It’s often stated that the video game industry is insultingly sexist toward women. Everything about gaming seems to be catered to guys, as it’s just a little too difficult to think of a female video game character who doesn’t sport some spine-crippling “forms”, or isn’t clad in an outfit/armor that does little else but accentuate those forms further, at the expense of mobility, safety, hygiene, foot health and basic functionality (and often laws of gravity). Most main characters are also usually some version of a male, even if it is a puffy pink ball, while marketing for many games will use any excuse to display some version of a cleavage, even if it belongs to your in-game sister. There is no denying that the gaming world is a man’s world but it’s not necessarily sexist. Well… rather, it doesn’t intentionally disrespect women anymore than any other form of artistic entertainment. Let me explain:
1. VAST Majority of Gamers ARE Male and I don’t Care What a “study” Says!
If the video game industry were a men’s magazine, its’ tendency to cater to males, while ignoring a potential female audience (by constantly putting shirtless dudes on the cover, for instance… hmm), would raise no concerns since, well, that’s the point. If you think about it though, the idea there is not all that different. To illustrate this, let’s first establish that video games are not just thrown together as a hobby by a bunch of nerds, who’ve got nothing better to do.
Games are a product, created by real businesses, and often for millions of real dollars (and here is a study that says so). As such, just like the magazines, game publishers have to appeal to a group that would potentially be most interested in buying, and the vast majority of that group, in both cases, is male. Yes, girl gamers are a thing, and yes, I’ve heard of that “study” done by the ESA, which says that “42 percent” of all “gamers” are “women”. Well, “bullshit” is what I have to say to that.
Before writing this, I did a little experiment that anyone can easily repeat: I played a bunch of random multiplayer games that encouraged some communication, to see just how long it would take me to encounter a female. Whenever someone resembled a girl in name, avatar or appearance, I would make sure to find out their gender, looking like a desperate douche in the process.
Here are the results:
- Left 4 Dead 2: with four total players per game, I had to change a lobby five (5!) times before encountering someone claiming to be a female.
- Grand Theft Auto IV: no probable females encountered for 18 minutes and 7 players, until a possible candidate appeared but refused to acknowledge gender.
- Killing Floor: with five or six players per game, it took me four different server changes to finally get to a confirmed female.
- Bioshock 2: it took me fifteen minutes to start ANY multiplayer game so I only tried one six-player match and encountered no females.
- Borderlands: after an hour of play and five different players joining and leaving, no confirmed or probable females appeared.
- Fable III (yes, I did actually buy Fable III): 4th partner claimed to be a girl , although I could not verify and the gamertag did not seem gender-appropriate.
Now, I’m no Stephen Hawking but I feel pretty comfortable stating that the above does not equal anything close to 42%. Those are all relatively popular titles too, and yes, most of them are shooters but that doesn’t even matter. See, the most popular genre for girls is reportedly action adventure and MMORPG in the vein of World of Warcraft, aaand another study (Yee 2005) says that girls comprise only 16% of WoW players.
…perhaps ESA defined “gamer” as anyone who uses a keyboard on a regular basis because it’s technically a game controller too. I’d guess that whoever they were referring to was not the most likely group to continuously shell out $60 for games. Needless to say, that definition is probably not the one used by proper game developers, when making their business decisions, nor should it be because they need to be realistic about their customer base, just like the magazine companies.
2. Make Your Own!
Now, one might go ‘the chicken or the egg’ here by stating that there aren’t many girl gamers precisely because the industry has only been focusing on the guy stuff: cleavage, guns, tanooki, the works. That makes sense but can one really blame the industry for a delibirately sexist approach, in that case? No and the picture, above, holds the answer.
It just so happens that most game developers are male (roughly 90% according to a… study). These men are in the business of creating experiences too awesome to exist (easily) in real life. It only makes sense that they define that as being an axe-welding dwarf who kills dragons for booze, or a macho armor-clad space marine fighting busty aliens, or a tie-wearing ape doing ape shit… you know, man stuff. I’m not saying that that’s all we find awesome, but while keeping the authorship point in mind, here’s another one: the industry is still very very young. Even we, men, are only just starting to set our expectations slightly above a convincing excuse for a violent rampage on screen.
