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Gamer Girls: They’re Not What You Think They Are

Come on girls, we all know the feeling—you’re talking with your guy friends when all of a sudden the conversation topic changes to games.  One moment you’re laughing and joking with the group, and the next you’re sitting there, clueless, as your male counterparts recount their gaming experiences in what might as well be a foreign language.  All you can do is sigh, roll your eyes and think to yourself, “Why do guys like video games so much?” If there is that one girl able to keep up with the gamers, you stare at her with wide eyes and realize, Oh no.  She’s one of them!

Here’s the good news:  there is hope.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Despite what you may have previously thought, girls who play games aren’t a foreign, misunderstood sub-species of females. While I admit female gamers are misunderstood, there is an appeal to gaming besidesbeing able to understand what your guy friends are talking about.

Here girl gamers at Carnegie Mellon, from beginners to experienced pros, fill us in on their favorite games, why they find video games so captivating and why they play.

Reason 1:  To socialize with friends

 We all know the stereotypes:  when we think of gamers, we typically think of anti-social guys or girls sitting alone with their computers or game consoles. Scratch that stereotype: there are so many games designed for socializing, games that are best played with a group of friends.  In the same room. One of these games is the Super Smash Bros. series.  This series is a fast-paced, two-dimensional fighting-style game in which opponents try to increase each other’s damage and then knock each other off the stage.  In the Super Smash Bros. Nintendo 64 version, eight characters are playable from the beginning of the game:  Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, Yoshi, Kirby, Fox and Pikachu.  You can unlock four more characters as you complete the game, including Luigi, Captain Falcon, Ness and Jigglypuff.  Later versions include many more characters, including two guests from other companies in the Super Smash Bros. Brawl:  Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Konami’s Solid Snake.

Claire Usiak, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, recently started playing Smash.  “…Some of my friends were playing and it looked like fun, so I asked if I could play!”  said Claire. She was also interested because “[I’m] pretty competitive and wanted to see if I could beat any of them.”  Even though Claire hasn’t played games for very long, she finds games a fun way to relax with friends and relieve stress.  “I like being able to play with other people.  It’s very fun to play with your friends because you can play together with teams.  It’s also kind of a good stress reliever because you get to release all of your other emotions and just focus on the game.”  Learning to play also opened up a fun way for her to interact with her guy friends.  “My guy friends were the ones who taught me how to play, so they thought it was cool and funny when I started to get good.”  Take note, girls:  putting in a little effort to learn to play games with your guy friends can score you major points in appreciation and respect—and it’s fun!

Featured game(s):  Super Smash Bros. 64, Melee, Brawl
Played on:  Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, Wii
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  HAL Laboratory, Ad hoc development team/Nintendo
Release Date:  1999, 2001, 2008
ESRB rating:  E, T, T
Reason 2:  To escape into other worlds

 We all know what it’s like to feel so stressed from school that we just want to escape for a while.  For some people, escape comes in the form of hanging out with friends, parties, reading or watching TV and movies.  For Jennifer Coloma, a sophomore professional writing and creative writing double major, one great way to escape into another world is through video games.  “I can escape reality and live another life in another world. I don’t have to be me: I can be anyone anywhere, sailing a boat to the ends of the world or flying around on a mythical creature,” Jennifer said.  She enjoys adventure games with a storyline.  “It’s hard to pick just one or two games to recommend, but I’d start with Pokémon. It’s definitely action and adventure based. It always has a storyline to go with it.  If you have a Nintendo DS, I’d recommend Pokémon HeartGold or SoulSilver to start with and then Pokémon Pearl or Diamond.”
Jennifer also enjoys being able to create the worlds she escapes into.  “If you miss playing pretend games or like recreating a world and playing the role of a god, I’d [recommend] Sims 3. It allows you to create a person—hair, clothes, personality (brave, insane, genius, hydrophobic, etc.)—and build the world around them. You can make their house a dingy little one-story creation or a marvelous mansion. With the recent expansion, Sims 3 Pets, you can even give them a horse to ride around.  It’s awesome!”  Games can be a great way to escape from reality for a while, whether it’s through adventure or by creating characters and stories.

Featured game:  Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver
Played on:  Nintendo DS
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  Game Freak/Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
North America Release Date:  2010
ESRB rating:  E

Featured game:  The Sims 3
Played on:  Mac, Windows, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS, Nintendo DS, Wii, Windows Phone, Android
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  The Sims Studio/Electronic Arts
Release Date:  2009
ESRB rating:  T
Reason 3:  For interesting story lines and characters

 I was once talking with a guy friend about video games.  He was showing me one of the most stereotypical games I had ever seen:  a game with hundreds of zombies that your character had to kill. When I tried to play the game I resulted in a lot of frustrated screaming and frantic animated bench-swinging.  I remember asking, “So what’s the point of this game?  What’s the story?”  My friend answered something like, “I think there’s a story behind this, but I don’t remember what it is.”  When I groaned in frustration, he explained that the game became pretty cool when you could get your hands on more impressive weapons.  He then explained a different game to me that had realistic physics when you destroyed buildings.  And again I asked, “What’s the story?”  And he answered, “Hmm, I know there’s a story, but I can’t remember what it is.”

