[Women Who Play] Interview with Syl; Gamer, Blogger and Podcaster
"Women in gaming" is a topic I wanted to write about for some time, but never quite found the right approach. Whilst there are many tales available of the horror stories and downsides for women who dare to call themselves gamers, my own experiences - as a gamer and game blogger - have actually been quite positive.
I've always felt that it is important to highlight what is going wrong and to expose those who judge by gender. But equally, women are playing games, they are making games, and they are making positive contributions to gaming communities.
I decided to try and contact some of these women and thus The Women Who Play Interviews were born. Here I shine the spotlight on some fellow female gamers, their experiences, how they play, what they like and dislike about gaming and their own views on the “Women in gaming” topic.
For more information on The Women Who Play interview series, as well as links to the other interviews, visit the Interview Introduction page.
Know a woman in games I should interview? Let me know in the comments!
Interview 3: Syl
Syl is a life long gaming fan with a wide range of gaming interests, including that often overlooked area of gaming; the music. She is also a blogger and contributor on the Battle Bards podcast.
Tell us a little about yourself
Syl: "I’m an explorer at heart who's crazy about MMOs, RPGs, Adventures and gaming in general. I've been video gaming since around 1984 on any conceivable platform and have played a great deal of different games and genres over the course of that time - although my interests soon led me to classic JRPGs in the early 90s which I would call my formative years. In 2002 MMOs started taking that place.
My first serious dip into MMOs was Final Fantasy XI Online after which I played World of Warcraft for a very intense 6 years. I've helped run gaming communities, events and guilds in the past and I've been blogging about MMOs for over 3 years now
I live in central Europe and English is my second language. When I'm not gaming or pursuing other pastimes, I am a retired teacher currently working in personnel management."
How did you first discover gaming and which titles did you first enjoy?
Syl: "In 1984 my father brought home a brown, ugly box called Intellivision which he had picked up on discount at a local toy shop. Nobody wanted it; it so happens that this was one of the early forefathers of what soon became popular home console entertainment systems. Later I saved up my allowance to buy the newly launched Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and my brother got an Atari ST.
As for the earliest games Mousetrap on Atari ST was possibly the first “favourite game” I ever had. It was a pretty cruel platformer with a cute mouse and funky music - something I have always been drawn to in games. What followed were titles like Wonderboy, New Zealand Story and Rainbow Islands and of course the Mario and Zelda series on Nintendo. The games that really kicked off my passion however came with the 16bit era, with the stellar RPG lineup of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Breath of Fire 2 was the first RPG I ever finished, with an English dictionary on my lap because I played imports earlier than I actually spoke English. After Breath of Fire II came Chrono Trigger which is my favourite game of all times. From there I’ve collected a lot of console RPGs and music."
What triggered your switch from console games to MMOs and which titles do you currently play?
Syl: "MMOs were a natural progression from JRPGs for me and also helped by my love for fairy tales and fantastic stories. To get to enter the lands we dreamed about when reading LOTR or the Forgotten Realms has an incredible appeal. I also watched my brother play Ultima Online for three years and decided that this was what I wanted to get access to. When I finally did, FFXI launched and, having grown up with the Final Fantasy series, it was a tiny step into familiar territory.
As for current MMOs, I've played Guild Wars II for a year now although my enthusiasm has come to an end ever since the Bazaar of the Four Winds patch. I am looking at Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn again at the moment and I've also dipped a toe into Tera, while waiting on some of the upcoming releases. I also play a lot of indie games on Steam and I'm having fun with my Nintendo 3DS."
What is it about MMORPGs that most appeal to you?
Syl: "The size and beauty of persistent, immersive worlds which I can travel and explore at my leisure. A more non-linear and long-term approach to gaming has always seemed more meaningful to me. I also enjoy that MMOs allow for play style variety - wandering off into the blue as much as competitive raiding. And of course interacting and cooperating with real people rather than just AI. MMOs are global villages and socially and culturally rich melting pots, especially world-wide servers. I tend to gravitate towards leadership roles in guilds and I’ve had an incredible run co-leading my own two competitive raid-guilds in WoW and coordinating the healing teams there. That said, I am happily retired from such obligations these days."
You were part of a console gaming community for about 10 years, can you tell us a bit about this and what your involvement was?
