Thursday, 26 June 2014

Exploring Identity as a Transgendered Gamer

Hey everyone!

I hope you enjoyed last week's advice for new cosplayers--part II will be posted next week. In the meantime, it's World Pride in Toronto right now, and there are incredible events all over the city hosted by groups like Toronto GaymersAlso, have you checked out Gaming in Color yet??

This is another awesome Kickstarter project about the LGBTQ++ gaming community which I think everyone should watch. I also want to thank everyone from this community who has been supportive of our project and who has shared their personal stories.

Speaking of Kickstarter and personal stories, this week's guest post is by KickstartVentures writer Serena Nelson who is "also known as Intendant S on most forums and Twitter. She started her adventuring career at a young age by cutting her teeth on a copy of Zork and King’s Quest (and chipping a tooth on the floppies). She has since fallen in love with the genre and has hungrily gobbled up any good ones (and a few overripe ones) that she could find." (I stole this bio from the site....since I couldn't have written it better myself.) By the way, Serena deserves a gold medal for patronage of the arts for backing over 40 projects!! 


Before I start, a bit of a disclaimer. I’m transgendered. That means that I was born male but have felt the need to become female. The issue of gender identity is a sensitive subject, but in the end it comes down to just being the person who you really are. And I have discovered that one area that has really helped me during my journey of self-discovery was through gaming. Games in general are a much more interactive medium than most forms of entertainment. You’re playing as the main character, not just being a passive voyeur in the back seat of the action. You literally ARE the star.
Being trans is an incredibly scary experience, especially when you’re just starting out on getting to know yourself. And games are a safe place to explore your identity. Single player games that let you customize your avatar and choose your gender, such as the Mass Effect series, let you not only play as your chosen gender but also to make him or her look like your ideal self. Of course, online games like most MMOs let you do this too but that’s a bit more of a touchy subject that I’ll get to in just a bit.
Back during the dawn of computer gaming, one genre that stood out was text adventures (or interactive fiction as it’s also known). To my knowledge, no other style of play talks to the player in the second person (“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.” for example). While there are little-to-no graphics involved in these early titles, the power of imagination quickly sets in and you can visualize whomever or whatever you want to be. Even the poor graphics of the late ‘70s and ‘80s had players fill in the blanks.
Granted, you won’t see many outside of the “old school” crowd playing these older games, but I wanted to include them for completeness sake. Today’s games are much more realistic than previous generations, which means with the exception of first-person titles (such as shooters and some adventure and RPG games) you’re seeing yourself on screen all the time. Even the more “cartoony” games are a huge step up from yesteryear.
Online gaming is another major way to explore one’s identity through this medium. My first MMO experience was roughly fifteen years ago with Dark Age of Camelot, which was also my first foray into playing a character of my self-identified gender in a multiplayer game. Prior to this my experience was through single player games that either let me choose a gender or already had a strong female protagonist. I’ve also read about  other transgendered people who have explored this through World of Warcraft and other more modern titles, and it’s not unusual to see this happen more and more often these days, particularly due to the anonymity of the Internet.
One good thing about this is that unless other players know about your trans status they won’t know unless you talk over VOIP, such as raiding. I know I’ve hated having to do this back when I was playing WoW heavily as a tank, but it was required for my role. This was years before I started working on my voice and it made me very self-conscious. Even today I’m still hesitant to talk over Skype or to lend my voice to podcasts and such. But, as they say, you’re your own worst critic.
But, there’s also a downside to exploring your gender online. Remember when I said that it’s a touchy subject above? Well, as much as I’d love to say otherwise there’s still plenty of hate towards the LGBT community. At its least offensive, other players will just dismiss you as a “guy playing a girl” or vice versa and leave it at that, perhaps even tease you about it from time to time. At its worst, though, you can receive threats and other harassment. While I’ve thankfully never experienced any of this kind of abuse first-hand, I have heard some horror stories.
Of course, it’s not quite as bad as I’m making it sound. There are plenty of trans guilds out there in numerous games and while I’ve never been a member of any of them I hear that they’re pretty supportive. And titles like Second Life even have support groups for transgendered persons. In short, if you can find other players who are open about it and you’re just starting out discovering yourself these groups would be a great place to look. And if you’re still too shy about meeting strangers online you can never go wrong with grouping with a close group of friends like I did.
Being openly trans means you’re putting yourself out there for the world to see. And it’s scary as hell. As I’m fond of saying, I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure that most are more than content just to continue living their lives without anyone being the wiser. I know that for me I didn’t particularly want to be out beyond a select number of people that I’ve come to know, respect, and like. I won’t speak of what made me more vocal towards the trans community, but there’s plenty out there on the Internet from November and December of last year to get some idea of what happened. I will state that it’s gaming related and leave it at that.
The gaming community does have its fair share of malicious individuals, which isn’t limited to just fans and fellow gamers. But, there are also plenty of others who are supportive, whether they’re cis or trans themselves. The thing is, you just never know which camp someone is in until it’s too late. For me, the gaming genre that I’ve been most active in has been in adventure gaming. And the vast majority of people that I know personally have had absolutely no problem with who I am. With the very rare exception, of course. Every genre has its problem child, so to speak. Even the most open-minded of them.
Games help to empower the player in ways that no other form of media does. As mentioned above, you’re not just playing the hero but you ARE the hero. You can live out the fantasy of saving the land, world, universe, etc in the comfort of your own home without taking risk. There are always save points and extra lives to be had, after all. While it’s a form of escapism and a way for someone to feel better about themselves, it’s so much more for someone whose sense of self is quite different from who they are, for lack of a better term, “in real life”.

