Can I Play?

So I was already annoyed today by the various reports (the linked one is from Gameranx) that Adam Lanza is a “deranged gamer” who was clearly attempting to rack up a “high score” because he used an excel spreadsheet to document “kills” for school shootings, but this is just so utterly silly that I can’t help but feel compelled to bash my head against something.

Apparently, the news tells us, that girls now play videogames. Yes, kids, girls play video games. Kotaku fortunately finds it as ridiculous as I do, and put together a mash-up of February 2013 news stories that tell us just this… and clearly also all borrowed from the same script. Yes, girls play games. In fact, about 42% of gamers these days come fully equipped with a female-oriented gender identity!

I guess I’m extra annoyed about the frivolousness of these reports because of the clear detachment that news agencies seem to have from the reality in which many of us live. And while I understand that as a female, a gamer, and an academic, my world is probably a good deal different from that of the average American, but I’d like to think that the people reporting the news to me aren’t really that… naive. And, frankly, I find it a bit upsetting when confronted with the fact that reporters, editors, and journalists take on stories they know absolutely nothing about.

I’m not asking them to become experts. I’m asking them to take five minutes to look something up on Google. Or even Bing. Just go ask the internet, because as unreliable as the internet can be, it at least provides more information than most people seem to have these days. I’ve written quite a bit about female gamers and games and violence in the past couple of months, and I’ve gotten questions from professionals like “But don’t you think young men don’t need more violence?” and “All the shooters have been young men… that’s who plays games.”

But with 42% of gamers being female, you’d think we’d then see 42% of violent shooters being female, right? Because I will guarantee you that most of those 42% of gamers are not just playing Cooking Mama (and yes, that is really a game). In fact, all the female gamers I know play Call of Duty, Gears of War, Dead Island, Resident Evil, Halo, Mass Effect, and so on. None of them play Cooking Mama (although clearly somebody does). Furthermore, the average age of gamers is 37. That  is also not the average age demographic of school shooters. It’s the age of young parents and professionals, people who play games to work out stress and relax after a long day at work or graduate school or being a stay-at-home-parent.

It’s also the age at which people are reaching complex conclusions about their personal ideologies, about their morals, and about where their lives have taken them. Gamers are sophisticated adults, mature people with mature conceptions of the world, and games are following suit.Sure, there are still kids who play games (plenty of them), and young men who enjoy shooters. But “gamers” can’t be pigeon-holed anymore, and seeing a news story that’s so far behind where the ball has come to rest that it’s just now announcing that “girls play games!” is disappointing and depressing. Because I want us to be at that stage of social acceptance where we no longer address activities as “male” or “female” oriented. I want to see us not only evaluating games as cultural artifacts responding to their social milieu, but as capable of moving beyond the basement-dwelling-young-male stereotype to recognize that “gamers” are really “people,” with as diverse backgrounds, interests, genders, sexualities, preferences, and politics as society at large.

And I want the industry to see this, too, and begin to reflect – outside of the indie market – the complexity of their consumer base. Just like films and books, games need to diversify their protagonists, their ideologies, and their mechanics to reflect what it is that all their players want, not just what the old stereotype is believed to want. And this is going to take more than just making women protagonists (although I’m in favor of that), because Lara Croft is still problematic, but it’s a first step that the industry desperately needs to take… or we’re going to have to keep hearing the shock in a newscaster’s voice when she says “GIRLS have now joined the gamer ranks!”

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