You’ve seen it done with Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. Marketing tactics set to evoke the 47-50 % of the gaming population, but why hasn’t the antics worked? Why haven’t sales increased much more rapidly than they have fallen in recent years? It clearly isn’t the lack of a female demographic, so what truly is the reasoning behind the appeal companies cannot be able to harness?
It is my belief that there are four underling reasons why the female gaming market has yet to be tapped into. First, female participation in and consumption of gaming is marginalized. Often than not, this happens on a small to large-scale that includes sexism, misrepresentation, and sheer disrespectful behavior. Here are some examples.
A while back Miranda Pakozi (aka Super Yan) was a member of a Cross Assault team that received sexual comments and sexist remarks from her own Tekken Team Coach, Aris Bakhtanians. It forced her to not only forfeit almost all her matches, but she has yet to continue competing in the fighting game community since then. What’s worse is her team did not aid her, and only made the situation worse by continuing the sexual banter marginalizing her importance in the team that was meant to work together to win the tournament. This portrays a terrible light on women whom hope to aspire to major league fighting competitions or parallel competitions, like Tactics and First Person Shooters.
Aisha Tyler, host of last year’s Ubisoft E3 was immediately bombarded with accusations that he wasn’t a real gamer after stepping down from the stage. She was so insulted by the accusations, she wrote a heartfelt and powerful letter on Facebook, where she describes her trials and tribulations of being a gamer and more so on how her influence as a gamer was diffused. Her statements echo hurt, strength, and disappointment at the attacks the results in this response.
I’ve been playing my whole life.
I’m not ashamed of it.
I don’t apologize for it.
It’s who I am.
To the core.
I’m a gamer.”
Having a black female comedian host E3 was an empowerment to many women that quickly went sour after the gaming community decided they didn’t believe her to be authenticated. It creates this humorous yet bitter thought “Does a female gamer need to fill out a thesis or questionnaire to be a gamer?”
Anita Sarkeesian is a researcher, feminist, and media critic whom started a KickStarter to research sexism in the video game community. Immediately she received an out lash of accusations, sexual threats, rape threats, death threats, and even had a game where you could beat her to death. As a researcher simply trying to focus on a critical topic, what was thought to deprive her of her power to research sexism turned out to provide a well-balanced support to dive deep into the research. Anita was lucky with her efforts, but during her KickStarter campaign, her Wiki leaks page was sabotaged to portray pornography, rude, and obscene photos of her and her methods.
How can we hope to make the video game community better when our efforts are being sabotaged from the beginning? On a less large-scale, we can clearly see that playing games for women is just as tough. Taking a gander at the website Fat, Ugly, or Slutty leaves you with the implication that female gamers are considered a substantially lesser cultural piece of the gaming community. But why does the cultural aspect of female gamers seem so low? Why is the cultural understanding of a woman who plays games so devaluing?
“A random message I got on my PS3, I think I just played Call of Duty with him.”
My second reason is that complex cultural attitudes toward female gamers have a lot to do with the history behind gaming and its formation of being a ‘boy only’ activity. Early on, gaming was specific to a social space; the arcade where boys or men would play games. It wasn’t till later that home versions of the same games were created. However, by then the notion that the activity was male oriented was heavily based on the amount of men that played in the arcade spaces. The gendering of public arcades was associated to masculinity and granted women limited access to assume particular roles. [Bryce & Rutter.]
Speculations as to why women weren’t apart of these ‘game spaces’ had a lot to do with gender related roles. Women were often part of what is called the ‘bedroom cultural'[Bryce & Rutter], now adopted as the gateway to everything in the 21st century. This complicated cultural attitude toward women has yet to change even when our public leisure spaces are now in our own homes. With technology creating social networks from our fingers, our social leisure activities are not consistent with the gendering of societal roles in providing public game spaces without moving from our bedrooms. The change in placement of the public activity has yet to adjust the ideal that women are excluded from participating in an activity that fits right into their cultural gender dynamics. Referring to research on specific game texts, genres, and formats that do not representative the current range of gaming, hinders people’s ability to consider the diversity of gamers to the context of the bias research. This includes the assumption that female domestic participation in games is not visible due to a lack of female interest. [Bryce & Rutter] On the contrary, significant evidence shows it is a result of recycling of gender bias within games.
