How Are Women Perceived in the Video Games Industry?
The creators of many video games have an inherent bias towards male characters. For many game developers, women are perceived as sex symbols, and their attributes are created accordingly. The quintessential female character – Lara Croft of Tomb Raider – is the perfect representation of sexism in practice, and yet it isn’t. This dichotomy of sorts is evident in the picture-perfect female form that she cuts, and the pistol-packing mayhem that she brings to the party. Tomb Raider is but one of many video games where women are objectified and adored by audiences. Another classic example is Underworld where lycans and vampires square off against one another. The sexism that is so evident to some is blissfully absent to others.
The counterargument against portraying women in scantily clad gear with voluptuous bosoms is that it is sexist to assume that women cannot be cast that way and be the heroes of the story. So,how then is sexism defined in gaming? This is the question that gaming experts and women’s rights groups have been battling over for years. To answer it effectively, we need to step back in time – back to the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, it was mostly men who played video games, and women were used to sell those games to men. Women were objectified to make a game more appealing. Fortunately, that practice has been dealt with effectively.
How can we tell if there is sexism in video games today?
In the workplace, gaming environments are moving towards gender equality, with more female characters being created and more female game developers involved in the process. However, there are frequent insults hurled at females in multiple video games. These usually take the form of derogatory slurs, requests for sexual acts in exchange for rewards, and questions about underwear (bra size and the like). These types of sexist acts are well documented in the gaming literature.
Games like Grand Theft Auto featured prostitutes and strippers, and generally created a negative image of women. Sexism also comes from the choices that women make when playing video games. They typically take on the role of a caregiver, helper, or healer. Men take on assertive roles and tend to play for much longer, and this naturally makes them better than people who play less than them. But the videogames industry is an industry after all. The bosses don’t want to alienate women by casting them in a negative light. There is much more money to be gained by widening the tent and inviting everyone in to come and play.
Is it more difficult to create female characters than male characters?
In 2014, the BBC ran a story written by Kim Gittleson. In it, she raised the issue of female videogame characters and how difficult it is to create them. At the E3 conference that year, Ubisoft technical director, James Therien stated that the latest version of Assassin’s Creed would not feature any playable female leads. In his defense, he argued that it was doubly difficult to create female characters. This raised the ire of feminists and equal rights activists in the gaming industry.
Various studies have concluded that video games typically feature 15% of their characters as females. In 2013 it was reported that only 4% of the lead characters in the top 25 games were female. Over the past several years, the demographics in the videogames industry have changed dramatically. While men were traditionally dominant, that has changed to a more even split between the sexes. Now, men and women have an equal interest in video games. This is shifting perceptions and representations of females in the gaming world.
How are Women Changing Perceptions in the Gaming Industry?
It’s not only fictional characters that are driving the debate, it’s real people too. Many games have heretofore been considered male territory. Poker is a classic example of this. Consider that the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was dominated by men for many years, but that’s been turned on its head. Now, female players are rising through the ranks and many of them are putting the men to shame. There are scores of top female poker players on the circuit, and their skills are exemplary. This is having a positive effect on players and their followers.
Leading female players dominate the scene at the poker tables, and include the likes of Victoria Coren Mitchell, a hugely successful poker player from London, UK. Other talented superstars in the poker world include Annie Duke, Liz Lieu, Maria Ho and Jennifer Tilly. Combined, they put the men to shame, and there’s plenty more where they came from. Women are now ambassadors for games, and this is benefiting the games and the industry like never before. Their presence will quickly quell the sexism that has been so rampant in the industry, because these are real people with real talent taking on the old order.