“Women not only enjoy games such as but are actually at them”
There was once a time when gaming was considered almost exclusively the preserve of teenage boys who had little else to do but hone their sniper skills or finishing moves on combat games.
Things have changed a little, but the gaming universe is still a stereotypical one. In games that aren’t exclusively aimed at children, male characters can be anything from musclebound and macho to skilled thinkers. Female characters are pretty, scantily clad and generally figures of fantasy. Look at the effect Lara Croft has had on a generation of teenage gamers.
Of course there are games that feature women that don’t have gravity-defying bodies or outfits, but these are far less common than the stereotypical norm. Several years ago, I asked a games developer why the women in the game he’d worked on were scantily clad and with a figure Pamela Anderson would have been proud of. I never did get an answer to that.
But things are changing. Gaming has become mainstream. It is now common to use a games console as a method of boosting your fitness or increasing your mental activity instead of slowly working on your couchpotato ranking.
The launch of Nintendo’s Wii is partly responsible for this, opening up gaming to people who would never normally have considered it a worthwhile pastime. Only months after the console launched its Wii Fit game, care homes in the UK were using it to keep elderly residents active. A slew of new games aimed at increasing fitness have been launched in its wake, including EA Sport Active and other “personal trainer” games.
The Nintendo DS has also opened itself up to a wider audience in ways that other handheld consoles haven’t. Brain training has become a popular hobby across a spectrum of age groups.
So, gaming is no longer a niche hobby; it’s become social. And developers are finally twigging that female gamers are not only out there, they’re buying console games. Within gaming, a whole new category has emerged.
That in itself causes somewhat of a divide. Games aimed at women are significantly different to games aimed at what the industry considers the average gamer.
I appreciate that the typical profile of gamers has been male and usually of a certain age group. But the idea that women not only enjoy games such as Socom (see Game of the Week) or Medal of Honour but are actually good at them seems to have passed some sectors by completely. And it’s pretty frustrating for those of us who enjoy losing the odd weekend here and there for tactical games – or even, heaven forbid, a sports game or two. Games that don’t involve pink boxes or being patronised.
On the other hand, you could argue that the games are made simply because they sell. Like many things in our society, if there was no one there to buy them, games developers would stop making them. The real issue is not that certain games are made, but that there is a perception that this is all women are interested in when it comes to gaming. There are plenty out there who provide examples against this mindset.
Perhaps it is something that needs to be tackled from within. There is still a gender imbalance in the gaming industry itself.
Later this month, Bradford University in the UK will host an event aimed at encouraging women to participate in the games industry. Women in Gaming, now in its seventh year, will be held on March 25th and 26th. See womeningames. wordpress.com for more information.