Thanks for reading and happy Pride!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Convention tips for first-time Cosplayers (Part I)

Doing things for the first time is a double-edged sword. I mean on the one hand, there's nothing more thrilling than the adrenaline of going on pure instinct (like that time when I thought I had invented muffin french toast). On the other hand you definitely get those, "Oh shiii...." moments where you wish you'd had a shred of guidance before flinging yourself into the fire (like that time when I climbed Mt. Fuji in a blizzard.)

From the outside, cosplay might seem like a pretty straight forward thing that doesn't need much forethought. You get or make a costume. You wear it. You take pics. That's it.

But for what ever reason it can seem a lot more intimidating than that, which is why I'm so excited to bring you PART I of Magdalena Auditore's advice for first time cosplayers.



Before I dive into things, I need to thank all of the people on my Facebook for their beta reading, their suggestions and contribution, and their support. We love cosplay, we love attending conventions and we hope newcomers will enjoy it as much as we do. I also want to extend my love and thanks to the cosplayers I've met over the years who have inspired me and encouraged me, and of course special thanks to Cailleah for allowing me to write about this on the She Got Game blog!

    Some would argue that I'm not exactly the person to give advice when it comes to attending anime and video game conventions. I only attend one convention a year since 2008 and don't make my own costumes. I usually take existing store bought costumes or clothes, put them together, and either make a costume of my own design (a school girl Harley Quinn) or try to get as close to the character's appearance as possible (Jeanette Voerman and Tifa Lockhart). Only recently have I decided to spend a little extra money to have costumes commissioned and learned how to apply theatre make up. I have no idea how to make my own costume and I have no idea how to make props or cosplay armor from scratch.

    The point I am trying to get across, using myself for an example, is that attending conventions isn't reserved for a certain group of people. You can wear anything you like, may it be store bought, commissioned, or created with your own two hands. While there are rules for competing, there are no rules for buying a weekend pass and actually attending the convention.

    I feel that it is important to stress this fact because there are elitists in everything, especially in nerd, geek, and gaming communities. Naturally, that elitism seeps into the cosplay community and most notably has had the spotlight shined on it in SyFy's Heroes of Cosplay. This idea is reinforced on social media outlets and sends a harmful and negative message that only certain people are allowed to cosplay or have the right to cosplay. This can be intimidating for those who've always wanted to attend a convention but are afraid of rejection and humiliation. I personally feel that this community can only get better if we are more supportive and welcoming rather than closed off and exclusive.

