Girls & Games: Our Current Challenges
Written by Emily Kay
No matter where you venture on the Internet – whether you stick primarily to social networking mediums, games forums, or perhaps dedicated games communities such as Steam – there is a neverending debate about girl gamers. I’ve read so many different topics and conversations about it, that I’m actually exhausted. In fact, it’s more exhausting than all the other stereotypical girl drama you probably assume I’m going through right now (which from some troll’s comments could be anything from washing my hair to painting my nails – for those who care I’m currently sporting ‘Beach Bum Blue’ because I miss the Summer).
So what exactly is going on? Why are people arguing? Who is involved? What does this mean to me, as a female? Well… I decided to take myself on a little journey around the web to try and gather some key points, then add on my 2 pence.
GIRLS ONLINE – “A/S/L?”
I will always remember the first day I ever put a game in my Xbox, logged in to Xbox Live and started up multiplayer. I remember the user interface, my first kill, my first death, the realisation by other gamers that perhaps I was female, their reaction, the incredibly long time it seems to take to quit a game/turn off the Xbox when you’re in a hurry…
It wasn’t exactly a negative reaction… at first. In fact, had I never spoken down the microphone, it would have been likely that I would have been ignored, just ranted at for my ‘poor playing skills’ or whatever ‘noob’ aspect some random guy from halfway around the world isn’t impressed with. But to me, as someone who has been playing games since I was 5 years old (thanks Dad) I never thought that opening my mouth would have ever even been a problem. I’d spent my life playing cooperatively, locally, with best friends who were guys who never reacted like that. So I did. My skills were a little less than decent, I was being ranted at as normal, and decided to speak up and say that I was relatively new and picking it up, in some sort of defence against whatever internet bullying this was. What followed was a bemused silence, followed by a query as to how old I was, where I lived and what other games I played. Most of this I didn’t reply to – I was trying to concentrate on not being killed every time I spawned by campers (which seemed all the rage then). What then followed was, accusations that I was ‘playing games to get guys’ that because I was female I was ‘a terrible gamer’ or that I was just ‘borrowing my boyfriend’s game’.
It wasn’t exactly a nice experience. There were 30 other people in the game at the time and suddenly because they heard my voice, figured out I’m female, I got picked on and asked 20 questions, some personal, some not, as well as slated under a generalisation of ‘girls’ in general. A lot of these sweeping generalisations I will look at later, because they actually crop up as separate arguments in many different places, some of them even shockingly started by other females (pick a side, dude!).
I was put off by playing games online for a while after this point. I didn’t want to be homed in on – I don’t really like bullying and frankly I would avoid it, plus I was having just as much fun on single player, or local cooperative/multiplayer so I wasn’t exactly missing out on the experience. But like with all good experiments, there would come a time when playing online would crop up again. It did, a few years later with GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption. Two absolutely fantastic games that even with a few faults, I would nominate as some of my favourite games of all time, both with online modes.
So what happened this time round? Well, it was mixed. I gave it a few opportunities, having varied results. On some games with GTA IV, I would encounter individuals who swear unnecessarily as if they get paid per swear word, some who had extreme anger management issues and inevitably, some who would slate me because I was female. But it was nowhere near the impact or experience that I had encountered with Battlefield, years before. It was doable – it could all be brushed under the carpet of “some people are just like that” or the odd reporting someone who was extremely out of line. The sexism didn’t seem to be as in your face which meant I actually had a few normal enjoyable moments. It wasn’t *just* sexism, if you get where I’m coming from.
My next proper experience was when I was reviewing Need for Speed: The Run, and I was trying out the online version whilst the trial version was still working. I was immediately launched into the game mid-race – a nifty little feature that they put in so you wouldn’t have to wait around for a game to start, you can join mid-race as if you had already started the game – and was faced with much more proficient NFS players than I. After struggling for a while to even keep up, and ending up drifting off the track, I got horrendously slated. So I spoke up, after my positive experiences before, and just said “look guys, it’s just a game”. There was silence for a good… maybe 2 minutes before someone went “wait… you’re a girl?” and I immediately tried to leave the game. It was like a repeat of Battlefield, all over again.