Leading onto my third reason, gaming is consistent with reinforcing and reproducing of societal gender roles. Even with some titles that have changed this, we still see traditional female societal roles that reproduce gender bias within the video game community as trophies or trumps. Perfect examples are Princess Peach and objects of desire female characters like in Dead or Alive. You may argue that the females in DOA are fighting and defending themselves so this doesn’t represent the reproduction of societal gender roles. However, these same women in these games are objectified by having big breasts, narrow hips, and seamless features that are ideal to a man looking for the most suitable, healthy, and appealing mate to procreate with. Gaming companies’ use this innate drive to their advantage to promote this aspect of a woman’s role in society as oppose to a man’s role. They know that a beautiful woman’s body, personality, and breasts (which are the source of a healthy meal) will attract mates or in this case reluctant males.
The fact is we as humans make a lot of our decision-making based on societal norms; women are meant to take care of the children, cook, do the laundry, and are not usually thought of performing what is considered to be men stuff. The issues are when societal norms change, and the people who follow them don’t. There comes a collision of ideas and a reluctant view to change, thus a vicious cycle occurs within the media, the most influential tool out there. If you can maintain societal gender roles, then society doesn’t have to change. The only problem is society needs to change. Women are breadwinners, game designers, and even soldiers on the battlefield. Reinforcing old societal roles from WWII era are causing huge strains on our social, economic, and even psychological frameworks in our culture.
My final reason stems from gender dynamics of public gaming showcasing the term ‘gamer’ as uninteresting. Let’s face it; why would any female want to be objectified or see objectification happen right before their eyes? Why would any women with a cohesive mindset allow themselves to be ridiculed and stupefied by playing a game that demoralized them? They won’t play games that have women with big boobs unless you can customize the clothing to cover it. They are more likely to play MMORPGs, FPs, or even casual mobile games to escape the ridiculous misconception of what a female is in the gaming world. Those things don’t interest most of them. Sexual gratification is a man’s thing. Yes, some women love to see a handsome built man, but they are more interested in story, gameplay, multiplayer, and character progression. Through cooperative play, players are more likely to need cohesion, trust, and cooperation to work as a team to overcome obstacles in online gaming. [Madigan, J] In some instances, gender bias can rob women these opportunities even before they have a chance to play. Therefore, female gamers are more likely to denounce to play certain games, making it harder to research and market to female gamers effectively, and are more likely to play as “anonymous” freeing themselves from the constraints of the gender bias. They play as “neutral” and “anonymous” entities because they are more likely to be based on their gaming skills and abilities and less on their gender. As great as it sounds, this doesn’t reduce the stereotype that consequently led them there in the first place.
It’s become a pressing issue as events like #1reasonwhy and documentaries on girl gamers begin to pop up. Games are increasingly becoming more social and ‘public leisure spaces’ are making them more accessible for anyone from any part of the world. Before we can try to market to a female gaming body, we need to fix the misrepresentation and complex cultural clash that marketing tactics believe female gamers to be; this quintessential female that likes pink 3DS, tons of Facebook fashion designing games, and believes their soul purpose is to nurture and raise a family. The gaming-sphere is diverse and growing ever so fast. As gamers grow exponentially per year and games are designed variedly and creatively, it becomes a question of whether marketing tactics will dump some extinct ideals and take on new tactics to keep on with the change-bandwagon.
Bryce, Jo & Rutter, Jason. Killing Like a Girl: Gendered Gaming and Girl Gamers’ Visibility. Tampere University Press, 2002.
Madigan, James. Competition, Cooperation, and Play. Psychologyofgames.com, 2012.
Jennifer “Narz” Vargas is CEO/Founder at Girl Gamer Vogue and Lead Video Game Columnist and Tech Editor at KnickerBocker Ledger.