The world of videogames has been rapidly developing since the 1970s and ‘80s when video games were introduced for commercial use. Something that has not developed quite so fast is female roles in video games. As with many other aspects of female daily life, video games have yet to outgrow sexism. From being marginalized, to being sexualized, to being simply not taken seriously, women often times have to deal with many problems in the video game sphere that men usually do not. Females in gaming are equally as capable of playing, creating, and leading as their male equivalents, but are not always given that equal chance to do so. Women should be allowed a greater role and taken seriously in all parts of video games as they are as equally willing and able to participate as their male counterparts.
Women are starting to become a larger presence in gaming. According to The Wall Street Journal, the amount of women gaming (as a percentage of men and women in gaming) jumped 8% in four years, and the amount of women over the age of 18 who game actually exceeds the amount of men under the age of 18 who game, which is a rather significant demographic. The study in this article did count women who play casual games, such as Candy Crush or other mobile games. These are on the fringe of gaming and many of these women are not considered real “gamers”, which makes sense when women are normally considered to be a small minority in the gaming industry as a whole. Women who play a few Facebook mini games are probably not going to to visit a video game convention, but they are adding to the women that have some knowledge and appreciation of video games.
(Grundberg, Sven, and Jens Hansegard, Wall Street Journal)
In many games, women are given roles that are minor, or their essential purpose is to be saved. A couple of classic popular examples for the ‘damsel in distress’ would be Princess Peach from Super Mario Bros. or Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda. In their original games, they were really more of goals for the hero to reach, rather than people. More recent versions of the characters have seen a shift towards more self reliance and a fleshing out of personalities. This is a step towards female gamers and game designers in the real world gaining more respect and consideration in the field. In the games Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl, the two princesses are given powers and can hold their own against heroes and villains alike. This fleshing out can also been seen in players of video games.
The Guild is a web series based on a female gamer and her ‘guild’ (group of people she games with). There are three men and three women, each with different personalities and skills. In other shows, being a woman could be the character’s defining feature whereas in this show the three women have vastly different backgrounds. One is a sassy stay at home mom, another an asian college student and the third is a socially repressed out of work violinist. The diversity contrasts against some stereotypes surrounding female gamers. The Guild was created by a real life female gamer, and gives the refreshing yet unassuming portrayal that women in gaming are equal to their male comrades. The fact that the women are just as capable is never questioned, so they are always on equal terms with their entire guild. This is the opportunity that women in video games should have. To be equal members. Their characters can dress modest or racy, however they see fit. In a later episode, the guild leadership duties switch from a man to a woman, and it was based on personality that this shift occurred, not gender. The Guild embodies what happens when people let go of stereotypes against female players and just let them play the game without gender being brought up as a factor of their game play.
One of the problems many of the women in videogames are faced with is the rampant sexualization of female characters. Sexualization here and there has its place, but some of the visual fan service is rather extreme. I will sometimes avoid certain games just because of some of the harassment I have heard other women getting from other players. I was once playing an online RPG (role playing game) with the female character but I was wearing full armour and had a gender neutral screen name. A girl came up and started flirting with me, and by the tone of her flirting it was probably because she thought I could give her some good items and protect her because of my high level. I had to actually take off my helm in order to convince her that I really was not a male character and was not at all interested. The equality in this game afforded to me by some armour allowed me to really get involved and to enjoy the game because I did not have people constantly commenting upon my gender and treating me differently for it.
In many games, one cannot change clothing, the character just comes as is. Mortal Kombat, a hand to hand fighting game, is well known for its bikini wearing female fighters. They are arguably equal in power with the other fighters, it just obvious that the way they are dressed (and proportioned) is to please the male demographic. This sort of portrayal of women would not be so bothersome if a few of the male characters were dressed similarly. Imagine how gamers would laugh at the thought of putting a male character in a speedo into a popular fighting game such as Mortal Kombat. Far fewer people seem to be laughing though, at the scantily clad women fighters.
Stereotypes surrounding females in games may lead to real world consequences. This is especially true for women in on the creation side of video games. The Colbert Report (a satirical political comedy show) did an interview of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist blogger that speaks against some of the inequalities existing in video games. Colbert first brings up what he thinks Sarkeesian and women like her stand for, taking the violence out of gaming and making men stop playing the games they like that contain sexism. Sarkeesian explains that what she and women like her want is simply more inclusivity in the video game sphere. There have been many threats and actions against Sarkeesian and others like her, including doxing (posting of a person’s private information or documents), swatting (having the person’s home erroneously invaded by a SWAT team), and death, rape and other miscellaneous threats. Colbert notes that it has mostly been women in the gaming industry who have been the focus of this harassment. #Gamergate, 8chan, and 4chan have been some of the most prominent harassers of women in video games. That means that women responsible for representing other women in games are sometimes being harassed for wanting to include more women.
Another feminist, Christina Hoff Sommers, differs from women like Sarkeesian. She made the video “Are video games sexist” for The American Enterprise Institute, claiming that they “want male video game culture to end”. This being because of much of the critique given over the the lack of female protagonists, their dress and role when they are included, and other inequalities that can be found in video games themselves. She argues that video games have become more inclusive, and that their arguments are out of place. “Imagine if a group of gender critics attacked women-centered shows like Oprah or The View, or women’s magazines, for privileging the female perspective and treating men like ‘the other.’” Sommers may have a point with video games becoming more inclusive, but with this comparison her argument falls flat. Shows like Oprah, The View, or women’s magazines, all have male equivalents. There is no shortage of men’s magazines or talk shows hosted by them. These entertainment choices are also just parts of a whole entertainment sector that includes a wide variety of magazines and shows. The video game industry, however, caters to its male population while neglecting its female population. This cannot be said of either gender in the TV or magazine industries. Rachel Franklin, executive producer of Sims, said, “Women make up a huge part of the available gaming audience and it is up to developers to decide whether or not to reach out to them,”. (Wall Street Journal).
As I said, not all of the industry is ignoring female players. One gaming franchise that has decided to reach out to women is Final Fantasy by Square Enix. In one of their latest games, Final Fantasy XIII, the main character is a strong lead female, Lightning. The entire group of players is an equal three to three women to men ratio. Surprisingly, another female character, Fang, has the best maxed strength stat at 305 points higher than next high strength stat (which belongs to Lightning), and is arguably the the best offensive character in the group. (Strategy Wiki). Vanille, the last female character character, may look cute and innocent, but she is the only character that can cast an instant death spell. I am currently playing through this game myself, and it is rather refreshing to find that I can actually use female characters as the main character. This game obviously wants to welcome more females into gaming, and is something many people point to when they want to show progress in inclusion. A few popular games with female leads or other forms of inclusion (major parts, backgrounds, appropriate dress, etc.) does not mean the video games have changed their ways entirely, but it is definitely a start.
Women are beginning to be recognized as gamers, but problems still remain. Harassment, sexualization, and general undervaluing of women in video games is not going to stop overnight. Newer iterations of Zelda and Peach, the women in The Guild, and new games like Final Fantasy XIII show that the inclusion of women is not only viable, but can have some pretty amazing results. It my hope though, that women in video games can be seen as the diverse group of people we are, and are one day allowed to carve our own, equal niche into the world of video games.
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