some thoughts from my childhood
This week’s readings were particularly interesting, and I’m going to focus on one that I really connected with: Valerie Walkerdine’s article on girls and video games.
Walkerdine summarizes a Sydney researcher’s observation that girls play video games “more sociably” than boys, as well as the fact that girls “[don’t] play to win” as much as boys do (364). In my experience, there seems to be a difference in the kinds of games aimed at females versus males. We’ve talked about video games a little bit in previous weeks, and I wanted to elaborate on my comments here.
Growing up, Zelda was a family activity. My love for the game began with Ocarina of Time at age 6; my dad did most of the fighting and general gameplay, my mom was the strategist, and I remembered which song was appropriate for each situation. I loved Zelda (and still do!) because of its adventure-based gameplay, and when I was a kid, we used to refer to the fighting and, in particular, the cutting of grass in various fields as ‘raffing’. This is mostly a phonetic term, since it sounds like the noise Link makes when the sword is activated with ‘B’. But it is also an effort made by my parents to focus on the adventure and plot of the game rather than the fighting and killing aspects. I like the games because they require strategy and thought, despite the ultimate goal of killing Ganondorf (or the Skull Kid, or whoever).
Later, we played Majora’s Mask (I am still scared of that moon), Wind Waker (this time, my sister was involved, and took charge of navigating the incredibly complicated map of the ocean and its islands), and several of the Wii ones (Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword). Wind Waker in particular took us years to beat, mostly because there was so much movement and everything had to be done in the right order, not to mention the optional side quests that entertained us way more than the fighting.
In terms of gender in video games, Walkerdine mentions literature that focuses on “lack of female avatars or girl-oriented game topics or styles of game” (364). In the Zelda universe, the playable character is Link – but recently, Nintendo has developed several female playable alternative for one of their new games. One of these alternatives is essentially a female Link called ‘Linkle’. As someone whose character was always called ‘Hannah’ and colloquially referred to as ‘Hannah the Boy’ rather than Link, this excites me A LOT. If only she had a better name than ‘Linkle’. Oh well … you win some, you lose some.
When playing Mario Kart, which seems to be a fairly gender-neutral game, the only girl options are Daisy or Peach (or, if you’ve played enough to get extra characters, Rosalina). When playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, these ladies are joined by Zelda/Sheik, which opens up a whole new can of worms. In Ocarina of Time, Link’s helper reveals himself to be Zelda in disguise. Link is shocked, in part because he assumes Sheik is a man. Zelda is the namesake of the game, but she’s not the main character. In Ocarina of Time she is the damsel in distress, captured by Ganondorf and requiring immediate rescuing by Link. She has several powers that must be passed on to Link, and although she holds these powers, it is Link who must use them to defeat the enemy.
Female characters in Ocarina of Time are usually peripheral: Saria (Link’s Kokiri friend), Impa (Zelda’s bodyguard), Malon (the ranch girl), the Gerudos (a race of female desert-dwellers that also inexplicably includes Ganondorf), and Princess Ruto (who’s a huge pain in the ass as a kid). Others are crucial, but only by their association to Link: Epona (his horse), Navi (his fairy guide), and the Fairy Fountain fairies (who give him additional powers). Many of the Sages are female characters, and although they are important and powerful, they aren’t playable, which always bothered me as a kid.
I guess there are a few takeaways from this walk down memory lane. Firstly, it’s a big step for Zelda to have female playable characters. Secondly, from personal experience, adventure/storyline games are much more appealing than shooting/fighting/racing games, often aimed at boys. I’m not saying that girls don’t or can’t play these games too, I’m merely saying that they didn’t appeal to me at all when I was a kid. (Our other favourite games were Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie – two main characters: one female, one male.)
Moral of the story: the video game industry still has a long way to come in terms of character gender equality and target audience. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this – after all, video games are supposed to be a distraction from school. The other moral, or course, is that I need to play more Zelda. If only there were more hours in the day … 🙂