For some, impressive weapons and explosions may be enough to keep a game interesting.  For me, though, there has to be a storyline.  Who are the characters?  What’s happening to them?  What do they want to accomplish?  My favorite game has the most interesting and funny storyline I’ve ever experienced:  Psychonauts.  It’s a story about Raz, a ten-year-old from a gypsy circus who travels to a camp for psychics-in-training.  The camp kids are aiming to become international psychic secret agents:  psychonauts.  As the game progresses, Raz meets many unique characters and develops his psychic powers:  powers that allow him to set things on fire, shoot mental bullets, become invisible and levitate, just to name a few.  And when Raz uncovers a conspiracy to build psychic military weapons using the campers’ brains, he has to single-handedly save his fellow campers, his love-interest Lily and others who he meets along the way, all by travelling into their minds.  The game also has extremely funny cutscenes, dialogue and intricate scenery.  One of my favorite levels is called Black Velvetopia, which takes place in narrow, mysterious Spanish streets.  Another is Lungfishopolis, in which you’re the size of Godzilla.  While the gameplay and exploration are fun, it’s the storyline and characters that make the game unique.

Featured game:  Psychonauts
Played on:  Windows, Playstation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, Mac
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  Double Fine Productions, Budcat Creations/Majesco Entertainment
Designer:  Tim Schafer
Release Date:  2005
ESRB rating:  T
Reason 4:  Teamwork

 While many people don’t mind playing single-player video games, others enjoy games where they can team up with or play against other players.  Carnegie Mellon student Danielle plays several games on the computer such as Portal and Portal 2, Minecraft, Elsword and League of Legends.  She enjoys games where she can team up with others and is challenged to use her mind. Danielle explains that what she likes most about these team games is “the social aspect involved; you really [have] to interact with other people, and if you [don’t] most of the fun of the game [is] lost.”  Danielle recommends several games to those interested, including Portal and Portal 2:  “It’s a puzzle game that you can work out on your own, and in the second version you can team up with another person.  The first version is pretty short and it’s also pretty cheap.”  Portal also has an imaginative fan base whose members especially enjoy a character named GLaDOS, an extremely sarcastic robot who promises her victims cake that doesn’t exist.  Her sarcasm is showcased in two songs by Jonathan Coulton:  “Still Alive” and “Want You Gone.”

Danielle also recommends League of Legends for those interested in a more challenging game.  Classified as a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game, Danielle explains that it is “extremely popular, and has a huge player base. I would ease your way into this game slowly, playing against computers, and eventually making your way to players of the same level.  There are a lot of nuances to this game and the learning curve is a little slow. But it can be really fun and mentally stimulating.”  For some, working through puzzles and challenges in games by collaborating with others can be a fun way to relax and socialize.

Featured game:  Portal and Portal 2
Played on:  Windows, Mac, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  Valve Corporation/Valve Corporation, Microsoft Studios
Release Date:  2007-2008 (varies depending on region and computer system/console)
ESRB rating:  T

Featured game:  League of Legends
Played on:  Windows
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  Riot Games
Release Date:  2009
ESRB rating:  T
Reason 5:  To build and create

 How many of us miss building and creating with Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, or Playmobil sets from when we were little?  If only there was an acceptable, age-appropriate way to do that now. Well, luckily for us, there is in certain video games.  Haley Dalzell, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major, recommends a game for those who enjoy building and creating.  “I would probably suggest Minecraft, because I know a few girls who were never big video game players but like it. The game has the option to turn off monster spawning, so they can just play peacefully and build anything they like,” she said.  The game has an almost Lego-like feel with blocky graphics and the ability to create tools and resources at “crafting tables.”  Players who choose to play with enemies do have to contend with the infamous “creeper,” a type of enemy that can sneak up on players while they’re building and blow up.  This can cause them to lose the resources they’ve collected. But as Haley explains, playing with enemies is optional.  Haley says building is what she finds most appealing in this game. “I can get creative and build anything I want. As the ECE major and nerd that I am, I especially love that I can make digital circuits in Minecraft,” Haley said.  For some gamers, building their own creations in video games can be especially captivating.

Featured game:  Minecraft
Played on:  Computer (Java platform, Java applet), Android, iOS, Xbox 360
Developer(s)/Publisher(s):  Mojang
Release Date:  2011-2012

Don’t believe the stereotypes

Whether it’s to socialize with friends, escape into different worlds, play through great stories, work as a team or create unique worlds, there are many different reasons for girls to play video games.  While girls who don’t play may have preconceived beliefs about what gamers are like, those stereotypes are far from reality. “The stereotypes are ridiculous—we’re not bats that live in caves, shun sunlight, and never shower. We just like escaping reality for a few minutes to relax and live another life in another world,” Jennifer said.  All of these Carnegie Mellon girls recommend video games as a great way to relax between classes and hang out with friends.
While gamers understand that video games aren’t for everybody, you never know if they are for you until you test them out. “You never know until you try. If you are really afraid to play video games, find a friend who does play and try out whatever game they suggest.  It’s another awesome chance to hang out with them,” Jennifer said. Remember: video games come in a wide variety. “There’s a lot of genres out there, and not all games are focused on defeating enemies,” Haley said. Still nervous about trying gaming? Take it from Danielle: “Don’t knock it till you try it.”

Laura Stiles is a Creative Writing, Professional Writing double major at Carnegie Mellon University who will be graduating in May 2014. In addition to being Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Carnegie Mellon chapter of HerCampus.com, she is Co-Prose Editor of The Oakland Review, Carnegie Mellon’s literary-arts journal, a manuscript reader for Carnegie Mellon University Press, and has copy-edited for Carnegie Mellon’s newspaper, The Tartan. She was also Communications and Arts Management Intern at The Hillman Center for Performing Arts in summer 2012, and is ecstatic to be studying abroad in Sheffield, England in spring 2013. In her free time, she enjoys singing along to music on long car rides, spontaneously kicking off her shoes to explore lakes and creeks, and curling up with a soft blanket and a captivating book. She was also recently pleasantly surprised to discover that she has a taste for sushi.
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