I experience feminism as disquietude, as a gnawing unease that tells me that something is wrong with the way the world is presently structured. While I ostensibly study feminist thought for a living, I avoid defining “feminism” formally. I’m familiar with the differences between varieties of feminism and I have my own political and theoretical allegiances to be sure. But I’m less inclined to think of feminism as a particular set of ideological alignments and more inclined to conceptualize it as a gut feeling, a push, an impetus.
When I think about feminism in this way, it’s hard for me to say whether I found feminism or whether it found me. It’s hard to know precisely how long it was eating away at me before I noticed it. So, Ada, if you’ll forgive my inexactitude about who found whom, I’d like to share with you how feminism and I met.
Samantha Allen is a games writer and academic, who contributes regularly to The Border House. She has also written for other outlets such as Kotaku, Medium Difficulty and First Person Scholar. She is a PhD student in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University writing a dissertation on sexual fetishism, where she has also taught an introductory class on intersectionality, through using Halo.
As a child I felt a subtle but ever present tension whenever I faced societal expectations. I didn’t like pink. I didn’t like dolls. I didn’t like anything I was supposed to.
I was an extraordinary tom boy, discontent with expectations of how girls ought to act, and what they ought to like. Growing up in the middle of Kansas, I was surrounded by people who coveted this ideal gender role. I just wanted to be whatever I was, and how could I be that with so much pressure to be other things?
It took me twenty three years to recognize this, in part, as feminism. But that realization was a long time coming, filled with setbacks and diversions.
Chelsea Howe is a designer and producer of games. She is currently a senior game designer at TinyCo, and has previously worked at SuperBetter Labs, Zynga, and also on her own experimental indie games. She shares with us the brilliant story of her own feminist awakening as a queer woman, and her dream for an inclusive, understanding kind of activism.
Within the enclaves Guinevere takes up her quill;
Arthur plays chess with Lancelot by the fire
She takes up a wine cup and scrawls as the knights stumble in
Brave and impetuous, the rockbed of virtue, reverence intact.
Weary, she sits at the Round Table, ink stained fingers
Arthur disinterested walks off with his mistress
Whose cackle down the hallways as the fellowship sits
Reminds Guinevere that she could be drunk and merry
As she sits and regards her peers bloody from battle.
As the knights tell her of the tales from outside
And regale each other with ancient dragons, dungeons and
Roguelikes in RPG clothing
She regards the empty chairs at the table, gnarled
Where once men sat but are now slain
And the others seat only the old guard now, all men
To surround her, praise her, make her feel alone
But there are seats empty.
Could they not be filled?
Our first post after our hiatus of the past few months may not technically be a letter, but this poem, entitled Gamifying Thrones by prolific game critic Cara Ellison is brilliant, powerful, and most certainly worth your time.
Do I stay or do I go?
Do I stay in “triple-A”, tolerate the missteps and insensitivity, waste my breath voicing my displeasure, rationalize the indifference, work to shore up eventual executive influence 15 years down the line and hope to force change then?
Or do I leave now, strike out on my own, go outsider and find a willing audience, take the activist route and try to create better examples, perform mentorship on my own terms and become a full-fledged indie, not caring about the mainstream?
“White Mouse” is a female developer working at a “AAA” company, who has chosen not to be identified publicly. As someone who cares about issues of diversity, industry practices, and better games, she writes powerfully about her feelings of conflict regarding whether or not change can happen from within the system, and where to go next with her career.
It has been awhile and I didn’t really know where to re-begin this letter correspondence, especially now knowing that people are looking (I hope they are looking). I have decided to make this something of an update on the inbetween time, highlighting some of the writings and events during the down-time and collating because during our 5 month hiatus gender issues in games have really been brought to the fore. A LOT has gone down, some good some bad and some worse, but mostly there has been a promising burst of attention to pervasive misogyny and inequity that can only contribute to a growing awareness.
Emily and Mitu are your curators, whose original letter series birthed this site. Emily continues their ongoing correspondance with this latest installment, summarizing all that has happened in the arena of gender issues in games in the last five months. Read on for more.
Around the turn into the 20th Century, there were many questions about women. One of them was “Why aren’t there many women writers?” The typical answers ranged from men’s predisposition to artistic ability to women being too fragile and unintelligent to push through the rigor needed to be a writer. Writers are usually men, in a male artistic culture, and that’s just how it was; any woman who became notable was seen as performing something masculine.
Mattie Brice is a games critic and academic who focuses on narrative design and social justice issues, such as the politics of gender, sexuality, and race. She has given us permission to re-post this article, originally published on The Border House Blog, entitled ‘An Escape of One’s Own’.
Back around the turn of the century my great grandmother was part of the Suffragette movement. She ran afoul of Asquith’s Cat & Mouse Act, in and out of prison on hunger strike. She was a campaigner for women’s rights, and the medal her part in the struggle earned her has passed down through the family since then. I guess you could say then that I’ve got “feminism” in my blood, but to an extent I’ve not paid a lot of attention. Even a year ago, when female gamers and game developers would complain about the portrayal of women in games I frequently was one of the people justifying and rationalising. “Sex sells”, “This is what appeals to teenage boys” and so on.
No one thing turned me around on this, but a sequence of events helped to really change my mind.
Luke Dicken is a specialist in Game AI, who shares his own perspective and journey so far as a feminist ally.