Some of you might be wondering why discussions about femininity and video games are even worth having. “Why put a spotlight on women?” you might be wondering. “Why does it matter? I am a man, and I am not the target audience for this kind of thing. It doesn’t apply to me. In fact, I’m not interested.” To launch Saucy Saturdays, I’m going to tell you why putting focus on the role of women in gaming is important.
First of all, almost everything involved in game development – production, marketing, even distribution and the act of playing – is male-centric, and occasionally (I’m looking at you, booth babes) misogynistic. Second, women are underrepresented in the gaming industry, but not in the gaming audience. The women who are a part of the industry are almost never brought to the forefront. Third, there are way too many misconceptions about the portrayal of women and the portrayal of men in video games. Yes, they are often both fitting into some kind of ideal body type, but they do so in different ways. Finally, nobody insults or belittles a guy in a game just because he’s a guy; for women, their gender is enough to spur an onslaught of derogatory remarks and jokes.
Here are four concrete examples of these circumstances:
1. According to research by PhD student Julie Prescott at the University of Liverpool, and reviewed by Gamasutra, the number of females employed in the UK video game industry went from 12 percent in 2006, to 4 percent in 2009. This is despite the fact that 42 percent of all game players are women. According the Entertainment Software Association, “Women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).”
2. On IGN’s The Next Game Boss, a competition for indie developers a la Project Runway, teams are presented with a challenge in which they must create a monster boss using a combination of two genres they’ve chosen at random. Team “Runt, Inc.” pulls Realistic Simulation/Post-Nuclear Apocalypse, and since one team member states, “When I think super-villain, I automatically think, like, a woman,” they decide to propose a game called Feminist Apocalypse: A Reckoning.
The plot is one in which the feminist movement has taken control of the EU, promising men endless alcohol and sex if they move to labor camps. However, “They don’t deliver on the sex,” so, civil war ensues. Unfortunately, women can’t handle nature because men “aren’t out foresting and things like that. They do what they’re good at: they overreact.”
In demonstration slides, they state that the object of the game and the gameplay are “a metaphorical realistic simulation to dating.” Your goal as the player is to escape the prison and convince the women to love you again. The supervillain is a 35 year-old dominatrix who is angry because she has no kids and “little hope to procreate at this point,” so she’s taking out her bitterness on all men. This boss is the one the judges deem to be the best.
3. In a Kotaku opinion piece, Latoya Peterson describes an experience at New York Comic Con, when she went to see a panel which would include, “an in-depth discussion between Isamu Kamikokuryo, art director of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, art director of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” During the panel, Peterson had this to say about Jacques-Belletête:
…he went into a two minute riff about ‘always trying to have very beautiful female characters,’ noting that these were characters he would want to sleep with. After making a semi-disparaging remark about female characters drawn in a North American style, he concludes ‘I’d rather have female characters from Final Fantasy or SoulCalibur to sleep with.’ This draws chuckles from the crowd.
4. Breast Physics. Team Ninja, developers of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden, are known for their execution of the feature. Ninja Gaiden 2 even allowed the player to control the bounce, using the PS3 Sixaxis controller. In fact, Team Ninja’s Yousuke Hayashi has stated that the team’s core design policy is “Every man loves tits.”
In an article by Laura Hudson titled The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality’, she writes, “I have long maintained that to bring in more female readers, superhero comics don’t even need to specifically target women as much as they need to not actively offend them.” This absolutely applies to video games, and that’s what Saucy Saturdays are about. It’s about applauding the games that don’t actively offend women. It’s about showing readers that there really are women behind some of the games they love. It’s about appreciating the female characters who are real women, and not just a male fantasy. Women can be sexy, sexually liberated, they can even be subservient and docile. They can wear revealing clothes or they can be celibate nuns. What’s important is that there is a reason for them being like that, that there is depth beyond just being a life-like sex doll. That is to say, that we as players are encouraged to view them as human beings.
Until the day when there’s no need for the phrase “women in games” or “girl gamers,” where we can accept that women are actually involved in games and on an equal footing with their male counterparts, when there’s no need to differentiate between genders in gaming just like we don’t need to differentiate between male and female readers, or male and female movie watchers, until then, putting a spot light on women in the gaming industry is important, and that’s what I plan to do.