Ah, 2006. An iconic year for many reasons; Pirates of the Caribbean 2 came out, all the cool kids had Beyblades or Bakugan, or a different assortment of collectible creatures, Sonic ‘06 was a thing, though maybe we shouldn’t delve into that… but most importantly, it marked the beginning of the DS Lite era.
The DS Lite was my first ‘proper’ gaming experience. Aside from a few PC ROM games I had, the DS era marked my true venture into the world of games. The Christmas where I got my DS, alongside Nintendogs and Sonic, was the best I ever had, and since then I was captivated by video games and that magical feeling of escapism they gave me.
Unfortunately though, I don’t know if it was just where I grew up, or if this was a universal experience, but at that point in time, playing video games just wasn’t considered cool or mainstream; particularly if you were a girl. It’s rather odd really; when you talk to anyone about their childhood, almost all of them will tell you that they had a DS or at the very least wanted one. Anyway, this presented a challenge for small me; my new favourite thing was, seemingly, a taboo subject, one that I couldn’t talk about openly with other kids, or face the wrath of their judgement. Children can be very evil beings.
Regardless, I soon learned to keep my love of games to myself. This didn’t hinder my enjoyment of them; games provided me with comfort and escapism when I needed it most, offering me new worlds to explore when the real one was dull. It just sucked not being able to let my prized Shiba Inu play with some other Nintendogs for a change, or race against a real person in Mario Kart.
However, as time passed, there became a shining ray of hope that broke through the clouds of my solitary gaming experience. And that hope came in a glistening, coral pink casing.
Let me get something straight. I was, by no means, a pink-loving child. I was going through that phase that many young girls did; actively rejecting the rosy hue and everything associated with it. Probably my subconscious going out of its way to reject female gender stereotypes, not that that was something actively crossing my seven-year-old mind, I just knew that I didn’t want to be marked with a glittery pink brush that many others my age were (to the dismay of my grandma). Anyway, as you’d imagine, I wasn’t part of the pink DS gang.
On the other hand though, there were of course many girls who couldn’t get enough of the blushed shade. And there was a slowly building army of girls who loved to rock the pink console. In public! This was revolutionary.
I remember the first time I encountered another girl out in public playing on her DS. It was on the way back from the airport on a coach, and lo and behold, sat in front of me was a girl, perhaps a little older than me, taking her Nintendogs for a walk on her glistening pink handheld. I was awestruck, and after all these years I’ve never forgotten the sheepish interaction we had, as my mum got her attention for me so that we could let our dogs play together. It was fantastic.
It may have only been a fleeting moment, but it stuck with me. It was a big deal! I’d never seen another girl have the confidence to flaunt a games console out in the harsh light of day. And it gave me hope – I wasn’t the only one.
It feels awfully stereotypical to say that it was a pink console that changed the gaming scene for young girls, but the thing is, it wasn’t the colour that was making people play games, it was the confidence it gave them to openly show that they were. We were at a rather sad point in gaming history where gaming was still just considered a ‘boys thing’, and previous efforts to bring girls into it, such as introducing ‘girly’ games like Barbie and Bratz on the Gameboy didn’t go down that well. In fact, they probably only helped perpetuate the male gaming stereotype further; reinforcing that girls would only play games that were suited to them.
So what made the pink DS different? It didn’t limit what girls were ‘expected’ to play, for a start. It didn’t matter if it was Pokémon or Sonic; masked by a veil of femininity with the exterior of the handheld, anything was possible. The ‘girly’ outside appearance gave them a lifeline, an excuse of sorts, as to why they were playing on a games console. Sure, it was still stereotypical in that regard, but it’s what we needed at that point in time, when girls playing games was yet to be normalized to the point it is today.
It was thanks to the army of pink DS girls that the rest of us could crawl out of our hidey holes and show the world that we existed, and love games too. They reinforced the movement that showed just how many girls did play video games, and it wasn’t just a boys’ thing anymore; in fact, it never was. It may have relied on a stereotypically feminine colour to do so, but it didn’t matter – it brought us to the point where we are today, where games are something for everyone, no matter what colour console you’re rocking.
I may not have been part of the brave pink DS gang myself, but I’ll always be grateful for their efforts, even if they probably didn’t realise their societal impact at the time.
To my fellow comrades, I salute you.