• Dear Gaming As Women: Video Games for Women

    by , and  • September 27, 2012 • Dear GAW • 14 Comments

    Welcome to the fifth installment of Dear Gaming As Women! We invite our readers to asks us anything – and we’ll do our best to offer informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining answers. In today’s letter, a reader who is frustrated with the options available in video games, asks women designers to take on the task of making them more enticing to female players:

    Dear Gaming As Women,

    As a woman who likes to play computer games I am frustrated that all I have available to me are girl games which are nothing more than boys games made to look like girl’s games. Apart from Skyrim and Oblivion there are not any role playing games for me. I dislike being some macho man grunting and eying females up, I want to play a female role with gorgeous men to size up, and yeah shoot guns and do other things like change the colour of my hair, re-do my make-up, which I can’t do in Skyrim. I want to be able to change the way I look. I want a pc game where I can walk about knowing I look great, gain some respect and do things as a girl in real life would be considered a bit daring, rob a few banks and shoot my way out of trouble. You know it’s great escapism from the daily chores of life. So come on game designers, here’s one woman crying out to be given a decent role playing game, why is it only the boys you design games for?

    How long must we wait?

    - Ella

     

    Emily – Optimization and playing with your avatar are some of the great features of video games. I have a male friend who would spend hours making his character for the Sims. It becomes a game itself! The lack of options in video games shows the limitations in imagination people are bringing to the games. The technology is surely there. What I love is that there is a melding of gender expectations starting to happen. We don’t have to be solely butch and masculinized to enjoy being badass. Merida in Brave exemplified this for me. She shot her bow, rode her (war)horse and embraced adventure, all in her favorite dress. What she rejected was the rigidity her mother enforced on her, both in feminine gendered comportment, clothes and bearing as well as regal restrictions on what she could and could not do.

    In video games, it is escapism that people are looking for. The fact that there is not much to fulfill Ella’s request is due to the shortsightedness, and perhaps outdated assumptions about who the audience is for video games. Market forces alone should shift the view practices of game designers. For my money, as a table top rpg designer, I’m most interested in games that put the control in the hands of the player. Empowering people to choose better how they want to express themselves gives everyone the tools to make their own choices about gender expression.

    Giulia – Ella, I hear you, and I’m always a fan of this rant. Emily, above, has give a great response about empowerment. I don’t have much to add to that, but I’d like to recommend you to try out the Mass Effect series – the female version of Shepard, the protagonist (or FemShep, as she’s often called), gets all you ask for and even more, to the point of becoming the most badass person in the whole galaxy. The responses of the NPC and the possible sentences for Shepard are the same regardless of gender, which makes for an interesting comparison of how the game is when played with a male protagonist vs. the game played with a female protagonist. Bioware did a great job with Mass Effect, and I hope that they blaze a trail for other developers to create compelling and awesome female characters.

    Brie – I totally can get behind your thinking, Ella! I have played a lot of video games off and on, and have not found very many that I really got a kick out of without feeling like I was putting on a man-suit. One of the games I will recommend is Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins. It’s a medieval fantasy type game, but you do have the ability to play as a woman and there are male love interests (as well as female love interests). There is a bit more freedom with character generation appearance-wise, since you can customize a lot of the facial features and even somewhat alter the body types. You can also play humans, dwarves, or elves in the game, of different backgrounds and of different skill sets (warrior, mage, or rogue). It can get to be a pretty dark game at times and sometimes is problematic (and I recommend avoiding the City Elf origin if you are triggered by sexual assault or rape themes), but you are a woman in the game, presented as one and not kept from any awesomeness because of it, in my opinion. I can’t speak to the sequels, though. Dragon Age isn’t perfect, but as a computer gamer and girl, I really enjoyed it.

    Overall, though, this is a huge issue throughout the video gaming industry. It’s constantly up for discussion, and few companies seem to really “get” it. I think some of it is that, just like in most stereotypically male-dominated industries, designers need a kick in the pants and need to be reminded who their audiences are. While people like us at Gaming as Women will keep on speaking out and feminist blogs have daily conversations about what needs to be done, the consumer has the power. You might buy a game – but you can always write the developers and game companies and say hey, I don’t like this! Express your disappointment. Demand representation. Look at the companies that are most receptive to player feedback – Valve and Bioware both are pretty consumer-conscious companies – and e-mail them. The more people who speak to the source, the more likely we are to see some results. By the way – if you find any good games or make one yourself, let us know! I’d be happy to promote games that have good representation.

