I’ve been keeping my kid away from video games. I don’t know why, exactly, but they’ve earned a place in the spotlight of scorn, right up there beside gum and those toy high heels that come with dress up kits.
Oh she’s played Candy Crush and various other tablet games and online educational apps, but even then her time on my iPad and laptop are seriously limited and console games just haven’t been on when she’s awake. Maybe on some level I thought she would have her essence sucked out Podling-style (a la Dark Crystal) by the hypnotizing lure of various device screens if she had too much game-time.
There was a part of me that also didn’t want her getting confused about what’s ok in real versus fantastical situations before she had a solid foundation of safety, and a moral code. And of course I was worried about mature content, and frankly the sexualization and/or violence that might come with the territory. I mean, it’s not like we’d be playing any GTA 5 together, but still.
A lot of her SK/Grade 1 friends had already graduated to playing consoles or PC-based educational/kid-rated games. Tons of her friends had open access to iPads and tablets filled with apps just for them. I knew that I couldn’t control it forever. Hell, I was learning to code in DOS and kicking butt at Digger when I was 7. (Yes. I was that kid.)
I was thinking of letting her ease into console play, and make it not really a big deal but also somehow a special thing— maybe with a Lego game or something cool that of course I’d play through first— but that all seemed so far away.
Then at a close friend’s place, all the kids all got a chance to muck around on the Xbox. I didn’t intervene or pull her away. I knew she was in great hands. So I quelled the urge to run over and make sure she was ok and I reminded myself that she was probably experiencing a magical thrill about gaining access to something new.
I watched from afar and heard her asking questions, excited, and eager to try.
“Can you please show me how to climb?…Can you teach me?”
I was thrilled. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was seeing her empowered and excited.
Even then, I didn’t know if her play time would be a short-lived infatuation or whether it would take root, so I took it at face value and let her lead. A few days later, she asked to play games again. I spent the next 2 hours showing her around the Xbox 360 we have on hand.
“So…I can play this?
“You can ask to play certain games when there is an adult to play with you or supervise you.”
“Ok…I want to be Batman. I want to practice.”
“Well, what if you try this on for size?”
I had found my copy of Final Fantasy 13-2 and popped it in to the machine.
“MOM. OH MOM. That’s…that’s a GIRL?!”
I nodded, and I couldn’t resist grinning at her awestruck reaction to Lightning.
“She’s SO BEAUTIFULANDSTRONGANDPOWERFULANDHERSWORDISAMAZINGANDIWANTTOBEHER!!!”
“Well calm down and you can…but I have to go through the game a bit because I honestly can’t remember if the story is too mature.”
“Who cares? She’s like Wonder Woman. With pink hair. Sort of like Jem and Wonder Woman. I WANT TO PLAY!!!”At that point the tutorial had engaged and Lightning was busy with the first of many big baddies. The fighting interface lit the screen and Vee was gripped with excitement.
“What do I push what do I push?!”
“Green honey! Press green! Again! Green…and here let me help for a sec…ok and green again! Green!” I watched as she adeptly kicked its butt.
“I DID IT!!!! Mom I am SO good at this. I am the Queen of Strong! And I love my sword.”
It was a pretty cool sword.
For a moment my heart raced uncomfortably and I realized I couldn’t turn back. We had walked through a door that led to incredible realms and unfathomable power, and that also led to terrifying acts against female-gendered characters and sometimes extended that misogyny into real life.
I thought about all the places in the limitless digital world that my little girl could now have access to– worlds that still defined women by the lack of their character’s physical strength, or their lack of clothing, or by showing them a lack of respect. I thought of Gamergate and all the senseless threats and anonymous hostility towards women even remotely affiliated with the industry or even with the hobby of gaming.
“Mummy can I have armour like her?”
I also thought about how liberating it was to have a virtual opportunity to be Batman or Lightning or anyone else whether you were a boy or a girl. I thought about how wonderful it is to experience on some level, saving lives, or adhering to a moral code.
I thought of navigating skills, problem solving skills and pattern recognition. I thought about the interest gaming generates in technology and design and the careers and wonderment it opens us too.
I thought about Chun Li, She Hulk, X-23, Nina Williams, Kunimitsu, Wonder Woman, Marle, Purna…and all the incredibly strong, smart, fast, and lethal women in my favourite video games.
“Mummy? Can I?”
“Yes baby. You can.”
And with that my little girl’s favourite new letters became XABYLR, and I got to press reset on some of my fears.
Progress saved. So far.