Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Taking a stab at the feminism debate with a wiimote! (Originally posted on MySpace on Dec 9, 2006)

After the embarassment of posting a comment on Emma's blog quoting (poorly) a book that greg had just finished writing an exhaustive analysis of I have decided to weigh in, but keep it safely within the realm of the video game industry, my Blog just feels more comfortable there.

So feminism, or rather the female experience and or role in the video game industry, as characters in video games, and as consumers of video games has long been seen by many as a holy grail of many a marketing department.

As far as women employed in the video game industry it depends on how you look at it. At my company which is a publishing company there are LOTs of women who work here...but since this place is a publisher they mostly work in PR, Marketing, Accounts Payable, Legal, and Executive...just as they would in any other large corporation. It is on the development side that things are a little more phalocentric. In my department (Quality Assurance) there is a deparity along the lines of 1 girl for every 10 guys. I'd say that that stems from a desparity among video gamers themselves. IF you took a poll of who wanted to sit around and play games all day during their summer break from college, odds are you'd have about 10% of the responders being female.

Video game characters are another sticky issue. When I was testing the punisher I tried to submit a bug that all the girls in the game (even in the drug addled slums in the first level) were buxom, well dressed and quaffed, girls. It was rediculous. The male models in the game (and by models I mean 3D models...not the type that pose for magazine covers) were varied...they were different ages...races...and levels of attractiveness. But ALL the girls...every single one was white, thin, busty, and to a certain degree helplessly mewing. Even the female cop (her name waqs von richtophen...which was also the name of the red baron...and she was red head..get it?) looked as if she'd been casted from a red shoe diaries point and click adventure.

The same hold's true for Cortana...the computer in Halo...she's a fucking computer...and she's basically a digital version of Seven of Nine...with little circuitry bits covering her naughty's mean to tell me that a military computer programmer is going to waste our tax payer money making a virtual Joygirl to send into about NSFW. At best the military would just make it a smily face...but it's the future so who knows, maybe Cortana is just a space marine l33t hack.

And then of course there's good ol' Lara Croft. The ultimate example of Barbie doll as video game heroine. Why can't she be homely like Pitfall Harry, or old like Sam Fischer, or I don't from San Andreas (whew, that was a close one...we'll talk about the problems of RACE in video games later...and I'm not talking protoss and zerg).

Its a double edged self perpetuating sword. The conventional wisdom is that video games are played by teenage boys...and how do you market to teenage boys? With babes...preferrably going WILD.

But in reality if you consider casual gaming and cell phone gaming and MMOs the split between female and male gamers is closer to an even split...somehting like 60% male 40% female. But it's tough for marketers to get a handle on what the hardcore female gamer is after...does she like action? horror? or just virtual cooking sims?

There are two good books on this subject:

The first is From Barbie® to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games by Justine Cassell (Editor), Henry Jenkins (Editor)

Justine Cassell is a long time explorer of sexuality in video games. She has held many seminars on Women in the Game industry and females game characters. She has long been a supporter of ideas that video games need MORE sexuality. But not knee jerk "pavlovian" (as greg would have it) sexuality. But fully explored sexual themes...and developed sexual relationships between characters. Her own work towards these ends led here to work closely on the Playboy the Mansion game, a game whose handling of sexual themes and the role of women in games was dubious at best and served to defeat her otherwise nobel intentions at worse.

So far the game that comes closest to Adult Mature themes of sexuality and romance would be Indigo Prophecy and Xbox game developed in france (the sexuality was toned down in America 'natch cause we have to think of the children).

But this book does have some fascinating analysis of gender roles in gaming and the different ways in which women and men approach games and gaming in general. Really intersting read.

The second book is a slightly more academic book called:

Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding The Market (Advances in Computer Graphics and Game Development Series) (Hardcover)
by Sheri Graner Ray

This book goes depere into analysis of marketing towards girls and tries to tackle the question "How do we get those damn girls to want to play with us?" I enjoyed this book becuase I like a good insightful bit of "what if" and "maybe if we tried...".

Both of these books deal with a question that I've dealt with in my personal life. In many ways Becca is a one in a million girl. At least according to Eric Wiess on the Eval team (who Becca took out a few times with the business end of a chainsaw bayonett...). So many of the guys at my work lament the fact that there girls just don't ...won't ever get into games. And I've have said that they just go about it the wrong way. I mean there is no physiological reason that a girl can't be as much a gamer as a guy. It's just that I have found its the ways that girls are aclimated to playing games. Girls I have found tend to be slightly more self concious about asking about the technicallity of controlling they feel they need to jump in and show the guys they don't need help figuring out which button jumps...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

There is a disconnect in many instances between what the general public preceives as games. When most people think of games they think Atari Pong or NIntendo's Mario Brothers. Both of these games are simple...and if you gave someone wtih that world view an Xbox controller they'd look at the buttnons and go...what thefuck is all this? Then if you started workign them and they didn't know what was going on they'd be like...this is lame. Anyone would...not just a girl, but anyone. I hate playing multiplayer FPS games for the same reason. I suck at them. And I hate getting my ass kicked. But I do like RTS games. If it wasn't for STarCRaft I doubt I'd have stayed into games as long as I did. In the 90s most of the 3D platform games were boring to me. But StarCraft kept me hangin gon long enough to get back into games when they started to be able to convey complex "literary" themes (i.e. Silent Hill 2 and 3) and real world exploration and "emergant gameplay" (such as GTA: san andreas).

Anyway...what the hell am I driving at. It's this in a nutshell...the "Shakespeare theory". One thing I learned in College is that anyone can get into Shakespeare. They just have to find that one play that they can identify with personally. Until that time all Shakespeare is just a bunch of guys in tights running around spouting archaic poems. But if you can find that play that you "Get" then you can go back to other plays and use the prototypical play to "Get" all the plays that were meaningless before. For example, my prototypical play was Henry V. It really resonated with me. I got it. I loved it...and I could then go back and digest plays that I hadn't enjoyed previously (like Richard III, which is now one of my favorites). You use what you understand and enjoy about the prototypical play to interpert the other plays.

I feel video games are the same way. Becca has always had an interst in technology...but she had one to many boyfriends who were just fat ass gamers...she had NO interest in gaming and scoffed at my hobby. That is until I introduced her to Medal of Honor: Frontline. She got sucked into the cinematic conflicts, exciting story, excellent music, and harrowing visuals. AFter I had that hook, I was like...well let's play something together. She was more open to it now that she knew that not every game on playstation was a cute platformer or boring Japanese RPG. I knew Becca liked Diablo2 and I knew she wasn't real keen on competitive gameplay. So we started on Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. She loved it. She prodded me to stay up to ungodly hours of the night searching for phat lewt adn leveling up monsters. (an interesting side note is that Becca always plays the melee heavy hunky male warrior and I play the buxom spell casting elf babe...there's a whole article in that fact alone).

Anyway, one thing led to another and Becca has played through several games with me. Not only that but she has played several games on her own that many would view as being for "gamers" only, like Oblivion, Fable, and Onimusha 3. Now she has her own Xbox Live Gamer Tag:

It's not a's just that games are fun..and you don't have to be a big fat nerd to like them. I don't want to out anybody here...but if you need further proof just ask Genevieve about "Dr. Siles"

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