     


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    About

    Game designer, forester and conservationist in western Massachusetts, USA. Emily got bitten by the role playing bug back in the early nineties and hasn't looked back since. Fan of rpg game theory especially as found on rec.games.advocacy, The Forge, Story Games, and Nodal Point convention series books. Developing larp, freeform, structured freeform and all things pushing the rpg envelope.

    http://blackgreengames.com

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    About

    Player of all sorts of games, tabletop roleplaying games publisher, engineer, and amateur designer. Based in northern Italy, I live with a pretty cool artist, a ton of books and too much technology.

    http://giullina.net

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    I'm a 25 year old admin assistant from around Pittsburgh, PA. I am married, work and attend college concurrently, and have been tabletop gaming for about 8 years. I blog (very, very periodically), and write unpublished short stories. I play tabletop RPGs, board games, and both casual and RPG video games. I live for the social part of gaming, but do enjoy a good explosion, and am learning the ropes of creating worlds in which people can play.

    http://bravocharliesierra.blogspot.com

    14 Responses to Dear Gaming As Women: Video Games for Women

    1. avatar
      Richter_DL
      September 27, 2012 at 17:31

      Not much to add, treally, but two things:

      1. All Bethesda open world games are open to modding. It’s a bitb tweak-y and takes soem familiarisation with editing tools, but especially regarding character customisation (and the huge modding community they have, or had when I was active there) this can be very rewarding. If interested, check out their forums. Allerleirauh (I think she’s still around there) is a good person to ask if you need help or guidance. The forums were decently managed, but then aagin, I’ve been out of TES games since Oblivion, so my knowledge may be dated and they may have gone the way of so many Video Games related forums.

      2. Keep an eye on Remember Me, by Konami. The game seems to revolve around a fairly badass, not overly sexified heroine. Of course, this could easily end up like the Tomb Raider reboot (shame on you, Crystal Dynamics, I was actually looking foorward to this). But it’s worth keeping an eye on, IMO.

      And finally, I’d like – love – some more customisation options on PCs in games everywhere, be it Space Marine, Gears of War, or what have you. Mass Effect showed very impressively that you needn’t sacrifice story potential with a variable-looks avatar that can be male, female, any skin color you want and have some more customisation if you feel like it. Yeah, that takes soem more ressources, but I’d rather have that than yet another pointless versus game arena that can just as well be tacked on as extra content for the kinds of person who likes pvp games.

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      • avatar
        September 28, 2012 at 02:12

        Thanks for the comments, Richter_DL. Do you know of any currently available games that don’t need customized?

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        • avatar
          Richter_DL
          September 28, 2012 at 14:41

          Well, the best ones have already been mentioned – Mass Effect obviously (if ou want to buy it, wait for the Anthology edition, which probably includes some DLC as well and will save you money), Dragon Age, TES Oblivion and Skyrim. I’ll try to think of some more.

          Bethesda’s Fallout series, though I only can tell by word-of-mouth, is modeled on the TES games’ engine and uses a similar free style of character generation as TES (Oblivion, Skyrim, Morrowind) does. It has a sometimes rather nasty sense of humor though, and is rather brutal, and Postapocalyptic as opposed to High Fantasy. It has character customisation and romance plots, for all I know, in all common combinations (m/m, f/f, f/m, m/f).

          Other games lack in one or other department (or just are no RPGs) but might be worth a try. The following all have next t no customisation options, but have (or had, when I played the last installment) great female characters.

          Within certain limits, the Resident Evil series had great female characters – I never managed to finish RE 1 with Chris, but often with Jill. Again, it’s Zombie Survival, and not really your kind of thing if ou’re turned off by violence. Also, the last installment was horribly bad.

          Similarily, there’s Metroid, featuring an androgynous-ish female lead, which I’d heartily recommend despite being scifi and more of a platformer game than RPG. Again, like with Resident evil, the last game supposedly was bad – I have no Wii, so I can only go by word of mouth again – and also downgraded Samus to some sort of bitchy whiny girly character who runs around in a skinsuit al the time despite owning great power armour, which is her signature equipment.

