6th October 2009

The Other Side of the Coin Part Two

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OrbyIf you missed Part One of this editorial, you can read it here.

In this installment, the ladies and I will be discussing gaming and families, being a gamer parent, competitive gaming and “gaming in a boys’ world.”

Our first area of conversation today will be regarding our families and video games. It’s no secret that in some families, video games are considered to be a waste of time and a bad influence; I’ve experienced that within my own family, often to our own amusement. Those who know me know that I am not one for jewelry and trinkets. My tastes are simple. I like computers, games, books and photography. My sister-in-law likes trinkets. Expensive trinkets. Two years ago, Scott bought me the Legend of Zelda limiited edition gold DS Lite for Christmas. When we were at my parents that morning, my sister-in-law was happily showing me the latest diamond and gold trinket my brother bought her for Christmas. I just as happily pulled my shiny new DS out of my hoody pocket and said “Here’s the gold I got for Christmas.” She looked at me, completely aghast, and said “You wanted that?” I replied with “well, yeah.” Plus, I have to give Scott a lot of credit – he supports my gaming activities, and has often heard the “yes, I’ll be up to bed in a bit, I just want to finish this mission. And the next one…and the next one…”

To find out about other gaming families across the country,  I put these questions to our focus group: Do you game with family members and does your gaming cause friction in the family?

Rachel responded that for her household, the majority of their family members have no problem at all with video gaming, as most of them enjoy watching game play, however there is one cousin who feels that video games are evil. He considers Rachel and her husband to be losers and bad parents, especially as they permit their son to play and often play as a family. Megan also grew up in a family that has no problem with gaming. She stated that the only time there were problems was when she and her Dad stayed up too late playing. Allyson doesn’t game with family members other than her fiance’s younger brother, but her being a gamer doesn’t cause any problems with relatives.

While Chloe doesn’t have any close relatives who game, she does play with her boyfriend and his son. While she was still living at home, she would have disagreements with her Mom over gameplay, but these days the only conflicts are when there is a single copy of a game in the house and more than one person wants to play it. I can relate to that in a big way. We have been a two-360 house for about a year now, and sometimes problems arise when there is only one copy of a game. I finally went and got a second copy of Assassin’s Creed because I got tired of rescuing it from the Cavechild’s domain.

Being a night owl, Jenny tends to game late in the evening; her husband isn’t a gamer, but she’s still coaxed him into playing a few tunes on Guitar Hero. Her parents introduced her to gaming with the Atari 2600, so there wasn’t a problem in her house when she was growing up.  Lisa’s family doesn’t have any problems with the playing of video games, and they often compete in the LIPS karaoke game. She does say that her sister can get quite competitive, though. Jen games with her daughter, and the only conflict which arises within her family is that they think she spends too much money on her hobby.

For Jessica, whose reply to this question started with “Pfft no,” continued with “my mother isn’t into video games, but she appreciates them for what they are and she understands they’re a great art form, entertainment and industry. My sister and I don’t play similar genres, she’s into more ‘happy go lucky fun family games’, but every once in a while my father and I will get together and play Lord of the Rings on the PS3 or something like that. He’s a big fan of the action adventure games. Sabrina also games with her sisters, and the only time there’s been any friction is when she’s “really into a game and play all day long; it drives my Mom crazy, because I won’t come out of my room for most of the day.”

Interestingly, Netzach was the only respondent to mention game addiction in her reply to this particular question (Celeste admits addiction later). She stated that the only time there was gaming friction in her family was when they only had one PC and she was experiencing a slight addiction to an MMO. She said that that problem has ended, and she games with her sister and sometimes with her Dad. Annette games with family whenever she can, and also spends time gaming with her fiance who is also a gamer as well as a game programmer, while Anastasia doesn’t game with her family, nor are there any problems arising from her time spent gaming.

