Monday, January 09, 2006

Mickle's Adventures in Gaming

So, I really should either be doing all the chores that need to be done, finishing the book I'm reading so I can move on to the one I need to read by Friday for our teen book club, or, you know, sleeping, but tekanji's final installment of her three part series on Girls and Game Ads got me thinking.

I can't remember a time when we did not have computer and video games laying around the house, and yet there were very few that were mine and there were even fewer that I played as much as my brothers did. They used to tease me that I would rather read books than play video games - which wasn't completely untrue - but it had as much to do with the games that were available, as it had to do with how much I read.


Game makers have being trying to figure out "what women girls want" since I was a kid. The first game I had that was mine was a Strawberry Shortcake game for our Atari. It was some stupid match-up game that wasn't anywhere near as much fun as simply playing with the dolls themselves - or reading B is for Betsy. My short interest in it was part of what prompted the teasing from my brothers.

The second game that belonged to me was Jenny of the Prairie. I absolutely hated that game. It was impossible in the way that only the early computer games can be. I loathed it so much in part because I wanted to like it and I wanted to be good at it, but neither was possible. It was far too difficult to even get past the first level and consequently one of the most boring games I ever played.

The games I liked were usually the games everyone liked. Frogger could keep me entertained for hours - not that I ever got a chance to play that long, having three siblings and all. My younger brother and I both loved Mickey's Space Adventure and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and I spent several periods in junior high math passing notes to my friends telling them how much fun Sonic the Hedgehog was. (boing! boing! bouncy! bouncy!) There were plenty of games that I liked playing, but while my brothers each had games they liked more than anyone else did, and games they were better at than anyone else, none of my favorites could be called mine in either of these ways.

My parents scored gold, though, when they brought home King's Quest's IV. The main character was female, the game play was interesting and challenging without being too difficult, and my love of fantasy and fairy tales was actually helpful in figuring out the game. As with Mickey's Space Adventure, my little brother and I actually switched off playing separately and together, but this was the first game where we realized that we each had strengths and weaknesses, and that teaming up was the surest way to make sure we finished the game. It was also the first game that I was proud to call mine. My little brother and I may have both played it, but it was given to me, the character we were playing was female, and I liked it just a tiny bit more than he did. Finally, a game of my own.

Unfortunately, my extreme attachment to the game resulted in a tearful temper tantrum when I got King's Quest VI for my birthday. It was the first game I remember asking for by name. All of my other requests (and there had been several) had simply been "video games that I would like" (oh, my poor parents). My brother, not having gotten anything - since it was my birthday - was eager to play. I was as well, but I was a little more interested in some of the other stuff I got. I told him he couldn't start it without me since it was my game. My parents disagreed and told him he could play, and I, well, I went ballistic. Even though I understood at the time that they were right, I felt so completely betrayed. Here, finally, was a game that was mine and not his and they were taking it from me and giving it to him - not because he liked it more than me, but because I didn't like it enough to drop everything else. At the time, it sounded just like the excuse people gave for making so few of the games I liked or for never having characters I could identify with. Which, of course, was why I was so ambivalent about games and yet adamant that this game be mine. Even as a teenager it was maddening how unending the cycle was.

I never actually played King's Quest VI and pretty much gave up on finding games I liked after that. Fortunately for me, my parents had not and soon brought home Myst. There are all sorts of evo phsyc excuses people give for why women play puzzle games and men play RPG's, but I can tell you that part of the real reason I will always love Myst is because it's one of the few games that I don't have any bad memories about. I wasn't ever second best at it. No one ever tried to take it from me. And most of all, there weren't any annoying female characters to make me gag (something even King's Quest couldn't escape). My little brother and I had so much fun playing Myst. Like always, we switched around playing solo and as a team, but it was always a group effort, and together we finished the game in just a few days. Whenever anyone would say it was too hard or they gave up after a few weeks, we felt obnoxiously smug. Best of all, I was hungry for more.

Not surprisingly, I’ve never become I die hard gamer (or, really a "gamer" even), but especially over the last few years I’ve become more interested in the games that are out there - due in no small part to my brother introducing me to Kingdom Hearts - and I have begun to shift my “entertainment” budget around accordingly. I read stories like Astarte's and I know that we still have a long way to go and that I will still have a hard time finding (non-arcade style) games that I like, but I read Sour Duck’s review of Beyond Good and Evil and know that, unlike 15 years ago, it won’t be completely impossible. I listen to my teenage cousins – both girls - talk casually about playing the games they got for Christmas and I know we’ve made progress. I just wish it would all progress a bit faster.

Which is why I appreciate what Sour Duck, tekanji, Astarte and others do so much. And why idiots like this annoy me so much. Progress is slow because of guys like him, but the reason we've progressed at all is because of women like the ones above - and the men who are smart enough to listen to women instead of deciding that they know better than us what types of games we like - and why we like them.

1 comment:

Ken Hollis said...

Greetings and Salutations:

O.K... Send me an e-mail gandalf@digital.net and I will explain "Jenny Of The Prairie". We can get through a game, trust me. I programmed it.

Ken Hollis