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.