Wednesday, August 27

Gender issues, gaming and me.

Issues of gender interest me and the reasons are highly personal. I can't really draw any definitive conclusions from this discussion because I don't have definitive data beyond the odd anecdotal reference. I do believe that such an understanding would be worthwhile perhaps offering insight into console sales. After all the Xbox 360 is male, the Playstation 3 is female and the Wii is genderless.

This next part is highly personal, turn away now and come back tomorrow if you're squeamish about such things. I grew up in a violent household. Largely the responsibility of my father. He has a violent temper that he is yet to master. He neither drinks nor does drugs. He is also very much the victim of his circumstances - his father was by all accounts much more brutal. I don't hate him now, but at the time, my youth, I despised him.

From the moment I started to retain memories (roughly 3 years old) until I was 16 I experienced dad's outbursts. My mother bore the brunt of it. Their on / off marriage a whirlwind of violence, apologies, counseling and arguments. When mum wasn't around my brother and I became targets. When my brother went to boarding school and my mother went to stay with friends as she couldn't bear any more, I retreated into my imagination. Ironically, perhaps, dad was insecure about his masculinity, he frequently boasted of engaging bigger, stronger men in fisticuffs and beating them. He exercised regularly and maintained a string of mistresses who I knew as "nanny". He wasn't compensating for his penis either!

My mother dealt with his outbursts in her own way. She manipulated. If there was a way she could cause dad to lose it in public (he would feel great shame at public displays of his "weakness") she would find it. She used any and every form of emotional blackmail to attain leverage in household negotiations. A new car? Then she'd threaten to his latest affair to his heavily Christian boss. Dad would eventually consent to this, then he would get angry and the cycle would repeat, escalating steadily over time. Mum has history too. Her father was an alcoholic and she was the only child - whose mother had died young - raising a manipulative, lying drunk. I pitied and despised her too, at that time.

My brother may have had it a little easier than I did. He grew up tall and strong quickly and when he was fourteen years old he fought back and won - dad never touched him again after that. Ultimately my brother is 6 feet 4 inches tall and played second row in Rugby. He is built. I was a runt, a late bloomer who did not reach my respectable height of 5 foot 10 until around 20 years of age. I escaped my father's beatings by removing myself from his presence when I turned 16. My brother is most like my father. His infrequent public outbursts of violence have threatened his career. The context of my brother's life is different to dad's, his relationship with his wife is more nurturing, less broken than that of my parent's union. I became most like mum. Watching what she went through, sharing it from time to time, I vowed never to be like my father. I steadfastly refused anything that might result in my becoming like him.

How does this relate to games? It's weird. Some time ago I was undertaking extracurricular volunteer work through my school working in a home for children whose parents were drug addicts, prostitutes, in jail for severe crimes, or society's discards (murder/suicide survivors, basket babies). There was this one girl who took to biting me. A lot! She was about 8, maybe 9 years old. She also kicked, scratched, punched and strangled. When seeking to understand this behaviour, the professionals noted that she was quite fond of me and that her behaviour was the equivalent of an expression of love (well like anyway). It was explained that she most probably felt more alive when she was being "abused" by her parent(s) and considered this to be the way of expressing those feelings - aping the behaviour modeled by her parent(s). I'm not going to explain the significance of biting. During this discussion I realised something about myself. Following my mother's example I incited my father's anger - it was part game, part self loathing and part of an attempt at recognition. My father was so busy with his work that I rarely saw him let alone was privileged enough to be beaten by him. I wanted him to love me, and if not that then to acknowledge me. You can probably guess the rest.

Once I realised this I turned it into a form of play (I was about 14 at that time). It became a game. I needed to differentiate myself from my behaviours so that I could choose from them and learn about different responses to them. I retained my hatred of rampant, bombastic, brutish masculinity and forgave my father. It took a lot longer to forgive myself.

This timeline (spanning from roughly 4 years of age and ending in a more formal way at around 18 years of age) played a significant role in shaping me as a person. I had learned to hate masculinity, I had adopted feminine approaches to problem solving. I discovered that I sought destructive results as a means to create self worth and that my head was tangled up in a cycle that duplicated my mother's. My way out was to step back and turn it into a game. Mostly the game was about gender roles to begin with, subverting them in particular. It grew into a fascination with role playing games (the tabletop variety) and gaming in general. I was able to separate myself from my experiences and examine them through play, through gaming, through my imagination. I'm still a little broken, there are missing pieces that I'll probably never repair. Yet it was through play that I was able to start the healing required to become whole.

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