Recent studies have found more women own video game consoles than men, but most women aren't "hardcore" gamers. Not surprisingly, experts say the problem is the industry still only presents female characters from a male point of view.
In the video above, Daniel Floyd, who posts analysis of various video game issues, tackles the problem of "Video Games and the Female Audience," and suggests that the problem is actually that even when those creating the video games include more female characters, they're really only adding hot, large-breasted characters for the benefit of men.
For the video, Floyd collaborated with female video game journalist Leigh Alexander, who sometimes writes for Kotaku, and her own blog Sexy Video Game Land. They report that even when female characters are portrayed as strong and competent within a game, they're often marketed on their looks. Case in point: Lara Croft, who may be powerful as a character, but is know mainly as a sex symbol in pop culture. Almost every video game character, male or female, is designed to let players control an unrealistically attractive avatar. That makes sense, because the medium is based on letting people act out their fantasies, and no one really daydreams about being an uglier, weaker version of themselves. But while a male character's sex appeal is never stressed in the game's advertising, basically the only thing consumers will learn about a female character is that she's hot, and her clothes may be torn off in strategic spots during game play.
Georgia Kral writes in On The Issues Magazine that people often play as characters that are a gender other than their own. Sometimes it's about exploring through a fantasy world what it's like to be the other gender, but in the case of hyper-sexualized female characters like Lara Croft, men often just want eye candy while they're playing the game. Women may prefer to play as a certain male character for fun, but sometimes they're driven to play as a male character to avoid discrimination during online game play. Kral reports that a 2008 study from the Palo Alto Research Center found some women play online as men because they don't want to be "branded as incompetent." Author Nick Yee said they, "must either accept the male-subject position silently, or risk constant discrimination and harassment if they reveal that they are female."
Video game companies have developed an interest in attracting more women (what executive wouldn't want to increase his or her potential customers by 50 percent?) but so far they haven't figured out a way to bring a large number of women into that group of intense gamers who will line up outside a Game Stop on an opening day. In the video, Floyd concludes that the industry needs to stop putting forth a message that conditions women to think "this is not for you." He says:
"As an industry, we need to seriously reconsider our marketing. We need to examine our habit of manipulatively using women for appeal — 'booth babes' at our conventions, exploitive character design. We need to consider the effect this stuff has on our industry's image.
Aside from just hiring more female video game designers and executives, one way to change the industry is to stop marketing games to two gender extremes and find the medium between games featuring bloody cage fights and babies. (Not that women can't enjoy a good cage fight.)
On her blog, Alexander writes,
"I've always really preferred not to be pegged as a 'woman in games'. My philosophy's always been that the way to confront gender barriers is to stop drawing lines, and that's why I've always strongly aimed to be 'person writing about games who is, among other things, female.'