In lieu of a full post, I’d like to offer up two slide shows for contemplation. Whenever someone objects to an over-sexualised character, commenters inevitably come out to cry “but that’s the demographic and that’s fine!” For me, however, that only carries us so far, and is only an answer if the gaming market remains static. Time and time again, for the last 2 years, I have seen articles highlighting that this is changing. It may well be 50 years before the social gaming of the facebook populations meets in the middle with the ‘social games for boys’ such as TERA. Obviously the companies are going to market to their historical and consistent player base, but when the market is changing it isn’t a moral imperative to replace the general image of woman-as-object-to-be-looked-at.
There are always going to be games that cross the line from mere sexualisation into out and out objectification. There’s a whole world of ‘adult’ games out there that I’m not going to touch with a barge pole, because they aren’t mass marketed, and they aren’t pushed in my Sci-fi magazines, my film magazines, or the general mainstream media space that men and women share. They are niche. Now looking at the above list of x-box live games (the list is taken from a presentation made by the GamerDNA CEO in 2009) I wish I knew more about how these games were marketed. GTA IV (which I hear involves getting benefits from scamming or hurting prostitute NPCs) is the most problematic game, something that strikes me about the above games is that (Fable II and Oblivion aside) women are mostly absent from these games. I’m not going to dissect those games individually, but for the most part it is possible to play them without being slapped in the face with deliberate ‘male gaze fan service’ – invisibility is, for me personally, easier to swallow than objectification. They aren’t lacking in problematic elements, but then very little media is free from some element of objectification, gender essentialism, or the idea that the only audience worth designing for is a white, male one. This doesn’t cover the point that as women part of our ‘fantasy’ is being sexually alluring and having the ability to look good without risking insults/slurs about our real bodies, but that’s a post for another time (and another place.)
I don’t think women are afraid of ‘gritty realism’, and I don’t think every game should depict a utopian ideal of how we would like women and gender to be, but I don’t think calls for more nuanced characters that don’t fit into the ‘white, macho, male’ template need to be stopped just because women have made more headway than ever into the Gaming world. Media shouldn’t, in my opinion, shy away from difficult topics – it should make an effort to tackle them in ways that don’t romanticise them.
Also please note that the above data is from 2009, I don’t know what the ‘top’ 15 games by gender are in 2010. I’d have to be a soothsayer, for 2010 isn’t over yet. The following two presentations I found extremely interesting. The first takes a wide range of statistics and analysis from many sources, and I find many of the implications extremely encouraging for gamer/geek culture in general, and women in particular. I have no special conclusions of my own to offer right now, because I’m rather busy IRL, but I’d be interested in hearing from my readers!