Playing the Lame presents: “Gender Representation in the Media of Video Games, Part 1.


PRESENTS:
Gender Representation in the Media of Video Games, Part 1.”
AKA
The world doesn’t need any more Barbie games, thank you.”

Special thanks to the lovely ladies (all one of them) on the staff who inspired me to do this thing. This is your fault.

It’s time for one of our favorite words here at PtL: the “C” word. No, not THAT word, give me some credit. The word I’m referring to is “creepy”, used in connection with everyone’s favorite pieces of cheesecake gaming, from Rumble Roses to Dead or Alive Extreme to Arcana Hearts to BMX XXX (I ran out of good examples, sorry). It seems, from looking over the opinions of various gaming pundits, that the idea of overly-developed nubile young women frolicking on the sand and in the surf or beating the unholy hell out of each other whilst adorning their frames with little more than a pair of pasties and the most fragile of fig leaves is, perhaps, a bit more than their underdeveloped brains can accommodate.

Perhaps I’m not the correct subject to cogitate on the matter, but it seems to me that if you find half-naked polygon women “creepy”, then you might, perhaps, have some sort of repressed sexual issues that need dealing with. Not that I’m defending the games; they’re stupid cheesecake games with stupid polygon/sprite boobs defying the laws of physics at all possible turns. We understand this. “Stupid”, “lame”, “dorky”, et al, are understandable, if somewhat ignorant, comments one could make towards the products, as it caters to a certain demographic base that the reviewer may not fall into. But speaking as someone who’s seen some of the weirder horror movies Japan and Italy have to offer, scantily clad polygon chesticles don’t exactly make my skin crawl.

But this seems to be a recurring trend; men (women don’t do this, not for these reasons in any event) see a game featuring female characters with large chests and little to no clothing, and they immediately have to either objectify or revile it. It occurs to me that a lot of people seem to have a generally odd perspective of the female perception of gaming. People seem to believe that video games, as they are, don’t cater to women, or DO cater to women, or are sexist, or are starting to lead into equality, or whatever. We don’t seem to be able to come to a singular point of agreement on the nature of females in gaming, or how females perceive gaming, but we sure do love to talk about it.

I was reading through yet another dissertation on the topic, a column written about the absurdity of the various articles, et al, written by one Richard Cobbett, when a thought occurred to me:

Who gives a shit?

Now, before people start throwing the tomatoes of misogyny at me, let me clarify this: I care approximately about as much about whether or not women are playing video games as I do if men are playing them, which is to say, not at all. Gender is irrelevant; people, as a whole, are playing video games, and they’re enjoying them. Do we REALLY need to spend all of this time and effort writing columns about whether or not a part of the population is moving into video games or not?

Yes, I know. I’m doing something similar. Not the point. The point is this: the only people who care about these articles are either the people writing them or the people using the articles to support their own misguided beliefs about whether or not women play video games, what sorts of games they play, and how often. We’re reading articles about how video games are failing girls while the women themselves indicate that the market “doesn’t cater to them“.

Not to be a prick, but seeing as how Street Fighter 4 is in 3D and Mother 3 is never coming to America, I think I’m safe in proclaiming that the market isn’t catering to me, either. Sorry, but just because you have different anatomical parts doesn’t make me care about your plight any more than I care about my own. That said, news flash people: the market caters to the casual gamer, period. Gender is a secondary consideration, but most developers are male, so it’s understandable (if a little stupid) to see female characters with giant bazooms, tiny waists, and skimpy clothing. But here’s the thing: the reason developers do not cater to female gamers is because, in the attempts they’ve made to do so, they’ve proven they are notoriously bad at it.

Here’s a fantastic example: while I was waiting to collect my Wii from EBGames way back during the launch of the system (so, yes, over a year ago now), I noted the various people ahead of me, among them a guy in a homemade Zelda Hoodie and a young lady who appeared to be there with him. Now, it might shock you to know this, but I can function in society without scaring others. I play video games, yes, and I write about them for a website, true, but it occurred to me a long time ago that OTHER PEOPLE DO NOT CARE, so I keep it to myself.

These people were not able to do this.

I think the high point would have to have been when said young lady, obviously bored, wondered aloud if it would be in her best interests to climb atop the trash can that was welded to the curb in front of us and, and I’m quoting, “dance like a Night Elf”. As in, a Worlds of Warcraft “Night Elf”, for those of you not paying attention. As in, specifically, HER Worlds of Warcraft Night Elf character, which she had been playing as until deciding to come out and wait to acquire a Wii with Mr. Zelda.

