My Apology To Female Gamers

OK, so I was subjected to the “But you don’t play real games” inquisition a few times last week. By young men who genuinely could not cope with the idea that a middle aged mum looked comfortable holding an Xbox controller.

Well… Gosh…

Image via Shutterstock

My name is Nicole Stark, and I’m just your average middle-aged mother of four. Oh and I’m an independent games developer. I’ve worked in the games industry since the late nineties. Four years ago my hubby and I packed up our kids, moved to the beach and formed Disparity Games, and now I don’t just work in the games industry, it’s where I live. Seriously, my office is in my kitchen.

Being an indie game developer means showing off your game at conventions, so every couple of months I put on some pants, pack a build and some business cards, and head to a con. Last week I was at SimTecT, which I’ve got to say, was pretty amazing. They had everything from Jet Fighter sims to robots that simulated childbirth. I was there because our game Ninja Pizza Girl was a finalist in the Serious Games Challenge. I was pretty chuffed to be a finalist in anything "Serious" with a game called Ninja Pizza Girl.

The conversations I have with people who come up to play the game at conventions tend to follow patterns. My favourite is the one that starts with “So what’s this about?” and ends with “Wow you’re amazing!” (I’m only human). My least favourite starts with “Do you really play games?” and ends with some young bloke going on and on and about the “correct” character to main in LoL.

Before you say #NotAllMen – yes you’re right, most of the men I talked to last week were very nice, but #YesAllWomen (I was the only one in our section). There were enough inquisitors that the conversation felt endless. None of the male developers had to discuss or justify their career path or gaming habits.

Back in the nineties this sort of thing used to make me roll my eyes. Its their problem, I thought. I’ll just carry on playing and making games and the blokes will get used to me being here and eventually it won’t be a thing anymore.

Sigh…

It seems I was wrong, and for that I’d like to apologise to the young women of today. And also to, well, everyone, because if quietly waiting for things to change isn’t working then the obvious alternative is loudly and impatiently tapping my feet until things get better.

I’m a mum, I know the power of a stern gaze, folded arms and a tapping foot.

So here goes.

Tap

Asking someone if they actually play games is rude.

Tap

Its extremely very rude to follow that up by sneeringly asking what kind of games.

Tap tap

And for the love all that is holy, if you find yourself ten questions down the track asserting that League of Legends is far more of a “real” game than Dragon Age: Inquisition? tap Son, you need to go to your room and think about what you’ve done.

Women play games. Girls play games. Grandmas play games. All sorts of freaking games, none of which are more valid than any other. Even Candy Crush.

(Except maybe DOTA. People who play DOTA are the most boring people in the universe and I think this article proves it.)

There is a controller made that requires lady parts to operate, but as far as I know there’s none that require man meat. Consoles don’t have a Y chromosome detector. Steam sells Hatoful Boyfriend AND Counterstrike. BECAUSE THEY ARE BOTH REAL GAMES. Which people of all genders and ages play.

My four daughters play games and so help me if you ask them, even the six year old, if they play real games -- I will lose my shit.

Tap

Tap

You can come out when you are ready say sorry and be nice. Ima’ go play DarkSouls.

PS I am joking about DOTA. My soon to be son-in-law plays DOTA, and we’re a League family. But we love him anyway.


Comments

    Why is this an apology to female gamers? Because she hasn't managed to change the sexism prevalent in the industry??

    Also DA:I and LoL are among my top 2 played games ever and both of them are worthy of serious nerd cred.

      It's an apology that they have to put up with this.

      She's apologising because she didn't try to change the industry. She ignored these problems in the 90's and assumed they'd just go away with time. Twenty years later she feels like she could have done more instead of leaving the current generation of female gamers to deal with the same crap.
      Personally I don't fault her for any of that but that's what she's apologising for.

        You know what when you've brought your partner of Jewish decent over to a family dinner and your grandparents say stuff like, "The holocaust is a conspiracy!."
        It's like that, when you want to apologize for your folks' words/ actions.

          Back in the nineties this sort of thing used to make me roll my eyes. Its their problem, I thought. I’ll just carry on playing and making games and the blokes will get used to me being here and eventually it won’t be a thing anymore.
          Sigh...
          It seems I was wrong, and for that I’d like to apologise to the young women of today.

          Last edited 31/08/15 10:53 am

    if you find yourself ten questions down the track asserting that League of Legends is far more of a “real” game than Dragon Age: Inquisition? tap Son, you need to go to your room and think about what you’ve done.
    God I absolutely lost it at this! May have spluttered a bit of coffee in the process.

    Well written piece, and I can't even imagine how annoying it gets constantly having to "justify" your hobby just because of your gender...

      I used to cop this just when I worked in gaming retail, and that was crazy annoying - I cannot even imagine what it would be like to have created the thing that people are doubting your knowledge of.

