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Representation Still Matters in Gaming

By March 8, 2021Author's Opinions5 min read

In honor of International Women's Day,

In honor of international women’s day, advocacy group black girl gamers posted this tweet asking “who was the first woman character that resonated with you?” When I saw that my mind immediately went to this lady

Now, hear me out.  I know that many people don’t consider mobile gaming to be a serious genre, but it is the gateway that many people have come through to call themselves gamers. It is how thousands of people stayed connected to their peers through this pandemic. Minecraft, Among Us, and Fortnite and was a lifeline for people feeling isolated and lonely. It is also inherently more accessible than a PC or console gaming. These games were free, and on a platform that could go anywhere. This brings us to the explosion of mobile arcade-style games for kids starting around 2011. Many 20 somethings like myself if fond memories of games like Doodle Jump, Cut the Rope, and yes, Temple Run. These games were not only a way to keep kids entertained, but it felt like everyone was playing them and we were all a part of something.

Temple Run had something else that made it so incredibly addictive for me though. Running from a terrifying predator is something humans have been doing for a very long time. Temple Run tapped into that, painting you as the hero of your own story and filling the player with real anxiety and adrenaline. It became an obsession for many folks.

But Temple Run had something else I loved. There was a female character available by default.

She was incredible. Players could make out a red ponytail swinging as she ran through the ruins, with feminine hips as well as the same utility belt and backpack as her male counterpart. She got the same powerups and you built her strength up the same way too. That made all the difference to me. It let female players finally have the same chance at an immersive mobile gaming experience. The white male was no longer the default.

To not have to earn the right to play as someone who represented me was incredible. I did not have to earn the right in-game to express femininity, and I did not have to pay for it. I had an equal playing field. At the time,  it felt revolutionary.

And it was all thanks to a 12-year-old girl called Maddie. Maddie Messer noticed that most games at the time did not have a free female character, researched her problem, and called for a solution. Her Op-ed was published in the Washington Post on March 4th, 2015. The creators of the Temple Run saw and wrote to Maddie. Then shortly after, my favorite temple run character was added to the game. Scarlett Fox was now available as a starting character.

This international women’s day I want to recognize the hardworking folks all around who are fighting to end sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, child brides and the pink tax. I want to celebrate those who are fighting for more access to clean water, feminine hygiene products, and better educational opportunities for women all over the world as well as other many worthy human rights for women internationally.

I’d like to encourage the gaming community to help these amazing causes any way they can and think about how they can be better intersectional feminists.

But there is one way our community can make a difference without spending a dime.

Demanding representation for everyone.

Representation matters. In the same thread that made me think of Maddie and Scarlett Fox, many black women said they didn’t get that same feeling until much later in life. Adding Scarlett Fox does not take away from Guy Dangerous, and adding POC and WOC avatar options and characters with unique stories within the games will not hurt a game. In fact, it helps get players feel immersed in the game and simulates a positive experience for more people. In my mind, that would increase sales.

Representation matters to kids and adults. It helps us all visualize ourselves achieving our wildest dreams.  I believe all people deserve to see themselves in the stories of their culture. As gamers, we can all work towards our whole community seeing themselves in our stories as we get to live incredible adventures through gaming. I want to encourage gamers to #ChooseToChallange norms in gaming in celebration of International Women’s Day 2021.

Michela Thompson

Michela Thompson is attending OU to study Public Relations, after completing her Associate's Degree in Business Management. Michela first started playing video games when she received a pearl pink Game Boy Advance SP for Christmas at 7 years old and never stopped. When Michela’s not playing games, you can find her petting every dog in sight or on Twitter.

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