Tits Or GTFO: The Sexualization Of Women In Gaming SpacesS

Paying $8.25 to talk to a live (perhaps semi-nude) girl over the internet seems like a porn site pop-up ad, but it's actually the business plan for GameCrush - a company aiming to link male gamers and willing PlayDates.

Earlier this week, Kotaku explained the basic premise of the website:

Interested, lonely men (or cashed up pranksters) can sign up to the site, and once there, choose from two options: play a simple Flash game (checkers, etc) against a "PlayDate", where you get face-to-face time with one of these "attractive girls" over a webcam, or join them for a bit of multiplayer over Xbox Live.

A single game of either will cost you $8.25, with Xbox Live matches running for 10 minutes, and Flash games for 6.

Banking on the fantasy needs of men (and the occasional woman - Kotaku points out that there's a Goth boy registered, interested in playing with boys or girls), the site also sorts the women into two categories: flirty or dirty, depending on the level of nasty talk requested. In essence, GameCrush is marketing cybersex 2.0, with a video game chaser.

Apparently, quite a few people are looking forward to the service. Over at IGN, Daemon Hatfield writes the most comprehensive review of the site and its ranking mechanics:

After a session you can rate your PlayDate on her hotness, gaming skill, and flirtiness. The highest-rated girls will receive preferred placement on the site. GameCrush is assembling a team of its most highly regarded PlayDates called JaneCrush, which would be positioned similar to Ubisoft's Fragdolls in that members of JaneCrush will generate content for the site like blogs and editorials. GameCrush wants to turn its most popular girls into gaming stars.

Hatfield notes that the women are generally allowed to choose their partners, and ultimately concludes game crush is just a space for girls who like to game to make a little cash on the side. However, his test experience reveals a slightly different dynamic at play:

During an early demo of the service I played a couple casual games with PlayDate Ambibambi23. She was a nice girl (and totally kicked my ass in both pool and Battleship, btw) but her boyfriend was hanging out behind her and she made mention of him a couple times. Her game mood is set to "flirty," but there was zero flirting going on. I can imagine some guys might be disappointed if they paid to play with a girl, only to hear her go on and on about her boyfriend — and even have to see the guy during a video chat. I gave Ambibambi23 high marks for her gaming skill but dinged her for her lack of flirtiness.

Yep, just a little side cash - as long as the boys like you and you don't bore them talking about your boyfriend.

Most of the girl gamers in the blogosphere have reacted with disgust. Sinnicism points out the stereotypes inherent in the project and launch:

GameCrush.com suggests that girls who game are really difficult to find, and that girls do not, can not, or should not regularly game unless they're getting paid to do so. Again reinforcing the stereotype that women do not actually enjoy playing video games, but simply do it to get attention from men; as though we are only motivated by the possibility of receiving male attention in every area of our lives. As though we put on lipstick and sit in black lace panties while playing video games just in case a man catches us doing it (ok, not going to lie, that sounds a little fun). It makes me wonder if anyone ever stops to think about the fact that many women simply enjoy the same things that men do. SHOCKING! I know.

Over at the Border House Jadelyn rips into the venture :

Just a quick scan nets me evidence of FAIL on heterosexism, women-as-commodities, and serious reinforcement of gamer stereotypes for both male and female gamers. GameCrush assumes that the bulk of gamers are male and heterosexual, and that those male gamers are nerdy shut-ins who tremble at the sight of a real live woman and who have never developed the social skills to interact with women in person, so they need to purchase time with them in the only social arena they are comfortable. It also assumes that female gamers are such rarely-sighted unicorns that the assumedly-dorky male gamers will be willing to pay for the unique, previously-unknown pleasure of playing video games with a woman.

But the existence of a space like GameCrush shouldn't come as a surprise - indeed, online gaming culture stokes the fires that lead to this particular beast. Writer Katharine Fletcher grappled with her own ambivalence about feminism before she entered the gaming industry, and was confronted with a variety of confusing scenarios that revolved around gender in the workplace. Writing for Wired's Game Life section, she reflects on the role being female played in her career, noting:

I am the first to acknowledge that, while I was hired for my gaming and writing credentials, if I hadn't also been female I probably wouldn't have got my first job as a game journalist. I can't quite decide whether this is good, bad or somewhere in between — when you hire someone to be part of a team, you are taking on their personality, and their gender is a part of that.

Fletcher speaks to a fellow games writer and former model Alex Sim-Wise and finds a similar story:

Alex also enjoys being in an industry where you are valued "for your smarts rather than your assets", but admitted it was probably the combination of the two that had got her the attention she receives.

Women occupy a strange position, whether players or employees. Women players, regardless of how many there are, how vocal they are, or how long they have been playing are often seen as anomalies, intruders into clubhouse. Women working in the industry are often judged by both their abilities and attractiveness, as well as their ability to let a lot of shit slide.

In this type of gaming landscape, it only makes sense that a company would try to capitalize on sexism and stereotypes.

Official Site [GameCrush]
Would You Pay Women To Play Xbox Games With You? [Kotaku]
Would You Pay a Girl to Play Halo With You? [IGN]
SexBox Live [Sinnicism]
GameCrush – Female Gamers as Commodities [The Border House]
Confessions of a Call of Duty girl: Women in games today [Wired (UK)]
The Trouble With Jade [Feministe]

Earlier: The Girlfriend Effect: Or, How Marketers "Sell" Gaming To Women
Act Like You Know: Nielsen Research Confirms That Women Buy Systems And Play Games