Quick OMGPOPQUIZZZ!!! You’re creating a registration form, and you’d like to know if your registrant has a PENIS or a VAGINA. Do you ask for the registrant’s GENDER, or do you ask for his or her SEX?
The correct answer is “SEX”.
It annoys me to no end to see “GENDER” on a form asking me whether i have a penis or a vagina, because gender is not determined by that factor alone. Gender – masculinity and femininity/maleness and femaleness – is determined by a number of factors, and is not solely influenced by the amount of testosterone / progesterone / estrogen / Legolas / pepperoni in your body. i reflected on this while i read guest author Julia Barry’s How to Create/Market Games for Women article on Taylan Kay’s “The Selling Game” blog.
i comment a lot on violence in gaming, often complaining about it, as i would if i were a filmmaker who wanted to create great films, but the dominant genre in my industry was porn. Or if i was a television producer, and the top-ranking shows were fishing shows, and you couldn’t get any considerable love or attention unless you created a fishing show. It’s depressing.
But i was reminded throughout Julia’s article that i have had a far different upbringing than most men. i was raised the only child of a single mother who abhorred violence of any kind. Most of the men in my life were baddies. And today, i am the only male in my family unit save for the two cats, and we cut off their testicles years ago.
So when i rail against violence – when i commit to non-violence in my company credo – i’m doing so from a unique position where, through my upbringing and conditioning, i skew further toward the feminine end of the gender spectrum than the masculine end. And i’m okay with that. It helps me to appreciate and understand Julia’s perspective far more than if i’d been raised on a steady diet of blood n’ tits.
Barbarians at the Gate
With many videogames, we are entrenching a world of values where boys impress each other by being violent, and girls impress boys (and compete with other girls) in being pretty and inviting of sexual encounter.
i agree with Julia here, as long as we replace “are entrenching” with “have entrenched”. It feels like this attitude of betterment-through-beheading has been firmly set, and we are enslaved to it. This value system was already in place in other media while the pioneers of video games were creating Space War!, Pong and Zork on monstrous machines at the turn-of-the-80’s. Video games were far less visceral while i was growing up – not because we lacked the technology to depict dismemberment and disembowling, but because i believe the people creating games were kinder, gentler and more thoughtful. Dare i say it? More feminine.
It wasn’t until the 90’s that jocks got involved in gaming in a big way, thanks mostly to id software. Suddenly, there was an influx of customers whose needs were being catered to – in this case, manly red-meat-eating macho MEN with back hair and cocks the size of SUVs who wanted to kill, compete, maim, humiliate, screw, devour, shoot, mock, explode and teabag their way to that thrillingly blunt endorphin release that the more reasoned among us can achieve with a particularly stimulating crossword puzzle. Simply put, dumb, base males aged 18-35 hijacked the video game industry in the early 1990s, and they remain the ruling customer class to this very day.
Hey, FAGS. Where’s the Playstation at?
But Julia’s article gave me hope: hope of a day when we see a similar shift as the jock renaissance of the early 90’s, and game developers figure out how to best appeal to women – how to reliably give ladies their endorphin release (hint: it takes longer, but they can experience it multiple times). Then – who knows? We might see another complete shift that sees the game industry dominated with games about buying and selling real estate, improving situations through the power of colour and texture, nurturing the growth of plants and animals, stealing each others’ friends, and other more feminine pursuits.
Hope Only Exists in an Alternate Universe
Realistically, though, i don’t see this happening, unless we see a major shift in the way electronic entertainment is designed and built. The dominant programming languages, techniques and methodologies, hardware and software have all been designed by certain types of men, so that the same types of men can understand and use them to create more tools and technology, which beget more tools and technology, and so on. All of these created elements play to the strengths of an analytical, scientific mind – the type of mind that is most often found pulsating inside a body that has a penis. PLEASE DO NOT EMAIL ME INSISTING THAT WOMEN CAN ALSO BE ANALYTICAL AND SCIENTIFIC. i’m speaking generally here. And generally, the tools and technologies have been built by nerdy males and for nerdy males, and now that the beget-ball is rolling, it’ll be very difficult to stop.
In trying to create “girl” games … companies pander even more to gender stereotypes. Marketing games to girls shouldn’t mean making everything gossipy and pink, yet there are countless products in that vein. Games and toys aimed at the female population are often shallow, fluffy screen versions of dress-up and shopping.
The challenge here is that women – and men, for that matter – don’t know what’s good for them. i remember sitting at a panel discussion on this topic, where the game developer said that they tested a number of themes and concepts on little girls and female gamers, and the results that consistently scored the highest involved pink, shopping, dress-up, baking, and pets. The OOO (Three Rings) crew defended the sexy, skimpy female pirate clothing in their Puzzle Pirates online game by revealing that not only did pirate bikini tops sell better than other female characters’ clothing, but that they started the game with more modest attire and were hounded by their female players requesting sexier clothing options.
Alright, i confess – i’m ready to swash some buckles.
So this begs the question: are less-sexualized, more thoughtful and more “3-dimensional” (as Julia puts it) games something that:
- all women want
- some women want
- all women should want, but don’t know it
- some women want on behalf of all women, who should really know better?
My suspicion is that it’s that last point, in which case i suppose i am similarly one man in a minority of men who want something better on behalf of all men. Masculinity and manhood are not proven through achieving the most headshots, or ripping the most still-beating hearts out of digital characters’ chests, in the same way that femininity is not demonstrated by combing and washing the sparkling mane of your pink flying unicorn vagina pony. A better, more balanced world, both virtual and actual, lies somewhere between the extreme ends of the gender spectrum.