April 26, 2006

Why Guys Like Lara

Filed under:Videogames — Lake Desire @ 2:02 pm

Via Gameology, there is a new Wired article on How Lara Croft Steals Hearts. Reporter Clive Thompson applies the feminist Final Girl film theory to the Tomb Raider series to explain why men enjoy playing Lara Croft.

As with the slasher flicks, there’s a Final Girl dynamic: a constantly threatened woman, fighting for her very survival, attacking goons on every side — and a captive audience of young men. Playing as Croft was an emotionally catalytic experience. Young guys had played tons of male characters before, from Nintendo’s Mario to the anonymous marines of Doom. But being Lara was different; it got its hooks into their psyches like no game before.

Thompson also acknowledges that not everyone who plays Tomb Raider is a guy: “And it’s also true that being Lara — or any other impossibly curvy avatar — is undoubtedly a whole different experience for women gamers.”

I never played much Tomb Raider when I was younger because I was always a bit intimidated by Lara’s looks, and jealous of them. (I did enjoy the movies when I saw them, though.) I didn’t want to be that almost naked CG girl my lusty junior high friends had set as their wallpapers. I want to ask those of you who have played Tomb Raider: What do you get out of the games? How do you identify with Lara?


Both Babes Get Gamers into E3

Filed under:News, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 3:52 am

A recent Joystiq post discusses Girl gaming clans as next-gen booth babes. (This discussion was probably sparked by the recent E3 through the eyes of a booth babe.) I think female gaming clans as a concept are awesome: women doing something they love together. However, I don’t care for how sponsored teams are selected by their attractiveness and defined by their entertainment value to males, much like the booth-babes they’re supposed to progressively replace. Judging by some of the reader comments from the Joystiq post, we just can’t win:

Comment #2:

great…this is all i need. now, all-girl gaming squads are ready to “empower” themselves by whoring their bodies on display at E3. why can’t they just stick to playing games like everyone else?

So we’re whores if we fulfill the role granted to us by male gamers? This is blaming us for the things that cause us to need empowerment as gamers in the first place.

From comment #7:

as for being on topic, booth babes are there to look at, not talk to, so they should remain how they are. how ever, girl gamers should be the ones they use when actually talking about the games, or when they have a tv show and want to have a girl host.

Who doesn’t think telling someone to shut up and look hot is stripping her of her subjectivity as a human being? This guy, apparently. But hey, if we actually game, we’re granted a speaking role while being entertainment.

Comment #8:

That’s a little more progressivist than I’m capable of being.

Yikes. Female gaming clans replacing models is too progressive?

These attitudes make E3 sound so hostile to women. I’m not sure that I’d be excited to go on any ticket.


April 20, 2006

More on Including Women in Gaming

Filed under:Feminism, Online Communities — Lake Desire @ 6:32 pm

I found a wonderful post (through a feminist_gamers discussion) on including women in gaming by zdashamber. In her post, zdashamber identifies a problem with using the internet as place for social dialogue:

[O[n the internet as a whole, every conversation you have is as if it’s done on a stage. The places you go for small group conversations are blogs.

Many a time a person will venture out into the trashing waters of controversy only because they have a solid foundation of support at home on their blog. And making friends and following their blogs allows people to split up controversies. When it comes to feminism and rpgs, for example, I could have a debate every. single. day of the year… But that’s not how I want to spend my time. So if I can instead back someone else who’s covering the most recent thing, it makes me far more likely to not walk off in disgust.

I didn’t realize until reading this that I began speaking about feminism and video games online because my blog created a space where I wasn’t vulnerable. Here, I’m not going to have a dozen angry posters calling a PC feminazi or telling me I’m overreacting for discussing video games and feminism as I might for bringing it up on a message board or IRC channel. This is another point in the case for more online communities for geeky women.