        Ask them a simple programming question. That's what I would do.

          Been there. The world is full of wannabe hackers who think they're geniuses because they know a few lines of script, when in fact they have zero idea of software design and architecture, and just how much thought and effort goes into creating good code.

            I know a little code myself. I think majority of people who play games don't actually know how to code.

        I worked in gaming retail with a female co-worker and had multiple occasions that a guy would not believe what she had told them and would ask me to make sure. Then they wouldn't believe me that she had 300+ hours logged on skyrim.

          Whoah! That's nuts! When I go to EB, I don't wonder if the retail shop assistant is a gamer or not, I just see them as a retail shop assistant.

            Yea its pretty disgraceful. To be fair most of the time she was treated exactly like the rest of us but unfortunately its always the bad points that you remember in retail.

        Yeah, but are any of the games she created real games though?

        Last edited 28/08/15 4:01 pm

          Going to assume this is deep-seated sarcasm.

            Yeah, it was. I guess it's better to be explicit about it, given how some people act.

    I think I remember Ninja Pizza girl from Pax Aus last year. Congratulations on getting so far!

      I think I remember Ninja Pizza girl from donating to their kickstarter and getting sent a shirt that I immediately destroyed with super glue by accident.

        Good job? =P Is Ninja pizza girl available yet?

        NOOOOOOO! That shirt was awesome! xD

        I still have mine :D

      It's been up on Steam for a little while if you want to see the final product. It's a simple thing but quite fun. I'd love to see them take the themes and run with them even further with their next title.
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/319470/

        Thank you. I had a friend who was looking super forward to this. =D

      I definitely remember it but it still doesn't seem to be out on Android which was the platform I wanted to play it on. Looked like a fun game though!

    People who play DOTA are the most boring people in the universe...

    This made me laugh so hard.

    Great article, Nicole. I love that you've written it from your very particular standpoint and that you've drilled it down to what the problem primarily is - people being incredulously rude. Best of luck to Disparity Games with all your future releases!

    Nicole, you are a wonderful human and have paved the way for so many others in the industry. Thank you for writing this <3

    The problem is people's worldview can only extend so far. And if you're in the games industry and going to games industry events, you're dealing with a very small, very loud minority of people.

    Many of these people are so fanatical about video games that they haven't taken much time to do other important things in their life. Like learning basic social skills, getting to know people who are not exactly like them in every way, taking the time to learn about other people and specifically women. All of these things culminate in the sort of video game player cliche that's likely to make sexist comments and be generally embarrassing as a member of society.

    They might eventually grow up and learn how to interact with others (although I doubt an online scolding from a stranger will be the catalyst for that). But what you have the benefit of being able to do as a person with the life experience and intelligence that a mother with a family has, is to not see this as a institutional problem, but a personal one. Like you said, women, girls, grandmas, and all kinds of men and boys play video games. Don't let interaction with 1% of the game playing population fool you into thinking this is a wider societal issue.

    More often than not, when you meet someone who pisses you off, it's because they are an asshole, not because they are a man and you are a woman. They might also be sexist because they are an asshole, but that's just an "added bonus". Does sexism exist? Definitely. Is every sexist interaction anyone has with another person due to institutional sexism? Definitely not.

    Last edited 28/08/15 12:36 pm

    Ok, can i just say something about question number 2? I ask EVERYBODY who says they play games what kind of games they play. This is so I can find out if I have the same gaming interests as another person. I've noticed some girls come back with a snarky attitude like as if I'm expecting them to say Candy Crush (which I wouldn't judge, I'd just accept that persons interests are different to mine), whereas blokes just say the game they're currently into. Honestly, I just don't care about gender in video games. Girl or guy, you're a gamer to me.

      In terms of the second question, look at the way Nicole phrases it. It's as a sneering follow up to asking if they actually play games. Also are you really surprised women come back with a snarky attitude when a lot of the time the question is being asked as a judgement call? Just make it clear you're asking to see if you share interests.

        See, I totally agree with that. If some bloke says it in a douchey way then by all means, shoot that man down with an equally snarky response or just tell him to GTFO.

        In hindsight I should've mentioned that I did notice she said in the article about 'sneeringly' being asked what kind of games she played. I just figured that much was obvious, and my comment is purely the flipside of what seems to be common situation. When a guy asks a girl genuinely and she gets up in arms as a result of being underestimated or degraded. It doesn't suck half as much as being degraded but it sucks that it comes back and effects decent people that don't mean to be condescending.

      When every person you ever mention gaming to says "oh yeah, really, what games? Candy Crush?" in a snide tone of voice and changes their attitude when you mention games that they feel are hard core, maybe you'd respond with a snarky attitude too when the question isn't meant that way.

