Game on, little sister

At last month’s GEEK expo in Margate, Replay Events converted the Hall by the Sea into a retro gaming heaven. It was good to see older gamers smile at the classics from their childhood while their young kids picked up the controllers with the same level of enthusiasm.

While my stepson was taking on my other-half at Street Fighter, I noticed a family standing nearby. The son was competing in a Halo tournament as his parents looked on; and his younger sister had decided to sit down as a nearby PlayStation while they waited for him. She was happily playing Street Fighter V and had set up a match between R. Mika and Cammy when I saw her.

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, girl, Street Fighter, monitors, PlayStation

On one hand, this was lovely to witness: it was obvious the family had got their GEEK tickets primarily for the son, but the daughter was getting stuck in too. She didn’t care who was watching, or that she was a girl, or any of that other stuff which usually bothers you when you’re eight-years old. She was simply there to play and you could tell she was having a good time doing so.

On the other hand however, it kind of struck me that the only female characters she had to choose from were all of a particular… type. She clearly wanted to play as someone the same sex as herself and her options were limited: did she go for a wrestler whose special moves made her butt the centre of attention; or a member of the British special forces team whose thong looked as if it was about to cut her in half at any moment?

The situation made me realise just how few female role models – and even fewer appropriate ones – we had to choose from in video games when I was a kid. It wasn’t a reflection on Street Fighter alone; the then-iterations of the helpless Princess Peach and triangular Lara Croft weren’t particularly better than the scantily-clad fighters. If girls wanted to game back then, the most they could hope for was a protagonist who either needed a man to rescue her or who showed a certain amount of butt-cheek while wielding her weapon.

There are many gamers out there who say that we haven’t progressed far from this point, and even more bloggers who still write about poor depictions of females in video games and other forms of media. It’s not that I disagree entirely; show me a protagonist like Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, or tell me that a character has been removed from Assassin’s Creed Unity because she’s too hard to animate, and I’m going to get as irate as the next woman.

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, female, woman, character, warrior, mountain, view

But sometimes you need to take a step back to see what’s been achieved, even when there’s still so far to go. In a recent post about cosplay I wrote that diversity is everywhere in gaming today. Characters such as Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Faith from the Mirror’s Edge series, and Lee Everett from The Walking Dead are pushing the boundaries and giving us ever more to look forward to.

Yes, there’s still work to be done. But knowing that little girl at the GEEK expo will grow up knowing some amazing female protagonists, while depictions like those in Street Fighter V will become relics of the past, is a pretty great thought.

Game on, little sister.

Cosplay: not just for skinny girls

Last month my other-half and I took my stepson to the GEEK event in Margate, a weekend dedicated to celebrating games and play. Two people were chatting my the exit as we were leaving at end of the day and as we passed, we heard one of them say:

Cosplay is for skinny girls. It’s basically dressing up and they don’t make costumes for fat girls.

Ethan started getting into cosplay just over a year ago, ever since we took him to his first MCM Comic Con in London and he was amazed by all the costumes. His ears therefore pricked up when he heard this discussion so it was important to set the record straight as quickly as possible: I told him that what had been said was ‘a load of rubbish’ and that cosplay is an activity for everyone.

What this person had announced really annoyed me, both as an individual and as a member of the community. This was no kind of message to be sharing at an event which promotes itself as being family-friendly. Any child could have been passing by while the conversation was taking place; and unfortunately for me it was my stepson, a young kid who’s already starting to struggle with body-confidence issues and fears about his size.

In addition to the weight reference, why direct it at ‘skinny girls’ and not ‘skinny people’? Was the implication that cosplay is for females only or that boys can do it regardless of their body-shape? In actual fact, it doesn’t really matter because both views are damaging. And that’s not to mention incorrect – the community is one of the most inclusive I’ve come across in all my years of blogging.

Now for the bit about them ‘not making costumes for fat girls’. Yes, it’s possible to buy your outfit fully made and complete with accessories; but a large section of the cosplay community makes all or part of their costumes themselves. It therefore follows that you can create whatever you want to – and there were workshops at GEEK for attendees who wanted to learn how to get started.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about overhearing the conversation was that both of the individuals having it were female. Was it a case that the woman from whom the quote above had come had been made to feel so self-conscious about her body in the past, that she now thought the entire world of cosplay was withheld from her? Or was she showing some kind of hostility towards others of her sex in an act of competition?

Both still happen far too often. You’d think that in 2017 we’d have finally learnt to be more accepting of people regardless of their size, shape or sex – or anything else for that matter – but sadly that’s not the case. Diversity should be a thing that’s celebrated, not something that’s ridiculed or used as ammunition.