          Then there’s the Sims, which does deserve a mention for egalitarianism and it’s inclusiveness of homosexuals, though it lacks in all things plot and story, graphics and stable engine. It’s still a nice game, and I’m suing it, aside from occasional furthering of Sims, as a platform for all my Shadowrun characters’ homes and boltholes, as well as character images. The design options are awesome.

          Also, despite being a rather difficult first person platformer, Mirror’s Edge features a great female lead and awesome design, if you don’t have a massive dislike for cyberpunk-ish cityscapes. Good story, too, but you’ll send poor Faith spattering on the pavement a lot starting out. If you get the hang of it, though, her high-altitude parcours way of traveling a city is breathtaking. It’s also remarkable as the only first person game I’ve ever played where guns play next to no role.

          Finally, if you like Euro-style adventures rather than combat-heavy modern RPGs, there’s Beyond Good and Evil. It put you in the shoes of a reporter on an alien planet who runs an orphanage, and is noticably continental, but also great fun. It’s quite old, but there’s a remastered HD version around (on xbox live and steam/valve, I think) that features polished graphics and better controls.

          I’ve probably forgotten some, but those are, off the top of my hat, the best choices. Yes, it includes the Sims, but you just cannot beat those for customisation, and they are damn god at what they are, too (also, they do have some story-based gamng, it’s just something you have to look – and pay – for).

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          • avatar
            October 1, 2012 at 19:26

            Thanks for all the recs! Hopefully the asker will get the chance to check out your list.

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    2. avatar
      Scissors
      September 27, 2012 at 17:39

      Great tips, but “empowering men and women” doesn’t “empower everyone”. That explicitly excludes non-binary people.

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      • avatar
        September 27, 2012 at 19:17

        Even if I wasn’t one of the ones that wrote the article, I still want to say thank you for reminding us. We strive to make it better if everyone, but it easy slipping into binary gender thinking.

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      • avatar
        September 28, 2012 at 02:10

        Scissors, thanks for pointing this out. It is easy for some of us to fall into that unintentionally, so I’m sorry if we offended you.

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        • avatar
          Scissors
          October 1, 2012 at 14:52

          Uh, the slip-up is fine, but why isn’t the binarist text fixed?

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          • avatar
            October 1, 2012 at 19:38

            Scissors, sorry – I did not re-save the document correctly; I’m a little new to WordPress. It has been corrected.

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    3. avatar
      ajlange
      September 27, 2012 at 17:45

      Robbing banks while having fabulous hair?

      You might like Saints Row.

      Saints Row 2 doesn’t even force the player into a binary gender (it’s a slider).
      Saints Row the Third does have a binary gender option, but at least they’re equal-opportunity about the ass-kicking.

      It’s a bit on the crude humor side. If you’re okay with that, though, highly recommended.

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      • avatar
        September 28, 2012 at 02:08

        Thanks for the rec, ajlange!

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    4. avatar
      Scissors
      October 2, 2012 at 20:07

      Thanks for handling that, then.

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    5. avatar
      CrucibleofWords
      October 3, 2012 at 17:10

      One game that does allow for a good amount of (facial) customisation and the opportunity to play women in a similar way to a man(ish) is Mount & Blade Warband. Their facial customisation is huge, so you can shape a PC to whatever look (and age) you like. Everything from hair colour to nose bridge width is customisible on a sliding scale.

      The downside may come when you explore the world; it’s quite explicitly based on Medieval Europe, and so starting out as a woman does make for a harder game, and I’ve not got into the marriage politics with a female character, but they’re sure to be different than for a male character, which is in effect marry a housekeeping function that can also help administer your kingdom should you start one. It will also be noticeable that you’re one of few women riding into battle, and the only autonomous character, as the game sticks quite close to its chauvinistic historical roots. But most interactions are based more on class than gender, and the female builds can be quite interesting (a certain female build will allow you start out with the fastest horse in the game, for example).

      Not sure if it’s entirely satisfactory, but it’s something to try.

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      • avatar
        October 5, 2012 at 17:41

        Thanks for the recommendation, CrucibleofWords. I have never personally checked out Mount & Blade Warband, but I’ll give it a peek if I get the chance, and hopefully the asker will too.

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