I'm Not a 'Girl Gamer' - Women of Gaming
“No way, you play games?”
A comment I’m sure a lot of women are used to. Not intentionally offensive or sexist. I guess it’s the initial surprise that punctuates that statement, but it can’t be helped. However, what can be helped is the comment that follows:
“So you’re a girl gamer then?”
Well yes and no. I am a woman who games, but I am a gamer, not a ‘girl gamer.’ The status ‘girl gamer’ or 'gamer girl' opens a huge can of worms. Not only is the label patronising, but the idealistic imagery that follows a girl gamer is far from the truth. We’re not all size six, bright eyed, bushy tailed, sexy bimbos who play games. We are gamers. Normal people with a passion for gaming.
Recent studies from the association for UK interactive entertainment (UKIE) reveals that 57 percent of women say they feel that they play games more now than they did five years ago. The same study reveals that this year, 41 percent of gamers are female. This has been the average for five years. 83 percent of female gamers still agree that there should be more women getting involved in the new gaming generation.
Then why is the gaming industry still marketed to men? The biggest culprits to overly sexualise women are: Tekken's sister tag-team Anna and Nina Williams, Street fighter’s Chun-Li, and every female character in WoW—even the orcs! They are all scantily clad, with particular exaggeration on their curves.
Now that more women work within the gaming industry, we are seeing that female characters are becoming less sexualised. For example a recent UKIE study suggests that sexualisation of female protagonists in games has declined. Between 1990 and 2005, an estimated 571 titles have reduced the sexualisation of their female characters. This could be a direct result of more women having a say in what these characters look like, which is becoming more frequent than ever now that it’s much easier for women to break into the gaming industry.
Hannah Watts, a member of the developing team for Coatsink, explained when promoting the company’s release, SHU, at London Comic-Con that, “It’s not all that bad. I’ve enjoyed my career for the most part, except for obviously the few sly comments you get here and there.”
Unlike films, there are still very few women that we can idolize and look up to. A memorable idol that comes to mind is Lara Croft, and even she had been overly sexualised in her past, appearing in skimpy outfits and having ridiculously large, gravity defying breasts.
Feminist Laura Mulvey came up with the idea of the "Male Gaze." It's described as "when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man, a scene may focus on the curves of a woman’s body, putting the viewer into the eyes of a male."
With the game industry being so male dominated, and the majority of developers being men, women in games are always going to be focused on their curves and flesh in order to appeal to the male gaze. This cannot be helped if the majority input of game production is male opinion.
Due to Lara Croft's recent physical improvements—and breast reduction—it can be argued that we are growing as a society, and game companies are sexualising female characters less frequently than they have in the past.
As Paul Tassi explained in his review:
“In Rise of the Tomb Raider, pretty much all remnants of the past objectification of Lara have been banished. Out of about ten different outfits I unlocked for Croft over the course of the game, only one was her classic tank top (which manages to be less revealing than ever), and the vast majority of choices were bulky jackets that were more than weather appropriate given that the game mostly takes place in Siberia.”
Even though Tassi was seemingly pleased to see improvements of sexualisation, he makes a point that we still have so much further to go in her representation.
“There was progress made in the last game, the original reboot that had a teenaged Lara wearing pants and let her keep her athletic build, but shrunk her chest down a few cup sizes from past instalments. And yet, most of the game did have her soaking wet in a tank top, and put her in situations where the camera seemed trained on her rear end.”
We now live in a society where everyone is believed to have equal rights, and men and women are treated as equals. Women can vote and earn the same wages as men in the workplace, while men can be stay-at-home parents or find careers in hairdressing or nursing. Why not make the smallest change and eliminate the status ‘girl gamer.’ We should all unite under our common interest in gaming and not differentiate due to gender.
Jen Legay, leader of the very successful female gaming community: The Sisters of the Brotherhood, which is on PC via Steam and Facebook, hit the nail on the head when she shared with us, “Times have changed, but we still have a long way to go, and I hope to see this change in my lifetime, but I think it'll always be an uphill battle that we will always have to be aware of and go forward on.”