Overwatch, video game, Tracer, character, female, woman, face, sunglasses, visor

Many cosplayers base their costumes on video game characters and we have such a wide range to take inspiration from. When I was a kid, all we had was Chun-Li (could be worse) to pointy-boobed Lara Croft (a lot worse). Diversity is everywhere in the gaming world today: just look at Tracer from Overwatch, Cremesius Acclasi from Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Vella Tartine from Broken Age. And that’s just for starters.

Let’s point out before wrapping up this post that it in no way should be taken as a comment on the event itself: I applaud GEEK’s organisers for making it as inclusive and as family-friendly as it was. That quote at the start was the view of one person, but there’s something I’d like to say in response.

Cosplay isn’t just for skinny girls – it’s an activity for absolutely everyone. You can be damn sure I’m going to have a great time doing it at Kitacon in August. And that’s regardless of whether you care to look at my wobbly bits encased in lycra or not.

Local multiplayers: alive and mooing

Some of the earliest memories I have of gaming revolve around local multiplayers. Like playing Pong against my dad after my grandparents found an old home version in a charity shop; arguing with my brother over who would be Mario and who would get stuck with Luigi; duking it out on Street Fighter with friends at the arcade in a local bowling alley. Good times.

Back then there was no online world. Before I reached my early teens and the internet slowly became a ‘thing’, multiplayer meant friends and family getting together in person – either on the sofa at home or in front of a machine at an arcade – and trying to kill each other digitally. You couldn’t turn on a video game and connect with another player on the other side of the world: you had to be in the same place, in the same room.

Multiplayer gaming is now completely different and local games are all but a thing of the past. Those that do exist can sometimes still require an internet connection to play, leaving out individuals who don’t have access to affordable or reliable broadband. You know that new release you’ve been waiting ages to play because it looks so awesome? Sorry, non-connected gamers – it’s being marketed for its online-only content.

Bullion, video game, island, treasure chests, pirates, swords, palm tree, sand, sea, bulls

I miss the joy of local multiplayer, working together in pixelated adventures and battling in digital wars. It was a shared social experience that created a sense of camaraderie between us: a ‘personal’ event which brought everyone in the room together. While online gaming has enabled us to connect with others from all over the globe, it struggles to entirely recreate that cosy, ‘intimate’ feeling.

Perhaps that’s why I was pleasantly surprised when Matthew and Ben from Leda Entertainment coaxed us into playing Bullion as we walked through the doors at last month’s GEEK expo. I’m not going to deny it: billed as a game of ‘fighting, looting and bovine piracy’, this isn’t a release I’d usually be drawn to. But something happened as I sat down with my other-half and stepson and we each picked up a controller.

Players take on the role of Captain Long John Silverside and his crew of scurvy sea-bulls as they land on the legendary Islands of Ser-LLoyn and incur the wrath of the gods. The aim of the game is to smash the chests and grab as much treasure as you can, while outsmarting your opponents and avoiding the skeletons. It’s every bull for themselves and, as the official website states, only one may survive the curse of the cutthroat cattle.

‘Rematch!’ I yelled after Ethan beat both Pete and I twice. My stepson came out on top during each of our three goes and we still can’t figure out how he did it; we may have gone easy on him during the first round but then things became a little more competitive. Here was a simple game, quite innocent and without all the realistic graphics or complicated mechanics, and it was managing to inspire that same friendly competition I’d experienced with my family all those years ago.

I think it’s important for us to show Ethan these experiences. As I commented on a recent post by Wakalapi, it’s so easy for him to view gaming as friends as a solitary activity completed on a small mobile screen; and while that has its place, it misses something vital. Gaming can be so much more than just a method of passing the time: it can be a way of bringing friends and family together, and creating fond memories.

So thank you to the guys from Leda Entertainment for bringing Bullion to GEEK and for encouraging us to play as we walked by. And more importantly, for showing us that the local multiplayer is still alive and mooing.

GEEK 2017: a round-up

Margate’s GEEK festival took a break in 2016 and so a local couple, who curated sections for the event in previous years, decided to keep the flag flying with an offshoot ‘tapas selection of family fun’. Bits & Bytes took place in February and was a one-room taster of cosplay, video-gaming and interactive art – take a look at our gallery to see what went on.

This year however, GEEK was back and took place in Dreamland’s iconic and newly-refurbished Hall By The Sea from 17 to 19 February 2017. This time around the event focused on multiplayers and encouraging everyone to participate in all genres: board games, real-world games and video games, both retro and new generation.

Below you can find a short photo gallery from the event. If you see yourself, let us know in the comments at the end of this post!

GEEK 2017 photo gallery

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