Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A girl beat OoT!

This past weekend, I flew down to Miami for the second annual Zeldathon. I finally got to meet and spend time two close friends I had made from last year's Zeldathon, which was incredibly awesome. I also made some new friends.

I decided to make the trip mostly to see people, although I also knew I could beat one of the games far more quickly than it had been done last year. Ocarina of Time had taken 24 hours; I kept going to sleep or going to class, expecting to see the next game when I got back, but finding the guys in the Forest or Shadow Temples, or still trying to defeat Ganondorf. Ocarina of Time was the game most responsible for the 72-hour marathon turning into a 104-hour one.

I did the game in under 10 hours, shorter than my practice time. Somehow, I managed to go quickly even as I fudged bosses and spent a half hour trying to get a dungeon item (in my defense, the problem was with the controller; the game wasn't designed to be played on a GameCube). Because of our timing with the first Zelda game, as well as A Link to the Past, I had to play late at night, so everyone pretty much missed the second half of the game (I finished at about 5:40 am).

I wasn't the only woman in the radio station. The guys had various female friends who were visiting; my friend Kami was there to help feed us. But I was the only woman who was actually lined up to play, and I think I may have been the only woman who did end up playing (someone correct me if that's not true).

Twice, I brought up issues that some of the guys really didn't like. First, I suggested that the best way to improve the role of women in the Zelda series, and to connect with female gamers, would be to have a normal Zelda game, except that Link, the protagonist, is female. No changes to weapons or abilities. No gender-switching of any other characters. No added romantic subplots.

The guys, a few in particular, reacted not just with disinterest, but with active disdain. I would lose male gamers, they said. Link is already a very anonymous, general character, and his male gender was arbitrary, they argued (except that if his gender didn't matter, he would be she sometimes). They accused me of trying to change the fundamentals of the greatest gaming series ever.

Later, I commented on the white-washing of the game series. I pointed out that all of the humanoid characters were white, except those who are evil in some way (for example, Ganondorf has practically greenish brown skin). I was then informed that, well, the Japanese just hate foreigners! They hate non-Japanese! They're really xenophobic, you know. It's a different kind of racism than the US, which is why I probably don't understand it. And besides, I was nit-picking! There were other races in the game (non humanoid). And it's not as if I was going to single-handedly change Japanese culture. It didn't seem to matter that if the Japanese were xenophobic, all of their games would star characters who looked Japanese, not Caucasian.

There was plenty of inappropriate, immature behavior among participants and visiting friends, including when one person took a small plushy of what looked like a naked PowderPuff Girl, held it up to the webcam, and sang about boobies while moving around the plush ones obscenely. The use of the words "retarded" and "lame" was rampant, among 'thoners, friends, and viewers. Several times, I had to tell off people for either joking about or making casual comments about rape. More times, I had to call out (male) viewers for making inappropriate sexual or suggestive comments in the chat, either in general, towards me/other women on the cam, or towards other viewers.

I was often known as "the girl" when I was on cam. I was nicknamed "Sleeping Beauty" while I was taking a nap. The answer to "Who did Ocarina of Time?" was frequently "A GIRL!"

It's not that I felt unwelcome. Spending time with my friends, even while sleep-deprived beyond my wildlest dreams, was awesome, and I didn't once feel as if anyone thought I shouldn't be there. I did feel welcome. But there were constant reminders that I was a woman, and there were several attempts to bully me into silence.

One viewer in particular made a rape joke, and I called him out on it immediately, telling him that we had a zero tolerance policy for rape jokes. He went through the classic defenses: he was just kidding, I was over-reacting, everyone hated him, no one cared if he said it, etc. I stood firm. If he wanted to continue making those comments, he could leave. I didn't feel safe enough in my environment to tell this asshole that I had been sexually assaulted, just as many of the children we were raising money to help had been assaulted.

My friend Pablo has expressed a desire to have a more mature, more professional event next time. Some people might argue that the goofy, immature atmosphere is what attracts our viewers. Really? I thought our viewers came to cheer us on while we played Zelda games. I didn't realize that they came to see someone strip to his (falling-off) boxers, girls kissing for donations, childish and rude language/conversations, and so on. If we can't be fun and interesting without turning into nasty assholes, then we have problems.

In all, the weekend was interesting, feminism-wise. While I've never been fooled into believing that the gaming industry was woman (or LGBT or POC) friendly, I had hoped that there would be some more maturity among the players and friends in the radio station. And while the internet itself is not the gaming industry, for the marathon, it had some pretty strong connections. Even without those connections, people feel comfortable, through the anonimity of the internet, to voice racist, sexist, and heterosexist views, harass others, or just be plain nasty.

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