Via the f-word, I came across this editorial on sexism in the video game industry and also this blog post responding to it. The editorial's point was that video game companies are stupid for not marketing to women, because women do in fact play video games; the blogs point was, well: "Have you ever noticed how the instant someone points out that you shouldn’t treat women gamers like trash there’s instantly a swarm of commenters who trip all over themselves to be the first to reply “yes, you should!”"
As much as I'd like to pretend that this set of posts sparked a philosophical chain of thought and now I have something deep and meaningful to contribute on the subject of women who play video games and the designers/marketers who (fail to) market to them, I don't really have a conclusive contribution. I would like to have a solution; what I do have are some random thoughts on the subject.
+ Like the guy in the original editorial, people often assume that women don't like to play first person shooters or "violent" games because 'women are naturally nurturing and social.' I think women are actually just as violent as men and there are many other factors that influence the choices women make about gaming. One huge factor is the way games are made for and marketed to young men only. Another factor is the way those young men have been trained to believe that video games are an environment where the most vile and hateful conversation is funny. Battle Net is a more misogynistic, racist, homophobic environment than anywhere else I've seen on the Internet.
+ It seems like women are "casual gamers" by definition; so when it turns out that women play MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, instead of admitting that women can be hardcore gamers, people insist that MMOs are casual games. The women I know who play MMOs are often very expert and spend enormous amounts of time and energy ingame, so much so that we joke about addiction and obsession and not having real lives.
FPS games are seen as more "hardcore" than MMOs. I think this is partly because they're seen as more masculine. The big FPS that came out this winter was Team Fortress 2, which is innovative for a FPS because there are nine classes with different abilities that you can pick from to play in a fairly stereotypical 2 team battle scenario. Here's a picture of the nine different classes; apparently the designers of this game are not aware that only half the population of the world is male. I can't help but think that "testosterone" is associated with "hardcore" in the minds of people who design video games.
+ A common characteristic of game design is the idea that if men are playing, they prefer to play a male character, while women are supposed to prefer playing female characters. I don't think this is actually true, though. I know personal anecdote doesn't prove points, but nevertheless, in my experience people tend to pick characters of either gender based on things other than identification with the character's gender. For example, I know men who play female characters because they tend to be smaller, so your character takes up less space on the screen and you get a better view of what's going on. I know women who play male characters so they can fit in with misogynistic male players more smoothly. I know people who play both male and female characters based on the way the character looks, for example men who roll female blood elf paladins because the male blood elf model is ridiculous looking and you have to be a blood elf to be a paladin. Anyway, the point is, marketing things to women by including female characters would probably be so unexceptional to male video game players that they wouldn't even notice it as something to do with equality.
My take on the situation is definitely not authoritative, as I don't play games from large swathes of the market (RTS isn't my thing and console games are out when you're too poor to afford a console). From the little I've seen, though, it seems like it would only take a very few changes in perspective by designers and players for the video game world to be exceedingly more egalitarian.
Which would be nice; it would make my world that much more comfortable if I could play games like TF2 without feeling like I'm contributing to my own oppression.