revanchist: eve from wall-e looking happy (Default)
the emperor of ice-cream ([personal profile] revanchist) wrote2010-07-27 08:37 pm

Sex & Gender Roles in Modern Video Games [1]

Alright, so, this is a post about, well, what the title says. But I'm hoping it can have cross-media implications, and possibly to open discussion about these issues. Because I want to be educated, and I want that discussion.

Backstory: I recently got embroiled in one of many ongoing debates over at the Bioware forums in regards to the upcoming game Dragon Age 2, which began when a poster asked a relatively simple question over whether any promotional materials would be released showcasing a female protagonist. This spawned a debate of several (thirty-three) pages, which attracted comments from a moderator and the lead writer on the game (which is common on the forums, surprisingly).

To summarize, the OP wanted to know if any other women were put off by the company's continual use of a male protagonist in their marketing, to the point where both Mass Effect games had been marketed as if there was no female option, and was wondering if this would be the case with DA:2, as the (so far) released materials seem to be following the same course. As the game was only announced a few weeks ago, OP wanted to give input so that this could be subverted before it happened. OP went on to say, "I feel that Bio-Ware could use a female protagonist that both males and females would love to relate to, and watch in trailers and advertisements for the games." The arguments commenced, and ranged from intelligent discourse to downright infuriating. And yeah, I dove in headfirst.

Quick and dirty for those who aren't in the fandom: Bioware has released several very popular RPG games in the past, including KOTOR, a Star Wars cult classic; Mass Effect, a futuristic space TPS (third person shooter) trilogy; and Dragon Age: Origins, a return to fantasy gaming's D&D roots. There are more: it would not be incorrect to say that the company has a solid history of releasing cult classics with excellent plotting and character building. They are remarkable not only for the quality of their output as far as RPG gaming goes, but for always including the choice to play as a female with a unique gaming experience. They've done their best not only to level the playing field with equitable romance options and general gameplay and roleplaying features, but also to incorporate alternate sexualities, etc. (There's a whole 'nother issue there, which I shall not get deep into in this post, simply because it's opening up a can of worms. They try hard, often attracting the ire and scandal that go along with, gasp, space lesbians and bisexual elves-- but they sometimes fail miserably at getting it right simply by backtracking under critique and succumbing to general misconceptions, etc.)

(I am not going to get into female representation in more than an 'does it exist' level, so do not expect me to delve into natural bodies, armor that doesn't cover the fleshy bits, one dimensional personalities, etcetera. One thing at a time, no?)

But I will freely admit that Bioware has been on the forefront in this issue, such as it is. So I do not want to demonize them, or say that they've done nothing to advance the experience of female gamers, because they definitely have. Any girl who has played RPGs and TPSs extensively will probably acknowledge this. Bioware is on the forefront of game companies in this regard.

And I will acknowledge, straight away, two more things:
1. Games of this sort have a primarily male audience. Males, aged teens to twenties, are the primary demographic. Unlike many other media forms, women are the minority: truth is, we simply do not make up 50% of players, nor any statistic close to that.
2. Marketing often is responsible for putting one, instantly recognizable 'face' to a game, and releasing images/trailers/materials with six different faces could theoretically be confusing and hurt sales.

I get it, I do. But I still am asking that some promotional materials feature women, and I am not the only one. Here's why:

To be perfectly honest, this is part of a much larger problem which encompasses society as a whole. It's the reason the protagonist pictured on the box is unfailingly always going to be white, as well as male, but that, too, is an issue for another time. But we should be doing everything possible to change the current status quo, which means speaking up as opposed to quietly going along with it. Discussion raises awareness, which hopefully in turn will cause action. I think visibility is very important when it comes to changing perceptions. If a thing cannot be ignored, well, then you actually have to think and do something about it.

Now, to backtrack a bit, I personally want to see some marketing efforts put towards releasing a screenshot or two of a female version of the protagonist, possibly a piece of concept art, since equal representation and visibility in the marketing of video games is pretty much considered null chance. (Protag for DA:2 will hereby be referred to as Hawke, and protag for ME is Shepard, to clear up confusion.) As one poster put it:

I am not thrilled by the fact that an "iconic" Hawke was chosen, who happens to be male, but I can accept it. What I really, really am concerned about is that the last game Bioware marketed, Mass Effect 2, completely erased Female Shepard from any screenshots, trailers or art, until a few days before the game's launch. I don't want to see this repeated with DA2. If anyone is wondering *why* I want to see screenshots or trailers of FemHawke, I would ask, why should Bioware *not* show off a female version of the hero? What is gained by alienating those who primarily play female characters? (p.8)

And I think this poster brought up good points. I would add that even if women made up a scant 10% of the gamers, it would still make sense that one or two screenshots be catered exclusively to them-- far less than 10% of promotional material. To go back to Mass Effect, and quote another poster or two:

I mean, ME2's packaging made NO MENTION whatsoever of the fact that Commander Shepard didn't have to be the dude on the box. Not one. How is that not shooting themselves in the foot? (p.22)

Male driven industry = male driven marketing" is kind of a self-fullfilling prophecy, no? I mean, why ever increase your female clientle by actually marketing to them? (p.12)

Now, I would like to go into my response to this thread/issue. So here's what I jumped in with, somewhat edited for length:

I think it goes towards expressing the frustration that is common to women or other minorities facing this kind of issue. Personally, I do not believe the devs are doing this intentionally, so to speak (though they are ultimately still responsible for their actions). As I said earlier, it's part of a larger problem, which is common perception of female characters versus male characters. And I believe that it would be relatively easy for the devs to release one or two screenshots of a non-white female Hawke, which could go a long way towards combating the invisibility fans feel when they are not represented.

Otherwise it is easy to feel that you are not 'good' enough to be a Warden/Hawke/Hero/Etc. That somehow, women/ minorities/ GLBT cannot be heroes, cannot be strong self-assured characters who kick ass, save the world, and look good doing it. Or simply, that the majority of gamers do not want to be represented as a woman or as a minority or as a homosexual, because there is something intrinsically wrong or uncool or weak or whatever in being in one of these categories. That it is vastly preferable to be white, straight, and most importantly, male.

