Why the hell is nobody talking to me? By me, I don't mean the singular - like this picture of me at PAX last year holding avatars for Red and Clockwork , no, I mean me... the demographic. There has been some recent ruckus over Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter to do a video series on "Tropes vs Women in Video Games". I won't link to it because she has already raised well over $100,000 dollars for her Kickstarter (she was originally only asking for $6,000). She aims to play some video games and then do a web video series regarding her opinion on female tropes in video games.
She is not doing a "study", she is going to play games and then give her opinion on this topic. It's wonderful that she has fans of her opinion, the same as Jim has fans of his Jimquisition series, or that Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw has fans of his Zero Punctuation series... or my personal favorite, Daniel Floyd's Extra Credits series (in particular, Video Games and the Female Audience
The thing that scares me is that on Ms. Sarkeesian's web site she says:
"Earlier this year, I was invited to speak about developing female characters in video games at the BUNGiE offices in Bellevue, WA (you probably know BUNGiE as the developers of the Halo series). It was a great experience engaging with creators and developers in the gaming industry so I decided itís time to dedicate an entire series to female characters in video games."
So even before she has played the games and done her web series, she is being consulted on the development of female characters in video games. My question is why?? While it's nice that they at least reached out to one woman regarding her opinion on female video game characters, why isn't anybody asking the women that already play video games... "women", the plural form. Not once has Sony or Microsoft, nor any developer ever asked me what I wanted to see regarding female characters in video games. I have active gamer accounts on both my PS3 and 360 that identify me as a female who games... and games a LOT (anywhere from 2 -10 hours a day, every day). Additionally, like most gamers, I have an active email attached to those profiles. I even have the option ticked to "yes" for contact by third parties (which usually allows for things such as beta invites). Surely a developer or publisher with an interest in appealing to a female demographic could arrange a simple survey with existing female gamers. By knowing what existing female gamers want to see in female game characters, it seems much more likely that they will please existing female gamers and maybe attract new female gamers. In fact this seems much more likely than consulting with someone who's interest is feminism in media.
The problem is that not all females are feminists. Yes, most of us are feminists in the sense that we believe in equal legal, social, economic and political rights for women (most men believe this as well), but many women have extremely divergent opinions on the characters they want to "be" or "see" in video games. Some women will love to play as Juliet Starling in Lollipop Chainsaw in their little cheerleading outfit and will feel empowered and have fun... still other women will detest the sexualized cheerleader stereotype and then there are still others like myself who resent that the game was marketed almost entirely to men instead of a marketing angle that emphasized the romance story line that might be more appealing to both genders (yes, men do like romance too!). The thing is that only by talking to a large number of female gamers will any type of trends appear. There are surveys done on the numbers of female gamers, and regardless of the type of survey (some include casual games, others don't) the numbers are gradually climbing. Surveys are easy nowadays... so instead of spending the time and money to speak with one woman, why aren't developers talking to a larger group of women?
Sexism and misogyny exist in both gaming culture and in the games and marketing of the games. Things are gradually changing as more women are being seen as active gamers both in games and on gaming sites, and they will continue to change as the demographics continue to shift. I guess the question is whether developers want to attract more women to gaming (and specifically their game) or do they want to be perceived by feminist media critics as having politically correct female characters - because these are two entirely different things. Women apparently love the Twilight series. I haven't seen any of the movies or read any of the books myself... but from what I understand Twilight is not exactly a beacon of feminism. Would female game characters a feminist likes appeal to female gamers in general? No, I don't believe so because women as a group are just as diverse as men.
I wish Ms. Sarkeesian good luck in her Kickstarter. What she's doing with her video series is not anything different than most female gamers do on a daily basis on various gaming websites. I myself have talked about Chainmail Bikinis
, Basketball Boobs
, sexual objectification
, "girl gamer" tropes
, the lack of female avatars in shooter games
, Gaming sites that pander to men
... just to name a few of the topics I've expressed my viewpoint on. Countless bloggers and journalists write everyday... and their work brings about almost no perceptible changes. I have a vagina and I've been gaming since gaming was invented... but what I want is not representative of what female gamers want in video games... and nor should it be.
Women... the plural.
My hope is that Ms. Sarkeesian's work will be entertaining for those that view the final results of her kickstarter, but that her opinions won't be given any more value than the countless other women out there. I don't want to see her on gaming panels or TV as a 'representative" of female gamer interests anymore than most men likely want to see Jim Sterling becoming the expert on what men want from video games. If developers continue to consult with her regarding the development of female characters I hope they realize that she is simply one of many feminist viewpoints, and in no way representative of the vast majority of "feminine" viewpoints. If people really want to know what women want in video games... ask us - the collective us. It's really not all that difficult or expensive to do.
The same holds true for gamers in general. Technology has changed and rather than listening to the vocal voices on forums, on web sites or in gaming media - the industry has the ability to talk to gamers directly about what they want. In the end, this may not result in fewer gaming tropes (these are already an established part of gaming history), but it may result in better understandings about how to target specific demographics with games they want, games they will buy and games the majority will better enjoy. When the diversity of the gaming populace changes, then much of the sexism, misogyny, homophobia, racism and other issues with gaming culture and games themselves will change. One person's opinion in the world of gaming should simply not be representative of any specific demographic.
... and besides, as I stated on someone else's blog... I don't need the boob job, but I do occasionally like to change into my chainmail bikini when running around town... as long as I have the option of more serious armour for battling that enclave of evil mages who live in a cave (it's almost always a cave or temple isn't it!). I don't want my chainmail bikini option taken away because the developers consulted with some feminist media specialist! What women want, isn't always what's good for us. Don't take away my ice cream and give me low fat soy frozen yogurt... every once in awhile I want my Haagen Daz Rocky Road! If I'm going to be fed a constant diet of soy frozen yogurt... I may have to just give up having dessert. Now if gaming developers can find a chocolate that most female gamers like, that is also good for us that most feminists will like... then that would be awesome!
... but first those devs need to talk to women about video games. "Women" the plural... not "feminist woman" the singular. Sexism in gaming will change when the numbers change. The numbers will change when game developers have a better understanding of what women want from games. Surveys are easy to do... so why aren't they doing them? Someone should kickstart that... give the survey results to anyone who pledges $25.00, and any developer that doesn't pledge the $25.00 is simply stupid not to at least want that kind of information for such a cheap fee.
I'll pledge some money for that... but not to see yet another person's singular opinions.