Here are a few things you should remember when you are attending your convention:

1. Make sure you go with the right people.
    Safety regulations aside, going with a group of people, or going in on a room with a group of people, will make or break your convention-going experience. I've roomed with people I've really clicked with and roomed with people I did NOT click with and it has a direct effect on whether or not I enjoy my time there. I understand that everybody is different and likes to spend their time in different ways. I personally like to wake up early, get dressed up in my costume and then go out and spend the entire day running around the convention. Some people prefer to stay in the hotel room and drink alcohol and throw room parties and maybe occasionally go out and see the convention. Whatever feels more comfortable for you, go for it!

     I would suggest that if you go in on a room with someone, you go with people you trust and know you'll be safe with. You usually can't go wrong with close friends and family members. If you decide to room with strangers, it is important that you all decide, as a group, what the "rules" for the hotel room are: no strangers in the room, agree not to go through anybody's stuff, etc. And do NOT stay in a room with someone you feel uncomfortable with. Trust your gut with this one and you should know the difference between whether or not your personality just clashes with this person or if this person is a potential threat to you.

    Remember that you're going to be with these people for about three to four days. You want to make sure that you are safe and happy with these people. You deserve to be.

2. The cosplay community is very diverse.
    Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes the producers of Heroes of Cosplay could have done was not represent the vast diversity of conventions. I live in the Metro Detroit area which is already a huge, multicultural location (mostly African American, Latino American, and Arab American). Every year when I attend the Youmacon convention in Detroit, there is a huge, diverse community of people of all races, all ages, different body types, different sexual orientations and gender identities, people from the area and people from out of town.

    You are going to meet a lot of different people. Do not let this intimidate you, but instead acknowledge the fact that so many different people all share the same love and enthusiasm that you have for video games, anime, comic books, and other media. You have a great opportunity to make a lot of new friends. If you want to keep in contact with these friends, it helps if you look up and join the convention's community pages on Facebook or join the convention's forum. This is a good way to stay connected, to find out what other conventions they'll be attending in the future, you'll have access to a lot of information about how they made their costumes, and you'll have someone to meet up with at the next convention.

    The most important thing about the diversity of conventions is the fact that it is living proof that conventions are not these closed off, exclusive clubs for one particular type of cosplayer or fan. It is something that needs to be celebrated because it does bring different people all together.

3. Do not expect your first costume to be perfect. It might be rough at first, but if you stick with it, you will improve over time.
    I remember when I wore my first costume to a convention. I also remember the backlash and the teasing I got for it on the online community because of it. I think it's important to know that whatever you wear in public is going to be open for conversation and not all of that conversation is going to be pleasant. Do not let that dishearten you if this is your first time attending a convention or wearing a costume. Everybody starts from somewhere and as you keep going to conventions, you start learning new things about what to apply to your future costumes.

    It's important not to be motivated by what other people personally think of your costume. However, I've discovered that certain cosplayers have inspired me to push myself when it comes to dressing up as certain characters. If you give up in the beginning, you'll never have an opportunity to grow. Cosplay is for fun, but it can also be a learning experience if you stick with it long enough. Always keep those embarrassing first-cosplay pictures of yourself because you'll look back one day and see just how far you've come! Trust me, there will be huge differences between now and then!

    Also be aware that if you keep cosplaying and attending conventions, there will always be newcomers and beginners. Remember how you felt when you first cosplayed and make a conscious effort to be supportive and encouraging.

