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Influential Female Characters: Princess Zelda

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I know a lot of people who love Princess Zelda. Why wouldn’t they? She’s beauty. She’s grace. She’ll punch you in the face. Well, that is all dependent on which incarnation of Zelda one is playing, that is. She has evolved and changed with every version of The Legend of Zelda that has been released.

Despite her name being in the title of of the games, Princess Zelda is not the main character. The main character is our own pot smashing Link. In every game, we have a different version of Link. Usually he is saving or aiding Zelda. Then why name the games after Zelda? Because there would be no need for Link to be adventuring if not for Zelda.

Yes, she starts off as a damsel in distress, but in many of the newer games, Zelda handles herself fairly well. Also every Princess Zelda is chosen by fate, though often also a member of the ruling family,  to be charged with the Triforce of Wisdom. So, basically, she is a boss with all the wisdom to rule and a chosen one to boot. So yes, her name should be in the title of all the games.

In the first Legend of Zelda game, Zelda is not even seen until after Link defeats the big boss. However, she guides him throughout the game. Zelda usually has some form of psychic powers, including telepathy and sometimes premonitions. She is always very wise and fair in her judgement, which makes her a wonderful ruler. It, however, does not seem to be able to help her evade being captured.

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Zelda’s age and appearance depend largely on the game and Link’s age. Sometimes she is a child, a teenager or a young woman. Usually she has blonde hair – though sometimes brown – with blue eyes, pointed ears and long dresses. There are a few times where she wears boots and pants. Normally she looks very much the picture of a princess. She is always proficient with music.

Her role in the games also varies depending on the game. In earlier games she was normally a damsel for Link to save. There are times when she even wields Link’s blade. In some games, she has her own sword. Other times she has a bow and arrows.

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She is a kind ruler. Zelda tends to be forgiving of those who have wronged her. However, if you hurt someone she cares about, *coughLinkcough*, all bets are off. Her relationship with Link changes from game to game. Sometimes they seem to be together romantically by the end of the game. She does always seem to care about him and his welfare.

I like how feminine she is. I like how she is always strong, but not always in the way of having to physically fight. Zelda does everything within her power to protect her people. At the end of the day, Zelda is a really interesting character. I think it is important for her strength of mind to be something for gamers to look to as a positive trait as well. Sometimes we push away characters like Zelda because they are not always physically strong. That is is a mistake. Zelda has a lot of positive qualities that we can look to and emulate. 

Here is to Princess Zelda, the chosen princess of her people and overall boss!

Always keep sparkling, friends!

Women in Gaming: Carol Shaw

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As an old-school gamer, it’s always been a part of life that women game, and women develop games.  From the beginning, advertising has included boys and girls playing Nintendo together, men and women at the arcade, and in company photos from some of the greats.  While there’s never been an even split, it never seemed strange to me that girls in my neighborhood liked video games as much as I did.  It was only within the last ten years or so that people have not only raised the question “Is it enough?” but also began to inundate our gaming news with so much negativity about being a woman in this industry.

I’ve interviewed female developers and gamers about this, and while their experiences vary greatly, most agree that the lack of positive coverage of women in gaming is a hindrance to making any substantial change.  When young women start looking at gaming as a possible interest, many will be turned away by the lack of any good examples in the media.  Let’s face it, bad news sells, but it also skews our perspective.  Take a look yourself and you’ll find top searches are a mix of contradictory stories, negative and frightening press, and too few articles about the women who have helped shape this hobby we all love.  So I’m glad to be able to do a little profile on one of the first, Carol Shaw.

Carol Shaw is credited as the first female game designer with two titles for the Atari 2600 in 1978.  Polo, which was never released, and 3D Tic-tac-toe.  She worked for Atari, Activision, and Tandem Computers during her career.  Her game credits are not long, but as far as I and many gamers are concerned, they are pivotal in early game development.  Her lesser known credits include Othello, Video Checkers, Calculator, and Happy Trails.

Her early childhood, she notes, was mostly spent with an interest in her brother’s railroad set rather than the typical girl’s toys of the time.  Her father was an engineer and she excelled in mathematics in school, all of which likely lent themselves to her interest in computer sciences.  In fact, her first introduction to gaming and computers was together in high school with text-based games many of us can remember if we’re old enough.  She attended Berkeley, achieving a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and eventually finishing a master’s in Computer Sciences.  From there, it was onto Atari, who was the leading video game company at the time.

