Level Up!

| Monday, January 24
Girls and Gaming...

Like that isn't a topic that's been approached from a million angles a billion times over, on my way home from school today, while listening to "All Things Considered" on NPR like I always do, I heard an interesting piece. It comes from WNYC's Radio Rookies program that allows teens to record their own short radio segments and air them for the world via public radio stations nationwide.

The story comes from a 17 year old gamer named Jessica. She, like many of us, plays games, but is frustrated by the way girls are represented (and underrepresented) in the medium. There are very few games with female protagonists (this doesn't include games with customizable PCs), and those games that do have them so idealized or objectified with little clothing and perfect bodies. How are girls supposed to look up to that? I mean, if the game has a strong female lead who can kick butt, such as Bayonetta, or Tomb Raider, they're practically naked. If  the main female characters are there at all, they're probably whiny sidekicks (See FFX) or the damsel in distress who needs rescuing (Princesses Peach and Zelda). I'm not much of a console gamer, so I'm really not "up" on whether or not strong "normal" girl main characters exist, but from what I've ever seen, no.

Video game bondage anyone? 

Also, the games marketed towards girls and women are pretty much terrible. Ok, I'll admit, I like Cooking Mama. It's a quirky Japanese game that appeals to my love of cooking. It's ADHD like me, and you don't think about the protagonist at all, since there's really no "story". But all of the Imagine line from Ubisoft makes me gag! Make some real games for girls. We like more than ponies and styling hair. I enjoy seeing people's reactions to the fact that these games even exist, like Marian Call's response on Twitter last week. Do you have a favorite "girl" game?

The point this story eventually made was the incredible catch-22 about girls and games. In order to have more games that are really, truly for girl gamers of any age, we need more women working in the video game development and design industry. And to entice more women who want to make positive female games into the video game industry, more girls have to be truly passionate about the games that exist (and more than just a few just don't exist yet).Plus I'm gonna guess it's pretty intimidating for women to even try breaking into such a male-dominated industry. So, I beg you to encourage any girls you know who might have an inkling of interest to go for their dreams. I think we could use many more women working on creating strong, positive women in video games. I'm looking at you, Vanessa (@gAMgRL)!!

Wake up gaming industry. There are women out there who like to game. Who don't want to look at T&A all the time.

*Like I said, I'm not a huge console gamer, so if there are games out there that fit what I'm talking about, feel free to share!*


Josh said...

I do agree, and I think that the oversexualization of women in games is pretty intense and overwrought, but I'd say there's almost as much gender stereotyping for men.

Have you seen the fellas in Gears of War? I can't compete with those abs. Or the abs of any guy in ANY game, for that matter. Except maybe Mario. I'm pretty sure I fill out coveralls more evenly than that guy.

There are a few good women in gaming out there: Alyx from Half-Life 2 is smart, realistically proportioned and very human. Ashley Williams from Mass Effect is more than just a love interest — she's a capable, yet realistically fleshed-out person.

So, while I see your point, look at both genders, too.... Do XY kids out there have positive, well-rounded role models in gaming? Boys are supposed to look up to gun-toting, musclebound silent protagonists. When was the last time you saw a male character be able to be nurturing, caring or even a little doughy?

Kara said...

I'm totally with you there, too, Josh. There don't seem to be many "human" characters in games in general that are good role models. If the characters (male or female) have respectable personalities or traits, they have completely unrealistic bodies or are waaay too pretty. It would be nice to see male characters actually be a bit nicer and more caring, not so rough around the edges.

Guys don't have to be bad-asses all the time. ;)

So, games, give us some real, relatable characters, huh?

Alex and Ben said...

For starters, I <3 gamers girls. That aside, it really is true that there is misrepresentation. My only guess would be that the ratio of guy to girl gamers swings heavily to the guy side, so developers often use male characters. It never bothered me, playing a male of female, but I assure you there are some really badass women game characters. Sheik (who is Zelda dressed as a ninja and kicking all kinds of ass) and Samus Aran (pre-metroid:other M) to name a few

RAY J said...

It's funny you mention this as just last week I read this article:

In it talks about the gaming company - Her Interactive - that makes all the Nancy Drew PC games and about the woman behind the company. Sounds like she has the same perspective on girls in video games as the rest of us when it comes to how they're portrayed and she's hoping to make a difference.

Thought it was an interesting article!

Eleni said...

I've seen the argument before: "Women are over-sexualized and idealized in games," followed by someone replying "Well, it's just as bad for men, look at those unrealistic bulging muscles!" But it's not the same. Sure, the video game heroes of both genders are usually idealized, perfectly fit, strong, never flabby. If the women of games were slim yet solid, fit, amply supported and covered, with well-toned arms and legs, that would be fine. But that's not how it is. They all too frequently have big boobs and skimpy clothing.

Unrealistic muscles are not as bad as unrealistic boobs. Having bigger muscles may be something legitimate to aspire to. I don't mean that all guys should have big muscles (many body types are perfectly fine), but I mean it's not unrealistic for guys to work out and get bigger muscles. Maybe not as huge as the crazy ones in some video games, but bigger. Big boobs, on the other hand, can only be attained through an unhealthy operation that is frowned upon in most circles. Furthermore, big muscles in men are a sign of strength, which one might expect one's character to have if he is a great warrior. Big boobs are just of sexual value--and if they're too unruly they'd actually hinder an action hero.

The other difference that's quite easy to observe is the skin issue. There are many examples in games of the same set of armor looking like armor on a male toon, and a glorified leather bikini when put on a female toon. Game designers don't seem to realize that women, too, could get stabbed in the stomach, or thigh, or upper chest. Even armor that offers full coverage of skin often will have a spandex-like material in some choice spot.

So while both men and women may be idealized in games, the female characters are way more sexualized. Why? Not only do more guys play those games (I hate the phrase "male target audience"), I think they may be fussier. Sexy female in revealing outfit: men are happy, women put up with it. Sexy male in revealing outfit: women may be pleased, but most men will be put off by it. Well, that's my theory, at least.

Anyway...interesting post on an interesting issue. Maybe I missed my calling and should have gone into video game design.

Eleni said...

P.S. Since my absurdly long last comment was mostly arguing against Josh's point, I will add that I agree with his choices of Alyx and Ashley. I haven't played HL2 (still meaning to...), but from what I've seen and read about her she sounds like a great character. And Ashley was great (damn Virmire!), and her armor covers her just as well as it covers a man.

michelle said...

good post. the only game i can think of with a nonsexualized, female lead is alice. i don't really pay much attention to most games because i only play racing games. if i had the patience and coordination for action/adventure, i'd probably still avoid games with ridiculous representations of women. i agree with eleni; the stereotypes do not have the same effect on their respective sexes

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I haven't played video games since I was a kid, and even then I only played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mario Brothers. You're right; they didn't have many female characters in the games, and from what you wrote, it sounds like not a lot has changed since then. That's too bad, because a lot of girls would probably play more video games if there were more positive female characters in the games.

Ruth said...

The "Crafty Momma" game Marian Call tweeted really tickled me, since...I'd rather do real crafting and get something out of it. :P

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