I don’t really blame girls for perhaps not being as present in online gaming as men – I’m definitely not saying there’s barely any girl gamers, because trust me, there are loads and we are on the increase – but the online experience just isn’t very nice. I feel that although my past experiences are varied, I’m still put off from logging on and just have a quick game with some random people. I don’t actively avoid it, I just simply choose not to do it. I don’t feel this has hindered my gaming experiences, nor do I feel I am missing out on anything.That being said, bullying in any form seems to be prevalent online and I can’t speak for those who may be male who may be getting grief from someone. Just remember that any online system, not just Xbox Live, have a systematic reporting process which you should make use of. It’s not cool in any respect to get bullied, whether it’s in person or online, just like how it’s not cool to get grief simply because you are female.
“GIRL GAMERS ARE WAY WORSE AT PLAYING GAMES”
This, by far, is the most ridiculous argument I see in the gender wars online. Are people actually serious? Are there statistics to prove this?
Actually, I did read an article once, ages ago, following the conclusion of a series of experiments and research conducted by University College London, which identified that females did tend to fall behind on hand-eye coordination skills when compared with men. It also, interestingly, stated that there was a significant result during certain times of a female’s cycle. So girl’s, having a difficult day playing that platformer? Perhaps you should wait 3 or 4 days… just kidding.
In reality, I’ve beaten just as many guys on many different formats of games, and many guys have bested me. Aside from the research above, I’ve never seen an article or research that has been undertaken to ascertain whether females are actually worse at video games. In fact, the research done above was to represent real-life distances – such as maps, orienteering, etc. Which the Daily Mail just absolutely loved – women who couldn’t make sense of maps. I bet they had a field day when this came out.
To be honest, this entire argument just seems to fall flat with me. Ask any of my friends, or ex-boyfriends, if they’ve ever had difficulty in beating me at a particular game and you’ll be surprised. I might not be good at say, Pong, but I am insanely awesome at Mario Kart on the SNES and N64. You think differently because I’m female? Then bring it on.
“GIRL GAMERS ONLY PLAY GAMES TO GET A GUY”
Interestingly enough, this argument is normally started and carried on by a female. It’s an interesting one as it can be interpreted different ways. Unbelievably, it would also be the one that I got the most stick for, from girls, for writing. So, before we delve in, I want everyone to take a nice deep breath, think of Yoshi and his cute egg consuming ability, and then read on.
Why does this argument start, and why by girls? Well, there are a few reasons.
- The individual who starts is usually jealous or feels that their ‘territory’ has been touched on, by a new girl who may or may not be more attractive, because games to the individual is a key element to why they feel unique, or what they share with their friends and this is a threat.
- The individual will feel that girls are using this as some sort of ‘plot’ which will threaten other aspects of their lives, such as significant others who are into games, which perhaps the individual isn’t that involved with.
- Ironically, the individual is using games to attract a partner, and finds other girls to simply be a threat and would like to be seen as someone ‘genuine’, albeit…not…genuine.
- The individual is a proper girl gamer, who has either been accused of this very reason for why they play games, or they’ve had other bad experiences with girls in the past.
Girls – you’ve got to stop overthinking and turning playing games into mind games. Seriously. Do you want to know why this is primarily females and not males? Men… don’t care. If a girl is playing a game, they either react to this negatively or positively, and that’s it. If a guy sees an attractive girl playing games, well… then he’ll probably fancy her. He doesn’t sit there and go “well she’s only doing it to attract my attention, the SWINE!”
This argument needs to simply stop. It’s just ridiculous and causing nothing but stress for those who seem so intent on proving this to everyone else. Look, let’s get reasonable here.