Before we talk about the game most consider the best of her work, and one of the top games Atari ever had, I want to bring up Super Breakout.  We had a lot of games on the Atari growing up, but there’s only a handful I remember.  One of those is Super Breakout.  It’s a game where you control a flat paddle, similar to what you find in Pong, and use it to bounce a ball around the screen.  At the top of the screen are bricks you are trying to destroy with said ball.  Let it hit the bottom of the screen and you lose a ‘life’, or ball.  I believe you had three balls to use.  Higher levels added a double layered paddle, and sometimes balls were trapped in the bricks, that once released into play, could all be bounced around to destroy more bricks.  As long as you kept at least one ball in play, you were in the game.  To this day, its one of the more challenging and fun games I’ve ever played, and we have Carol to thank for it.

Then there’s River Raid.  We had this on the Atari 5200, which Carol helped port over from her original design.  This game was by far my favorite, and is probably the reason I later fell in love with flight simulators.  River Raid, if you’re never played it, is based around navigating a plane through an obstacle course inside an ever-narrowing channel.  The screen moves forward and you can speed that up, but you can navigate the plane left or right.  You have to dodge, or shoot, balloons, helicopters, and other planes while avoiding contact with the sides of the channel.  It was probably more difficult than any game I’ve played, and I never did beat it.  This game is considered by many to be the best 8-bit game Atari ever put out.

There’s a great, and thorough interview with Carol over on Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Let us know what you think about Carol Shaw’s games in the comments below!

 

Influential Female Characters: Lara Croft

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Lara Croft. It only seems fitting for me to start off this first blog post of Influential Female video game characters with Lara. I have spoken about how she is one of my favorite characters. I like her for a lot of reasons; she is smart, sexy and she gets to raid tombs. Basically Lara is everything I wanted to be as a kid. She has come a long way and I am excited to explore some of her story with you, my dear readers. So grab your gear and let’s dive in.

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So I have to be honest with you. My first encounter with Lara Croft was the movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider from 2001, so that is where we are going to start. I was in high school watching it with two of my best friends and we loved it. One of them played the games and she was the one who had got us together to watch the movie. We watched that movie a lot. We quoted it a lot. I loved how smart Lara was. I loved her lust for adventure. I loved that she was so unapologetic about being herself.

It didn’t hurt that she got to look for valuable artifacts. I had wanted to be an archaeologist for as long as I could remember when I was growing up but had been beginning to believe I couldn’t be. Up to that point, I hadn’t really seen any kick ass female archaeologists. Lara made me feel like I could go after the later dream if I wanted. Guys like Indiana Jones no longer got to have all the fun. The movie, even with its flaws, fueled my need for a female role model and was my gateway into the Tomb Raider series.

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The first Tomb Raider game debuted in 1996. Its protagonist was, somewhat surprisingly, a female archaeologist. Lara has gone through many different games which has given us many different backstories for her. She has been an heiress who shunned her old life, a woman searching for answers about her parents through the unexplored and a woman who hungers for adventure no matter what the cost. Through all of it there is one theme that is the same; Lara is a survivor.

She loses her parents and survives. Lara makes it through some pretty crazy places in the games and survives.She fights of foes both natural and supernatural. Through every evolution though Lara is, well, Lara. She never loses her drive.She continues to evolve and become more herself. 

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Lara is influential because she is female. She is also a person. She is never not portrayed as a person. She has flaws and is very real for a lot of us. She has dimensions and layers. Lara wears what she wants. She goes after what she wants. She does not strive to be a man. She just lives her life the way she wants.

Lara Croft is smart, she is sassy, she is capable, flawed and female without the last being her only quality. That is why she is the first influential women I will write about. Because she is a women who gave me the courage to be a dreamer and a person despite how people see my gender.

Women in Gaming: Felicia Day

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I can’t even tell you the first time I heard of or saw Felicia Day. To me, it felt like she burst out of nowhere and was suddenly everywhere I looked. I knew she was a nerdy girl but that is about all I was sure of until I saw The Guild on Netflix and, after having it on my list for months, decided that I was going to watch it.

I was confused because the episodes weren’t long at all and quickly found out they were webisodes, so entire seasons were only 20 mins long. I dove in, watching an episode lead to more until I binged everything they had to offer.

I quickly identified with Codex.

