Gaming and the gender “BIOS”

I originally wrote this as a speech to deliver at public speaking training at work – but it’s a subject I feel strongly about, so I decided to publish it here.

When I told people I was leaving BBC job to join Twitch, it felt like everyone I told was puzzled; non-gaming natives, they had either briefly heard of the platform, or had no idea what it was.

I say everyone – my mother was horrified. Her highlight of my career so far was meeting Robert Powell and his ridiculously blue eyes (famous of being those of Jesus in the Zefferelli film Jesus of Nazareth) – and artists formerly known as Jesus were unlikely to turn up at gaming expos…

Even those familiar with Twitch seemed confused; “but you do even like video games!?” they questioned skeptically, as people still do today when I tell them what I do.

And I could concede that they’ve got a point – because I don’t like video games. I love them.

From playing Bat and Ball on my nan’s BBC Micro Computer and Alex Kidd on the SEGA Master System, to buying my own PS One from savings (which I’d later dip into to buy a gaming PC and a Wii), video games have always been a constant and consistent part of my life. A former editor of mine back in my Channel 4 interning days even gifted me a Dreamcast he had going spare, given my fanatic enthusiasm for escapist gameplay.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t an occasional bump in the road in this relationship; when I moved to Newcastle for a radio job, with nothing but my Xbox 360  for company, I excitedly began the long arduous journey that is Final Fantasy XIII. 30 hours in, I decided to take a five year break, resumed when the eve of Final Fantasy VX kicked my paradigms into gear.

After I joined Twitch I decided build a PC for the first time and possibly became the first person to upload a video of themselves jubilantly screaming “fucking BIOS” on the internet. It was an emotional moment – firstly because I’d had some Power Supply Unit (PSU) issues, but also because I saw that certain people online reacted to by progress by asking me to – as one charmer put it – “leave PC building to the men”. (To this charmer I simply enquired why his masculinity felt threatened by a woman building a PC.)

Who's in? #monkistyle #PCgamer #LadyGang

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Aside from being desperate to play Overwatch in my own bedroom, after founding team Overlunch with office manager and kickass Mcree Nell, I also wanted the PC to up my streaming game. As you would expect from someone who would shout “fucking BIOS” on the internet, I’m pretty emotional on my channel – it’s a place where I can rage freely and people are more likely to join in than judge. I am accepted as what I am – a fan of video games.

In the wider world however, I am viewed as an anomaly; despite the fact I don’t think I’m at all unusual or unique. I am a “Girl Gamer” or, as some of the gaming community types when they see me on an industry event stage, a “GRILL”. To put it bluntly, I am “other” – just as the singer in a “female-fronted band”, a “female comedian’’, a “girl boss” or even a “male nurse” is. It is this culture of gendered language, where a “gamer” is alleged as solely male, and a female gamer is a “girl gamer”, that makes me appear unusual.

In 2014, the Internet Advertising Bureau surveyed 4,000 UK residents and found that those who identified as ‘gamers’ skewed 52% female. And yes, many of those are playing on their phones, but it’s still relevant. Many women may even play but simply don’t “out” themselves – I’ve spent the best part of a decade showing off my self-proclaimed genius at defeating Final Fantasy X’s last boss Yu Yevon in two moves – and a lot of people, male or female, don’t even know who that is. Until the female audience for gaming is amplified, “hardcore gamer” titles will remain targeted solely to men, and this budding market won’t fulfil it’s growth potential.

Language is one of civilisation’s most powerful tools. When we use it to single out a group, we change their status from the norm, therefore creating a set expectation for them. We expect the England Football team to be a team of men: we expect the England Ladies’ Team to feature a mixture of full and part-time pro players, many of whom earn less in a year than I do playing video games. When I skimmed through Netflix the other day, I noticed it has created a category called “films featuring a strong female lead”; the idea is so beyond acceptable mainstream cinema, it’s had its own genre invented.

When we call someone a “girl gamer”, therefore, we expect them to be less proficient than a “gamer”. When we place that “GRILL” on the stage, we expect them to be there because of the way they look, not because of what they think.

