By Leah Thomas ’13
Video games and politics don’t really go together. That’s not to say that politicians haven’t waggled a Wiimote or two, but gamers aren’t typically characterized as a political bunch. We’re more content to debate censorship and the artistic merit of video games than to give them any credence as representations of political or social trends. In fact, one of the unspoken pillars of our platform is that video games have absolutely no psychological effect on us. Our games might be first person shooters or party starters or block turning simulators, but they are ultimately just fun, fake, entertainment and never had any lasting impact on anyone, ever.
Well, I’m going to break with the party line. Video games helped turn me into the person I am today: a card-carrying feminist.
When I was seven, my parents gave me a Game Boy to keep me occupied and I was hooked. As I grew older, I graduated to a Playstation console and spent many weekends getting lost in virtual playgrounds. At the same time, I was beginning to learn more about politics. I grew up in the nation’s capital, so it was hard not to become involved in the latest election in some way or another. I proudly sported a Kerry/Edwards t-shirt in middle school and vowed to vote Democrat when it was my turn at the ballot box. I cut my teeth on Marx, Orwell, and Bradbury while my teachers encouraged us to invent our own utopias. I remember playing around with SimCity 2000, a city management simulator, and trying to achieve the most equal distribution of resources and highest rates of happiness for my citizens in between fending off alien invasions. When it came to the question of my own identity, though, I was content with just blending in and following the status quo.
The turning point for me came in 2005, when I coerced my mom into buying me a bargain bin video game. As I looked for the cheapest purchase, I stumbled across Beyond Good and Evil. I was impressed by the cover art, which showed a woman in sensible clothes with a camera in hand – something I’d never seen before on a video game box.
I popped the game into my Playstation and was blown away. For months, I was consumed by the story of Jade, manager of an orphanage and budding photojournalist, as she worked to save her friends from an alien invasion and expose the human rights violations of a military dictatorship. I begged my friend to buy the game as well, and I would often spend weekends at her house, chugging away through vast sections of the game.
Beyond Good and Evil tapped into my nascent interest in liberal politics through its criticism of militarism, torture, and the silence of dissent. The very title insisted that I look beyond absolutes and question the norm. Caught up in this ethos, I began to wonder about other things. Like why I’d found this game in the bargain bin. Why this was the only game that represented a woman as something other than a polygon eye candy. Why women were either sexualized or dismissed in gamer communities. Why, when I brought up these topics with my gamer friends and or online, I was told that since girls weren’t into games, “the market” catered to men who preferred their princesses in the castle, not on the frontlines.
I realized that I could either sit by while these ideas about women prevailed, or do like Jade and tear down misconceptions where they stand. I learned about the importance of visibility, pride, and community that day. I started as a “girl gamer.” The rest is history.
Leah is a junior majoring in Human Biology with a concentration in education. In her spare time, she can be found being snarky on the internet or being aggressively nerdy with her friends. If you have any suggestions for good feminist games, let her know!