By BENÉT J. WILSON
Latoya Peterson, deputy editor, Voices at Fusion, is many things: a mother; a journalist; editor of Racialicious.com; an activist; a mentor; an innovator; an observer and commentator on racial and gender issues; and a gamer. It’s this last item — gamer — that Peterson is highlighting in a new documentary series she’s produced for Fusion.
The five-part series looks at the gaming culture and playing while female, including the finer points of game design, working in the industry, identities and why a good female heroine is so hard to find. “Girl Gamers Episode 1: Who gets to be a gamer?” released on October 20, tries to answer the question why “gamer” is such a loaded term.
Peterson said that while she has always been a gamer, she knew it was considered very weird, so she didn’t tend to talk about it. “This was before games were cool. I started noticing that the conversation was changing, from `this is kind of weird’ to ‘oh, it’s kind of cool,’ to why women in it are being harassed,’” she said. “It’s not like harassment doesn’t happen. It totally happens, but for me, I just started feeling like this narrative was being forced on me, that as a woman who games, I had to have been harassed out of something.”
While she played certain types of games, Peterson noted that she just didn’t see the reflection of her actual experiences and the experiences of her friends. “I work for a major media company and I had a platform, so I felt maybe it was time to come back and start talking about games again publicly,” she said. “The last time I covered gaming was in 2008-2011, then I kind of stopped, not because I wasn’t interested in games, but it just wasn’t a thing. It was just a weird hobby.”
But there was a desire by Peterson to share the stories of diverse women and to illuminate their experiences in games and life. “I also wanted to do something that was a little more reflective than the gaming narratives that are normally shown, which generally tend to revolve around men, and particularly white men,” she said.
Sign Us Up
Fusion was totally enthusiastic when Peterson pitched the documentary. “Girl gamers? Sign us up! Literally everyone has been supportive, from [Senior Vice President of Emerging Platforms] Jane Spencer, [Editor of Fusion’s Digital Voices section] Anna Holmes and Alexis Madrigal also supported it when he became editor-in-chief,” she said. “And it was a really multiracial crew that worked on this project. It was a bunch of female gamer love.”
In August 2014, the hashtag #gamergate began trending worldwide after accusations of sexism and harassment against women in the video game development industry surfaced, along with rape and death threats. “Gamergate happened, and it was big for people who hadn’t been on the game scene in a long time,” said Peterson. “But this happens in this space every few years. There was definitely a narrative of gamergate that existed in the media and those trying to tell a [gamer] story felt that if telling their story didn’t end with `and I was harassed by gamergate,’ it could be a little challenging for people to understand what you’re talking about. I’m a woman who plays games and I was harassed – I didn’t want the story to end with that sentence.”
The response to the documentary series from the girl gamer community has been overwhelming positive — along with a little bit of hesitation, said Peterson. “The hesitation is about the media narrative after gamergate, like ‘gamers are misogynistic nerds’ or ‘women are persecuted and helpless,’ so some are justifiably wary about participating in those conversations,” she said. “No one is in games because of harassment. We’re in games because we love games. It seems like the only thing we can talk about is being women in games. We never talk about the games we like or how we grew up in this culture.”
Those kinds of rich narratives only go to other people, said Peterson. “People insist on a specific narrative. But I tried to include as many different voice as possible in this documentary because there isn’t just one narrative,” she stated.
Peterson said she hopes that people will learn from the documentary series. “I hope that it will challenge ideas about women who game. I hope it will get people to think about their relationships with games a little bit more. I hear so many stories, from women in particular, who say ‘I’m not a gamer’ but then list the games they play and enjoy,” she said. “I wanted to show something deeper here and ask ‘can we embrace that little bit of geek?”
Peterson titled the series “Girl Gamers” because it is alliterative and easy to remember. “But there isn’t just one story of women in gaming. Everyone’s story is present and valid because it’s their story,” she said. “We will have a much better culture and history of gaming and what gaming has contributed to society. This documentary is an invitation for women to tell their own stories.”