My sister and I were given a Playstation 2 when we were children one year for Christmas. We were opened up to a world of animated fun and used to bicker over who would get to play it. Some nights I would sneakily stay up until 3am playing my favourite games before tip-toeing back to bed. My favourite games were Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (so I could feel like a badass), Ratchet and Clank (so I could fly around and smash things), and of course, The Sims – so I could control animated characters and do with them whatever I liked. Most of the sims I made were representations of people I knew in real life, or people I dreamed of knowing. The Sims was my top pick, it was the ultimate fun.
Every child my age played The Sims. The standard gameplay involved making your sim go out onto a patch of grass, you’d pause the game and build walls around them so they had no escape route, and they’d eventually die. Brutal stuff. Or you would make a couple of hot sims and make them ‘woohoo’ in bed, or in the spa if you were into that kind of thing. (Pretty messed up when you think about it).The Sims was a hit because it gave players control over characters you’d create in houses you would build – most often using money cheats so you could turn suburban homes into McMansions you could only ever dream of living in. Your sims could have careers, learn new skills, build new relationships and live in luxury. I don’t know one kid who didn’t love to play The Sims. It was the freedom of fantasy. You could come home from school and play God.
I stopped playing games when I entered my teenage years. The story goes the same for many girls, I’m sure – you start growing boobs and wearing a bit of makeup and you have a sudden urge to be a cool. And being cool for school girls isn’t a walk in the park if you’re into gaming. It’s not that I made a conscious decision to stop playing, I just lost interest. All games are the same anyway, I thought. I’ve played a few, that’s enough. Besides, video games are for boys. I am not a boy! The video games I knew of at the time (which I admit, weren’t many), didn’t feel like they catered to girls. My impression was that it’s all about shooting bad dudes, dealing with thugs and driving lavish cars through degenerate neighbourhoods. There wasn’t a whole lot more to it than that.
Fast forward several years and I met the man who is now my boyfriend. He’s interested in video games, and I’ll admit when this information was new to me I wasn’t overly excited. I thought it was endearing, but I didn’t see myself getting back into the world of animated fun any time soon – unless we were watching Family Guy, which is a show I bloody love.
Fast forward again to about 10 months ago. I picked up the controller to the PS3. The shape of it in my hands felt foreign, but I was curious. Surely there was a game out there for me. Not all games are for guys, I thought. I started playing a game called The Wolf Among Us. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It was like watching a suspenseful and mysterious film, except I was in control of the narrative. I wasn’t skateboarding or shooting people, I found myself using my moral compass and thinking like a detective. It wasn’t just a video game, it’s interactive storytelling.
Interactive storytelling is digital entertainment in which the user creates dramatic influence over the narrative of the game. The game moves only in the direction you take it. It’s not just a game which tells a story, you become part of the story. Your emotions while playing can greatly effect the way the game and its plot line evolves. It’s difficult to not become psychologically engrossed in what you are doing in the game, because they’re often designed in a way to draw you into the emotional journey of the character you play. You get to experience empathy, something that you’ve never been able to do in a video game before.
By the time I’d finished playing The Wolf Among Us, I’d been taken on an adventure through a world I would never otherwise experienced. I was amazed at the technological engineering behind the game, and I couldn’t believe how invested in it I had become. It was a similar feeling to what I felt while I was watching Breaking Bad. It was like walking out of the cinema after an incredible thriller, when you turn to the person next you to and say ‘wow’. But this was an individual journey, it was different. It was enticing and a wonderfully refreshing form of entertainment. Something other than my usual binge-watch sessions on Netlfix.
The next game I played was called Heavy Rain. It’s a film noir thriller. You play as four very different characters all separately involved in the mystery of a serial killer. Again, your decisions and actions throughout the game have a great impact on the narrative. The main characters can be killed. All of them died while I played and it was stressful. Certain actions may lead to very different scenes and endings for each player. Every person who plays the game will have a unique experience. It was reminiscent of the novels I read as a kid where you choose your own ending – but this time it was psychological, dramatic, exhilarating and I never knew what to expect. Like I’ve said before, it was essentially an interactive film. Absolutely enthralling. Not a game for children. It was complex and very adult.
Heavy Rain trailer
Still from Heavy Rain
I’m currently playing a game called Beyond Two Souls. Created by the same company that made Heavy Rain, It’s an interactive drama-action game. Again, you can manipulate the game based on your actions, mainly by making morally challenging decisions. This game in particular has revolutionised the video game industry. Despite being a game, it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013. The protagonist is played by actress Ellen Page, who describes the acting experience as the best she has ever had. This game fascinates me, and I know that girls would love to play it. It has feminist undertones, which helps cast aside the stereotype that women can’t enjoy games.
In 2014, The Guardian reported that 52% of gamers are girls. Put the old stereotype to bed. Women make up the majority, and I’m delighted to be part of that group. I’m not at the stage where I’m going to start buying tickets to gaming conventions, but sitting down with a glass of wine after a long day and turning on a video game is one of my favourite pastimes. I never thought I’d say that.
Still from Beyond Two Souls with Ellen Page
These games aren’t a waste of time. They’re not about mindless violence. They’re not about racing cars and doing tricks. They are conceptual, intellectual and emotional. It is a whole other world which many people are ignorant about, and don’t want to spend their time learning about because it’s easier to think of them as just violent and/or dull. And for those who argue that you’re wasting time just sitting in front of a screen, you’re wrong – and the kind of people who would say that are also the kind of people who would spend all their time on Instagram.
Many times have I been met with disinterest when I’ve told people I play video games. I know they’re thinking, what on earth for? And if I had a dollar for each time I’d heard a girl say that their boyfriends play video games and how it’s an annoying ‘boy’ habit, I’d be one rich lass. Ladies – I felt your pain once upon a time. But listen to me, there are games out there for you. And it doesn’t make you lame to enjoy them. And please don’t fear looking like a nerd either – because there’s nothing wrong with being a nerd. They rule the world. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates – all nerds.
The idea that playing video games is a boyish pastime is tiresome and old. There are brilliant games out there to play and can certainly be enjoyed by girls. These games allow you to indulge in emotion while having fun – two things that girls love to do. So it makes sense that girls enjoy them.
If you liked playing The Sims as a child (you definitely did), then you would love these video games. There’s a whole other world waiting.
Don’t knock it till you try it.