Oh God, not THAT discussion

On this blog, I’ve been trying to keep my commentary as far as possible from the “girls and games” topic, partially because I feel like I have little that is original to add to the discussion. I am a female who plays and enjoys nearly every kind of digital game and I have never seen much merit in the idea that girls and boys inherently prefer different essential gaming experiences. I know women who love and excel at shooters and men who play Peggle and other ‘casual’ titles obsessively (I see their Steam notifications. They can’t hide from me.)

True, most western AAA video and computer games are marketed toward adolescent males. Their art, themes, and stories promote or at least embody the fantasy of masculinity treasured by that particular demographic, and they’re created by an industry where a majority of the producers, designers, artists, and management are themselves male. It is from this that the notion that girls can’t be ‘core’ gamers derives: ‘core’ games like Gears of War, Modern Warfare, and God of War all work hard to satisfy those culturally-reinforced male fantasies. This makes them a bit awkward to play if you don’t share in the fantasy, regardless of what your gender is. Anyway, games really have no trouble providing us with fantasies if we don’t bring our own to the game; most ‘core’ games are simply providing fantasies that are deliberately very exclusionary to females.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t or don’t enjoy them. I still love games, and I still love the medium, and I still love shooting digital people in the face, because it’s exciting and challenging and because I have strong nostaligic memories associated with the shooting of digital people in the face. But I’m also hyper-aware that the AAA industry doesn’t usually give a shit about people like me. This is part of the reason why I love indie games so much: most of them are directed at fulfilling basic human fantasies, not adolescent male ones. They don’t adhere to the same bullshit aesthetic of ‘gritty realism’ that those AAA games do, and they often tackle very mature issues on a symbolic level. I appreciate this maturity more than I appreciate the posturings of maturity found in many AAA titles.

At any rate: games and girls. I bring it up now because I’ve had a number of strange games-and-girls related interactions over the past two weeks.

The first occurred at E3. A female friend of mine—actually, she’s a game tester—and I were eating lunch at the food court area when two heavyset older gentlemen seated themselves at our table. Space was tight at the food court, so it made sense to share. As we each carried on our separate conversations, however, my friend and I suddenly realized that the conversation these middle-aged guys were having right next to us was infinitely more interesting than our own.

“But girls don’t like that,” one said.

“Oh, you guys are doing it all wrong,” the other replied. “See, what girls don’t like is senseless violence. If it has a purpose, fine. They like that, if it has a point, like if it does something good for the world. But they won’t play it if it has senseless violence.”

I don’t remember what else they said. I and the woman I was talking with left shortly after this comment. I wasn’t able to see what the names on these two guys’s tags were, and I still don’t know whether they were designers or marketers or executives. But they were somebodies.

“Girls don’t like senseless violence,” the other woman muttered to me as we walked away.

“It was interesting for me to learn that,” I said. “I’ll keep that in mind next time I find myself enjoying shooting dudes in the head.”

I enjoy meaningless, senseless violence in games as much as the next gamer. What I don’t enjoy is always having to be a man whenever a game lets me commit senseless violence. Or always having to be a hyper-sexualized woman whenever a game grants me the privilege to be a lady while I kill dudes. Part of the excitement of games is the ability to “be” somebody else, to explore a story from the perspective of a new character. It gets depressing, though, when an entire industry seems to have decided that you, people like you, and the fantasies and perspectives that you have, are not fitting material for games. Generally, in order to experience a AAA game, a woman will have to ‘be’ a man. Only culturally-masculine fantasies are worth immortalizing in games, it seems.

Okay. Whatever. They’re still fun.

I’ve moved to Los Angeles for the summer and am living in an apartment with three other female students about my age. All three are actually from a very different cultural background than my own: they’re all of Pakistani heritage, and they’re all very ‘Californian,’ while I’m a very east-coast Irish Catholic. We have very different expectations when it comes to socialization, food, dress, and so on—mostly due to the east-coast/California divide, not the Pakistani/Irish one. But all three grew up with N64 or Super Nintendo consoles in their homes, and loved Zelda and Donkey Kong Country—so games are, surprisingly, one of the cultural elements that we absolutely share.

