Introduction [Girls & Game Ads, Part 1]

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.

City of Villains ad on GameStop
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).

Ad line-up on GameStop
Cropped cover art from featured games on GameStop’s official website.

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.

* ETA 12/14/2007: Thanks to Feminist Gamers I’ve found the video! The description of it was spot on.
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7 thoughts on “Introduction [Girls & Game Ads, Part 1]

  1. “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.”

    This is quite interesting to me because I’ve been playing around with trying to figure out why short hair on men persists as a male privilege, wherease women are expected to have longer hair. I think part of it has to do with human-ness: men are allowed to have faces, natural and as points of emphases to underline their individuality; women are expected to soften their faces with surrounding hair, and to disguise and soften their features with makeup.

    (BTW, I hate submitting comments here because I can’t preview them first – any chance you can incorporate this feature into your blog? Also, the window hides text I’m typing on the right-hand side – has anyone else experienced this problem? I’m using Windows IE 6.0.)

  2. Sorry about the preview comment feature, I need to upgrade my WordPress. I promise that once I figure out the image problem I’ll updgrade. I’ve been dragging my feet out of laziness ^^; As for the hiding text on IE… I have no idea. If it doesn’t fix after the upgrade, let me know and I’ll try to get my butt in gear on the site redesign.

    I find your take on the ‘short hair : long hair :: male : female’ model fascinating. Can you elaborate on it at all? I’m curious as to how you came to that conclusion, if you’ve found any evidence to support it, how you feel that it influences society, etc.

  3. I recall a bit in my social psychology class where researchers doing archival studies noted what you did — ads featuring women showed more of their bodies, and those featuring men focused on the faces. Is that what you’re thinking of here?

  4. Is that what you’re thinking of here?

    I guess it’s sort of a dual-thought, both the body/face thing as well as the covered/uncovered focus. Both, I think, underlie the question of individuality that Sour Duck was talking about with her hair theory.

    With the male models, typically they’re defined by facial shots (faces, I think, are where the most vivid diversity between people can be seen) or body shots that draw attention to them as a whole, rather than the body itself.

    The female models tend to focus on the body rather than on a unique face. Further obscuring the character’s individuality, most video game women (at least those who tend to be main characters and/or featured in ads/covers) tend to have a “cookie-cutter” shape: thin, small waist/big hips, big boobs (that often defy gravity). Put Rayne next to Lara Croft, for instance, and the similarity of their bodies will be striking. Even those characters who aren’t known for their busts tend to fit that general shape.

    Of course, that just goes back to my original point: the female body is objectified in these ads and turned into nothing more than a commodity packaged for the “target” audience who, apparently, are mindless slaves to their cocks and wouldn’t want to buy a game in which the woman was seen as a person.

  5. Hi again – I meant to comment more but life got in the way.

    “if you’ve found any evidence to support it, how you feel that it influences society, etc.”

    I don’t have any, which is the main reason I haven’t written anything about this.

    RE: sexist game ad. That sounds awful. I just wanted to register that. Ugh.

    “And, while we’re on the subject, why aren’t women a target audience?”

    This is the key question, and can be asked about so many things: why are Barbeques marketing only to men, when they could make more profits marketing to both men and women? What about trucks? What about the whole sexist golf culture?

    I think we’re assuming the patriarchy is logical here. It’s NOT. It’s driven by fear and by a ruthless drive to remain ON TOP. So that, even when car manufacturers could make higher profit margins appealing to women, or when Hollywood films could make more money by noticing which films are popular with women and duplicating them, they don’t.

    (oooo! I see there’s a preview below now – excellent! Thank you.)

  6. Life? Pffft. Clearly my blog is more important than any “life” you may have. 😛

    Re: hair theory – I hope you explore it more! It’s such an interesting theory that I’d hate to see it fall to the wayside ^^; In lieu of doing actual research you can always do what I do – find images on the net and examine them in context of the point you’re making.

    I think we’re assuming the patriarchy is logical here. It’s NOT.

    Wel, at least Santa Claus still exists. I can handle “logic” that makes my brain burn as long as I still get presents at Christmas. Oh, wait, I’m Jewish and we don’t celebrate Christmas. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! ;.;

    Seriously, though, you’re right. Of course, you being right doesn’t make it seem any less stupid to me that any company in their right mind would pass up opportunities to make more money, even with the driving need to stay “on top”. But then again if everyone used earth logic the world would be a much better place than it is now.

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