Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sexist views in the video game industry

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.


Elizabeth McClung said...

I think world of warcraft proved decisively that there are a) a lot of female gamers out there b) a lot of other gamers like playing different genders c) WoW is homophobic (unrelated but I throw it in anyway since the whole, 'you can't have an LGBT group' moderator thing), and that I do FPS - I like FPS, though older ones like Warren Spectre who allowed you to sneak around in things like Theif and Dues Ex - because not ALL gamers think that charging straight forward guns blasting is the end all and be all.

I did laugh when I saw the picture of the nine different classes for TF2 - I used to play a lot of Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield II online and wow did guys every get pissed off because I was always in the top 3 rankings (I do math, it was a very math based game with certain ways to play angles) - turns out that men only like getting headshot by men (okay that came out way too sexual and freudian).

Tayi said...

WoW is actually one of the games that makes me really hopeful about misogyny in video games. I've been playing obsessively since a few months after it was released, and I remember in the beginning how guys would just assume that I was male because I was a decent player, and then there was a while where people didn't assume I was male but when they found out I was female would always make comments about how "most girls don't play as much/well as you do". And then there was the day when one of the officers in our guild got kicked from the guild for saying that the guild should not recruit a certain player because she was female; not that the other officers were gung-ho about eradicating sexism, but they thought he was an idiot for a)thinking women can't play and b)stirring up drama with all the OTHER women in the guild.

So we've come a long way, at least judging from my personal experiences, or at least parts of the WoW player base have.

I didn't know what you meant about WoW not being LGBT friendly, so I looked it up and apparently the issue was resolved; Blizzard changed their stance and apologized according to the story here: http://www.innewsweekly.com/innews/?class_code=Ga&article_code

Starryknight said...

It's not that there aren't female gamers.

It's that the male gamers refuse to let us peacefully coexist.

Anonymous said...

@Starryknight:  Mad props to you for standing strong against that kind of adversity.  And I do mean all of it.

But the only way that us female gamers are going to get any respect from the industry is if we make it sufficiently clear that this garbage cannot stand.  If you're up for starting a letter-writing and/or e-mailing campaign, I certainly am.

Kiara said...

Aside from hidden-object games that I am addicted with, I love playing warfare Download Games. Just because we are female, it doesn't necessarily mean, we are not supposed to be involve or we are not capable of anything in gaming industry. Have to prove them wrong...

Anonymous said...

I once tried making an avatar on X-Box Live, and it came out very boyish. There aren't any girl clothes options (non that were available without unlocking something), and the majority of features are geared towards guys. It really really bothered me, and I hope they eventually realize how sexist it is and add more feminine options.

Anonymous said...

What, nobody's mentioned GEAR yet? Sexual objectification right there. A plate shirt that covers a male model's shirt-zone entirely will be no more than a metal bikini on a female character. WoWhead "warrior's embrace".

Anonymous said...

As soon as women take over the Video Game Industry (Never gonna happen) Video Games are going to go straight to the gutter.

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