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

A post shared by Frankie Ward (@getfrankgames) on

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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Selling eyeliners is one thing… but surgery? How Transform’s latest ad fails to see below the surface

I’ve been tardy with the ol’ blog recently. I’ll be the first to admit it. I was thinking of writing about my work on the recent Trainspotting Live, or the fact that I’ve just left the BBC after more than four years to start at Twitch tomorrow.

And yet, this is what has compelled me to delay my latest attempt to complete Final Fantasy XIII and only half pay attention to the latest love of my life (Gilmore Girls on Netflix). An advert printed in the back pages of Glamour magazine.

In it, 22-year-old London-based fashion blogger That Pommie Girl describes how her recent “boob job” (and yes, because it is aimed at her readers – women of her age or younger, it actually uses that phrase), has made her “love her body”, something bloggers are known for. They’ll post paid for ads for products with names like “Boo Tea” on Instagram promoting speedier metabolisms and “detoxification”, or 24 products at once for a “natural look” on YouTube. And while I’m not saying this is 100% harmless (the thought of me – with my mountain of loose leaves piled up in the corner of my kitchen – purchasing a tea for anything other than the fact it tastes good makes me shiver), it’s nothing compared to surgery.

This woman has been given a free major uncessary  surgical operation – and in my book, that’s something that’s both invasive and requiring the patient to undergo general aesthetic – and most likely been paid a lot of money to do so; she’s been paid to be cut open, stuffed, and to promote this to her young followers. Lest we forget, there’s a reason why bloggers and social media stars are called influencers. She’s someone people aspire to be. Her lifestyle is what her followers yearn to have. And her lifestyle now involves major surgery so she can like herself.

Let’s face it; a lot of young people aren’t comfortable in their own bodies yet. I have a strong body which I’ve worked hard on (I’m not ripped or anything like that, but I can hold my own in a boxing class) and, at the age of 27, I still check how much my stomach sticks out in the mirror when I wake up. I’m not That Pommie Girl’s target audience, and yet I still bought the aforementioned copy of Glamour because it came with a free Benefit eyebrow gel. (And I already own a similar one from L’Oreal that works perfectly fine.)

I decided to do a Google to find out a bit more and discovered the Advertising Standards Authority have actually banned the TV version of the advert, although you can still view videos of Sarah Ashcroft (the blogger in question), on Transform’s website.

There’s a few disturbing things about the advert, which you can view by accessing the last hyperlink. Firstly, Ashcroft explains that she never experienced anything she’d describe as “pain” (aside from back pain). Not immediately post operation or during the aftercare period.

“In terms of recovery I still couldn’t really believe it. I had geared myself up for a lot of pain when there wasn’t really any at all. I remember feeling incredibly drowsy, but aside from that the healing process was pretty straightforward, with the major inconvenience being a support bra due to the neck and back pain from my new posture.”

Surgery is going to be different for everyone, but this advertorial really does go out of its way to emphasise “no pain, all gain”.

And probably the part I find the most shocking of all, Ashcroft implies that her career has been progressed by the operation:

“It really has changed my life and cliched as it sounds, I feel like a new person with a newfound confidence and love for my body. Now, I can be as experimental as I want to be with my style; something I always wanted and I feel like my blogging has come on leaps and bounds too.”

Breasts “enhanced”, she can now wear different clothes and write better! Us women had better all sign up for surgery so we can have enough confidence to ask for a big enough pay rise to start paying back our surgery loans and wear the contractually obliged high heels, skirt and at least five items of noticeable make up to the office..

This advert probably concerns me most of all because it suggests that we still associate the idea of physical perfection – or a marketer’s idea of it – as a key to success. Why be comfortable with what you have, when the path to success is the physical embodiment of some ideal dreamed up by someone else who managed to make it catch on years ago? Already successful enough to attract Transform in the first place (and no doubt, other businesses wanting to work with her), why would Ashcroft (and a bunch of others profiled on the website) take such a drastic step?

And why – in heaven’s name why – would Glamour run this irresponsible advert? For financial gain? Don’t they have some semblance of a duty of care for their younger readers? It’s enough to make me ignore next latest lucrative freebie issue and pay full price (for a cheaper copycat version of the same product).

Monikh Dale, another featured blogger who Transform have given a “lip enhancement” explains on the site that “I wanted to be the best version of me I could be” – the same slogan that the Army are currently using in their latest recruitment campaign. But don’t get me started on that one, or I’ll never find out if Rory and Jess get together. (Gilmore Girls. Seriously – you need to watch it!)

My ‘everything’ tomato sauce

Before I started tinkering with tinned tomatoes and ‘finding my own way’ with recipes, I tried loads of different tomato pasta sauce recipes, but I’ve pretty much sworn by this one for a couple of years.