A quirky, weird girl who loved to play video games and didn’t get people. Just wanted to have friends and for people to get along. Couldn’t help but be awkward at the best and worst of times. Check, check and check. Hell, I am still all of those things; there is nothing I could do to change any of that. However, representation matters. So, more than anything, here I was, being represented. Even the character Tinkerballa wasn’t a healer (nothing wrong with healers).

I played World of Warcraft, my main (the character I played the most) is a two-weapon fury warrior. No one believed that I am a girl. Girl’s should be healers, boys play warriors. Watch me roll my eyes. I love my warrior and I always typically make a warrior first in all games I play, even RPGs like Dragon Age. /End Mini Rant.

So here I was staring at my representation and at first I had no idea how to take her. Not only did she fit, but she was the center of the show. A show full of awkward, nerdy, typical geek stuff. Ok, some of it’s exaggerated but not always and not always overly so. So of course, I looked into her even further.

In real life, she is a quirky, weird girl who loved to play video games and didn’t always understand people. Um, what now? I was floored. What am I supposed to do with that? More representation at my very finger tips. She geeks out, is running a successful Gaming Entertainment Company with a fabulous community and is just like the rest of us. She is an inspiration.

Felicia even appeared in one of my favorite shows (Supernatural, so jealous) and played a quirky, weird gamer girl. Even as I do research for this article, I realized that she did the voice acting for a character I just encountered in Guild Wars 2, last night. SHE’S EVEN BEEN IN BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Holy crap, I have to go back and watch that again.

She is accessible. Even if you’ve never been on YouTube or Twitch, people typically know who she is. Maybe they remember her from that one episode of House, a commercial from Supernatural or caught her one of the millions of places that she has popped up.

Of course, we could name the tons of times that she has appeared in video games, even getting her own character in Dragon Age 2 DLC, Mark of the Assassin, Tallis, a character she created. They created DLC for a character she created. I can’t even wrap my head around that.

To me, Felicia Day is epic. She is helping to normalize women in all forms of gaming, while actively affecting the gaming industry in more ways than one. Not only her, but her company raises so much for charity. Even more, her representation continues as she announced she is going to have a baby very, very soon.

I wish her all the luck and welcome her to the geeky mom club.

You Can’t Please All the People All the Time

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Recently the developer for World of Tanks was asked, as part of a larger discussion about women in esports, whether he would do anything to make his game more appealing to female gamers.  His response was very on the nose, and highlights a couple of things I’ve noticed over the last few years with a higher demand for representation that has been logical and measured from some, and completely irrational from a few.  What he said was:

Not necessarily. I think there’s very little we can do to make photorealistic tanks appealing to females.

Now, on one hand he has a point.  World of Tanks is a very specific type of game.  It’s a wargame simulator that strives to present historically accurate battlefield scenarios involving tank combat.  That’s going to appeal to a very specific demographic.  Of course there are women out there that like historical wargames, photorealistic tanks, and combat sims.  I’m 100% sure there are.  Just as sure that there aren’t as many of them as men that like the genre, and as sure that the few women who do like it wouldn’t want it changed to reach this nebulous ‘broader demographic.’  Too often, demand is put on developers to try and make everyone happy, and many try, and fail.  We see them attacked from all sides for including this, or excluding that, or including it wrong.  We saw it with Assassin’s Creed, heavily criticized for a lame excuse for not including female characters, then criticized for including them wrong, or including them only as a marketing scheme.  It was a much-needed change to add the option, but they still got beat up.

On the other hand, I think he misses something.  Like I said, some women like World of Tanks.  The game is already appealing to those women who it was going to appeal to.  I know the developer wasn’t blindly dismissing those gamers, but it servers a larger point.  Different types of games will always appeal to a certain type of person, despite gender.  Women and men are both competitive to different degrees.  You don’t always find fewer women playing FPS games or wargames because those games don’t appeal to women.  I know a lot of women that enjoy those types of games, are competitive and love the action, violence, and chaos of those them.  Some of them don’t play them for other reasons, which can be addressed, but a lot don’t and never will.  It’s not because those games are missing some hook they need in order to play.  Some gamers, men and women, just don’t like those games.  My wife, as few games as she does play, would never be interested in Battlefield, no matter what they changed about it.