THIS is what we have a problem with. (p.10)

Now, one of the devs, who happens to be a lead writer on the game, responded as such to my post, and I will quote the entire thing:

I'm trying to picture what a single character would look like which would be politically neutral enough to be representative of everyone playing the game, appeasing those who feel the character should be female yet also attractive enough without being exploitive to appeal to the male audience and of a race that doesn't make anyone feel left out. It's not easy.

Not that I think there isn't a point here-- certainly these things deserve to be considered, as the issue of privilege is a touchy one (I think I just used that word in the same-sex romance thread... I have to be hitting my limit by now) but at some point trying to construct a character based primarily on minority profiling seems a bit futile to me. I don't doubt some amount of marketing went into the image you see-- they wanted a single recognizeable 'face' that a player could identify with-- but I also suspect that the largest part is simply that the artists wanted to create someone they thought was cool.

A femHawke would be nice to see, though, and I doubt there's any harm in asking for one. (p.10)

First thing, full props to a dev for diving right into this and other sensitive issues. As one poster put it:

I'd just like to say that I really appreciate how willing you are to comment on issues that are touchy, David, you're a beacon for transparency and communication in an industry that tends to be wary of both. (p.11)

Now that I've shown the whole thing and avoided taking words out of context, I want to highlight one part of this: I don't doubt some amount of marketing went into the image you see-- they wanted a single recognizeable 'face' that a player could identify with-- but I also suspect that the largest part is simply that the artists wanted to create someone they thought was cool. I feel as though the reasoning is flawed, for the same things I pointed out above.

The artists always 'create someone they think is cool' who a 'player can identify with', and that face has always, traditionally, been male.

Not only that, but any attempts to request or advocate for a few, paltry offerings (aka a few screenshots or pieces of concept art) are not met with the open-mindedness one would hope for. This is a pervasive problem in gaming today, and one thing that was quickly evidenced on the board was how quickly (male) gamers were to jump to accusations, and to act as if some sort of trespass or encroachment had occurred upon a territory which was somehow theirs. Here is one that jumped out at me:

Sensationalism, this is what this thread is all about. I can't really believe you're bothered by just a few pictures of a male warrior. (p.10)

I will quote my response with original emphasis (sorry for all the self-references!):

The heart of the issue is not that we are bothered by the pictures of the male warrior, nor that we are trying to encroach upon male representation. What bothers me, at least, is the omission, the lack of a female counterpart. It is the empty space which I find dissuading. We are not asking that the man on the advertising be replaced with a woman, but that he be joined by a woman. (p.10)

A forum mod responded:

I see what you mean, but it creates a more concrete image by having a single face of a game, rather than two halves. (p.10)

As you can probably tell, the conversation went in circles for a bit, and then devolved into a debate (and I use the term loosely) over feminism.

Now, of course many of the arguments used against will sound very familiar, including women being told not to ask so vehemently, and also asked why they weren't as angry over the lack of, say, mages in marketing materials, as you can play as a mage or a warrior but the marketing only shows warriors. One brilliant response to that one:

Mages aren't an underrepresented minority. No one is going to identify with them. There isn't an apostate sitting behind his computer feeling left out. (p.22)

Another complaint was that in a world based in a medieval-like fantasy setting, women were not as historically relevant. To which I would (and did) reply that the keyword is fantasy, and why is it stranger to be a dominant woman than to cast spells that light your enemies on fire? Why do we accept the existence of mages more easily than equality in our fantasy worlds?

Here are some more responses by posters. I admit I am mostly representing the pro-female marketing contingent, but TBH that is what I am interested in.

And, no matter how politely we bring the issue up, we're bound to get shouted down, condescendingly told it's not important and/or targeted by sexist comments. I see it happen all the time (not only with women's issues either, and not only on 'minor' issues). And then people wonder why we feel angry. (p.11)

I think this is part of why I'm so frustrated ... I've been looking at my posts earlier in the thread because apparently some people took offense to them, but I tried my absolute best to be polite and respectful and reasonable, if firm. It seems -- and I'm not making accusations here or pointing to one particular person -- that a lot of the times, the ugliness in these discussions tend to come from people annoyed that they're happening in the first place, thinking that it's a nonissue. (p.11)

We ran into the feminists are against men, etcetera arguments, comparing feminism to the swastika, stating feminism was sexist/outdated/what-have-you, and all hope was lost and the thread was later locked by a mod. But here is my response, for my own records. Feel free to skip ahead:

Okay, how best to put this without offending anyone. The ability to see feminism as outdated is a privilege, one that comes of never having been treated as an inferior due to your sex. (Both men and women can have this privilege, though obviously it is more common to men.) It is easy to stand in a position of relative privilege and scorn those who do not have that privilege because, well, you've never seen women treated as inferior and you've never treated a woman differently than a man, so sexual discrimination must not be widespread in the Western world.

This is a fallacy. And it results from a certain innocence, I believe, which we cannot fault you for... but simply try to educate you.

However, the reason people in this thread are getting angry is because some of us have dealt with sexism, at differing levels of severity, throughout most of our lives. And it hurts to see you disregard our experiences and our voices, because guess what? That's generally how it begins. (I am reminded of the Mass Effect council... 'Ah, yes, 'sexism'.... we have dismissed that claim.' ;)

For some of us, feminism is a very real and very important force for combatting the dismissals and insults that we have experienced. And yes, we are looking for equality, not dominance.

And in this case, we're looking for a few measly screencaps. And instead, some posters (not you specifically, poster, but looking back at this thread) have decided that no, this is cause not only to dismiss a polite request but also to begin bashing those fighting for equality throughout the world. (p.30)

I think you and I disagree on one thing in particular. You see feminism as a mutually exclusive vision, that cannot coexist with a general strive towards equality. This is incorrect. Feminism is a belief practiced by many people. Many of those people also believe in equal rights for racial minorities, GLBT individuals, the disabled, etcetera. The quest for universal equality is all-encompassing, and different people are free to take from it what they will. Feminism is the struggle for equality of the sexes. Had we lived in a woman-dominated world, it would be called Man-ism or something similar. However, the truth is that our world has been male dominated for centuries, and so those advocating for equality were seeking to gain the right to vote for women as men already had it. And in many countries world-wide, women still do not have this right, while there is not a single country where women may vote and men cannot. So feminism remains relevant. (p.31)

But to get back on topic. I later brought this up with an RL friend over Facebook chat, and here is what she had to say. Edited for grammar:

I'm a bit ambiguous about womens roles in games. I worry that they may go to far in their portrayal and stereotype women in general as opposed to the women in gaming ideal that already occurs. The occuring ideal is obnoxious - but livable and clearly antiquated- any new sterotype would be worse because it proves we haven't progressed at all.

