Gaming. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and, let’s face it, it seems squarely skewed to the guy realm. There’s a lot out there about how gaming is a male dominated playground and, while female gamers are on the rise, they’re not particularly welcome, either. Now, I’m not a gamer, but the occasional subversive gender swap makes me happy simply on principle. As a technologist and as a parent, I can see definite advantages and rewards of gaming in developing collaboration and problem-solving skills; research has consistently shown that gaming can increase creativity, focus, and self-esteem as well as strengthen family bonds, and train better employees. If raising kids has taught me anything, I’ve also learned it’s much easier to create the change you want to see at an early age — if nothing else, just to get your lessons firmly ingrained before school, peers, and general hard knocks get their licks in and compete for attention.
Enter my latest hero: Mike Hoye, a Toronto-based programmer and lifelong gamer. Mike and his daughter, Maya, play Wind Waker together. She’s three-and-a-half years old. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it’s from the Legend of Zelda, where the protagonist of the story is a young boy named Link who sets off on an adventure to save his little sister, Zelda, who’s been kidnapped. But in Maya’s version, Mike hacked the game to make Link a girl.
Let me say that again. Link. Is. A. Girl.
As a non-gamer looking in, maybe I missed the point, but I never really understood why the story’s namesake isn’t the hero but rather the princess that needs to be saved. As a female, I think that sucks. Why does the girl not get to have the adventure? Or carry the cool sword? Why can’t girls have a strong female protagonist we can relate to? One of the biggest reasons I love Joss Whedon is that he creates complex, strong female leads — Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Echo in Dollhouse. Zoë and Inara and Kaylee and omigodyes River in Firefly. They all kick ass, and I still want to be them, even if it’s only for Halloween. So to have a father hack a game because “I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers,” is a dream come true. He’s even posted the “how to” on his blog so that others can follow his lead. Make sure you scroll down to the comments; most of them are incredibly supportive.
Please, let’s not get bogged down in specific rants here. You can tell me we should be less pro-girl, more gender neutral (agreed, but that’s not the way things currently roll); you can protest that Zelda actually helps Link at the end (sure, if you actually get to the end); and you can be holier-than-thou about not letting a three year old play videogames (we’re not talking Grand Theft Auto here, but sitting with dad telling him which way to go exploring. When you have real world experience parenting a three year old, then I’ll have this conversation with you and you can argue how bad at parenting some of us are). My point here is that a child’s journey to self awareness is complex. Kids look for role models, and characters in stories are ripe for the picking. Many three year old girls are busy fixating on Disney princesses and swallow the helpless female character (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, need I go on?) theme hook, line, and pink sinker. This is one way that one father took to give his daughter a positive experience as they do something equally positive — spending father-daughter bonding time together, where a daughter learns that she is important enough to spend time with, having fun exploring with her father. That is priceless, no matter what the activity.
“[Having a daughter] changes the way you look at the whole world. But yes, I feel like I need to pay special attention to the things she and I do together. Dad’s favorite pastimes, whatever they are, shouldn’t treat women like second-class citizens.” — Mike Hoye
One small adventurous step at a time.