Pippa Tshabalala is a bubble of energy and a versatile woman, bouncing from presenting to writing to producing – clearly someone who keeps herself very busy. Not only is she a jack-of-all-trades, but she has plenty of passion too.
One of her favourite pursuits is tattoos. She has several adorning her body and the Cape Town Tattoo Convention Southern Ink Xposure – which has been running annually since 2009 – is something she never misses. “I go every year. I have been since the first year and the only year I didn’t have any work done was when I was pregnant. This year I had two pieces done. One by Jan “Munky” Giebelmann from Fallen Heroes and another by Milo “Mr. Lucky” Marcer, my go-to guy.” She speaks about her tattoos with the excitement of a child telling you what she got for Christmas. She had her first tattoo done when she was 18 and admits that she went for a bit of a cliché, having Chinese writing stamped on the left side of her back – “but it does mean what I thought it meant,” she assures me. Although a bit bashful about it, she says she will never have it removed. It has become a symbol for her, “to remind me to think things through carefully.” You can ask her anything about the art and she will be able to answer with ease and dexterity. The same can be said of gaming, her other passion.
An avid gamer, her tattoos, platinum blonde hair and vivacious nature make her something of a living avatar. It is clear how enveloped she is in this world as she overwhelms me with titles and terms, while deliberating her favourite game. “I’ve played a lot of games in my life. There are a couple I like at the moment…I like the GTA franchise in general and am looking forward to the new one. I’m an RPG girl and enjoy Skyrim and Witcher.” It seems that more women are getting into gaming and Pippa is proof thereof. “It’s becoming more accessible; but it’s not like they’re targeting females. I’ve always played what I enjoyed. I play what I like regardless of the gender it’s aimed at. I’ve known girly-girls who are not opposed to playing games. Society is also moving towards an androgynous feel…roles become less defined so it seems logical that we are moving towards less gender bias”. With gender norms becoming less stringent, gaming is no longer a boys-only arena. Not that it was ever an exclusive hobby. Pippa asserts that the idea of girls not playing games as much as boys do, or enjoying it as much, just plays on old stereotypes. “It’s not unusual for girls to play games. I perhaps played more than other girls growing up, but I still played games with my best [girl] friends. It’s just the kind of thing people think boys will enjoy”.
In terms of gaming development in South Africa she says that “we don’t have the capital to compete internationally, but we do have the talent. South Africans are working prominently internationally, they have to come to South Africa… [our] industry is predominantly indie, but it’s strong and thriving and a lot of innovation comes out”. Pippa’s love of gaming and her thorough knowledge has led her to become a revered critic in the gaming world. She contributes to the likes of NAG, Gamecca, Gearburn and Girl Guides and even has a spot on UJFM doing reviews. Although I was not familiar with them, I did read her blog and found her style to be somewhat aggressive. Talking to her I was taken aback at her easy-going manner and when I question her about the antagonistic style, she laughs. “You read the tattoo rant, didn’t you?” Gender stereotypes may be slowly dissipating, but prejudice still abounds as people feel it is their place to constantly judge those who do not fit society’s moulds. Pippa finds herself the constant object of this kind of scrutiny, due to her tattoos. We all have passions and hobbies, but because hers is quite literally visible she ends up receiving a lot of flack for it. “Generally I’m not like that,” she explains about her angry words. “It’s borne out of frustration, especially when people ask the same questions all the time.” She tells me that she has someone coming up to her at least once a week to remark on her tattoos and more often than not the comments are not kind. “But it doesn’t change who I am” she says firmly. Her husband is also heavily tattooed and he was with her when she got her first tattoo. After some quick mental arithmetic, I estimate that they have been together for at least 14 years. She confirms that they’ve known each other for 19 and got together in high school – quite the modern fairytale.
I am tempted to ask her the questions I know she hates being asked, as a joke. She often has people asking her “will you give me your games” or “are you unemployed now that The Verge is over”; but I’m sure she will know I’m simply teasing her. The Verge, a gaming TV show, was on air for three years. Pippa was one of the presenters and instrumental behind the scenes too – “even when I was presenting, I was also producing inserts” – and today she is still in television. “My day job is as an on-air producer for a TV station.” As opposed to the questions she gets, what does she wish people would ask her? “I wish people would ask, and some people do, who does my art. And the style I chose.” She is, of course, referring to her tattoos and delves into it on the spot, highlighting her love of “bold outlines and bold colours” and that her response to people asking her about being old and having tattoos being the content acceptance of “then I’ll be old with tattoos.” As I contemplate Pippa, I realise that here is someone who is very much the personification of the phrase “don’t judge a book by it cover”.
Photographer: Adriaan Louw (We-Are-Awesome), MUA: Natasha Kruger