It’s quick, cheap and easy, goes with anything and can be adapted to your tastes. It’s also easily doubled and doesn’t require puree or vegetable stock like some recipes I’ve previously tried.

Chuck in some chopped pepper (frozen or fresh), courgettes or mushrooms after your onions are softened but before adding the chopped tomatoes and heat for a couple of minutes as an extra way of getting your five a day.

I have this with pasta (brilliant for a packed lunch) or on top of fish – particularly those frozen fillets you can get. If you’re not going with the fresh ingredients, this can be made entirely from store cupboard essentials

Frankie’s simple tomato sauce (makes two generous portions)

You will need…

  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Dried basil or mixed herbs (if you’ve got fresh, go for it)
  • One small red onion (chopped finely)
  • A few fat cloves of garlic, crushed (adjust to taste – I’m a garlic fiend)
  • Chilli powder or half a chopped red chilli (it’s properly spicey if you go fresh, so I tend to use powder – so convenient!)
  • A generous handful of sliced black olives
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Red wine (optional)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Large pinch of sugar
  • A couple tablespoons olive oil

Method…

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When it’s warmed through, add the onion and the garlic. Heat until softened. Add the fresh chilli if you’re using it.
  • If you have red wine to hand, pour a generous slug of it into the pan and then heat until absorbed. Repeat with the balsamic vinegar.
  • Add chilli powder if using it and heat for a further minute.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, olives, sugar, salt and herbs. Heat for five minutes or until excess water from the tomatoes has reduced.
  • Serve with fresh basil and feta (depending on what you’re having it with)

I’ll be releasing a Touchcast video about this soon – for more recipe ideas, check out my Touchcast channel

 

The New Year list

I’m deliberately not calling this post ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ because I don’t think I need to change who I am – and nor should you – but because I’m a fan of a to-do list and this is a good excuse to create an ‘action plan’ for 2014…

2013 has been, for the most part, fine. It’s gone ridiculously fast too. There were big changes at the start and end of the year (I got dumped by email in January – ouch) and changed jobs (moving to EastEnders in late December), but for the most part I feel like I’ve coasted along.

However, everyone should take a moment to think about the good bits as well as the disappointing receiving of electronic communications and so here are a few of the highlights…

#Team NCA

The BBC Radio New Comedy Award returned in 2013 (we got a BBC Production Award nomination for the 2012 multiplatform element that I produced which was pretty cool) and I found myself without a budget so recruited a big batch of amazing volunteers to help film and edited each film myself. The core group of Producer Tilusha, Production Co-Ordinator Tam and Production Management Assistant Isma were bloomin’ hilarious and wonderful. And of course the most fabulous Executive Producer Alison Vernon-Smith and the stylish (and talented) Production Manager Hayley Nathan. My favourite production of the 18 months I spent at BBC Radio Comedy.

Grainne & J-Bugg shake up the Beeb

I found two excellent, talented friends in the new Radio Comedy bursary writers…

A Summer of gigs!

Thanks to Elena Dana, I finally started gigging in London, even making my jazz debut. And I got a new telecaster… now to get an amp (see 2014 to-do list…) I also wrote at least three songs I can count among my favourites.

Making my own damn icing, thank you very much

When I baked in the Get Flat in 2012, someone else was around to do the icing while I made the batter. My early solo icing efforts were watery and rubbish. Then one day, thanks to a Primrose Hill Bakery coffee buttercream recipe, I cracked it. (Although I did have a massive icing fuck-up the other day and had to buy the pre-mixed stuff for a Xmas party at Grainne’s but never mind…)

Comedy! Comedy! Comedy!

I saw some amazing shows and met some hilarious, lovely people this year. People who made me laugh included: Bridget Christie, Phil Wang, Steve Bugeja, Rob Carter, Katherine Bennett, Kate Lucas, Adam Hess, Tom Craine, Joe Lycett, Dean Sekhon, Peter Brush, Grainne Maguire, Mae Martin, Nick Helm Sarah Campbell, Nish Kumar, James Bran, Joe Davies, Ivo Graham James Acaster, Dane Baptiste, Jonny Pelham (and many, many more – go and check them out…)

Producing a book… sort of

In the New Year the BBC will be releasing an iBook about writing for Radio Comedy that I produced… I’ll post more about this in 2014!