Celeste replied “Actually, I think it does. My family hasn’t been that understanding of what gaming means to me and what I have been able to accomplish in the gaming world. They’re sort of old fashioned. I don’t think they see how big this actually is. I always try and explain to them what I am doing or how an organization like MLG works, but they always seem to nod their head and agree to what I’m saying. With gaming being such a big part of my life, I always find it hard to talk to my family about my career choice and what I do.” In response to my question about gaming with family, she replied that “I used to be able to game with my Step-dad when I was younger but as I grew up gaming became something bigger for me and he fell behind. We used to play Starcraft and Risk for PC and Halo CE for the Xbox. Other than that I don’t game with my family at all since no one in my family is really big into the whole video game thing.”

In regards to competitive gaming, which Celeste mentions above, the majority of ladies in this group only game for the enjoyment. I will talk more about the competitive aspect in a bit, but first I want to talk about why these ladies game.

Celeste games because she loves it and “I’m addicted to it! I love the different kinds of stories that various games will have, I also love the many genres you can choose to play from whether it’d be shooters, RPG or platform. There’s a game for everyone and I think that’s what I love about it the most. How you are to appreciate the work and design with technology these days to create such eye-catching and exciting gameplay. Gaming is expanding and now with the online aspect added into gaming, it has become a lot more enjoyable to play.”

I think Jessica speaks for many in her reply, where she stated that she games “to escape and experience something she can’t in her own world.” Her thoughts are echoed by Netzach, who games because “it’s a stress relief, believe it or not. As I stated earlier, I work in an environment that many people would call stressful. I found that if I had a bad day, or have a load of projects that I need to correct, I will pop in a game and that would be my break. I would use it as an escape, to be honest. I only game an hour a day or so, but it’s something that I found to be therapeutic.”

For Anastasia, gaming is her primary source of entertainment. She doesn’t watch TV, so “when the work day is done and everything is settled, I game.” Allyson replied that gaming is “like smoking. She doesn’t know why she does it, but she just can’t stop.” Lee says that she games because it’s fun and keeps her out of trouble. Jenny agrees with Lee, adding that she games because it’s fun, plain and simple. Megan says that she “has enjoyed gaming since she was a kid,” and she’s sure that she will enjoy gaming for years to come.

Sabrina has also found stress relief through gaming. She answered that “Gaming is such a good way to let go of my stress. I can step away from whatever problems I have at home or with my friends for awhile. I can play with other friends and just joke around and shoot things. It’s a very good stress reliever.” Chloe is another player who games for stress relief as well as the escapism and entertainment value. Rachel games to “have fun with people I’ll likely never meet, to get better at certain games (like Call of Duty, it’s nice to be at the top of the list for kills!), or to relax with a quick game of Uno or an XBLA game.”

Moving into the competitive aspect of gaming, and comparing the Canadian pro gaming activities with other countries, it would seem that Canada does not have as many female pro gamers. I know that 2008 was the first year that any females competed at the World Cyber Games Canada Nationals, with one girl from Quebec and another from BC vying for top honours in the Guitar Hero tournament. One of those girls, Rachel, competed at our own Digital Storm Lan, and I can say without a doubt that she garnered the respect of all the males who were at the Lan, including the members of the English rock band Jonny Black (then known as Mendella) who played live at the Lan.

As mentioned in Part One of this feature, Chloe and Jen are both members of the PMS Clan, but neither play at tournaments. Jen said that “given where she lives, she hasn’t really had the chance to attend any tournaments,” while Chloe added that she “I briefly attended some LAN’s when I was first starting out and playing Halo 2 non-stop, but I don’t do well competitively, preferring much more to stay on the administrative side of things.” Allyson has never gamed competitively, but it is something she would like to try, as would Sabrina.

In answer to this question, Lee replied “Yes! I was one of the favourites to win the EA-Gillette Champions of Gaming tournament that was held last year. I did my best but ultimately work got in the way. The winners of those tournaments were gamers who did not have other obligations in life. I’m also the top earning money player and ranked #1 for Tiger Woods PGA Tour on gamersaloon.com, a gaming for cash website, and also ranked #1 for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010 ladder on gamebattles.com.

