Today we have another Guest Editorial from writer Franki Webb, as she relives some of her experiences as a female gamer.

The Donkey Kong theme was blaring through the house as I returned home from primary school; sure thing, the Super Nintendo was on. My brother had just completed a level as I entered the bedroom I shared with my older sister. Slinging my bag to the floor, I grabbed the other controller and joined in, taking the role of Donkey as my brother had always preferred Diddy due to his greater agility and ease at jumping over enemies. These were the sort of days I grew up with; always seeing if friends would trade a certain game for another; trying to get levels completed before the timer ran out. I truly felt content; even if I didn’t have many friends at school, I still had my brother and his SNES to retreat home to.

Every Monday morning during the first school period my classmates and I would share stories about what we did on the weekends. I remember, quite vividly, standing in front of the class explaining that I was really happy because the day before, I had beaten my brother for the first time at Killer Instinct (causing him to break his controller by throwing it at the T.V. screen).
“Girls don’t play games!”, shouted one of the boys from the corner of the classroom; it was 1994, and gaming had only truly started to become accessible to kids of my age. If I had been a little older, perhaps I would have come up with something witty to say, or even defended my right to play games, but the six-year-old me just shrugged and sat back down.

As I grew older I thought that perhaps I would find other girls like me that would share my passion for gaming. Unfortunately due to my lack of social ability, I endured much solitude during my secondary school days. If anything my geekiness came across as even weirder to a bunch of prepubescent convent-school girls. You see, during my high-school days there was no such thing as geek-chic. Today, you see so many young girls, hipsters and Japanophiles wearing geeky t-shirts, playing with their Nintendo 3DSs on the train; we don’t even bat an eyelid – if anything, it’s considered “cool” thanks to actresses like Felicia Day and Zooey Deschanel.

It was a different story back in 1999. Kids who were seen as “geeks” were heavily bullied, at least in south-east London, and especially in my school, since it was immensely cliquey. The athletes hung out with athletes, smart kids hung out with smart kids, and my school was divided racially too. It became pretty clear to me that I had no clique. I quickly made friends with a tomboyish girl, but this friendship lasted all of two weeks before she was “stolen” away by a group of kids I went to primary school with. “She’s really weird, you know that yellow thing she carries around? It’s a Gameboy! She plays Pokemon by herself.” So that would be my defining role for the rest of my school days – the girl who plays Gameboy and hangs out by herself . Taunts like, “so did you catch them all?” followed me everywhere.

This was my experience throughout college too. Even with the introduction of boys to the equation, nothing much changed. Fortunately, I had a stronger head on my shoulders and had dealt with having pretty much the same “witty” comments thrown at me during secondary school. But there is a positive side to all this: it gave me a thicker skin. I could now take a few insults, and literally a few kicks and punches, too. What it didn’t prepare me for, however, were the misogynistic opinions from people who I, at the time, considered friends. They weren’t being mean directly to me, but as soon as I said I would like to join in their game sessions my male acquaintances would insinuate that I had no real experience as a gamer.
“Playing Pokemon when you were 11 is not considered gaming,” one of my friends told me when I asked if I could play GoldenEye with them at a party. The worst would be when they beat me at a game: “See, I knew that girls couldn’t play videogames,” would come the retort. Even if said light-heartedly, I still raged a little inside.

As games became more technical I like to believe that I developed along with them. Once online gaming took off I started to spend months and months playing Halo against my male counterparts. Being a woman, I had to prove my worth as a gamer, so I practiced every night. I made it my duty to prove that girls could not only play videogames, but do it well. My speciality during my teens were RPGs, but I soon switched my focus to shooters, probably for the sole reason that they were considered more masculine games. The Xbox had the majority, and strong titles like Gears of War and Bioshock always ended up in my hands after every payday. But it was Halo in particular became my FPS of choice.

Most online FPS gamers seem to have some sort of chip on their shoulder, pretty much like myself. Perhaps we all have some sort of thirst to prove ourselves. There was one night during my time at university that I remember quite vividly: one of my housemates tip-toed downstairs to see me under my duvet playing Halo, hands tightly clenched around the controller, eyes focused on the T.V. screen. I was screaming obscenities at one of my opponents, an instinctive reaction to one of the male players telling me he was going to “rape me” on this game and then in real life. I knew it had become too much and at that moment I pulled the plug on my Xbox and tossed my mic in the bin.