(Oh, and memo to the dude in said homemade Zelda Hoodie, just in case: the fact that you arrived five hours early for a product you had already paid for and were guaranteed to receive was mildly disconcerting. The THREE Zelda shirts you were wearing, particularly the one you made yourself, were, in all honesty, a bit unnerving. The semi-hostile conversation you engaged in about DVD formats was a bit weird; hands up, people, how many of you know the difference between Plus and Minus DVD-R’s? Right. Now the… put your hand down, Eric, you know more about computers than AM, we are aware. Anyway, the repetition of the “We won’t shoot you, we’re not Sony fans” joke borders on insanity (repeating an action expecting different results). But placing your hand into your pocket and producing EVERY handheld Zelda title ever made, compounded with everything else, THAT was creepy, okay? Polygon boobies will never compare to obsessive fans of a product, EVER, and anyone who tells you otherwise has never traveled into the den of inequity that is fandom of any sort.)

So, it’s plainly apparent that video gaming is becoming more appealing to the fairer sex. The question then becomes, WHY do we continue to have all of these problems with “women not playing video games” and men jumping to the defense of the gender the exact second someone animates a pair of breasts to jiggle?

I blame Faith Naked. I’d like to blame Morgan Webb, but I get the distinct impression that she’s a paid shill; if I loved Phoenix Wright as much as she claimed to and I were producing a taped television show that allows for editing and re-takes I’D be certain to try and remember Miles Edgeworth’s name before I started taping, or at least fix the mistake with a re-take. And more importantly, she’s a little more professional in her craft (most likely because she’s being paid for her delivery, not her packages).

Naked (what a name, huh?) and other female gamers like her perpetuate a somewhat disagreeable stereotype that, to be a female gamer and publicly represent your gender in the video gaming craft, one must be thin and sexy and play video games in their underwear. I’m not sure where this misguided belief comes from, but for the record,

1.) If you had something approaching a personality, people would read your work without you having to take your pants off, and
2.) Last I checked, most gamers, developers and reviewers aren’t what one would define as “photogenic”, but this doesn’t stop them from doing things like video interviews and picture posting and whatnot.

Say what you will about her, but someone like a Morgan Webb (despite her Maxim pictorials) manages to get through most of the day playing and talking about video games, surprisingly, with most of her clothes on. A Faith Naked, on the other hand, says things like

“Hey, I’m a girl and I can’t change that. I want people to treat me as a normal gamer, but as long as there are guys who are going to send you Myspace messages like “Hey, you wanna play with my joystick?”, my status as a girl gamer will always stand out. I don’t believe girls should be so serious about their gaming feminism. Just be a gamer, and stop worrying about what the internet jocks are going to say if you like games like Super Princess Peach instead of Halo, and/or if you wanna deck your blog out in pink. Just be yourself first and a gamer second.”

… while she poses half-naked with video game components. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be allowed to show off what you’ve been given, but I am saying that one should not become indignant when one then receives propositions because one is wearing a tiny football shirt and tiny shorts in pictures on ones MySpace page.

But being attractive isn’t the issue so much; the issue is that Ms. Naked and her ilk are a minority representation of the female gamer as a whole. They are the Hollywood version of the female gamer, which, much like the Angelina Jolie hacker, often is a stylized, objectified version of the stereotypical fantasy. All of the men are metrosexual, look like they get a decent amount of sun, and bathe regularly; all of the women are of sexually desirable frames, wear appropriately perfect amounts of makeup (even to bed), and prance about scantily clad under the most dubious of circumstances. Never mind the fact that hardcore male gamers look more like Michael Moore than Keanu Reeves and hardcore female gamers are closer visually to Rosie O’Donnel than Ms. Naked herself; the visual aesthetics of the situation dictate that attractiveness win the day.

This becomes a problem, of course, when we come to the fact that no one really believes MALE gamers are attractive. I mean, you don’t know me but I bet you could guess that I’m not a fashion model in my spare time, let’s put it that way, kay? On the other hand, female gamers, being “SUCH A RARITY” tend to be more readily subjected to the stigma that their lives revolve around “cute things” and “being pretty” because all the KNOWN female gamers and female stereotypes are attributed to this. Thus, fighting games and first person shooters are marketed to boys without anyone ever realizing that Taki having nipples capable of cutting glass might alienate part of the demographic, and girls get Barbie and Hello Kitty games, games which are not good or entertaining and thus alienate girls even FURTHER from the market because, to them, developers don’t think they should have games that are fun to play or functional.

