I’m stepping into very dangerous territory. I don’t think since my ‘Games Industry Can Never Be Artsy’ essay, have I ever stumbled upon something that could kill me. Of course, not literally kill me, but I would alienate a massive portion of my potential audience. There’s a giant untapped reader-base, which I’m sure will increase in readership over the next years; it’s girls. Girly girl girls. Today’s topic concentrates on the perception of girl gamers in our nice little sub-culture of pixelated goodness.
If I take the wrong turn I might not just mess up for myself. I might mess up for Platform Nation and for every little game writer that could. This is a message to every girl gamer everywhere; I care. I’ve done the research, if you follow me (stalk me) then you should know I have been calling for emails. I’ve done all I can to avoid sending out a bad message.
So… let’s roll.
Gaming is for men. That’s what the core cultural philosophy is, it’s a man’s thing and although women are allowed; games aren’t exactly built with them in mind. All of today’s games are male power-fantasies, give or take, and there’s not exactly a bridge between the two. Obviously, this is stupid to think and it would be stupid to say given the amount of girl gamers today. But there is something… alienating about it. Gears of War is pretty much based around being ‘the man’ and indulging in every macho-dreamscape that has ever been imagined. Call of Duty is, for all of its accessibility pros and cons, marketed as a massive war game. In this day and age, war involves everyone and any gender can become a soldier. The multiplayer, however, is (surprisingly) 60% male and 40% female. I think four years ago, the online user-base of Call of Duty 2 was 80% male and 20% female.
That’s a HUGE leap forward… right?
But what’s changed? What’s made hundreds of thousands of females pick up the Call of Duty gamepad? Obviously, there’s the hardcore gamer who can be pretty much any gender. I think that this very leap is all down to a friend of ours. A lost friend, who constantly pats us on the back to wander off to another crowd. Nintendo. They’ve given us Mario, nourished our little gaming hobby practically on their own and invented the modern era of gaming… while also going off on one and inventing the term ‘shovelware’. Lovely.
What Nintendo did was phenomenally genius. They made a console that can be, pretty much, played by anyone. It can tap into everyone’s imagination and for all of what it has done wrong, it has done one massive thing right; it’s changed gaming forever. Obviously, you’re getting this sort of flux movement where the casual market is more profitable than the dedicated gamer’s diet. But what has happened is something absolutely odd. The profits of the casual market are going down, and the gap is closing in. Slowly, these two massively alienated markets are closing together.
Nintendo didn’t make a casual gaming console; they made a door. A door to everyone and I think that this door opened up to the largest demographic of them all: women. Wii Fit wasn’t just built for grannies in mind. In fact, Wii Fit may be just a literal stepping stone to the homestead of dedicated gaming.
I think that a fact that Daniel Floyd employs himself, pretty much speaks for everything. The casual gaming movement has tapped into completely new audiences and women make up 74% of that pool.
That’s a damn big number.
So now that Nintendo has made a foothold, and all the dedicated female gamers are still happy, I feel like we’re still not on the right track. In fact, I sent out four questions for female gamers to answer. One I asked was “Is the industry male dominated?”
Nowadays its actually gotten a bit more male dominated than it was, with a large amount of shooters and fighting type games that don’t really appeal quite so much to the female gaming public generally.
I’d say the gaming industry is fairly male dominated…
I do think that the gaming industry is male dominated
Here’s a certain quote I’ll expand upon, by our own Sarah Brannan (ffxprincess)
I think that because there are more male gamers than female gamers you will see more male dominance
This is why I think we can do better, because there are more male gamers than female. Film can be less polarizing, I think that is actually 51% of viewership is female (although I blame Twilight for that figure). Books themselves have a drastically large female readership, which has been so engraved into everyone’s logical minds, I won’t bother trying to guess a percentage.
So why is it that even as girl gamers start to join the fray, we’re still not opening the flood gates? I even believe that if we had a balanced gender industry; games would be much better. They wouldn’t tap into a specific market and just leave out half of the world’s population. Publishers have found this sweet comfort zone where they can just set up shop with a variety of the same franchises built around the same ideals. The male audience is exploited; we’re left just spending our cash on the latest shooter or whatever indulgence we can find. If we let in so much more, if we lessen the gender gap, games would be better. Publishers would benefit from turning over a massively higher profit, developers would have higher credits and we’d stop building games for hardcore/casuals/socials/dedicated. We would build games for everyone.
Heavy Rain is a massively polarizing game; as it’s hard to see what the audience is. For everything it did wrong (player choice abuse and blah blah complain complain) it did something right. It did invent a new genre that I hope will be built upon. It did change the face of gaming to some. It did reach new audiences; it was a game for everybody. Yes, by David Cage, it was labeled ‘an adult game’, but that’s still reaching a wider spectrum.
Another quote from Sarah Brannan points out some other stuffs:
“If women got to see more of the things a game can do, or what it offers, there’s a possibility we can start learning how to gear things more towards them. For example (of course, you know it’s coming…), if women realized how in depth and amazing the story was behind Final Fantasy X, they would all be playing it in an instant.”
As part of the general market; we have just leaned towards exploiting the female figure. Toby Gard, the creator of Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, built her as the opposite of Indiana Jones with femininity added in for good measure. Instead of marketing her towards women as the equivalent of playing the ultimate heroine, she was taken and exploited to men. If Eidos had instead just marketed towards females; then I would pretty much guarantee that the boys would realize how damn fine she still was. I found the first Tomb Raider to be just… okay. There was nothing special about it, other than the two large polygons poking out of a 3D character; it’s pretty much what lured in the millions of gamers who still buy Tomb Raider to this day. Funny how the box art of Tomb Raider Underworld actually cuts off Lara’s head and puts her bust in the centre of the case.
