Why we must foster a female role in video games
How sexist is videogame culture? Canadian–American feminist and video blogger Anita Sarkeesian published the first in a series of Kickstarter-funded videos on the subject this month. Called Damsel in Distress: Tropes Versus Women, it looks at how women have been represented in videogame culture throughout the years.
It's an interesting critique of how video game narrative reinforces sexist attitudes towards women. It contains many examples of how female characters are objectified in videogames, turned into prizes for mostly-male characters to win.
The discussion highlights the opportunity for game developers to do something different, and turn these tired old tropes on their heads, rather than simply porting old games to new platforms and perpetrating the same stereotypes.
There are some interesting things going on in game development these days which promise to disrupt these traditional narratives. Silicon Sisters, a Vancouver-based gaming company started by two women, makes games targeting teen and tween girls, which put them firmly in the narrative and enable them to guide and develop their own stories.
This would seem to make good business sense. These new gaming models promise to unlock a vast new player base that traditional console gaming companies may have overlooked.
It also makes longer-term sense. Software development has generally been a male-dominated occupation, but it also suffers from a shortage of skills. If there aren't enough developers, and few women go into software development, shouldn't we be encourage girls to get interested in computing? Given that many childrens' first exposure to computers will be through video games, it would seem sensible to create a place for girls in those games.
My own favourite stories focus on awesome dads who have hacked traditional games to invert the damsel in distress theme. In November, Mike Hoye, fed up with having to do "gender translation on-the-fly" for his young daughter Maya while playing classic video game Windwaker, took technology into his own hands to make the game – part of the Zelda series – more female friendly. He turned the key character, Link, into a girl, with the help of a Dolphin emulator and a copy of the Gamecube disc image.
Earlier this month, another techie – Mike Mika, a games designer who has worked on games for devices as far back as the Atari 2600 – hacked Donkey Kong so that his three-year-old daughter could play as Pauline (who is generally the 'damsel in distress') in the game. Thanks to some sprite editing and animation on his part, his daughter can now rescue Mario.
I like gaming nostalgia. I like intelligent writing about games. Most of all, though, as a geek father myself, I love these dynamite dads.
Is gaming culture as sexist as Ms Sarkeesian argues? Many will have their own perspectives, but the reactions of some gamers to female perspectives is alarming to say the least, and reinforces the idea that this young male-dominated gaming community needs to grow up, quickly. When she first launched the Kickstarter campaign to fund her video series, a young Canadian gamer published an online flash game called "Beat up Anita Sarkeesian". In the game (since removed), players could repeatedly click an image of her face, which would gradually show bruises and cuts until the screen finally turned red. Ms Sarkeesian was also sent death threats, and Photoshopped pictures of herself being raped by popular video game characters.
Guess who else online nutjobs wished dead? Mike Mika's three-year-old daughter. "It would do the world a favour and be one less feminist in our future," said one hateful comment on his YouTube video. His reaction was measured, and reasoned: "if something as innocuous as having Mario be saved by Pauline brings out the crazy, maybe we aren’t as mature in our view of gender roles as we should be," he said.
I'd agree with that. Gaming culture probably needs a little more balance, both among developers and players, wouldn't you agree?
Check out Damsel in Distress: Tropes Versus Women here.Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets