As the husband of a committed gamer, I am allowed a peak into the confusing and misunderstood world of female gaming. In this world our beloved hobby is not always kind. While it offers up the same wonderous worlds to explore and enemies to defeat, it also showcases women in the narrowest and most depressing stereotypes. Female gamers have to put up with casual misogyny, childish gender tropes and disappointingly helpless or subservient role models. These problems are all present in the content of the games we play, but they are not the only way that the gaming industry ostrasizes women. If you have ever wondered why you’re partner isn’t interested in gaming, read on to find the main ways sexism in the gaming industry puts women off playing games.
Game review vary greatly in quality. The best ones convey an opinion and present it in a readable and concise format using honest language to convey the experience of the game. The worst read like forum comments from nerds, full of in jokes and awkward attempts to shoehorn in obscure bits of knowledge to make the reviewer seem more intelligent. Women see straight through that kind of thing.
Quite apart from the content of the reviews themselves, the review sites often have a seedy, laddish quality to them. It often seems like the editors were more interested in working at FHM or GQ magazine as they sneak in ridiculous references to busty gaming babes or the hottest cosplay girls. It’s as if they are terrified they will be perceived as nerdy or bad with women; as if the sites have to present some aspirational quality. Worse, some of them feature humour that would have been embarrassing in the eighties. Jokes about girls waggling your joystick aren’t even funny when they’re under three layers of irony. This must stop!
Some of the worst offenders are IGN and Gametrailers. IGN features the incredibly embarrassing “Stars” section where they include their “babeology” videos. These show some of the most awkward interviews ever put on camera where skinny models in their underwear are asked which games they like. The girls typically respond that they’re not that into games, invalidating the flimsy premise of the interview in seconds. The interview painfully continues though as they awkwardly mumble that their boyfriend sometimes plays that game with the shooting in it. The whole time they’re justifying the whole experience as just another step towards that guest spot on Two and a Half Men. In these interviews we get a tour of their career so far. For some reasons, hearing “I was on the cover of Maxim magazine in the Czech Republic, and I have a part in the new Transformers movie but I don’t speak or anything” is the most depressing thing anyone has ever said.
Going one better than IGN, Gametrailers has a whole section which seems to consist solely of girls playing the Wii in their underwear. The sad part is that often these girls don’t even look like they’re having any fun. They appear as if they are being watched by an evil Russian human trafficker. “Dance vor me, move yoour hips as ze funny computer man spins ze hula oop”. I half expect the girls in the video to just break down crying.
All of these negative emotions are what I feel as a man, so you can imagine how frustrating and bewildering this is for women. Women gamers are as passionate and committed to the hobby as we are, so when some sandwich-starved model tries to sidestep the fact that she hates games, female gamers get mad. “Bitch doesn’t even play games, why should I listen to her interview!” When depressing videos of girls in their underwear playing wii show up, female gamers can see that these hula-hoopers aren’t even playing the game.
Imagine a guy with his top off pretending to ski in Wii sports, but instead just flexing his abs and making his pec muscles dance in time with the music. Even women wouldn’t want to see that, so let not expose our female gamer comrades to it either.
Games review sites are absolutely full of adverts, and this targeted marketing aims for the same audience that the content of these sites aims for. As with contemporary movie trailers, that key demographic appears to be fifteen year old boys. As a result of this, sexist games marketing comes in two forms. The first is to show ridiculous depictions of females as sex objects.
The second is more insidious, and focuses on negative depictions of female gamers. The below example shows a women who is apparently too stupid to tell the difference between a game and a movie.
Sony is no stranger to making bad adverts, but this one is especially offensive as the woman (who is off course very attractive) is set up as the butt of the joke. Along with the unattractive everyman character, you laugh at her and in a way you laugh at all women and how they just don’t get some things. This is shameful and much more insidious than the obvious T and A advertising.
Its worse because it sets up women as outsiders to the hobby, fun wreckers and surrogate mother figures who will ruin our hobby unless we can fool them. “Don’t worry” the ads tell us, “they’re easily fooled as they’re so stupid”.
The content of games is still a problem, but it’s getting better. Commander Shepherd is better as a woman, Faith Connors is a protagonist who looks cooler than almost all male leads without being a sex object and Jade from Beyond Good and Evil showed that a strong female character would improve a Zelda game. In a future article I’ll look at the content of games, but to ever reach that content women have to be marketed to and brought into the hobby. For those who are already here, we must make them welcome. We wouldn’t invite our sisters and wives into a house full of nudey women pictures, lets not have them in our ads or sites either.
The truth is that women can be and already are part of our hobby. I play all sorts of videogames with my wife. Like movies and books we each have our own tastes but many of them coincide. Poor depictions of women make women less likely to play along. This makes us less likely to enjoy our gaming time as we create our own world and close it off instead of sharing it with the people we love.