You can probably guess why I am writing a post about women in video games: The uncalled for attacks on Anita Sarkeesian (the details of which can be seen here and here) who only wanted money to help her make a documentary series called Tropes Vs Women in Video Games. The concept of the series is good: a look at a cross section of gaming and see how the female characters are handled and presented. Simple and to the point and hopefully it will work towards improving this great pastime enjoyed by millions. But what was this noble effort met with? An agressive assault on both Anita and her project.
The only good thing to out of it is that it has drawn a lot of attention to the project and has galvanised people like me into backing it. At the time of writing the project is well past its asked for amount of funding but still has 67 hours left. GO. BACK. IT. NOW. Simply to piss off the ignorant idiots who are scared of this series being made. Also check out Anita Sarkeesian’s other work on her site and videos on her YouTube Channel. This kind of abuse is completely uncalled for and has really made me ashamed to be a male gamer. Props to Anita for having the incredible strength to withstand all that is being thrown at her.
Anyway moving on…
Female characters in games and how they are used/presented is something that needs to be looked at and talked about at an industry level. You can leave all the angry internet gamers to argue amongst themselves about who needs to make the sandwiches, who needs to be in the kitchen and to provide sites like Fat, Ugly or Slutty with the material to shine a light on their activities. On our side of the fence though where games are made there needs to be a discussion. Not just because of all the recent debates about women’s place in games but because it is important to this industry’s future business. So I’m not going to go into the different types of female characters like the female voice in your ear or the eye-candy, I’ll leave that to Tropes Vs Women in Video Games when it comes out. I’m going to talk about demographics.
Currently we can all agree that gaming particularly in the Core Market is decidedly male focused. Everything is a male power fantasy from the muscly space marines to the overweight plumber saving the princess. It is all attuned to the male demographic because that is the way it has always been since gaming’s earliest days. The male market made gaming what it is today and there has been little need for change. Until now.
Now, thanks to companies like Nintendo, sites like Facebook and devices like the iPhone and iPad everyone has access to and is playing video games, and yes a lot of these new gamers are women (flick through the ESA’s latest summary on the games industry here). The problem though is that currently, games for female gamers are targeted at kids and 30+ Mums on Facebook. There is not a lot for the teenage and young adult female gamer. Those that do play have to find what they can in the male focuses games that dominate the core market.
For a good example let’s look at my sister. She is a few years younger than me at the age of 17, she has her whole life ahead of her but it is a life almost devoid of gaming. When she was young and in her tween years she had a DS like every kid at that age and played it to death. She had an amazing town on Animal Crossing and enjoyed the Mario games because of their simple but effective design. As she got older though she played it less and less until the point that she stopped. She now plays the odd iOS game from time to time but gone are the days where she would sit with me and my brother and play games. Fair enough she became a teenager and with that came needed to distance herself from her family somewhat to find herself and all that. But that didn’t mean she had to stop gaming. She didn’t outgrow gaming she outgrew the games being sold to her.
She got to 14/15 and saw there was nothing for her in gaming anymore, so she turned to Gossip Girl, Twilight, House of Night and many other teenage girl focused book series and media. Gaming lost her to Robert Pattinson because gaming couldn’t give her anything that helped her explore life as a teenage girl, wether in a good or bad way.
Guys we are easy to please, from a young age right up until the day we die, we gravitate towards hero roles. Superhero comics have their huge cross-generational appeal because of this. The only thing that changes is that once we hit our teenage years we want to hump everything that moves. Thus our media starts using sex to sell us things and it is sex and ladies that is geared around pleasing us and only us. So we get lads mags, Dead or Alive and Catwoman with a broken back,
and like our want to always be a hero figure once the need for sex grows in our loins it doesn’t go away. So sexual imagery goes from being targeted at horny teenagers to trying to please all men of all ages. Then because we are the majority of the market it becomes the norm to see and now as the number of female gamers increases on a yearly basis we are starting to see a backlash against the over sexualised imagery we have become accustomed to. You also have guys like me who have become disenfranchised with all the provocative poses and big boobs simply because I want to see more from female characters in the games I play. I’m a fan of all things Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Joss Whedon, I know it can be done. You can have a strong beautiful female character who can kick ass and deal with personal problems without the need to resort to putting her in skimpy clothing to please my more base urges to to make her appeal to me.
But when that change to be more inclusive to female gamers happens, when we start to sell less of this at E3,
(pvponline.com – Full strip can be seen here)
and more games featuring strong female characters that are not just shells like Portal’s Chell or Metroid’s Samus before Other M. That allow the female gamer to implant their personality onto the character in the same way we do with Master Chief. We will still have lost a vast amount of potential female gamers because of the huge age gap between games for kids and casual games for older ladies. My sister is never going to get back into gaming unless she starts dating a gamer who re-introduces it to her in the right way. Like I (hopefully) have done with my fiancée. For her the ship has sailed and she might only re-discover it when she is 30+ and has some time to kill between meetings on her phone.
Also better female characters is a good thing for guys too because not only will it help reinforce positive stereotypes it will also work towards stopping those bastard kids on Call of Duty being so goddamn annoying!
It is something that I am always trying to explore and improve in my own way but there needs to be a big industrywide shift and soon just to stop the haemorrhaging of female gamers we are currently seeing. As for the ladies who have stuck with gaming throughout their lives; they’ve put up with enough of our crap, it is time to give something back.