No Girl Wins? Three Ways to Video Game Appropriation Post #GamerGate

Those of you who read these posts know that I would like to consider myself a “Gamer” but I feel that the title eludes me. I have stated that the title is too “lofty” a description of what I am and that “Casual Gamer” perhaps fits me better.

Perhaps even this term is too much; but allow me this conceit for the moment.

A few days ago an article over on boingboing was posted concerning a discussion with the articles writer and her little sister; this discussion revolved around the ownership of the title of “Gamer” (as if it could be owned) and the idea that “games are for boys”.

The article was called “No girl wins: three ways women unlearn their love of video games”, and though it may be apocryphal in nature I can imagine that it is how some people feel regardless.

Anyone with even a cursory interest in games has read these articles over the last few years, a lot of them have been written and a quick Google search will bring up hundreds of them for you to go through and in spite of this I have never felt the need to comment on one of them before.

So why this time? You may be asking.

Well I will tell you. (Whether you were asking or not.)

Much of my problem with the article can be summed up by the articles subtitle which reads:

My little sister just wants games to be for her exactly what they are for boys and men: easy to love. Why does that have to be so hard?

This is a pretty good subtitle (or perhaps its more of a “mini abstract”) that sums up the following 2.775 works that comprise the article fairly well. Essentially the article outlines that girls feel that they aren’t considered “real” Gamers, and then goes on to outline thee ways the industry alienates them.

But let me start with the sub title.

Why says that games are easy to love? Why says that it takes no effort and no deeper understanding to care for games? And who has said, ever, that the pursuit of anything has to be easy?

Already we can see an indication here of a clear difference between me (and I hope others trying to become “Gamers”) and the author of this article. Whereas I have stated many times that I have not felt that I have earned the title Gamer (and in truth I’m not sure how I can) the author to this article assumes the title is hers by right.

To some great degree I sympathize with her, its difficult and frustrating to have to earn something that is so indefinable. What does the title “Gamer” mean and what does it entail, how can I earn it and who must bestow the title on me? Is there a shadowy court somewhere that will whisk me away for some arcane ceremony?

Or is it just the way we feel and our own entitlement (or lack of) talking?

Erm… I think it’s probably the latter.

Unless a person can point out a direct and clear link between another’s actions and their own plight drawing the conclusion that one has affected the other is spurious at best.

This leads us on to the three points the article makes; three forces that push girls away from the exalted title of Gamer and away from games.

The first is “Disqualification”: which is defined (roughly for brevity) as “the games you play aren’t real games, therefore you are no gamer”, and a list of examples are given such as: Her Story, Gone Home, and The Sims. 

I was a little surprised at The Sims being an example, but I can see the point the argument makes. All three games listed ARE games in my opinion, but are they games the same way as I consider Metro 2033 a game (which I present as my current favorite)? No, I don’t believe they are; and why do you think this is the case? Why do I believe Her Story is not a game in the same way Metro 2033 is?

Well, to some degree its true that it’s because I’m male, and males have – broadly speaking – different tastes in games to females; but there are more valid reasons I’ll discuss later.

To elaborate a little on my first point; would I consider Twilight a film the same way as I consider 2001: A Space Odyssey a film?

Absolutely NOT! (Pah, I spit on your Twilight and raise you a Near Dark!)

But does this invalidate Twilight as a film and make all viewing of this film invalid?

If I were to list my favorite films how many would you consider “real films”?

If you were then to disregard them as “not real films” and me as “not a real film fan” does this make me just a “fake fan boy”?

The answers to these questions are: no, almost none and no, in that order.

This “force of disqualification” is nothing to do with what the group feels is valid and much more to do with the individuals reactions to these group decisions. If the validation of others is more important than your love of something then that, by definition, makes you a faker; but if you love something then you love it and people’s validation is irrelevant to you.

I can see that this may be marginalizing and makes socialization in a group difficult; but newsflash! Walking you own path always has this affect. The way to integrate is to conform, unconformity equals marginalization; this is the way of society and something that we can never change.

Those who walk their own path have to develop thick skin and have to learn to watch their own back; as you cannot rely on the strengths of a social group if you refuse to conform to its norms.

The alternative? Create you own group.

Before I move on I have to comment on a paragraph in this section I thought I needed to quickly comment on; I present it here unabridged:

But something changed during those latter elementary school years, as the boys started huddling together to talk Starcraft and Grand Theft Auto—as their masculinity began to ossify around ideas of not-like-girls, our femininity limited by ideas of not-for-girls. The rules changed as we learned to mold ourselves into pleasing shapes, as the boys began to look at us less like people and more like objects to spurn and/or pursue. We were not they, and our entertainment became as segregated as everything else. And as with everything else, anything on the side of “girl” fell beneath anything on the side of “boy” in worthiness.

Bearing in mind that this is two women speaking to each other, I wonder how much experience they have with how men think and what men believe. Perhaps someone should ask a man before they write something like this; I think they’d find the discussion enlightening.

