The many stigmas of being a girl who just happens to play games
Considering that 45% of people who play games are female, it surprises me that the term "girl gamer" has so many negative connotations attached to it.
Many (though not all) stereotypically claim that girls who identify as "gamers" are either looking for attention from guys, or that we only like "girly" games, or that we aren't "real" gamers because we only play these so called "girly games". Girl gamers can also be a sort of "fantasy" to some people because apparently we're so rare and desirable. In reality however, we're everywhere. The truth is that lots of girls play games, but some are just afraid to say so for fear of having these stereotypes applied to them. It was only recently that I started to apply the term "gamer" to myself. I had held off doing it for so long because I was afraid of what people would think or say. Then I realized that by hiding, I was only helping perpetuate the stereotype of "the girl gamer". So, I decided to delve into the issue further, and analyze it from the inside out, starting with how games are made.
As of right now, most of the people who make games are male. Only 11% of game designers are female. As a result, most games are geared towards male gamers. Some examples of such games are Halo and Call of Duty. Now, this doesn't mean that these games are only for boys and that girls don't play these games, because they do. Nor are these games bad just because they don't appeal to girls very much. However, since these games are designed by males with males in mind, sometimes this can drive girls away from playing them. Since girls aren't really involved in the development of games, women seemingly aren't "present" in the gaming world, hence why some people are surprised when a girl calls herself a gamer. Gaming right now is a man's world, and sometimes it can be difficult for a girl to find her place in it.
Some of the solutions I've heard to solve this issue are along the lines of making games that appeal solely to women. I don't agree with that at all. Girls (at least older ones) don't want their games coming in bright pink boxes straight out of a Barbie commercial. I think developers should make games that appeal to both genders. That way they can make one game that everyone can relate to and enjoy rather than spending more money making two separate games. I love games where the player gets to design their own character to be either male or female. I think implementing character customization is a great way to make games more appealing to everyone. I think the easiest way for companies to understand girl gamers is to treat them like everyone else. After all, many girls love games just as much as boys, and we'd just like to have the opportunity to play along and feel welcome. The industry has already started to include more leading ladies in games, and it turns out that those games have been some of the most critically acclaimed titles to date. Coincidence? I think not.
and Chell, oh my!
Mass Effect, Mirror's Edge, and Portal have all featured female protagonists (or allowed you to choose to play as one, as is the case in Mass Effect). These are obviously stellar games, for more reasons than just that they feature killer leading ladies. These games prove that having a strong female main character can be a good thing, and can be just as normal as having a male main character. I love these characters because they don't carry with them the normal stereotypes that females in games often do. They don't need rescuing, they aren't helpless, and they aren't just pretty faces. These characters are paving the way for future strong female leads in games. However, it seems for every FemShep or Chell, there is the likes of Bayonetta, or Kasumi.
Bayonetta is over sexualized to the extreme
While Bayonetta and Kasumi kick serious butt as characters, their appearances kind of counteract their roles as strong female leads. In Bayonetta's case, her over sexualized design and demeanor are literally the only character traits she has, making her only a virtual sex symbol, flat and unvaried and nothing more. I want to like Bayonetta, I really do, especially since the sequel is going to be a Wii U exclusive. The gameplay of Bayonetta is over the top and is really fun, but I just don't respect her as a character (and her legs are way too long in my opinion and they kind of freak me out; she looks disproportionate). I understand that video games are supposed to be outlets of creativity and a medium for people and developers alike to express their fantasies, but Bayonetta's design is solely based around fantasy and multiplied by 100. Most of her attacks involve her undressing herself, and she regains health by sucking on lollipops. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having appealing or attractive characters; in fact I think most people would prefer to play as characters that don't make their eyes burn with their hideousness. However, when the only thing a character has going for them is their looks, it's not a good example of good character design.
Another character that is an awful female lead is Princess Peach. She's remained stagnant for pretty much all 29 years of the Mario franchise's existence, pretty much only filling the role of a helpless damsel in distress. She's only had one game of her own, Super Princess Peach, where her emotions dictate how she gets through the level. That's her only gameplay mechanic, which to me seems like a representation of virtual PMS. Not only is that mildly offensive, but it's also ridiculous.
Seriously, Nintendo? THIS is the best you can come up with?
Then there are some that are more in the middle in terms of being strong female characters. Zelda, Samus, and Lara Croft come to mind. Starting off with Samus, she used to be the epitome of a strong female lead. Then, players could unlock a scantily-clad 8-bit Samus in the game and that kind of soiled her image as a strong lead a little. Her newer renditions in Zero Suit form aren't much better. She's still a strong female lead, having single-handedly committed mass genocide against the Metroids, but I just don't understand why the developers have to make her sexy.
Samus' "Zero Suit" leaves very little to the imagination
Is this really necessary?
As for Zelda (and this greatly pains me as she is one of my absolute favorite characters in all of gaming), she often solely plays the role as damsel in distress throughout The Legend of Zelda series. While she is scores above Princess Peach, I still wish she wouldn't always be the one to be in trouble and need rescued. I mean, she has the Triforce of Wisdom for heaven's sake! You think she'd use it once in a while to outsmart Ganondorf. I know she disguised herself as Sheik for 7 years to avoid capture in Ocarina of Time but she still got captured anyways! Also the whole entire franchise is named after her, and I think that merits giving Zelda a better and stronger role within the games. Although, in many games she does help Link take down Ganondorf, and I really like that. I like a princess that is smart, and can also kick butt and take names. Anyways, getting back to the whole damsel in distress thing; isn't having to rescue a princess getting a bit old now anyways?
Finally, Lara Croft is a strong character whose design isn't as bad now as it used to be. Originally, the creator of Tomb Raider didn't want Lara to be a sex symbol. Instead, he wanted her to be attractive for her skill and her intelligence. But then, he accidentally increased the size of her boobs by 150%, and the rest was history. Thankfully, her more recent designs are a bit more realistic.
The evolution of Lara's design.
In all, I think the video game industry has come really far in terms of how they incorporate girls in their games. I just wish developers would realize that sex doesn't always sell when it comes to video games—great characters do. The industry has more to gain by keeping females in mind when developing and designing their games. If they broaden who they market to, they can expect a bigger payoff. And as for a girl's place in the gaming world—how about we all just be "gamers"—despite what he have downstairs?