Why I Game: We Are Not Alone

Why I Game: We Are Not Alone

Like a lot of young introverts, as a kid I struggled making lasting friendships. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. Through times of significant change in adolescence, I was still having a hard time finding “my place” in the world. I declined invitations to parties and events because they made me feel tired, but I still felt isolated.

I know a lot of other people who like video games have experienced something similar. We immerse ourselves in stories and find friends and heroes in the characters. We find characters we can relate to and say, “They went through this experience and came out of it okay; maybe I can, too.”

Sometimes we need to take an escape from everything—to put everything on pause and to just stop when it feels like everything’s coming down. The month following my mother’s death had been the most I’ve ever felt alone. I couldn’t stay at my dad’s house forever, and my boyfriend and friends had day jobs and lives to deal with, so sometimes I only had myself for company. I was not a good choice for myself.

I decided the time was right to finally play Journey, a game by thatgamecompany as a series of games for PlayStation. The game has a simple formula that it sticks to—the hero’s journey—but the two hours of game time was like a form of meditation for me. As a lone wanderer, in Journey you keep traveling toward a mountain in the distance. You start off alone, occasionally coming across other wanderers who share a similar goal, but you never exchange words. There’s a silent understanding of helping each other out, but also journeying on your own terms. As the game transitions from bright, sunny deserts with scenes of surfing down the sands to a darker underground, and then to a harsh, snowy climb up the mountain, my motivation for moving on was finding these other wanderers as well as coming across elder figures at the end of each section of the game. I wanted guidance. I wanted someone to show me what the point of everything was. By the end of the game, gliding at the top of the summit and walking toward a white light, I was sobbing. I finally let go of one long breath I had been holding in for months.

Games aren’t solitary experiences—even games designed for one person. Before online multiplayer existed, arcades were bustling with people slamming on buttons and sticks, people laughing at the wheel of a race car driving into walls. People lined up for Dance Dance Revolution. And even though many arcades have closed down, games are still social experiences. We form fictional rock bands with friends, dance together, and sing in living rooms and basements. In online spaces, we can join friends and strangers to fight zombies, fling paint at each other, and play as champions alongside teammates. In games made for one player, we turn the games into shared experiences by writing about them, talking about them.

Games aren’t solitary experiences—even games designed for one person.

Unfortunately, enjoying multiplayer games online is difficult as a woman or nonbinary person. Most of these games are aggressive and hostile spaces, focused on competition and guns. Furthermore, their theming props up hypermasculinity, and almost no women are present. The moment anyone with a voice that doesn’t fit the traditional masculine norm speaks, they’re designated an outsider.

This is why I rarely play games with men I don’t know. Even with men I’m acquaintances with, should I win in a Super Smash Bros. match, start making comments about women and video games when they think I won’t hear them. Because games have been marketed to men and played up as something they’re just inherently better at, when that space is threatened, they get angry. That sort of insecurity has led to things like GamerGate, but it’s not confined to that group. Men who make us feel alone in a gaming space despite being very literally not alone—they’re a part of games culture.

But we’re not alone. I’ve met so many women and nonbinary people who love games; I’ve played games with many who don’t consider themselves gamers. Games are one of our many ways of interacting.

Sometimes you need time to be alone, though. In the days leading up to and following my mother’s death, the house was busy. So many people were coming to say goodbye, to check up on us, to deliver food. You can’t mourn with other people around. You can cry in the church in front of everyone, but for me it wasn’t the long sob I had at the end of Journey to accept that life is hard, life isn’t fair, but we spend it with people we care about.

We aren’t alone in our struggles, and we don’t exist alone. It’s nice to have both fictional characters to relate with and friends to spend time with. When I scaled the mountain in Journey and walked into the unknown on the summit, my tears were not tears of heartbreak. In that moment I remembered how many other people had played this game in their own grief and found meaning in it. I was lonely no longer.

Read the rest of the Why I Game series.

Women Play Games: Why It Doesn’t Matter That Women Own More Game Consoles

Sexist gatekeepers have another hurdle to try to mansplain away: a recent report by the Pew Research Center examined device ownership in the United States, concluding more women than men own a game console.

The study, which can be read in its entirety here, is based on telephone interviews conducted from March to April of this year with 1,907 Americans at least 18 years old living in the 50 states and D.C. Pew concluded about 40% of American adults own a game console and that “ownership varies by age, household income, and education.”

However, the statistic from this survey everyone is clinging to is the one that looks at gender. According to Pew, 42% of the women surveyed own a game console (such as an Xbox or PlayStation, as surveyors said), whereas 37% of the men surveyed owned a game console. This is a difference of five percentage points. The margin of error Pew lists for much of its statistics fall between plus-or-minus 2.6 points (margin of error associated with U.S. adults group) to 8.4 points (margin of error associated with less than high school education group). For the men and women survey groups, the margin of error is around three and a half points.

Pew states in its study of console ownership that “there are no differences based on gender or race and ethnicity.” The greater differences lie in household income, education, and age. For example, an adult with some college education, coming from a household whose annual income is at least $75,000, and is 18-29 years old, or even 30-49, is very likely to own a game console—to no one’s surprise. Pew found similar results of how household income affects device ownership in other areas, such as smartphones, computers, and tablets.

Yet I saw little of that being discussed in various news articles or on social media. The statistic that everyone clung to, despite Pew stating the difference was minimal, was the fact that women are slightly more likely than men to own game consoles. I love shaming sexist gatekeepers as much as the next person, but we have fallen into a consistent pattern of rejoicing whatever piece of women’s consumerism “proves” we play games, too. You’re not more of a gamer whether you own one games console or three, whether you built your own gaming desktop computer, or whether you buy games the day they come out or play free games on your phone. There’s a reason we always see the same middle class person reflected in games and other media; this stuff is expensive. Owning a game console is a status symbol not every gamer can afford. Forget gender gatekeeping—if we continue gatekeeping based on class as well, we’re still insisting certain people don’t belong in our hobby. We know what it’s like to feel like we’re not allowed; why reinforce that with classism?

Owning a game console is a status symbol not every gamer can afford. Forget gender gatekeeping—if we continue gatekeeping based on class as well, we’re still insisting certain people don’t belong in our hobby. We know what it’s like to feel like we’re not allowed; why reinforce that with classism?

Most illuminating is what sexist gatekeepers have done with this statistic. Multiple replies in a thread on NeoGAF asked if this number is a result of mothers owning game consoles for their children (as if the same couldn’t be said of fathers). Another eloquent response included “lol no way this can be true.” Others tried to explain the fact that plenty of women own consoles too is because lots of women own a Nintendo Wii, which they imply means those gamers aren’t “hardcore.”

Pew conducted a similar study four years ago, and little has changed since then. The percentage of men versus women owning a console has changed somewhat; according to Pew, four years ago 45% of the men surveyed owned a game console, whereas 40% of women did. That’s the same difference of percentage points—a minimal difference. Some of the statistics don’t mesh perfectly with the ESA’s 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, but all of this information confirms something we already knew.

Women play games. A lot.

The fact that we still feel pressured to prove this—time and time again to people who aren’t listening anyway—through consumer data is absurd. After all, gatekeepers will continue to concoct reasons as to why the data is flawed. When women play games on their phones, gatekeepers say those games don’t count because they’re not “really games.” When women play games on a console, gatekeepers say they’re not hardcore enough to play PC games. When women play PC games, gatekeepers say they’re playing the “wrong games” (e.g. Gone Home, visual novels, etc.). When women play fighting games, shooters, or MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena), gatekeepers don’t take them seriously.

We don’t need to win this argument. We don’t need to prove anything.