Women in gaming. Recent news headlines have made out as if a new gaming market especially for women is the next big thing in gaming growth but isn’t that just a little offensive?
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal Europe entitled “Videogames make a play for women,” developers like EA and Ubisoft are designing dance, exercise and fashion-themed games for women.
Is it just me who finds it vaguely offensive that the kinds of games labelled “chick friendly” are vapid, boring and mostly pink?
Says Camilla, a games reviewer and (amazingly) a girl, “Bit pathetic really, isn't it? Every 'female game' has got to have cute little pets in it or be about dressing up their dolls.”
What about the women who’ve been playing games since they were kids and are still happily snapping up the latest FPS or RTS, and even racking up online time in MMOs? Are we invisible?
I agree that we don’t take up an enormous percentage of the market and that hardcore gaming has been primarily dominated by men but surely there’s another way?
How about introducing titles that are less intimidating to potential female players, something along the lines of the RTS, RPG or FPS lite. Diet and gal friendly.
Or why not take out all the half-naked, busty bimbos that populate most games and replace them with characters that are approachable to both sexes?
Games don’t always have to be skimpy outfits, rude innuendos, with constant bombs and guns to appeal to men. Nor do they need to gallop to the opposite end of the spectrum and be pink and fluffy and squeaky for chicks either.
“I'd love some more racing games, mystery games like Professor Layton and Guitar Hero style games that are about having fun and not blood and guts,” says Camilla. “The manufacturers could do more about not playing up to male fantasies too. Who wants to play a game where the action hero has pneumatic tits ala Lara Croft that are designed purely to, well, titillate. We need some proper action heroes, strong female figures and decent games to really attract women and girls and at the minute, I can't think of any.”
Will Wright did it with the Sims. He’s bred two generations of girl gamers happy to spend hours pottering around with their virtual people, getting them jiggy in a virtual world. Surely it’s only one small step from there into slightly more intricate titles like Sim City and then another teensy little sidle onto Civilization or Half Life?
I can no longer count on one hand how many female friends I’ve converted to gaming thanks to my sticking them in front of Half Life and letting them have fun.
Nobody steps up in front of their PC and instantly plays like a pro, unless you’re some kind of genius of course, and the one consistent thing I’ve been told by other women is that they feel too intimidated to play “those” games.
They see battle toughened veterans moving their mice in mystical patterns or shaking their controllers like strippers on speed.
They read biased and unflattering news stories about how either gaming kills you or turns you into a killer. They think it’s the domain of the nerd.
No wonder they don’t want to pick up a mouse or controller.
Nobody’s taken them to one side and explained how it works and that everybody starts out without a clue.
I remember my first tentative steps in an FPS – Doom. After a couple of hours of jittery controls and panicked button smashing I was soon sorted.
Then addiction kicked in. A holiday in Malaysia was characterised by my zombie-like facade thanks to having played Duke Nukem until 3am every day. My poor parents.
The article, above, that inspired my ire goes on to say that Ubisoft “in 2004 also began sponsoring an all female team of game players called Frag Dolls, to help promote women in gaming.”
Am I the only one who reads that and thinks “2004?” Isn’t that really late in the day?
According to recent debates and statistics, the PC has apparently seen its heyday. That those giddy 90s when you schlepped your PC across town to your mate’s house so you could frag each other all day in Quake have slipped by like a distant daydream.
So why haven’t large developers like this been sponsoring girl groups back when massive LANs were huge business? There were plenty of male groups sporting badges of developer affiliation and wallets oozing with corporate cash.
Could it be that the very reason women have edged away from gaming isn’t just because it’s “too violent” for our delicate little souls but because we’ve been gender stamped from the start?
I remember the first LAN I ever went to; carrying my beautiful baby out the car and into the hall I was met with stares and suppressed sniggers.
Surely a chick can’t possibly imagine she’ll spend more than three seconds alive with us macho cave hunters in the network?
Wrong, chaps. Wrong.
Although I did practice better overall hygiene and smelled a lot nicer.
I made it my mission to attract other women to gaming. I took them into my lair (a soundproofed room with superb sound, two machines and lots of power) and left them with whisky and Half Life.
I showed them how incredible it was to actually live Star Wars. How addictive Doom was and how funny the Duke could be.
Only one person never, ever got it and she was already a lost cause. She didn’t even like email.
So yes, developers, go ahead and make those horrible games with fake pets and hair salons but know this, there are plenty of women who think that perhaps the gender issues are yours.