So I thought, anyway. I think it still baffles them that a girl can care so much about games and devote as much time and intellectual energy to them as I do. While eating dinner a few days ago, one of them asked me, rather aggressively, what I thought about violence in games. I tried to give her a reasoned explanation of my feelings on the subject—parents are responsible for the media their children ingest, so to speak, and they must use ratings responsibly and control purchases themselves. She told me that she’d seen a sociology study proving that little boys who play violent games are more violent; I told her that no such thing had been actually proven. She told me that the study had actually proven that they were more tolerant of domestic abuse against women. I had no clever answer for her, as I’d never even heard such an accusation before.

She then went on to ask, rather slyly, what I thought of CounterStrike. She demanded that I explain why “perfectly good, intelligent boys” can be so engrossed by the game that they “get sucked into it for hours.” I told her that ‘game addiction’ hasn’t been proven to exist, that people who can’t control their play time probably have different, underlying troubles. Like depression. This offended her—or her concern for the unnamed CounterStrike player, I suppose.

The conversation degenerated.

Just thinking about it over the past few days has absolutely infuriated me. I will not be held accountable as a kind of gender-traitor because I care deeply about the world’s newest and most important modern artistic medium. I will not allow the fact that this medium is currently controlled by industry, not artists—that the strings are being pulled by the kind of fat, middle-aged businessmen who, while stopping to eat lunch together at E3, decided between themselves what it is, exactly, that this medium can deign to offer women—I will not let this kind of thing control what people think about me. Or the medium. The medium is most important.

Which is why I will use indie games to educate my roommates, over the next few months, about what exactly it is that games can offer the world. Just to be controversial, I’m starting with Hey Baby.

I’ll keep you posted.

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37 Comments

  1. I don’t think much more needs to be said. But I’ll go say some words anyway, I don’t feel I’ve dropped enough walls of text on here lately.

    I’d rather the industry would just move on as well; I’ve seen enough male power fantasies to last me seven lifetimes (equivalent to two games of Neptune’s Pride). I have never picked up Gears of War because it simply doesn’t seem like a game I could really get the hots for.

    Don’t let your roomies get you down. People who aren’t exposed to experience X will make assumptions about X. And if it happens to demonified in some context, then people will assume that’s part of the reality of X.

    Like brainy mathematicians should have weird-ass hair. I am a brainy mathematician, but my hair is deserting me as I speak.

    Hope your gaming education go well. But… Hey Baby for the first lesson?

    Reply
  2. It kills me to do this; you’ve written such an excellent article, and I’m just going to nitpick the second to last sentence. But here goes:

    You picked Hey Baby as the flagship game for your crusade? Seriously? I get that you’re being controversial (although I don’t get why), but do you really expect it to sway anyone to your opinion? Hey Baby is senseless violence stripped down to its barest essentials, without any concessions to easing players into the experience.

    I’m not saying this game is outright offensive or in bad taste. But the value of Hey Baby is in making a point to longtime gamers, and people who are mature enough to handle its controversial presentation. As an emphatic message to fellow gaming insiders, it works; as a diplomatic overture to an alienated demographic, Hey Baby is…inadvisable.

    But then, I don’t have a clue yet how you’re actually going to present this to them. Perhaps you can find a creative way to make me eat those words?

    Reply
    • veret, I made this point 12 minutes before you did so I deserve the economy bonus for this star.

      Shit, sorry, wrong Firefox tab.

      Reply
      • Heh, Neptune’s Pride does that to my brain too. There should be a support group or something.

  3. lauramichet

     /  June 30, 2010

    They see gaming as an essentially male space.

    I want them to see a game that takes what they think of as an essential gaming trope– first-person violence with a gun in it– and makes it ‘female.’

