Delighted to have the fabulous Sarah Cawkwell join us for a wee rant.
I Do, Because I Dare
It will come as little surprise to anybody to discover that I’m something of a nerd. It was this mindset that originally brought me into the fold of the fantasy and science fiction writing community. Being a nerd has provided me with some of my best escapes, whether that be in the form of losing myself in a good book, or smiting the dragon at the end of a tabletop campaign (unlike my husband whose character spent the entire time hiding behind pillars without line of sight to the battle). Whether it be running around a field in the rain during a LRP battle or shouting down the microphone to my team whilst playing Overwatch, being a nerd is an immensely satisfying thing to be.
Yes, there’s a ‘however’. And it comes partly in the form that many of you will recognise. It comes in the form that you periodically encounter the worst kind of misogyny. Example: You can’t write about Space Marines if you’re a woman; what do you know about it?
Correct reply: they’re fictional, futuristic, genetically engineered super warriors. What do you know about it?
This is improving. It’s a slow process, but it’s improving. It will get better with each generation, I am reassured. Well, frankly, I won’t live forever and at the speed it’s taking to improve, I might as well accept that there’s a whole bunch of folk out there who, for whatever reason, cannot crowbar the concept of a female author, or producer of content in a male-dominated environment into their Neolithic craniums.
True story: I’ve stood behind two guys in a bookstore who picked up one of my Warhammer novels. The one was reading the blurb and finished with ‘that sounds cool’. His mate said ‘yeah, but look. It’s written by a woman, innit.’ I may have added the ‘innit’ for poetic licence.
“Oh,” says the first man. “Oh. I suppose you’re right.”
The book went back on to the shelf. I said nothing. I was too timid. Inside, I was shaking him by the lapels and screaming in his face.
Recently, while playing Overwatch, I was unfortunate enough to encounter a double-whammy. Not only was I mocked for possessing the apparently incorrect pair of genes, the following also happened. I have taken out the swear word I actually used, but I’m sure you can imagine. What it proved was the following:-
- The Yoof of Today aren’t improving. They need better education around diversity.
- I am much braver at sticking up for myself than I thought I was.
So… posit. There we are, a team of five. Myself, a friend, and three randoms, all of whom appear to know one another. We’re having a nice chat and talking about which characters we prefer to play. The usual. The final spot is being held for one of their mates, who, we are told, is really good at what he does.
He arrives. After the usual ‘oh god, you’re girls’ reaction, my hope for the remainder of the game was really not good. That proved to be completely based in fact when he started telling us how to play our characters. Note: both myself and my friend have played this game a lot. We are more than competent and many other, less idiotic people have complimented us on our gameplay. So here’s what transpired.
Him, to me: “Well, I think you’re doing it wrong. I think you should stop playing this game, because I mean, not only are you a girl, you sound like you’re over thirty, so…” And he trails off into this smug little silence. Nobody speaks. You could hear a fly cough.
(Past me would, at this point, have flared crimson red and probably burst into tears).
Me, to him, without breaking stride: “And you sound like you’re a complete [redacted], what’s your point?”
The result of that comeback was that all his friends laughed at him. He spent the rest of the game in humble apology, never once criticising and even saying positive things. But it was too late. The damage was done. He’d lost all credibility and I’m grateful to his mates for mocking him the way they did.
But you know what? Yeah, I am over thirty. Why the hell should that mean I can’t play a game I’ve enjoyed since it came out? Listen, sunshine, the generation before me invented the video game. I grew up with them just as much as you did. So hush.
It was BlizzCon last weekend. As a long-time player of Blizzard’s many and varied games, I was invested in watching the opening ceremony. Alright, mostly I was invested in watching the Overwatch segment of the ceremony, but I’m glad that I did – and here’s why.
Jeff Kaplan, who is one of Blizzard’s VP’s and also the Game Director for Overwatch, presented the segment. He waffled on for a bit about the game, about the new content, about future content and then he did something remarkable. Something not unusual, but something remarkable. I paraphrase him wildly here. I apologise, Uncle Jeff.
“And of course,” he said, riding on the wave of enthusiasm that swept through the packed arena, “I must thank everyone involved behind the scenes. The women and men who make this possible.”
He continued to talk, but I didn’t listen. Because I was reeling.
The women and men.
The women. And men.
The order in which he chose to say those words was not accidentally, I think. Blizzard prides itself on inclusivity in its working environment, to the point that they had a specific forum to discuss this at BlizzCon. But to have Jeff Kaplan say that sentence, in that particular order suddenly made me feel proud of who I am. That I have every bit as much right to produce content, to enjoy content and to be a part of a gaming community as literally the next man.
Thanks, Uncle Jeff. You rock.
So is there a moral to this story? Well yes. Sort of. It doesn’t matter one jot if you’re a woman, over thirty, an alien from the planet Zogg or even if you only exist as a result of someone’s incredible belief: if you enjoy something, whether it be sci-fi, LRP, tabletop, cosplay, board games or, heaven forfend, Overwatch, get in there and enjoy it. Enjoy it and own it.
It’s your multiverse.