Celeste has the most experience in the competitive game world, and she thinks that competitive gaming is where it’s at. She has competed at several Major League Gaming events, including MLG Chicago 2007, Toronto Open 2007, MLG Toronto 2008, MLG Meadowlands 2009, MLG Columbus 2009 and she will be competing at MLG Anaheim 2009! I’ve been attending local LAN tournaments since I was 15, so I would say I’ve been to 20+ Lan/Tournaments in the area.

With the proliferation of online game play along with in-person competitive gaming, it’s only inevitable that the females would be invading what many have often thought of as the “male gamer geek domain” and while attitudes and personalities in online gaming somewhat reflect society as a whole, I wanted to know what kind of experiences this group has dealt with in their “gaming careers.” This is not to say that there aren’t some female gamers who fall into the “rude gamer” category, because as I said, the gaming environment includes many types of people and personalities, and that includes both male and females who can’t game without trash talking. I’m lucky in that the group I play Rainbow Six Vegas 2 with is great. We play purely for the enjoyment of the game – any trash talking is done purely in jest and is received as such.

General consensus is that for the most part there aren’t many problems, but every so often there are guys who take their ‘tudes to the extreme, such as teabagging her fallen character with their own characters but according to Allyson, those doing the teabagging get it right back, and often from multiple players. Rachel reported that “it’s inevitable, I run into one or two guys who try to give me a hard time (either by being sexually explicit or they resort to name calling), but in general I get treated very well.” For Megan, “Online, if I’m not playing with friends, it can go either way. Guys online can be jerks, creeps, or just nice guys. Offline, I’m usually not taken seriously. In stores especially, I’m usually assumed to be buying a game for my boyfriend.”

Chloe answered this question with “Online, it’s now split between “are you a girl” and “get back to the kitchen b****”, although now I receive far more messages supporting girls who game in general because of the Gamerchix then I ever did by just playing. Offline, especially when I worked for EB (2.5 years, 04 – 06), a lot of them made the assumption I only played Nintendo, and would be very taken aback when they heard my Halo rank or gamerscore, which wasn’t really that impressive at the time. Nowhere near the 45k+ it is now. When guys hear that, I either get the reaction of ‘Wow, wtf…that’s way higher than mine!’ or ‘you have no life,’ which I suppose is quite true. My clan responsibilities with PMS are fairly extensive as I serve on our Executive team, as well as overseeing most of the daily Operations, all of the Documentation and Membership requests. Add to this my responsibilities for GamerchiX as well as developing and writing for Popchix.com, and most of my free time is eaten up.”

Jenny responded that “All the guys I know in real life think it’s awesome that I play, and they’re always asking me to help get their girlfriends into it. I do get mixed reactions online though. Some guys are jerks once they find out I’m a woman, and other guys are too nice, which makes me uncomfortable, but there are also a lot of people who just don’t care, and treat me like any other player. I always prefer playing with that kind of crowd.” Netzach has found that on Xbox live, many of the guy gamers think she is a 12 year old boy, but her “real life” friends treat her as an equal. Annette says that she’s been “lucky enough to not be looked down upon by any male gamers.”

For Lee, who competes in the predominantly male Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf ladders, the experience has been different. She says that “being one of the top ranked players in the world for Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf, I get a lot of jealousy and hatred shown towards me. I also find that men are “pigs” online, especially when traveling in packs. On occasion I’ll find the nice guy that finds a woman gamer special and plays with respect.” This was echoed by Jen, who replied to this questions with “The reactions vary. In real time, guys are still quite amazed that girls play videogames. I’m often asked if the game I’m buying is for my boyfriend or child. I’ve been told that I “don’t look like a gamer”. They don’t associate a 30 year old mom with Gears of War or Halo! Online, as I’m sure other female gamers have experienced, I am sometimes sent messages that are sexual in nature, or calling me a variety of derogatory names after I’ve beat them in a game. When playing with people I don’t know, I will likely mute my microphone or join a party to avoid the chat in the lobby.”

