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Video games cross gender border

Despite the ubiquity of games in everyday American culture, the term “gamer” itself seems to still be strongly associated with younger males with too much time on their hands. Playing video games is still seen as a primarily masculine activity, even though everyone and his or her grandmother has played “Angry Birds” at least once in their life. Is there truth to the stereotype?

Most male gamers at Drake claim that they have met very few girls who play video games. Junior Bryn Start, part of the Drake Starcraft Team, suspects that “the ratio (of male to female gamers) may be colossally imbalanced.” All of them were surprised that 40 percent of American gamers are female. In fact, more adult women (33 percent of gamers) play games than male teenagers and children (18 percent of gamers). Of course, the fact remains that the majority of gamers are male, but the ratio is not as imbalanced as one might assume.

Regardless of what the stats say, these stereotypes still exist. How does this affect female players and their gaming experiences?

Emily Garnett, a senior biochemistry, cell and molecular biology major and avid adventure/role-playing game gamer, said that she does not care that she does not fit into the male gamer stereotype.

“It’s a little weird to be treated as aberrant because I game,” she said. “Apart from seeing expressions of considerable surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I really dig ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ I can’t say I really feel like I’ve been stereotyped or that it’s had a lot of impact on me.”

Garnett also said that she is respected by male gamers for being legitimately interested in the same games that they are. Her experience, however, may be due to the fact that she tends to play with people she already knows.

Laura Warren, a member of the Drake Gaming League, said that she dislikes playing multiplayer games with strangers.

“The couple of times that I tried, I was called rude names for being a girl and a newbie,” she said.

Warren’s experience stands in contrast to Start’s assertion that female gamers use their gender instead of their skills to gain attention. However, he did say that male gamers who respond to female gamers with stereotypical behaviors are to blame as well.

“I think that many male gamers don’t take female gamers seriously, and

I find that sad,” Warren said. “I think it’s getting a little better, but there is still the stigma that all female gamers are really nerdy, and that even then they aren’t as good as male gamers.”

Junior Michelle Levine, secretary of the Drake Gaming League, said that if you are a girl and you go to a gaming store, you’re very likely to get hit on.

Most gamers are aware of this stereotype, but none of them really subscribed to it, saying that practice increases skill regardless of gender.

“I have every confidence that if I actually enjoyed first-person shooters and fighting games, I would be just as good at them as my guy friends are,” Garnett said. “As it is, however, I don’t have the drive to improve my skill at them. And that’s what I think it comes down to; whether or not you, as an individual, are willing to invest the time and energy that it takes to become good at a game, not your gender.”

Second-year pharmacy student Michaela Stephan, a “Guilds War” player said that the time is important to become a better gamer.

“I believe the difference in gaming ability comes from differing amounts of time playing each gaming medium,” Stephan said. “Growing up, my brother always hogged the gaming console, so I would play computer games instead. Over time, my skill in computer gaming improved while my brother’s skill in console gaming improved.”

Anastasia Olashaya-Grill, a recent Drake graduate and avid role-playing/first-person shooter gamer said that gaming is like art.

“Gaming is like any sort of art form, really,” Olashaya-Grill said. “You can be a great novelist, poet, painter, sculptor, musician (or) whatever regardless of what your sex and/or gender is.”

She also said, however, that “perception might change depending on the balance of estrogen and testosterone in your body, but that’s just general perception.”

Start acknowledged that any one can be a good gamer, but he said that gender does play a role, “I think that female gamers could hold their own against male gamers under the circumstances of an equal supply of gamers from each gender for each game,” he said, “but there are biological differences between genders that I believe might make one gender more likely to play a certain kind of game than the other gender, perhaps furthered by gender roles that kids are exposed to at a very young age.”

Olashaya-Grill had a slightly different view.

“Being a good gamer comes from talent and practice,” Olashaya-Grill said. “Sex and gender have nothing to do with performance, save for stupid gender roles getting in the way of access to certain games.”

Do gender roles influence the frequency at which females play games? Or does it have something to do with biological dispositions?

“As one of the few females playing Guild Wars, I can only guess at why girls are less inclined to play,” Stephan said. “Perhaps it is because they feel it is not feminine or not for girls. Maybe they feel that it is too nerdy. Maybe it is because of the Internet trolls. Perhaps they feel they do not have enough time to play. Maybe they are playing ‘World of Warcraft’ instead of ‘Guild Wars.’”

Garnett suggests that it has less to do with biology and gender roles and more to do with the androcentric content of the games themselves.

“It seems to me like a lot of games are geared more towards men than they are towards women — not to say that women can’t like demon-slaying, gunfights or fast cars, but the fact of the matter is that these are stereotypically guy things,” Garnett said. “In addition, there’s a serious dearth of female characters that have any complexity at all in video games, and more often than not, women in games are simply presented as fan service. That can get old.”

