When you grow up as a gamer, it’s interesting to hear experiences of how others got into gaming and why they have continued pursuing this hobby and passion. Everyone’s path is unique, and each person’s preference for the games they hold dear may speak about their very own character in the real world.
I talked with Brandy Brown (she/her) and Samantha Drake (they/them) to delve further into this topic. Brandy’s father made sure to be a part of the technological advancement of in-home gaming units for his family as soon as they were available, which has exposed Brandy to many different worlds throughout her gaming life. Sam’s father and cousin played a role in their early years, opening the path to a lifelong hobby that has inspired Sam to further creative endeavors and passions.
I wanted to know what path their journeys have taken to be a gamer and their take on the gender gap in the video game industry.
Let’s get to know them better:
How did you become a gamer, and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?
Brandy: I have been a gamer for as long as I can remember. When the first gaming consoles became available for in-home use, my dad made sure we had one. That was 1982 for the Colecovision, I believe. We had an old computer (you know the old white box) hooked up to our old TV with the click dials and antenna. My dad is an engineer and always got us involved in one nerdy project or another. He brought home some of the first computers and consoles. I’d say my dad was a huge influence, but I also have to think that growing up, watching Star Wars and Star Trek was a big influence also. The futuristic gadgets fascinated me, my dad, and my brothers so we were always involved with games somewhere.
Sam: I’ve been a gamer for 15 years, give or take. I was first exposed to gaming through my father’s Atari Lynx, which I played on often as a child. Then my first step into ‘modern’ gaming was with my cousin’s Gameboy advance. I then just casually played Nintendo games until, through the encouragement of the male friends in secondary/high school, I bought into Xbox and PlayStation games. I picked up both the Atari Lynx and the Gameboy out of pure curiosity. Nobody had forced it into my hand or asked if I wanted a go; I just wanted to see what it was for myself. My cousin was very supportive, though, and allowed me to play the few games she had whenever I visited.
What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges? Is it more for the social aspect? Do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to them? Has that preference evolved over time?
Brandy: Honestly, I played the crap out of Smurf Rescue on the Coleco, and I loved playing Space Invaders on my Aunt’s Atari. They were basically mindless fun. You push yourself to get better and better scores each round, and each round becomes harder and harder. It was the challenge. I’m all over the place. Sometimes I love the social aspect of gaming and have played a lot of MMOs on PC. I was involved in guilds and the giant 40 person raids. When that became tiring, I also loved playing solo or single-player RPGs. I also like super chill building-type games like My Time at Portia and some puzzle games that are great for unwinding after stressful days. I do like a challenge occasionally, especially when trying to figure out the best way to down that pain in the ass boss. I mostly just like the fact that games let me turn my brain off.
(In Smurf Rescue, Smurfette has been kidnapped and is being held atop a platform in Gargamel's castle. You play as a smurf to rescue her. You have to encounter many obstacles along the way.)
Sam: I absolutely loved playing Halo 3 with my friends from school and Simpsons Hit and Run, but games like Club Penguin, Animal Crossing: Wild World, and Super Mario Bros were my bread and butter growing up. I am either a really casual gamer (I pick it up once and then not touch it again for months) or an ‘I’m going to sit here and excessively play this game until I forget what time of the year it is’ gamer. There is no in-between. I prefer games that have a role-playing element to them. If I can escape reality within it, I will likely love it. Games like Stardew Valley scratch an itch when I’m in need of immediate escapism, but when I want to spend a lot of time away from the world, I’ll jump into a rich story-based game. As a child and maybe a bit into my teenage years, I would have said I prefer video games for the social aspect of playing online. I kept the stories to the books, and video games were essential to my social circle.
Throughout the years, have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?
Brandy: When I first started playing MMO’s 20 or so years ago, there were very few female gamers that I ran across but now it seems to be a considerable shift and feels almost a 50-50 split. It’s a great thing because female gamers bring so much to the table. I feel like it helps balance the gameplay much better (especially in guilds).
Sam: I actually was very lucky to have been sheltered from the toxicity women experienced when I was younger. As I’ve grown up and put more of myself online, I have definitely felt a shift in how grossly women are treated as gamers. I feel as though the group of boys I kept to, in secondary/high school, somewhat gave me immunity to it all because if I joined a lobby with them, the people who didn’t know me were told that I was ‘good.’ The boys I hung out with would laugh when I was bad at a game, but it was more laughing with me than at me. The first time I played Halo with them (or ever), I surprised both myself and them with how well I did. There were jokes because I was the only female in the group, which I just fought back with sarcasm or even played along with them. I feel as though there has always been a stigma around female gamers that I just never addressed or acknowledged back then because they were my friends. In recent years, discrimination because of gender within gaming has been more evident, especially in the comments that some men make when seeing a female exclaim about their favorite games or even making unsolicited comments through the anonymity of a Twitch chat. I have had backseat gaming, disgusting questions, and sexist jokes made at my expense, more so within recent years.
Have there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so?