To your GBLT point: how many games offer themes mature enough to actually bring up the topic without including it? I know in both Dragon Age and Fable II being bi or lesbian was an option- no one seemed to mind in Fable II. Does it then not come up because it is commonplace in the game or because they are avoiding the topic? I'm not entirely sure which it is. Many games are based off antiquity and goodness knows Rome had plenty of M/M going on; some of the most famous greek poetry is Sapho; Spartan men were notorious.

I don't think a screenshot of a woman or minority would hurt any, especially the female part. It is generally assumed that you will have the option to customize your characters appearance, but the ability to have a female character is much rarer.

I have a lot of questions, and I've tried to copy over all of the things that really stuck with me. I understand that I'm probably not being as coherent as I might have wished, but I'm confused and frustrated and I need some place to put my thoughts together. I agree, it's impossible to represent everyone in the marketing. We live in a world of infinite possibilities, and any programmer will tell you that some things cannot be computed. But I think it's important to try. Sometimes putting in the effort is equally important, and Bioware goes a long way towards putting in the effort.

However, it's not something that's ever over. It's a continual struggle towards representation, not just in this game but in every facet of some people's lives. When you're hitting a glass ceiling at work, or being called names in the street, you don't want to encounter that in your fantasy world, which is something of a safe space where you are the hero. So people get frustrated at not being represented because it's something they deal with on a daily basis. It's bigger than this, in a way, and so long as that doesn't get lost, as long as it gets considered, I think we're moving in the right direction.

edit august first: html fixes for readability.
animeshon: (d&d)

[personal profile] animeshon 2010-07-28 03:12 am (UTC)(link)
Hiya - followed over here from [community profile] girlgamers.

It's a fascinating point you've made, and not really one I pay too much attention to, to be honest. I have to admit to having been lucky where I haven't experienced any sexism, or if I have its gone completely over my head. I do however ONLY play female characters in games. I regularly play D&D with a bunch of guys (I am the only female) and I always play a female character with them. I have played one of each character type in DA, every single one female. I've also done the same with other RPGs like Neverwinter Nights and the MMO Guild Wars.

Now to marketing. It's interesting to note that the only game I have purchased in the last few years is Guild Wars. The marketing and cover art for the three Guild Wars games that I own all have strong female characters depicted. While I've played DA and Borderlands and enjoyed both. I didn't buy them but rather borrowed the games off male friends.

The same is true for books however. Give me a cover with a bad ass looking female with a sword or some other weapon and I will probably purchase it regardless of the description. I guess my subconcious wants to see more of these dominant females who can hold their own and are worthy of being heroes.

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[personal profile] gb 2010-07-28 12:45 pm (UTC)(link)
Found this through girlgamers. Sorry if this comment is incoherent, I don't write about this sort of thing very often.

Background: I've played Dragon Age, only started ME1 and haven't got far, know a little about ME2 (mostly from videos of the alien romances, heh!). Not planning on buying DA2 mainly because I don't have the time for a RPG, but may change my mind. These games have been in my mind lately, having found out about the male!Shepard/Kaidan romance cut out of ME1 last night.

I suspect Bioware themselves are not to blame for this, but the dudes in marketing/publishing and EA. I feel loathe to blame in on 'the suits' (it's such a cliche!) but some of the trailers that came out for DA and ME2 really didn't seem like something the writers working on the actual games would come out with.

I don't know much about how Bioware works as a development studio or how closely they liaise with EA on marketing, but how much influence would this lead writer or the artists have, even if they agreed wholeheartedly that female Hawke should be included, if the sort of people who do spout nonsense like 'only guys play video games so we should only cater to males' have the final say?

More importantly, does the marketing/promotional staff themselves frequent these forums and are aware of these concerns?

And (and this is very important) unless everything I have ever heard about triple-A title game development is wrong, the artists do not draw stuff they think is cool, they are TOLD to draw something by someone in the upper echelons of the company (who may or may not be an artist) and this person keeps telling them to redraw it until they come up with something that this person thinks is cool, and this person have their own supervisors giving their thoughts, too. Who gave the thumbs-up on the design for male Hawke in the first place, and what are their thoughts on creating a similar female Hawke for such purposes? When we have an answer on this, the real reasons the DA2 developers are taking this stance may become clearer.

Lack of a female option has never deterred me from a game, but recently I've found myself getting more and more impatient at games that are... I wouldn't call it sexist (though they probably are). Games that make it blatantly obvious they weren't FOR me, I guess. (gawd, The Saboteur, wtf mate? but anyway)

So, I can handle the lack of trailers and the lack of representation on the game cover, but it bothers me that they won't even release screenshots. It's not even as if there's no reason other than to 'appease the feminists'--it'd be a worthy demonstration of improvements made to the graphics, animations and character creation. Unfortunately I'm not sure where I'd find sources to cite this now, but I've seen plenty of people who far, far prefer female!Shepard over male!Shepard for her fantastic voice acting; if the voice acting is as good this time around it'd be worth demonstrating that, too.

Also, they may have worked on the male Hawke first and only he is finished enough to start showing in early promotional material; it'd be annoying, but not surprising.

I'm hoping they'll rectify this later in development. If I have the energy, I may even sign up to the forums and give them my thoughts, because while I'm not a big Bioware fan, I might be if they showed they're paying attention to this stuff. So, thanks for your post on this issue.

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norah_liath: Yet another ME2 Shepard avatar, with a scar showing clearly on her cheek,only one side of her face is showing (profile) (Default)

[personal profile] norah_liath 2010-07-28 01:19 pm (UTC)(link)
I play mostly female characters. I might play one or two males in DA, for example, opposed to my at least 9 female characters. Never saw the point of playing a male Shepard, since the characters are pretty much the same in either gender. I tend to stay away from RPG games (adventures and the like are just different) if they do not offer female player characters, except if they are just that good.
It doesn't go for just games either: when I look at my bookcase, a majority of them have female lead characters, or if they have a cast of main chars, several of them are female. Most of the cover art depicts females in ways that are not meant to market to men.

