An image of Mayday, based off Grace Jones's own depiction. A black woman wearing a grey outfit, her arms bare.

Mayday: Or, How I Learned To Love Grace Jones

The N64 box for GoldenEye 007, with Pierce Brosnan front and center, pointing a gun at the viewer.

The N64 box for GoldenEye 007, with Pierce Brosnan front and center, pointing a gun at the viewer.

It took me a while to recognize how I would approach Corvus Elrod’s theme for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table. It’s been fairly rare that a game has not managed to pull me out of some fantasy or imaginative trick with its various inconsistencies. Particularly since games don’t often make use of themes and topics I would find particularly intriguing. So, what game has  given me the ability to “talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse”? The 1997 release of GoldenEye 007.

I should specify a bit and also state that I never played the campaign missions of the game. Instead, every weekend was spent with my father, brother, and our neighbor Michelle, as we played a mixture of KMFDM, Marilyn Manson, Tool, and Nine Inch Nails while playing the split-screen portion of the GoldenEye 007′s multiplayer. In the character roster itself, I learned quite a bit about myself.

First, I never selected any of what I considered to be the blander options. When I was banned from using Oddjob, I naturally selected the avatar that caught my eye next: Mayday. She was not in the base game itself, being restricted to the multiplayer game as a bonus character. Mayday was an acknowledgment of Grace Jones’s depictions of the character in A View to Kill, and was one of three depictions of non-white characters (Oddjob and Baron Samedi being the other two).

Her difference in visual appearance seemed a disadvantage in ways, as I did stand out among the rest of the roster. As someone who was quite shy and quiet in middle school (self-esteem issues surrounding my gender identity and sexuality were such a drag), it helped jump start the process of my own ability and willingness to stand apart from the crowd, realizing both the strengths and weaknesses of that position (as someone who was choosing to step into such a role). Because the game itself did not treat the topic of Mayday’s race or sex, at first it only helped me understand this from a position of appearing different from the crowd.

An image of Mayday, based off Grace Jones's own depiction. A black woman wearing a grey outfit, her arms bare.

An image of Mayday, based off Grace Jones's own depiction. A black woman wearing a grey outfit, her arms bare.

I had set myself up in the game as someone was was instantly visually identifiable as not necessarily belonging, and stood out against the backgrounds we played (in my own mind, at the very least). However, this was the push I needed to start expressing myself in my own life. This would lead to my strengthening my confidence in ways of understanding what I risked by doing so. As someone who was white (albeit with a slightly non-American accent in a xenophobic environment), I had the benefit of passing and blending into a crowd quite easily from sight alone—something Mayday did not do. My own mannerisms often gave me away, and therefore, rather than allowing my expression of gender to out me, I slowly decided to don a mask that would more immediately give myself away, and to squirrel away my insecurities.

Taking confidence from the strength I sensed in Mayday, a projection I pushed on to the avatar from my own knowledge of Grace Jones’s performance in Conan the Destroyer (I had not seen A View to Kill), I started emulating her attitude, as well as putting on makeup, wearing women’s clothing, and generally having more willingness to be confrontational. The only thing my avatar in those multiplayer sessions was capable of was aggression. While I did not express it to my gaming compatriots, I started seeing myself fighting for my own right of expression, and against tokenism. My fight was not for kills, but to win against what I perceived were the odds.

Particularly because, at the same time, I had a friend who was expelled for what I saw as reasons purely relating to her race (she is black). At this time, playing Mayday became playing in the shoes of my best friend, with whom I lost contact after she was expelled (that is,  until the introduction of social networks such as Facebook) . Here is when I started imagining Mayday’s struggles as those against an institution that would judge me unfairly. Because the fight was against people in the same room as myself, controllers in hand, I imagined them as the antagonists who would only see her skin color and make assumptions about such.

Unlike the media frenzy about the level of aggression caused from games, I was not likely to pick up a gun and attempt to solve my problems with the same tools as my avatar. Instead, I took that aggression, and decided I would make myself visually distinct, in terms of what was expected from me. Later this would also translate into pushing against the status quo, and being confrontational in general. Because I had no connection to the source text, and I was in a multiplayer environment where I projected my own issues and knowledge on to Mayday, I did see her as a pillar of strength and resistance against similar struggles to my friend’s and my own. It taught me that I could seek to blend in my entire life, or take a stand, put on my makeup, and use a measure of snarling or charm depending on the perceived antagonist.

This was an entrant in the Blogs of the Round Table of January 2012, whose theme is:

Games, like most media, have the ability to let us explore what it’s like to be someone other than ourselves. While this experience may only encompass a character’s external circumstances–exploring alien worlds, serving with a military elite, casting spells and swinging broadswords–it’s most powerful when it allow us to identify with a character who is fundamentally different than ourselves–a different gender, sexuality, race, class, or religion. This official re-launch of the Blogs of the Round Table asks you to talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse. Conversely, discuss why games haven’t provided this experience for you and why.

Other entries are available here.


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