Gaming women

Published on April 15th, 2013 | by Zach (beezn) Beason

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Women: Half of Gaming’s Audience, None of the Respect

Inspiring women to play games can only be a good thing. It expands the marketplace, thereby exposing women to choose video games as a career path. It also broadens the appeal of the medium to a greater level of acceptance in society. As gamers, we should hope that everyone can enjoy playing, if not only for the joy and passion of it then for the untapped creativity that games can bring out in players. But, as usual with things that make good, plain sense there’s a problem.

Women make up half of the world and according to the Entertainment Software Association they make up 47% of all gamers. This is impressive because you never see games actively marketed to women, certainly not AAA titles. Gaming includes more than Call of Duty and Gears of War, everything from Yahoo Games to Farmville to mobile games on smartphones are included. Therefore, my mother plays more games than I do. But why the disconnect? How does the fact that literally almost half of all gamers are women, but in the eyes of the gaming industry, are still looked at as a niche market? Could it be related to the fact that women only make up 12% of the game development workforce? Perhaps it is the $10,000 annual salary difference that exists between men and women found throughout the game development industry as found in a 2013 survey published by Game Developer Magazine.

Back in November there was a twitter hashtag #1ReasonWhy that was a rallying call for women in the games industry from game development, PR and games journalism to give one reason why here were so few women in the field. The answer? Massive and rampant misogyny. Tara Brannigan, PopCap’s Community Marketing Manager tweeted this gem -

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Filamena Young, a pen and paper game designer and writer posted this as well -

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Along with the admissions of reprehensible things happening to women in the industry came realizations of being part of the problem. Jace Proctor, a Developer at Fifth Column Games, confessed -

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No business exists without having to deal with equality issues. That’s just something that you have to deal with when different people get together. However, the level at which it seems to permeate in gaming competes with the fact that those in the field are largely highly educated.

What does this mean for games?

If we take a look back to classic games women appear in them a lot. Zelda, Princess Daisy, Princess Peach, Marian the girlfriend that gets kidnapped at the beginning of Double Dragon (bet you didn’t know she even had a name). Unfortunately, they have a tendency to be taken hostage by their game’s antagonist. In Double Dragon‘s case, after being assaulted by them.

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An actual gut-punch of misogyny.

Only very rarely does a woman appear as a capable protagonist like Metroid‘s Samus Aran. Before Samus there had been female playable characters in games but she was the first one to take the traditionally male role of an action hero and save the day. One can only guess as how her influence helped to shape women in the world to not only love games, but also to strive towards a more equal stance with men in more male dominated businesses and in life in general.

In more recent times women have become more prolific individuals as seen with Gears of War 3‘s Samantha Byrne, and Halo: Reach‘s Kat. Not to mention all the women that have extremely deep story lines and emotional interactions with the player in the Mass Effect series, Liara, Miranda, Ashley, Tali, and Jack. Then there’s the Dragon Age series, Bioshock: Infinite, Tell Tale’s episodic The Walking Dead games. The list thankfully keeps getting bigger.

By far one of the most capable and encouraging examples of women in games is the newest incarnation of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. On the outset of the game she is confident and self-assured but inexperienced, unsure only in her capabilities to survive and help her friends get home safely. Lara is also psychically fit. She is an athlete, she isn’t a frail waif of a girl who constantly needs help. She can hold her own against very tall odds pretty believably.

Though there was some controversy late in the game’s development over a scene in which Lara looks as though she would be sexually assaulted, the game itself is inspiring and can be seen to have real feelings and motivations that you could tell came from a less explosion happy and testosterone fueled place. It’s less about saving a love interest and more about helping everyone you can and getting out alive.

Gaming, like all storytelling, should hope to make the player feel connected to the characters that they play and interact with. You can’t do that with heroes that are exclusively one gender. Take Mass Effect, you may want to play as femShep because it makes your experience more deep and meaningful. Perhaps the thought of women saving the world seems unusual because most media never goes that route. But doesn’t it sound fun?

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Excuse me, I have a galaxy to save.

I started writing this article after I read a story about a father literally changing a world for his daughter. When Mike Mika, Chief Creative Officer at Other Ocean Interactive tried showing his three-year-old daughter Donkey Kong, she really enjoyed playing the Atari classic but then asked her dad a question.

“How can I play as the girl? I want to save Mario!”

Just because there wasn’t an option to do that in the original 1981 game doesn’t mean you can’t make it one in 2013. With the help of a friend and some free palette altering tools he was able to modify the game so that Pauline was able to save the day. His daughter became more invested in the game when she got to play as a woman, saving Mario.

We want to see ourselves when we play games. We want to believe that we can be the hero of our own story. If you aren’t able to connect to the character that you’re playing as, it makes wanting to continue much less fun.

Great art comes from great minds, and great minds come from great inspiration. We need to make better games, literature, and art that men and women both can enjoy so that both men and women can be inspired to do great things. Without Mary Shelly we wouldn’t have Frankenstein and his monster, and Harry Potter wouldn’t exist if J. K. Rowling wasn’t inspired to tell that story. They were both inspired to create these works and the world has celebrated them both. By not supporting women as creators who knows what we have already missed out on.


About the Author

I suppose that I'm what happens when you give a kid a 25 gallon tub of Lego and a lot of free time. I play games, I take things apart, and I build things (not as successfully as I took them apart). On occasion I have been known to put pen to paper and write about games, movies, comics, basically a whole bunch of stuff.



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