How gender bias in games and geeky movies got there


#1

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#2

This shows just how disconnected marketing is from the rest of reality.

My wife was a hardcore gamer when I met her. My daughter has always been a gamer. (Both video and RPG.) In fact, my daughter is VERY good at video games. Her favorite games are things like Skyrim and Fallout. She does not shy away from the violent games. Neither does my wife. Both of them actively hate most/all of the games marketed towards women.

Maybe we just need more women gamers in marketing.


#4

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#5

Maybe we just need more women gamers in marketing.

Just my opinion, but I think that would only be helpful if they were willing to go out on a limb and ignore market research. Market research is how we've ended up with 15+ years of Yet Another Superhero Movie; this is what's doing well, so let's do more!

It's a little depressing to me that, after a few years of creative mobile games, mobile space is starting to get overrun by FPS type games. Doom was 20 years ago. Move on. One of the top-selling Gameloft titles is a Halo knockoff...


#6

Seems like an opportunity for a game company to break the mold and drink the dinosaurs' milkshakes. I hope some do.

There seem to be a lot of indie games where gender is balanced or indeterminate (e.g. Plants vs. Zombies has no discernible gender for the main character, though on reflection I don't recall seeing any female zombies). What we don't see a lot of are big budget 'marquee' games with female protagonists. Not zero, but not an equal amount either.


#7

Early Star Trek conventions were attended by mostly female audiences. About a year ago, George Takei posted some great photos of 1970's convention audiences, and well over half the attendees were female.


#8

Well, that's just it - it is a rational decision every step of the way. If we look back at the bigger picture then the pattern is obvious: no matter how much everybody would like this pattern to change, the first person to step up and change it is going to lose a lot of money in the process, and they won't win any long-term market advantage by doing so. They'll earn the respect of history, but their shareholders won't thank them for it. (Once somebody big enough has broken the tide, everybody else will jump on board because it won't be a losing proposition any more)

The practical implication is that it's going to take companies like Valve - privately held and flexible on the concept of "profit motive" - to do anything about it.


#9

There's a side effect of all this that also turns off females: they get unwanted attention because they are rare. My teenage daughter games online and she learned early on not to reveal she's a girl. She's there to play but the boys/men either want to flirt or harass.


#10

I have an interesting anecdote about how games are marketed. How I'm targeted on my work computer is very different from how I'm marketed to on my personal laptop.

On my work computer, I'm not logged into social networking sites like Facebook or G+, and I don't go to gaming sites. I'm a web developer (ASP.NET to be precise), so the sites I visit include StackOverflow, MSDN and Smashing.

And ads like this follow me around: http://www.moat.com/search/results?brand=tynon+(game)

This ad is so clearly targeted towards men. And the reason I was targeted for it is because I visit coding sites. I know the reality is the vast majority of people who go to coding sites are men. I know that this is the type of ad that works on men. I know it's not a person that's assuming I'm male, but an algorithm. But still...

When I'm home, I don't get targeted for game ads. No matter how many geek culture sites I go to, or game reviews or walkthroughs I watch on YouTube. And I have a pretty good idea, based on my own employment experience in ecommerce, that it's because someone in marketing is setting the demographics for their ads to Male in a way that completely excludes Females if gender is known.


#11

I know it's likely to get my head knocked off, but I'd like to see less critiques and more indie games. There are great platforms like Steam that make indie publishing easier, and of course mobile is more open than platforms like, say, PlayStation.

In all honesty, even though I had misgivings about the Feminist Frequency series (I won't argue about it, but see some of the less unhinged critiques) I would be tempted to pony up if Anita Sarkeesian were to try another crowdfunding effort, this time to have her game idea produced. In all honesty, I think her princess-rescues-herself-and-overthrows-the-monarchy idea could make for a great game.


#12

I got linked to that blog just recently, read it, and then couldn't find it again for the life of me when the topic came up here. It was driving me crazy. Boingboing to the rescue.


#13

Came here expecting trolls arguing sexism isn't a thing. Was disappointed.


