Friday, February 22, 2013

Where are All the (Real/Important) Women?

While we discuss how women are portraying the games, how they are over sexualized  or how they perpetuate the homemaker stereotype, we cannot go on without recognizing another way in which women are commonly portrayed. As nonexistent. As pieces of the background. I read a journal article recently, a bit outdate, that brought up an interesting examination of video games back when they were young. In the findings of her 1998 examination of female characters in video games, Tracy Dietz found that the “most common portrayal of women was actually the complete absence of women at all”.  After reading this, I wonder how true it rings to the games of today. Over 14 years later and still I play games where not a single female plays an important role, or any role. I went through the entirety of Black Ops and only saw two women at the beginning of the game, one of who dances for the enjoyment of those in the bar, the other in her nightdress. The first one runs away, the second gets shot. Dennis Scimeca, writer for Control Magazine, noticed the same trend:

“In many of those games women are simply not present. I can’t think of a single woman character from any of my Call of Duty or Battlefield games. If there are any women characters in the Resistance or Killzone franchises, I certainly can’t remember them. There are no female avatars in Brink because the team over at Splash Damagedidn’t want to budget the time and money to create a female model and then make female versions of all the clothing items in the game’s very deep customization system. Women were optional.”

Women were optional, they opted out.

I know Scimeca’s making the statement to make the impact, but when I think about the Brink developers now, I don’t know about you all, but I’m pretty sure women are not ‘optional’.

Back in 2009, LiveScience posted an article detailing how video games lack the correct ratio of female and minority characters.  While the ratio of Latino characters to Latino players was also no sufficient “video games showed a far greater imbalance for females, who made up just 15 percent of video game characters.” So if there are less females than there should be, and the majority of the few women shown are shown as unimportant or as sex objects, can we really count these few female characters as women? How can we as players decided between what counts as a woman and what is a representation of the female form? A fully fledged character, or just a sexy husk?

So how do we get more women in games? It is possible that as the number of women creating games increases the number of women in games will increase, but it should not rest upon that. Male developers live in the same world as female developers; women still hold important political and corporate positions, women are still in the military, still great athletes, and still great scholars. So why is it that this part of real life, of half of the population, is not being emulated in games. The stereotypes may work as token characters, but not as whole real women.  The ideas such as the Damsel in Distress or the Sexy Villainess should be recognized as a game mechanics, but not as fully fledged thought-provoking women.


For the Dietz journal:

Dietz, Tracy L.

1998    An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior. Sex Roles. 38 (518): 425-442.

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