Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Ronnie, Millie, Lila- Women's History for Games: A Manifesto and a Way Forward

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Ronnie, Millie, Lila- Women's History for Games: A Manifesto and a Way Forward

Article excerpt

That video gaming has a gender problem has been so well established as to slide into a truism, something that is common sense, an unanchored, ahistorical fact that we just know. This is not to say that there is a dearth of research on the subject. The gender disparities of the video game industry's labor force have been extensively documented as have the disparities in on-screen representation and among player populations. Scholars like Kishonna L. Gray, Laine Nooney, and Adrienne Shaw have made important recent contributions to our understanding of the topic. And my own book Coin-Operated Americans emanated from my interest in exploring questions about gender and games.1 However, the degree to which the practices of history can easily obscure women's lives, work, and contributions has been even better documented than the intersections of gender and video gaming.

The feminist turn in film studies during the 1970s was necessary in part because of the shortcomings of earlier approaches to the study of film and the documentation of its history. Without the critical interventions of feminist scholars, much of what we know about film's labor and production practices would remain obscure. Similarly, game studies constitute a multidisciplinary field, one in which we have several working historians, who were not necessarily trained as historians, who understand that the legwork of history requires not only archival research in all its forms, but also careful consideration of how broader cultural, social, and political systems shape the historical trajectory. In researching and writing the history of games, we have an opportunity to produce a comprehensive history-one that looks at all actors as meaningful rather than documenting merely the most obvious key players. If we do so, we can avoid falling into the trap that many fields of historical study have fallen into, initially neglecting the key role of women in shaping history.

In this article, I begin by offering a brief overview of efforts to document and reclaim women's history particularly in the fields of American history and media history. I argue for adopting and integrating these kinds of approaches into games history while the field is young. As I will discuss further, many of these key works in women's history are responses to the widespread neglect of women's work and contributions. Because video game studies constitute a relatively new field, we are in a position where it is hopefully possible to avoid some of the mistakes of the past as we complete the initial work of documenting and studying this rich cultural form. From this opening conceputalization, I move on to point to some examples of women's work in the coin-op game industry and to advocate for further study of women's contributions in early video gaming. Although I focus here on the hidden histories of women, this is an approach that can and should be applied more broadly, exposing essential histories that are not just women's histories, but the histories of other obscure actors and of the daily function of industry and culture. I argue that the whole of games history becomes more visible if we reassess our understanding about which parts of the industry are important and merit study. In closing, I discuss some areas in which study of women's work in and around video gaming could prove illuminating, and I argue for further research in these areas.

Women in American History and Media History

American history is littered with examples of women pushed to the side or forgotten, even as they established professional standards, forged social movements, and shaped daily life. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's groundbreaking and much awarded book A Midwife's Tale captures the life of an eighteenth-century midwife living in Northern New England and provides invaluable insights into household and community economies, marriage, sex, and the development of American medicine. As Ulrich documents, women midwives were gradually pushed aside by male doctors, even as these doctors were often less skilled and less knowledgeable about medical practice. …

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