Anyway, 2013 review aside, there’s loads for me to be getting on with next year, so here’s some stuff I’d like to do in 2014…

  • Buy amp to go with new telecaster (rather than playing through mixing desk connected to computer speakers)
  • Finish painting bedroom – there’s no longer a reasonable excuse for the large unpainted patch behind the wardrobe!
  • Cook a wider variety of foods (other than jacket potato, pasta and homemade sauce and stir fry)
  • Invite friends over more regularly to share wider variety of foods
  • Apologise less for the way I look
  • Be less passive when someone judges the way I look unnecessarily
  • Buy more cushions for my large sofa
  • Keep up the exercise and resist chocolate/ice cream temptations!
  • Practice guitar more
  • Find rhythm section to play with me and Reece (who I’m working on songs with)
  • Get keyboard out again
  • Record more music – and record it better
  • Read more on my Kindle
  • Find permanent contract
  • Renew ISA
  • Fill up ISA
  • Invest in more loose leaf teas
  • Save up for Canon 5D
  • Be better at getting people together – but not feel so guilty if I don’t
  • Enjoy self as much as possible
  • Blog more!

There’s definitely more – most of that reads like a shopping list! I must have January sales on the brain….

Free gig at The Finsbury – Sunday 13th October

I’m playing a free gig at The Finsbury pub on Sunday 13th October.

It’s completely free and the doors are at 4pm – I’m on at 4:30pm, so hopefully that’ll give everyone time to recover from the night before!

It’s possibly my last gig for a while – I’m hoping to start playing my telecaster at future gigs (I’ll be getting out my trusty acoustic for this one) and I’m desperately seeking a band to play with.

I’ve been jamming with my friend Reece (formerly of the July Days), but we definitely need a rhythm section before we start gigging. Playing with a band is one of my favourite things and it definitely makes me more confident on stage.

You can hear rough demos on my two Soundcloud pages (stupid, boring story to how I have two accounts):

Truth Fiction

Get Frank

I’m not a dictator band leader – I like to work songs through to create something we all have a hand in and feel ownership of. Mostly though, I want to create songs to get people dancing. Simple.

If you want to get involved, give me an email at frankiepromotes@gmail.com – and please spread the word…

See you at the gig on Sunday?

My Harkive – 9th July 2013

I start at 8:00 when my alarm forces me awake and I immediately turn on the radio.

I won’t lie – this is almost permanently tuned to Radio 1, although the track (that even Nick Grimshaw comments as sounding like a ‘rubbish Cotton Eye Joe’) makes me wince (I later find out that this is called Ring A Ling by Sneakbo. This morning it’s mostly chat though – I’m an out and proud Grimshaw fan so this is fine by me. Plus, I’m 24 so I’m still within the Radio 1 target audience. (I know you’re judging me!)

As I head out the door to the district line, I have a listen to a mix of a song I’m working on on my iPod. It might sound odd to some, but I find it useful to listen to my own music (sometimes I find it quite hard) on various devices so I can see if the listening experience changes – for example, my macbook speakers are pretty poor so an iPod is far more preferable. The track in question is called Twelve Feet Under and I’ve put it on Soundcloud and shared it with friends to try and get their thoughts:

Often I listen to a podcast or something from the BBC Radio Comedy output on the tube to work – this morning it’s The Show What You Wrote, which is being podcasted as the BBC Comedy of the Week. However, as it finishes before I arrive, I pop my iPod on song shuffle and on comes the Sufjan Stevens song John Wayne Gacey Jnr.

Later, at my desk, I notice a blog post on Twitter about The Rumble Strips by This is Fake DIY. It includes a Youtube video of their song Alarm Clock, so I give that a listen. I was never a big fan so I listen more out of curiosity than nostalgia. It’s ok, but I prefer the upbeat (but slightly similar) sounds of the dearly departed Larrikin Love.

After lunch I have a major hayfever attack and run out to Boots to get some eyedrops. Trying to take my mind of my swelling, itchy eyes, I take my iPod with me. As before, it’s still on shuffle. The tracks it treats me to are Magic Touch by Golden Silvers, Four Kicks by the Kings of Leon, Night Terror by Laura Marling and Live Wire by Fyfe Dangerfield. I do have some current stuff on my iPod, including Bastille, Lianne La Havas, Bastille, Daughter and Kate Nash’s underrated third LP, Girl Talk – oh and Yeezus by Kanye West, but I also have plenty of older stuff I can’t imagine not taking on the go with me.

After work I hop tubes between Great Portland Street and Angel. My iPod is still in an eclectic mood and plays A New Found Land from Villagers’ (brilliant) second album Awayland, The Look of Love (Nina Simone version), Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) by Florence & the Machine, The View from the Afternoon from The Arctic Monkeys (who I have never stopped loving in the past nine years), Isobel by Bjork and She’s Lost Control by Joy Division. Naturally the latter sets me perfectly in the mood to see comedians John Robbins and Joe Lycett test out their Edinburgh shows… or maybe not.

Post comedy, it’s back to dashing between underground lines. Impressively I manage Angel to Bromley-by-Bow in three different lines and four songs… although I do chat to my friend Doug from Angel to Bank so technically I only listen to my iPod for the second two lines. These songs are Landfill from Daughter’s Wild Youth EP, Old Stone by Laura Marling, New by No Doubt and, rather perfectly, With You Now by my friend Jake Flowers’ band Oaken Lee. I say perfectly because I’ve just received a message from Jake about Twelve Feet Under.

