Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If It's For Women, It Must Be Stupid. (Pt. 2 of many)

In reality, 40% of gamers are women.  And yet we keep fighting this constant uphill battle against the perception that gaming is a man's industry: dominated by men, designed for men and boys, with marketers and designers and male players all sitting around completely unaware that there's this big female audience they could tap into.  Gaming is something that boys and men who haven't outgrown being boys do, right?  There will continue to be "no" women in gaming for as long as gamers go around defining games as "those things which exclude women."

There's a lot behind this.  History plays a part, to be sure; girls and women are much more a part of the scene now than, say, 25 years ago.  But why hasn't perception been able to get closer to reality? 

Well, in part, it's because if women like it, it must be stupid.  This is a phenomenon that applies to most media -- books, movies, television -- but seems to apply doubly so in gaming.  The concept is so deeply ingrained in the gaming community that some of the worst perpetrators of it, in my experience, are other girls and women.  I have most assuredly been guilty of it myself.  So let's unpack this cycle a little.

The gamer community, like any community, defines itself both in terms of what it is and in terms of what it isn't.  And as the expansion of gaming technology has brought more tools (portables, PCs, Macs, consoles, phones) to the table, the community has buckled down.  No longer restricted to the guy who had the time, money, and lack of other social demands required in order to achieve a difficult goal, gaming's been blown wide open.  68% of American households contain video game consumers.  In the Americas, sales of the Wii -- in 2010, years after its release -- continue to blow away sales of other consoles:

But the Wii is a source of derision for "real" gamers.  It's too "casual."  It's not "hardcore" enough.  Right?  We've all heard it.  We've all seen it, in comments on game news sites.  We might have written it.  Or we, the "dedicated" gamers, might have let our Wiis collect dust since 2008 while we played reflex-action blood-spattered HD games on our other consoles.

But Nintendo, with its marketing strategy, reminded us of an unassailable set of facts: There have always been girls and women in gaming.  Gamers have always come in different races and ages and income brackets.  Someone who plays Tetris for an hour at a time three times a week is a video game consumer, just as someone who raids in WoW for eight hours a night is.  Nintendo hasn't so much blown open the demographics -- though they have -- as they've blown open the debate and the recognition.

No-one has said, in eighty years, "all watchers of movies fit the same demographic." Television has a dozen competing networks per demographic.  And yet we maintain this overwrought, antiquated cultural insistence that all gamers are one type, one thing only.  And it comes as much from inside of the gamer community as from outside of it.  Why?

Because if it's designed for, marketed to, or primarily consumed by women, it doesn't count.

A 24-year-old male who spends 5 hours every weeknight online in Modern Warfare 2, is a "hardcore gamer."  He is the definition and perpetuation of the industry.  A 24-year-old female who spends 5 hours every weeknight devoting herself to the ins and outs of the lives of her Sims is... nothing.  A 35-year-old female who spends 5 hours every weeknight fluttering around the low-cost options on Yahoo Games is less than nothing.

In fact, in the Kotaku post I cited before, with the terrible music video, one commenter says it out loud:

this song is fucking terrible. Stan Lee and Seth Green are cool though and those girls are hot. Probably never touched anything outside Halo/wii/WoW though.

Because if you're female, even the exact same games the boys play (Halo, WoW) don't count.


  1. *shrug*

    We don't have a Wii because the controllers drive me even *more* bats than a standard Xcrate or PS3 controller. For whatever reason, accelerometers are made of hatred and fail for me. Also, no DLC in Rock Band for years, so that was an autofail since the whole reason we bought a console to begin with was Rock Band.

    But I'm a chick, and Rock Band is a chick game, so it doesn't count. And worse, it's a cooperative game.

  2. Thanks K, always worth reading!

    I agree with you on pretty much everything. I don't have much to add at this point, except that I want to be an elitist jerk and exclude people who play 10 hours of Farmville a day from being called "gamers".... I hope that's OK. <.<

  3. @Emily -- funny you should mention Rock Band... I think every single friend of mine who plays it is male. Oh, wait, no, I remembered one girl. Me, I spent too many years in actual music ensembles to want to fake one for fun. Also v. few friends in the physical area. ;)

    @onefinemess -- Personally, I'd like to see Farmville removed from the face of the Earth, and never again mentioned as a game. But alas, it exists. I think I'll tackle that end of the spectrum in the next post, though.

  4. I do vox. It's a nice ear training/pitch control game that way, and I really could care less about the other instruments. And yeah, online the stereotype is... vox is for chixxorz. Also a lot of guys will have fits if the DLC for the week involves a female-fronted band. Whee! Stereotypes!

    It's a lot of fun for us since my partner is a drummer, and we have a *lot* of musically inclined friends. It's definitely a good game for groups... but it says a lot about the game that last time we had everyone playing on our console, people kept having to ask "hey why is that icon all silvery?" Answer: because I'm OCD and I just had to have that one last achievement...

    Re Farmville: dunno... I play a lot of casual games (tho not that one) and even a nominally "casual" game can have a core of really serious players who get deeply involved with the game mechanics. So I really hesitate to say any game sucks.

    Plus, if I did that, then everyone who loved Donkey Kong and the spiritual children of Donkey Kong would be really really sad. Pretty soon, we'll be on the 30th anniversary of me hating Donkey Kong!