So while Elsa is off having fun in Seattle at Geek Girl Con, I thought I’d pause to write about geekery for a moment, or at least about a video game. I have three posts in mind on the Mass Effect trilogy, of which this is the first. WARNING: THIS SERIES OF POSTS (although not actually this particular post) WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR MASS EFFECT 1, 2, AND 3. Please feel free to bookmark the posts and get back to them when you’ve finished your play through!
I discovered the Mass Effect trilogy through Twitter, where two of my friends (both women) happened to be playing through Mass Effect 3 at the same time. Keeping up with their woes and snarky commentary was intriguing, so when I found the trilogy set for dirt cheap, I grabbed it in a minute to do my own play through of the entire series.
The Mass Effect trilogy is a game with a cult following, most famous perhaps for the furore that erupted when fans were dissatisfied with the original ending of Mass Effect 3. The games tell the story of Commander Shepard of the Alliance Navy in his or her (more on that in a moment) struggle to save the galaxy — pretty standard fare for a 3rd person shooter game. The player can choose to be either a male or female Commander Shepard, and pick the character’s first name. Because of the way save data from earlier games can be carried forward, the three games can be played as one lengthy experience, with choices you made in Mass Effect 1 having consequences for the final saving of the galaxy in Mass Effect 3.
I loved my play through a lot, and part of that was the community I had while playing. Huge piles of text have been written about the problem of sexism in the gaming community. Usually when someone writes about it, the more…emphatic…male members of the Old Guard come around to tell you there is no problem with sexism in the gaming community and furthermore take off your shirt, get in the kitchen, and make them sandwiches. Oh yeah, and fuck off and die while you’re at it. The thing is that this is mostly a problem in male-dominated gaming forums.
On Twitter, where I can curate my interactions to some extent, only one or two of the people talking to me about the trials and tribulations of my version of Commander Shepard were male. The rest were all women. Likewise on Tumblr and An Archive of Our Own, where I lurk among the fandom: the vast majority of the fans with whom I interact are women. In my world, I may be an outlier for my age as I sneak up on 37, but my gender is not even notable. This was a conscious choice on my part; I have no wish to get into some kind of weird super-macho competitive and testosterone-laden cesspit where I would be subject to endless abuse and gatekeeping because I refuse to take the game out of “casual” mode (well, maybe next play through…).
Instead, what I had was a community of people who shared my enjoyment and, yes, downright glee at the storytelling touches present in the Mass Effect trilogy. My primary guides were CthulhuChick, Eliza, and KaninchenZero. They made noises of anticipation as I approached good parts, mourned with me over the sad parts, shared in and soothed my frustration over missions that just would not go right, and together we engaged in discussion and commentary on the games, together with people I know less well who would chime in with their own experiences. In short, rather than regarding me as some sort of Mass Effect rival that they must best and put down in a weird goat-type headbutting ritual to defend the title of Monarch Of The Pixellated Mountain, these women welcomed me in and were happy that someone they knew had discovered something they enjoyed, and was enjoying it too.
This is just as much the “gaming community” as the forums full of misogynist assholes. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no “the gaming community,” rather there are many gaming communities out there. The one I stumbled into via Mass Effect is not less valid because it consists mainly of women, some of whom (in the case of Tumblr and AO3) write fan fiction about the games. To ignore that these other game-focused communities exist suggests that we have only one option for women who want to enjoy games in community, and that is to fight and reform the misogynist chunk. This is certainly good and important work, but more to the point it is not the only option. As women have done from time immemorial, when doors are slammed in our faces we will build our own houses. Let one clubhouse put up a “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign and we have no problem building a treehouse for ourselves.