This is my daughter. Her nickname is Cheeks. I really want her to play video games. Like, I really, really do. One of her favorite things to grab when she wanders around the apartment is an Xbox 360 controller. She holds it the right way most of the time, presses the buttons and looks up at me with a big smile on her face.
This fills me with hope.
I dream of her experiencing the beauty of Flower, the bluesy feeling of Bastion and the atmosphere of BioShock. For all my artsy parental aspirations, though, I realize that she's probably going to come in through some more down-to-earth fare.
But, like any father, I wonder what she's going to find when I start letting her engage with the medium I love and work with. More specifically, there's two big problems I see her having when she powers up her first handheld or console game.
She's Not Going to Find Anyone That Looks Like Her
Leaving aside the specific mix of her parentage—Black and Asian, if you must know—this little bundle of cute is going to grow up into a brown woman. Have you seen where brown women wind up in video game casting? Sassy sidekicks are the best of it, folks. And maybe she won't be offended by the Letitias she meets, but they're not going to engender any great love in her either. They're not going to resemble her aunts or her cousins or her school friends.
It's not enough to just make a protagonist—or worse, a sidekick—black. Why? Because of the Hunger. The Hunger is the angry growling in the pit of a black nerd's soul that asks constantly, "where are we in the big picture?" It manifests differently for everybody. Nevertheless, I don't want to pass on The Hunger to my daughter. I want the video games of the future to make her feel welcome.
Now, you might say, "Evan, I play video games every day that don't have people that look like me. So do you for that matter!" That's true. But I want different for her. I want better for her. And my scenario's a bit different then what I'm envisioning for Cheeks. As a medium, video games already has its hooks in me. It has for years.
Cheeks is going to need to be convinced. Won over, even. Whatever Angry Birds equivalent she winds up playing won't be what lights a lifelong fire in her heart. Games like Rovio's hit are dalliances. You leave, you come back. They're disposable. No, she's going to need characters and plot twists and next-gen interactivity to make her a lifelong fan. Call it a father's naïve wish for his little girl but I'd hate to have the passion I have for video games not get passed on to her.
The Whole Girl Gamer Thing
I used to work at Teen People Magazine ten years ago. Back then, the fact that girls played video games still got treated like a mind-blowing revelation. Nowadays, the air of novelty is gone but it's been replaced by a distrust or dismissal. And the flip side of this is even worse, when women who play games are exoticized or fetishized.
I don't want her to have to hide. Ever. From anything. Again, that's probably naïve. But I want her to find a home, a catalyst and a passion inside of video games just the same way I have. Hell, better than I have. Our generation will be the first to raise kids who won't be hearing about video games as a cursed or second-class medium. That stigma's gone, but other ones remain.
If she were of age to play video games now, I'd be extremely wary of the reflections—or more accurately, the lack thereof—she'd find staring back at her. But she won't be there for a little while yet. She has time to grow up and learn about the world. I hope that video games do the same.