Syl: "I ended up actively participating in one of two bigger gaming boards here where I live, because an old gaming buddy of mine prodded me to register. The board community was all about console gaming and around 2000, when I joined, there was a lively RPG sub-forum which I soon became a moderator for.
Over the years I participated in game parties and several official launch events, organized my own local game nights (as we called them) and got to know people from the local distributing and marketing industry. Switzerland is a small place, not very big on gaming, so all of this was very niche and geeky."
"To get to enter the lands we dreamed about when reading LOTR or the Forgotten Realms has an incredible appeal."
And what prompted your decision to leave?
Syl: "I was the only woman on that forum and remained the only steady female member for the next decade. Sadly, looking back, I was naïve to think that my gender wouldn't play any role and that I could just be part of the club like everyone else.
In the end I was tired on too many levels. I started off, like so many female gamers, fighting an uphill battle for acceptance in a very male-dominated culture. Even though I did have personal successes on that front, I paid a high price for all of them.
I experienced almost every cliché a woman in such an isolated situation can come across – from sexist remarks about my looks or clothing (lots of positive sexism), to never being taken seriously as a gamer, to having lies spread about my involvement with members I was just trying to befriend, to being sent obscene emails or being harassed via the phone. In the very beginning, I hesitated to participate in board-organized gaming events because I was justifiably afraid; I kept away for over two years because I knew appearing in person was going to change things. But at some point I was tired of depriving myself of some legitimate fun and declining invites from friends. Either way, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't in so many ways for women in gaming (and similar situations).
"Sometimes I wish I had found the MMO blogosphere and other social networks sooner... they made me realize that there IS a community out there for me too, full of like-minded people, talented bloggers, vloggers and podcasters..."
Towards the end a lot of things changed at once: the board had become increasingly mainstream, not the geeky kind of place it used to be. On a personal note, I realized that I had moved on and outgrown this type of gaming community.
I established my own MMO blog which allowed me to get in touch with many gamers internationally, especially female bloggers from the MMO blogosphere. This opened my eyes to systematic issues and helped me get to grips with my own situation.
I finally had this realization of “no, this is not what I need to put up with anymore” - just because I'm a woman in a so-called boys club. We shouldn't have to work so much harder or watch ourselves so much more and we sure as hell do not have to abide sexism. I am too old for this now and I've found a voice that I didn't have when I was younger.
What I also came to understand was that I have to pick my fights and that staying in a community out of spite, which is what I had done for at least the second half of a decade, wasn't a healthy reason. The blogosphere and social networks I am now part of have so much more to offer me. If you can't change the house, maybe you can move on and build your own house somewhere else.
That said, I do not wish to dismiss my time on the board entirely. There were plenty of good times when the RPG forums were still alive and I was able to carve out my own tiny group of kindred spirits. Most importantly, I met the love of my life, somewhat coincidentally, through that forum, as well as my best friend of over 10 years. For that I will always be thankful and that's why I have no parting regrets."
As a student you worked for a national Nintendo publisher, how did you get involved?
Syl: "The forum got me in touch with some people on the professional side. Around 2003 I was offered to do promo work for the national Nintendo publisher that often hired students for short-term gigs at game conventions, exhibitions and the likes. I had only just started University, so that kind of work was both exciting and perfect in terms of making some money on the side. I mainly did marketing work for the Gamecube and DS launches, as well as promotion for board games and other “toy" products."
Speaking of online experiences, have you found that your gender has also caused issues here? And how do you handle this situation when it arises?
Syl: "It's tricky and depends a lot of what genre you are into, and whether there is vocal support. I've made short-lived visits to FPS communities on behalf of my partner who is a shooter fan, once running with a Red Orchestra clan and recently with a Star Conflict community. The open hostility and sexism coming your way in general chat but also on TeamSpeak is dizzying. It would be naïve to think there's anything you can possibly change by yourself in such an environment, no matter how much energy you can muster. You have to ask yourself if something is worth it to you.
I've also had my share of cringe-worthy encounters during my time in MMOs, mostly in WoW. Luckily, MMO communities are a lot more balanced and healthy in terms of mixed audience, and having always run with my own guilds that had strong leadership and a great group of both men and women in them, we managed to root out issues quickly. I have no problem making quick work of anyone who thinks they can discriminate on my watch - be it through sexist, racist or homophobic remarks. That's the good thing about running your own guilds, you get to establish the culture."
Can you tell us about your blog and podcasting activities?
