Player’s Perspective: Angela Vanden Elzen

Reference & Learning Technologies Librarian and Assistant Professor Angela Vanden Elzen.
Photo by Larissa Davis.

Long nights and short print sessions, the Seeley G. Mudd Library is there for it all. Some days, you will be able to find Angela Vanden Elzen working the reference desk, other days helping in the makerspace or assisting those who use the Mudd in their pursuits. Angela also teaches gender and game studies and the story behind her pursuits begins before she came to Lawrence.

Her story begins with “Final Fantasy X-2.” “When ‘Final Fantasy X-2’ came out everyone thought it was a joke,” Vanden Elzen commented. “It was three women running around Spira looking for a guy. They were dressed fierce and there was a lot of femininity and the game is a little bit silly.” This video game was one of the earliest games where women were the leading protagonists. 

Before this, many women and feminine characters were not in the main story, but were the side characters or were hypersexualized. “To show you were a gamer that was a girl or a woman or identified femininity, you had to wear the jeans, the geek t-shirt, things like that,” Vanden Elzen explained. “There really was no room for if you wanted to have a more feminine look. You would not be taken as seriously.” It is hard to feel like a part of something when how you envision yourself is different from the picture the community has created about your identity group.

Gaming as a community also used to be unknown, as many had the notion this was a passing fad. Vanden Elzen came to realize “how much comradery there could be within the gaming community. With a lot of the stuff that was coming out back then and the different conventions and magazines.” In finding out about the community and becoming part of it, Vanden Elzen also quickly realized “just how male all [of gaming] was.”

When Vanden Elzen found out about the community, it was through the friends of her boyfriend. “None of my friends who were women played games,” she shared. “I had all these examples of eye-candy characters and women. I ended up getting the identity of the ‘girlfriend.’ The person who is just hanging around because she is dating this guy.” 

Women historically have struggled to be part of the gaming community because of the stereotyping which leads to many feeling disconnected, Vanden Elzen included. When your validation for being part of a community is because you are dating a “true member” of the community, it denies the experience of the person who is trying to be accepted for who they are in the community. Vanden Elzen lamented, “I would end up sitting around a lot of the time, watching other people play games.”

This is where  “Final Fantasy X-2” started playing a key role in Vanden Elzen’s life. No one in Vanden Elzen’s group wanted to play  “Final Fantasy X-2.” It was a game for her and she was able to delve into it without others hounding her gameplay.

Now in 2020, Vanden Elzen returns to this game almost yearly to play through it. “[“Final Fantasy X-2”] helped me understand just how special games can be for people who like to play games and how much they can reflect times in our lives and help us go back and revisit that time,” she said. “When I play again, I think about who I am today.” 

She realizes there are problems with the game, as parts of it aged better than others. Nostalgia is a powerful factor, though, so she can still critically recognize how something is wrong and look past it for what it meant to her at the time.

“This game helped open me up to learning about other people’s experiences with games,” she shared. “It also made me more interested in studying how much games can impact our identities. They help us explore our own and help us understand others.” Games have the power to change someone’s outlook and to help others understand one another better. The progress the community has made in representing identities has improved over the years with some of the most critically acclaimed titles of this current generation of consoles, such as “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey,” having lead female roles with complex personalities and deep, meaningful backstories. 

Vanden Elzen is excited for how much further identities can be explored in the future of the gaming community and is optimistic about portrayal of minority characters and inclusion of identities in the future.