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04/16/2003

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Another Mike

I believe the majority of the problem traces back to the actual number of females who play video games compared to the number of gamers who are male. When you're a large company like Nintendo or Squaresoft, you have a certain demographic that they must appease lest they go out of business from lack of sales. As of right now, we're in a transitional period where the number of females and the number of males playing games is beginning to equalize, but until then, the demographic will be more focused towards what male gamers will want to play. Unfortunately this means that until more females begin to show their interest in video games those females are going to be stuck with what is being mentioned above. And it's not to say that companies aren't trying. There are several games that have created an equality-based way of game play. The Sims is an example. Give it a few years. I'm sure that once more females join gaming companies; more games will begin to take on a female shape. It's hard enough trying to understand females sometimes.. And I'm sure it's harder for a male game producer to try to get inside the head of a female protagonist character in order to get a feel of her actions to determine her next move in the storyline. Until females start bursting into the game creation scene, males are going to have a slight domination on what games will be like. The future will bring an explosion of equality.

pointingdevice

I agree in many ways with all of this. As an artist, concept developer, and character developer, it is very important to develop uniqueness while not going overboard or delving into too many stereotypes. Having a player or reader develop a connection with a character has a lot do to with so many other aspects of the character besides looks. Beauty can be portrayed in a number of ways besides breast size, and often these characters are the ones that make you say, "wow, she's rad."
As far as Baldur's Gate: DA, I saw nothing but schlock in the game overall. Technically it had a lot going for it, but the elf girl's design made her look like someone who should be sitting on a Harley Davidson. That's just not elven. That's B movie actress and her fake tits with some rubber ears put on. I didn't identify a single bit with anything they tried to do with that game, so when the bust-tacular bartender showed up, I wasn't surprised in the least. The entire game, design especialy, when compared to the previous BG's was trite.

Jake of 8bitjoystick.com

As brilliant as ever Jane. I need to email you a ROM hacked version of Super Mario Bros called Super Peach Sisters. It is Mario is kidnaped and Princess has to go rescue him. It is fun and subversive.

Josh

Excellent article!

I also found the Baldur's Gate tavernkeeper to be totally ridiculous and detracting from an otherwise outstanding game.

Isaac Larrison

Bernard Cesarone wrote an article in which he talks about, among other things, gender roles. Most games in and around 1995 show women as the initiators of action or the victims of the games. A study in 1992 showed that only nine female characters where depicted on popular Nintendo video games covers, while 115 males were shown. Some studies have shown that males play video games more frequently than females, so manufactures of video games may create their video games aimed at males.

Sex Sells. You know how many male friends of mine have bought that DoA:Beach Volleyball game and have no interest in volleyball? If that game was mixed with guys and girls, would as many guys still buy it? There's something to think about.

--
Cesarone, Bernard. “Video Games and Children.” Emergency Librarian 22.3 (1995): 31-32

Chou Oishii

I'd like to know what you think of a game like Xenosaga. If you've never played it, it's an RPG in which fully half of your party is female (and two of the three male characters are skinny/prepubescent-types). The main character (or at least the one who gets the largest chunk of attention) is a young female engineer with glasses, who has a very shy would-be boyfriend following her around, trying his hardest to get her attention.

I'm kind of assuming you haven't played it yet, since it seems to me to be an ideal counterpoint to crap like tomb raider, but if you have, or if you do in the future, I'd be very interested in hearing what you thought about it.

T1nman33

Very good article. I agree with AnotherMike, however. Video gaming, despite being a relatively artistic, independent, "hippie" industry, is a business all the same. As wonderful as it is that video gaming is beginning to be taken seriously, even becoming "mainstream," it also means that market share and bottom line are ever more important. Women need to start playing a more active role in the creative process of game development if we're going to create the best possible games, for both boys and girls. The first step in that process is for women to start playing more games, and to actively make their opinions known to both the developers and the reviewers. The end result will be games with more realistic depictions of both male and female characters, and that benefits us all as gamers.