Celeste has also had varied experiences in gaming with the guys. “They either HATE you, or LOVE you. It goes either way. Everyone knows that gaming is apparently associated with “boys” and because of it girls will get a lot of attention from it. Regardless if it is negative or positive comments, being a girl gamer is tough. With me, I do get a lot of “fans” I guess they would say it… Telling me how well I play at Halo or how I’m good/alright at this game or that one. They tend to shower me with messages and stuff and I do find it funny at times, but nonetheless it is really sweet. As for the haters… HAHA, it’s simple. They either tell you that “you suck” or to simply “go back to the kitchen”. I’ve gotten almost everything thrown at me and I’ve learned to shake it off and and just laugh. As a girl gamer, it’s nice to be noticed as being one, but really, I want to be respected as just a “gamer“.

It’s sad to say, but the trend continues, as shown in Jessica’s reply. “I’ve had varied results. Most guys think it’s really cool, and I will always remember going to the Game Expo a few months ago and they asked everyone in the room ‘what was the last game you played?’ There were roughly 50 guys and 5 girls (including myself) in the room, and when I said the last game I played was Metal Gear Solid 4: Rise of the Patriots, I swear most of the boys in the room turned their head in a complete 360. They couldn’t believe it. However, I have had the odd sexist comment here or there, ‘girls can’t play games like guys’ and stuff like that. Challenge me to Team Fortress 2… I’ll tell you otherwise.”

Anastasia’s experience has also been quite varied, “Dependant on the male. Some are not fazed that there are gamers who are female. Some are hostile towards female gamers, while others, surprisingly, are oblivious to the fact.” And from Sabrina, “some guys are very vulgar towards me when I’m playing, especially the FPS games, but some love to see more girls playing games.”

I thought it pertinent that we also discuss how, as gaming moms, we are working to raise “responsible gamers” in our children. The recent proliferation of “family games” particularly for the Wii shows that the gaming industry understands the influence games can have on family dynamics – not just as entertainment, but also for communication and family unity. For those of us with boys, and to a lesser extent girls, it is important, I feel, that we don’t raise gamer boys who treat women with the disrespect outlined in the answers above. I will be the first to say that my son is not perfect, and he has been known to trash talk. That said, he does not single out the girls, and in fact often enjoys gaming with some of the girls on he has met online simply because they have a good sense of humour and usually play just as well as he does. In high school, many of his friends thought his Mom was really cool because there were no problems with gaming. He would tell them that “yeah, she’s cool, but she’ll kick your butt in a game.” He knows this from experience, because he thought that he could trounce me in Trogdor. He was wrong.

I remember when The Cavechild was in elementary school and there was a huge uproar about Mortal Kombat and Power Rangers, because it was obvious that some parents hadn’t taught their children the difference between what is real and what isn’t. I feel that this is a very important ideal which we must convey to our children, whether or not they are gamers. Any child who partakes in any form of visual entertainment, whether it’s cartoons, live action or gaming, must be taught that the stunts and antics they see are not real, and trying to use the hottest Power Ranger move on their best buddy at school is going to result in someone getting hurt. My son’s school wanted us, as parents, to ban the watching of violent cartoons and the playing of violent video games. I went against that request simply because my son knew the difference, and personally I didn’t see any problem with him playing Mortal Kombat. While he may to this day spend the majority of his free time gaming, he is not out on the street getting into trouble like so many other kids these days. He has no use for gangs or drugs, and I know where he is at 2am on a Friday night.

Conversely, people could probably successfully argue that he’s addicted to video games and the internet. Frankly, I disagree. Certainly most of his activities centre around video games, but given the fact that much of our activities centre around gaming and the internet, that’s not a cause to yell addiction. I have had him write reviews or make videos of gameplay for use on this site, and he uses the tools he has to create his own montages which he posts on YouTube. He is an imaginative writer and has been working on a game concept of his own. He does spend time away from the computer, and he does enjoy reading. Granted, the books he reads tend to be from those novels which happen to have game companions, such as the extensive Warhammer novel series and the relatively new Gears of War series, but the important part is that he reads. He also has other interests, including archaeology, and the internet is a great way for him to learn more about our world’s history.