4. There are no rules for cosplaying.
    You will hear a lot of people say "Black girls shouldn't cosplay as Sailor Scouts!" or "Fat girls shouldn't cosplay skinny characters!" or "Guys shouldn't dress up as Faye Valentine!"  or "If a woman is going to cosplay a guy she should bind her boobs!" and a myriad of other judgmental and nasty things. Sadly, these things are said and repeated and hotly debated a lot, both at the convention and on online communities (how many times have we heard the "You're not a REAL fan" accusation before?) There is nothing wrong with giving constructive criticism for how to make a costume look better, but nobody has the right to tell you that you are not allowed to wear something (unless of course you are wearing a costume of some kind of racist caricature, which has happened quite a few times before).

    What is important is that you want to be absolutely comfortable in whatever it is you are wearing. Cosplay should make you feel good about yourself. You should want to have as much fun as possible in your costume. It's okay to be a little nervous in the beginning, but if you start feeling overwhelmingly self-conscious or anxious because of your costume, try something different next time. Comfort is more important than becoming an exact replica of a fictional character. Even if you do not look exactly like the person you are cosplaying, you can still look great and feel great about yourself.

    In the event where you meet someone who has absolutely nothing nice to say about anything you wear, think of it in this light: if nothing you are going to do is going to impress them, you do not have to live up to their expectations. You already know that they'll be disappointed in you, you already know what they're going to think of you, so just go with whatever you wanted to do anyways. You have nothing to lose. There will be just as many people who will be happy to help and would like to see you improve over time.

(Photo by Jason Laboy)

Back in a jiffy with Part II. Thanks for reading and comments always welcome.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Curious about the gaming scene in India? Ask Adriana...

So when I first started this project, I was pretty sure it was going to stay local (due to budget blah blah blah) but the Internet always has a way of picking up little seeds and dispersing them to unexpected places. I was filming in New York at the time when a message from Adriana Hazra landed in my inbox and I was rubbing my eyes with my mouth hanging open (drooling?) 

Somehow, word of the project had reached her all the way in Calcutta, India and Adriana had even been kind enough to feature an article about us on her otaku/gaming/anime site ASidCast. 

Holy sh** right!? I was so excited--and I definitely wanted to get her perspective on gaming in return. I can honestly say that I'd never heard anything about Indian gaming culture, so today's guest post by Adriana was an eye opener. When did gaming start to get big there? Who is into gaming? Is India become a game dev hub?

A little intro...

"Having owned consoles from NES onwards, Adriana is a loyal Nintendo fan who tries to      keep up with console, handheld and PC gaming alike. She's a writer and a Media student with a lifelong passion for gaming and Otaku culture." (from the ASidCast site)


Like several other pop culture mediums that were gaining momentum throughout the 80s, video games didn’t really enter India until the late 90s. It was only as the new millennium was being ushered in that Indian kids got to play 8-bit classics like Super Mario Bros. on bootleg NESs and toy stores suddenly had shelves lined with Pokemon games for the GBA.

It could be argued that Indians missed a lot of great games, having nothing but 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit games at a time when legendary games like Ocarina of Time were being released. But I consider myself pretty lucky, because while I never did get to see consoles like the GameCube in the market here, I got to more or less experience every generation of gaming right from second generation, despite not even having even two decades of gaming under my belt now.

The rate at which the gaming scene has progressed in India has its positives and negatives. While there were certain eras, such as that of the GameCube, that we completely missed (and couldn’t experience till emulators were available), we had different generations of people playing the same generations of games from the early 2000s onwards, which means that the entire community is more relatable. While younger gamers got to experience a wider range of games, the scope for console gaming decreased drastically as video games began to develop a market, which conversely isolates people who may not have the most “mainstream” taste in games. In fact, with the popularity of PC gaming in India, there are pretty much only a handful of Nintendo gamers in every city. I think that’s pretty sad, considering it was Nintendo consoles that had gotten people here into gaming in the first place.

Things are of course not just a downhill march, pushing India into lack of diversity when it comes to games. While most gaming tournaments in India would previously only have FPS titles, the rapid growth of gaming culture has motivated the organization of more frequent gaming-related events; this has necessitated the inclusion of MOBAs like Dota 2 and even combat games in competitive events. With ESL just entering India, things can only be expected to get drastically better here in terms of competitive gaming. And while no one even expected anything to progress here in terms of game development (the few Indian games we had played in the previous decade having been worse jokes than the products of the Indian animation sector) independent developers started turning all of that around.