Don’t forget, you can still submit your listening habits from the 9th July over at Harkive.org now!

A big gig

I’m starting to play ‘bonafide gigs’ in London now and all on my lonesome.

It’s a bit harder than I anticipated – first you have to get the gigs, then shamelessly self-promote, go about your day job (mine often involves evenings for recordings or going to comedy gigs) and try and fit in some practice.

At my last gig I was feeling confident after the soundcheck, but then a ten-strong group sat in the front and continued their boisterous conversation as I played – people did ask them to be quiet but they kept talking. Sadly I’m still inexperienced in singing and playing guitar together so it put me off somewhat – I need some mates to come and chuck stuff at me (like in The Runaways movie) while I practice. When you can hear people’s words more clearer than your own, it’s hard to carry on.

The noisy audience members are something I should be used to – every time I do a gig I think ‘if it happens again, I’ll give ’em hell’. Predictably, I never do, not wanting to alienate the more attentive audience members. However, if it’s spoiling the show for them, I owe it to them and myself to sort the situation out – ultimately, however, I think the responsibility is with the promoter to gain control. This is something singer Kal Lavele is the queen of – check out her W.E Love Sundays gigs at World’s End in Finsbury Park. She’s a master curator (and a bloomin’ brilliant songwriter too).

What I figure is, the more people who are there to come and watch and support, the better I’ll be. So, if you’re up for coming along, I’m playing at Rattlesnake on Upper Street in Angel on the 24th June. Doors are at 8pm and it would be lovely to see some people there! I’ve got a couple of new songs for you too…

Disappointed in Me: the video!

I wrote Disappointed in Me back when I was in my second year of uni.

I guess I don’t really need to tell the story behind it as it’s pretty much all in the song (yes, ‘relationship upgrade’ were the words actually said to me, along with ‘well I’m very disappointed in you’).

So why record it now? Well, I might have written it when I was 19, but the situation isn’t uncommon for many women I know. Also, it’s ruddy good fun to play and my friend Reece was looking for something colourful to make a video around.

So here it is, Disappointed in Me on YouTube! (And for those who you who have asked me, it’s an excuse to see the ‘Get Flat’ too.)

You can get the track for free from my Get Frank Soundcloud now.

I was dead lucky to have Reece Lipman make the video for me as part of his new venture, Shimmer-man Productions. I felt really anxious about being in front of the camera again after an extended period of not doing much on You Tube and also because it was someone else filming me, rather than me filming myself, so I had to just trust Reece and make like a op star. Luckily, Reece made me feel really comfortable and I sang along to my own song so many times I got used to it pretty quickly! (I couldn’t properly mime so I quietly sang.)

In other words, I’d thoroughly recommend him if you’re looking for a music video producer/director!

Making music

Inspired by a chat with my songwriting friend Elena Dana, I decided to actually put a new demo online on Sunday.

I probably should have written this song a while ago, but it kind of came lyrically/melodically and then I had to be bothered to actually get my guitar and work out the chords (which as always, aren’t complex, so I have no excuse…) and structure it.

I’ve played two open mic slots in London so far and I have to seek out more and be proactive, but I get so scared about approaching people so only have myself to blame. I always say I want to have a band – which is totally true – but equally, I shouldn’t just lay down my guitar and refuse to play it until I do. If I do.

So, if anyone knows of nights I could play, get in touch.

Here’s the new song, 12 Feet Under.

This set of demos kind of reflects the more recent sound. So Far Away was written when I was 20… it’s a bit scary to think that that was nearly four years ago! Escapology was the only song I wrote while in Newcastle, while Hard Candy is a product of the time I lived in Willesden Green in an odd living arrangement that made me decide it was time to aspire seriously for my own place.

Now firmly settled in the Get Flat, I have no excuse not to write, and so I finally wrote the song I needed to write about some of the things that happened in 2010/11. I kind of wish I could do it semi-acapella with accompaniment from one of those rhythmic cup players you see on YouTube.

12 Feet Under
I’m on a train
I’m gonna give my body to the Tyne and hope my soul
takes flight
‘Cos I’ve got plans to be getting on with

And oh
You laundered marbles ’til you lost control
Oh
Now they’re coming back to trip you, trip you
Oh
Resting on your laurels ’til the branches snapped
And the tree on the ground
How it felled you

They’ll have to bury me 12 feet under
For your six feet on top
cos I am
Taking you with me I am
taking you with me
When my neck’s for that drop

And your mother should have warned you to be superstitious
For you’ll be crying out
For her arms
When I’m gone.

Here’s a song from Elena Dana – I used to play this on my Amazing Radio folk show back in the day…