Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gender in Gaming Culture

Gender in Gaming Culture

If you’re anyone who’s spent a little bit of time on the more social side of the internet (and I do mean Reddit, 4chan, Tumblr, and other such sites, not just Facebook and Twitter) you’ll have heard of the term “gamer girl”. Honestly these days it’s not used as much as it has been, and perhaps for good reason.

At first glance, it’s actually quite difficult to pin down what it means to be a ‘gamer girl’. We can’t simply include all females that play games, as this also might include that person who procrastinates by playing solitaire. A statistic floating around is that women comprise of 47% of gamers as of 2012, but are still viewed as a distinct minority. I will generally say that a girl gamer is a female who plays games on a regular basis, either for fun or for sport, and feels that she has her own niche in the gaming community.

Unsurprisingly, the term “gamer girl” has a lot of negative connotation associated with it. Some claim that it originated from male gamers who have their own distinct views about females who are gamers. The fact that it’s more of a negative term comes from the idea that serious male gamers, by and large, are also stereotyped in a negative way by society in general, and that they need to blow their frustrations and their feelings of being misunderstood off on someone else. Use of the descriptive ‘girl’ accomplishes two things: one, solidifies women as the minority because it has to be specified that they’re not actual gamers, they’re girls. Two, it glosses over the difference between younger women
and women over 30, both of which do participate in the gaming community.

This negative connotation is reflected in females’ own opinion of it. Many, when asked, preferred to not be called a “girl gamer” – yes, they are girls and they like to play games, but the term itself makes them uncomfortable and separates them out from those whom they consider to be equals.

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At the same time, though, many gamers also disapprove with the idea that female gamers must be, in essence, male gamers that just happen to have female body parts. Criticism of each other simply leads to tearing apart of what female gaming communities do exist, which is kind of the opposite of what needs to happen. For example, if you play Sims as a female, no matter how passionately you feel about it or how long you spend playing it, you’ll probably be grouped in with the gamers on the left because Sims isn’t a “real” game.

One of the prevailing schools of thought amongst female gamers is that it shouldn’t matter what they have in their pants: they like to play games, and that’s it. Hence, they dislike the term “girl gamer” because it specifies something about them that they don’t feel should make a difference. This again goes back to trying to eliminate the idea that female gamers are a minority in the gaming community, despite the fact that the actual ratio of male to female gamers is about equal. Oftentimes people with this opinion say that the most important thing is whether or not the person is actually good at playing: their sex is irrelevant. One unfortunate side effect of this, however, is that sometimes female gamers find it prudent to hide their genders from their fellow gamers to avoid unwanted attention or negative reactions.

I don’t want to blame this problem on male gamers, but at the same time I do. There’s a subsection of Reddit specifically for girl gamers that’s just chock full of examples of girl gamers getting insulted and discriminated against on account simply of being female. It’s become a norm to get a few “get back in the kitchen” comments thrown at you as a female gamer, which would certainly deter a lot of people from participating in games that are male-dominated.

This leads to a fundamental problem with the video game industry in general: that games are, in general, directed towards the male audience. Take a look at Grand Theft Auto V, possibly the year’s most anticipated release. Although GTA has always been known for its misogynistic portrayal of women, as Johnny Chiodini says in his video, “That’s not an excuse.” Just because it’s a game known to be incredibly sexist and not in general geared towards women does not give it the right to be glossed over in discussions such as these. He goes on to say that if the gaming community in general wants to be acknowledged as a serious art form and pastime, it needs to include consideration of the politics involved in making games, which includes serious thought given towards the 47% of gamers that are women.

So where do we stand? It’s hard to definitively take a side because this issue is so muddled and confusing. I think it’s easy to say that most of the general public would say this is an issue, but there will always be the die-hards who say that gaming is a man’s realm and that women aren’t as interested in it anyway, so why should we care if our significant other is running over prostitutes in some stupid game? Maybe we shouldn’t. But I think this is an issue worth considering, and I’ll simply end with a challenge: think of a game that has a female protagonist that is not sexualized or bearing the typical “damsel in distress” label in some way that is popular with both genders. Now think of a game with the same requirements, but with a male protagonist. I would guess that it’s a lot harder with females, and although there are some (Metroid comes to mind, as well as Tomb Raider, although it can be argued that even Samus, under all that armor, is just another sexy female video game character) it’s clear that there’s a large disconnect. At the same time, the success of these games show that it’s also possible to appeal to all types of gamers with a female protagonist and that it might be something worth looking into in the future.