Girls and Gaming: What's the Problem?
There was a viral vid released a while ago of a parody of Katy Perry's "California Girls" by Team Unicorn called "G33k and G4m3r Girls".
Did I mention it has Seth Green rapping?
I loved it when I first saw it, and I still do. It's witty, geeky, and utterly up my alley. So what's this long post about, you ask? While searching for it, I ran into a series of links which discussed the controversy surrounding the video, namely how the women in it used their sexuality to promote geek girls. Ignoring the basic youtube commenters who think they're still being funny when they ask why any woman is "out of the kitchen", there's actually a pretty serious debate on the subject, which naturally I'm going to throw my two cents into, because, well, why not.
I am a geek. I am a girl. These two things are not mutually exclusive, and quite frankly, I find it insulting and somewhat unbelievable that there are still people who think it is (again, outside of YouTube commenters, who I'm reluctant to call "human"). I have a Crown Royal bag full of D20s, I regularly post about gaming night, and I get psyched when I unlock an achievement on WoW. I am able to quote Firefly and Buffy extensively, I grew up watching all of the Star Trek series, and I have an entire bookcase full of comic books. I am given to understand that these are not things which normal people do, so I guess that makes me a geek.
So let's break this down. One of the main problems people are having with this video is that it's not representing the vast majority of geek girls, who do not have cheekbones that could cut diamonds and body dimensions that make Psylocke's costume look anatomically feasible. But that doesn't really explain why this music video is being singled out and held guilty; I don't go to the movies expecting the heroine to look like myself or watch sitcoms and cry foul that the main female lead is gorgeous. Granted, I would love to see more variety in women's roles in these mediums, but I think collectively our gender has resigned ourselves to not ever seeing that come true. Yet, people want it here. Why?
For one, geeks are not likely to be stunning specimens of the human form. We're not the jock types--I can go out and toss a football and slam a baseball into far left field, but I'm not likely to be joining the local sports team anytime soon. Part of this is because we prefer to spend our time leveling up our characters rather than spending time at the gym or going to the park. Also, I don't speak for everyone, but I know that I certainly went through an awkward phase back in my teenage years, which is when I really started getting into video games. Video games never had the chance to turn me down for a date or exclude me from their clique. Who needs outward validation when you have a game telling you that you're amazing and can slay 40 bad guys at a time without ever getting below Critical Health? Not me, that was for certain.
And, for better or for worse, most of us are used to being the center of attention for being a girl who games. Tabletop RPGs are a great example of this--there's an entire comic called Knights of the Dinner Table which shows how "the girl" of the group becomes automatically hot, because any girl is rare in these situations. Even though we may not be able to strut our stuff around a pool in a bikini, flirting with the boys, and playing volleyball, we can still pwn you at Halo--which to some guys, makes us automatically hot. We've staked our claim, and hot girls coming into our territory strikes us as unfair. This is our turf, you've got your own, you can't come in here!
That's not to say that there aren't attractive gamer women out there, it's just that they're the minority--we're used to Booth Babes who don't know all the shortcuts of Mario Nintendo. We're still top dog compared to them, we think smugly. We're used to not being able to compete in the swimsuit competition, but in this arena, we are goddesses.
In general, we're getting fed up with representations of the female gender in media, but it cuts especially deep now because these--to our mind--unfair representations are now crawling into our territory.
Another reason that there's been an outcry is because of the nature of the gaming industry itself. Women's sexuality has always been used as a tool for marketing, but the gaming industry is egregiously shameless about doing so. There's an excellent video which talks about video game heroines being turned into pin-ups, as well as addresses the various problems the gaming industry has in general with attracting women audiences. Seriously, go check it out--it's well worth the watch.
The video also talks about the ways the gaming industry is trying to change this; before, they felt fine about offering up characters who looked like a 14-year-old boy's fantasy, because they were confident that women weren't going to be playing, and they felt no need to expand their marketing to include them, so why not actively exclude them? Now, they're trying to broaden their consumer base, but in the utterly wrong way. Most systems offer controllers in pink now--you know, for girls! Because that's totally what attracts women to games, right? Pretty colors? Why don't you add jewels onto them, because we're pretty much magpies, am I right, ladies?
There's specialized games out there where you can play My Littlest Pony and Fashion Model!* that rely on the most absurdly outdated gender stereotypes that I'm halfway convinced it's an elaborate hoax. What the industry should be doing is focusing on what games are already popular with women and seeing what it is about those that make them appealing. WoW is very popular with men and woman; I don't know anyone who doesn't like the variations of Mario; Rock Band is one of those games that everyone seems to enjoy. These are all very different platforms, use different gameplay, and yet everyone seems to love them. What's so universal about these games?
Women aren't some specialized breed who must be catered to on the basis of a 1930s handbook on etiquette for ladies; we're human beings just like everyone else.
We like the rush of beating a boss battle, we have fun trash-talking
playfully with our teammates, and we enjoy seeing our characters improve
as we progress through the game. I don't know about you, but changing
clothes on an avatar sounds torturous. Even as a little girl, if someone
had given me a choice between... that and Mortal Kombat, I would have gone with the latter without even stopping to think about it.
That video I linked to brings up a good point about video gaming being a "boy's club", but again, we're not looking at this in the right way. Most hardcore gamers, including women, have been playing since they got their very first Sega system and made Sonic spin his way through that first level. We just never really stopped playing as we grew up. So why aren't we looking at what attracts some girls to gaming in the first place, instead of what kind of games girls are attracted to? For me, it's not the game itself which matters as much; I can always find a game that caters to my tastes, but I probably would never start looking in the first place if I hadn't grown up gaming.
Instead of hacking away at the leaves and fruits of the gaming tree, as this controversy about the Team Unicorn video does, why don't we start looking at the root of the problem?
*I made these examples up. They probably exist in some form, and if they do, I don't want to know about them.