I mean, come on, an average game still has players prepare life-restoring cooked meals by smashing some random shit to pieces, and at times, a steaming dish simply appears on the ground when we, guys, need it. We are still there right now in the industry, at our most manly and crude. Do you really want us attempting anything more at this point than sticking a female character into a man’s awesome sauce? A contemporary genuine attempt at a video game version of things women find interesting–done by the guys currently dominating the industry–will probably focus on sandwich craft.
Yes, I know, men are horrible and downright offensive at times but that’s precisely it: we are not disrespecting, it’s just that we are who we are. An average dude will always pause subtly on a particularly fleshy page of a women’s magazine, as he flips through it with that forced “what is this shit” expression on his face. He will always turn up the volume unreasonably high for a guitar solo and laugh at something disturbingly gross. We may have higher interests but we also like to let loose on all things barbarous, silly and immature, once in awhile, no matter how solemn some of us may seem.
Once we get our bearings and an actual deep experience is not a freak occurrence, then, we can be held accountable. Before then, gaming will continue feeling like the bro’s-for-bro’s type of scene that it is, and it will take an actual female perspective to deliver diversity. And it’s not like there is opposition. Wiki told me that a bunch of groups like WomenGamers.com provide scholarships to girls considering getting into game development, and a number of game companies encourage females to join them and enrich their games with this much-needed influence (nicely played by the way) so if you are outraged by the male-domination there, you can and should do something about it.
3. Girl Gamers Have it Good!
Up until now, I’ve been giving reasons and explaining intentions for the supposed sexism. Now, let’s finally tackle the most important question: is it really sexism? Does the video game scene actually hurt a particular group of people, or make things generally unpleasant for them because of their gender? After all, that’s the point, isn’t it? Well, it doesn’t.
Another experiment time. This time, I wanted to really gauge the level (get it?) of suffering that gaming females must endure. Maybe women don’t feel welcome because they have to deal with too many assholes. That’s very possible, considering how many assholes there are in multiplayer games in general. So, I decided to get a temporary digital sex change, by acquiring a few girlish gaming network accounts, complete with girly names (nothing scanky or too obvious) and a girly avatar (nothing too revealing, just a very blurry image of an average-looking girl in a conservative outfit). Result?
One interesting thing I noticed immediately was that people seemed to generally get more chatty, especially in team-based adventure games like the Star Wars: The Old Republic, as soon as they discovered that I was supposed to be a girl. Seriously, every guy was suddenly Dave Chapelle, overflowing with jokes and a positive attitude, often in a way that involved me. There were a couple of dicks here and there but they were mostly just trying to use the rare opportunity to engage a female in conversation; they were actually super helpful and courteous in-game.
Furthermore, for no apparent reason, I would get invited to join quests in SWTOR and presented with weapons and all sorts of assistance in Killing Floor, Left 4 Dead and Battlefield, which doesn’t usually happen to me. Most importantly, what I also noticed was that I stopped getting kicked out from matches almost completely. Even when playing on servers that normally gave me the boot for even slightly disregarding the implied gendarme status that most of the admins and “pros” feel they have a claim to, I was assisted instead as the “female”!
I really pushed it too, constantly selecting inappropriate weapons and perks, being a noob and somewhat of a sarcastic “bitch” and not even trying to contribute to the team in any decent way. In fact, a couple of admins who had booted me before, sent me friend requests! No, take a pause here and think about the sheer douchebaggery there. But not only that, in the two days that I played as a girl, I received more friend requests than in one month as a male, and I am not exaggerating here.
Sure, there were certainly a couple of problems: some guy thought that just because I responded to him during a match and then accepted his friend request, it was the beginning of a steamy long-term relationship, and another guy got genuinely heartbroken and turned into a dick, when I stopped responding to his dumb jokes and ignored his friend request, but a few morons were pretty easy to ignore, if somewhat confusing.
The finale came on day three though, on which I decided it was time to end the experiment and abandon the secret identity because on this day… I received… a Steam gift… I shit you not. Some guy who added me for some reason, who I apparently played a couple of decent rounds with and barely said anything to, sent me a freaking gift in form of a piece of DLC. In several years of playing on Steam as a male, I had never received a single gift from anyone!
I refused it, of course, (I swaer) and I wished that I was either a girl gamer or someone who could be comfortable pretending to be one because never had online gaming been that enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that every girl has the same experience and you will probably not be showered with gifts if you switch your gaming gender to one, I feel like I mostly got lucky, but I have no doubt that you will find quite a few things easier. And if you are a girl, just play as a guy for a couple of days and I guarantee that you will willingly go back rather soon.