#14

Hey, I normally read Boing Boing when I'm supposed to be working so I got here late.

Games are exactly like novels, right? Exactly the same, I'm sure we'll all agree. There's an entire genre, arguably the largest genre, called "romance". Now the "romance" genre covers a broad range - everything from traditional Harlequin/Mills & Boon to furries/incest/dinosaur bestiality, so it's a very broad range but regardless, it's primarily read by women.

Now you could argue that more men would read "romance" novels if it was marketed at them differently. I've read half of a Georgette Heyer Regency romance and it's perfectly possible I could finish one, I just have a lot of 70/80s science fiction I haven't read yet. You could even argue that it would also help if "romance" writers went out of their way to "cater" to men, throwing in some speedboat-car-chases and robo-baboons (I am actively hoping this will be a thing one day).

Here's the thing, I don't think I should be telling "romance" writer to change the story they're trying to tell. I certainly won't be telling Georgette Heyer how to write. My letter from last year, telling her how much I enjoyed the first half of "Black Sheep" went unanswered. Stuck up, cow. Also, there are other genres out there, which are admittedly not as popular as the "romance" genre but with a significant male readership, like military science fiction, say. I'm sure there are women who read these, undeterred by covers which often feature infeasible women who've forgotten how to zip up their flight suits.

If you're genuinely worried that women aren't being given an opportunity to spend their hard-earned, and from statistically smaller payslips to boot, money on the video game industry then allay those fears. Women already spend more on gaming than men do. Fact. And when they're not buying games for their kids they're spending a Queen's ransom on Candy Crush Saga. This link goes to ABC news and auto-starts a video, in case you're reading Boing Boing correctly, at work:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2013/10/is-candy-crush-saga-a-money-drainer-for-women/

$231 million a year. There aren't many triple-A games that bring in anything close to that.

People are arguing Apples and Oranges. There's no need to change the triple-A big budget, big busts and big guns games that boys predominantly like - those games are for them. Other games are aimed at women, you just haven't noticed yet because they're almost embarrassed at how much money they rake in. You don't need to change "military science fiction" into "romance". Why change the tone of your game to give it broad stroke appeal, if it's going to actually REDUCE your market? Ultimately all you'd get is the equivalent of the Hollywood blockbuster formula, whereas right now we're in our Grindhouse phase.

Now, the issue of misogyny in gaming and geek culture is a different one. Probably related, but tangentially insofar as men have culturally been misogynistic or paternalistic forever so it's hopelessly disingenuous to blame geeks or gamers when the real crime is being male. Men and women are not actually identical but oestrogen in our drinking water supply is going to sort that out in just a few more generations anyway, so chill, people.


#15

The cool thing about indie games is there are a lot of them. In fact, there's already a princess game where the princess is responsible for keeping herself alive and becoming a ruler.

It's called Long Live the Queen, it's terribly fun and you should buy it on Steam, http://store.steampowered.com/app/251990/.


#16

As a lady who fancies other ladies and men, the whole "games marketed to women" issue reads to me as "games marketed to heterosexual women". Gender bias is also sexual bias. I just roll my eyes at the whole thing.

I think games are improving when it comes to diversity all around. It might not be the best right now, but things have come a long way (ie just look at the new Tomb Raider- the character and the writers).

Personally, I just care if it's a good game.


#17

I think there is a need to increase the variety of games for both men and women.

I'm a lady and I would be embarrassed to tell my friends that I played Candy Crush. However, I don't like FPS titles and generally speaking I don't want to play multiplayer games online with a bunch of asshats that want to tell me I'm doing it wrong. I play games to relax and kill brain cells by staring at a glowing screen all night. So this means I'm looking for an easy story and gameplay where I can't die and I don't have to care too much about what happens next. The Lego games are good for this, and I don't feel like they are particularly marketed at any specific gender (but maybe they are intended for kids?) Anyway, I want more games like that.


