My Apparently Rare Sexism-Free Gaming Childhood

The first in a series of videos on sexist tropes in video games, by Anita Sarkeesian, was released last week. If your video-gaming youth was anything like mine, it might surprise you.

As kids, my brothers and I were given an hour a day to play games on the computer — or later, our Gameboys — and we used them up (and usually went overtime) on an array of seemingly egalitarian and semi-educational games: EA*Kids titles like Eagle Eye Mysteries and Peter Pan: A Story Painting Adventure; The Magic School Bus and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego; Oregon Trail and (the far superior) Amazon Trail; Treasures Cove, Mountain, and Math Storm; and a series called Living Books that tested reading and spelling comprehension as you played.

Looking at the list, it’s clear that my parents’ substantial influence on our games of choice had something to do with it, but I never perceived anything sexist about my gaming experience — most of the games featured genderless/gender-ambiguous protagonists (the Trail games, the Treasure games, Carmen Sandiego, etc.) or let players choose between male and female equals, as with the brother and sister detective duo in Eagle Eye Mysteries. Gender was either a brief decision made at the beginning of a game that never contributed substantially to the outcome, or it was never a factor in the first place.

It’s not surprising to learn that my gaming upbringing was a fairly uncommon and insular one — we weren’t allowed a Playstation or Nintendo until after I lost interest, but I knew the most popular games among kids my age belonged to those mediums — but it is somewhat surprising to learn the pervasiveness (and weird repetitiveness) in gaming sexism that has existed ever since gaming became a thing people did. This video from Anita Sarkeesian — the first in what will be a series of videos examining sexist tropes in gaming — examines one such video-game meme: the damsel in distress.

The whole thing is great, but the sequence of clips at 10:40 showing princess/female characters being kidnapped in front of the male protagonists whose mission it will be to rescue them is especially mesmerizing; ditto the 12:03 clip showing one damsel after another pleading, “HELP!” (Lest anyone think the video is merely a reflection of backwards history, this cool dad’s Donkey Kong hack that lets his daughter save Mario as hero Pauline has caused an uproar among a “men’s rights gaming group called ‘Mr. Pac-Men.’”)

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