The second force is “Marginalization”: which is defined (again, roughly for brevity) as “sex and violence in games is anti-female and makes female gamers prey for the males”, there are no lists of examples here, but there are a list of pro-female games: Journey, Transistor, Life is Strange, and Portal.

I think I’ve already stated how unconformity equals marginalization, but this section in the article how sexualizing within gaming is problematical to female acceptance and, perhaps this may surprise you, but I agree with this; though I think the article blows the problem out of all proportion by ignoring the male perspective and concerning itself too deeply with the notion of the female victim.

What I mean by this is that I think a lot could be done within gaming to make things more inviting for women as well as make better games. Recently I wrote a short review of Metro 2033 (my favorite game of the moment, as I think I already said) and in it I stated that more female characters would’ve improved the game greatly in my eyes.

My idea for Metro 2033 was to include a female playable Ranger and include a group of subterranean amazons who spurned all men and their technology.

I bet a lot of you have already seen the problem.

Including female characters isn’t the issue for developers of such games as Metro 2033, its including them in the right way.

If you use a male you can include them in any way you wish. They can be a neo-Nazi, a murderer, a child molester or slave trader; they can be any kind of filth imaginable and you can do with them whatever you wish within the game. You can shoot them or knife them, torture them in any way you can think. You can also imply whatever you want regarding that character and imply anyone sharing his attributes to be whatever you want.

You can do all this, and all this is often done, and no one will bat an eyelid.

Now try any of that with a female character and you’ll probably have a very bad day because of it.

If you want more female characters then you have to allow the developers to use those characters in interesting and morally complex ways; which includes making them the kind of filth I mentioned above.

The more the use of female characters is dictated and controlled the less likely it is for anyone to bother using them, as the potential fallout from it is no over whelming. So if you actually want female characters to rise above the use of “background decoration” (as they often are; as are male characters too) then you have to allow them to be used in any way the developer wishes.

The problem seems to be that there is a false conflation between how female characters are used in games and how women who play games are perceived. The notion being that because a female character is a stripper then all female players must also be thought of as strippers (or variations thereof) by male players. I would understand the logic here (though still not agree with it ) if it was accepted that portraying male characters as scum-of-the-earth implied that female players believed this to be true of all male players; but this is never acknowledged by those making the accusation.

It’s a pity as it would explain a great deal.

I wonder whether what is happening here is similar to what happens to someone who has a mental breakdown, namely that the borders between fantasy and reality begin to break down. Either the males who play games are experiencing this, by conflating imaginary women with real women, or the females who accuse them of it are by believing this to be true.

More likely of course it’s a combination of many things, a great many of which are not gendered in any way.

The third and final force is “Marketing”: which is defined (again, roughly for brevity) as “games are marketed at males, often using females to attract males, therefore games are not for females”, the example used here: Kate Upton “in a strategically knotted bed sheet”, Booker DeWitt “and his face-shredding skyhook”.

I’d like to present a trio of excerpts from the article here, firstly:

“They’re all about violence and nudity. I don’t like how the female body is made out. It makes me really uncomfortable. All of the commercials are for guys.”

I’d like you to take a quick look at the very first quote I reprinted, and especially the line “the rules changed as we learned to mold ourselves into pleasing shapes”.

Women use their pleasing attributes quite often, sometimes this is for the approval of males and sometimes for females; sometimes it’s just to be able to look in a mirror and appreciate the effort themselves, and none of this is necessarily bad.

The problem here of course is that once done this can’t be undone. Something that rarely gets spoken about is the control this places in a women’s hands, and the effect this has on the men and women around them. Placing an attractive woman in the middle of a crowded room is a little like placing a land mine there, some will walk up and look at it, and others will avoid it like the plague; but few will not know it is there and respect its power.

Violence is similar in that it is also an aspect that has its own power, and much like an attractive woman it can repel as much as it can attract.

However the term violence does not clearly define what games contain, as violence – defined as: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something – cannot be a part of any virtual environment, as there are no “someone or something’s” to actually cause violence to.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but there are no actual people within the virtual world of a game, there is nothing there that could be “hurt, damaged, or killed”.

Again the problem here is that in order to believe that violence is possible within an imaginary environment you have to either be defining the word violence in a very different way, or believing that there is no distinction between the imaginary and the real.

For the sake of argument lets accept the authors definition and accept her statement as fact; what is the issue with it? If you want to promote something to males then you make sure you portray two things, attractive women and the ability to blow things up. The implication that this is automatically negative, or that this is a viable reason for a woman to disregard it as such seems slightly odd.

Here is a quote from earlier in the article in the section about the “disqualification” of female centered games:

Dealing with women’s emotions, not having guns, or simply being enjoyed by women en masse—all of these qualities act as disqualifiers. It’s not just that women supposedly aren’t interested in games; it’s that the mere presence of femininity defines the games they like out of existence.

So it’s acceptable for women to consider themselves not accepted in gaming because they don’t like the games men play, but it’s wrong for men to consider games women play as “not real games”?