#18

I honestly think it will take cultural change and/or failure of the working system to force anyone profiting from this circuit to really consider a different strategy. The incentive is to protect against change because so long as this dynamic is maintained you have guaranteed money coming to the businesses, and to the consumers you have investment and value placed in maintaining the culture. You will have trouble introducing things that differ from the expectation simply because they differ. Who will you reach with them? How will you reach those people? Will those people want to take the risk when you have an active culture shaming or threatening them for endangering the value of their investments?

Worse, when you say "but there could be this whole other market" the type of evidence that people are going to want just isn't there and there is a cultural bias believing in it, let alone having it.

I think to get more diversity in games or film you will need a push towards individual voice, a separate culture or multiple separate cultures that will inevitably be riskier and weaker at least at the outset, but it will eventually be at least partially incorporated into the mainstream. It will have to be tight knit and really capture something solid that people want to be a part of. I think it would have to be a complete rejection of what already is there. That's the only way to protect the investments of people who have a stake in the existing model. At that point you could begin to have actual competition.

I think people will have to approach it not just by creating indie games but by really working to create a gaming culture that is outside the loop. The existing geek gaming circuit is evidence that dropping from the mainstream and making your own way can be profitable. So now we have a new status quo... time to innovate.

However I see a lot of discussion of how lack of innovation is a problem and not a lot of cohesive commitment to an idea for something different. I see more talk about what is wrong, and less talk about the vision we want to create. That vision needs to start becoming concrete to have a chance of creating demand.


#19

That should be 100% true for anyone. Useless stupid game tweaked to slip money out of your pocket without you really noticing.

Here's a game that is marketed for anyone, has no obvious gender-bias and is wonderful fun:
manyland.com
Previously featured here on BB.


#20

The referred article is great - a clear explanation how less than ideal situations develop through people simply following incentives.

However, there is one thing that should be pointed out. There is a sizable population of young male adolescents who are well-served by the current arrangement. For one reason or another, there will always be a large number of young men who are not ever going to be romantically successful. For them, a male-only environment is a positive for them because it removes a constant reminder of what they don't have and slows the descent into self-pity and resentment.

Gaming communities of like individuals also have the benefit of isolating them so that the rest of us need only have minimal social dealings with them.

The cost, however, is two-fold. One, individuals who might be interested in the activity but don't care for the misogyny must endure the community, and two, it's also possible that isolation in the culture may prevent maturation of a few individuals who would have grown past this stage.

But the fundamental question remains. Where do you put 10 million misogynist 16-year old boys? Nothing we can do will make them disappear and the damage they can do to the community at large is enormous, so perhaps having them self-select into video-game ghettos is the least-bad solution?


#21

THIS EXACTLY!!!

I'm a self professed "gamer", and was a bit of an awkward nerdy "ugly duckling" if you want to call it that. Back in my day, it was atari2600-first nintendo, so the game tropes weren't quite as revealing as they are now (oooh! Samus has 8 bit jumpsuited boobies?!? HOLY CRAP!!!). Nonetheless, the games were largely marketed towards young males along the storylines of young male fantasies. Be the war hero, save the princess, etc... Most of the girls I knew (sisters of friends) had better things to do than obsess over godawful pixel graphics. It really wasn't until significant quality entered gaming (and computers etc...) that it became the realm of more than the nerdy reclusive engineer types.

We were the nerds and dorks that weren't popular with the ladies, and were definitely not out there on the sports fields being fawned over by cheerleaders. I'd like to believe that most of us grew up into relatively "normal" functioning adults.

It may be to some degree that video game development and marketing is still a bit behind the times, catering to the relatively small (and socially undeveloped) "younger male" audience that was the foundation of gaming, not to the larger multigender (and multi-sexuality) market that gaming should be focusing on. It's obviously still an evolving phenomena. We see truly innovative and egalitarian "games" like Glitch (sorry for the feels folks), that unfortunately don't survive.

I think gaming is going to be one of those things where there's a definite lag time between the progress made in general society, then its reflection mirrored in the smaller world of gaming/gamers.