Ezben

I agree that gaming and video-gaming are so far a much more male domimated industry and also with the assessment that change is in the air. I mean look at the television media it hasn't been all that long since women became "Empowered" there. Shows with female 'action heros' like 'la fem nikita' (which might not be the best or even the best example, but it gets my point across). I have recently started playing "Darkened Skyes" on the 'cube. Which probably should have been titled "An adventure of skittles".. Anyway it's somewhat refreshing in that while the main character is obviously female she doesn't appear to be excessively endowed. Baiscally I guess I'm just saying that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm just hoping it's not attached to a train.

DarkZero

This is a pretty good article, but I see one real problem with it: you're missing the big picture. The games that you criticize are Tomb Raider, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and DOAXBV. There's a pattern there besides huge breasts, and it's called "suckage". DOAXBV sort of gets an exemption from this category for being pretty unique as far as games that get a US release go, but BG:DA and Tomb Raider are just more products of the "when you don't have anything else, use sex" business model that so frequently appears on TV and in movies. The tactics that they use are a way to make a quick buck, but the majority of them don't sell well and the companies that produce them just barely make a profit. Criticizing them as if they're evidence of some pervasive air of exploitation in gaming is like holding up some schlocky teen comedy movie as an example of why American movies are immature. It's taking the rare (and rarely popular) exception and calling it a rule. They're fun to mock, but they're not really evidence of a serious problem.

Another problem that's not mentioned is that plenty of games that are made almost solely for women in Japan aren't given European or North American releases. So even though there are games out there specifically targeted at women, such as "guy-get" dating sims with female or gay male main characters, tons of bemani games, and generally a lot more games that don't conform to the "male badass struts in and busts shit up" gaming convention, very few of us get to see them. They're never released over here and they don't even make good imports because many of them rely on a ton of Japanese text to play the game. So the really unfortunate situation as far as gender roles and gender marketing goes in video games is that there are hardly any companies that are willing to translate and release video games here that don't appeal to a thirteen year old male audience.

I was glad to find a link to an article about women in video games that isn't just ignorant vitriol, though. It's been awhile since I've seen an article like this that doesn't make outrageous complaints, like complaining about a scantily clad girl in a video game when one of the other playable characters is an impossibly muscular young man with an intense hatred of upper body clothing or complaining about the utterly massive number of current games with a "male hero must save the dainty princess" plot, such as Super Mario Bros. for the NES, the Castlevania arcade game from the mid1980s, Double Dragon for the NES, Final Fight, and other such "recent hits". It's also nice to hear that pinup games like DOAXVB aren't a sexist male conspiracy that will send planet Earth into a vicious spiral of rape, murder, and, somehow, also racism. The world, and especially this discussion, could use more people with an "it's not my bag, but it's okay if it's yours" attitude.

Blackdog

I agree fully with this article. It is well written and even though I'm a guy, and I love to see hot women, enough is enough as far as games go. I want an immersive, fun game - not something that is touted to sell b/c it features a scantily clad woman somwhere in the game or pointless, mindless violence (which wasn't touched on too much). Great article though! :)

Ian Fleming

First, I would like to say that I too felt that the mentioned aspects of the visual presentation of Baldur's Gate: DA completely dissociated me with the dark and moody gameplay experience I was looking for. The look of the characters, particularly the female characters, just didn't seem to fit the game.

Secondly, Xenosaga was brought up and I would also be very interested in your thoughts on Metroid Prime. You play as a female character who's strong, silent and deadly and the most you ever actually see of the character is her face. The game, to me, is a perfect counter-example to Tomb Raider in both quality and image of the female character you're playing as.

Metroid Prime is a good example of how a great game developer can incorporate a strong lead female character into a game without reducing her to mere eye candy with guns.

Cal

I'm somewhat tired of people complaining about Phalic objects. Yes a joystick looks like a penis, but would you rather have a controller shaped like a vagina?

manly mcman

go play with your dolls. and make me a sandwich!

seorin

While there's something to be said for gender equality in gaming (or any form of media) I really don't see a whole lot of developers saying to themselves, "I think my game should alienate women." You really can't take things too personally. If a company is marketing a game towards males it's sheerly to boost sales (because currently more males play video games), not because they dislike women.