        I probably would just auto-retaliate at a question that's normally fired at me with aggression, even if it was sincere and genuine. I probably have to many innocent questions. In no way do I blame a girl for being sick of the question being asked incorrectly. Lets face it, being a shit and assuming a girl doesn't play the "right" games is just plain wrong.

      That snarky attitude (not saying it's called for in your circumstance) likely comes from a lifetime of being asked that question in a manner that is more accusatory than genuinely curious.

      I'd say maybe one in every fifty times I'm asked what games I play by a male gamer, it's in a friendly way as opposed to the far more common demand for proof of my nerd cred.

        Also I never get asked these questions when my husband or a male game dev friend is showing the game with me. Never.

        It sucks that it's like that. I'm lucky, my sisters play video games, my mum, gf and a couple of my aunties enjoy video games...so I'm used to girls in all genres of gaming. Hence why sometimes I forget guys are just jerks to female gamers because they think they're better.

        I feel like that's how I tend to be with most people, regardless of gender. Demand proof of nerd cred, give a bit of shit about it (see above talk of DOTA), hopefully take a little back (it's pretty easy, I'm a Nintendo guy), then move on. Meant to all be in good jest, anyway.

        Can only imagine what it must be like. I'd try and take solace/amusement in the fact that your mere presence is such a threat to their tiny little world. Then again, I guess that'd only go so far before genuine despair at the state of things kicked in.

      a snarky attitude like as if I'm expecting them to say Candy Crush (which I wouldn't judge, I'd just accept that persons interests are different to mine)

      I'll be honest, I'll totally judge them for that. Just because I support people's right to play whatever they want doesn't mean I'll excuse their terrible taste.

    Personally I give zero shits about anyone who tries to tell me I'm not a gamer, but anyone who tries to say my 60+ year old mum isn't a gamer? THEM'S FIGHTING WORDS.

      Your 60+ year old mum isn't a gamer.

        Oh yeah? You should've seen her playing Splatoon. Also, she'll totally take you on in Katamari. She also knows Nintendo, Playstation and Xboxes are all different consoles

          http://funnyasduck.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/funny-robot-mom-stop-playing-nintendo-gaming-comic-pics.jpg

            That wouldn't work for me. =P

        In the immortal words of Russell Crowe, send me your address so can I visit you and explain my passions. http://41.media.tumblr.com/fe4e264c95175cd91fac0b1c54b350d9/tumblr_mhkq6261Y91qj7kpfo1_500.jpg ;)

    People who play DOTA are the most boring people in the universe

    .... lol

    Last edited 28/08/15 12:46 pm

      Lol as in you find that funny, or Lol as in you prefer league? (genuinely curious)

        Funny. Dota > League.

          I don't play MoBA's so don't have a preference, hence the asking

      My mum plays DOTA better than your mum. Besides, LoL is just DOTA is easy mode anyway, right? And Heroes of the Storm is just DOTA with in-your-face HEY-LOOK-WE'RE-BLIZZARD IP.

    There is a controller made that requires lady parts to operate, but as far as I know there’s none that require man meat.

    Do ho ho, you just wait and see!

      Uh, yeah, I thought there was a Japanese game where there was a.. uhhh.. male specific... "controller" of sorts.

        Custom Maid 3D has either the Ju-C Air or Chu-B controllers for the male anatomy. They're adding Occulus Rift support for Custom Maid 3D 2

        I've only heard legends of a PS2 game with a controller for girls however

          You're thinking of Rez, and its Trance Vibrator.

          Last edited 31/08/15 11:33 pm

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teledildonics

      ah yes, an old invention!

    This hurts my brain a little bit. I see this too often even to this day. Girl gamers exist, and quite often they'll kick your arse. Deal with it!

    The question 'said in a sneering voice' is rudeness, pure and simple - I congratulate you for not slapping their ignorant faces Nicole. Their parents are directly at fault. Given my upbringing, I can’t imagine walking up to a complete stranger and asking ANY question in a sneering voice. Sexist or not. I could be the most rambunctiously chauvinistic pig in the world... but I’d still ask the question politely :) 

    I watch my sister raise her children, requiring manners/politeness/respect for others ... then I see how the rest of my friends raise theirs. Mercy. "Anything goes" is the order of the day, so terrified are they that Oprah is going to turn up.... accuse them of being abusive parents...

    I weep for the future…

    ...time for a Bex…

    None of the male developers had to discuss or justify their career path or gaming habits.I was actually thinking about something similar to this the other day. In all my (many) years of gaming, I have only been asked about my real sex when using a female avatar. No one has ever asked if I'm really a male when playing a male avatar.

    In other news, this article reminds me that I need to buy Ninja Pizza Girl once it leaves Early Access.

      That is a curious thought isn't it? Considering it seems an increasing amount of guys will choose the female version, the question pops up if they're actually a girl or not (not that it really matters in the end). Yet not once has someone questioned if I was a female using a male character. I wonder how many girls out there use a male character to avoid the jerky guy gamers trying to hit on them?

