Gaming: women in/and games
I’ve played video games for more than fifteen years, I have a degree in video game design and currently write reviews and articles on gaming topics, yet I have never been more aware of sexism in the industry than in the past year.
From personal experience I would say that the issue does not lay predominantly within the production teams – there are plenty of respected women that work successfully within all areas of gaming construction. On my university course women were the minority, yet I was never considered less of an equal than within that group. I never once felt marginalised or insulted by anyone.
However, I have also worked in the games sales. It is at this level of the industry that I have been made aware of the existence of a negative attitude towards women in the gaming world. Male customers would purposefully bypass me for help from a male colleague and I have had customers cancel pre-orders and return games once they realised the main character was a woman.
I’ve found that the issue with the games industry isn’t necessarily sexism – it’s innovation in marketing. For instance, take a newly released title, ‘Bioshock Infinite’, the initial cover for the game displayed both main characters, Booker and Elizabeth, yet the final released design, shows Booker on the front cover and Elizabeth on the back. Another example that I found particularly repulsive was the Collector’s Edition of another recent title, ‘Dead Island Riptide’. The release included a model of a woman’s bare torso covered in blood with parts of her body ripped off. Why did the marketing team feel this was a necessary inclusion in a zombie themed game? Thankfully this item was pulled from shelves, indicating that someone along the line understood the uproar this item would cause upon release.
It’s clear to me, that the issue is not with the writers or producers, but with the way their ideas are sold to the audience. The people who decide which parts of the games will sell the most need to have more faith in their own audience being more open-minded. If the general gaming public are only presented with the stereotypical, white, stubbled male character then they will never expect anything else. A prime example of how things should be done is a letter written by Bioware’s David Gaider in response to a Straight Male Gamer’s complaint about same sex relationships in their games. If the complainant is told, to ‘get over it’ (as Gaider put it), and the negative discourse surrounding female characters are ignored, a new norm within the sales of the industry can be formed.
The way to succeed is to not only educate the audience, but believe in their intelligence. If we have faith in an audience’s ability to tolerate new ideals, than just maybe they will. But first, we have to try.
Hannah Andrews, 23, London
Game Design Graduate/Artist/Sales Assistant