Yes, Bioware has been better about a lot of stuff like this than many other developers, that doesn't mean they're good enough. I appreciate what they've done so far but that doesn't give them a pass for the future, or the right not to be criticised on what they should improve. I never go to discuss anything remotely serious on the Bioware forums, because I think the place is a cesspool where I'm not willing to stick my head out. I usually send them suggestions or criticism through the e-mail form on the EA support site. They always tell me they have sent my mail to the appropriate Bioware department, which I hope is true. Recently it's been mostly criticism of their treatment of disabled characters in their games.

We're all constantly asked to identify with male characters in the (cover) art, the game, or both. Females depicted are usually NPCs. And well, I have to say I have no problem with identifying with a male character, even if it's not my first choice for a playthrough. What I wonder then though, is why they use the excuse of needing a figure in the art that people can identify with ("and the majority of our gamers are male!"). What, the boys can't identify with a female character? Why the **** not? They don't do anyone any credit here, none of their fans of any gender. They´re perfectly willing to ask quite a lot of people (minority here is still a sizable number of players) to identify with a character of a different gender than their own, but they won't ask it of any males, because it might cost them in sales? They're concerned maybe that men will think they can only play female characters? They don't seem to think it's a big deal when it seems like you can only play male characters. They don't trust that their game is good enough that people will want to play it even if they cannot play their own gender (or it seems that way from marketing)?

They really don't get how and why it would be so nice to finally see a female hero centered on cover art and marketing (that is not just there for the boobs and hotpants)? I realise sales are important but I have to admit I'm disappointed that they are more important than this.

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[personal profile] x2xbandgeekx2x 2010-07-29 02:45 am (UTC)(link)
Gah, I wish I had time to sit down and really think about this and try to come up with a thought out response, but I need to get back to my evil comp sci homework (online summer comp sci class? Incredibly bad plan). Just wanted to say thank you! I don't really play video games much at all, but this was a really interesting post, and it was great to be able to read and understand a discussion even when it's centered on a topic I don't know much about.

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[personal profile] miss_haitch 2010-07-29 08:11 am (UTC)(link)
Here via [community profile] girlgamers -- I just wanted to say thank you for diving into the fray! I know how demoralising it can be to encounter lots of negative reactions about representation, but it sounds like you persevered and got good results from the discussion.

For my part I only play Female Shepherd -- Jennifer Hale is a brilliant voice actor, and the male one just sounds robotic to me.

What made me sad when playing Dragon Age was the fact that Zevran, who in every other way is immensely confident and TMI about his sexuality, seemed almost apologetic about expressing his bisexuality. IIRC in the conversation dedicated to it he's all, "I like men, but I hope that isn't a problem/won't bother you". I just felt like it was the writers being coy about it/not wanting to offend homophobic people. And then there was no option to say to him "that's cool, I'm bisexual/gay myself".

Bioware are hands-down my favourite CRPG developer, and I love so much of what they do for characters and relationships -- it's just, they could do better.

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[personal profile] kaz 2010-07-30 03:43 am (UTC)(link)
Here via metafandom delicious -

Have a slightly different background as I used to game as a teen, then stopped, and have recently considered starting on some of the newer games again. So I've never played any of the games you mentioned - bought Dragon Age but my computer won't run it - but I *have* played Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Neverwinter Nights and Morrowind as far as CRPGs go and therefore consider myself kind of invested in these things.

The only male character I've ever played is in PS:T, where you do not have a female option. I have NEVER made ANY male character for any RPG where I could choose a female one of the same class (ex I've played male chars in Diablo II, if you want to call that an RPG...). And, you know, chalk me up as someone who would highly likely not buy a game with customisable protagonists if it didn't feature a female option.

Are they going to lose any people if the marketing has female characters as well as male? Doubtful. But if they had no female characters in the marketing at all, they'd lose me. (At least until I found out that it did allow for female characters!)
sqbr: me cosplaying the bearded dwarf cheery longbottom, titled Expressing my femininity with an axe (femininity)

[personal profile] sqbr 2010-07-30 07:20 am (UTC)(link)
This is a great post! And (via people mentioning it in the comments) you introduced me to [community profile] girlgamers, so double yay :)

I totally agree that there is absolutely no reason not to include the odd screenshot of a female Hawke. Maybe a female mage Hawke, that way they can show off any new magical stuff.

I did like how the images that went with each origin in Origins were 50:50 male/female, but I don't know if they were released before the game, I've just seen them on the wiki.

Would you be ok with me posting this to [ profile] dragon_age?

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came by way of metafandom

[personal profile] summerskin 2010-07-30 12:08 pm (UTC)(link)
I've only skimmed the comments to the post, so excuse any points that might just be repetitive or just anything that might have already been discussed ad nauseam.

I'm not a gamer, but I am in fandom, I do pay attention to popular culture and mainstream ideas, and I have a point of view. My comments will be more general because I think you've touched on certain issues that are not limited simply to gaming.

After reading your post, I felt frustrated. Not with the post itself, but with some of the things you quoted from the threads that people had mentioned. The thing that most angered me was the idea that using a female character in marketing was counter-productive somehow, wholly unnecessary, and unwanted (even when people said they wanted it).

Now, there are many things I could say here. I could go into a rant on self-entitlement and privilege and male-domination and female-camaraderie (and lack thereof), but that would be a long and not entirely coherent rant. Plus, I get twitchy and ever angrier just typing the words, so that won't work very well in the long run.

I'm going to focus on one aspect that struck me, and that is how it seemed that there was as much of a battle for the female character as there was for keeping those girly cooties off the manly videogame sort of battle. As a rational human being, if someone would ask me (politely) to include XYZ into a marketing campaign for a product ABC that featured XYZ, my answer would be a positive because it's not as if I am being asked to do open-heart surgery. ABC and XYZ are not strangers to each other.

However, at least one of the comments you quoted seemed to be almost offended to being asked to have the female character alongside the male one. Now this could be because of two reasons: (a) the belief that the game is wholly male and, while you cannot stop women from enjoying it, keeping them off the ads is appreciated, or (b) ignorance that a woman would even be interested in playing the game (a.k.a., why would you even want a female character because there are no actual females to play her, right?).

