This week’s content focuses on “Women in Games”, the readings for this are as follows:

  • ‘‘I Can Defend Myself’’: Women’s Strategies for Coping With Harassment While Gaming Online by Amanda C. Cote (Article, pages 136–155)
  • A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter: Archaeologies of Gender in Videogame History by Laine Nooney (Game Studies Article, 2013)
  • Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat (Chapter “Preface: Pink, Purple, Casual, or Mainstream Games: Moving Beyond the Gender Divide” by Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner, and Jennifer Y. Sun)
  • Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat (Chapter “From Quake Grrls to Desperate Housewives: A Decade of Gender and Computer Games” by Henry Jenkins and Justine Cassell)
  • Tropes Vs Women in Video Games (A series of videos by Feminist Frequency Youtube channel)

I found this a particularly interesting read as it covers the topic of female harassment within online gaming. This is primarily associated with the idea that online game spaces belong to males; often women feel like a nuisance or that they don’t belong there. She likens this to females within the workplace and argues that the same concept still applies as often women feel out of place and leave a job they love because of harassment e.g. abuse or unwanted advances.

Amanda Cote begins with an overview before leading into the point of “trash talk” associated with online gaming culture. For example, many gamers grew more aggressive once their identity was masked and placed in a competitive environment with no immediate consequences for their actions.

The problem is that primarily trash talk can be ignored for many players. However, those within minority groups can be subjected to sexist, homophobic or racist comments, whether intentional or not, are unwanted and demeaning. A specific example for women is with “rape” terminology themed insults such as “I totally raped you with a shotgun”. These comments can be insulting and triggering especially to survivors of assault.

The second section explored the results of an experiment she conducted on 37 females who were all over 18 years old; the average age was 25. They were also from different cultural backgrounds including the US, Canada, UK and Bahrain and of different educational levels.

The main results formed the “Harassment Strategies” for women such as :

  • Leaving the game – some women only had negative experiences so decided to stopped playing completely and now prefer to do so privately; play single player titles.
  • Avoiding strangers – Strangers are more likely to become angry with you for not knowing something or making a bad move than friends are. Friends are also less likely to make unwanted advances on you.
  • Camouflaging gender – This works using a non-gender specific username, not using voice/video chat and not using a female avatar to eliminate their femininity from their online presence. This concept is coined as “play as a gamer and not as a girl”. Some women also had an account with a feminine username to try to fight the issues not run from it for days when they felt up to tackle the abuse.
  • Emphasising skill – This is a way of making them (guys) feel insecure if you have more experience with the game or are a higher level than them etc; outperform them. It can become tough as you’re forced to compete to make sure that you’re “allowed” to play; can be exhausting and makes them lose interest in the game such as WoW.
  • Becoming more aggressive – This is by showing them that you can take the insults and dish them out! Although sometimes even despite this, women are still not taken seriously. Some women of a gentler nature, may also not feel up to confrontation and that’s perfectly acceptable too.

Firstly, Nooney begins by naming influential designers in video game history such as Roberta Williams, the creator of 18 original adventure games but she wasn’t a programmer. She ended up quitting the industry in 1998 but due to giving no interviews, she disappeared almost without a trace!

I found this article a little odd but I persevered with it. The author then continues to discuss three scenes that describe games history.

The first one is the Pedestals or Body of History. Roberta Williams was featured as the only “goddess” amongst the other “gods” on a PC Gamer cover in 1999; Game Gods feature. Many of the males featured looked extremely uncomfortable in the presence of a powerful female; perhaps they felt threatened? Here Williams is presented as a pedestal or early influential figure for women in games.

Tables or the Space of Game History is the next subsection. This refers to the physical space of which Williams used to design her first of many games which began on paper at a regular kitchen table. It was odd due to the fact that the design contained no code or written instruction set as Williams was a regular housewife of two that had no prior technological background. However she was an avid gamer and enjoyed the likes of Colossal Cave Adventure and Adventureland. Nooney also compares the traditional role of a kitchen table to stereotypical domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning which provided an interesting reasoning behind her choice of work space. This is linked to the creation of the title Mystery House which was one of the first to feature a domestic house as the environment.

Lastly came Love Letters or the Memory of Game History. One significant letter written to Williams by Elizabeth Hood, a 45 year old telephone order representative who could relate to the Sierra games as she felt that she typically didn’t fit in to the normal idea of a gamer. She viewed Williams as a reflection of herself; looked up to her.

I believe this to be almost a summary of the books contents?

The authors begin by discussing the idea of “booth babes”. This was the idea of using women to help sell or market games that were often dressed in skimpy clothing to appeal to men. Thankfully, this has been abolished and is not allowed at many festivals.

However, they also brought up the point that there were no females present on the gdc panels for many years with the first woman to appear being Brenda Brathwaite in 2008. This seemed odd as one of the design challenges the year previously in 2007 was to design a game with a fabric, needle and thread element; sewing is predominantly a female hobby.

The industry responded to the issue of the lack of female gamers by producing games for American white girls in the 1990’s such as Barbie Fashion Designer (1996) which sold just as many copies as Quake and Myst. These were games based around girl franchises such as My Little Pony and Powerpuff Girls which still remain popular.