Truth be told I wasn’t particularly sad about my departure from multiplayer. It was a small tribulation after all and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of gaming, and my biggest trial wouldn’t come until I decided to incorporate gaming into my professional career as a writer. In 2011, an opportunity was presented to me that I just couldn’t turn down: after three years of living in Japan, a publication back in the U.K. wanted me to cover the Tokyo Game Show for them. I took the much-needed time off from my full-time job as an English teacher and headed to Chiba to cover the event. It was an amazing experience to sit amongst esteemed critics and journalists from my favourite magazines and websites and be treated as their equal.

It wasn’t all testing out video-games and coming up with original questions for developers and writers though, and my unease began to surface when I was asked to cover a private event for the then-upcoming videogame, Dark Souls. As I had entered one of the suites to receive my name-tag for the day, I was a little shocked to not only find myself being the only female in the room, but also to be presented with the wrong name-tag. Even on bad days I know my own name and on my worst day I’m still pretty sure that my name is not “Lee”! After taking 20 minutes to explain to the Japanese staff that my name was in fact Franki, I secured the right name-tag and attached it to my blouse. I was absolutely in awe of the whole set-up: just before the elevator I could see the developer’s banner directing me to the right room. Walking into the suite I could see Makuhari harbour set out before me, the setting sun reflecting off of the rippling water. I had lived in Makuhari two years prior and had heard of the views you could get from this particular hotel if one were lucky enough to afford a room. And now here I was.

“Don’t see many girls at these sort of events, do you?” stated a man to my left, his voice distinctively southern.
“I guess you don’t…” I replied, my voice trailing off. This was my first time at such an event, and I was already starting to feel my gender playing a role.

In a 40-minute presentation, we got to see all the new games that the developer would later unveil at the main event. Professionalism has never been one of my strengths, but I tried to take as many notes as I could. Glancing around I noticed I was the only one jotting anything down, so I placed my pen firmly next to my cup, noting some of the other journalists smirk as I did so. Later, we had the opportunity to talk amongst ourselves during a buffet lunch, and this was the part I had been dreading; sure enough, everyone instantly turned to the person they were acquainted with and began chatting, so I decided to use this time to briefly look over my notes and turned back to the view of the harbour. I don’t know why I had brought it along, but I had my PSP tucked into my jacket pocket, and an attendee to my right noticed it. “So what you playing?” he asked rather abruptly. “Dissidia,” I replied pulling my gaze away from the harbour. “Good game, if a little too ‘fan-service-y’,” he remarked. I agreed wholeheartedly with him about how the franchise had taken a nose-dive in the last couple of years. “Do you play console?”, he asked, and we delved into a debate about which of the consoles were truly the best.

Every now and then I couldn’t help but notice that most of the men in the room kept trying to catch glimpses of me from the corner of their eyes. Thankfully, one of the presenters had made his way over, meaning the gazes were directed elsewhere now.
“Well, we have a little treat for you today. Here’s an opportunity for you to try the beta version of our new game.” The idle chatter died down at the mention of ‘beta’ and everyone crowded around the monitor to get a good glimpse of the game’s intro. “So who’s brave enough to take the first stab at this,” the presenter asked, gesturing at the controller sitting on top of the monitor.

“Ladies first,” said the journalist I’d just been chatting to, nudging me towards the T.V. If truth be told, I was rather reluctant to pick up the controller; my palms began to sweat and I could feel my heart pounding against my chest. Why was I being made to play this game first? Were they trying to test my prowess as a gamer? It felt like some kind of challenge, and some of the people in attendance began to fold their arms in impatience. I knew I had to prove myself, not because I was a woman, but because I was a gamer whose ability had always been questioned. My hand held tightly around the controller, I picked my character. I played nonstop for twenty minutes, hearing murmurs behind me: “Good move”, “She spotted it.” As I put the controller down, I got a hearty pat on the back from my acquaintance. “Not sure I want to follow that,” he said, starting up a new game. Spirits lifted, I left the hotel ready to write my article.

There are some things which are considered overtly masculine; gaming is one of them. Despite the statistics showing the increasing amount of women logging onto Xbox Live accounts, there are few women writing reviews, developing games and turning up as protagonists in them. Even in 2013, there is still a fair way to go before true equality can be realised, though I’d be lying if I said I haven’t seen some changes already; my day at the most recent Tokyo Game Show has proven that I was wrong in some respects, as reports showed that over 40% of attendees were women. Some might say that it’s all in my head, but why would I have this feeling of inferiority if I weren’t conditioned so?

Franki Webb