|I've wanted to write an editorial about female gamers for a
long time now; I just didn't know what I wanted to say. I toyed with the idea of slamming
the sexist way women are portrayed in games, mainly because I felt like complaining about
how sick I am of seeing Lara Croft's square butt everywhere. But I realized that both
sexes are hyper-idealized in video games. Metal Gear Solid wouldn't have had the same
effect if Solid Snake was a screechy-voiced, pimply-faced, fat guy (well maybe that would
be kind of fun). We live in an age of equal opportunity sexism. Women have anorexic Vogue
models to look up to and men have their muscle-bound fantasies fueled by Men's Health
and GQ. I decided that it's not the games or the gamers that are the problem, but
the damned video game advertisers along with a strong dose of our cultural stereotypes.
Going to E3 got me thinking. I was surprised to see so many women. I had always thought that female gamers were a very small minority of the greater gaming public and that women had almost nothing to do with getting games made. Boy was I wrong. According to an IDSA (Interactive Digital Software Association) press release, we make up 35% of console gamers and a whole 43% of PC gamers, and at E3 almost every booth had an equal number of men and women. I have always played video games, and so have my closest female friends, but I can't remember all the times one of our acquaintances (male or female) would be shocked that we played video games 'like the boys.' Female gamers are out there in full force, but only now are people realizing it.
I started gaming before I can really remember. When I was very little we lived in a college town and every once in a while my dad would take me to the nickel arcade- this was the early eighties so there were mainly pinball machines and a few stand-up arcade games. Around this same time we'd go to my aunt's house and my cousin Kathy and I would play on her early Atari. It didn't have cartridges, but it claimed to have something like 6 games built in (Pong, Tennis, Table Tennis- basically it was the same game over and over again). When we moved to Idaho we were so bored that my family bought a TI computer, and we all loved it. I was addicted to Munch Man, a total rip off of Pac Man, and my mom played this space ship shooting game called Parsec. She was pregnant with my brother and claimed that playing made her feel better. When the NES came out my friends and I used to ride our bikes to Shopko everyday to play the demo. When I got to the end of Metroid I was so excited to see that I had been playing a women the whole time. To make a long story short, I grew up but never stopped loving video games. My mother, on the other hand, claims that they all move too fast and require you to push too many buttons. What I'm trying to say here is that everyone my age has the same story to tell--male or female, we all play them.
So if there are so many female gamers out there, then how come no one is catering to them? Well, the video game developers are starting to woo women in all the wrong ways. This year PC gamers can look forward to (I'm being sarcastic) a Cosmopolitan make-over program that will point out all of your flaws and give you tips for repairing them. It will keep you in the bathroom for hours every morning. I've always hated it when toy companies, stores, and parents insist on dividing things along gender lines. When I was little I remember despising they toys in the aisle marked boys as well as the toys in the girl's aisle. The best stuff was always in those ungenderfied aisles. When you design along gender lines the worst stuff comes out. Barbies give girls the wrong idea about physical ideals for women, and GI Joe teaches boys that war is not only good but also fun. Games should be designed along topic lines: war games, fighting games, first person shooters, and should be sensitive to all of their potential audience.
While at E3 I had the pleasure of talking to Mattel. I was expecting the worst as they had Barbie everything. The last Barbie 'game' I had seen was this lame-o dress up thing. It wasn't really a game, but more of a glorified paper doll set. I was pleasantly surprised by the new selection of Barbie games. There was this Barbie inline skating game that was actully a lot like a simplified version of current extreme games hits (3Xtreame, Coolboarder, etc.) Of course, by doing tricks, Barbie racks up the points and these points can be spent on new clothes. I had a revelation: Even in the most masculine of games changing outfits is normal. Barbie and Tekken have more in common then you might think. The worst thing about the Barbie games was the name Barbie; it alienates all but the powdery pink little girls which is too bad because little boys would probably enjoy the game.
There are plenty of female gamers out there, and there is a favorite game for all of them. It doesn't have to be designed with pink or be sensitve and light on the violence. On the net the other day I found a dissusion group for women who love Carmageddon. But there still is the perception that video games are for teenage boys, and I'm going to blame this on the advertising for video games which seems to have a sixth grade mentality and makes non-gamers think that's the way were are. There's no excuse for selling a racing game with boob shots (I'm talking about Ridge Racer 4 here). At E3, despite the fact that half those in attendence were women, game companies hired scantily clad women to lure men to their booths. Next year I want to see some man booty.