    I want to challenge their primary assumption: that digital violence is a male thing. This game is controversial to you for some reasons, and your view of it, as a longtime gamer and as someone who probably read the RPS threads on the subject, is colored by that. These girls will simply see a game which, instead of putting a man in the driver’s seat, or title role, so to speak, puts a female there. It’s no more violent than any AAA game, and no more or less disturbing in its morality than, say, Shadow of the Colossus, which is also a game that makes me wonder about the morality of killing a digital being. But it’s a lady behind the gun in Hey Baby, and it’s free, and it’s on the internet. It takes what they think of as games and changes the key assumption: that it’s always a man behind the gun.

    Something even free flash indie games have yet to widely embrace is the violent female protagonist.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 30, 2010

      I mean, if it were more obvious that Chell is a girl(say, if she had dialogue or something) I’d be more inclined to do Portal. But I want the girl-ness of it to be painfully obvious to these people.

      Reply
    • Ah, I knew I was missing something; thanks for clearing that up. I still contend that Hey Baby deliberately offends our slightly twisted gaming morality with its violence, though: We have no problem killing things if they have tentacles, or differently-colored skin, or an obnoxious voice on xbox live. But gunning down “real” people because they’re being lewd seems to be over some kind of line, blurry and zig-zagging though it may be. Maybe that’s a male perspective, or maybe it’s just me, but I still wonder whether, even as you make your point, you may not give them a positive impression of videogames overall.

      And for reference: I did read the RPS article(s), but I had the good sense to stay away from the comments.

      As for your Chell point, wouldn’t Portal lack the violent aspect that you’re looking for? You’re right, though; one has to search far and wide to find a gun-toting woman, especially if you want her clothed.

      Reply
  4. As far as I see it (or rather not, I’m kind of quoting my girlfriends thesis here, which I hope she will put online at some point), there’s just a couple of basic approaches of how to approach this whole gender/gaming thing.

    1. not address gender at all in the game (think Tetris, or anything without a clear-cut protagonist)

    2. create a game specifically tailored for a presumably gendered interest (Ubisoft’s Imagine franchise)

    3. put a female protagonist in “traditional” games (Portal, Super Princess Peach, BG&E) or allow choice between male or female avatars

    The problem with 3 of course is that most female avatars put in games are heavily sexualized…things that bare little to no resemblance to women. But then there’s stuff like BG&E which I think would fit quite nicely (though it’s not really indie) showing that games don’t have to be either male or female or whatever.

    It’s cartoony violence with a story and a cool female protagonist I (as a scrawny boy worrying too much about everything) would strongly identify with.

    Anyways, this comment is getting out of hand. Keep us posted on your educational project!

    Reply
    • I agree with this. The first rule is pretty easy to supply, but then again, that only really works with puzzle games, real-time-strategy, simulation and those games which supply the exceptions. I want to say fighting games, but let’s face it: most female fighter characters are pretty sexualized. Chun-li and Ivy are flagships of THAT particular armada.

      The gaming industry needs far more counterparts to Samus Aran. It’s still a shame that she’s rather sexualized outside of the suit, but then again, that technically works for her. As a part of her ongoing mission and of her profession, she needs to remain athletic and streamlined, and when you remove that aspect, you’re really just stuck with the blond hair–and Nintendo really does love its blonds.

      Most female RPG protagonists, or even the counterparts to the original, are relatively sexual. Being male, I don’t know about the male aspect of these games. That would be a question for Laura and her female readers (turns to the author). Are the majority of male avatars in games sexualized as well? When I run a mental roll call, I think The Prince, John Shepherd, Marcus Fenix…perhaps I digress.

      I do want to see some more female protagonists, though. What about another Joanna Dark (albeit, toned down on the sexuality)? Another Kameo? What about another Zoey? Pistols akimbo, Zoey is a shining example of what I feel this article is looking for.

      Speaking of, I feel that Etna (or even Flonne, who would fit this bill higher) needs to get her own game. If the Prinnies can have a PSP game, I don’t see why Etna can’t, and I’m not talking about a secondary, subservient plot either.

      Yeah, I totally meandered from where I was originally going with all of that, but you know which direction I’m headed.