In World of Tanks’ case what could they do?  How was it even a legitimate question?  I don’t like Japanese dating sims, and there’s nothing a developer should, or could, do to make me want to play one.  In all likelihood any change they did consider would only make it worse for the current player base, and not win me over anyway.  That’s a little specific, however.  Imagine instead a romance novel publisher was asked what they planned to do to draw in more male readers.  Books in general already serve a wide market, with a plethora of genres that appeal to different demographics.  I would hate to see what someone’s idea of a romance novel that appeals to the average male would look like, but I have a feeling it would no longer appeal to the average romance novel demo.  The only logical answer is, nothing.  There’s nothing to do.

When we’re talking about wargames like this one, the women who like them will like them, and the women who don’t, won’t.  Likely any changes that anyone would consider are the same insulting, superficial changes we see often in FPS games like pink gun skins, or in this case tank skins.  No one really thinks women are avoiding this game because they can’t have a pink tank, right?

This is much bigger than a single question about one game however.  It’s a trend we’ve been seeing grow over the last few years.  Many games, and entertainment in general, can stand to diversify.  It does, however, come with a caveat that is often recognized by the vast majority.  Sadly the vast majority is usually quieter than the vocal minority.  Recently The Mary Sue published an article that, nearly in the same breath, criticizes the upcoming live-action Mulan for casting a white character, and one that is ‘too Chinese’.  That caveat is that is has to make sense.  Are we to no longer tell stories about a group of guys that go on a road trip, because we can’t tell a story about all guys anymore?  What about a sisterhood of girls with migrating pants, need a male character because it’s not diverse?  Do we shove pink, rhinestone tanks into WWII because we need to draw in the preteen female gamer, or do we stick with a little realism because they won’t like it anyway?

The moral of the story, ladies and gents, is if you’re a creator, artist, writer, developer, or whatever, don’t try to please everyone.  You can’t.  If you try, you’ll fail, and it won’t always be something you can bounce back from.  There are people out there that just can’t be happy with anything, they aren’t your audience.  I’m begging you all to stop trying.  Stop being swayed by the one person that thinks Tracer’s (Overwatch) pose is too sexy, or that Marcus Halloway (Watchdogs 2) is too ethnic.  It’s your creation, your art, and your vision.  If it’s not something people want to see, you’ll know when they don’t buy it, but at the end of the day if you just create to satisfy the vocal minority, they’ll never be enough to keep you creating.

Unity Promotes Women with Workshops

Unity Promotes Women with Workshops

CiLi4fcWEAAUzCxIt’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of encouraging more women to get involved in the gaming industry. While I lack the education and computer know-how to start making games myself, I applaud the women who are able to pull through the negativity of the media constantly telling them “it’s a man’s industry” and do what they love.

That being said, Unity has launched a series of free and open global workshops, called “Women in Gaming,” in an effort to empower women and encourage them to pursue careers in the video game industry.

These workshops discuss many of the issues women face when attempting to advance their careers in gaming. At the same time, they allow for the people in attendance to network with each other and learn from each other. Other topics covered in the workshop include organizational dynamics, leadership skills and strategic thinking.

The first two workshops have already happened. The first took place in Amsterdam on June 1st. The speaker was Fiona Sperry, the founder of Three Fields Entertainment. The second workshop was in San Francisco, CA, at UC Berkeley with Professor Dana Carvey.

The next three workshops are below:

  • July 28 – Shanghai, China. Special Guests: Amy Huang (AVP at NetEase Capital), Evelyn Liu (CTO at Firevale), and Yanyan Xiong (Founder of Shenzhenware).
  • September 22 – San Francisco, CA. Special Guest: Nanea Reeves (President and COO of textPlus)
  • Early November (date TBD) – Los Angeles, CA at University of Southern California. Special guest: Professor Tracey Fullerton.

1441576529unity-logoEach of the special guest speakers has been successful within the gaming industry. In the workshops, they will be sharing their experiences and insights with those in attendance.

While I wish we didn’t need to have initiatives like this within the gaming industry (and other “male-dominated” industries such as computer programming – see Girls Who Code), I applaud Unity for taking this step. As a woman myself, I can attest to how many times I’ve been told, “but that’s for boys,” in regards to video games or other nerdy things that I enjoy. Initiatives like this not only bring us just a little bit closer to eliminating that negativity in the world, but also gives young gamer girls strong women to look up to.

All of the workshops are free and open to the public. If you’d like to register for one, click here.

