Okay, I’m sorry for the myriad of video game oriented posts recently, but what can I say? I’m a gamer, which makes me obsessed with games. My recent break from World of Warcraft has given me a lot to chew on and it doesn’t help when other people are writing on the same topics I’ve been giving serious thought to. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ve decided to make this into a series entitled “Girls & Game Ads” (sorry, I suck at names and this one is short-ish and uses alliteration). Obviously, it’s going to focus on issues of how the gaming industry chooses to market its games and how it relates to and affects women.
I’d like to turn to a recent editorial at GameGirlz to give everyone an idea of the current atmosphere of the general advertising in the industry. The piece, a letter by a GameStop employee, discusses an in-store advertisement that Gamestop has chosen to run:
A guy and his scantily clad girlfriend are in a car; the guy is driving and he looks like he’s in a rush — and the girl for some reason is punching him senseless. The next shot is of a video game box with the same girl on the cover.
Oh, okay, she’s from a video game. (Or she’s supposed to represent a video game).
Whatever. Somehow, it didn’t sit right with me. In the next scene, they are at a GameStop and the guy tells the salesman “I wanna trade her in” pointing to his punch happy girlfriend. The salesman smiles, brings out another scantily clad woman who punches the boyfriend so hard he crashes into a wall, but he gets up and grins, “OHHH, I’ll take her!” So the guy walks out with his new ‘game’ or ‘girlfriend’ and they live happily ever after. Meanwhile another guy walks in and wanted to buy the other girl, er, game that just got traded in. She starts punching him too.[From Sexist Game Ads - WHY?]
I went to the GameStop website in an effort to find any information, images, or even a movie of the advertisement itself. Unfortunately, neither the website nor google turned up anything useful on it*, but when I visited the company page I was greeted by the City of Villains advertisement depicted on the left of this paragraph. Maybe I’m just a pervert, but the first thing I saw was the boobs. Indeed, the first thing my eye was drawn to on the entire site was the advertisement and, by extension, the prominently displayed breasts. Yeah, the guy’s head is bigger but apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought the boobs were more eye-catching (see image below).
Another thing evident in this particular line-up is something I’ve noticed as another feature of video game advertising: images of women tend to have the large boobs as a focus (either by showing lots of skin or by having skin-tight costumes), while images of men tend to focus on the face, or show a heavily armoured (or clothed) man. While there are obviously exceptions to this (armoured/small breasted women, scantily-clothed men, etc), I posit that this dichotomy is one that is typical in advertisements for the gaming industry.
Now, objectifying women in advertisements is not new. It’s a ploy that the video game industry has been using since I can remember. The “trade-in” ad has apparently jumped on the “sexy fighting chick” bandwagon that’s become popular in the media over the past decade or so since it uses “scantily clad babes + show of ‘strength’ (punching) = desirability” model. Again, nothing new. This is the first time that I’ve seen such a blatant acknowledgement of the whole ownership of women that this kind of gaze gives men, though. Here women actually are the property of the men – to use and then trade in for the newer, better model.
But fear not, ladies, it’s ok because the girls weren’t supposed to be real:
Oh, and also, we received an e-mail from the powers that be from M-A-R-K-E-T-I-N-G and they state that that commercial is not meant to be offensive, the girls were meant to be video game characters and they were trying to appeal to their major demographic target, young males.
Beautiful. Exploit women to exploit young male hormones. So beautiful.
Gee, I guess I shouldn’t be such a humourless feminist. Marketing says it’s funny, so it must be! Seriously, I’m not the only one who finds this sort of bullshit insulting to both the women who are told that our bodies are the equivalent of video games (ie. property of sex-crazed teenagers), but also to the young males that the game is targeting. Last time I checked, their target audience bought games because the gameplay looked good not because they’re some mindless automatons controlled by their dick (“Oh look, it’s boobies! Who cares if the gameplay is awful, bugged, and no fun? Penis says boobies = buy!” Please).
The employee who wrote this editorial said that the commercial made her feel “sad”, “insulted”, and “degraded”. I have to say ads like the one she described make me feel much the same. Is that the feelings that Marketing wants to elicit in its consumers? I may not be their “target” but did I miss the part of “Marketing 101″ that says it’s a good idea to put down any potential customers that aren’t in your target audience? Last time I checked, the whole purpose of advertising was to get more consumers, not less.
And, while we’re on the subject, why aren’t women a target audience? Gaming culture is already firmly entrenched with young males, they don’t need to be “pandered to” (if you can call exploiting their supposed lack of hormonal control “pandering” to them, which Marketing may believe but I don’t). Gamers, even casual gamers, buy games based on content – preferred genres, innovative gameplay, staple companies/series/characters, etc. The only difference is that the culture has been such that most guys grow up in an environment that assumes they’ll play games (casual gamers at the very least) while girls grow up in an environment that assumes that they won’t (unless cajoled/forced by a boyfriend). The popularity of games marketed in a way that includes women (female oriented or genderless) should make things clear: women have the chance to make up at least 50% of the consumer base, if only the industry would wake up and stop marketing against them.
Up next: Pitching Harassment – examining the links between sexist advertisement and in-game harassment of women.