How do those female orientated games define the positivity of male characters and by extension (because, of course, there is no difference between fantasy and reality) real life males?

Of course this is all spurious and nonsensical, but the point is that if games designed for predominantly male players, and that are presented and marketed as such, are condemned as not being “female friendly” then why are females not content with the games marketed to them, while they are content with the way they are presented? After all they no less accepting of male players in their design or presentation.

So; on to the next excerpt from the article, concerning game marketing:

She doesn’t know about Never Alone. She doesn’t know about Gone Home. But she knows about Kate Upton in a strategically knotted bed sheet. She knows about Booker DeWitt and his face-shredding skyhook. Anything beneath that top stratum of blood and jiggle is invisible to her. So why would she go spelunking into gaming with no clear purpose? Why would she assume there’s anything worthwhile out there for her to discover? Without me, she’d never have heard of all the progressive indie titles I rattle off, and would have no reason to believe they exist. She doesn’t know about Steam; she doesn’t even really know about PC gaming period.

Firstly I have to say; doesn’t know about Steam? Doesn’t know about PC gaming? Is it any wonder those around her don’t consider her a Gamer in the same way they are? This paragraph paints the picture of someone sat waiting to be interested rather than searching for something to interest her. This is why she is not considered a Gamer by her contemporaries, because gaming is more about just playing games, even I understand this; and I am no Gamer either.

If she lacks the self awareness and tenacity to search for something to interest her then why on earth does she think that someone else should do that work for her? Understanding and exploring the gaming firmament is as much a part of attaining the title of “Gamer” as actually playing the games themselves.

I could rant on about this; but I’ll move on for the sake of my sanity…

Marketing is basically about demand and targeting those most likely to buy your product within that demand. The idea that sex and “violence” should be used to market should come as no surprise as the big buyers in gaming are mostly male (and broadly speaking males often prefer a different kind of game). Even if gamers are roughly 50-50 between males and females it is still likely that the majority of males pay out more within the industry than the majority of females do.

This is a generalization, I know, but I think it’s a likely one.

Males tend to be more competitive, they tend to be more inclined to engineering and computers from a technical viewpoint rather than a purely user orientated one. It’s likely that males tend to upgrade more often and with higher end components; and it’s likely they will shell out more money on the games they play for these machines.

All the games used as examples within the article itself illustrate this point. Not one of them would tax the average phone with their processing demands. They are designed as games that take advantage of existing technology, and they are not designed to push that technology too far.

Again this is perfectly acceptable, and does not make those games “un-games”, whether I’d play them or not, but its clear that more effort will go into marketing for a £40 game such as Grand Theft Auto V than would go into a £6 game for a phone.

I’m not suggesting that all games for women are designed for phones, nor am I suggesting that women can’t be interested in any other sort of games, just that the majority of users for a game such as GTA V will fit a certain demographic and that demographic will be catered for unless another demographic shows itself to be a marketable force.

To draw this long post to something like a conclusion I have to consider what all this means, at least from my point of view.

Ultimately this is all only relevant to me in so much that it threatens to change something I care about. Now in itself that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I said Metro 2033 would’ve been better for the inclusion of good female characters, so in theory I have nothing against this. The problem isn’t women in gaming, or inclusion of females in games, the issue (at least in my view) is that in order for this to happen those of us who play games have to change our approach to gaming to become more inclusive.

I would like more women in gaming, I would like more female characters in games, I would also like a broader range of games to try; all these things are good things, but I don’t NEED any of it. If I have to change everything I like about games, this includes the sex and violence, the tasteless humor and the decidedly un-PC angles games sometimes take, then why should I consider this a “win”?

To put it simply; what’s in it for us?

Women are as welcome in most gaming circles as anyone, but to be included in a social group you must adhere to that group’s policy. If you want those policies changed then you must do that from the inside and you must do it by changing attitudes. It certainly is true that some groups are intolerant and many people may be sexist, but these people need to be dealt with on a one to one basis to change their views. Forcing people like this to adhere does not stop their bigotry; it justifies it and makes it worse because changing something by force to incorporate your needs is not becoming a part of a social group, its appropriating it.

If women such as the writer of this article truly want equality in the gaming world then they need to stop making gender their first port of call when things do not go their way; even if gender is the proven reason for the lack of inclusion.

If there is overt sexism then making an issue of sex will create more resistance to any gender based inclusion. Another route has to be taken in order to overcome this as you cannot force a bigot not to be a bigot; changing such a mind is a long process.

However I personally do not believe there to be an issue regarding women in gaming, I believe the resistance to be that of one to a hostile take-over by an ideologically opposed force. I look at gaming and I see something that is not ideologically charged, I see a place where political correctness never manages to find a firm foothold; in short I see a place of some artistic freedom, and I believe this is the target.

I’ll end on a quote from Picasso, and a short (I promise) comment on it:

“Ah, good taste–What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”

So would anyone expect the artists within the gaming industry, within any industry, to accept those attempting to force their view of good taste on them?

Not likely.

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