I've been noticing how a lot of game sites, game blogs, and other pseudo-intellectual pop culture "journalists" have been talking quite a bit about girl gamers, sex in games and sexism in games. They love to bang on about games almost the same way that people commented on comic books and the ever present big-titted sex-pot super heroines. All of them make decent arguments, but the most of them are going around in circles; saying the same things over and over again (which, I'll probably do the same).
In my opinion, the argument is more condescending than the actual problem. Girls don't need to be misrepresented and made into victims. I really don't think that girls feel a need to be a part of some elitist gaming culture. In fact, that right there is the biggest part of the problem: the perceived gaming culture. Gamers are, by definition, people who play games. I've been worshipping games since I sat down at a tabletop Frogger machine as a kid. At no point did I think of myself as being part of an underground community of enthusiasts or as a member of a club. In fact, I felt about as socially despised as any adolescent-to-teenage kid does, if not more so. While my peers went to see movies together, I sat in the lobby playing the arcade machines by myself. I moved around a lot as a youth, so as the perennial new kid in school, I felt isolated and had a difficult time relating to other people who had known each other since kindergarten.
I imagine this is similar to the implied feeling of isolation and exclusion that they say that girls feel. But my point before was that this gaming culture is in fact:
* 4 parts Soulless, empty-minded marketing executives who went to liberal arts school and therefore they think that they have the demographics all figured out and nicely labeled.
* 2 parts Socially inept guys who need some reason, any reason, to feel elite in something that most people do as recreation (look at skateboarders and punk rockers, two more examples.)
* 1 part Girls who are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to be girl powered, geek-chic feminist gamers, labeling and pigeonholing themselves so that the marketeers don't have to (I'm not naming names, but Jane Pinckard).
But really there is no geek-chic gaming community. At least there wasn't one until the late nineties. till then, you were just geek-geek. After the Internet and the advent of people getting noticed for doing nothing, that's when this community began, not to champion a recreational hobby, but to desperately scream for recognition in the eyes of "normal society."
Girls need not feel excluded, just pick up a fucking video game. That simple. I promise you that no one is going to look down upon you. Not the other girls who think games are silly, but they spend hundreds of dollars dressing like rockers and hitting on musicians, nor the friendless guys who pwn n00bs all day. The plurality are actually probably rather glad to see a genuine interest in gaming from anyone, let alone a girl. I realize that this is a gross generalization, but it's based on truths. The only girls who I've known who are into games, fall into one of two categories: girls who can kick my ass at their favorite games, and girls who pretend to like video games because they like you.
Again, the marketing is to blame more than anything. Game designers, I'm sure, are not thinking specifically about men when they come up with a game's concept, but as the project goes down the line, they see the statistics and the numbers and they alter what they must because they know the biggest spenders in the arena are men with disposable income. To blame them would be akin to saying that fashion designers aren't making clothes for men because the biggest spenders are women.
Video games are no different than the other forms of media that are being crippled by the virus of sexism.
Now, some people might get all indignant and start pretending that sexy girls are a bad thing in this progressive age, but there has been a huge discrepancy as of late. Movies and TV programs have male protagonists who are 40+ yet they seduce girls who are between 19 and 25. "It girls" of yesteryear are thrown to the wolves much earlier in their careers than they used to. Girls are sexualized at a much younger age than they used to. They're exposed to many indignities in the forms of fantasies and entertainment. I do not condone it, but it's been around forever. And it's certainly not exclusive to video games.
There hasn't really been a dynamic attitude towards girls as characters so far. Female characters in games have pretty much served only two functions: eye candy, or eye candy who kick ass. The damsel in distress or the rogue vixen have been the most popular of archetypes for female characters. However, it's also wrong to demonize them as if they're Japanese Rape Pornography (which is a great punk band name).
Sniper Wolf, Sarah Kerrigan, April Ryan, Samus Aran; these are not helpless and frail characters. They were tough-as-nails soldiers or insightful problem solvers who have earned the respect of the fans. Sure, they might have been designed to be sexy, but I don't think that there is any derogatory meaning behind it. As strong female characters part of the feminine wiles is the seductive allure. Besides, that's more an argument of aesthetics.
Now with with the market directly targeting older audiences, sex and romance are injected into the narrative. This has generally been met with less than positive feedback, although not from the gamers. The parents who are arguing against the sexual themes are usually uninformed and are told what to be angry about by an agenda-driven lobby. Some of them blatantly lie about the severity of the game's content in order to stir up publicity and sound bytes.
The sex scene in Mass Effect was the center of an ostensibly huge shit-storm, although I can't imagine why. The scene in question was tame and served no other purpose but to up-the-ante of the story's "romantic" interest. The argument is that if the player chooses to be a female character and as the story progresses, they choose to court the asexual (although, admittedly really hot) alien, then the result is a lesbian sex scene (sort of). In the case of the game, I thought that it was actually a nice touch having the generic "sexy alien chick" archetype be given more of an endearing personality. And that's where I think the sex scene was intended to be rooted, not in being titillating or gratuitous, but to flesh out a personality and then to have you seduced by it.
As for the sexual content and themes in games in general, I think it's just the same as a character in any fiction. If you want a protagonist to be portrayed as charming, strong and desirable, they are going to have to be sexy. If a character has sex in a game, it's only because people have sex in real life. Video games reflect a retouched form of reality. We all want to be heroes, lead exciting lives, and bag sexy chicks, right? Well, video games give us a much more interactive method of escapism and the ability to become a character, far better than any movie can.
I don't see it as a far stretch that just around the corner there will be new genres created that will be much more enticing for all gamers, hardcore and casual, male and female. I'd like to see a game that starts getting girls talking about getting an Xbox. It's probably gonna take much more than a plastic guitar and a mic, but I'd like to see the cinematic challenge of making a game that both men and women can get immersed in. There's gonna be a whole new type of "gaming culture" just around the bend, and I can't wait to see what it entails.