      Reply
      • You have to give credit where credit’s due though- Street Fighter women actually have muscles. Every other fighting game and game company treats them as the absolute most repulsive thing for a woman to have. The fetishizing needs to go, of course, but at least they realize that women who train to fight all sorts of opponents probably look physically fit, as opposed to developing magical punching powers.

        On that note, you think Lara Croft would’ve gotten reduction surgery considering her occupation. As would the entirety of the female cast of Dead or Alive.

    • Shnissugah

       /  July 1, 2010

      You’re leaving out the fourth option:
      4. Make a game.
      I think the gender of the protagonist has very little to do with what Laura is talking about, just as the gender of the protagonist in literature often doesn’t determine which gender enjoys the work. The point is not that games tend to have male or sexualized-female protagonists, it’s that games aren’t designed for people: they’re designed for guys. So these protagonists are an effect of the male-centered design, not the cause. It’s true that changing the design might involve changing the protagonists, but changing the protagonists won’t change the design.

      Reply
      • This sort of debate has had its roots in gaming for a long time, but the last few years have been making SOME progress. Not enough, as evidenced by the current crop of material out on the market, but it’s clear that there’s always that mental bias there. A lot of developers have thrown in a female character to try and “win” that demographic, but it’s just not working out very often. Left 4 Dead’s Zoey pulls this off pretty well, and so does her spiritual predecessor, Chell–but as Laura mentioned, Chell is very little on the action.

        What really comes to mind now as an example is the female character in the Fable games–although, come to think of it, so far they’ve just made her bulkier and less sexual with time played in the game. Perhaps a bit of a clever inversion? I’d be inclined to start thinking so, if not for Polyneaux mentioning specifically that it was a detrimental flaw that they’re working on.

        Either way, I feel that most female protagonists in games are the original male versions, or whatever a male version would be in that specific case, with a woman’s texture thrown over it and a voiceover when applicable. And that’s a huge shame.

      • lauramichet

         /  July 1, 2010

        what common, non-surface elements of design scream ‘male-centered’ to you?

        Just curious. But if you say ‘shooting,’ I may rip your face off. Because shooting is awesome for everyone, in the proper amounts. :)

      • Shnissugah

         /  July 1, 2010

        I probably clarify that on further inspection, when I say ‘change the design’ I really mean ‘omit marketing from the design.’ It’s not that protagonists are surface elements, and therefore have little to do with the design. I believe that there is no inherent gender divide between most core gameplay elements (although there are definitely societal ones), and that guys and girls can easily enjoy the same types of games. When I say that more than the protagonists need to be changed, I mean that the marketing department should have no say in the development of a game. It should be up to the game’s authors to make empathetic characters, not up to marketing. Of course, as gaming is an industry this is never going to happen. I just wish it would.

  5. Lara

     /  June 30, 2010

    Hey Laura! I’ve been reading all your stuff since I saw the site linked on fb a couple of weeks ago. I agree with everything you said, obviously..

    I enjoyed Prince of Persia Sands of Time a lot when it came out when I/we were in 8th or 9th grade. I liked the puzzles, I thought the graphics were fantastic, and I enjoyed cutting open sand zombie heads. And even though I had to play as a man, the female character (though a little scantily clad and a princess – all girls are princesses in the worlds of Disney and video games, after all), had as much personality as the man did (and hey, he was a prince too!). Which is not to say either of them had tons of personality, since character development wasn’t a big part of the game, but they both had a sense of humor at least.

    Imagine my dismay when I played the sequel and, in the opening minutes, they introduced a new female character – I remember her as an evil zombie dominatrix, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate – with a close-up, extended shot of her butt in a thong.

    I guess the Princess returned at some point in the series, but I didn’t get that far. They did a good job getting rid of me in their effort to hook adolescent males.

    Reply
    • Lara

       /  July 1, 2010

      Also, I can’t even tell you how many arguments I had with my roommate about video game violence. Apparently, the fact that I played video games as a kid (including FPS) and didn’t turn into a school shooter is a statistical anomaly.

      Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  July 1, 2010

      I actually bought that terrible second PoP game during the recent Steam sale so that I can play all the PoP games and feel awesome about that accomplishment, but you’re right: I was astonished by that first portrayal of the assassin lady. This was what, like, three days ago– she comes onscreen and her entire cahracter design basically consists of “okay, let’s make it so she isn’t wearing anything on her rear,” and then the Prince screams “you bitch!” at her in the middle of the fight FOR NO REASON. Just, like randomly. It was a huge change over Farah from the first game– yeah, she had a revealing outfit, but she had an actual personality and her dialog was quite well-written.

      Nice to ehar from you, by the way!

      Reply
    • They do eventually bring Farah back, but don’t worry; when she shows up again she is little more than an empty, charmless husk.

      I am repeatedly amazed by how poorly the follow-ups to The Sands of Time are handled.

      Reply
      • I think there’s a pretty simple equation here:

        Sands of Time – Written by Jordan Mechner
        Other games – Not written by Jordan Mechner

        I think the treatment of women in the followup Prince of Persia games were part of a larger change in tone that was all bad all the way through. It was like the Linkin Park/Korn version of Prince of Persia. That’s why I was so happy when the 2008 one showed up and it was all bright colors and hand-drawn textures and had that Sigur Ros song as a trailer – the game had problems, but I loved the change in tone from adolescent place they had taken the series to.

      • It’s also interesting that every non-Sands of Time game has sucked.

        Is there perhaps a lesson here — a game’s quality is positively correlated with how it doesn’t exclude women?

  6. Shnissugah

     /  July 1, 2010

    Laura- It seems to me that the fact that your roommates bring up the ‘violence in video games’ is related less to your being a female game journalist, and more to you just being a game journalist. I feel like if I was a one, non game enthusiasts would bring up that discussion just because it’s something they know about. After all, I don’t think most gamers find that topic particularly interesting.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  July 1, 2010

      The conversation we had was specifically about gender. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear– she kind of accused me of supporting domestic violence vs women, then portrayed games as this kind of evil blight attacking intelligent male nerds and crippling them into underperforming members of society. There was this weird “games are turning our young men into zombies!” vibe to the whole discussion.

      Reply
  7. First of all, those marketing hombres you encountered have clearly got it all wrong; the appeal of Close Range transcends both age and gender. http://onion.com/902Szt

    I should clarify somewhere near the start of my comment that as a straight, white dude I cannot speak with any authority on this subject, at all.

    Anyways, great post, though I can definitely imagine why you’ve avoided the subject until now. Like you say, the AAA market’s habit of endlessly rehashing the same juvenile, empty male fantasies and characters is enormously frustrating. Even as a dude, I constantly find myself feeling alienated by the ridiculously gendered characters AAA games champion. It’s heartbreaking to see the basically unlimited capability of games to let players inhabit a character used to create 8023 variants of the same hard-boiled, no-nonsense gun bastard.

    I’d agree that indie games are generally much more accessible, but I feel like they often achieve that accessibility by dropping any sort of meaningful characterization altogether. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

    And despite indies being more easily digestible, I still get the (entirely hunch-based) feeling that it’s a scene that is largely dominated by young males. My suspicion is that most traditional games, indie or mainstream, are thought of as male-only regardless of their content, mechanics, or marketing. Before any of those elements come into play, women are already being told that video games are not for them (unless of course they are “casual games” or have heavily female-gendered themes). I’m reminded of this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal bit: http://bit.ly/dhmqZY.

    I’m glad Hey Baby exists even though it seems like it’s mostly a one-trick pony. I’ve spent a fair amount of time mulling over what a primer on games might look like, so it will be interesting to hear how your attempt to educate your roommates goes over. Are you going to include any text adventures/interactive fiction?

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  July 1, 2010

      Yeah, after shocking the living daylights out of them with Hey Baby, I’m going to give them a look at some really really easy indie platformers– my experience with Kent, who can’t stand indie platformers because he doesn’t have the lizard-brain arrow-button twitch-muscles down like I do, has taught me that difficulty can be a barrier in absorbing the message. So I might go for the easiest ones I can think of. Still have to come up with a list, though, since the BEST ones, like Don’t Look Back, are pretty brutal.