So no, I’m not a “girl gamer”. I’m not a “GRILL”. I identify as a woman who plays video games – a “gamer” – because I believe in creating a world where gendered language no longer exists in order to hold me back.

Now who’s up for a game of Overwatch? 

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How to build a PC: a guide by Frankie Ward

Recently I did something I never thought possible; I built a PC.

Despite what one misogynist visitor to my Twitch stream, women can build PCs – we have hands and brains just like men do (whaddya know)!

However, I would be honest and say that for this individual, PC building wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, so I’ve compiled this handy help guide in case you get a hankering to put your own rig together.

1. After saving for months on end, peruse Amazon and get mind blown by how many varieties of Intel i7 Core Processors are, what a PSU is (power unit, it turns out) and how much wattage you actually need to get the final thing to turn on.

2. Settle for a *slight* shortcut by buying a bundle from a third party Amazon vender called Components for All, featuring the CPU (Intel chip), CPU cooler (a fan), motherboard (brain) and RAM (not a sheep). Realise after buying that this lot is going to be put together by the company, meaning you’re less likely to blow the bloody metaphorical doors off and can just ‘stick it in’ to the case.

3. Order PSU, case, graphics card and settle on hard drive (HDD) because you don’t realise SSDs (solid state drives) can actually work without one. Then buy Windows on a USB stick because Linux would be a step too far.

4. Speak to dad. Audibly sense the disappointment in his voice when he discovers you’re owning something not created by Apple (that could one day end up in his graveyard collection of Macs).

5. Find initial enthusiasm of components arriving wears off very quickly when the various instructions in each box is ridiculously vague.

6. Find internet also ridiculously vague. What’s BIOS when it’s at home?

7.  Put motherboard into case. Get confused by instructions about PCIe. Cry out “What’s a  PCIe? WHY DIDN’T I BUY A PCIe?” Routinely hug the case, partly because of worries about static and the need to ground oneself, partly because everyone needs a bosom for a pillow, and if you haven’t got one a cold metal case will have to do.

8. Discover you own a PCIe in the shape of a graphics card. Spend 20 minutes wondering how to take off PCIe cover from case. Finally have guts to peel metal off while crying about how much this business has all cost, in money and tears.

9. Broadcast a Twitch IRL stream to get advice from lovely community about order of I/O front panel connectors. Then give up for the night.

10. Discover that it would have been an extremely good idea to connect those little front panel cables in the case up to the motherboard before the graphics card went in… Give a moderate scream as the cables keep popping out.

11. Breath a sigh of relief as build ends. Connect up to fancy BenQ screen.

12. Let out a scream of insanity as nothing happens.

13. Realise that part of the motherboard was lacking power. Discover from colleague and all-round life coach Iain that this was due to the 8 point cable from PSU was plugged into graphics card instead and actually this 8 point cable splits into two parts, one of which now goes into the motherboard, with a modular cable used to power the graphics card. Rage that none of this information was included in the PSU instructions box.

14. Try again; lights on front and the graphics card now turn on, as does the CPU cooler, but nothing happens on the screen. Scream. Repeat stage 6 and the latter part of stage 8.

The computer that will turn on, won't show a screen. Gaaaaah

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15. In airport on way to Dreamhack Leipzig, speak to lovely man on phone from Components 4 All. He mentions that actually, the problem is probably using the wrong side of the 8 pin split and that’s why the thing isn’t turning on.

16. Get home from work trip, now a massive fan of German Twitch broadcasters and a self-confessed pretzel addict (I’ve gone cold turkey). Switch side of 8 pin in motherboard. Try to boot again. Light turns on, fan turns on… but nothing happens on screen. For once do not panic as nice man from step 15 also mentioned trying to turn on again without the graphics card.

17. Take out graphics card. Plug power and screen in again and switch on.

18. Scream, because this time it works and YOU’RE IN BLOODY BIOS!

19. Get Windows installed, put graphics card back in again, install Overwatch as a matter of urgency.

20. Stream on Twitch from your shiny new PC the first time.

21. Suck a Strepsil and enjoy.

Thanks to everyone who helped me in the painful process of building my PC – you can see it in action on my Twitch channel!