The Endless Potential for Women’s Stories
I’m nerdy. I’m a gamer. I’m a woman. These three things are simple truths in my life. And when we started talking about Internalizing Equality, I found myself thinking about all the stories of women that reassured me that I was not alone in feeling out of place or wanting to follow my own path. This was especially necessary when growing up, as my love of books and sheer nerdery did not help me fit in with other kids my age.
I still remember first reading Charles De Lint’s Jack, The Giant Killer in which a young woman named Jackie while recovering from heartbreak, managed to go out and find adventure in the most peculiar way as a killer of giants harassing the city of Ottawa. She may have met someone on her quest that she found romantically interesting, but even so, she brushed it off in the pursuit of more important things, like being the hero of the story and figuring out how to deal with that. Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks affected me similarly. Another of the early urban fantasy novels, set in Minneapolis (and a big reason why I want to visit someday), Eddi McCandry, the leader, guitarist and singer in a new wave-ish rock and roll band, ends up sucked into a supernatural war for territory in the city. She works through betrayal, and tries to find a path through the opposing factions while also rocking out at music gigs. Even before urban fantasy got to me, I found myself fascinated by Mercedes Lackey’s Kerowyn from By The Sword. She written as a woman who became a mercenary after her entire family was killed. She went for what she wanted, studying from her grandmother’s best friend and partner, and she learned to be true to herself even when a man she was involved with wanted her to change in order to remain with him.
When I watched tv while growing up, although I had a lot of adult women to pay attention to, it’s true that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the show that truly sucked me (and the rest of my family) in. I fell immediately and madly in love with Willow as a character. A red haired super nerd who is terrified of all the things Buffy fights but still will do anything to help her friend? Even telling her friend things that she might not want to hear? My kind of girl! She became more supernaturally powerful later on in the show, but I felt she was amazingly powerful from the start.
And with all of these, one of the things that set them apart from other books and tv shows for young women and girls was that these women characters had or grew strong friendships with other women characters. This was and continues to be unbelievably important to me. Women have friendships with other women. Women have strong emotional ties to other women. Sometimes the other woman is a mother, sometimes she’s just a friend, sometimes she’s a loved one and sometimes she’s even a mentor. I wanted women who were scared of the scary things, smart, occasionally stupid about some things (because who isn’t?), and kept going despite and because of all of that.
Now my favorite media is video games, and in that arena, it’s extremely difficult to find these kinds of characters as protagonists, forget about women protagonists that actually were friends with other women. I still remember when my brother gave me a copy of Beyond Good and Evil, and I was thrilled with Jade, a woman investigative reporter trying to discover the truth about an alien conspiracy and bring that knowledge to everyone. But she did not really have strong relationships with other women. I find myself constantly seeking out women protagonists in big publisher games just to see what kinds of characters are written. I love them for many reasons, as representations of kick ass women, from Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft to Wet‘s Rubi Malone. but I miss the variety of characters.
So the next question here is where might I find these types of characters? And the truth is, that it’s more likely to happen in games made by other women either in little indie games made by either a tiny studio or a single person. And yet, I still like to play women in games. Why would I choose to get games with women protagonists or choose to play a woman in a game that allows that choice? Simple. Complete and utter fantasy wish fulfillment. When playing as Lara Croft, I like to think that I could totally be an adventurer seeking valuable antiquities. While playing my version of Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, I can pretend that I am a fantastic commander, kicking bad-guy alien butts and talking with Jennifer Hale’s amazing voice.
How do I internalize equality? I continuously talk about women in games. Whether it’s the lack of women protagonists, (and no, the side kicks in various games do not count) or the potential for how women are represented in games, whether it’s clothing choices or actual ability to do anything besides get in the way. I also want to build games myself as I believe that the more kinds of people who make games, the more types of games there will be and the world will grow exponentially in perspectives on life. My dream is to make a game that will reach out to someone who needs reassurance that she is not alone and being true to yourself is good and you can have valuable and important friendships with other women. Is this possible? I certainly hope so!