 

The Flip-side of the Harassment Coin: Being Too Eager

The Flip-side of the Harassment Coin: Being Too Eager

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I came across this image in my Twitter feed and it got me to thinking: I see this thing a lot.  Usually from over-eager guys that want to be allies, or support women who game.  Some people like to point and laugh at the obvious awkwardness of it, or call it desperate or whatever, but I rolled it around in my head for a bit and wanted to write something to show that there’s a part of this that is an issue for the gaming community and how we move forward as we continue to grow and more people get into gaming.

No one really denies that harassment happens.  It happens to men and women all the time online.  The type of harassment and extent/severity can vary depending on the community, platform, gender, age, and countless other variables.  It’s a shitty fact of life that we wish would go away, accept that it won’t, and do everything we can to help improve for everyone.  On the flip-side of that, to me, are people who are way too eager to please.  They want to be some sort of counter-balance to the negative, and in my opinion wind up just being another negative.

First, before we get into the meat of it though, I just want to touch on the last bit.  We don’t know Brian’s last name, and while I saw a picture of him with this image I left it out.  No need for us to identify Brian, but Brian, dude, you gotta relax with the ladies.  I find that the women in our community, the gamers and geeks, they tend to be very nice folks.  You don’t have to sell yourself, or say things like ‘Don’t be intimidated’ (which some of them might find an insulting assumption).  You don’t have to say you’re not stereotypical, you’re not setting up a date here.  Just be you, they’ll find out who you are that way.  Don’t assume they’re going to assume anything about you, whether it be your stance on the kitchen or your level of intimidation.  And, Brian, I hate to break it to you but while you say you aren’t a stereotypical guy, you kinda are here.  You’re the stereotype of the awkward geek guy who doesn’t know how to talk to girls.  Just relax and be you, man.

So, all that aside that wasn’t my real problem with this but it did come up when I started asking around to make sure it wasn’t just me that saw this as a bit of a issue.  I’m a guy, and while I can empathize, if I’m going to write an article I want to make sure I’m not assuming how this comes off to the women in the community.  I could guess, based on what I’ve read in the past, but it’s always best not to guess.  What I’ve found is women in our community that I talk to want to be accepted for their skill, how fun they are to game with, and the love of gaming.  Saying “I added you because you’re a female gamer” seemed to me to be almost as insulting as “I’m not going to play with you because you’re a female gamer”.  If you’re gaming and find out one of your squadmates, teammates, or someone else in game is a woman she most likely doesn’t want you to take notice because of that.  I know it’s still not that common to come across women in some genres, like FPS games, but fairly common in RPGs and MMOs.  Even then the last thing that they want to hear on voice is “Oh, it’s a girl! Yay, look everyone it’s a girl!”  They probably want to hear things like “Nice shot,” “Thanks for the assist,” and “Move your butt, we’re dying over here,” just like every other gamer.

While the reaction pictured above isn’t harassment, it’s the other swing of that pendulum that doesn’t help move us down the road.  Most of the gamers I know, men and women, want the community to be a place for everyone and anyone that wants to be a part of it.  I’ve often said, more games, with more gamers to play them with.  Just like women often don’t ‘come out’ in-game, or use voice because of harassment, I know some who would also feel just as uncomfortable with a reaction like the one above. I asked around just to make sure that I wasn’t making any assumptions, and not only do the women who game want to be taken more seriously than the image above, they also have a great sense of humor about the whole thing.

And two quotes from the Facebook group I brought this up in where I asked if it was just me or did the image come off as too much, and just as bad as looking down on female gamers because of their gender:

Ugh. “Don’t be intimidated”? Rude. Definitely not just you.

And:

Eh it’s 50/50. I’ve seen guys that are so extremely supportive of female gamers they go overboard with it. It’s happened to me a lot. They just want to make up for the rest of the community. Also hearing girls talk during matches is rare. It gets mistaken for intimidation but it’s typically just removing yourself from a potential situation due to pay experience. The kitchen comment might be am awkward nerds way of trying to be smooth. Open mouth, out falls dumb.

I could also be wrong

So guys, be supportive of the women who game, don’t look down on them because of their gender, but also don’t go so overboard that you become the other extreme.  They are gamers first, and the vast majority want to be treated just like every other gamer.  Don’t be jerks to anyone really, but also don’t treat them like they’re special unicorns that are only seen under a full moon.  You’re not helping any more than the guy that laughs at the idea that girls game.