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Meaningful culture reflects and reacts. It doesn’t hand wave-away discussions or insist on maintaining the status quo. And I’m sure it was also lots of fun to make zines, or to go to those Riot Grrrl shows at the turn of the decade. But it was important, too.
When it comes to video games, the feminist-led DIY scene is probably the most important thing happening in game culture right now. Thanks to accessible, cheap or free tools, there’s a virtual flourishing of games made about personal experiences, by talented artists and by everyday people taking game-making into their hands for the very first time. The fact we basically have a Riot Grrgrrl movement in games now as a response to the historical oppression of women in our space is one of the things keeping me going. Culture reacts; this is culture.
Anyone who tells me they “don’t get” or aren’t interested in the Twine scene, or in what’s being called “personal games,” I’m not sure I even have anything to talk with them about in regards to games culture. History has shown us repeatedly that rejecting the systemic machines and instead looking inward at what we have to express as people is one of the most important things a creative culture can do.
The Riot Grrrls of the early 90s were a big influence on, perhaps even a major progenitor of the popular grunge that would emerge throughout the rest of the decade. The biggest grunge success stories were all still men, but they were men consciously rejecting the Hot Chicks on Cars narratives, and the bigger-better-more narratives of the 1980s in favor of making songs about politics, depression and drugs.
This is why feminism matters in games: Not as a feel-good issue, not as “political correctness,” and not even because inclusivity is morally correct or more economically viable. It’s because it’s a key component in disrupting the status quo, the oppressive ideals that constrain and prescribe on behalf of everyone who wants to participate, men included.
Another sign that games are broadly representative of The System is their obsession with depiction, rationalization and defense of violence. Guns are iconic of one’s sense of privilege over another -- I’m powerful because I can end your life. The whole idea of wielding a gun is bound up in racism and classism: If some poor person tries to take what’s yours, you can kill him, and if you were raised under American capitalism you probably have some problematic ideas about what that target who wants to take what’s yours looks like.
In opposition to the ideologies that come with celebrating weaponry, rock songs in the 1990s were about mocking or dismantling the American obsession with arms. Pearl Jam did this, as did Rage Against The Machine (probably the most overt ‘protest band’), raging about how fear of violence creates oppression within systems. Rock music in the 1990s had meaning precisely because it encouraged youth to question systems, not to support them.