Friday, March 30, 2012

Women in Video Games

And now for something completely different.

Catholic Gamer (a site referred to me by JC Saunders) writes about women in video games and geek culture in general.  I like her perspective on the situation and I think a sane voice in gaming culture is a welcome sight.

Her post got me thinking about an article I read in Game Informer about the challenges from both a tech perspective as well as the more obvious issues with political correctness and whatnot.  To put it simply, adding women into video games and making it believable is quite difficult.

One of the main issues with having women in video games is that the medium isn't exactly a place for nuance.  Oftentimes the story is simply a backdrop for adding context to the tasks to be performed.  For games like Role-Playing games the emphasis shifts to more developed characters, but even then the focus on a good game is what the player actually does.

Another obvious issue is how do game developers represent women in a way that will both appeal to women and men, while still maintaining a traditional focus on game goals.  If the woman is too butch, she runs the risk of being unattractive.  If she is too frail, she doesn't make a good heroine for traditional game goals.  If she is sexy, ultra-strong, etc. she runs the risk of being labeled a male fantasy.  With this in mind it is entirely understandable why game developers would say "screw it" and make a traditional male-centered game.  This last point is especially relevant to AAA developers trying to reach the largest segment of the market, which is (drum roll please) men.

Finally I will, not without some risk, point out from a purely male perspective, that to a man in general the female perspective makes no sense.  We don't get you.  Sorry.  Your goals often make no sense to us, and when they do they are achieved in a fashion that is unfathomable to us.  We can't read the blueprint.  And once we think we have cracked the code the rules change on us.  This is especially true of our perception of the modern woman, who seems to want to be both man and women.  

Speaking as a nerd male I think there is a lot of enthusiasm among my fellow nerd males for nerd women to be more involved in the gaming culture.  But as it stands a great deal of communication must take place before that occurs.  And there are going to be great growing pains in the process.  For myself, I don't see it happening in the near future.  As video games become more mainstream, more criticism is going to be levied against honest efforts to portray women.  This is a bad thing.

For the nerd women, I have a piece of advice.  Please start talking about how a woman should be portrayed in video games.  We got the picture of what is wrong (sort of).  What positive things would you differently?  How can women be developed as characters more appropriately in video games?  And finally with any suggestion ask yourself, does this make sense in a video game context?

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