Brandy: I usually always play RPGs versus a single-player game where you play a specific character. I tend to have my own avatars, which are always powerful women, and I guess I create them in a vision of who I would like to be myself. In the Star Wars the Old Republic MMO, I always liked Satele Shan, the head of the Jedi council. Her wisdom and insight is always an inspiration for me. She is far from perfect and makes mistakes, but she does her best to lead the Jedi council in the best way possible.
(Satele Shan, a descendant of the legendary Jedi Knights Revan and Bastila Shan, encountered many challenges in the turbulent time she lived in a galaxy far, far away. Her wisdom and insight helped guide the way for the Jedi of her time.)
Sam: Immediately, the character of Lara Croft comes to mind. I have always been obsessed with adventure and discovery. Seeing Lara Croft and the franchise around her has always been a huge motivation for creating adventure within my own life. My love for history has always existed, but seeing the female leads within the Assassin’s Creed series (Evie and Kassandra are the two I have personally played) further pushed my love for historical events and legends. They have inspired me to write historical fiction with female protagonists because of how well their characters are written. The persistence and determination of the female leads have always pushed me to be better within myself, giving me a goal for where I want to be even if I can’t raid tombs or run within Victorian London myself.
Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this.
Brandy: Absolutely, they are underrepresented. Even now, gaming and gaming development is still a very male-dominated industry. I believe they are trying to make a shift. Uncharted Lost Legacy, Hellblade, and others have been created in the past few years, and that gives me hope that there will be many, many more. Even in AC Valhalla, you are given the option to play as a female Viking, which I believe is a very important shift.
Sam: Absolutely. As I look up at my physical game shelf, I can only point out one game where you have to play the female lead. There are a few where there is the choice to play a female or male lead, but only one where the story surrounds a female character that the player has to play. The number of games with male leads that you cannot choose who you play is ridiculous. Most of the games within recent years have been giving you the option to choose which gender you play, which I think is progressive but does not exactly mean all is well. Some people will still complain about even being given the option to play a female character. It seems that the default is still male when it comes to story-based games. It has gotten better. I feel indie titles are better at creating diversity within their characters, but bigger studios are definitely catching up.
Some of us are streamers:
What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer?
Brandy: I won’t lie. It’s been tough. It seems that so many people are streamers now that you almost have to have a gimmick to get any attention. The females that get the most attention tend to be more sexualized, and that disappoints me. I will never and can’t ever be that way, so I will sit in the back and enjoy my games.
Sam: It was a slow burn with building up a channel that I am proud of and enjoy. Friends were and continue to be supportive, and I was lucky to not receive a lot of push-back from the Twitch community. A few bots here and there, some disgusting comments that were easy to remove, but nothing that I haven’t been able to handle.
What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things?
Brandy: I like sharing some of the games I enjoy with others that may not have seen them. I like laughing and goofing off with friends in streams. My least favorite thing is how hard it can be to get an audience and it gets very discouraging.
Sam: My favorite thing about streaming is the community aspect. It’s like playing video games with your friends, just hanging out and having a laugh. I get to share my favorite games with people that may never get the chance to play them or even influence others to get the games they enjoy watching me play. I know a lot of people have picked up Stardew Valley after watching me stream it for many, many hours, and getting to share that experience with them is wonderful.
My least favorite thing is people backseat gaming or the men that come into my chat feeling entitled to know my personal life… That’s a big one. It doesn’t happen very often, but being friendly on a stream does not mean that I can be walked over, as these few and far between seem to think.
For the most part, though, streaming is an absolute joy.
Back to gaming:
What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached, or a charity stream goal achieved?
Brandy: My favorite achievement is actually getting back into console gaming after so many years of doing nothing but PC gaming and beating my first console game, Jedi Fallen Order. I was pretty proud of that.
Sam: It’s not so much an achievement but a personal goal that I have embarked on. A friend of mine passed, and the next day the new entry into his favorite franchise was announced. I have since been saying that I will play it in his memory and I finally got around to playing it this past year. So, to me, that is a personal achievement that I have reached within gaming.
Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?
Brandy: More female game devs in leadership positions.
Sam: I would absolutely love to see more story-based games with female leads. Well-written characters and plot. Oh, and I’d love to see some more games where the female is independent, with no romantic interests, and it’s just women being badasses.
I really appreciated the journey that both Brandy and Sam have taken to this point as gamers. Getting into technology in their younger years, changing consoles and game types, and being inspired by strong female leads in their own lives has helped me see how far the gaming industry and gaming communities have come. Playing and streaming online has presented challenges, but having supportive friends helps keep the online experience positive.
As gaming communities continue to grow in diversity, there is an ongoing call to see this diversity reflected in the video games played by this growing audience. Gender gaps and stigmas are slowly being called out and not tolerated by the many. The video game industry is heeding this call and making needed adjustments in long-entrenched habitual male leads and common story arcs. We have come a far way within the last decade. However, there is still more representation, diverse character types, and complex storytelling that can be developed within the medium of video games. I look forward to seeing what the gaming industry will do to further meet this call within my lifetime.
I’d love to hear about your personal journey in the comments! Do you relate to any of Brandy or Sam’s experiences?
Check out their socials!