      Reply
      • For good indie platformers that aren’t too hard, I would recommend looking at some of Jesse Venbrux’s stuff. They Have To Be Fed and Maru are both fun games that play around with platforming and gravity and have some fun physics without becoming brutal, and mess with the notion of player-death as a goal.

        http://www.venbrux.com/blog/

      • Hey, I’m getting better. I was really good at Mario, okay?

        I really enjoyed Loved. Maybe they’ll find it interesting to see a game that explicitly tells them, “No. You are a little boy.”

    • It’s true, the indie game scene is dominated by white men in much the same way the AAA industry is. Yes, they worry less about selling to the 14-18 year old male demographic, but there’s still cultural biases that come from being mostly guys.

      We need more people who are outside of the normal white nerdy dude type (and I say this as a ghostly pale white, incredibly nerdy dude) and who make games that deliberately reflect that. People like Erin Robinson, or Anna Anthropy, or Christine Love, or Emily Short need to get more recognition and respect, because the indie gaming space needs more voices like theirs to avoid falling into the same traps as the AAA space has.

      Reply
      • Oh man, Emily Short is my favorite. I am so glad that we have secret geniuses like her working to further the medium. She’s mentioned recently that more and more developers are paying attention to IF, which is pretty much the best news ever.

        Definitely we need as many folks as we can get from all across the gender spectrum interested in playing and making games. Same goes for age and ethnicity. My feeling is that this will take more than simply making games that this expanded audience wants to play, however. Our culture’s notion that games exist only for young hombres is so ingrained that even games with near-universal appeal go largely unexamined by the women and other gaming uninitiated who might enjoy them. The games community needs to figure out how to let these folks know that they too are allowed to enjoy video and computer games.

        I obviously have no idea how best to go about getting this done. All the problems listed in the post and comments need addressing. Another huge stumbling block towards bringing new players into the fold might be the notion of games-player as socially inept hermit.

  8. Your article was interesting and a fun read, but I can’t help but feel that a core argument you have here boils down to “I’m a girl and I play violent games. Plus I know some other girls, and some of them play violent games too. Therefore girls play games and like the same things as guys.”

    Hey, I’m a guy and I like romantic comedy movies. I bet that if I asked around I could find a couple of other dudes who like them too. I guess I should now expect Hollywood to make a movie for this now, apparantly vast, male romantic comedy market.

    My dreams of seeing a romcom just for me – where uptight business executive with no time for love, Mila Jovavich, unexpectedly falls for her free spirited secretary, Megan Fox – might just be around the corner!

    Reply
  9. Irisaurus

     /  July 1, 2010

    It sounds like you are under the impression that the men at your table just made the whole “girls don’t like senseless violence” thing up and wildly make assumptions.
    But the thing is that this is actually something that has come up again and again in field research and has been LITERALLY stated by several women.

    “Another interesting comment we heard was “We like shooters, but we prefer a reason before we shoot. So if somebody is stealing my baby or beating up my little sister, I’d be all over them.”” Gaiser in Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat 306

    Of course it’s incorrect that all women want to have a reason before they shoot (I don’t and my friends don’t though that’s hardly representative) but based on these studies at least SOME do and it’s not very fair of you to just assume these women don’t exist just because these men made the error of assuming YOU don’t exist.

    Male game-designers and executives need to stop generalizing women’s interests because they are just as diverse as men’s. Not all men like shooters, not all women like point and click adventures.
    BUT female gamers need to stop generalizing women’s interests in their own defense, assuming that ALL women like what they like because they are female.

    Some women don’t like senseless violence, some do. And the ones who don’t have just as much of a right to a game they can enjoy as the ones that do, so I think it’s a good idea for them to start thinking of ways to appeal to that demographic.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  July 1, 2010

      I think Sshnissugah best expressed my idea in his comment here– “games are designed for males, not people,” he said.
      I want to play some shooters that are designed for fucking people. I don’t care what composition of genders ends up playing them. But I want to play a game for PEOPLE.