At least, that's how it sounds to my mind.

Why (b) is pretty bad and offensive because it brings forth the idea that only boys like video games and girls are happy to play with dolls, (a) is the one that really angers me and my bet for the reaction the arguments people were bring being disconsidered. It's as if there is the idea that a female audience is rising for the game, and it must be stopped. You can't stop it if you put a female on the cover, etc., so any attempt to "feminise" the game needs to be nipped in the bud.

This, I think, goes back to the idea that some things are "naturally" manly and others are "girly". Traditional ideas of what makes a girl a girl don't intersect with video games, and this goes to the point where the very idea disturbs some folk.

This idea that maybe things are changing, that there is a paradigm shift occurring as we speak, and the comfortable things that used to make sense suddenly won't anymore--that's scary, and some people can't handle it. For us, having a female character on the ads is a step forward, lending visibility to a "minority" and attracting more players. To someone who wants to pretending things are as they were ten, twenty, fifty years ago, it can be terrifying.

Hopefully, my frustration and twitchiness didn't show much, and I made my point clear. As I said, I could talk about many things in this comment, but it's obviously a sensitive topic for me and ranting shall be reserved for my own journal. :)
yhibiki: (Maki)

[personal profile] yhibiki 2010-07-31 03:28 pm (UTC)(link)
(via the dragonage community; also sorry that I'm not nearly as eloquent as other posters have been.)

What gets me the most about the whole "we can't advertise to women" thing is that it completely defeats the purpose of advertising. The point is to convince people to buy something. The male demographic that they've already hooked will, presumably, buy things. This is also the same demographic that every single other gaming company is trying to tap into. So would it not stand to reason to, instead of trying to convince this market that gets inundated with advertisements from all side, to build up a new set of customers?

Nintendo saw the potential of the untapped market, and that's how the Wii came to be so wildly successful. Yes, they aren't popular with "hardcore" gamers. But they're popular with the audience who games casually. They've convinced people who would never have touched a controller that video games can be fun. Instead of competing with Sony and Microsoft over the same limited set of dollars, they went after a completely different set and managed to come out on top.

Obviously, Dragon Age and Mass Effect are not for "casual" gamers. But female gamers do exist, and grabbing a much larger portion of that market just by proper advertising could put them ahead of what ever other game-of-the-week they'll be competing against. Personally, I was never interested in western RPGs until my friend got me to play Oblivion and Jade Empire with him, where I created female characters both times. Even Japanese games have benefited from this -- Harvest Moon, a farming/social sim, noticed the potential female market and started adding the ability to play as a woman and marry male characters. Atlus got me to buy a game I already own (and did not enjoy) by releasing a remake with a female main character.

To me, it seems like game companies are going by garbage can logic to justify decisions they've already made. "People identify better with male characters"; "We can't cater to all minorities"; "There's no market for female characters" are not sound reasons why the only face they use in screenshots needs to be a white male.

(Of course, I'm not a marketing expert. I could be wrong, and if so, somebody point me to the proper articles so that I can educate myself.)

[personal profile] fifmeister 2010-07-31 04:03 pm (UTC)(link)
As someone who hangs out primarily in Mass Effect fandom, I can't even tell you how many comments I've seen from female gamers who didn't pick up the game(s) until months or even years after their release simply because they had no idea that it was even possible to play as a female Shepard. It was just pure chance that they happened to hear through word of mouth that a female protagonist actually was an option. I just can't understand why that's apparently A-OK with BioWare. Like an above commenter said, I'm no marketing expert, so maybe I'm just talking out my ass, but how can they not see that their refusal to acknowledge that you don't have to play as the generic white male dude on the cover is causing them to miss out on a sizable chunk of money?

I was actually poking around on BioWare's official ME 2 site a few days ago, and even now, six months after the game's release, there is still no indication anywhere on the site that you can customize your PC's gender, race, or anything else. Every piece of information in the game info section focused entirely on the action!!1 and weapons!!1! and killing stuff!!!!!11 aspects of the game, which I think may be another part of the problem, at least in the specific case of Mass Effect 2. The ME 2 marketing was all so myopically focused on Being A Shooter And Not An RPG that they may have decided any mention of customization options might have scared away the hardcore male shooter fan crowd they were aiming for.

In any case, I just have to say I admire you for being willing to brave the official BioWare forums and argue for these viewpoints even in the face of so much nastiness and sexism. I know a lot of people, myself included, have essentially given up on ever going there because of the general hostility and wankiness, not only on this issue but on pretty much any and everything else as well.
kaedi: ([orochi] Wukong - luuuuuv him)

[personal profile] kaedi 2010-07-31 04:32 pm (UTC)(link)
I will respond to this, but first I need to say:
1) I LOVE Mass Effect.
2) I hate myself for it

I am not surprised that the marketing focuses on "the action!!1 and weapons!!1! and killing stuff!!!!!11", and on it being more of a shooter than an RPG because the whole franchise is blatantly aimed at a heterosexual male audience, with the deliberate exclusion of everyone else.

First of all, there's the story - the cheesy, godawfully embarrassing and cheesy GI Joe super saviour of the galaxy awesomepants sexy hero Shepard who gets all the girls (Liara's romance subplot with the male Shepard is HIDEOUS and I didn't want a kiss from Parasini, kthx).

Then, there's the fact that RPG tends to be seen as a more girly genre anyway. A lot of men don't admit to playing Final Fantasy for the same reasons that they'll avoid an RPG - it's girly, they're GIRLS' GAMES! Of course, most of these 'men' are idiots, but that doesn't stop game companies marketing to them, and nobody else.

God, I love Mass Effect sooooooooo much, but sometimes I just want to punch myself in the face to relieve myself of the tears of embarrassment brought on by the godawful cheese of it all.

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kaedi: (Default)

incoherent rage ahead, I sorry D:

[personal profile] kaedi 2010-07-31 04:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Aww you, trying to have an adult discussion at the BioWare forums <3 [/patronising backtalk]
Seriously, I've tried to bring up gender/sexual inequality up there and ... wow.

I am someone who primarily RPs men in games; in a RPG I will pick the male, in character-roster games, I usually pick the men first. I noticed the lack of female Shepard in ME2 promos, as well as the lack of effort put into her face when you create a new Shep in ME2 (pick the default man, get the nice face. Pick the default woman get some boring, low-res preset).