And THIS is why we are having a problem.

Here’s the deal, alright: any time someone tells you a game is good “for girls”, that means it’s either A.) a broad appeal title (Karaoke Revolution, Rock Band), B.) it’s fruity as hell (Katamari Damacy), or C.) it’s “girly” (Barbie Horse Adventures) and most likely sucks.

Deal with this: off of the top of my head, I have about ten female friends; nine of them play video games, and not a single one of them gives two shits about Katamari Damacy. Do they like Karaoke Revolution? Yeah. DDR? Absolutely. Rock Band? Ehhh… not so much. But most of the ladies I know also like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, Final Fantasy: Dirge of Cerberus (which I hated, but whatever), Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Fable, Tomb Raider (yes, TOMB RAIDER), Trauma Center, GTA 3, DOAXVB, Ninja Gaiden, and so on. To drive the point home: I met one of my friends playing Final Fantasy XI, and another met her (now ex) fiancée playing Worlds of Warcraft. Christ, my own mom spends more time playing Civilization and Myst than The Sims, and she’s the one who helped ME learn how to play Ghost House and Space Harrier when I was five for crying out loud.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Some of them play and love The Sims, and Pokemon, and all of those “girly” games. But most of them love the hell out of violent death and forty-five minute cutscenes. Does this mean all I know are weird gamers, gender aside? Maybe, but I don’t see it that way. The way I see it, “girl gamers” really only want what all gamers want: good games that appeal to them.

I honestly believe that most female gamers STOP playing video games, not because no one caters to them, but because when developers DO cater to them, the results are inevitably insulting and invariably suck ass. Bland, boring, pitiful “girl” games that either try to make girls feel overly feminine or overly sexy or whatever, when all they want is something fun. And honestly, when games cater to boys, they don’t do that well either: witness Rumble Roses XX, a game that is COMPLETELY a fanservice game, yet sold pitifully, according to most reports (not surprisingly). You would think that people would realize that maybe, just maybe, if their games were GOOD, they wouldn’t have to do stuff like this.

Instead, all we get is magazines like EGM putting up pictures of Taki and saying “Women have boobs. We get it.” Now, if I may cross fandoms for a moment, I know a few of you out there have read Kingdom Come, the Alex Ross DC epic. You notice how Captain Marvel was smiling like a goon through most of the series? Well, the final image of what was, I believe, the second to last comic in the series showed Captain Marvel, in full regalia, standing over a prostrate Superman, and it was at that point I realized why he was so happy.

I’d be that happy too if I had a package that was as big as the one Ross gave good old Billy Batson.

In other words: women, whether in comics or video games, have curvy figures, giant tits, and sexy faces, yes, but men have huge muscles, rippling washboard stomachs, and giant dicks. It’s the nature of “wish fulfillment”: we want to be these characters because they ARE the ideals. Sure, there are exceptions: I don’t think anyone wants to be a fucked-up looking freak like Deadpool, but we want to be strong and badass like him… and I doubt that most ladies want to emulate the lifestyle of Rayne, but her commanding presence and attitude is what makes her cool, not the mission to hunt down all of the vampires on Earth (which is probably why I have female friends who like the Bloodrayne games; lord knows it’s not for their awesome gameplay).

And that’s the point. Characters people like (Lara Croft, Solid Snake) and franchises people enjoy (Resident Evil, DOA) will prosper and continue to succeed, because people like them, while characters people DON’T like (Jade, Stubbs) and franchises they don’t care about (Cy-Girls, State of Emergency) will begin to fall by the wayside. Gender DOES NOT FUCKING MATTER, PERIOD. If a girl wants to play video games, she will, and all of the appealing and pandering in the world won’t change that. Now, that doesn’t mean Barbie doesn’t have a place in video games (she does, obviously), but it DOES mean that pandering to the sexes is an obsolete way of thinking, and that producing quality games that people want to play SHOULD come first, period. Instead of actively going out and TRYING to write a “STRONG, INDEPENDENT FEMALE WHO CAN MAKE IT IN A MAN’S WORLD” as your main character, just write a goddamn character instead of a stereotype, and we will ALL be a whole lot happier, giant boobs or no. The sooner people realize that, the better off we’ll all be.

Just a thought.

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