A few days ago, the results of the 2011 Frag Doll Casting Call
were announced. This year, two
lucky young women were plucked out of the Frag Doll Cadettes Academy to join the ranks of paid corporate spokesmodels! Clearly, this would not have been newsworthy enough to drag me out of a sabbatical in the past. Hell, I don't WANT to write about the Frag Dolls
--for the most part I just try to pretend that they don't exist, like the dreaded candiru or Tea Partiers. However, as time goes on and their influence and credibility spreads, it's obvious that ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away--in fact, not speaking out is only making it worse. And so, I bring you my resident Angry Female opinion on what is an increasingly alarming influence on how female gamers are perceived.
First off, what is the Frag Doll Cadettes Academy
? In their words: "The Frag Doll Cadettes Academy is like an "internship" for female gamers who are interested in learning more about the video game industry and possibly going to some industry events."
Note that "internships" is in quotes because they're not actual internships. (Certainly no internship I've ever had has required me to list my height or hair color.) Basically, it's a street team for the Frag Dolls, which equals a lot of free promotion for Ubisoft. And if you're one of the lucky ladies chosen for the real team, you get...uhh...exposure? Validation for being a hot lady who plays games? A gig getting paid to be pretty and pose with a controller while a corporation signs your paychecks? So basically, an opportunity to shill for the company, but it's legitimized because hey, you did your "internship" first. Kind of like how beauty pageants prefer to be known as "scholarship competitions."
A lot of the debate surrounding these women centers on whether or not they are "real" gamers. Regardless of whatever the truth is (they play games and compete semi-professionally, which is good enough for me), this debate obscures the greater issue at hand. The problem is not that a team of attractive female gamers exists; the problem is that Ubisoft has led a frighteningly successful campaign to have this group of carefully-selected spokesmodels represent all female gamers to the outside world.
So THIS is why we're stuck with a bunch of pink peripherals.
But who says that they're representing women gamers as a group? Well, the Frag Dolls themselves, for one. From the Frag Dolls website, "The Frag Dolls are a team of professional female gamers recruited by Ubisoft to promote their video games and represent the presence of women in the game industry." I could care less about the first part; it's the second part that is dangerous. Think I'm overreacting? Every public appearance puts emphasis on the team's gender first, competitive gaming ability second. They're asked to speak at events and conventions on the subject of women in gaming; they've made appearances on mainstream TV networks. And they're not being invited to appear as representatives of Ubisoft, they're asked to speak because they are, by all appearances, the face of women in gaming--never mind that they're a corporate construct along the lines of Playboy Bunnies and the Spice Girls.
The cutesy pink website with its script font and stylized graphics broadcasts Ubisoft's message loud and clear: Women play games, and this is what they look like. (Hot and into the color pink, in case you were curious.) Is this an image that gamers of any gender are comfortable with? It would be one thing if this was simply a novelty; most teams to this effect in other industries certainly are. (Helloooo, Lingerie Football League!) But this has lasted for too many years in the relatively new field of competitive gaming to be written off as a successful novelty act. This has implications that are far more damaging and the stakes are too high to just laugh it off.
The women the Dolls supposedly speak for--that is to say, all women in gaming--never had any kind of meaningful impact on the selection of these representatives. Ubisoft picks its Dolls for certain marketable traits, and their perceived ability to move product; any speaking they do on behalf of women in gaming reflects the carefully-crafted image Ubisoft created to generate hype and further their corporate goals. As both a gamer and a woman I reject the idea that these women and this company speak for me in any capacity. However, since I lack Ubisoft's marketing budget or PR team, I will never get the opportunity to represent myself on Good Morning America or in Forbes Magazine as they have, and neither will any other regular Jane. But hey, at least Ubisoft is really making strides in advancing the female presence in the games industry, right?