With developers like Pyrodactyl Games in the process of developing a game like Unrest, that is both of current qualitative standards and that draws on stylistic aspects that are unique to India, there is a growing possibility of having a lot to look forward to. A lot of young programmers are now planning on getting into development and a lot of students are shaping their career paths to take them the way of game development. And while we do still face the prospect of irreparable hardware problems as console gamers, or unjustified judgments as younger or female gamers, India seems to be a country that is slowly and steadily accepting video games as a mainstream pop culture medium.


As always, feel free to comment and ask questions!
Also, if you found this post interesting you might also like these ASidCast articles on:

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Katty Polyak on Women and the Gaming Identity

Most days I wish I could take you all out for coffee to pick your brains for the doc...but since I've neither mastered the art of teleportation nor mad-money-making, online coffee-date discussions will have to do. I'm very pleased to introduce you to this week's guest blogger, Katty Polyak.

Katty's a cool young lady living in the Big Apple. When she's not playing video games and board games, she's dreaming up ideas for her own documentary. I just know we'd get along.

So here's the big question: What exactly does it mean to identify as a "gamer"? And why is this sometimes so awkward for women especially online?

As a preview to this discussion, let's watch this fun YouTube video that some guys posted of themselves running into a girl in League of Legends:

Women exist in a rather nebulous space when it comes to gaming. Conventional wisdom tells us that there are far more male players than female ones, but is this really true? In fact current statistics state that women make up almost 50% of gamers. Yet we don’t see a lot of women talking about their interest in gaming the way men do. What can we attribute this discrepancy to?

I think a large part is due to the fact that “Gaming” is predominantly seen as a boys’ hobby.
Gaming has several qualities to it that are typically seen as male traits. Video games are usually competitive, can be aggressive, and are not always social. In addition, there are also some qualities that are seen as normal in boys and less normal in girls. This means that friends, coworkers, and parents may ascribe these qualities to women who express an interest in video games and make judgments because of it. 

To avoid these stigmas, a girl is less likely to identify to others as a gamer because of how it immediately shapes their perception of them. Better to not discuss that aspect of themselves than be ridiculed or ostracized for their hobby.

You might think then that girls would feel more comfortable revealing their gender online, however the problem is only worse there. Although online gaming offers a great deal of anonymity, the anonymity also means that it can be difficult to predict how another person might react to someone different than them on the internet. They are also more likely to “fill in” your personality with stereotypes.

I’ve seen a variety of different reactions upon mentioning that I was a woman while playing League of Legends. I’ve been told that we were losing specifically because I was a girl, been told that my boyfriend had just carried me to my ranking, and flat out been told that I wasn’t a girl or if I was a girl, I was unattractive and fat. Somehow, it becomes every girl’s responsibility to prove that female gamers can be skillful but each male is judged individually based on their merit.

On the other hand, I’ve also had positive interactions after identifying as a woman in-game. My boyfriend casually mentioned that we were dating. After some initial disbelief, another gamer said it was really cool that we gamed together and had been dating for so long. I liked chatting with him so much that I told him about how my boyfriend and I cosplay together and showed him a photo of our costumes.

Sometimes identifying as a female gamer or any other minority can lead to some interesting and rewarding interactions. Our physical characteristics don’t necessarily matter while in game but they can add an interesting element to the story of our online interactions. Unfortunately, we get denied these interactions because some women are afraid of being ostracized and some men don’t feel ready to share the world of gaming.  Like anything else, we need to allow culture to catch up with reality.

So what do you guys/girls think? Is this consistent with your experiences? What other gaming minority groups run into the same trouble? On the flip side, what are the social benefits of identifying as a female gamer? What kinds of doors does that open up?