Game Hands

Breaking the Narrative Episode 1: Early Gaming History

Alex Tinsley
Follow me at

Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
Follow me at

I have to apologize for not having my article on Japanese Comedy ready. There ended up being a lot more information to process than I thought. In the meantime, I am going to redo and submit for review something I put in as a twitlonger back in April 2015. Of course, I will revise it somewhat. So let’s get stuck in.

Today I’m going to start the series known as ‘Breaking the Narrative. What is this series? It’s my attempt at taking any constructed narratives based on factless and arrogant drivel and smashing them with the cold hard sledgehammer of facts. With that in mind, and knowing the hatred and vitriol I’ll get for this, let’s begin with the first few episodes on a very divisive subject: Anita Sarkeesian’s argument that most video games are sexist and make people sexist. Let me hammer this in.

To begin, a quick history lesson: The first thing we refer to as a home video game console which led to gaming being a ‘thing’ in the first place was conceptualized and brought into being by Ralph Baer, a toy creator whose most noted and popular invention was ACTUALLY the game ‘Simon’. Yes, the tone and color memory game that annoyed so many after about 5 minutes of playing, but which everyone plays. You know you do it.

In 1966 he started making designs for his ‘Brown Box’ which was a tv set box meant to put white pixels on a screen to work out games to bring families together using the increasingly popular television sets of the time. He developed peripherals and multiple prototypes all the way until he sold the idea to Magnavox to create the Odyssey in 1970 to be released a good 2 or 3 years later. (Source: http://www.ralphbaer.com/video_game_history.htm)

Now that we know this much let’s look at what this means for females in video games. This means at the start most video games designed were no different from board games, using screen covers to make game fields to work with white pixels. It was like this until Nolan Bushnell made Atari, their 2600 in 1976 spearheading the second generation of video games, when we started to really get ‘game characters.’ Except for some exceptions like Pitfall, Adventure, and the infamous E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, this system’s sprite characters were mainly blank analogues for us to put ourselves into, much like how Tron depicted things in a way. If you ask me that doesn’t really seem either sexist or racist. (http://www.atariage.com/2600/)

There were also key programmers who were female in this era of game development such as Carol Shaw or Roberta Williams. So if there were female project leads in the late 70’s and early 80’s. There doesn’t seem to have ever been a problem with female representation in the development end of video games either. Wow, first episode and I’m already disproving 98% of the social justice argument that women never had solid representation in video games. Women were always a part of the community.

The late era before the crash that ended the second generation was when Mario, ‘Jumpman’ Mario, was first made for people to play. But there were other characters that would be developed for Nintendo’s Family Computer and Sega’s Mark I and II systems as well as the Super Famicom and Sega Mega Drive that would simply prove Anita’s argument complete and utter crap. We are going to touch on five of these today. Although I’ll say right now we will not be discussing Samus Aran today. She gets her own whole episode.

So where to begin? I think we should start with a game that will probably piss Tim Schafer off, Maniac Mansion, namely because he only playtested this game BUT this is more egalitarian than his sequel. In this game while there is the ‘damsel in distress’ Sandy Pantz. (This is a comedy game after all.) You have two strong female protagonists that are equal to the main character Dave who is just a blank slate and virtually useless throughout the game, the punk rocker Razor who has hard-core music skills that allow you to recruit the Green Tentacle and the highly talented writer Wendy Wells, who can actually recruit the game’s villain Dr. Fred Edison to easily stop the main villain the Evil Meteor. Not like THAT Meteor mind you. They typically go against the female antagonist of Nurse Edna (Fred’s wife.) (Source: http://www.maniacmansionfan.50webs.com/characters.html)

To continue we’ll go with a good Sega game: Shining Force. To begin here, in most of these games, you typically have a fairly broad and numerous army of characters being a strategy RPG and all. However, what one must note is that throughout the series, your initial crew typically consists of both female and centaur characters. If having centaurs in one’s party from the start isn’t diversity then I don’t know what is, and before you ask there is a female centaur. There, now that I countered that doubting Thomas…

What about shooters? Well there is LifeForce for the NES and arcade which was called Salamander in Japan. The accompanying anime shows the protagonist you play as in this game…named Stephanie. Not Stephen or Stefan, Stephanie. As in a girl. In 1986. Yes I’ve only gone three examples in and already this narrative seems to be shattering like so many stained glass windows. Oh and that ship the Vic Viper? Is the ship of the Gradius series too, with the same pilot. So yeah one of the two prime space shooters is all kick ass no-nonsense female.(Source: http://gradius.wikia.com/wiki/Salamander)

Now what about early first person adventure games? Those have to be all male protagonists right? Not necessarily. Now while the NES version was mistranslated the MacVenture game known as The Uninvited actually had a female protagonist going through a haunted mansion uncovering mystical relics to save her big brother who was possessed by the evils of the house…after breaking herself out of an exploding car! Trust me, that is a rough feat to deal with especially in an era that predates airbags. I mean even about a month in my chest is still hurting from such a hit and I don’t have something more sensitive on my chest. Why was it changed for the NES? The fact that there used to be some backwards people at Nintendo of America. Keyword USED to. Any versions you get now are the original dynamic. (Source: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/icom/icom2.htm; http://store.steampowered.com/app/343810/)

Now to round it off, Phantasy Star, I’ve mentioned this multiple times in multiple places but when it comes to RPGs and SEGA’s games this is by far the most underrated and egalitarian series of games I’ve seen to date. You have multiple races going across the three planets of the Algol system and beyond. Now who is the most prominent person in the in-universe 4 millennium of stories and events occurring in this star system? One Alis Landale, whose quest is not simply to avenge her brother’s unjust death against the patriarchal King Lassic and his android armies…but to save the star system against the evil Dark Force(Falz) who has been sent by the Profound Darkness to overtake their universe. She is so prominent that not only are spaceships named after her for eons to come but in America the strong female protagonist of IV is named after her. If you look into the history of this storied franchise you also find out that not only is there only one male in her party but she is still better than he is at fighting.The Esper Lutz being secretly a female too. As in she is a trans-male if you really think about it. (Source: http://www.phantasy-star.net/)

And that is simply the tip of the iceberg. I could go on to include several prominent game series such as Castlevania, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and many more but I don’t have all week to do this so I encourage you…do your own research and find the truth in it all. I have and the truth doesn’t even come close to the feminist narrative. It fits more the view that we hold in the gamer and men’s rights communities. How does this relate to the overall purpose of men’s human rights? A lot of these situations depicted in video games not only depict true independent and strong women but men who are free to be vulnerable. In examples from the 1980s. This proves that honest gamers are not only more open minded than most but that gamers and men’s rights advocacy do go hand in hand. This is my opinion however. As always I encourage you to check my research and add to it in the comments if you so wish.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailby feather

Published by

Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.