Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Girl Gamers, Once More

The Escapist’s new issue out this week called Girl Power 2, is dedicated to women and gaming. Disappointedly, as Lake Desire has already pointed out, only one article in the issue is written by a woman (it’s a great one, an essay by Bonnie Ruberg that looks at young girls as avatars.)

The only other article I’ve had time to peruse was John Walker’s “Asexuality Actually.” One of the main points of his article is “that the majority of games we play don’t enforce sexual stereotype, gender biases or sexist principles”—that rather, instead, our conceived notions that video games are just for guys has been fed continuously by the media. True enough that the media treats geek girls as anomalies, but are the majority of the games out there asexual (?), or rather, unbiased, instead of being in favor of men and masculinity?

Walker backs up his claim with a list of games he’s carefully chosen:
Worms, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Psychonauts, Zoo Keeper, The Settlers III, Darwinia, IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles, Day of the Tentacle, Ratchet & Crank, Meteos, City of Heroes, Civilization, Microsoft Flight Simulator, The Sims, EVE Online, Crazy Taxi, Myst III: Exile, Descent, Mario Power Tennis, Mutant Storm, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metroid Prime, Tetris, Links 2003 and Fallout 2.

I could quibble with him about a couple of games on his list, but I can see what he’s getting at. If I looks at the list of current popular games off of GameSpot :
Prey, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Formula One 06, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, World of Warcraft, Super DBZ.

I’m not really struck by a lot of these games being gender-neutral. Sure, some are better than others, but some are undoubtedly sexist.

Walker also writes briefly of a “permission barrier” between girls and gaming, in regards to Schott and Thomas who found that girls were hesitant to pick up Game Boy Advances. I wish he would have spent more time on this study (with a link), but I think it demonstrates something important. Even if a girl or woman is attracted to video games, she might be hesitant to pick it up, for whatever different reasons. I was always afraid of trying a new game in front of my brother and his friends because if I wasn’t good, I feared I’d be made fun of for 1) sucking and 2) being a girl. Still today I’m hesitant to join in a round of gaming when my partner has his brothers over because of the exact same reasons. Which brings up another point that I feel could have made it into the article: beyond games themselves, and beyond the media, there is video game culture. Yes, chicken and egg and all that, but it’s important to recognize that women and girls could possibly be deterred by the attitude that uses “pussy” (et al) as a synonym for poor playing (just to scratch the surface). The outlook that uses Dead or Alive to claim that video games are a medium for men—women have shoes, manicures and, you know, Sex in the City.

I appreciate a lot of what Walker has to say in his article, and I too want to see videogames as being an “acceptable pastime for both sexes.” I just can’t help but feel that there’s a steep incline to achieving it.


Jacob said...

I think Walker is wrong to say “that the majority of games we play don’t enforce sexual stereotype, gender biases or sexist principles.” As you pointed out, the list of games that our popular on the market do reinforce a sexist attitude ingrained in video game culture, which is rather unfortunate.

Even with some of the games Walker listed (The Sims, for example), still has to conform to an idea (or ideal) of what it means to be masculine or feminine. If you create a woman character (in any game, not just The Sims), you automatically are given volumptuous breasts, when, in reality, not every woman has. Even in terms of creating male characters, most times than not the man will have an Adonis-like body, when most don't.

100LittleDolls said...

Yes, even though I haven't played the Sims (I've only sometimes watched, and that was back in high school) it seems that there isn't much of an opportunity to break free of gender norms, or even queer your character. That was the main problem with Walker's list I felt--some of the games were puzzle games, so there's not even an avatar, and in other's they still support the gender paradigm. Also, even though I thoroughly enjoyed Sonic as a little girl, I was completely aware of the fact that there wasn't any girls in it, and that left me feeling a bit left out.

I think it'll take awhile for the gender parity we want--well, maybe not if more games give the opportunity for the player to customize their avatar. There's still the supporting characters, however.

Akshay said...

"Games are for kids!", "Games are childish" and "Games are a waste of time!" - these are the three shields for non-gamers. I find these comments coming from both boys and girls - but the number of girls citing the above reasons for being a non-gamer are much larger.

I don't know the exact cause for this - maybe it is because they are afraid of their own friends who might ridicule them? I have seen dedicated girl gamers - and they are as good as, if not better than, any gaming-man out there. And most of them do not have difficulties interacting with men in the virtual arena.

But I find that most of them want to hide the fact (during the game) that they are female - and they are right - because if their sex is revealed then all kinds of ridiculous behaviour from the other gamers is guaranteed. But I'm deviating....

Non-gaming girls having gamer friends avoid talking "games" with them while guys do so freely and do show a definite interest as regards being initiated into the gaming world. If girls can talk about tennis, volleyball and other sports with their friends who do not actually play these games, why they have an aversion towards talking about video games?

I agree with you - much of it has to do with the sexist content being dished out by the industry but some of the blame lies with the attitude of girls themselves.

I don't see girls girls regarding anime as "cartoons" or "childish" (at least not in Asia). And it is not as if they watch only tear-drawing or ultra-cute shoujo stuff - they are into bloody violent action as well - in large numbers!

And games do have the class and storylines comparable to most animes. So, why the divide?

100LittleDolls said...

Well, I'm thinking the industry, but also the attitude of other gamers help make the permission barrier.

You make a good point about anime, I've noticed the same thing: a lot of women at my school talk openly about the different manga they read and anime they watch. I've also heard guys in some of classes talk about the "rabid fangirls" of anime. I don't know if there's a divide because of the fact that you have to interact and have some skills in games versus being able to sit back and enjoy an anime with no "risk" at all--as in, getting blamed for your gender if you don't do something right.