I, Meowlentine of UntoldGaming.com, had the pleasure of speaking with a fellow female and gamer recently- we’ll call her “Kate,” because that’s her name- and we discussed the many facets of gaming as it pertains to carriers of the XX pairing of chromosomes.
Evolution and adaptation is key in any industry, and it is particularly true of video games. Virtual reality is making its way into homes, 3-D technology is taking great strides, and gaming PCs and consoles get more sophisticated as the games they run become more detailed and dynamic. With all this progress being made, however, somehow the idea that women are more than the sum of their physical parts still hasn’t quite seeped all the way into the minds of the masses. Women have experienced sexism since some of the earliest times in our history and are only now really seeing progress on that front. Video games have catered to males ages 18 and up for most of their existence, a trend that should be changing as, in a 2014 study in The Daily Dot shows, nearly half of all gamers now are women, and the numbers continue to grow (http://www.dailydot.com/parsec/adult-women-largest-gaming-demographic/). This fact should be reflected in the advertising and development of more than just a handful of titles, and it looks like it finally is, but it’s a slow struggle up that hill and the rock we’re pushing isn’t getting any lighter. From the character designs and the clothing options they’re given in a large percentage of games, one might think that we have not evolved as a species past the stage of puberty.
Titles such as Diablo and World of Warcraft, for example, do not offer much in the way of feminine characters, and like so many other concepts of women in fantasy, the gamut of body types and personalities are barely covered (much like their skin).
“It’s an older game though,” says Kate, “so the designs are pretty outdated.” Outdated, maybe, but it would also seem that we too often allow the adage of time’s stamp on things to dictate whether or not something was done with any thought behind it for those it may effect. Fighting games have nearly always presented the female characters as if they were just coming back from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photo shoot. The newer installments in the fantasy and sci-fi genres at least make a more sincere attempt to clothe us with something more substantial than cast-offs from the set of “Barbarella.” The Elder Scrolls Online is one such title, granting its players not only both standard genders to choose from, but a variety of other humanoid characters as well. Every type of protagonist is given an array of options for armor, and the majority of it looks like it could withstand not just a stiff breeze, but also bear attacks, and the occasional fireball.
Games featuring female leads used to be fewer and farther between but there were a couple of early hits with starring ladies. Samus Aran from the Metroid series in 1986 turned a number of heads for the very fact of the reveal of a woman beneath the heavy armor- but when she stepped out of the suit for the first time, Samus wore nothing but boots and a bikini. She was later given a form-fitting blue leotard called the “Zero Suit,” which was great for acrobatic fighting, and driving hormonal young men to their favorite box of tissues. Despite what many believe to be a real step forward for feminism in video games, Samus Aran still embodies an unrealistic ideal that young boys and girls can often have difficulty understanding is a fantasy. There were perhaps more than a few mixed feelings, too, about Lara Croft when she appeared on the scene in 1992’s Tomb Raider by Eidos Interactive. She was advertised as the feminine answer to Indiana Jones (a rabid archaeologist who will do anything to remove items of cultural significance and bring them back to white people?), and the Lady Croft has remained fairly consistent in her popularity over the last 20 years, but in a sadly large part due to her 90s era comic book heroine frame. I even recall a special issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly (or was it Wizard?) that offered a free disc with a screensaver of all our favorite 90s gaming heroines, Lara Croft being the queen of them all back then. The images were of all the girls relaxing in skimpy bathing suits on the beach. That magazine and the disc full of sexy (albeit fake) girls was intended for one thing only, and it wasn’t the artful appreciation of the feminine figure.
Clothing aside, as it were, the representation of the female form in entertainment isn’t the only thing that has driven many women away from the gaming world: as we find ourselves so readily connected via the internet, women everywhere have been subjected to all new forms of harassment. While playing in live competition with an open microphone, ladies who play eSports, competitively or for fun, find that they are often verbally and electronically harangued by men who have given the women unwarranted attention solely based on their gender. Kate says that her experiences while playing online have been largely positive- she even met her fiancé while running raids through League of Legends– but there are definitely times when she finds it best to keep her microphone off. She told me that once, during a raid in WoW, she said a single sentence into her mic and “a guy in my party tried to give me money,” just for being an actual girl. That might not sound all that bad, but whether or not a woman accepts that money (which Kate did not), she could find herself in an awkward, or potentially dangerous, situation.
Female gamers and “Let’s Play” streamers have reported stalking- physical, and again, electronically- by men who send them inappropriate and even frightening messages. Some of these creeps decide that these women have slighted them somehow, perhaps declining offers of a sexual nature, and take revenge by attempting to ruin the “offender” on social media or in their actual lives. These “trolls” even sometimes go so far as to steal sensitive material, such as social security numbers, credit card information, and addresses- and let’s never forget the egregious practice of “doxing,” which has been perpetrated on people of all kinds. It could be said that the misogynists are fewer and farther between as the numbers of women playing video games rises with each generation, but there is an ever-present mindset that this modern past time is something meant more for boys than for the “fairer” sex. I do believe we are finally getting to a point where women and men alike are portrayed with a little more care for what real people are like and not the ideal of the imagination, but it will likely be a long time before there is a AAA title with a heavy set, moderately-breasted female with anxiety issues as their lead, but who knows? Progress is something we all have to agree upon for the change to take place.
Tune in soon for the next part of this ongoing series of articles in which we will further discuss the treatment of women in the wonderful wide world of eSports! There will also be more from the smart and sassy Kate, as we talk about her life as a gamer girl. Thanks for reading and remember to follow us on Twitter @untoldgaming_ and myself, @meowlentine.
You can also find the first article of this series here: http://untoldgaming.com/we-can-play-it-the-rise-of-the-gamer-girl-part-one/
The views and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the UntoldGaming staff. They are the expression of the author’s opinions, and hers alone.