Serious Female Video Gamers: Yes, We Exist

Michelle MillerPerspectives13 Comments

I’ve been a gamer now for most of my life–I remember sticking an enormous floppy disk into my drive and loading a game from DOS; I remember playing my first FPS (or “First Person Shooter,” for those in the dark here); and most of all, I remember logging into the massively multiplayer online game (MMO) World of Warcraft for the first time and creating Cressida, the primary character with which I game these days. I named the character after the literary archetype, not the car–a refrain I mutter frequently into my headset to other players.

Here’s the thing: I find I’m muttering it more and more to other women. Ten years ago, my gaming was “cute” to my male friends and family, to whom I was likely their sole example of a “chick who plays games.” Female gamers were few and far between in shooters and RPGs back then. Yet, if you look at the population of gamers today, you see something markedly different. According to a 2010 study by the Entertainment Software Association, 40% of all gamers are female. Let me repeat that: nearly half of all gamers are female.

Not that you’d know this by speaking with video game companies. Not only is the production end of the industry male-dominated, but its games cater disproportionately to men. No, that’s being polite. Its games cater almost exclusively to men. Not every game is as bad as the Duke Nukem series, but the unfriendliness is clear in other ways: the design of character models (Tera has a race in short skirts whose asses are, I kid you not, perpetually tilted up at the screen); the sexist dialogue of cut-scenes and quests; and a malaise about creating a community that’s safe for women. A person might receive a week-long ban for harassing a player about being bad at the game but no punishment whatsoever for threatening to hunt down, rape, and murder another player because she declined his cyber-sex advances.

Nor have designers spent much time or money exploring games that might better appeal to women. I’m not saying women don’t enjoy Modern Warfare, because many do, but it’d be great to see a game that incorporated women into storylines as something more than just a sex toy, Princess Peach, or rape victim. Maybe we ladies want an MMO or FPS that empowers us as much as it empowers men. I don’t want my female character to be the only example in the universe of a woman who can take on fifteen enemy mobs at once and casually smoke a cigarette afterward. And this leads me to ask: in an economy tuned to every growing market, why have video game companies neglected to recognize, well, me?

The male gaming population isn’t much different. Log into a game like WoW and you have two goals as a woman: (1) conceal to all but your most trusted gaming friends, or to those in the presence of those friends, that you’re a woman, and (2) work doubly hard to prove your skill. Fail in either of these areas and prepare to hear publicly and privately from every male with an insatiate libido or low self-esteem. Trust me, they are legion. Long about the fiftieth time I read “TITS OR GTFO,” it got old. The message is this: “You are strange; you do not belong here.”

I’ve noted some positive signs of change in the past few years, however. Bioware, a company responsible for some of the biggest games of the decade (Dragon Age and Mass Effect, just to name a couple) has made leaps and bounds in developing games that acknowledge the existence of lady gamers. A sure sign this move has been a great one is that many male gamers have responded negatively to it. A player, they say, shouldn’t be forced to deal with come-ons from players of the same-sex or storylines designed to appeal to women. It’s unfair, they lament. I won’t copy the official response from a Bioware representative to these complaints, but it was a several-paragraph treatise on the disinclination of those in power to yield any part of it, even if the power they hold is disproportionate. They tossed the word “entitlement” in there a few times, too.

Yet another positive sign: many new games allow players to choose the breast size of their female characters. This change may seem insignificant, but it represents progress. Games have historically allowed its lady characters only bazonga-sized breasts–the sort of breasts that most of us would realistically have reduced before engaging in MMO-style acrobatics. Some worry that players will create even larger-breasted characters, but at least we have a choice now. When I logged into the character creator for Aeon and saw that I could shrink the breasts of my character from a 36EE to a reasonable 36C, well–it made my effing year.

I see video gaming as one of the last bastions of good old-fashioned boys clubbery. And because it’s one of the last, many of these boys are bracing the doors–despite our numbers, despite good money to be made. In a society that trains women to play passively, a female raid-lead, guild-lead, or hell, all-around kick-ass shooter may seem impossible. It may seem unmarketable. But we’re here, we’re doing it, and we’ve been doing it for a long time. We, it turns out, are legion, too.

 

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Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller is a twenty-something blogger, cook, freelance writer and editor living in Seattle, Washington. She’s a feminist trying ever-so-hard to embrace her spaces, conventional or not. She looks forward to numerous bad hair days, burnt cremes, a soapbox or two, and maybe (just maybe) a yellow polka-dot bikini in the years ahead.
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Michelle MillerSerious Female Video Gamers: Yes, We Exist

13 Comments on “Serious Female Video Gamers: Yes, We Exist”

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  1. Profile photo of WillowWeen
    WillowWeen

    This. So much.

    You know, there are places, small places, where I feel like gamer girls have to effing hide out. It’s not in American-made games at all.

    I honestly don’t care how hot they make female characters. I remember when Tomb Raider was new and her boobs could have filled up a small tub. I didn’t care. She was a kickass loner badass. I hate her now because they keep trying to make her more “emotional and appealing to women.” Fucking morons. I liked her lack of emotions and coldness.