Choosing ONE incarnation of the character to put on the box doesn't bother me. I get that it probably needs to be a man in order to prevent alienating their primary demographic - the moronic, immature, brain-dead man-child that frequents the BioWare forums to say things like "EWWW GAY MEN SHOULD DIE" and "YEAH HURR DURR LESBIANS" younger male adult (I assume, primarily around 15-25). However, to actively exclude the female option from any promotional material bothers me a lot.

There is SO MUCH WRONG with Mass Effect in terms of gender and sex inequality, and Dragon Age too. What bothers me more than anything about these two games (aside from the fact that they can make me RAGEHAET so hard about this, and I STILL love them and want more of them) is that it is not a matter of oversight. It is not about "oh yeah, we could have put that in but there wasn't time/we were too lazy/we didn't think of it"- it's about the deliberate exclusion of certain genders or gender representation, or sexualities. Deliberately removing the male/male romance subplot, choosing to define the female Shepard by make up, removing female Shepard from any promo material, the "monogendered" (the most FAIL monogender ever) Asari and the inclusion of female/female sex subplots bothered me. Not the choice of a male Shepard stuck on the box.

Deliberately excluding people who might buy these games is (a) irritating as hell and (b) plain stupid. Unlike Dragon Age, in Mass Effect you don't have to follow any romance subplot at all, never mind the male/male one so why it was removed makes no sense (And yes, I HAD to romance Alistair and Morrigan because achievements are important...). I'm really, really sick of only having stupid "LET'S COOK/DRESS UP/BE FASHION MODELS/DO BABYSITTING/STARE AT CUPCAKES" garbage aimed at my biological gender rather than games I'd actually WANT to play.

It is not having a male poster boy that puts me off, it is choosing to ignore the fact that anyone other than a heterosexual, immature male with the intellect levels of a turd would want to play these games that does. I know I can play as a female character in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, but the exclusion of female characters (and the homosexual characters. As I said, in ME ignoring the issue would have bothered me a lot LESS than the last minute removal did), the ridiculous characterisation or design of them or the last-minute removal of characters or gender/orientation specific dialogue/subplots/characters, or aiming stupid games at certain groups of people is what bothers me and puts me off things. I appear to be in a minority of biological females who find Bayonetta offensive.

And yeah, BioWare, I DID notice that the effeminate, blonde, sexually deviant elf with a leather fetish was the only option for a person RPing a homosexual/bisexual male character. Don't think I skipped over THAT stereotype. And yup, I also heard him apologise for finding men attractive.

It also annoys me to read people saying that BioWare are "better than most". So what? I can be racist, as long as I'm the least racist of all my friends?! Pandering to the whims of homophobes, sexists and racists because you're scared some right-wingers might not buy your game isn't the way to go. You'll probably lose a couple of nutjobs, but the number of people you gain by including them in the first place would more than make up for it.

But only heterosexual boys play games, so why bother.

Re: incoherent rage ahead, I sorry D:

[personal profile] fifmeister 2010-07-31 04:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Deliberately removing the male/male romance subplot, choosing to define the female Shepard by make up, removing female Shepard from any promo material, the "monogendered" (the most FAIL monogender ever) Asari and the inclusion of female/female sex subplots bothered me.

Don't forget about the utter and complete absence of any female aliens aside from quarians. Because, oh, poor BioWare just didn't have enough time and resources and disc space to throw in the wimmins of any other species. Never mind that they had the time, resources and disc space to include male quarians in ME 2--the males of, I might add, the one species in the first game that had only a female model. Oh, and they also had enough time, resources and disc space to create a lovingly rendered model of a half-naked Miranda.
ext_219546: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-07-31 05:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Well put, and many interesting snippets for someone like me who only skims the forums (usually too much crap going on for me to bother).
And it is an interesting issue... And one thing that has always bugged me is the fact that guys often enough play female characters. I mean, just look at the MMO market. A TON of the female characters are played by guys. And a suprising amount of the male characters are actually played by women.
So if the guys like to sit staring at a female behind for hours at a time, why would it aliante the male audience to toss in a bit of material of the female side of the game?

And I agree with what most people say, that Bioware really is at the forefront of this (and many other) issues in allowing us to play a female part and letting it have an impact. Still, there is always room for improvements.

I hope I make any sense at all, writing this while tired might not have been my brightest idea =o
charlemagnne: (Shining Knight)

[personal profile] charlemagnne 2010-07-31 06:43 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a great post, and I commend you for getting into this discussion with people, especially on the Bioware forums.

Tieing into the advertising always featuring a straight white male for all of Bioware's games, any talk of a Mass Effect movie makes me cringe. Because the Shepard in the movie will be the straight white male Shepard used in the games advertising and packaging. There is no chance that they would use FemShep, and if by some miracle they did, she would undoubtedly be white and straight.

I did not buy Mass Effect when it first came out, because based off the packaging it looked like I wouldn't be able to pick my character's gender. I bought Dragon Age knowing that I could be a woman, and then only went back to Mass Effect because I had like Dragon Age so much.

Also, echoing the sentiments of some other posters that I love both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, but at the same time those games fail so hard on a bunch of levels, and make me so frustrated and angry.
ext_454402: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-07-31 08:25 pm (UTC)(link)
Firstly, I want to tell you that your defense of the word 'feminism' is fantastic. (And those are quotes for quoting, not for sounding like the turian council member in ME2, haha) Very clear and detailed, and includes so many points often ignored.

I grew up as a PC gamer, which I've found to be the worst culprit when it comes to female options and the implication that girls have cooties and they'll get them all over computers! Since PC gaming was synonymous for 'computer nerd' for some time, the (strongly defended) image of the PC gamer was more incontrovertibly male, for only white, straight, unpopular male people are computer nerds. It's funny how they don't accept girls into their 'society hates us' club, since it's considered even less socially acceptable for a girl to be a computer nerd. All the games I played as a kid (things like Commander Keen, heh.) assumed that the player was male.

I was able to deal with that at first, though – the main characters were so damn pixilated that they couldn't actually be said to be visually male or female -- for quite a few games I just decided in my head that they were female and played this way. Doom was a bit of an issue for me, I loved it but hated how you saw the face of this ugly white dude while playing, reminding you constantly that your hand was male, dammit!