Gender equality would be nice in many cases, though. I thoroughly enjoyed Xenosaga which I would consider to be an extremely gender-neutral game. It's honestly the best game I've played in years and I have little doubt that it is because its maturity in all departments (including gender) is far superior to other games on the market.

At the same time, you really can't let it be that important to you. Yes, gender-neutral games are more enjoyable to me, but that's not to say I can't enjoy a gender-biased game. Tomb Raider sucks because it has terrible gameplay, not because of the gender bias. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance has a thoroughly ridiculous plot all around, so why not just ignore the plot and enjoy the wonderful, extensive hack & slash gameplay?

Perhaps it's different for the opposite sex, but as a male I enjoy a game regardless of any gender-bias in either direction. I enjoy playing females just as much as males. I've enjoyed playing females at every opportunity (Dark Age of Camelot, Fallout 2, and I might have to give Arcanum a try!), but some games are just going to be better than others and gender maturity is a part of that. Just enjoy what's enjoyable in a game and ignore the rest.

Sean

The Soul Edge/Caliber series was very good for having strong female characters that weren't passive, shallow girls, but rather strong women. Sophitia is a great example - she's an easy to use character with potent moves, and her storyline accents both her strength and her femininity. Seung Mina was a rebellious daughter who'd grown up playing/fighting with the boys and thought she was just as good as anyone. Taki was also independent. I haven't played SC or SC2 yet, but they seem to continue the tradition.

Squaresoft's Parasite Eve series also gives us another heroine in the form of Aya Brea. While attractive, she's not unrealistic in overall design. (The anime-style eyes are another matter) The game allows her personality to show through every now and then with some humor. (in Parasite Eve 2, you walk through a trashed convenience store. One of the aisle's has junk food in it. She comments on it, then adds, "Nothing I'd ever eat, though..." as sort of a joke.) Yes, there is a shower scene in PE2, but it is tastefully done overall, and it doesn't just happen, the character has walked through a sewer and been walking around a desert town by the time this happens. A hot shower would not be an unreasonable want.

For the most part, games are steered towards guys. But there is hope. Even without being playable character, women along the lines of several of Metal Gear Solid's female characters make a game more interesting without going right for the sex factor. Hopefully more games will start including similarly strong women (who are still women, not "men" with boobs)

Just my two cents.

Daniel

Overall, I have to say that, as someone who's read plenty of "All Video Games Are Sexist Because The Women In Them Are Attractive!" articles, this stood out as actually appreciating some games involving attractive women for their other values, instead of merely focusing on how women were portrayed. Many people like to complain about how women in video games are always busty, but they rarely compare the number of less-endowed women to the number of skinny nerdish guys, another commonly ignored stereotype for a hero.

I think, though, that the current tendency towards strong male characters and depthless female characters in video games has a strong root in the history of how these games came about. The fact is, boys have always been encouraged to focus more on math and science, and girls on literature and social studies. This is changing now, but during the 50's and 60's, this was still the case. The result here is that when computers started to become popular, and later arcade games, the people most interested in them ended up being the people most interested in technology, i.e. the boys raised on science. Take a look at Pong. The fact is, it wasn't all that fun of a game, when you think about it. Board games at the time were much more interesting, and yet, it was immensely popular. Why? Because people liked the technology. So boys really started the video game revolution not because video games were actually fun, but because it was so novel to be able to press a button, and have the screen respond.

Here's where the problem comes in. You have the boys, who were raised on science, playing pong non-stop, while the girls, who were raised on literature and social studies, have no idea why you'd want to play this game. So, as children naturally do, the girls ridiculed the boys. Of course, these same boys who were ridiculed by girls in their childhood for playing video games grow up to be the men that make the video games 20 years later, and what do they do? They make the video games for guys. They make the male characters complex and interesting, because that's how they remember their friends from the arcades, and they make the female characters 2-dimensional and pointless, because that's what they seemed like to them when they were young.

And the fact is, this problem is still going on today, only in a slightly different sense. Video games are not only pointless technology demos any more; they're incredibly complex ssytems that involve human interaction and years of training to master. And yet guys who play video games are often treated by girls as if they were heroin addicts, spending all their time and money on something completely worthless and even harmful to themselves. Nowadays, this is more often justified by claiming that the video games that guys play are too violent, or don't give them any social interaction. I have actually had girls tell me that games like Battlefield 1942 close people off from society, while at the same time expounding the virtues of Solitaire, which is possibly one of the most addictive and non-social games ever made.