My daughter, while not totally understanding our passion for gaming, is a social gamer. She enjoys playing Spyro, Guitar Hero and DDR on her own Xbox, and when friends come over to her house, they sometimes end up playing Guitar Hero. She also likes some of the sports games on the Wii, such as Mario Golf and Wii Sports. She doesn’t play online, but still enjoys the entertainment value.

Rachel says that she and her husband are “trying make our son understand that certain games aren’t suitable for his age group (which he does understand), and also respecting the fact that he’s only allowed to game for a certain amount of time per day. So far, no issues have come up but I think that as he gets older, we’ll have to go over the “house” rules again. As he’s only five, he’s not allowed to have an online profile so there haven’t been any online related issues that have popped up (like cussing over the mic, inappropriate chat or whatnot).” She continues on to say that “He knows games like Grand Theft Auto exist and why he’s not allowed to play them. We bought him a DS, and he’s more than happy to pop in Scribblenauts or Super Mario Party and play. The only issue we have with him is on occasion, he’s reluctant to turn off the game when we ask him to; mostly that only happens when he’s smack dab in the middle of a challenge/mission/whatever you want to call it and there’s been no autosave. This doesn’t happen often though, since we give him plenty of warning as to when his time on the game is almost up. Another thing that we never have to worry about is time outside vs. time gaming. Our son loves being outside more than any game, so we don’t have that struggle to get him out in the fresh air. Gaming for us also means board games & card games. He loves Carcassonne and Talisman as well as Magic the Gathering and Uno. He’s as happy sitting down to play those with us as he is to play a video game.”

I asked Rachel if she felt that gaming helps with parent-child communication, and she responded that “it does improve our relationship to a certain extent. We’re able to play cooperatively (as opposed to boardgames which are rarely co-op, it’s always competitively) and we’re able to engage him in conversation about what he likes/dislikes about a certain game. In the future we’re counting on the fact that gaming with him will keep us a little closer to him. Gaming won’t be something he has to hide from us because we disapprove of gaming or don’t understand it, it will be something we can connect on when a lot of times parents have very little to connect to their teen over.”

Jen games with her daughter, and she said that “As a gamer mom, it’s tough!! Sometimes,
all I want to do is sit around all weekend and do nothing but play video games myself. But I do set limits with her. Homework must be done, and we have to get some kind of physical activity in before we play at night. If I find that it’s interfering with her friends or going outside to play, I will take the game away. I don’t let her play for extended amounts of time (an hour here and there). As for game content, I’m pretty careful. Anything too violent or gory is not allowed.
As a general rule in our house, if it’s something similar to what she can watch on TV (Family Channel, TeleToon, etc), she can play it.”

The other parent in our group is Lee, and in response to my question about parent-child communication, she stated that “Most definitely, although I think one must have more than one console in the household to prevent arguing about who gets to game next, lol. Going to the mall, we’re both excited about hitting up EB Games. I think my son likes it too that I can relate to, and understand, his excitement for certain games and/or achievements. Bottom line, yes being a gamer mom improves my relationship with my teen son.” I agree with Lee about having more than one console. We used to be a one 360 household, now we have two. We still only have one Wii and one DS Lite (mine, it’s all mine), but the games my son prefers aren’t available for the Wii, plus he is also more of a PC gamer than a console gamer, so again, moot point. As I stated earlier in this article, we do have doubles of some titles such as Assassin’s Creed, but as our tastes in what we play vary a bit, there usually aren’t too many problems of who wants to play which game, it’s just a matter of rescuing the wanted title from the other’s gaming domain.

This brings to a close The Other Side of the Coin Part Two. In my next installment, we will discuss how title purchases are made, what we’d like to see in game design, upcoming titles we’re looking forward to, and what we’ve garnered from our gaming experiences. I hope you’ll join us as we bring this conversation with Canadian gaming ladies to a close.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 4:32 pm and is filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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