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Playing By Party Lines

by Bonnie Ruberg - January 12, 2005, 10:03 pm EST

Should girl gamers and female characters stick together in party games?

When it comes to party games, should girls gamers play with female characters? It may not be the most important girl gamer decision you face all day, but it’s one of those little choices you can make on the road to earning gaming respect.

Let’s consider the facts. Girl gamers are a rare commodity. It's true, our numbers are growing, but we're still far outweighed by a world of male gamers. A lot of boys think girls just don't play videogames. And that's not true. We want to; deep down, we all do. But the system is against us. Games are designed for and marketed to guys, who have years of thumb-agility practice under their belts. We're just catching up.

In the meantime, girls gamers are fighting back against old stereotypes. We're beating our male friends enough times to be considered serious gamers. We're trying to find more girl converts. Though, in the process, we're getting a lot of funny looks from other, "girlier" girls. It's not easy. Put it this way: When you spot a girl confidently picking up a controller, it makes you go all fuzzy inside. Then you step in, grab the second controller and collectively kick butt.

But it doesn't happen often.

So if we girl gamers are really such a scattered minority, doesn't it seem like we should be sticking together?

Almost as scarce as female gamers are legitimate female characters. Sure, you'll find at least one girl in every Nintendo game, but, like the girl who claims to be a gamer but really only plays PC puzzle games, they're usually pretty weak.

Zelda is a prime example - except for those moments when she stops being female altogether and parades around as Sheik. She sits in her tower, combs her hair, and waits to be valiantly saved. The same goes for Princess Peach, an air-head through and through. Couldn't she at

least try kicking Bowser in the shins? True, she’s getting her own game for the DS, complete with adorable moves (like floating) and a cheerful umbrella. But, in short, it promises to be a girly copout. Or, think Farah from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Pretty, yes, but not really good for anything except fitting through cracks in the wall.

There are, of course, the counter-examples. Samus, for one, is a fan-boy favorite and, theoretically, the ultimate female fighting machine. But even she has some issues. For starters, she's only really a girl when she takes off her helmet. Otherwise, she's nothing more than a suit, or the view from a first-person perspective. It’s hard to identify. And Alexandra, from Eternal Darkness, but you know a guy picked out her outfit. What kind of girl would go fight timeless evil dressed in tight jeans and a tank top?

What's the likelihood Nintendo's next big game is going to star a super-powerful woman? Probably not so good. Alas, will videogames be permanently populated by helpless, girly girls?

Who cares. Forget them. If girl gamers want to play good female characters, they should concentrate on games where talent is the determiner of coolness: party games.

In party games, you make characters good or bad. Sure, certain characters just outright suck, and others seem to have more punch. But, with practice, it's possible to rock with almost any character, male or female. Which brings us back to the same question: should girls stick

together? When given the choice, should girl gamers play as female characters?

On the one hand, lots of guy gamers feel like girl characters are meant for the girls. They think that they're wimpy. And it's not hard to understand why. Female characters, the few that do appear in party games, usually have less powerful attacks, and they take damage more

easily than their male counterparts. More "hardcore" gamers usually steer clear of them, play them as a joke, or use them to show off their talents - so superior they could even win with a girl.

And some girls like to play along with the girl gamer/character weakness idea. They pretend to be the adorable, clueless, first-time gamer. I know it can be tempting. But you’ve got to resist. You’re bringing the rest of us down.

For example, I played in a Melee tournament a few months ago, just me and fifteen boys. That is, until a newbie girl showed up. I was totally jazzed. She seemed like she might be able to hold her own. Then the guy running the tourney asked her who she wanted to play as. What does she say? "I don't know. Give me something cute." Give me something cute. Come on.

So, they set her up with Jigglypuff and, needless to say, she cutely jumped herself off the playing field and cutely floated to her doom enough times to use up four cute lives without receiving a single point of damage.

Those fifteen guys went thinking girl gamers are silly and unwilling to take gaming seriously. And that’s just no good. Maybe, if you're a beginner, you should stick to the characters with the natural advantages. Slowly, as you get better, you can develop a good relationship with a female character - get in the groove. That way, once you rock, your guy gamer friends will get beaten by a girl both on and off screen. On the other hand, if you pick a male character, even to start out with, you're kind of siding with the opposition. You're acknowledging that guy characters (and by association, guys) are better. Who's going to stick up for girl characters if not girl gamers?

It may be helpful to remember, there are advantages to appearing weak. A girl on screen often experiences the same dismissal faced by girl gamers. Some guys don't feel like girls are worthy

adversaries, so they don't fight as hard against them. Play as a female character in an unsuspecting male crowd, and you can often win by default - hanging out on the sidelines, throwing in an occasional punch, letting the boys duke it out. If that's how you want to play the game.

And, on the third hand (You have three hands, right?), if you never play as a guy, you boost the same old stereotype. Girl characters are for girls. It might not look like you're taking a stand for girl gamer rights, but rather that you're scared to play as a character with a giant sword and

a mustache. What to do?

My advice: switch it up. Try things out. Test the reaction you get from other gamers. If you have a more enlightened crowd, flips things totally around - have the guys play as girls and the girls as guys. See how they feel. Find a character that makes you excited to play.

Does it really matter if you play as a girl or a guy? In the end, it's about having a good time. And, as girl gamers know, it's hard to do that without feeling respected. So do what you need to do. Be a girl character. A guy character. Or, if neither seems right, there's always the androgynous Pokemon.

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