Video Games Made Me a Feminist

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! 

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5 thoughts on “Video Games Made Me a Feminist

  1. Nick says:

    Chrono Trigger is probably the most feminist video game ever, and the best part is its a best-selling game that’s deemed a classic. The main protagonist is a (silent) male but there are so many powerful, fully fleshed out femske characters in the game that I was beside myself.

  2. […] Dreamfall, Tomb Raider en Beyond Good & Evil. Een gamer bekende zelfs dat Beyond Good&Evil een feministe van haar maakte. De 'female Shepard', FemShep voor fans, beeld uit Mass Effect […]

  3. Evan Balch says:

    Good concept, but it is true that gaming companies are just focusing on their main market which is adolescent boys to 20 something adult males. you can’t blame them. they can make a few games about empowered women, but unless you attach really amazing gameplay(which they have already allocated to COD#? and rightfully so since it almost guarantees massive sales) it’s not gonna fly. they know where they are gonna make the most money, and a laura croft on screen sells better than the Jade character from “beyond good and evil.” A companies first priority is to make a profit. They cannot spread a message or increase employee’s salaries or do corporate welfare if they don’t first come out ahead of they cost that went into production of a good.

    I personally don’t play video games anymore cause I think they all lack any level of intrigue at this point.

    If you consider yourself a feminist then may I suggest watching a piece by Adam Kokesh called “Libertarian Feminism is superior to Liberal Feminism.” It has some good thoughts to consider as you move forward. Good luck spreading your message !!

    • ESQG says:

      “You can’t blame them”? You can’t blame whom, exactly?

      Of course you can argue that companies are driven to perserve the status quo of the attitudes of young adult males who spend money on games, or you can argue that games shape those attitudes. It’s called a feedback loop. Using either argument to discredit the other, or to shift blame off one party (companies or gamer boys) is nonsensical.

      There is an interesting piece called “Killing us Softly” (in particular the section at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FpyGwP3yzE ) that seems to me relvant here. In particular the point about how ads sell values along with products. I watched your piece on libertarian feminism and it makes reasonable points, but the idea that liberal feminism stands in opposition to these points in any way, is (to say the least) surprising to me. Liberal feminists argue all the time about how working within the system of law is something we can do to help women now, but ideally one would restructure government and law enforcement to be less violent, less war-focused, less about dominance. I would also challenge a lot of the assumptions he makes about men vs. women (for example, ideas about how caveman societies worked are used too often in antifeminist arguments and are usually without scientific basis) but do not want to go into that here.

  4. Kiki says:

    Brilliant!

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