Are you a gamer? I’ve just gotten into video games myself, but I remember “Gamergate” in 2014, when women involved in gaming faced a barrage of vicious abuse from online trolls. Now, some in an industry often associated with toxic masculinity are challenging stereotypes and taking steps toward greater inclusivity, creating teachable moments in the process. Today’s Daily Dose looks at the women of color making waves in gaming, as well as how video games are being used both in the classroom and for therapy. So put down your headset and controller for a minute, and take a deep dive into the world of Xbox and avatars.
Isabelle Lee, Reporter
gaming’s untold stories
1. Counterfeit Competitors
There would be no Pac-Man if not for the Yakuza. In the 1970s, Japanese video game company Namco had to contend with counterfeit arcade machines that were being produced by the infamous Japanese mafia. The company’s CEO went so far as to reach out to the leader of the Yakuza to request they stop the illicit manufacturing, but to no avail. Frustrations over the Japanese mafia interference eventually inspired Namco to make its own arcade hits, including the iconic Pac-Man.
Broad City has long been one of my favorite TV shows, but I had no idea that before Ilana Glazer cracked us up on the small screen, she was a weed-smoking gamer on YouTube. Her show, Chronic Gamer Girl, ran for two seasons starting in 2012 and features Glazer and her guests playing video games. Full of fluffy banter and comic relief, it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for a crash course on video games. No technical knowledge required!
Imagine a world where you couldn’t play Tetris unless you knew a guy who had a copy of it on floppy disk. Before Tetris went mainstream, that’s exactly how its Russian creator, Alexey Pajitnov, passed the game around Moscow because the rights to the game belonged to the Soviet government, not Pajitnov. Dutchman Henk Rogers, a scout for Nintendo, eventually succeeded in helping the gaming company secure the rights from the Soviets to distribute the game internationally.
We’ve just announced this year’s OZY Genius Award winners. These inspiring innovators and visionaries are the leaders of the future, and they offer ways to effect real change in America.
The OZY Genius Awards, brought to you by Chevrolet, provides college students up to $10,000 in grants to pursue their dreams — whether it’s disrupting an industry or reimagining a social movement.
Among the winning proposals are efforts to: tear down language barriers in the medical system; combat youth homelessness; help low-income students get into college; fight back against the negative impacts of gentrification on vulnerable seniors; and boldly educate on trans rights.
Find out more about these gifted leaders of tomorrow today.
In fourth grade, my favorite day of the week was when we got to go to the computer lab and play the educational video game Oregon Trail. If you asked me today to list all the possible afflictions that could cause the demise of the game’s 19th-century pioneers, I could probably still rattle them off. Nowadays, board games like Freedom: The Underground Railroad about the abolitionist movement, and Navajo Wars about the Native American tribe’s fight to preserve its culture and territory, allow students to experience history outside of a textbook.
Many parents believe that video games are a waste of time, but gaming can actually help people learn. Game developer Gonzalo Frasca was among the first to turn video games into a field of academic study known as ludology, and he also pioneered their use as educational tools. In 2019, Garabed Khachadour further proved that games can teach, creating the game Mayrig: Paths to Freedom, which is an interactive story based on true events of the Armenian genocide.
What if video games could train you how to discern between real and fake news? Harmony Square lets players act as a “chief disinformation officer” whose goal is to create divisions in the community. The game is meant to help players learn how misinformation is spread and the impact it can have — an important skill in our “post-truth” times. Should more teachers be including games like Harmony Square in their curriculum?
Here’s a puzzle for you: A hockey player has brand deals with Bauer, Gatorade and Adidas, so he must be a star in the rink, right? Not necessarily. Virtual hockey player Andrew Telfer has the brand support because he’s an NHL gaming whiz with a massive YouTube following. Telfer moves between the virtual and real, posting videos that include trick shots filmed live in the rink as well as footage of him getting comfy in front of his Xbox to stream to his followers. Does this mean that any old Joe can now be a “sports star?”
You’re familiar with the regular NBA, but have you heard of the NBA 2K League? It’s a competitive online gaming league based around the NBA 2K series, released annually since 1999, and it’s fully sanctioned by its original namesake. The drafting process is weirdly similar to that of the physical game. The self-described Lebron James of NBA 2K, Artreyo Boyd, played for 12 hours a day to hone his skills, and in 2018 was announced by NBA Commissioner Andrew Silver as the No. 1 NBA 2K League draft pick, going on to play for Mavs Gaming, the 2K arm of the Dallas Mavericks.
What do you get when you mix designer brands and video games? When the Chinese team FunPlus Phoenix won the 2019 League of Legends world championship, they were presented not only with a trophy, but also with a Louis Vuitton trunk. The goal? To turn young gamers into ambassadors for luxury brands. It’s also a reflection of the growing market at the convergence of video games and luxury brands. So if you’re a sucker for Gucci, Hermès or Dior, gaming might just be for you.
You may have heard the great news that Katty Kay is joining OZY, but how well do you know the esteemed journalist? Get to know her from her very own episode of The Carlos Watson Show! The former BBC World News America presenter shares stories from her nomadic childhood that took her everywhere from Saudi Arabia to Japan and reveals why her “nosiness” has helped her become the journalist she is today. But perhaps most important to her is her work helping women recognize their talents and the shifting gender dynamics of the home. Watch now for tips from this essential voice in journalism and the newest member of OZY’s family.
Black women are underrepresented in the gaming industry, but thanks to some seriously badass women, that’s slowly changing. Thumbstick Mafia, Brown Girl Gamer Code, INeedDiverseGames, Pastel PXLS and Black Girl Gamers are just some of the groups encouraging gaming companies to take Black female consumers more seriously.
While 41% of gamers in the U.S. last year were women, only 18% of games featured female protagonists. Soha Kareem, who’s half Iraqi and half Palestinian, aims to change all that. She creates games with central themes around sexuality and mental health. Kareem has also made games about Islamophobia and immigration and isn’t afraid to call out the lack of gender diversity in the gaming world either.
Video games have an undeniably macho reputation: cars, guns and girls. But increasingly, game designers are catering to male players who want to play games that are more realistic and less centered on stereotypes. In the most recent installment of God of War, for example, the protagonist Kratos becomes a single father. In Grand Theft Auto V, released in 2013, one of the protagonists is shown visiting a therapist to get help with his toxic masculinity and to process childhood abuse.
Could “persuasive gaming” make you a better person? Researchers think so. For example, in the game Papers, Please, you play an immigration inspector for a fictional communist state, playing out an experience designed to make you more empathetic toward migrants. If shooting at bad guys isn’t for you, maybe this kind of emotional gaming will be more your style.
We’ve all been there, stuck with writer’s block and desperate for inspiration. Is playing video games the solution to fixing the plot of your novel or screenplay? The online game Storium brings creatives together to collaborate on a narrative, and it even helps by suggesting obstacles or character strengths for your protagonist. Could gaming help you win a Pulitzer?
Would you play a game that tries to stress you out? Nevermind uses external sensors to create gameplay that gets more difficult the more stressed you become. To do this, the player is hooked up to a heart-rate monitor, which will also force the player to take a break if they get too worked up. This horrifying pastime might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the game’s designer believes that learning about how you respond to stressors can actually help treat anxiety.