New blogger Collie of Collie’s Bestiary has written a wonderful post called What don’t we see?. She does an image analysis of 1999’s computer game, Planescape: Torment and asks:
So why did the creators of the game feel the need to make only the women look silly and ineffective? Are they afraid of strong, athletic women? For that matter… why do we use the term ‘girly’ disparagingly? There’s not even a word for ‘boy-y-ness’ — it’s as if we believe male behavior is the default, and therefore needs no description or explanation. But men are statistically the minority; women are actually the human norm. Why do we allow this aberrant treatment of women? Further, why does our culture consider it “bad” to be a girl?
I recommend reading her post to see the images she’s collected of contemporary female athletes. Compare their builds and uniforms to some of your favorite video game and comic heroines.
Jeff, who recently joined us at Shrub.com, responds in a post called The Realism Defense. He discusses how women being penalized in games is defended as realistic in a backlash against being “politically correct” (which I don’t consider myself, but that’s another blog post), and that he enjoys games that are fun rather than realistic. He writes:
The realism that’s being defended in the above examples is selective at best. Some elements get focused on while others are ignored entirely; it’s not so much that these design decisions are expected as it is that they “feel right” to the perceived core audience of male gamers. Gaming, especially fantasy role-playing, has been a “boys’ club” for so long that these little touches of sexism have become cliches that players take for granted. If an area is poor, the reasoning goes, it will have prostitution, and that will invariably take the form of female streetwalkers, no matter what the rest of society looks like. In a multi-species society like Sigil, why would all of the prostitutes be human women?
What the realism defense ignores is that any game – indeed, any narrative or documentary medium – is limited in scope. The game designer makes a conscious choice about what to model in the game world; including sexism under the guise of “realism” makes a statement that sexism is sufficiently important to be included in the world model.
In closing, Jeff calls on game designers to ask the following questions when making design decisions:
1. Why am I including this feature?
2. How will this decision make the game more enjoyable?
3. For whom will this decision make the game more enjoyable?
4. For whom will this decision make the game less enjoyable? Is there any way to minimize this?
I’m going to take this advice to heart, and try to offer advice for game designers more often in my own posts. ‘Cause I know you all are out there, and you want to be gender inclusive.