Thursday, July 09, 2015

How Middle Schoolers Really Feel About Video Game Gender Issues

"Kids are fed up with Kate Upton."

It's such a powerful statement and makes you wonder what the heck is making kids annoyed with the model? So I'm borrowing Time's opening line.

Rosalind Wiseman is a teacher and an author (see Masterminds of Wingmen and Queen Bees and Wannabes which turned into the movie Mean Girls). Over the past year she would hear the groans of her students during breaks and recess while they were on their phones, playing the latest free downloadable game. What was the issue at hand? Being spammed advertisements for Game of War, a mobile, point and click game that features Kate Upton. She stands out like a sore thumb among the other actors - who are all male and wearing full clothing, armor, bracers, helmets, the works. As the lone female, she wears a bustier, a flowing skirt that leaves little to the imagination, and walks around the battlefield unscathed while still maintaining perfect skin and hair.

Wiseman's students were getting really sick of the ads. Not just because they would interrupt them from their game, but they were tired of how unrealistic Kate Upton was in the setting. She's not fighting. She's not a playable character. She's not a warrior or a leader (who are all male). She's there to look pretty and sell the game to teenage boys and men, letting the world know that Game of War is a man's game. No girls allowed.

Working with her colleague Charlie Kuhn and gaming expert Ashley Burch, Wiseman set out to find out how kids actually feel about gender representation in video games. They spent a year pulling together data and interviewing 1,400 students. Wiseman was up-front in her article that she did not have the proper resources to produce a full-fledged study, and realizes that there are flaws with her methodology. But, she wanted to start the conversation to get people to think about how video games are played and portrayed. She gets a thumbs up from me for that one. And hey, maybe she'll get a grant out of this to do a full study.

Also it points out that kids are not stupid. That has always been such a big misnomer, and it still irks me. My parents had me involved in the world. They allowed me to watch R movies when I was 6, play M rated games my whole life, and talked to me about "the birds and the bees" before I was 10. When an adult said "oh she won't know, she's just a kid" I either spoke up and entered the conversation or my parents defended me.

Kids are not stupid. They understand exactly what the world is feeding them, and their sensibilities are warped because of what we tell them. If we give them half of a chance to learn and think for themselves, you'd be amazed at what they come up with.

Anyway! Back to the study.

According to Wiseman's research, 47% of middles school boys and 61% of high school boys either agreed or strongly agreed that female characters are treated as sex objects too often. An 8th grader commented that if women are objectified, it defeats the purpose of the "fight" when referring to Mortal Kombat.

70% of girls and 78% of boys don't care about the gender of the lead character. And as they age, boys care less about playing as a male lead, while girls care more about playing as a female lead. Kids just want a good game to play.

Here's the fun one: 17% of the girls surveyed like sports games (and specifically stated FIFA and Madden) and 26% preferred FPS like Halo and Call of Duty. This is just what they liked. That doesn't mean that they don't play the other genres. They like CoD but also play a ton of sports games with their family and friends.

There is a change going on in video games and how people are consuming then. The tried and true methods will need a face lift if they expect to compete against the titles that are featuring female or minority leads.

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