I was contemplating some of the issues with “gender inclusive” game design and sort of ran a muck with thoughts. Below is part of what came of it.
For an industry concerned with trying to appeal to women, You’d think they would first find out what women would like to play. And shouldn’t they assume that the female gaming age is not restricted to 7-12 year olds considering the average gamers age is in the area of 32? Creating the genre of “girls games” only creates more confusion and alienation for the female gaming community. Not to mention that the name alone turns of anyone who has passed puberty.
Personally, I find it appalling. I do not want to be pigeonholed to the point where I am only allowed to be interested in games that involve such classically stereotypical female things as “Barbie” or “social interactions” with pink load screens and little puppies in the background. I want to blow my fellow competitor out of the water just as much as he does me. The industry uses far too much time and energy to create female avatars that are either half-clad in clothes, or are creating fashions for Barbie’s already extensive wardrobe. Games such as Dead or Alive have built a reputation within the gaming community for having perfected their “breast physics.” Would not that time and energy be better spent in a genre of games that doesn’t exclude females but incorporates them? I’m sure not all male gamers can be happy about what these assumed images mean for them as well. Are all men sexually starved Neanderthals, that they must have Blood Rayne-like images in order to find a game appealing or entertaining? I think not.
It makes sense that the industry should want to walk the middle of the road in order to incorporate as many gamers as possible. Not only would you have the male population buying the game for its awesome moves, great special effects, and terrific narrative, you will also have girls buying the game for all these reasons with an added bonus that the main character is not offensive to them. What the industry needs to learn is that encouraging females to game is not a bad thing.
If it is true that gender roles are learned fully at age 7, and begin to be explored at age 2, it is hard to believe that an individuals cognition is not affected by the same socialization that causes them to recognize these roles. Women, just like men, are taught to act a certain way, behave and dress a certain way, as well as approach problems a certain way. Women are not traditionally allowed to use violence, for example, to solve problems. They are expected to communicate their issues better than men, and be more understanding than men. So it makes sense that we should think of women as learning differently than men.
A danger certainly lies in the assumptions of what is “inherent” in women beyond their anatomical attributes. Very little of what gender is, in the critical analysis sense of the word, has to do with biology. While some of these assumptions are less damaging than others, they certainly provide excuses for another’s behavior. Lets think of this in terms of a real world example: Erin. She’s been playing video games for a long time now, and no longer is victim to the ergonomics of the controller or the inability to prove herself in a room of male gamers and feels as though she has a grasp on what it takes to play with the boys. But now she has to go out into the real world and preach what she practices. She enters a room full of bright young programmers, all eager to hear her story of trial and triumph. She tells them of her new revolutionary way to make games “gender inclusive”. And then a young lady stands up and asks, “Why is it that I can’t like to play games the same way boys do?” Erin is forced to answer, “Well, that’s because you as a female learn differently from your male counterpart.” The young lady sits down and accepts this idea. She is different from her male counterpart not only in anatomy but also in brain function.
The idea of gender inclusive game design is a terrific way to get females into the market, but its short-term. At some point in the new female gamers life, they will want to do what the boys do. They will want to be able to play just as rough, be just as competitive without caring about the “relationship” at stake or ensuring everyone is having fun. And at that point, gender inclusive game design can do nothing for the stereotypes and gender assumptions at play within society. That gamer will still be criticized for behaving in such a manner, or participating in such play.
Is everything gender inclusive game design has to offer a negative? Absolutely not, as stated previously, it is a great short-term solution to getting females into the market. A higher female population in the market could be argued as forcing the industry to rethink its marketing strategies and thus game content. Should the images of females within games be changed? Yes. Should the marketing of games be geared towards both men and women, so as to keep both parties interested and not favor one over the other? Yes. But a danger still lies in creating games according to gendered learning. Creating a genre of games that are gender “safe”, where both genders can participate equally, or having games that are gender specific, does not solve the problem of gender “crossing”. By gender crossing I don’t simply mean having a male player able to play as a female avatar, though that is part of it. Gender crossing games have more to do with the idea that female or male, the game should be open to the player, and in return that player is not criticized for liking it because of gender constraints. As it stands now, games that are labeled as “male” (First Person Shooters) cannot be or should not be played by a female, and games labeled female (Girls Games) a male wouldn’t want to go anywhere near. Many gaming tournaments currently are male or female team specific. Creating games that make a name off of gender role assumptions validate these tournaments. They also prevent women from being taken seriously when they have true skills in genres they are not labeled for.