GGA brought my attention to an article called Top Ten Girlfriend-Friendly Games on 1up.com (a site that seems to have a significant female membership). Marginalization in the gaming industry is nothing new to me. I mean, having boobs and a vagina and identifying as female is obviously enough to exclude me from that Good Ol’ Boys Club™. If I do venture in, it must only be through a boyfriend (since all good boys and girls are heterosexual) who will introduce me to fluffy games, like Bejeweled and Nintendogs, which are not too hardcore for my weak constitution. Do I sound bitter? Well, after spending most of my twenty-two years seeing mainstream magazines, websites, and other gaming publications catering to guys, and only guys, I think I’ve earned a bit of bitterness. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for me to not have to go to a female-oriented gaming site in order to be included.
Oh, to be fair, sandwiched between the large fonts of the title and the first of the top 10 is this disclaimer:
These days, gamers come in both genders — yet our numbers are few, and like the cavemen of days past we must seek outside of the clan to mate. Yet it is possible to bring non-gaming significant others over to the dark side, through a number of games designed to grab those who couldn’t care less how many frags you got in Counter-Strike last week. We present to you the top ten girlfriend-friendly games. (These can apply to boyfriends as well, since the love of gaming knows no gender boundaries.)
But, truth be told, I didn’t even notice that until I actually wanted to dissect the post. Why? I’m versed enough in layout design to know that our eyes are drawn to big, bright, different objects. The title and the top ten are large, much larger than the descriptive text. Not only that, but the main text is a light grey that is visible but visually blends into the page when put next to the dark black of the title, the vivid blue of the top number, and the bright red of the game title. So, yeah, gender neutral language is applied as a disclaimer/afterthought, but it does not make the kind of impact the title does.
When making “top ten” lists, there is going to be a large element of personal choice and opinion. If I were to make a list of good introductory games for non-gamers, I would choose some similar ones and some different ones. Here again, however, the article engages in some gender assumptions:
It wasn’t until Centipede, with its soft pastels and calming garden theme, that the arcades finally had a game you could bring a date to.
If this was a “Top Ten Boyfriend-Friendly Games,” do you really think that “soft pastels” and “calming garden theme” would be bandied about? Instead of Centipede, I expect it would have been a Space Invaders game. Because, you know, girls like pretty gardens and boys like to shoot things.
Combining the feel of an epic romantic fantasy with an easy-to-learn interface, Suikoden made RPGs accessible to girls who weren’t otherwise interested in the tedium of roleplaying games in the vein of Dragon Warrior.
You know, I found Suikoden-style controls to be more complicated than all of the Dragon Warrior games (and, believe me, I’ve played them all), although it could be that the first Suikoden was simpler than its two sequels. Regardless, I wonder if the blurb would be the same if pitching it to guys, even non-gamer guys? It’s no surprise that buzzwords like “romantic fantasy” and “easy-to-learn” are used in contrast with a “manly” title such as Dragon Warrior that girls just wouldn’t be interested in. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard those kind of excuses for why more girls aren’t gamers, I would be a rich woman.
#5, Ms. Pac-Man:
But for those gamers who developed lives outside of the musty confines of the arcade, Ms. Pac-Man proved a great boon, for it showed their girlfriends that gaming could be non-violent, cute, and utterly fun.
Oh, yes, us little “girlfriends” can only handle something that’s “non-violent, cute, and utterly fun.” Although I’m not so sure that eating and possibly being killed by ghosts qualifies as “non-violent,” but regardless the idea that games need to fit into the proper gender roles in order to interest girls is offensive if not outright sexist. What next, Pre-Teen Girlfriend Top Ten with the top game being Barbie Makeover?
#3, Katamari Damacy:
Incredibly simple game play with incredibly catchy music coupled with a laughable storyline and beautiful pastel graphics created a game which was both fun to watch and to play.
Again, we have the idea of “simple game play” and “pastel graphics” that was seen above.
#2, Dance Dance Revolution:
In Japan, DDR was designed as a game for women, with catchy pop songs, bright colors, cute artwork, and a fitness angle thrown in for good measure. And once she learns that you aren’t nearly as good as she thought, the game is on. The relative ease with which someone can learn DDR and the versus mode mean that a gamer couple can play together at their own levels of skill.
I can’t fault the author for the purported sexism of the DDR designers, but sticking it in the blurb does continue to reinforce that women need games that fit into strict gender roles: bright/cute things and that we need to work out to be thin. Once again, we have the whole “easy learning” angle. Speaking as a recovering DDR addict, though, I disagree with the author. If one has a decent sense of rhythm to begin with then yeah, it’s easy, but if notâ€¦ Well, be thankful that you’ve never seen people screw up horribly on the basic steps to the same song over, and over, and over again.
#1, The Sims:
The infinite customizability, the large community, and the simplistic gameplay all combine to make The Sims into the greatest girlfriend game around.
Last, but unfortunately not least, we have that whole “simplistic gameplay” argument rearing its ugly head yet again. Frankly, I’m not so sure I would rate it the greatest game for an SO, girlfriend or otherwise, simply because there are no goals, quests, or storylines. I like playing God for a week, but then it gets old fast. Some people, female/male gamers/non-gamers, like it, some don’t.
GGA linked to a rebuttal in his LJ about criticism, where he harped about Girl Gamers being a different breed, how their critiques ignored how hard it was for new blood to find games they enjoy, etc. Normally I try to avoid that kind of wank, but I felt compelled to reply to this one.
My beef with your article was that, as some posters pointed out above, you were playing on the tired old stereotype of “girls don’t play games, so here are some fluffy ones that your girl might like!” Now, there’s nothing wrong with fluffy games (some of the ones on the list are ones I’ve enjoyed in the past), but there is something wrong with the heterosexist, male-normative bent of your article. Frankly, I’ve seen too many “Games you can play with your girlfriend!” that are aimed at guys and I’ve never seen “Games you can play with your boyfriend!” or “Games you can play with your SO!” And, really, there wasn’t one game on that list of yours that couldn’t be applied to either sex.
My feature (as paltry as it was) was about non-gamers.
You said that in your post, but why didn’t you call your list “Top 10 Games To Play with Your Non-Gamer SO” or something to that effect? Why did you feel the need to play on that old, tired, “girlfriend” stereotype? It’s not offensive only to girl gamers because we’re “l33t h4rdc0r3 playaz” or whatever, but because, you know, we can have SO’s who are non-gamers too.
It may seem like a little, stupid point to harp on, but it’s not just the big things that make an impact. By playing into the stereotype all you’re doing is perpetuating the idea that guys are the only gamers that matter.
Even giving the author the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t intentionally capitalizing on the gender stereotyping language that has kept the image of video games as a Boy’s Club, it still speaks volumes about how easily such terminology can be used to marginalize the female experience. Sure, there are some terms that would be reasonable to apply to non-gamers/casual gamers as a whole, such as games with interfaces that are fun but not so complex that they’ll turn off those without prior experience, are not used with a gender neutral tone, but when used in the context of “girls” and “girlfriends” they play on existing stereotypes about women. Yes, the usage of language in these cases is a relatively small issue. However, because it is so small, it is also easy to fix: be aware of your audience and your language.