        I just tell them that I'm old enough to be their mother!
        (which I probably am BTW)

          And from now on I shall be adopting a stern gaze, folding my arms and tapping my foot.

    I met you and your family at PAX 2013, and I really enjoyed what I played of Ninja Pizza Girl. It seemed very early, but I liked how your family was working together - and the game was already solid. You're an Australian indie developer - and you're among truly great company. And the industry is booming due to the success teams like you are enjoying. We don't all want to play the same things and there are games out there for every kind of gamer, even if that person doesn't consider themselves a gamer. And while I love big AAA games like Assassin's Creed and Dragon Age, I can appreciate your game exists because it fills a void that brings more gamers into the fold. And I liked what I played of it as well.

    I wish this damn sexism would just go away.

    My girlfriend is a far better gamer than I am. Does that mean i'm bad? No way. It just means that she's a good gamer...

    And a lot of girl gamers are excellent gamers.

    Grow up people. This isn't 1990 anymore. This is 2015.

    For me the "do you actually play games" is more of a legit question. For years now my go-to line is "I don't play games, I just buy 'em" :P

    Even as a guy I hate the "what kind of games do you play" question too. Umm... all of them I guess?

    Except RPGs. Bleh.

      TACO MAN YOU NEED TO PLAY DRAGON AGE

        YOU CAN'T MAKE ME

        I honestly don't even know what it is. Dragon Age, Dragon's Dogma, Dragon's Crown, Dragon Dragon... it all just makes me think of Lair anyway. And then I get sad about Factor 5.

          Dragon Dragon was pretty overrated IMHO. Dragon's Dragon though, that's another story.

    I've been really lucky - I've very rarely experienced any sexism because I'm a female gamer. I don't play online games very much, which probably helps. I was a little bit worried about going to PAX in a post-Gamer Gate world, but it turned out to be no problem and I had a great time.

    I did have one experience at EB Games, which surprised me. I was buying an XBox One for myself. As the staff member who was serving me was getting everything together, he was explaining various things about what the console could do, as well as their policies for trading in games and that sort of thing. I wasn't paying very much attention (because I know all this stuff already), but it slowly dawned on me that instead of saying "You can do...." or "You can trade in games" etc, he was saying "He can..." I'm not sure who the "He" this guy was referring to was, but it was pretty clear that he thought I was buying the console for someone else. It all happened so quickly that I paid for my console and left before it fully sunk in what just happened. In an ideal world, I should have corrected him and made it clear that I was buying the console for myself, and that 37-year-old women can play XBoxes too. But I dunno, it just didn't work out that way. It's not always easy to call out the sexism happening in front of you.

    Wait! People now consider LoL more "real" than Dragon Age??

    So what happens if you say you're a hardcore Tetris gamer???

    My son used to bring his friends home from school so that he could gain cred by association. "Wow, your mum's playing Skyrim!"

    none of which are more valid than any other. Even Candy Crush.

    Wrong.

      Candy Crush isn't a game. It's a scientific experiment to see how much money an app can make while delivering no value.

    I'm sorry baby sister. I'm not a gamer really though I'm learning to play your games, I'm quite geeky though. In 1977 I built pong from scratch, resistors, transistors and capacitors as part of a physics degree. Not even ICs. I went on to fight to be allowed a place in IT in the 80s and soon learned not to add a title to my name as it is a unisex name and most people would assume I was a man. I've earned my place in IT over the let 30 years and just assumed all was happy in the world. I should have been paying attention. I thought being a role model and not taking any nonsense was enough. It wasn't. I'm sorry. Your big sister xx hugs

    Welp. I'm a woman. An avid gamer. And I love DOTA. Seriously why did that DOTA discrimination bit have to be there ? :(

      PS I am joking about DOTA. My soon to be son-in-law plays DOTA, and we’re a League family. But we love him anyway.

      I think she was having a bit of a fun dig at DotA being from a League family, don't think it was serious.

    Really, I've had enough interactions with generation of Gamestop employees that I just assume that none of them knows anything except which sports game is coming up. That's male and female. Until each individual employee shows me some sort of knowledge outside of Madden or Call of Duty, I just assume they are useless to me.

      I went to an EB once and had to spell 'Metal Gear Solid' for a staff member because they had no clue what I was talking about.

    I get this every time I buy games as well.
    I also get it when I'm buying stuff for my cars (i'm in to cars too) everyone assumes its my boyfriends or online they assume I am dude if a post about it.
    I just run with it now. Too lazy to correct and if I do correct, I feel like I am trying to demand attention to the fact that I am a girl who likes these typical dude things. When in reality I don't want it to be a a big deal, so it's sort of a catch 22.

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