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?