So what would happen if I became a video game designer later in life, and used my experiences to decide on how females were portrayed in my games? I think that instead of complaining about game developers making games that portray women badly (by the way, saying that the player leads or guides a character in an RPG or adventure game is common terminology applied to both male and female characters in game reviews), we should work harder on (A) helping girls realize that video games aren't the root of all society's ills, and (B) encouraging them to make their own games.

David

Your opening comment about identifying too strongly with GTA3 hits close to home in Oakland. Those kids called themselves the Nut Cases.

DeRusto

This article is on top of things. I would really like to see more games that are not gender biased. Not only would this open the market more for females, but it would add greater gameplay dynamics. Even games in which you choose the attributes of the main character, you choose how NPC's respond to you. This is the way gameplay should be headed, it adds for a more personal and unique game.

Josh

Somewhere along the lines consumers seem to forget that markets are driven towards capital gain. Orienting video games more towards females (which is probably unfair to say, rather I should word it as changing the current orientation of the demographic AT ALL) would more than likely result in some loss of revenue. In any business market I can tell you that is simply unacceptable. As a 21 year-old male gamer, I recognize the facets of the industry same as you. Your article was well-written, but I think you fail to touch on the fact that developers do what makes money. If a large female target audience suddenly started buying videogames and became a voice to listen to the industry, you could expect change. However, as it stands, I wouldn't hold your breath.

Ryo

It's a nice article, though I did see a bit of a problem with it... Here, you're treating videogames like books, or film-festival projects. As long as I've been playing videogames, the only times I've tried relating to the characters or identifying with them is when venturing into the world of fanfic. Yes, there are a few exceptions--and yes, I'm not the best judge of quality on this issue--but for the most part, I play videogames for the issue of fun. Yes, I can see your target audience point, but the average female isn't interested in videogames anyway, be they aimed at them or not. I may be a tomboy, but I'm still female; but I still think that if there were more games made and marketed for females, they probably would be marketed toward the stereotypical bimbo female, and would be mindless and boring.

As for game suggestions, maybe you should try something like Drakan(PS2 - it had a subtitle, but I forget what it was). I played it a while back, and didn't get far enough along to recognize a lot of character developement, but it was alot like Tomb Raider--only the main character didn't have basketballs for breasts. It was a medieval setting in which the main character, Rynn, is a sort of mercenary whose homeland was destroyed in a war, and...alright, so I can't remember what the story was, but I remember that you were supposed to go around and run errands for the townspeople and that sort of thing... (sorry if that wasn't very helpful)

B C

I do agree with several of your points; certainly those about the whole Lara Croft fiasco. However, there are characters that break the mould - look at Ayane from Tenchu, or several characters from Final Fantasy games. It is my hope, as well as many other peoples, that female characters in videogames can grow to become more involved, and not merely ninjas and useless NPC's. That being said, I personally don't thin it will be long before this is the case.

postulio

i play the game that unites all types of gamers, Dance Dance Revolution!!!

NiteMare

Very nice, I don't think i've read anything this good about games in my entire time as a gamer, thanks :)

C W

One great game for gender equality and realistic physical features was Tony Hawk 3. I have a friend who is, basically, short and round, but she could play with the player edit settings and make a character that looked pretty much just like her, and she was thrilled. Unfortunately, TH4 has lost the "extremes" of height and weight, and characters must be mostly middle of the road, ideal shapes. Pity.

Xocet

An excellent article - as a male gamer I suppose I tend to be oblivious to the differences. Occasionally though, they do come out (for example playing Diablo II or PSO as a female).

One thing though - Joysticks. Laughably phallic? I admit they are phallic, but in this case you must examine intent - the stick was invented along with the first aircraft 100 years ago. Admittedly those designers were male, but they weren't video game designers, not to mention I doubt they intended it as a symbol of male superiority where aircraft are concerned. I mean, can you picture an effective way to control a biplane that's shaped like a breast or vagina? This one case is surely a coincidence.

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