Video games might seem like an odd topic for a feminist blog and that is exactly why I am writing this article. Video games are the fastest growing media across the world and the second biggest. One that until more recently has been completely dominated by men. Why is this?
Video games first became commercial in the late 70s and early 80s and the fact is that at that time the computer industry was almost entirely male and computers were seen as more of a boys pursuit. So it was guys making games for guys which whilst not inexcusable is understandable. This only propagated itself as time went on, games pandering to more male interests, the heroes being male characters and the girls featured being overly sexualised. One notable example was the Metroid series. You played through the game as a robotic warrior and when you get to the end it is revealed that you have been controlling a female character ‘Samus Aran’ the entire time. Unfortunately Nintendo eventually succumbed to fan demand and placed a highly sexualised ‘Zero Suit’ Samus in their most recent Super Smash bros game.
There were a few exceptions to the rule, games with a wider market such as roller-coaster tycoon and the ever popular sims franchise but these were few and far between.
Recently the amount of female gamers has increased and the divide is narrowing. The reason for this; the dawn of the casual game. Games that separate themselves from the identity of ‘gamer’ have been very successful. It’s so easy to open bejewled on your phone to pass the time or play wii tennis with grandpa. You don’t have to buy an expensive console, it’s an easy entrance to the format and the casual games industry is thriving.
There is still however a large gap between casual games and ‘serious’ games when it comes to female participation. Nintendo estimates that of the 11 million women playing console games across the US a paltry 20% ever pick up an Xbox or PS3 controller and if they ever do they have something else to deal with. The amount of hate that female gamers get online is truly sickening. Torrents of abusive messages, unsightly pictures and slurs are the reward for any woman that decides to reveal her gender whilst playing a game whether it is via her choice of name or her foolish decision to try and communicate with her team mates.
fatuglyorslutty.com is a blog run by female gamers documenting some of the ridiculous abuse the receive online. The name stems from the ‘fact’ that no girl really enjoys gaming and therefore must either be fat, ugly or slutty and just looking for attention. The messages range from crude and stupid to downright scary with some contributors even getting death threats. The veil of anonymity is well documented to reduce inhibitions and this is the sort of thing that can make the gaming industry seem very unattractive to prospective women.
So where do we go from here? Lots of progress has been made in closing this divide and as more and more women get in to games the developers will take that market in to account. The success of the Wii has not been ignored and the Xbox and PS3 both released similar motion controlled devices. If the demand is there then it will be heard, big companies simply can’t afford to ignore it.
– Tim Roth