HISTORY OF GENDER AND GAMES CONFERENCE

I will be speaking at the History of Gender and Games symposium in Montreal June 26-27. There are some amazing keynotes lined-up and I will be talking about the fostering of the 'gamer' identity and development of gender-related discourse in 90s issues of the magazines Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly

More information on the event can be found on their website and the schedule will be realized soon. In the meantime you can read my abstract below: 

“Hurry Up and Die So I Can Play” and Other Commentaries on Gender and Gaming 

in 90s Issues of Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly.

"I don’t know about you guys, but I am sick of video games showing girls in dresses with big pink bows in their hair. I mean c’mon! In real life we are far from being the delicate, prissy, male-dependent bimbos that the big companies seem to think we are. We don’t need a male to save us every five minutes, and we don’t scream at  every spider that passes by us, most of us prefer not to waltz around in little string bikinis. And as far a video games go, the girls in my sixth-grade class can take any challenge the boys can dish out. Our game of choice isn’t Barbie, either, Earthworm Jim, DKC, Killer Instinct, and Star Fox are among our favourites." 

(Sarah LaBrie in Nintendo Power 1995) 

In 1995, a sixth-grader named Sarah LaBrie wrote this letter to Nintendo Power. This started something: responses to her letter were published in the magazine’s ‘player pulse’ section over a two year period. It was a sustained and polarized dialogue. The discussion is generally Nintendo specific, with complaints about pinkification and disempowered princesses and rebuttals including examples of strong female characters, game content speaking to the largely male demographic and the stereotypically macho male representations. The discussion of gender and gaming all but disappears when lifetime Editor-in-Chief, Gail Tilden, retires and the publication gets a re-design. 

As this debate was dwindling, Electronic Gaming Monthly’s readers were beginning to discuss the ‘male-dominated’ gaming industry with a concentration on sexism, sexuality, sexualization and exclusion. Largely prompted by the protagonist of the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft, the publication hosted this correspondence for a full year, during which time men and women ponder the representation of women and ask where all the female reviewers are, while there is a good smattering of sarcastic and cynically disengaged commentary. In the middle of the conversation, the magazine commissioned topical contributions including a column about the exclusionary aspects of gamer culture by ‘grrrl gamer’ Nikki Douglas and a ‘Women in Games’ special feature subtitled ‘Hurry up and Die So I Can Play’. (EGM 1998)

In this paper, I look at the way gender discourse plays out in these two publications: the specific issues that concern players, the nature of rebuttals and the way that the discussion is, often unhelpfully, steered and editorialized by the press. As an exercise in what Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castell (2013) call ‘feminist forensics’, this reports and documents “examples of violent, vitriolic, and hate-filled speech that has been targeted at women” (Jenson 2014) when they speak out. In this I offer two crucial observations. First, that, as Kristina Busse (2013) has noted, the body tends to be central to the discourse. Second, that the discourse on gender and gaming, particularly in the player community, has changed relatively little when viewed against the recent intense activities of #gamergame. 

This is part of a larger project that looks to ancillary texts of game culture to better understand historical notions of gender and gaming and the evolving, or not, discourse on the subject. The findings and analysis of this paper are the product of a Fellowship at The Strong: National Museum of Play and access to their archival material. My analysis, interpretation and critical framing of this research is on-going, As such, this paper is driven by a comparative analysis of the words used, both past and present, to describe and derail the discussion of gender and gaming. 

References

Busse, Kristina. (2013). Geek Hierarchies, Boundary Policing, and the Gendering of the Good Fan. Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 10(1). http://www.participations.org/Volume%2010/Issue%201/6%20Busse%2010.1.pdf 

Fielder, Lauren. (1998). Hurry Up and Die So I Can Play. Electronic Gaming Monthly, 110. p. 130-137 

Jenson, Jennifer & de Castell, Suzanne. (2013). Tipping Points: Marginality, Misogyny and Videogames. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 29(2). p. 72-85

Jenson, Jennifer. (2014). Forging a Feminist Alliance in Digital Gameplay and Scholarship. [Unpublished presentation]. iSchool Colloquia Series, University of Toronto. 

LaBrie, Sarah. (1995). Player Pulse letter. Nintendo Power, 77. p. 7