I recall, also, as a child, not understanding videogame demographics and marketing, and only operating on my view of the world, being frustrated when multi-player games only had one girl (or worse, none.). What if I don't like pink? What if she's annoying? There are other choices for boys, but not for girls. Of course, the point was that you could choose a male character if you didn't like the female one, but I refused to play a male character if a female one was available, because I was a girl and there was nothing wrong with that! As a child, it seemed to me that since women were half the population, videogames should reflect this, as simple as that.

Of course, that argument, while perfectly logical, is simplistic, and even refined will be refuted simply for the sake of the 'male demographic'. As some people have pointed out, I find the notion that having female options will automatically put off this demographic ridiculously sexist. Women exist, regardless of advertising statistics, so why can't they exist in the game space? I refuse to believe that it is only because of advertising. Games can have female options without advertising them; I agree with that men must find women in their games a SCARY thing.

I still have a great deal of indignation about armor in WoW, even after I've been WoW-free for almost seven months. I find it hard to believe that they can get away with it, but they can. This severely troubles me. I actually went through and did screenshot comparisons of the same piece of armor on a male and on a female. The worst ones are pants that are just that, pants, on a guy, but is a metal thong with shin guards on a girl. In the context of the game, stats are everything, and it is inevitable that you will feel forced into wearing something revealing because you're broke, it was a quest reward, and it's an upgrade! In this case, although having a female option, they are forcing females to conform to objects for men to look at whether they like it or not.

Of course, the atmosphere and things people get away with saying in WoW is another topic; it's amazing how angry people will get if you object to their "joke" about rape. 'I'm not serious!' 'You take this game too seriously.' 'Don't you know how to take a joke?' If you say that some things aren't funny, it gets even worse. /tangent

When it comes to Bioware, I was introduced by KotOR -- there is a screenshot of a male Jedi on the back cover of the box/CD case and one with a female. This is so logical that it hurts; it shows off the level of character customization the game has, for one. I was delighted that when Bastila joined my party, I could put her in robes instead of her awful outfit! It was a novel and relieving option for me. I did spend some time mocking the posture of the female PC with my friends, but overall the experience, gender-wise, was very positive. I didn't really play RPGs at this point, I preferred shooters or adventure games (gasp. a girl who didn't like RPGs and liked shooting things more. it must be a lie. I must really be a boy.). They didn't keep to this trend with ME – I know, I know, iconic main character and all that, but I submit that showing a female doing the same things so that consumers know it is possible is not harmful to the iconic main character since his face is plastered everywhere else.

One last point (I know, I have enough). I think that videogames being a male space is partially enforced by the fact that every female thing has large breasts. Actually, when I was playing ME one afternoon, my father wandered in and observed for a bit. Then he asks, "Why do all these alien females in these games have human mammary glands? That's unlikely."
Besides being amusing, I agree. He's also asked why all females in WoW are large busted, because it's so unrealistic. Of course, I have no answers to these questions besides the obvious -- men made the game and they were making it for men. It sort of does say 'women who are not willing to be sexual objects not welcome' to me. And that's the problem. Videogames can be practically exclusionary, yet requests for this to change -- not even requests for a female to replace a male -- are met with so much opposition. It's so frustrating . . .
darkrose: (dao: in death sacrifice)

[personal profile] darkrose 2010-07-31 10:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Here via metafandom most directly, but I'm pretty sure I at least read the thread you're talking about. I inevitably go to the Bioware forums, read and then start raging incoherently until my wife gently suggests that perhaps I should close that tab in my browser.

I'm disappointed by a lot of things about DA2, but the focus on male Hawke in the marketing is a big one. It's not just that he's male, but he's a particular type of male: badass, bearded, and macho; nothing girly about him! I rarely play human males in DAO because it takes me so bloody long to get someone I'm willing to look at for 60 hours. Hawke is exactly the type of male character I'm not interested in playing.

Even more than my personal preferences, though, the focus on hypermasculine Hawke sends the message, intended or not, that DA2 is a boy's game. Sure, we don't mind if chicks play, but it's Not For You, Girls. Now shut up and be grateful that we're enlightened enough to give you the option to play as a female character at all.

The supposed logic is, of course, that 18-25 year old men are the majority of gamers. And that's true--but not nearly as much as it was 10 years ago. More and more, women are gaming. We may not be 50% of the market, but we're probably close to 30-40%, which is a sizeable minority. There's also an odd assumption that all the male players are narrow-minded jerks who will refuse to buy the game if there's a woman on the cover. This is always stated as fact, but does anyone really know for sure, or are the marketing wonks just assume that must be the case?

Bioware frustrates me because when they get it right, they're awesome. My primary Warden is the female City Elf, and one of the reasons I like her is because I thought they've done such a good job of dealing with the racism--to the point where as a black woman, I can identify with my pointy-eared girl in a way that I never have with a game character. But then they go and erase women (and non-humans, but that's a separate rant) from the DA2 marketing, and I feel like I'm being told, "Yes, we're focusing on the white boys, but you should be grateful we give you anything at all, so shut up."

darth_azura: (Revan in Blue)

[personal profile] darth_azura 2010-07-31 10:59 pm (UTC)(link)
I am burnt out on Bioware! I've lost interest in compiling my considerable KotOR I fics. (Um, Revan is male... as males anxiously remind us at every turn)

I have never played Dragon's Age, and have no interest in Dragon's Age 2.
I have Mass Effect 2, and have not even played it, and have no plans right now to play it. I no longer have the interest.

I'm tired of the default male scenario. I'm tired of the males getting a choice between two women, and the women getting a choice between a man and another woman. (Juhani was supposed to be the other choice in KotOR, but that got canned by Lucas)
I have nothing against F/F, but it's obviously fan service for the male players. And no equitable M/M that raised the question of homophobia (oh, our gamer guys don't want to see that....) (I've tried to play Jade Empire to find the M/M selection there, but i't either not there (deleted) or extremely difficult to navigate.

Ashley Williams was supposed to be totally kick ass but they made her so bitchy. Real women in the military who are like Ashley are not bitchy.

