Monday, August 10, 2015

Games Don't Grow Up With Girls

I'm starting off your Monday morning with feminist thinking. Time to break your brains!

Juliet Kahn, an avid writer on Comics Alliance, and nerd connoisseur, wrote an insightful piece for Boing on how women "unlearn" the joy of video games. And she figured it out after talking to her younger sister. A lady who is the epitome of everything that "gamer boys" want. She's pretty. She's a cheerleader. She's popular. She dreams of going to school to study fashion and tailgate at football games. She is everything that video games do not cater to.

Juliet and her sister grew up with video games. They come from a time where the DS was a new system, and Cooking Mama was the rage, along with Brain Age and Nintendogs. These are games for everyone, not just girls. But as they began to grow up, something happened with games. Boys would find World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Grand Theft Auto. Games would grow up as the boys turned into teenagers, and then adults. With girls this doesn't happen. We get more, well, girl games. The content doesn't mature as we age. We're expected to stick to the fashion and design games that are meant for the 6-10 year old crowd who are still developing their minds.

And that's the problem, among other things of course. Games are not growing up with girls. It's catering to boys and men. It reinforces the notion that games are only for boys. Girls are not allowed, just like comic books. If you want to be involved you have to fight for it every step of the way, and have your gamer cred tested.

You can state that games such as Gone Home and Journey are breaking out of the traditional model of the "boys only club" to provide content for all genders. And that's very true. But are these the games that we see advertised on television? In gaming stores? On the most frequented websites?

Nope. You see Kate Upton looking pretty to show off a mobile phone game about war for boys and men. If I wasn't active on gaming news sites and reading blogs that are not mainstream, I wouldn't know about Journey. Ever. So how would the average girl or woman know about this product? If they grew up with a DS and Nintendogs, their basic point of contact with games has been with tv commercials. Yes, I understand that smaller and indie companies don't have the budgets of big name devs and can't afford certain marketing campaigns. So why aren't the big devs making games for women? There's a market for them if the popularity of Gone Home is any indication.

From the advertisements to the stores that house the games, everything is catered to boys and men. Strong, hulking, heroic male characters. Scantily clad women that need to be rescued. Displays are designed to entice the male gaze, and anyone female is relegated to the half wall of games made for kindergartners, all with pink or light purple cover designs.

Women make up half of the world's population, a 1 to 1 ratio. In North America, there are more women then men in most countries (including the U.S.). It's astoundingly ridiculous that gaming companies are alienating over half of a potential market. Women have disposable income too, gaming giants. And we'll happy pay for good games that don't make us feel like sexualized objects. We want to be super heroes and save the world too.

There is much more to the Boing article, including how women who are gamers are either isolated and made fun of, or they fall into the "pretty girl gamer" route and...get made fun of. But I wanted to focus on the words of the 17 year old lady who was about to enter into adulthood. She loves video games. But the games didn't grow up with her like they did with the boys. Very telling.


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