The Role of Women in Gaming

In the video game industry, women make up only thirteen per cent of employees. In the community, however, womengaming2-(1).jpggaming is actually quite diverse, with females making up half the audience of players.

However there are still many issues facing women in the world of video games, both within games themselves and also for players. These include issues such as the depiction of gender roles, the representation of women, diversity and women’s place in the games industry.

The online world is home to a very big part of the gaming community, and brings with it unique problems in gender roles and behaviour. Female characters are more often than not sexualised and created to be saved rather than be the hero, while women players are frequently subjected to harassment. This ranges from simple things such as people believing the stereotype that women aren’t good at videogames to harsher forms of bullying and verbal abuse. Blogger Nicolas Lovell, when talking of the new iPhone app Fallout shelter, claimed it made him discriminate against women solely due to the fact the women cannot be involved in combat while pregnant. His view that this game had made him misogynistic seems to me to be incorrect as, realistically, people would not send a pregnant woman into battle, out of pure common sense. The game did not, in fact, portray any form of misogyny, suggesting that perhaps it is becoming commonplace to believe you are defending the female gender when you’re actually not. There has to be a level of fairness on both sides however. If women gamers start behaving negatively towards males, thinking they have the right simply because they’re women, then overall there will be no progression in how players, both male AND female, perceive gender roles and their behaviour towards the opposite gender.

The representation of women within games is nothing less than exaggerated, with super skinny bodies, big breasts and so on. An example of this would be some fighting games where men are given full body armour for protection and the women are given the smallest amount of coverage possible for “armour” where they have more skin showing than clothes. The cold hard fact is simple: sex sells! There is no doubt about it, and not just in video games either. If a pretty person has something then others will want it, or in this case, want to play it. If given a sexy female character to save, most players would definitely be more inclined to buy or play a game, as opposed to having to protect a weak male character. Eugenia Ayala, in her blog post on female representation in video games, used the simple example of Mario Kart on the N64. Being a girl, she immediately chose the character Princess Peach as it was more appealing for her, until she realised after multiple losses that the more masculine characters were faster and more powerful. 

womeningaming1-(1).jpg“Choosing Princess Peach based on her appearance was not an uneducated decision on my part…the operator selects a character based solely on the images presented on the character selection screen, it makes sense for the appearance of each character to represent their personality and skillset and therefore video game designers costume their characters with an appearance or accessories that reflect their unique abilities.”
Eugenia goes on to say that male characters have been costumed to fit their role. Sonic has running shoes and Scorpion form Mortal Combat wears a ninja outfit which communicates his skill in armed combat.

“Princess Peach? She wears a gown, dainty gloves, and a clueless expression, which imply nothing as far as skill and ability, unless you consider her special attack: a dimpled, smiling heart that protects her cart.”

Although these things are true, there is no denying that there has been increasing improvement over the years introducing strong female characters. The latest in the series (Mario Kart 8) has changed in that it isn’t the characters holding the skills but the vehicle you’re using, making it far more desirable to choose women characters. There has definitely been a change in how women are represented within games and the evolution of their representation should be recognised when compared to how things were in the past.

It is true that positive female roles are becoming more frequent now, but there is still a sense of male dominance. An example of this would be the game Bioshock: Infinite. In this game Elizabeth is the main female character, and an independent one at that, yet your goal as a player is protect her and be the hero in the sense that you have power over her. You’re the one that helps her, not the other way around. The portrayal of women is being altered in other interesting ways. In a previous blog post of mine I mentioned the game The Walking Dead by Telltale and how they made the young girl character Clementine, whom you had to protect, help determine your choices by making you think about how your actions would affect her. This is turned around when you become Clementine in the second series of the game. No help from a little girl, just the choices you make and how it affects you now individually. Turning the perspective definitely made the gameplay experience something to talk about. The juxtaposition between protecting a girl, then becoming her, creates a whole different way of thinking and approach. The player has to completely change their play to adapt to this new role. 

In the latest instalment of the Tomb Raider franchise we meet female protagonist Lara Croft at her beginnings, when she is not as strong as she was originally in the earlier games. This gives you the opportunity to see how she got to where she is. The game includes a controversial scene where it is suggested that she is about to be sexually abused by some large, strong men. This is the moment she realises she has to kill or be killed. This is a complete shift in her character’s development. This need not be a generalised criticism of males, but instead shows a rise of strength in a dire situation, which could have been equally appropriate if the roles had been reversed. Women may be seen as the weaker among the sexes but this can change if game developers expand on how women are seen. A simple act like that within a videogame can contribute to completely changing the diversity and frequency of representation of women within video games. 

There will always be those games where women are over-sexualised but with more and more games including strong female roles such as Clementine, there can only be positive outcomes in the representation of women.

Females do make up a large percentage of players, yet for women in the game industry the percentage is much smaller. Personally I believe the gaming industry is viewed as a profession that only men would strive for, because women aren’t really perceived as having any interest in the area. Dr Mary Flanagan who is an award-winning game designer, states that the industry still exudes “a culture of virtual guns, babes and ammo … and spoils what could otherwise be a revolutionary design space for new kinds of thinking, learning and collaboration, if only the industry would diversify.” Flanagan states her goal is to diversify the industry by 2020.

There are many women that have made very popular games, such as Jenga, Monopoly and even Portal, games which have had mass appeal worldwide to both genders, and which have generated massive sales and profit. Flanagan is pushing to revolutionize the gaming industry by making it gender equal by 2020, but to do that she emphasises that women in the industry need to speak up and make their presence known, even encouraging men to strive for a more diverse workspace.

Overall, the advances that women have made in gaming continue to progress. It seems that women within the games industry have made many changes over the years, mostly for the better. Yet the place of women within the industry is still largely unrecognised by the wider world. With further promotion, and women in development attracting notice, we will be able to diversify this industry that is imprinted in the public’s mind as a man’s profession. -‚Äč Rebecca Trinder

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