No female Salarians, Turians, the list goes on...........
yhibiki: (Maki)

[personal profile] yhibiki 2010-07-31 11:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Getting the M/M part of Jade Empire is infuriatingly hard. The end result is also (sadly) extremely hilarious. Basically, you end up having to first flirt with the princess (Silk Fox?), then turn her down, and then let Skye know that yes, you turned her down for a reason for reals no really you are totally hot for him.

Then the kiss sequence has your character suddenly shrink a foot so that he can look up through his long eyelashes and swoon at Skye.

Ashley could have been awesome and then they made her basically a racist. *sigh*

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[personal profile] dez_chan 2010-07-31 11:01 pm (UTC)(link)
Here from metafandom. Yeah, I saw the promo material for DA2 and was gobsmacked. I had to double check with the bf (he's got better connections than I do) as to whether female was even an option for play, because the entire article I read used male pronouns exclusively. In fact, it seems like they've not done much to add to the world of DA with the sequel; everything in the article I read was subtracting from (save graphics. Oh joy, 'cause I wanted it to look prettier while I can't play the way I want to!).

And WTF, "We made a character for the promos to look cool!" Well here's an idea ducky, why don't you make a female character to look cool rather than 'sexy'?! Shocking notion: women can be multi-faceted instead of just a sexy thing.
boundbooks: Zhang Ziyi (zero punctuation: fuck it)

[personal profile] boundbooks 2010-07-31 11:09 pm (UTC)(link)
"I'm trying to picture what a single character would look like which would be politically neutral enough to be representative of everyone playing the game, appeasing those who feel the character should be female yet also attractive enough without being exploitive to appeal to the male audience and of a race that doesn't make anyone feel left out. It's not easy."

This is actually the part that amuses me the most, because it assumes that leaving the character as a straight white male would be the most 'politically neutral.' Being female (roughly 50% of the world) is 'politically loaded', being non-white (the majority of the world) is 'politically loaded', but marking your lead character as a global minority (straight white male) is 'neutral.'

I will be over here slamming my head into my desk.
verstehen: (G4m3r G1rl - Dapper Designs)

[personal profile] verstehen 2010-07-31 11:34 pm (UTC)(link)
There's a reason I avoid the BioWare forums and GIRL/GIRL SEX BOOOOOOOOBIEES! when ME1 came out is only part of it.

But, uh, I hope you smacked the person who said "that in a world based in a medieval-like fantasy setting, women were not as historically relevant." After all, DA:O says RIGHT IN THE CHARACTER CREATION SCREEN that in Fereldan, men and women are equal. (Whether or not the dialogue and character interactions hold that up are another matter entirely.)

Anyway, I've sort of stopped hoping for this kind of representation in game advertising, especially from BioWare. I mean, weren't we having this debate about KOTOR when they made Revan canonically male in all the auxillary materials? ...and that like 7 years ago. Part of the problem is that, well, it's not just games. It's the entire culture.

(And wow, do I hate that it feels like giving up... but I just don't have the energy or the time anymore. I just play the games and shoot people. Or whack them with swords, whatever.)
darkrose: (dao: in death sacrifice)

[personal profile] darkrose 2010-08-01 04:34 am (UTC)(link)
Whether or not the dialogue and character interactions hold that up are another matter entirely.

This. Dragon Age comes across to me as if they really wanted to do a medieval/early Renaissance Europe, but since the status of women was so problematic, they wave the wand and say "total gender equality". Then they proceed to write the game as if female rulers and fighters are rare enough to constantly be remarked upon.

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ext_20885: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-08-01 02:49 am (UTC)(link)
Male gamer here, and I am fast losing all patience with BioWare's marketing. They seem completly unaware of who their actual audience is and seem determined to minimise what actually makes their games unique in favour of hyping the most generic elements out of some misguided effort to cater to the 'mainstream' (ie, male) audience. And some of that obviously is bleeding through into the games themselves. I loved Mass Effect, but I'm extremely nervous about ME3 after some of the elements that made it into ME2... (ME1, everyone wears combat armour. ME2, all the women except Tali are wearing increasingly absurdly revealing outfits. Not to mention the handling of same-sex elements - Morinth, anyone?)

And based on the marketing, I find myself with very little interest in DA2 at all.

The stupid thing is that just from a purely business perspective, you'd think that trying to win over the largely untapped female audience would be a better strategy than trying to compete with every other game company for the macho manly bald space marine audience - I know women gamers who still obsessively bought every Tomb Raider game even as Lara Croft’s design became more and more cheesecake just because it was the only action game franchise with a woman as the protagonist…

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[identity profile] 2010-08-01 05:09 am (UTC)(link)
I'm blind, and my screenreader has trouble with inline quotes. Any reason you didn't use <blockquote>?

Also, you cite thread page numbers, but you don't actually link to the thread in question, which seems like a curious decision.

[personal profile] fennel 2010-08-01 05:57 am (UTC)(link)
I actually had a discussion about the D2 marketing with a good friend recently. He just wouldn't get it.

It took two hours to get through to him. The mindset really is "but this is what people want, so it's okay". But nobody is checking this, people just keep repeating it. There's no study proving it, and men oddly manage to identify with female characters just fine - many picking female characters over males in MMORPGs and sandbox rps.

Female gamers are a minority, yes. But a tiny one? Hardly. We're growing. It's more likely that we're a smaller group than we would be, if companies weren't going out of their way to exclude us.

[personal profile] katreus 2010-08-01 02:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Like I posted elsewhere, if Pokemon can do it (represent both male and female players on the cover with no confusion), then I'm having a hard time believing that Bioware can't do it. But Bioware is sort of crappy in that regard.
la_fono: A picture of two chocolate orbs, aka maltesers (chocolate orbs)

[personal profile] la_fono 2010-08-02 10:22 pm (UTC)(link)
(Here via metafandom)

Case in point: You can play a woman in Mass Effect and Dragon Age? Gah, I would have picked them up ages ago. *headdesk*
simonejester: danbo and an xbox360 controller (Default)

[personal profile] simonejester 2010-08-25 02:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Right on! Seriously, all of it. Definitely gonna forward this to my husband who, though a heterosexual Caucasian Christian male, is of the straight but not narrow variety, and who loves pointing out the queer stuff (like Fable II) to me, his pan/poly wife. He doesn't spend much time in forums except for codes and advice on the games, but I think he'd appreciate this. :)

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