out on the streets with her social groups. But why did this direct me to games? Was it the long term exposure to the computer that lead me to curiosity, maybe by the mini-games I would play online? Or perhaps the escapism issues I had throughout school that drew me into books and films, and then games?

I wouldn’t say I was bullied over my looks, It was more the odd comment thrown here and there from a bored/immature/insecure (whatever you would like to name them) “peer”. But “the geeks”, as me and my friends were referred to, stuck throughout school. Refferring to our reluctence to follow popular culture and adhere to the “social norms” of our time. Girls would be obsessed with drama, make-up, gossip and getting a boyfriend. We wanted fun, adventure, and trust within our friendships. I rebelled against this norm more than my friends, adopting a tomboy look and “the whole world is against me” personality. Nikki, on the other hand, had her own niche of friends who found a good balance between “girly-ness”, where they were accepted by peers for following the norm, and maturity, allowing them to befriend any other social group they felt like without discrimination.

Don’t worry, I’m not unloading my unresolved childhood issues on you, I do have a point!

As I mentioned before, I enjoy reading books. I grew up reading Harry Potter and the Dark Materials, encouraging me to endulge myself in the fantasy worlds so much so I would dream of becoming the characters. And so the obvious pattern here is  escaping into a fantasy world that games provide. But I never want to be the characters, I just want to play them. Books provide a much richer narrative compared to games with no interaction involved (Unless you are reading an alternate ending-type book), where as games allow you to make choices, to control and think for the character whilst moving them around the levels. I plan to write about the perception of gender in games in comparison to other media in a seperate post.

In conclusion, Nikki never felt the need to escape from reality as she had positive reinforcement from those around her. The character she was playing was herself, and it was desirable, so why should she want to play someone else?