Most student houses have some form of games console, whether it’s an Xbox 360 or a PS3. What writers at The Siren want to know is why we still make assumptions about the kinds of people who play video games, and how “girl gamers” are fighting to stop the stereotypes.
Whenever I talk about console games in front of someone who hasn’t spoken with me before, I’m always met with surprise. There is a huge stereotype that certain games, including the majority of the top-sellers, are only played by men, and as someone who could be described as an obsessive when it comes to games like Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed, among others; this is something that I very strongly object to. The annual survey conducted by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) showed that this year, the statistic for so-called “girl gamers” is now at 42% compared to 25% in 2004; evidence of a closing gap in the market.
Despite these figures, the attitude towards women in the gaming industry suggests that many still feel that console games are strictly for men. Marketing campaigns for mainstream games like Call of Duty flatly refuse to deliberately try and appeal to a female demographic because they don’t think it’s necessary for a franchise that is already a phenomenal success. A predominant reason for why this attitude towards women in games is still an issue is to do with the fact that the majority of mainstream console games like Call of Duty, Gears of War, Assassin’s Creed, etc. don’t feature playable female characters; unless you count multiplayer options.
Even a brilliant character like Lara Croft had to be given breast implants and the tightest shorts you’ve ever seen between two story arcs because the developers thought it would make her more appealing to a male demographic. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but G-cup tits are only going to slow you down when you’re charging through an ancient Mayan temple or jump-kicking an enemy in the face, not to mention the fact that you’d get horrendous backache from doing all those forward flips. IGN editor Colin Moriarty stated that while she began as an intelligent and strong female character, her games grew bland and Lara Croft became more like a “virtual blow-up doll”.
If you think about it, even the term “girl gamer” is a problem. No one sees it as necessary to use the term “gay gamer”, “black gamer” or “boy gamer”, so why do women need a coined phrase that will only segregate them from the rest of the games industry? Women play games: they’re gamers. Some of my best and earliest childhood memories are of my two brothers and I sitting on the sofa and squabbling over whose turn it was to play Tomb Raider (1996) or Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997) on the PS1. To this day, the opening part of Lara Croft where you had to climb out of the cave without being eaten by tigers is still the most frustrating level I’ve ever played in a game. And until recently when I started writing about it, I’d never even considered myself as being a “girl gamer”. I’d always just been someone who loves console games, who happened to be female.
Because the games industry is still, for the most part, dominated by men, they don’t seem to have considered the fact that it might be time for a game where the main playable character isn’t a guy pumped up on testosterone with muscles on his muscles. Fair enough, Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood) isn’t exactly Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he’s the Renaissance equivalent of a player, while Desmond Miles is just a full-scale moron. Lightning in the Final Fantasy series might be seen as an example of a solid female character, but the games in which she features are still multiple narratives where male characters are also used.
If you want to see what a game designed especially for women looks like, take a look at the “Imagine” games series for DS, aimed at 6-14 year old girls, that boasts titles in garish pink font such as “Babyz Fashion”, “Sweet 16”, “Babysitter” and “Salon Stylist” to name but a few. The announcement of the games launch was met by outraged responses from websites and blogs.
“Honestly, I think I’d rather have my daughter blasting aliens with a machine gun than playing a game that reinforces gender stereotypes that are so outdated, it makes games like “babyz” look downright absurd.”
“I would love to know what else Ubisoft is doing for girls, other than shopping, fashion and pets. Anything? It’s a bit ironic that the series is called Imagine, and yet Ubisoft is demonstrating a distinct lack of the stuff here. As [Brian] brilliantly said, “what’s next, Imagine: The Glass Ceiling?”
Ubisoft “Imagine” series that uses the slogan “Live your dreams”.
In Women Monsters and Monstrous Women by Bonnie Ruberg, (2005), the problem of the female character in games is brought to our attention.
“In order to fully understand the portrait of the feminine painted by survival horror, we need to look at the implications of the roles, the archetypal images, it presents. This evaluation does more than simply teach us about the qualities of one genre. It uncovers larger male perceptions of women, both in the games industry and society itself.”
The majority of people who work on game development teams are men. Critics attribute the misogynistic attitude that is frequent among both professional and hardcore gamers and a negative portrayal of women in video games as a reason for why men are still seen as the dominant demographic for the games industry. In recognition of the importance of the female demographic, the International Game Developers Association has formed a Special Interest Group on Women in Game Development, which is an active field of discussion and an active topic in conferences in the gaming industry.
The attitude towards girl gamers and women online in general is pretty shocking. A recent article in The Guardian detailed how women bloggers must resist attempts to silence them through intimidation via threats of violence. The website fatuglyorslutty.com was set up by women to mock the trolls, but also raises the issue of how aggressive people can be when posting anonymous comments online. Death and rape threats are common, despite being illegal, and racism is another constant feature. Another site, girlgamers.com, founded in 2009, is a fantastic example of women online forming groups to tackle the stereotypes they are faced with every day. I’m slightly dubious about the use of pink for the background of the logo if you’re supposed to be challenging stereotypes, but maybe it’s deliberately ironic.