2 Comments

  1. Corey Reynolds February 29, 2012

    As a person who has played WAY too many games in his life, I can say with great confidence that the second-to-last sentence of the article is completely untrue. In my experience, there are far too many female characters in most of the games that I play. The game companies are making so many of the characters (especially leader characters like deities, monarchs, commanding officers, etc.) female that it is getting absurd. They’re trying desperately to capture that elusive-yet-lucrative female demographic, and yet most of the girls/ladies I know want nothing to do with anything but casual games. And if the recent LEGO Friends debacle is any indication, if they start pushing too far into areas that they think that females will be drawn to, the feminists will go into psychotic mouth-foaming, bra-burning frenzy at the very idea of trying to “reinforce the stereotype”.

    1. Xiang Xiang Liew March 26, 2012

      I’d like to question some of your assumptions.

      First of why, why do you believe that there’s such a thing as “too many” female characters? Doesn’t that depend on the kind of story the developers want to tell or the particular setting? Now, if the game was set in a men’s prison, I can see why having lots of female characters would be unrealistic, but what’s wrong with having a lot of female characters in any other kind of game? What is so “absurd” about a female-heavy cast? And why is it especially absurd that leader-type characters are female? You don’t have to be a feminist to see immediately how that assumption is incredibly sexist and plays into the stereotype that females can’t be leaders. More importantly, just because a leader character happens to be female doesn’t mean that they automatically become complex, interesting characters in their own right. You can be the smartest, strongest goddess in the game AND still be an objectified sexualized thing with zero characterization, you know. It doesn’t matter if you can kick every single guy’s ass in the game if you look like, say, Mai in King of Fighters – you’re still perpetuating a stereotype. I love having sexy men and women in games, but the difference is that sexy men in games are typically more than just their sex appeal, whereas sexy women have a tendency to be nothing more than sex objects.

      The variety and range of female characters in games are much, much narrower than male characters, who are typically cast in a far broader variety of roles. I’m glad that game companies are trying to broaden that range a little by having female characters in leadership roles, protagonist roles, and so on, but just doing that doesn’t necessarily mean their game’s representation of women is completely unproblematic. I wonder why females don’t want to play games where people like them tend to be sexualized, infantilized, marginalized, or are just huge gaping, frothing, carnivorous cunts. Literally. Yes, Catherine, I’m looking at you.

      Not to say that there aren’t awesome, strong, well-developed female characters in games. As an adventure gamer myself, April from The Longest Journey and Laverne from Day of the Tentacle spring to mind, but I feel like these kinds of characters just aren’t the norm, especially in mainstream (read: male-oriented) gaming.

      And of course, all of this is compounded by the fact that mainstream games tend to focus more on gameplay and presentation, with story and characterization taking a backseat. In general.

      tl;dr, I really don’t understand why you’re complaining about having “too many female characters”. “Absurd” isn’t an argument, it’s just your own subjective whining. Check out this research – if anything we need MORE female characters being represented in media, not less:

      “In terms of quantity, the media is still a long way from reflecting reality : women represent 49 per cent of humanity while female characters make up only 32 per cent of the main characters on TV, as shown by a broad survey done in 2008 by Doctor Maya Götz of the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television. This study measured the representation of male and female characters in nearly twenty thousand children’s programs in 24 different countries. The media industry justifies this disparity by arguing that it is easier for girls than boys to identify with characters of the opposite sex. Götz argues that this argument reverses cause and effect, saying that it is the lack of female characters on TV is what leads to the higher popularity of male characters.”

      (And why wouldn’t girls identify more with boy characters if the boys are the only ones who get to do all kinds of different cool stuff that those girls want to do compared to the relatively narrow range of cool stuff that female characters get to do?)

      Ah yes, the LEGO Friends debacle. Of course girls are going to like pink fluffy girly things, and cannot for the life of them enjoy blocky, manly toys. I noticed that you very cleverly disclaimed responsibility for that stereotype by attributing that kind of thinking to the game companies, but then go on to put “reinforce the stereotype” in sarcastic air-quotes, suggesting that you think that no, thinking that girls can only enjoy pink, cute dollies is not reinforcing gender stereotypes after all. You don’t seem to comprehend that trying to target a female demographic doesn’t need to include dresses and frills and cuteness, and that by doing so, you are sending a message to young children that little girls should love pink and dressing up, and that building things is something that is for little boys instead. Maybe if you actually paid attention to the complaints instead of frothing at the mouth about “bra-burning feminists”, you’d realize that a lot of the people complaining are parents and grandparents who are worried about their children learning to conform to unhealthy gender stereotypes spawned by an androcentric society. I’ve never played LEGO myself (though I enjoyed a very similar block-and-construction-based toy set when I was little – can’t remember the name now, sadly), but it seems the general sentiment is that most of the people posting enjoyed playing LEGO when they were kids, regardless of whether they were male or female, and that it’s a gender-neutral product that all kids can enjoy. My favorite quote is this: “LEGO already has a line targeted towards girls. It’s called LEGO.”

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