Gender stereotyping in games is a bad idea. Largely, it’s based on really outdated stereotypes of girls/women and what they do and do not want in a game. I grew up in a fairly typical suburban neighborhood that had a fair number of children. My best friend when I was little was a boy a couple houses over named Matt. His mother used to babysit me a lot before I started school – which is how I got to be friends with Matt. Matt was the youngest of 4 boys. I was the youngest of 4 girls – though the age differences between me and my older sisters was greater, I believe, than between Matt and his older brothers. At any rate – I was a tomboy and since I was often at Matt’s house, I sometimes played games and played with toys that were not typically considered “girl toys”. I played with horses and dolls and I also played with dump trucks and match box cars. When I had a war with my friend Matt and his friend Dave – it was in a pile of sand that happened to still be piled in my driveway with army men & such that my sister and her boyfriend got me. We also played with wood “hydro planes” Matt’s father made and tied to the back of our bikes.
Sadly, our friendship did not last past elementary school. He was a year older than me and that tends to make world of difference in elementary school. Your friends base tends to narrow down to those in your class and, to a lesser extent, those in the same grade as you. In the childish pecking order of the school yard, it’s not cool to play with kids younger than you are – or at least that’s how I remember it being. While I continued to be friends with boys as much or more than girls, growing up, one thing I couldn’t seem to break into was D&D gaming. It was clear I was not wanted there so I didn’t pursue it.
I decided I didn’t want to play their stinky game anyway. So there.
There was another reason as well. It’s also the reason I never got into comics: I could neither relate to nor did I feel I could ever look like any of the women in comics, sci-fi/fantasy fiction books, or in the movies. I took my frustrations out on my Barbie dolls by blowing them up with fire crackers with my friend Matt and his friend Dave. Superheros were even worse. Seriously, as a relatively small chested chubby teenager these characters represented a standard I could never hope to achieve. I was also frustrated that they never seemed to get the great roles. More often than not, I would daydream myself being in the role of a male character – but as a woman. I wanted to be Starbuck – which is part of why I had no issue with that role being played by a woman in the re-imagined series. It was really about frakking time!
The show “Bionic Woman” was a favorite show when I was growing up. I believe that this was, in part, because the star of it looked more like an average woman. She was less daunting than Linda Carter – who had curves for days and far more cleavage than the average person could hope to aspire to! There’s nothing wrong with some characters like that – but there needs to be a balance with other characters that aren’t necessarily hour glass figures and yet aren’t relegated to the side-kick role. It’s damaging to a girl’s self esteem to always have the side-kick be a “plain Jane” sort of character – or nerdy. What it says to girls is that if you aren’t gorgeous, curvy, and busty, you’ll never be the hero. I suppose for similar reasons I liked ‘The Greatest American Hero’ as well. He was just some guy – he could be someone who lived down the street.
I was in my early 30’s when I started playing in a local LARP. I’ve surprised more than one storyteller with the darkness that is often part of my character’s history. Some of the most intense and intensely violent role play I’ve done has been with other women – which includes gratuitous violence by the way. I like story more than just bashing things. I like my characters to have more depth and common sense (generally) than the average character in a bad made-for-TV movie. That doesn’t mean I don’t care for stats and can’t bring on violence in character when I feel it works for the story. My fellow girl gamers can attest to the fact that we are sometimes flat horrible to each others characters at times! We have described torture scenes that have made guys queasy. We ain’t exactly fragile flowers of femininity.
I know a woman who has a regular Thursday night Warcraft night where her character is the “Tank” for their raids. It’s not uncommon for those unfamiliar with her to be surprised by the fact she’s a woman when they first raid with her. She’s good at what she does and has played long enough to have some serious experience to draw from. Unfortunately, she’s recently had to change guilds because she could no longer tolerate the treatment some (but not all – to be fair) of the guild members subjected her to. It’s not okay to constantly put down other players in games. It’s also not okay to make racist remarks to someone based on their religious beliefs. Doing so marks you as an asshole. She found a new and better guild and some of the other former guild members went with her. Sometimes that’s the best you can do. I’m glad she was able to do that and is still able to enjoy the game. I know others who got really tired of the shit and just walked away. Tales I’ve heard from other girl gamers don’t encourage me to want to start playing these games in an group setting.
As many women as there are in this world, often out populating men, there is much to be gained by making the games and game settings more appealing to them. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, you do not need to tone down in game violence to do this. If you made the, shall we say, “more colorful metaphors” more generic in nature and less gender based (particularly, less misogynistic) that would help as well. I and other women like Sons of Anarchy. I and other women like Deadwood. I know other women who liked Oz, and The Sopranos (I have not seen those shows myself), etc. So, I think it’s safe to say we can deal with plenty of cussing, violence, and dark storylines. We do not need the game dumbed down – we need it to be intelligent, engaging, and to be allowed to pursue all character types equally.
We also want to be able to have a selection of character avatars that look more like every day women and less like improbably proportioned dolls. You can have those too – we know many men like to play them after all – but a little more selection would be nice. If you’re having trouble visualizing you could try spending some time studying, oh say, Olympic athletes, Madonna during a live performance, Vasquez and Ripley in Aliens, and Calamity Jane in Deadwood as a few quick examples. They would still fit your general paradigm and yet characters based on those examples would look less like caricatures of women.
And for fucks sake do not make every damn thing marketed to women be in a godawful over-saturated Pink color! Not every woman likes the color pink. Barbie Pink makes me angry. Seriously. I’m fine with pink as ONE of the choices but please acknowledge that we are individuals who like a variety of colors rather than Stepford wife clones all pink clad and docile. When I’ve had a long day at work I’d like to shoot and otherwise visit destruction on pixilated characters as much as the next person. One of my favorite silly simple computer games from long ago was the one where I could inflict all kinds of violence on a smiley face including: melting it with acid, stabbing it, shooting it with a machine gun, hammering it, etc.
Marketing a game to women that’s all sunshine and unicorns makes it as appealing to me as one filled with misogyny and bigotry. When it comes to games and gaming women and men are not so far apart as many gaming companies tend to believe. Yes, it’s true that some women would prefer the sunshine and unicorns game. It’s probably true for some men as well. Quit making gender assumptions. Make a good game and all kinds of gamers will play it.