Social media is afire after the latest Anita Sarkeesian video resulted in renewed rape/death threats against her. Sarkeesian makes the seemingly uncontroversial statement that women’s bodies are abused and killed for little or no reason in video games. As a result, some men are so enraged that they’re driven to hurl sexist, violent abuse at the very idea of women who come within fifty feet of a game.
The problem with that is that I am a woman gamer. So are many of my women friends. Many of them run games for their friends, and a growing number are designing their very own games. I am wildly proud to be included in all this. Many of those friends have written wisely about the unfettered misogyny and racism that plagues the electronic and tabletop game industries at the same moment when we see more women and people of color entering the hobby than ever before.
So I don’t have much to add to their insightful commentary. But I do want to say this to my fellow women in games:
Play whatever games you want.
Yes, of course that means the button-mashing robot invasion game, or the minmaxed mecha pilot, or the Napoleonic cavalry officer trying to win Waterloo. War games and LARPs and Minecraft and Burning Wheel–all of it belongs to you as much as anyone else in the world, and don’t let a soul tell you otherwise.
But you can also play the magical space princess romance game. You can play a game where the only measurable objective is to get the boy (or the girl). You can play a game that’s all about middle school gossip. You can play a game with no boys allowed.
You can play games with fluid, barely there rules, and super-crunchy tables of staggering detail.
You can play games of scientific discovery, and life in the military, and the pursuit of katana mastery, and young love.
You can play games of death-defying feats and fearless daring, where you do everything you can’t ever imagine doing in the real world.
You can play games with sex: grand, towering, chandelier-swinging heights of passion that include superhuman flexibility and magical potions of endurance.
You can play games where you get to hunt down and beat the shit out of your rapist.
You can play games that capture a perfect, impossible childhood with nothing scary at all.
Because games contain everything we are–right now, fragile, flawed, unfinished–and everything we could possibly be–brave, magnificent, powerful, unstoppable. So nothing is beyond the scope of games. If you use a game to tell your story, there’s a very good chance that it’s a story others want to play too.
Because these games exist in the dimensions of ourselves and our world, the dark things do creep in: racism, sexism, ableism, bullying, abuse. Some of that is unintentional, but we’re coming to grips with the reality that others don’t always see these things as a problem. Some even see it as a solution, a boundary fence to protect an imagined definition of games that’s confined only to their tiny vision.
Games are bigger than these people. Protecting our games from criticism smothers them until all the fire goes out. Improving games improves us all, and the world we play them in.
And nobody gets to say your game is less worthy because of what you want to play. You are participating in one of the oldest common human experiences in the world. Play it all, women. Play all the games, then make your own.