      Reply
      • Irisaurus

         /  July 1, 2010

        Yeah that’s what I said as well:

        Male game-designers and executives need to stop generalizing women’s interests because they are just as diverse as men’s.

        And I am aware of the hyper-masculine shooter-design and I’d like more games like Left 4 Dead for myself, but I also want more games where PEOPLE (not “women” or “men”) have a reason to shoot for the PEOPLE who like to have a reason to shoot.

        And even if game designers think they are designing for “women” in my opinion it’s still a GOOD thing if it makes them design games for an audience that has so far been excluded from the awesomeness that is shooting things in the face, both male and female.

  10. It continues to puzzle me as to why MMO-style character creation isn’t available in the majority of games. Even if there’s only two voice actors for each gender, I wouldn’t complain. It was acceptable in Mass Effect, so it’s good enough for every game. They could also take a page out of Phantasy Star Universe and allow you to choose the pitch of your voice.

    Have I created tall female characters with deep voices and short males with glass-shatteringly high-pitched voices? OH HELLS YES. I practically always try to create characters like that since they’re practically never the stars of a game.

    Of course, this isn’t to say that game companies should just hand over their responsibility to design characters and fitting worlds to us completely; designing a game while keeping in mind that anyone should feel comfortable playing it is always paramount. Even an unusual hero is worthless if countless women with heaving breasts are all trying to smother me with sex/bullets/stab wounds.

    Reply
  11. Your roommate was probably referring to a study by Craig Anderson, who directs the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University in Ames. It was published in March 2010 in Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association, and got a lot of press from people who don’t understand statistics, analysis or research protocol.

    Christopher Ferguson, an associate professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, says in a critique accompanying the study that the effects found “are generally very low.” He adds that the analysis “contains numerous flaws,” which he says result in “overestimating the influence” of violent games on aggression. However, Dr. Ferguson’s analysis didn’t get nearly the same coverage as the breathless “OMG! Gamers=serial killers!” reporting of Dr. Anderson’s study.

    As to the conversation itself; I see a couple of things that are probably happening. She’s got the warm and fuzzies for a gamer, and she sees the game as a rival. You, also a gamer, are an easy target for the unresolved, probably unconscious conflict.

    The feminism thing…and I say the following as a big ol feminist who did my graduate work on feminist approaches to bioethics…but feminism is an easily weaponized, heavily semantically loaded term, often wielded with the “holier than thou” posturing normally experienced when lectured by evangelists of any flavor. I wouldn’t take her accusations to heart, is my point.

    I can, and will defend shooters and other violent games as being a valid art form. That said; I do believe that a large percentage of majorly promoted games on the market are inherently sexist, demeaning, and/or culturally irresponsible. (A whole ‘nother topic…the ethics of game development.)

    For the record, I’ve been playing video games since the TI/99; I don’t play shooters because I don’t care for them, and my reflexes aren’t nearly fast enough. I prefer sim games like Civ, or silly games like Sam and Max or mmorpgs.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  July 2, 2010

      Thanks for the tip about that study. Imma gonna look it up now, actually.

      And yeah, most games are inherently irresponsible in a variety of ways. I still think there’s room for the shooter mechanic, though. Deus Ex, which allowed you the opportunity to not actually kill anyone, and actually included characters who scold you for killing people when you’re supposed to be a peacekeeper, is a good example of a game that’s fairly responsible when it comes to bloodletting.

      Reply
      • I agree that the shooter mechanic can and has been used in ways that I like, especially as a story progression modality, in the same way that I don’t find digital violence disturbing in games like Dragon Age or WoW.

        Upon thinking about it; I think that what bothers me isn’t the weaponization, it’s the reward system for random, just for the hell of it, violence. (GTA as an example.)

        Speaking of GTA, there was an interesting study on race, violence and economic status of the player base that I found to be an interesting read. While not specifically a violence study, you might find some data points in there:

        http://website.education.wisc.edu/kdsquire/tenure-files/10-DeVaneSquire_revised.pdf

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