April 19, 2006

Feminist Gaming Manifesta: Identifying Problems

Filed under:Feminism, Gender, Privilege, Sexism — Lake Desire @ 5:01 pm

A feminist gamer manifesta. About damn time somebody wrote one. Part 1 and Part 2 of the Feminist Gaming Manifesto by Matt Wilson. My post here is a response to part 1, which identifies problems in the gaming community and how they’re perpetuated.

I don’t mind that this is written by a man because feminism in theory and practice is ending sexism. Ending sexism shouldn’t be entirely women’s responsibility since we’re already oppressed by it. It is also nice to find more male allies. They’re too few in number.

I like this quote:

The result of that assumption is a set of behaviors that exclude everyone who isn’t considered part of that norm. In the case of gaming, it’s a predominantly white male group, so you end up with the assumption that the ‘normal’ gamer is also male. If that assumption manifests in game texts, rules and communities, then they can all make women feel unwelcome, even though gaming might be an activity they’d really like to participate in. It could be artwork, language in the game texts, the focus of discussions online, specific game rules, verbalized assumptions, even choice of words. Most often the things that provoke those feelings weren’t even intended. Nobody wakes up and says, “today, I’m going to oppress some women.” But when there are unquestioned assumptions at the level of the group as a whole, the results are inevitable. If you just don’t know what does and doesn’t exclude, you can’t easily avoid doing it.

I appreciate Wilson giving guys the benefit of the doubt. Most people don’t want to think of themselves as oppressors, and he’s reaching out to his peers and discussing how they can turn their well meaning intentions away from perpetuating the status quo.

Wilson also identifies many of the responses marginalized people face when raising their concerns (whether gaming or otherwise). I’m going to quote a few of them to add my two cents. On Denial and Minimizing:

Men will respond with comments like, “oh, come on, it’s not unwelcoming, you’re wrong,” or “is it really that bad? I don’t think so.” See, as the predominant group, men get to assume the right to interpret the experience of women and deny the validity of what they say. Then they get to impose their own views upon them, like “really, my game text that you think makes you feel uncomfortable is about this other thing.” If you can deny the problem, then you don’t have to take any responsibility.

I also sometimes hear that my concerns aren’t valid. I should be focusing on domestic violence or poverty or hyper-masculinity or some other “real” problem. This derails the discussion and determines what is valid. Well meaning or not, men are using their power to decide what my interests should be. (On a side note, I never say I’m not involved with other form of activism, although I don’t feel I need to bring up details from my personal life to prove myself to someone who has already intentionally disrespected me.)

On victim blaming:

When women speak up about something in various forums, men will say something like, “I think you’re just not looking at it the right way.” It’s essentially “your problem, not mine” with a polite veneer, focusing attention on the perceived limitations of women. Men are the norm, right? Everything was fine until the women complained. Any problem, then, must be from outside.

I’d like to add that sometimes women are also blamed by being told the problem is their fault. For example, a friend of mine was harassed in an online game. Rather than analyzing if and how the game environment normalizes misogyny, she was told she must have done something to attract the harassment. Want another example? Read comment 12 to Wilson’s post.

Found via Acid for Blood.


April 18, 2006

Statistics Remind Women That We Game

Filed under:Statistics — Lake Desire @ 9:42 pm

Via Guilded Lilies, a CEA study reports women gamers ages 25-34 outnumber males.

One of the common statistics often cited by video game industry trade groups is that the average age of a gamer nowadays is around 30 years old. What you might not know, however, is that among game players between the ages of 25 and 34, women far outnumber men, according to a new study by the Consumer Electronics Association (as reported in The New York Times).

This doesn’t surprise me, but it’s always nice to have another study countering the “straight guys are the majority of gamers” argument sometimes used to silence calls for more gender inclusive games.

More from the GameDaily BIZ article:

Steve Koenig, a senior analyst at the Consumer Electronics Association, said that the CEA study did not specifically ask women why they preferred casual games, but he explained that unlike traditional console video games, casual titles are generally “nonviolent, and are not necessarily supercompetitive against other players.”

