Monday, March 11, 2013

Game Time

My son counts down the hours until Friday after school because that's the magical moment when the remote controls to the Wii are released. He, and usually a couple friends, get to immerse themselves in the world of video games.

Sometimes I play Lego StarWars Wii with the boys. They've almost stopped being annoyed when I make my character jump on top of those big spiders and ride them around.

Okay, that's actually not true.

I've had several lectures about taking my participation more seriously. But have you seen those spiders? They're so much fun!

And so is playing video games. Everything I read about the world in which my children will live and work leads me to believe video games and gaming technology will probably make up part of their work experience. Many games teach problem solving skills and even hand-eye coordination. These are good lessons. If that's where the lessons stopped I wouldn't have an issue with video games.

Unfortuantely, gaming culture is often dismissive and sometimes downright mysoginistic when it comes to its female characters. Even though we're still at the G rated end of the spectrum, I've noticed disturbing patterns that only become more prominent as the games skew toward an older audience.

The female characters are often built like scantily clad Barbie dolls and fall into outdated stereotypical roles; women in distress, women as a reward or sexual objectification through use of women as decoration.

Video games have become one more part of popular culture that shape childrens' perception of the world. As such, I'm concerned about what these games teach about women's roles in society both online and off.

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's worried about the portrayal of women in video games. Anita Sarkeesian created Feminist Frequency, a video webseries that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives with an emphasis on deconstructing the stereotypes associated with women in both popular and gaming culture.

It makes me feel less alone to know I'm not the only one who's deeply uncomfortable with the way women are portrayed in video game culture.

Websites like Feminist Frequency are a message to game developers. One of the reasons girls and women play video games less than their male counterparts is because video games often don't depict our experience of the world.

I'd love to see games where female characters get to be powerful and strong without wearing a bikini. Or where their strength of spirit and intelligence were key factors used to unlock rewards. In fact, if I knew about those kinds of games I'd probably run out and buy the tomorrow. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

Talk about an untapped market!


Shell Flower said...

I've read a lot about video games teaching and motivating, but you are totally right about the misogyny. I'd also love to see some strong females in video games.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

My last video game experience was Roller Coaster Tycoon, so I haven't noticed that trend. Maybe women gamers need to let their demands be known.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Does Lara Croft count?

jaybird said...

Preach sister! I hate how they protray women in those stupid things. I've drilled the wrongness of this into my girls heads so many times, they even take offense to Super Mario Brothers. "Why do we have to rescue Princess Peach?" My youngest laments. "Why can't we have a video game where she can pull it together and rescue herself?" LOL

Barbara Watson said...

Since video games are branded (mostly) for males, I'm sure that's why women are depicted the way they are. Kind of like all the dopey beer commercials air during football games.

I, too, would like to see stronger, better clothed women.

~Sia McKye~ said...

On the rare occasions I play video games with the kid--not guitar hero--I generally choose a guy role that fits me. Like you mention, the women are mostly helpless twits or sexual bimbos.

Johanna Garth said...

Shell, me too!

Diane, I think they are beginning to be increasingly vocal.

Alex, I think she does, but I just wish their were more games with similar characters.

Jaybird, Princess Peach is so annoying! Why can't she be cool like the Paperbag Princess?

Barbara, exactly, but you'd think that the makers would want to expand their brand.

Sia, my favorite game is Just Dance but the kids won't play with me anymore because I always beat them :)

Unknown said...

That's a big topic to take on, Johanna. Way to go! Good to educate others on this subject. That's where it all starts.
~Just Jill

Carol Kilgore said...

Women should be encouraged to design more games and the marketing should be aimed to males and females. It's good for girls to have those positive role models, but it's also good for boys to see the girls in that light rather than as barbie wannabe clones.

Nicki Elson said...

Video games & comic books -- have you SEEN the size of some of those breasts? How does anyone even find that attractive?

If it makes you feel better, I think the women get treated pretty equally, and are fully clothed, in the Star Wars Old Republic games, so there appear to be some other options out there at least.

P.S. Thanks for your comments about my book cover. :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I'll have to ask my girls about this, because I haven't noticed it in the games they play, but of course they aren't interested in war games. They tend toward Zelda, who is female, but I know the MC in those games is Link, a boy.

Unknown said...

Exactly. You don't see me running around in my bikini (for good reason), saving the world.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think it's good that you limit your son's use of the video games, but that you also set aside time for him to play them too. That gives him time to focus on other interests. The only video games I remember playing are Street Fighter (where the female characters were typically dressed in tight clothes) and Mario Brothers. Oh, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, too.

Elise Fallson said...

I'm not a gamer by any stretch, but Samus Aran is the protagonist in the video game Metroid and was one of the earliest female protag in video games. Plus, she's a bounty hunter in a weaponized armor suit, no bikinis here. It's interesting however that many gamers didn't realize right away that Samus was actually a girl. Anyway, all that being said, I agree with you about the lack of strong female characters in video games. Samus is not the trend, nor the norm, she's more of an outlier and that's unfortunate.

PK HREZO said...

Thanks for sharing this link. I'll check it out. I've always thought that too--guy designers always make the females impossibly curvaceous. But then, I can't blame them either because as an artist myself, the female figure is so enjoyable to draw. I can see why they go to extremes within their fantasy worlds. It does worry me tho how it affects young girls and their own body images.

Anonymous said...

Great link. That is one thing that bothers me about video games . . . but maybe they're basing the characters on all the scantily clad girls posting pics of themselves on Facebook, especially now that it's beach season *sigh* I'd really rather see women get recognized in better ways!

Elizabeth Seckman said...
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