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?
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 The fact that there is not much to fulfill Ella’s request is due to the shortsightedness, and perhaps outdated assumptions about who the audience is for video games.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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