I’ve loved videogames since I first watched dogs jump through the window in Resident Evil and beat the very first Tomb Raider game. I have loved it with all my heart, but for a lot of my time as a gamer, I tried my hardest to hide the fact that I was a girl behind the screen. Women and girls who love games know the feeling, especially those who played multiplayer games before Xbox parties became the standard. Don’t talk in voice. Hope no one asks about your Gamertag. Don’t choose pink. Growing up, I pushed away everything that was feminine and pink and did it because I was conditioned to think I needed to kill that part of myself to engage with geek culture.
Then Halo happened. I remember the first time I made my pink Spartan and didn’t care. I remember the first time I ran in a party and the guys on my team shut down the randoms in the lobby, and of course, my KDA spoke for itself. Embracing my identity and, to be honest, my love of pink was weird. But when I started, I didn’t stop. In-game, I chose the most feminine colors in customizing my characters and I wanted the guys I played with to know who I was. But gaming products didn’t really reflect that.
I could embrace myself in-game but when it came to buying console accessories the picking was slim. Red, black, blue, and green were pretty much your choices. Then I got my own job at a Gamestop and mid-rant about the lack of pink gaming equipment my co-worker told me about the pink Xbox controller. A powder pink 360 controller immediately dominated my thoughts. I called all the neighboring stores trying to find used pink controllers (since new ones were all but gone from shelves in 2010) and in my calls I found out that no man on the other line would just flip through the used controllers on the shelf. So, I drove.
I spent an entire day working my way from Gamestop to Gamestop, getting lost more than a couple of times, and being met with confused looks as to why I was so deadset on getting an officially licensed Xbox controller. Finally, I found one a 45-minute drive away from my house and in that moment it felt like a weird and completely silly validation that filled my heart.
Now, Xbox has come out with another pink controller and I was immediately reminded of my desperate and really awkward search for my pink controller all those years ago. Let’s be honest, a few of you probably rolled your eyes reading this, and when I look back on that hunt I think I did a little too. That was until I entered gaming professionally and realized that every alienating feeling I had playing games was multiplied ten-fold now that I had a voice in the industry. Mind you, my voice is mostly shitposts on my twitter, thoughtful commentary on ethnicity and identity here at Paste, and games criticism at my own site. And yet, like clockwork I’ve found myself harassed and belittled in this space.
That said, gaming companies can’t control the vile troll accounts that pop up in their fandom, but what they can do is make sure those targeted know that they belong. A pink controller doesn’t solve this more than my pink heart reticle in Call of Duty did or my pink Spartan tea-bagging someone who just sent me a threat on Xbox Live does. But pink choices still feel good.
Being able to buy a pink gaming chair, a pink headset, a pink mouse, none of that alone amounts to some massive campaign of visibility. However, it does slowly chip away at the nagging feeling that I don’t belong in a space that I love so deeply. I belong here because I am clearly a part of the target audience. It’s a point of validation that I feel when I walk into my office or save up for an extremely cute Hello Kitty collaboration makes me feel like I can be myself.
Gendering colors is weird, and does more harm than good normally. That said, I’m tired of black with red, blue, or green being the default. The trends towards traditional masculine aesthetics meant that for a long time my pink princess gaming space was just something I didn’t think would happen. That little pink controller has long been my standard option, and with Xbox’s new pink controller, a small part of a lifetime of gaming is worth revisiting.
Kate Sánchez is a pop culture journalist and co-founder of But Why Tho? A Geek Community.