Syl: "My blog, MMO Gypsy, (formerly known as Raging Monkeys on blogger) is mostly critical meta commentary on game design, psychology, trends and social topics. I also collect MMO screenshots, soundtrack and other fluff and I co-host the Battle Bards podcast together with Syp from Biobreak and Steff from MMO Gamerchick."
For a player run blog, run by one person and still going strong after three years, I was impressed with the content, quality and subject range of your posts. Care to share some tips for budding bloggers?
Syl: "Yes, don’t listen to tips! Haha no really, I am always careful with that sort of thing. When I started out I read a few articles and realized that they can only help you so much and that there aren’t any don'ts because there is an audience for any type of blog. Blogging needs to be fun to yourself first or you won’t last and you can’t spend your time worrying or attempting to copy others.
If I was to give any advice though it is this: give yourself time and be patient. Experiment to find out what works for you, find your own voice. You don’t have to restrict your topics if you don’t want to, just like you don’t have to publish 5 times a week. If that’s who you are, great, if not – great. Some of the most popular internet personalities out there post once a week or every fortnight. Successful blogging is a process and it takes most writers years to establish a solid readership. Don’t stress and don’t over-analyse.
"I have no problem making quick work of anyone who thinks they can discriminate on my watch - be it through sexist, racist or homophobic remarks. That's the good thing about running your own guilds, you get to establish the culture."
Very personally, I value comments and cross-blog discussions a lot and I try to read and comment on many other blogs, given the time. I read up on a wide variety of topics and games. That's part of the fun for me and an endless source of education and inspiration - I do not enjoy blogging in a vacuum. Other than that, I aim for consistency and authenticity both on a formal and content level, no matter if it's a very serious or more silly post. Being obsessed with grammar and spelling helps too, sometimes."
And can you tell us a little more about the Battle Bards podcast?
Syl: "Battle Bards is the world’s first and only MMO music podcast, and a project that has brought a ton of extra enjoyment to myself and my co-host bloggers. I’ve toyed with the idea of podcasting when I got a perfectly timed message from Syp one day, that he was looking for another co-host who shared his passion for VG music, especially MMO music. There aren’t so many of us in the blogosphere who do regular posts on game music so fellow aficionados are rather easy to spot. We know that we’re a niche inside the niche but hopefully our podcast can inspire more MMO players to notice and appreciate the amazing soundtrack in the games they’re playing. A huge amount of love and work goes into many MMO soundtracks these days."
How has gaming impacted on your real life?
Syl: "In almost every way possible. Gaming has been an endless source of enjoyment and creativity, a safe haven at times and a social hub to form new friendships and find fellow geeks. As mentioned further above, being active in gaming communities also introduced me to two very important people in my real life and MMOs especially have greatly improved my English and written language skills thanks to TeamSpeak and blogging. My personal biography cannot be separated from gaming. Some of my life’s greatest successes are linked to my gaming interest."
Finally, what advice would you give to other women on dealing with abuse online?
Syl: "Today, I would tell them to reach out for support and know there’s a community out there for you. You are not alone. And I would advocate a balance between being vocal and picking your fights wisely.
That’s my personal bottom line, because you can’t burn yourself out fighting every injustice coming your way on every platform. However, I feel I've been trying to conform too much in my past, out of ignorance or fear of rejection, and I therefore unconsciously supported a status quo that must not be tolerated. We're human; geeks are drawn to other geeks and we’d love to fit in and be part of a community that is unfortunately still immature in places. Sometimes it's easier to close your eyes or keep your head down, especially when you are isolated.
Growing older makes a lot of things easier. You don't want/need to belong at any price anymore. Sometimes I wish I had found the MMO blogosphere and other social networks sooner though - they made me realize that there IS a community out there for me too, full of like-minded people, talented bloggers, vloggers and podcasters, who share many of my experiences. That's where the video game community truly is - not on some YouTube comment section ravaged by trolls. It's been a wonderful and enriching journey ever since I started blogging about games and I'm happy to be a part of this colorful community that has shown me a warm welcome from the very beginning. As long as communities like this exist and keep growing, I am confident that gaming culture is going to be just fine. Gamers are us."
I’d like to offer my thanks to Syl for taking part and for sharing her experiences in this interview.
Are you, or do you know, a long-term women gamer, blogger or game developer who would make an interesting participant for a future interview? If so please leave me a message in the comments section.