By Irishjohn 7 Comments
My girlfriend commented a few days ago that she never uses her DS anymore. She loves her DS, but outside of a bit of Brain Age and anything Mario-themed, she’s not the biggest fan of video games. I decided that seeing as I spend about half of my time online reading game reviews, watching trailers, and writing or commenting on blogs about video games, I was in a strong position to go and get her a game that she would like. In turn, it might buy me some good will the next time I admit to spending half of my weekend replaying Half-Life 2. Again.
People who do not play video games frequently make assumptions about people who do play video games. One of those assumptions, and a very common one at that, is that video games are played by an audience that is almost exclusively male. It fits the stereotype of a pimply and plump man who should “know better”, shouting at a television or computer screen and generally shirking life’s responsibilities while failing utterly in any attempts to win over a member of the “fairer” sex.
That’s rubbish, of course. A lot of different types of people play video games, including smelly people and well groomed people, athletic people and people decidedly not so, and yes, *gasp*, women. People who play videogames don’t fit into stereotypes very neatly anymore.
Unfortunately, the industry itself is riddled with them. A lot of this can be explained by intentionally over the top story telling, but there has to be a limit. I’m a big fan of Resident Evil games. Sheva’s unlockable costume in Resident Evil 5, however, is pushing things. B-movie sensibilities or not.
Faith, the fictional character at the heart of Mirror’s Edge, is a much more subtle example. She doesn’t have the ludicrous pulchritudinous silhouette of your average Team Ninja character, but she still represents a certain standard of beauty. Ok, fair enough: most male video game characters are to some extent designed along these standards as well, and an overweight free runner doesn’t make much sense. Thing is, Faith’s character design is a step in the right direction, but it’s clearly within the same mould of perceived audience expectations. These games are made with a predominantly male audience in mind.
“Hardcore gamers”, as various marketing departments in the industry insist on calling people who like to play more than three hours a week of video games, make similar assumptions. The majority of people who play Gears of War or Halo are men. The main audience for such “triple A” titles are men. Games that are seen as more attractive to a female audience are often relegated to the tier of “mass market” or “casual” games. That doesn’t mean we should accept overly-sexualized female stereotypes in the “triple A” games because all the female video game players are supposedly off playing something “casual.”
I wanted to get my girlfriend a game she would enjoy. Clearly, I was setting out to buy a game for a person who doesn’t like video games as much as I do, not necessarily a girl who doesn’t like video games as much as I do. I got her the very awesome Professor Layton and the Curious Village. If she likes it, maybe she’ll get the sequel.
She is much more open to enjoying video games now than she was when I first met her. Happily, and mostly thanks to Nintendo, there is an ever increasing number of games that I think she would enjoy playing. She’s never going to want to buy an Xbox and play Halo with me. That’s fine. But I don’t want her to catch a glimpse of a game that I am enjoying and seeing something that she finds offensive, or that reinforces stereotypes that once provided a barrier between her and the enjoyment of any type of video game. People have different values and expectations, and thus differing thresholds of what they will consider offensive. Thing is, I’m not even talking about a person being outraged. I’m talking about my girlfriend or any female acquaintance seeing something on my TV screen while I’m playing a game and rolling her eyes. It’s those potential reinforcements of (often false) assumptions that harm the growth of video games as a viable part of popular culture.
Overall, though, things are looking good. My girlfriend is rocking out with some Professor Layton puzzles. I’m looking forward to shooting things when Halo 3:ODST comes out. Aren’t video games great?