As Guilded Lilies commenter Sjofn pointed out, the women surveyed weren’t asked by they prefer casual games. I find it unsettling that men are studying us and drawing conclusions about why we make certain choices without actually asking us. I imagine casual games appeal all genders because of their accessibility and they offer an alternative for those who find violence unpalatable.

What casual games do you play, and what do you enjoy about them?


Division: A Girl’s Place in a Video Game Community

Filed under:Online Communities, Sexism — Lake Desire @ 9:51 am

My junior year of high school was the peak of my teen angst. I’d failed to find solutions to my problems in the real world–in hindsight I don’t consider them petty–so I turned to the internet for counseling. The internet became my outlet to self-destruction. I involved myself in a large online video game community.

The message board was part of a video game music website, but was hardly the focus of discussion. There were subforums dedicated to video games in general, politics, the media, intimate advice, introspective community discussions, and a free-for-all where anything was posted from nude pictures of posters to polls about which forum members you’d have sex with.

About one in ten of us identified as female (although we found out later three or four were posing). At the end of the year, contests were held for the hottest member of either gender, but it was in the “hottest female” thread with the most activity, and flaming. Those of us who posted pictures were scrutinized like we were standing before reality TV judges, ranked for our hot features and criticized for specific physical flaws. (I looked weird when I smiled too hard.) The post popular among the gazing men was a woman quick to debate with anyone uncomfortable with her nude pictures. She was the first one to prove if an image someone else posted of herself was fake. She played the same game I did… I just didn’t have a digital camera. I never became close to any of the other women who posted on these forums, but I had more than one man pursue me (I was underage at the time) and egg on this competition. The women were pitted against each other for their entertainment, and I participated because I wanted the top posters, the in-crowd, to like me.

This was not my first encounter with masculine entitlement. I’d experienced it in dating battles, and it was actually entitlement that led me there. Before finding the video game forum, I trolled (as much as you can behind your real name) the unofficial message board created by and for Advanced Placement students in my high school. (I know teachers lurked on the board, yet my multiple posts that said, “I’m depressed and want to stop feeling this way” were never answered by adults.) On there, I developed an online friendship with another poster (a senior at my high school) who liked video games. He invited me over and we hung out. I was his first friend he’d had over to his house, and he started telling people I was his girlfriend. I hadn’t consented to the title. He spent over a hundred dollars on my Christmas present (Lunar 2 for the PSX was pricey back then). I wasn’t into it, but how could I object? I’d cuddled with him and he’d spent so much money on me. How could I object to dating him? He didn’t notice I wasn’t into him, but I still felt awful when I told him I didn’t want to be his girlfriend.

It was this guy who introduced me to the video game forum, and I had other experiences on that message board I may write about in future posts. After more than a year, I withdrew from the community and cut off contact with most its members. I found online communities a hostile place where there were no immediate real life consequences for exaggerating the roles granted to you by your gender. I want to be a member of a video game community that is egalitarian and based on respect, and I’m willing to help build it.


April 15, 2006

Link-o-Rama 4

Filed under:News — Lake Desire @ 8:29 am

Some things I’ve been reading lately! I know, I’m behind. Dang real life keeping me from the internet.

One Hundred Little Dolls writes on growing up a gamer in Androcentrism to the Xtreme. Her post is inspired by tekanji’s new series on Gaming Communities.

Also in response to tekanji’s series is Male-dominated video game culture on real men are not. From his post:

Video games, computer games, online gaming…all speak to a larger system of oppression and misogyny. Video games, like any sort of sub-culture outlet…is a place where patriarchy can really run loose without too much scrutiny (though it is becoming more examined recently) and degrade, objectify, and malign women.

And when gender-based analysis, not even scrutinizing or highly criticizing, make mainstream game news, the hateful things said illustrate the misogyny in the game community.

If you missed GL and Kat being attacked for their observations about Oblivion’s gender-based stat division and manual art, Brinstar has written an excellent recap.


