Women Gamers Week: Catherine DeSpira owns over 80 classic coin-op arcade games
by Patrick Scott Patterson
Originally published via Examiner.com - September 21, 2011
As the first consumer-marketed video game Computer Space quickly approaches its 40th anniversary, current statistics from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) state that the average American gamer has been playing for 12 years, pointing toward entire generations who have never known a world without video games.
For the outspoken Catherine DeSpira the journey began at age 8.
"The first time of every life altering experience always leaves an impression one never forgets. So, of course, I remember the first time I ever saw a real upright arcade game," DeSpira recalled. "I was in Grade School and it was Boot Hill. Frankly, I wasn't too interested in it. It wasn't until I played Space Invaders that I felt I had found something that really meant something to me. I got lost in the game. I obsessed over it."
A top academic student in the top 1 percent in school, DeSpira says that video games helped fulfill the desire to be challenged.
"Video games provided me with an outlet in which to sate my innate desire to continually try to master something difficult," she said. "As corny and cliche as it may sound, video games helped make me a better person as they humbled me in a way I had not experienced before. At school I could always be expected to write the best paper, get the highest grades, assured that my future was bright. But looking down the scope of Battlezone I saw a very different perspective, one that was supremely challenging, fast and exciting."
While many of the early 80s arcade hits turned toward cartoonish characters and repetitive play, DeSpira says she wasn’t drawn to them.
"I was drawn to shooters rather than the pattern games, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, because I got a much bigger thrill out the idea of getting killed if I wasn't fast enough rather than just memorizing patterns and staying out of the way," she added. "I loved the heart pounding tension of actually having to engage an opponent. No doubt it was my love of speed and quick thinking that drew me later on to Quake, Doom, Hexen, UnReal Tournament and Call of Duty."
Continuing her love for gaming across several generations of the industry, DeSpira has accumulated a large collection that spans across them all.
"I own over 80 classic arcade games, having whittled the collection down from over 100," she reveals. "There are over 30 in my home, with the rest assembled arcade-style in the garage and still more in three offsite storage units. I keep telling myself that I need to sell some but every time I get ready to I just can't bring myself to do it. I love them too much. Besides classic arcades I have many systems, from Xbox 360 to Super Nintendo and Wii."
While industry stats currently show that 42 percent of gamers are women, a female gamer still faces certain prejudices, according to DeSpira.
"I feel, and have felt for some time, that the gaming community views female gamers in a sexist light," she said. "Playing online, for instance, Call of Duty, it is not uncommon for a woman to have to ignore occasional sexual bantering from players, or deal with the frustration of receiving unwarranted messages, from mild flirtations on down to the sexually explicit."
Despite having dealt with these issues, DeSpira says she feels that women are taking their place within gaming culture.
"I definitely see women rebelling against the stereotype of the female gamer as being unskilled, unfeminine and unequal," she stated. "I also see games becoming far more interactive with shooters becoming even faster and more challenging with women pushing to the forefront of becoming some of the best players around. The next generation of gamers will definitely see women achieve what was before unthinkable in the past."
Going beyond her opinions on the gaming culture's view of women gamers, DeSpira also feels strongly about the ways the game industry markets toward them.
"I don't know many women gamers who want to play a game that comes in a pink box and is about nurturing baby animals or playing dress up," DeSpira added. "Most women, like me, want to tear it up, shoot to kill and go on a rampage for twenty minutes. The industry needs to realize that the needs and desires of women gamers are the very same that they are for a man. We want to be entertained, thrilled and challenged. Most all we want respect. They can take that pink box with its furry animal characters and shove it."