I am a female gamer. I read this book, let’s say it’s some fictional book about a woman who loses someone she loves and the efforts she goes through to overcome bereavement. Now say a guy, that even I do or don’t like in a romantic way, is talking to me on the subject and I recommend the book. He takes my recommendation, goes and buys the book and reads it, coming back to me to discuss. Do all of his friends go to him “oh dude, you totally only bought the book to get the girl”? Erm, well… no.
Another scenario. Say I’m walking down the street, and bump into someone, knocking over their hot chocolate. I apologise, say the hot chocolate was a loss and how I’d be mortified, offer him a new one, he declines, move on. Now, do my friends have a go at me because you “liked hot chocolate to flirt with a guy”? No. Do his mates say that he was only carrying a hot chocolate because then he has ‘a talking point for women’? Erm… no.
Reality is, there are probably going to be people out there who get into all sorts of activities, such as video games, because someone else is interested in them, or a friend’s influence, or perhaps even someone they like is very much into them and they want to see what they are like or give it a go. But what’s so wrong with this? Why are you turning on each other and making it out like this is negative? Frankly – the more love in the world, the better.
I mean, if the first point I made in this article, really is even worse for the majority of girls across the world, and there truly is a degree of sexism which is unfathomable by imagination in online gaming, why are you not sticking up for each other? Why are you not creating female only clans, or having game nights or even just chatting with each other about it? The ones who are apparently frustrating you, the ‘fakes’ you seem to be imagining, will drop faster than flies if this is the case. So don’t let it get to you and stop destroying the positivity that could be done. Hey, if you’re looking for other females to play with online, perhaps to help you with some achievements, then contact me. I love making new friends, male or female. As long as they can put up with my sometimes idiotic behaviour in first person shooters, it’s all good.
GIRLS AREN’T INTO GAMES, IT’S A MALE THING
Strangely, the community of gamers don’t seem to acknowledge females are present, or that we are increasing in size and the only real reason I can think of this happening is because there isn’t a ‘female’ section in a game shop. There’s a lot of kids games out there sure, mostly DS or Wii related games focusing on raising horses or cheerleading, which is not only extremely stereotypical but not even a game I would play at that age. I actually know more girls who are into Call of Duty and triple AAA titles, than into something which has been designed or produced for them.
Perhaps, because everything seems to be marketed to males predominantly, this is all the men see. You see the Call of Duty, Battlefield or Gears of War front covers, with a male protagonist, that basically screams masculinity and perhaps they do not see that well, us girls like blowing stuff up too. If something in your brain is going “hey, I like this game” then there’s every possibility that it might be going off in any girls head. I’m not saying that all girls enjoy FPS’ as much as some of them, but you can’t discount it.
If we do go by the ideal that the majority of gamers are male, and that the games of choice are triple AAA FPS games, then it would be interesting to see what changes across the next few decades as more and more women firstly get more into playing games and secondly into producing games. If we go by the theory that girls prefer other formats of games, straying away from FPS, this should see the charts change, perhaps to a not so ‘shooter’-esque domination that it seems to be. Perhaps there will be more platformers, more puzzles, more RPGs… I guess we will have to see. But guys, get used to it – the girls are not only coming out in force, but we’re already here and we’re in love with it.
GIRLS DON’T WORK IN THE INDUSTRY
There were a number of articles out in 2012 with regards to women working within the games industry – an article from Edge Magazine stated that only 6% of jobs in the UK game industry are with women. (The article is called ‘Women in Games Jobs determined to fix gender split’ and is available here)
6% is just dismal. If there are 100 people in a building, that’s only 6 women. For some reason I also see in my mind that maybe only one of them is say, a graphics artist, and the remainder would be receptionists or personal assistants.
I would absolutely love for more women to be involved in the production of games. Now I never studied anything to do with computers, or IT, or design, or coding… I did a primarily business and management related degree, focused on the music industry and live production. But I love games and even part of me would love to work in the industry and my way of dealing with that desire is to write these articles and continue my blog.
For those of you females who want to take that leap, I would recommend visiting Women in Games Jobs and help to make that 6% leap up.
