Females in Video Games (And a Random Rant!)

As I was writing my Game Selection Paper, I was thinking about the tripartite identity mentioned by Gee and by Professor Fishman in lecture, about the identity of the player in the real world, the character in the virtual world, and the blending of the character and the player into an integrated identity. I chose a role-playing game for my video game for class, and one of the things that I am most interested to learn this semester is how developing the blended identity between the player and the character in the game facilitates learning and motivates the player to try new challenges in the game and encourages the player to play the game differently. However, I realized that this is going to be a slight challenge in the game that I chose for class. Although I have played other characters in similar games with the same challenge and have still formed a connection with the character, the main character in the game that I chose, Final Fantasy Tactics, is male. I am female, and I wonder how this impacts my connection with the character. Would I be able to connect with the character on a different level if the character was the same gender as me? It will be interesting to consider how I may have played the game differently this semester if the main character was female.

Considering how I connected with a character in a video game who is a different gender with me made me consider gender dynamics in video games in general. Although the number of females playing video games is only slightly smaller than the number of males playing video games in general, many gamers assume that other games are mostly male. One of my favorite games currently is Minecraft. (To read more about Minecraft and consider getting it because it is awesome and will take up all of your freetime, visit: http://www.minecraft.net/). I was on a forum about Minecraft and was discussing one of my current projects with another player. At one point, I mentioned that my boyfriend was helping me to design the roof for the giant cathedral that I was building, and the player paused for a moment before typing, “Wait…you’re gay?” According to current research, only ten percent of the population is homosexual; fifty percent of the population is female. Why did he pick the less likely of the two options? One of my closest female friends is an avid World of Warcraft player and she has stopped telling other people that she is interacting with that she is female because she either gets, “Wow! You must be really good if you are a girl and play this,” “You must be pretty bad. Girls aren’t good at WOW. You shouldn’t raid with us,” or receives an offer for a date or a certain popular derogatory message (I imagine many people are aware of the phrase that I am thinking of.) Even video game designers appear to assume that most gamers are male when designing protagonists. There are few powerful, independent female protagonists in video games. The main example that I can think of is Samus Aran from Metroid. Although women do exist as main characters in other video games, such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Alex Roivas from Eternal Darkness, these women are often highly sexualized and may not have well-developed, independent characters. As a female gamer, I would like to have more independent, powerful women to play as and experience games through. Does anyone see a shift in this perception of female gamers occurring? Does anyone have any recommendations of games with a strong female protagonist that I could try? Does anyone have any other feelings on this subject?

Although this is not exactly video game related, I believe that this two blog posts from Epbot (one of my favorite blogs; the woman who writes it is so spirited and funny!) is also highly appropriate to this topic:

http://www.epbot.com/2011/12/three-cheers-for-little-girl-spock.html

http://www.epbot.com/2010/11/geek-girls-activate.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+epbot%2FfOpU+%28EPBOT%29

I don’t understand why there are people who tease others for their choices in entertainment or in their interests. Whether it is as a female gamer, a girl who wishes to dress up as Spock for Halloween, a boy who decides that he wants to dance ballet, or anyone else who chooses to defy societal norms is alright. Sorry that this post started as “I want more strong female protagonists in gaming!” and ended as “Let’s accept and support everyone!” I think that this is an important message that this class will teach us, though. We are attempting to understand and potentially pioneer a new method of learning. There will be stigma associated with it, just as there is currently stigma to a certain extent against females who play video games, but we must work through the stigma and fight for what we believe works and is important. This is an important lesson in perseverance, whether in learning, in changing the world, or just in finally beating the final boss of that one horribly hard game.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 00:00:51

    This post reminds me of the experience I had when I rented Portal 2 this December. For anyone not familiar with the game, the camera points through the protagonist’s eyes, very similar to a first-person shooter, so I couldn’t see the protagonist at all. When I stood in front of a mirror, I was surprised to see that the protagonist, Chell, was female. I had assumed I was playing a man.

    Since most of the role play games I’ve played in the past feature male leads, I don’t think much about it. It was a nice surprise when I picked up Portal 2. The game has a female lead, but instead of saying, “Look at this powerful female character!” the game seems to say, “Yeah, she’s female. Why not?” The choice of a female protagonist feels more natural and less revolutionary, which I like. If future games take this approach, I’d be happy.

    Perhaps my lack of experience with female leads is influencing me here, but connecting with male characters doesn’t feel unnatural. Whether it’s because I’m forming a connection with character based on his actions, struggles or thoughts, or because the protagonists becomes a little transparent as my own personality invades the character, I’ve had several experiences where I didn’t question my connection to the character.

    I’d be interested to hear the other side of the story. How do guys feel when they play a game with a female protagonist?

    Reply

  2. elton1
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 18:04:50

    I’ll reply to your rant, with a rant of my own 😀

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by a “strong female character”. I have yet to see a “strong male character” in ANY of the games I have played. The characters are vacuous and conflicted at best (Illidan from Warcraft, Raynor from Starcraft, , Master Chief from Halo, Alcatraz, Prophet, etc. etc. etc. from FPS), to downright nonsensical at the worst (seriously, Duke Nukem, are you fucking serious game creators? Mob bosses from GTA… seriously?). Video Game characters are NOT dynamic: the dudes will have the 6 pack and have a shit ton of guns, and the girls will have huge breasts and high pitched voices.

    So on to go on the point of female gender persecution in video games; I agree. But I think it is a side affect of a greater problem. My point is this: in any major multilayer game (shooters, MMORPGs, text based MMO’s, and even some RTS’s) I have played, the intellectual and reasonable person playing is persecuted, and those who don’t go with “the crowd” (a lot of whom are not very smart). This is because video games are played by ALL age ranges, and unfortunately, most of “ALL age ranges” tend to be immature 12-20 year old dudes. When I was an immature-little 12 year old playing video games, I didn’t think twice about making a sexist, racist, or downright horrible remark, why does it matter? it’s the internet. As a matter of fact, homophobia is downright rampant in all forms of web media, whether it is meant seriously or not. So is it really that surprising to find a culture of males making dumbass remarks? And if that’s the case, is it really surprising to find companies catering to that for economic gains?

    So what if there a huge catering towards suave characters with a bunch of oversexed female characters. Sure, there is a problem that the female image is being damaged, but hell, where ISN’T the female image being damaged (i.e. abercrombie, photoshopping models, ms. america, reality TV, etc. etc.) What I’m concerned about, as a gamer, is that the gaming culture breeds a culture of non-acceptance and under-intellectualization. A culture of ends-justify-the-means type of play. But that’s another rant all of its own, haha =P

    Thus so far, I’ve given a pretty pessimistic view of the web, but the fact of the matter is, this is ALWAYS how it starts out. Medicine used to be a primarily white, male driven field, now it is discriminating against Asian females in California because there is a disproportionate amount of them applying to graduate schools over there.

    When I played in a Starcraft clan, we had several female gamers with us, and it didn’t really matter. I usually like using female characters in RPGs because they tend (in a purely empirical manner) to deal more damage. I think gender doesn’t really have a role to play in most games except as the “lifelike” imitation of what goes on in the real world. Perhaps there should be a series of male heroes on the FF series, or a female Solid Snake who isn’t oversexualized. But perhaps, most of all, I think we should focus on creating a culture where nobody determines a gender role except the individual who wants to express it.

    For those trolls out there (and I’ve trolled plenty of times to know), the best thing to do is to ignore them. We’ll just keep on truckin’ and we’ll see the new generation of gender-neutral developers, hosts, sponsoring companies, and etc. create something that is not so biggotted.

    Reply

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