For the past couple of years, I have closely followed issues of gender in video game culture. In fact, I’m hoping to do my Masters research on sexual harassment and gender in Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). I think gaming is a great platform for the study of many gender dynamics, such as women and girls’ access to leisure activities. Studies of gaming habits have noted that girls and women often only have access to their home’s gaming console if male relatives or partners are not using it. All of this is to say, that I definitely think there is a lot to be explored in terms of video games and gender from an academic standpoint.
However, there is a perspective that I have often found missing from the literature, as well as online discussions of gaming and inclusivity, and that is class. My experience, growing up, definitely did not include video games. We were a family of poor, new immigrants and a video game console was out of our reach for a long time. I also don’t think I ever owned a computer game that did not come out of a cereal box. By the time we were economically stable enough to be able to afford a console, I was in my late teens. I had played a handful of times at friends’ houses, but I could never get the hang of operating the controller, a skill that most kids with consoles develop pretty early. I felt like a complete loser and a bit of a freak, because my peers could all do this simple thing that I could not, so I actively avoided playing video games.
I didn’t actually get into gaming until my boyfriend finally convinced me to try World of Warcraft. It was much less scary to operate, because I could use my keyboard, which got me over my fear of ever touching a game. World of Warcraft is very popular with female gamers. Nearly half its users are female. Many female gamers really connect with the fact that they can embody a warrior (or healer/mage/rogue/hunter/panda person) persona through a female body in WoW. I certainly love kicking ass with my heavily armored level 90 female blood elf Paladin (I know, I know. Spare me the eye-rolling, WoW players. I’m a cliché). I also really enjoy sneaking around with my bulky male orc Rogue. However, I doubt I would have discovered the joys of gaming at all, had my gamer boyfriend not ushered me into it.
So, this leads me to wonder, what are the economic barriers to gaming, and what social impact does that have on kids and adults who don’t have access to consoles or computer games? Of course, I’m not saying that poor people never have consoles, or that they shouldn’t have them. Many do. But at nearly 500$, consoles ain’t cheap, and that’s assuming you have the right television set to hook it up, which doesn’t even get you anywhere, unless you can also buy the 90$ games that are becoming harder and harder to share among friends or resell/buy used.
Current discourse seems to suggest that gaming is an important social and bonding activity among kids and teens. There seem to be a lot of projects aimed at increasing girls’ access and interest in video games, producing games that appeal to girls/women without condescending to them, and normalizing women’s place in video game culture. But is this another movement that focuses on privileged, rich (perhaps overwhelmingly white) women?
I’m interested in knowing your thoughts and experiences. Do you play any games? Do you consider yourself a gamer? Have you faced any barriers to gaming? Or am I just full of shit?
*I’m sorry that all my sources are academic and may not be available without a subscription. I pulled them off of one of my old undergrad essays.