NO-ONE WANTS TO PLAY FEMALES IN GAMES
Actually, I’ve never really cared if my character is female or male. Sometimes I would pick Peach, but I’d usually pick Yoshi in Mario Kart. When I had a Wii, my character was female because well, I’m female. When I reviewed the Sims 3, I set up a female character to start with. I also started RockBand and Guitar Hero with female characters. It’s not on purpose, it’s just… I am female. So why not pick a female character?
In some games, picking the female character means that it represents ‘real life’ so the physical attributes of a female character in fighting for example, are lessened, in comparison with their male counterparts. Now, without setting anyone off, this is, to some degree, truthful. It’s science, evolution, so on. In games where realism is paramount, I would understand this and that knowledge of selecting a female character may be less in strength for example, but higher in other areas. Take most UK released RPGs, the girl characters have naturally higher skills in long-distance weapons such as bows and arrows, which are reliant on a heightened skill than say, pure brute strength. Additionally they are usually more skilled in magic or powers as well, than their male counterparts. Role playing games are filled with thousands of variables for characters, including weapon and skill development, so starting off with a realistic basic package for both a male and a female seems to fit.
Now, when it comes to say, a game such as a FPS – where the aim is basically kill, shoot, just do anything but die, there isn’t necessarily such a degree of realism all the time. Let’s take Call of Duty, or Modern Warfare. Sure, the graphics are as high quality as they can get, trying to represent a visual life as real as possible, but a lot of the player characteristics seem the same. Everyone starts on the same basic level, with the same progression to next levels, dependent on player choice of weapon or role for example. So what does it matter if the character is female or male? These games are primarily multiplayer (and I’ll argue with anyone who says its justifiable to spend £50 on a game on release for 7 hours of single player gameplay… sorry but I think spending £7 per hour for a game is just as extortionate as spending nearly £10 to see a movie at the cinema before popcorn and snacks). Would players even notice a female option? Would they even care? Some guys would choose the female option out of humor, girls may pick female or male to their preference, but I personally don’t see it being a huge issue.
The same goes for other types of games. What if Limbo had had a female character? It still would have been just as dark and creepy to me. What if Alan Wake was a female writer? Would we have felt more vulnerable, more scared? And look at games like Lara Croft, or my recent review of Alice: Madness Returns – these are characters that are empowered. You could also take the Final Fantasy XIII series which saw lead character Lightning receive initial rejection from the community, but Square Enix didn’t give up – now we await the third installment of the series, where they hope that players will feel more empathetic with Lightning and enjoy the game further.
Saying that, I don’t work in any sort of upper management for any video games production or publishing company, so what do I know? I only know that I would have no problem with it. But for a laugh, let’s just have a look – MCV (the best place for news on the games industry and marketplace) recently published an article by Christopher Dring. This article is extremely compelling to the whole argument and certainly caught my interest. Hey, perhaps it’s not just me after all? The article is here and well worth a look: http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/women-are-the-future-of-gaming/0111714
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Well, we’ll let the internet do what it does best and continue arguing over all these issues repeatedly, to death, with no real success. It is encouraging to see that the industry – or at least some companies – are making progress to involve girls more within games in terms of character play and development, as well as encouraging and opening avenues for girls to work within the games industry.
It will be interesting nonetheless to see how the communities and the industry continue to respond from now on – will it really change? Are we making an impact, or really taking up such a huge portion of ‘players’?
I’m just your average gamer – I will always play games, I’ll continue to ignore any sexism from online communities I receive and I will carry on as usual. I don’t know if I will see a drastic change, but all I know is any improvement to clear up the arguments and to encourage girl gamers, and the appreciation of girl gamers can only be a positive thing, making it a more enjoyable experience. I would certainly hope that it wouldn’t get worse and I would definitely like to consider that the community wouldn’t dismiss improvements just because of a gender.
In the words of the band Four Year Strong, “sad enough to say that alone I could barely light a match, but together we can burn this place down”. Female gamers – start making your own communities and standing up. I’m ready and waiting!