It’s sort of a double douzy though; since when you start to play as Lara, she does actually empower the female image. Sure, she’s hot and she probably makes good sandwiches but what she does is basically what the gaming men of today do. In fact, she pretty much matches Nathan Drake in terms of agility and surpasses him in actual experience.
It’s odd then that it all comes down to marketing, and publishers could pretty much guarantee nearly doubling their revenue. Maybe it’s because we’ve become such a boy’s club that publishers would see at as a loss or something.
It’s odd that guys flock to games with box arts that employ the giant breasticles, yet we don’t have women flocking and screaming around big muscular men. Maybe it’s because Nathan Drake doesn’t ever take his shirt off or maybe it’s because Marcus just isn’t… human sometimes. These characters are all machines of macho-empowerment and I think women do see behind the gloss and muscles.
I cant hate figures like Lara Croft or Bayonetta because in a way they are actually *more* positive role models than the ones you see in pop music or other medias.
Dare in ODST was pretty kick ass and looked about the same as any other soldier in the game.
Sarah Brannan (ffxprincess)
Plus, most of the scantily clad women in games could kick almost any guys ass if they were real. That’s good enough for me!
I’d say in that case it was definitely more empowering the female rather than leering at her. I think there’s definitely still an element of exploitation of the female figure (the prostitutes in GTA for example), but it’s more developmental and more female characters are able to be the protagonist (most notably with the introduction of the female player on Pokemon, though it’s also prevalent in games like Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts where the female characters aren’t typecast as the ‘Damsel in Distress’ so much).
Girl gamers; you’ve come so far, conquered the exploitive marketing mountains and now you’re here at the forefront of our culture. Not to sound like a soppy man, inviting you out to dinner to tell you we’re breaking up, but… you’re too good for us. Honestly, I salute any girl who looks past the smoke and mirrors and sees the actual magic that games can bring. That raw sense of a relationship between the designer and the player, interconnected in authorship and just having fun.
Why don’t we deserve you?
I do think they are further exploiting the female gamers with the new gamecrush.com website. Men playing games with girls for money?
There was a whole uproar about the launch of gamecrush.com, a website where you actually pay a subscription so that you can play with female gamers. This is it; this is why you’re too good for us, because we treat you like the bottom of our shoes. Not designers, us, the gamers; the people you play with.
Whenever I join a lobby and there so happens to be a girl, there’s just this massive sigh from me as the hundreds of comments come up.
“Add me as a friend?”
“Must be fat.”
“Tits or GTFO!”
Then there’s massive laughing, massive ridicule. Girls? Playing games? HA!
This isn’t every lobby I’ve joined, but I think that this probably speaks to every girl gamer out there who has played Call of Duty and decided to speak. It’s all the more worse when they don’t want to speak at all, but have a gamertag/PSN name of a woman.
I honestly can’t believe that some women still find the courage to soldier on through the massive sweeping tide of ridicule. I think that’s why sites such as gamingangels.com have been so successful; they empower the female gamer; not just the female image. They can play together and frolic together and do girly things because that’s what girls do. At least I think so. I only personally know one girl gamer in real life (who recently obliterated me at Left 4 Dead). I think that sites such as gamingangels.com possibly also invite the male gamer who just wants to play in with a different group altogether.
Given Platform Nation’s raw scope of writers from all over the world; we have a girl or two. We’re all nice and kind, all good. Maybe this is how male gamers can be tolerant or at least less immature around our female friends, through community. I think we’re generally going to end up with a social media format that is repeated with every massive multiplayer game. It works so well too, Call of Duty World at War allows you to already share your stats so why not just be able to chat? Integrate Facebook/ Twitter and all sorts of social networking into gaming and you’ll see a revolution. Of course, at first, boys will be assholes, as we always have been. Give it time and they’ll eventually realize that they’re playing with women; not girls.
We just wanna be treated equal… as a gamer. Not a GRRRLgamer or GURL gamer or even Girl gamer. How about just plain old gamer?
Sarah Brannan (ffxprincess)
We’re not going to change how many women there are in gaming until we change how gaming is perceived by them.
So what have we learned? Girl gamers are gamers, not girly girls we can just brush off as a little market. They are part of a new raw uprising in the heart of the market. If publishers wise up and get their marketing together; games can change together. I salute every damn one of you fine ladies who decided to pick up a gamepad and just forget about everything we’ve done wrong: Sexual exploitation, alienating the female, indulgence in the macho fantasy. Well done. Let’s hope we can see more of you pick up the pad.
Oh… and will you get back in the kitchen and make me a DAMN SANDWICH?
Sure thing hon! Try a delicious Monte Cristo Sandwich! Turkey and swiss cheese sandwich battered and fried then coated in sugar and served with a strawberry preserve, your arteries will hate you but its totally worth it! : D
You win the lottery, buy me a house and a new car and pay for my college degree and I’ll make you a sandwich.
I make some pretty awesome sammiches. But no… I am about to go pwn some kids on gears 2.
I’d love to make you a sandwich! I make pretty good ones, with pepper jack cheese, an assortment of meats, avocados, crisp lettuce…. damn I’m hungry now!
You can make your own damn sandwich though 😉
Special thanks to Gaming Angels.com, Juan Houter for the title card, Daniel Floyd for his videogame insight videos, Chris Forbis (@mensadad & www.mensadad.com) for editing this mammoth, Alana Kendall, Dawn Scheible, Maddiecakes (@Maddieeeeeeee), Rebecca Gunn (@jennytablina), Sarah (ffxprincess) and to every damn girl gamer out there; we salute you!
P.S I asked these fine women a few questions about videogame journalism and female gamers… let’s just say I’m saving those quotes until another time 😉