I Refused To Play “Boys Games”, Until I Realized I Was Missing Something

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I remember Halo’s first release vividly – though I suspect it was for an entirely different reason than yours.

Prior to the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, I had the luxury of never considering the impact of my gender on my favorite pastime, which is both beautiful and hilarious in retrospect. I simply played video games. That’s how it should be, right?

I’ve played everything from Harvest Moon to Banjo-Kazooie to MediEvil and Diablo. I yearned more than anything to be like Tifa Lockhart and Lara Croft and slept in Pokemon pajamas under a Pokemon quilt in my Pokemon themed bedroom. As far as I’m concerned, I liked video games, no just as much as the next person, but even more. However, at the time of Halo’s release, I also learned that there was a secret game hierarchy – and my stance on this was significantly lower than I would have assumed.

Although Halo wasn’t the first “boy’s” video game, it was the first game that made me feel like a daughter, which quickly became synonymous with “outsider”. There was a change in the way my male friends spoke to me and to each other. A change that, while perhaps mostly due to puberty, felt exacerbated due to the rise of the shooter genre. And after I got tired of trying to find the right level of femininity – the right way to present myself to be one of the guys while still being sought by the guys – I decided that the best way to navigate life was to just resent the genre, and anyone who bragged about their gunplay, high-end graphics, or difficulty. After all, if you can’t join them, defeat them.

Over time, it became incredibly easy for me to criticize games that I only knew by name as superficial, devoid of emotion, and all style over substance solely because they were masculine. How Didi to know were they male? You can thank marketing for that. While it might have taken me a while to figure out that the company had gendered video games, I was already well aware that the girls’ aisle – the section I had to shop in – was pink. . I knew it good the girls played house, brushed their hair and imagined what their future husband might look like. And even though, at times, I didn’t like being made to feel like I had to have those interests, I participated in female rituals with some pleasure, hoping that my Mr. Right might look a bit like Link or maybe even Zelda.

The boys’ driveway, on the other hand, was camo – hard to see but impossible to miss. It was filled with machines and weapons, complex devices that got things done and fashioned complex men who got things done. Ads and box art for “male” games resembled the alley of the boys, with action figure-like men covered in dirt and sweat standing front and center. It was them Do things, while women in these games waited for things to be done to them – to be saved, embraced, or inspired to achieve greatness. Men have killed aliens, women have been alienated.

Nintendo games and RPGs, especially JRPGs, felt like neutral ground – a place where women almost felt equal both within games and communities, even though the women who played these titles were often pressured to develop what you might call a “pick-me” mentality. And I get this mentality; I went there myself. It thrives on the constant praise you receive for not being “like the other girls”. This, of course, makes you feel special…until you realize that not only is it often nice to be like other girls, but you are like other girls – these girls just don’t feel comfortable sharing those parts of themselves.

Even as I grew older and began to care less about societal constructs as the gaming industry simultaneously made greater strides toward inclusion, this mental block regarding male-marketed games remained firmly in place. Until I play Mass Effect.

Commander Shepard from Mass Effect

I first heard about the show while watching my boyfriend play it in college. I took one look at it and quickly dismissed it as some sort of Halo clone, which is hilarious in retrospect. However, my boyfriend insisted it was different. The first two times I tried Mass Effect, I put the controller down and laughed. The third time, however, I passed Chora’s Den and soon after something inside me clicked.

I beat Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 in about four days. I blew up an air mattress in front of my TV and was filled with joy every time an achievement appeared on my off-white Xbox 360. I was blown away by the characters, the fights, the stakes, the romance–I was a kid in a candy store, shoving sugar in my mouth, in disbelief that I had ever deprived myself of the substance. I fell head over heels in love with a seven-foot-tall dinosaur-like man who was basically Batman in space – although, god, Thane is tempting too. However, beyond being in love with these characters, I was in love with these games. And I started to think maybe, just maybe, there could be something more to these “boys” games.

So I played Skyrim. The witcher. BioShock. Assassin’s Creed. Resident Evil. God of the war. Borders. Unexplored. Halo. The devil can cry. Transmitted by blood. And, perhaps my favorite of the lot, I played Metal Gear Solid. Despite their appearances – and the elements I would be remiss to miss – all of these series had a certain beauty to them and shocked me with the way they challenged my preconceptions.

In most of the above games there is romance and tender moments. Despite being “high octane”, there are moments of reflection and isolation. For being violent power fantasies, I found that in many cases I had no control. I had to sacrifice, survive and rely on others more often than not. In fact, in games like Gears of War and most multiplayer titles, camaraderie and teamwork are key, and the rush to work together to succeed is unparalleled. Of course, not all of these games need be felt so deeply, but for those of us who choose to do so, there is a lot of magic to be discovered.

Metal Gear Solid in particular shocked me, as the cloaked hero Solid Snake led me to believe the game stood for war, while the talk of the series’ female characters left me rolling my eyes. However, Metal Gear Solid is an incredibly tender series. At their core, the games are pacifist and curious. They also establish that real patriotism – real heroism – is when you dedicate yourself to people, not institutions. They touch on the idea of ​​determinism and rise above what was meant for you, and examine love, including whether it can flourish on a battlefield. Even the show’s silly movie references come from a very heartfelt and moving place. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there are some very valid criticisms to be made about these games, but there’s also an abundance of good to be found.

Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid
Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid

Almost all games respond to our fantasies, especially fantasies associated with power. But I’ve come to realize that a lot of the games that we label as “feminine” often give players a lot of power, choice, and control. And, oddly enough, the games we think of as “masculine” often focus on the opposite: self-sacrifice, teamwork, and connection. At first, this realization seems shocking, but it quickly makes sense: these are concepts that every group is often deprived of, despite every living person, regardless of their gender identity, cravings them.

It’s safe to say that, just like in real life, the way we perceive the genre of video games is a construct, manufactured by marketing and socializing. For years, so much time and effort has gone into perpetuating the idea that boys love video games™ and girls, well, they love Animal Crossing. Or Farmville. Or something else with pastel colors, doe-eyed characters and little physical fatigue. Something we could easily dismiss as lesser, no matter how much work the developers put into creating them, how much joy they brought to audiences, or what individual meaning players got out of them. But either way, the outer layers of these are often a facade in order to be more palatable – to allow these games to act as a vehicle that delivers those deeper messages and fulfills subliminal desires.

In life simulations and dating games, I can be the perfect woman and have it all. I can explore my sexuality and express feelings without worrying about how others might perceive me. I can control how I am treated and what behavior I accept. In these games, we have the space to shape our environments to feel welcome and to create our own space – to add beauty to the world. And I firmly believe that everyone would benefit from playing them. But in the same way, I think we would all benefit from playing “masculine” games.

The recurring idea of ​​bonding as a means of survival found in “male” games is universal and relevant. After all, as the world grows more worrying and we grow more weary, many of us find that it’s our connections to others that keep us going. There’s also something particularly inspiring about the way these games celebrate resilience and boldly proclaim that one person can make a difference. While there may be issues with how these games convey these messages – with the sometimes misguided heroism and lacking representation – the attempts at these games and the emotions they inspire are largely genuine.

The presentation of these games is meant to reach a target demographic, but they don’t have to be limited to that. We can embrace things we might think weren’t meant for us in an effort to learn and find meaning – even when we’ve been convinced by ourselves and others that there’s no meaning to be found. for us. We can play these games and seek to understand people, places and ideas that we might not otherwise be exposed to. The world is filled with so many fascinating things to be held back by gender or arbitrary binaries. And if you get anything from this piece, I hope you know you have the freedom to explore it all.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you purchase something featured on our site.

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