my first time

drawn by erin robinson

i was upset and angered to be alerted of a blogger pulling an andrea dworkin on erin robinson and heather kelley. robinson and kelley took part in a challlenge (along with i think four other participants, all men) in which they were asked to design a game about their first experiences with sex. blogger jenn fang thinks it’s irresponsible of them to design another game in which women are sex objects. nevermind that they’re the subjects of these game designs, the actors, not the objects. but let’s not get ahead of myself.

there are legions of homogenous gaming drones who, when anyone expresses an opinion of videogames that’s in any way negative, come out of the woodwork to shout at that opinion until it can no longer be heard. they’re especially hostile against feminism. so, as a big fat dyke, let me say that jenn fang: you’re full of bullshit.

How blatant, than, is the anti-feminist message communicated in this winning video game concept? Female protagonists in Kelley and Robinson’s game concept exist only for sex with an anonymous male partner.

this seems to be fang’s primary criticism. i shouldn’t have to even point out the flaw in it, it’s that obvious: the reason the protagonists spend the game preparing for and having sex is because the game is an autobiographical story about preparing for and having sex! if they’d written about their first sexual experiences in the form of a short story or comic book, the same criticism could be leveled at it.

but that’s exactly the issue: this is a videogame. fang’s fear – and not an unjustified one, since the vast majority of women characters in videogames exist to be either prizes or monsters – is that robinson and kelley are contributing to an existing culture in which women characters are created by men for the consumption of male players. videogames have a shitty track record!

the obvious difference between some suit-and-tied dick in an eidos office brainstorming his new strong female protagonist and her strong female tits and erin robinson and heather kelley participating in “my first time” is that these two designers are – bravely – telling their personal stories of sex. and their stories absolutely do portray sex as awkward, complicated, and fraught with pitfalls – but that’s because they’re autobiographical. most peoples’s first experiences with sex aren’t negotiated as thoughtfully or socially responsibly as they might be. when was the last time i complained about there not being enough honest talk of sex in games, or not enough autobiography? was it yesterday?

so, yes, the concept of virginity and the weight our society places on losing it is problematic, as are the rituals associated with it. and yes, i’m absolutely sure that conference room was packed with the kind of snickering goons that fill the seats of every igf event. but no, i can’t see any fair reason to criticize erin robinson and heather kelley for sitting in a room full of men and telling their own stories. as women game designers, we’re entrenched in a culture that sees and speaks from a male perspective.  to turn that perspective to our own is a great and necessary thing.

12 thoughts on “my first time”

  1. I find that an amusing contrast to another account from a different blogger who noted:

    “I find it notable that the women’s autobiographical stories have no possibility that they’ll fail to find sex if they want to have it, but also make it clear that they’re the ones who initiate the act. Which I guess means that (a) they’re women and (b) they’re dating geek men, poor things.”

    http://gamearchitect.net/2009/03/29/gdc-2009-the-year-we-went-hungry/

  2. You ever think it’s just such an inflamed issue that it’s impossible for a male designer to escape the lens of “women in games” until the, uh, swelling’s gone down? For example, you have the standard female protagonist, a device that allows the het male gamer to look at a nice ass while playing. Then you have the female character who exists to embody feminist ideals, who doesn’t take no shit and pointedly kicks men’s asses, doesn’t need anyone to take care of her, etc. Which is just as weird as the first, being a mirror image of her.

    It seems natural to me that games like Half Life star a guy because the writer, responsible for the character, is male. When you make a Danger Jane game, nobody says that she’s there as a sex object or as a “fuck you” to male protagonists – you’re a woman, so your character is a woman.

    Does that make sense, or am I being an idiot? I hate issues like this, I really do, because it’s so easy for dumb hurtful people to justify themselves to the satisfaction of the majority.

  3. If i was to make one, i guess it would be mostly symbolic. When was it? Was it the first time I touched a girl, or the first time she touched me? ANd where that touching was happening. So many first times.

  4. Thanks Anna! You totally get it. :)
    It’s hardly anti-feminist to be the authors of our own experience, in real life as well as in a game.

  5. I’m offended that they won by designing a collection of minigames, gender politics be damned!

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