    I also jumped for joy when I bought the Sims newest expansion and found I could adjust the boob size of the sim ladies. Oh, and give men back hair, leg hair, etc. Though I was miffed that I couldn’t give my sim ladies leg hair. I am also annoyed that I can’t adjust height, so, really there’s really no pleasing me. I just want a large hairy lady sim to fall for a small hairless man sim. Is that so much to ask? I find physical contrast sexy.

    If American companies would take their heads out of their dudebro asses and pay attention to what draws women in, then the game industry here would be much better off. Seriously, follow the good story-telling and hot naked men. I don’t know one woman gamer who hasn’t played one of the FFs or Resident Evils and then immediately fell for one of the many hunky mans there.

    But American companies REFUSE to do this. They totally understand men needing eye candy, but they don’t understand women needing it too. This is why I have not gotten into 80% of American games. The dudes are fucking ugly and usually have annoying personalities too. They’re usually gigantic meat-heads with shaved heads, or look like WWF contestants. Maybe some women like that, but I don’t. And I have to call bullshit every time the character line-up of a game is several of these meat-head types and then like two skinny, skantily-clad 16-yr old looking girls.

    1. Profile photo of Michelle Miller
      Michelle Miller

      You said it right when you said they “REFUSE.” But I can’t understand it, because there are really no other places in this economy I can find where our money isn’t worth as much as a man’s. You’d think that money would offer the encouragement to get designing for us, if nothing else, but not even that seems to get them off their asses. o_o

      1. Profile photo of WillowWeen
        WillowWeen

        I think they’re just scared. Creating games is such a huge investment up front, they’re afraid they’ll get it wrong. And, honestly, they probably would get it wrong. A bunch of dudebros making a game for women, especially when their other games are so anti-women, would probably fail at it. They would wind up making the game equivalent of Sucker Punch.

        Plus there’s really no platform in the “gaming community” for women to voice their opinions on what they want in a game. When we do hear crap about “what women want in games,” I seriously have to wonder who the fuck they asked. I’m assuming this is more of them not wanting to actually listen to women, but instead rely on whatever beer commercial stereotypes they have of women.

        It’s not like we could actually voice our opinion truthfully either. Every single time a women complains about how a game is sexist or asks why a game is catered only to men, she’s met with insane hostility on the gaming forums. Just like the author of this piece was saying.

  2. Profile photo of LOVEasaverb
    LOVEasaverb

    I won’t copy the official response from a Bioware representative to these complaints

    Can you link to it? I’m curious and google fails me right now

    1. Profile photo of Michelle Miller
      Michelle Miller

      It occurs on the forums and is actually spread out into a few different responses across a few different threads.

      But here’s a link to a great dissection of the whole discussion, which also includes a quote from a large portion of the inciting complaint (the straw that broke the camel’s back) and some of the juicier parts of the rep’s response: http://www.nomorelost.org/2011/03/25/straight-male-gamer-told-to-get-over-it-by-bioware/.

      1. Profile photo of [E] Rachel
        [E] Rachel

        Oh, I wish I hadn’t read all of that. I remember when Bioware’s response was posted in various places, and thinking that they called out privilege in game design was awesome, but I had never seen the original complaint before. And now I can’t un-see it. From the original complaint:

        To summarize, in the case of Dragon Age 2, BioWare neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer.

        I don’t think many would argue with the fact that the overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male. Sure, there are a substantial amount of women who play video games, but they’re usually gamers who play games like The Sims, rather than games like Dragon Age.

        OH MY GOD SHUT UP. Does this toolbox really not realize that the reason he thinks 80% of gamers are straight men is because the vast majority of women play as men so as not to be harassed by dudebros like him? This whole thing reminds me of the DC Comic Con panel, when a fan asked Dan Didio why they had no women writer/illustrators, and he basically said that there aren’t any for them to hire who are any good.

  3. Profile photo of [E] Rachel
    [E] Rachel

    This is spectacular. I still wonder why game companies fail to recognize women for the potential dollar signs that we are and insist on catering to the malest common denominator.

    1. Profile photo of Spastin
      Spastin

      The gaming industry has failed to recognize women in this, I agree. It’s ridiculous to assume women/girls aren’t into gaming. The companies are ignoring a pretty size-y proportion of the audience. They’re part of the problem but can also be part of the solution.

      Some gaming companies have attempted to market to teenage girls by creating fashion games. I’m sure there is a market for this, but this kind of gender dichotomy as far as activities like gaming go is threatening to burst one of my veins.

      Gasp! Can it be that there are those of us who are interested in say, FPS games than putting together an outfit on a sexed-up virtual model? GASP but girls only like pretty pink frilly stuff and FASHION.

      Ugh.

      1. Profile photo of Michelle Miller
        Michelle Miller

        A statistic from the same organization I didn’t mention is one that states 46% of the MMO market is women now. To me, that shows that there are more serious gamers than clicky-click around Facebook gamers in the female gaming market.

        And the fashion games burn my bottom, too. If you like fashion, great, but that’s not exactly the only thing we ladies like. Sometimes we like a little blood splatter with our headshots, too. :-D

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