A counter point to the pink games , which were generally based on stereotypical female likes and hobbies as explored above, was the “purple” games produced by company Purple Moon, headed by Brenda Laurel. This was joined by the Nancy Drew games by Her Interactive which was based on an existing popular series. However unlike the “Male” titles, no modding tools existed for this game. This prompts the question of “does this mean that girls shouldn’t be allowed or are capable of programming given the chance?”.

Following on, Butler’s idea of gender play is introduced, which is the modern inclusion within games with the ability to choose the sex and look of one’s avatar e.g half of the female characters within world of warcraft are actually men. Many people enjoyed the sims as it allowed them to explore a domesticated world with their own created avatar.

Since then, the girl game movement has evolved from just being games created for girls to including games designed and created by girls for girls and others. Although still “women make up only 10 percent of all employed programmers and designers in game companies.” at the time this was published. Is the lack of women in the industry the reason behind stereotypical representation of women in video games? This links to an argument proposed within chapter 1 of that the working conditions within the gaming industry are still too hostile for females; crunch time and harassment.

A major milestone to note was the growth in educational serious games for girls like Rapunzel which taught users to program their characters dance moves and Storytelling Alice, whose aim was to get girls into programming via leveraging their interests in creating characters and stories.

10 years ago there was a conference called From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games centering around gender and cyberspace sponsored by the MIT Women Studies’ Program. The conference itself was considered controversial in itself due to the culture at the time but that gap has closed significantly now in modern day. This inspired the book of the same name.

It then continues to outline the main goals and expectations for female games which are more enforced than on “normal” titles such as:

  • Economic: There is money to be made by targeting the three groups of casual gamers, older gamers and female/women gamers.
  • -Political: The gap in the technological field was growing rather than shrinking despite the industry’s best efforts. This could be combated by introducing games to girls at young age as they may encourage them to partake in more scientific, engineering and technology based careers choices.
  • Technological: The Cd-Rom was a big step for home gaming. This created more availability in a wider market as opposed to platforms controlled by Sony, Sega etc.
  • Aesthetic: Creating content for females prompted a change in visuals, new content and soundtracks. This needed to be radically different to attract a different kind of consumer.

Jenkins and Cussell make the arguement that females into “pink and lavender” hobbies such as hair, makeup/makeovers and other girly interests are the ones needed to focus on to get them interested in programming not the ones with prior knowledge/interest and this should be the market that the industry creates games for. An example named is the popular Desperate Housewives game that was developed based on tv show and at $19.95, it was lower priced than other hardcore gaming titles. In comparison to the market at the time, it was also regarded as a modest success.

This is a series of videos produced by Feminist Frequency focusing on stereotypical tropes for women within video games. I only had time to watch the first two videos which explored the “Damsel in Distress” trope.

It was interesting to see the trope evolve throughout the decades and where it was originally implemented with roots from Greek mythology with the Perseus tale to the medieval era with the medieval romantic adventure to save the helpless woman.

However, it was a shame to hear how “Dinosaur Planet” by Rare was cancelled and adapted into the third instalment within the Star Fox series. Instead of Crystal starring as the protagonist, she was demoted to a damsel in distress and given a skimpier outfit alongside spending most of the game trapped helplessly in a suspended bubble.

From this, it evolved to the story of Tarzan and King Kong with a woman being captured by a savage ape and a man needing to save her from the beast. This was later translated into the popular game “Donkey Kong” in 1981; originally meant to be a Popeye game but characters changed after Nintendo failed to secure the rights.

Two prime examples talked about included Princess Peach from the Mario Series and Zelda from the Legend of Zelda series. This stems from the idea of the damsel being either a family member such as sister, daughter or mother or a love interest of the hero. Princess Peach has only accidentally become a playable character within one Super Mario release of “Super Mario Bros 2” for America which is an adapation of a Japanese release.

Meanwhile, Nintendo toyed with giving Zelda more of a prominent role within the Legend of Zelda games such as her being disguised as a sidekick or guide aiding the player. However, when her true form is revealed she is immediately captured.

The second instalment explores the concept of “woman in the refrigerator”. This involves women dying a gruesome death and the male seeking revenge. Often games will incorporate both tropes such as in Kane & Lynch: Dead Men , your wife is brutually murdered and you then have to rescue your damseled daughter. Both of these plot devices involve the females becoming powerless within the narrative. These can overlap when the girlfriend is murdered and her soul is kidnapped by the enemy, known as “Damsel in the Refrigerator”. An example is within Shadows of the Damned in which the girlfriend of the protagonist is murdered and her soul becomes trapped in hell of which you must free her.

This has also involved into a term of which the narrator coins the “Euthanized Damzel” in which the player must kill the female character as a form of mercy. For example, if the female has been tortured or changed by the villian beyond saving or if the characters becomes the monster. This is portrayed as a method of justifying the violence against women in games.

Overall, the trope can be summarized as a male’s journey to regain his masculinity as his “property” has been taken from him and he feels that he needs to avenge or get her back in order to restore this.

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