April 12, 2006

As Promised, Ashley’s Special Outfit

Filed under:Resident Evil Series — Lake Desire @ 11:56 am

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately (yet alone gaming, I haven’t touched a console since Saturday). To make up for it, I’m treating you all to the picture of Ashley’s special outfit Meghann and I promised. We took it with my digital camera because we couldn’t find a picture of it anywhere online.

ashley graham's special outfit/costume from resident evil 4/

Practical for running through mines in Europe to escape mutants, eh? It stays clean no matter how many festering chests Ashley hides in. I think as women, we’re asked to suspend a different type of disbelief while we game. On the bright side, Ashley’s attire makes it easy for us to take the game not quite so seriously. We can be snarky instead of super scared.


April 7, 2006

Oblivion Wangst: Coming Out of the Kitchen

Filed under:Gaming Women, Gender, Sexism, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 10:46 pm

Guilded Lilies and The Geeky Feminist’s Oblivion critiques have reached the attention of mainstream game blogs. And they aren’t very happy about GL and Kat observations about women in the game. I haven’t played Oblivion yet because it isn’t accessible to me, but as a woman who wants to see more egalitarian video games, I take offense to people calling my interests them stupid. From the Kotaku news story:

From the “people will complain about anything” department, this just in: female gamers are taking a break from their panty/tickle fights and making me dinner to complain about gender stereotypes in Oblivion.

The “humor” opening this post tells us that we (as female gamers) are serving our male counterparts: we’re being girly for their viewing pleasure. I’m trying to figure out what this blogger meant by his cooking comment. Does his sarcasm mean we should be thankful he is not longer demanding we’re in the kitchen? That the battle for equal rights has been won so we should clam up and stop sweating the small stuff?

We’re immediately identified as female gamers for identifying sexism in games. Not only are we set apart as a deviation from gamers being male by default, but this suggests that women are the only ones who have a problem with sexism in games. We are not. (I shouldn’t have to reference men to add to my credibility, but it’s important to establish that we aren’t alone in the struggle to end sexism. Remember patriarchy hurts men too and ending sexism benefits everyone.)

Apparently, they feel aggrieved that male avatars tend to be stronger and have more endurance than female avatars. What do female avatars excel in? Intelligence, charisma, agility and willpower.

Gee, how crushing: to be hopelessly stereotyped by Bethesda’s constabulary of misogynist bastards as beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed and charming. Meanwhile, male Oblivion players don’t seem to be getting upset at all about being stereotyped by Bethesda as brutish lunkheads.

I can’t speak for my gender, but I have a problem with men defining what traits are feminine and desirable (they also decide that having more strength and endurance are positive traits). I’m forced to become this “compliment” if I choose to play my own gender. Women on the pedestal is still sexism that strips us of our subjectivity as complex, diverse humans.

Bethesda [...] are defending themselves against the charges, sort of subtly pointing out how stupid it all is.

Wanting to see my gender represented in video games is stupid? Telling us our interests are stupid is dominating what we should consider valid and worthy of discussion.


April 5, 2006

Ariel’s Link-o-Rama #3

Filed under:News — Lake Desire @ 2:42 pm

For some good news: positive things about the women in Suikoden on Amateurverbs.

Video Game Recaps gives us a hilarious April Fool’s day joke: a conversation between the video game characters we love and hate when they take over their forums. I love those recappers. They write funny and pro-feminist recounts of games.

For all you geeks, the Carnival of Feminists XII has lots of posts about gender in comics.

Ingrid of the play girlz reports a case of the first nudity patches in Oblivion. As usual, the first nudity patch is for only female characters. If naked guys are your thing, you’re in for a wait. I don’t mind nudity patches, but I wish a portrayal of diverse bodies took priority over standard heterosexual male fare.

Guilded Lily discusses how modding can offer us control over games now:

I have read again and again that more women are needed to work in the field of game design in order for gender inclusive games to get made. If the game design industry is similar to other types of male-dominated fields, then it is likely that it will take some time before women will begin to be employed in larger numbers. It could be a while before there is a larger willingness to design games without the elements that operate as barriers to women players. In the meantime, maybe the best way to express our concerns is through the modification of games.