A crazy theory about a new Girl Scouts badge shaping the future of mankind.
The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles have introduced a badge for game design that goes one further than the Cub Scouts’ version from two years ago. To achieve the award, girls will need to not only design their games but also program them. Initially I dismissed this as a dead-end story but on second thought I may have been discourteously premature.
I don’t think you can ever come to the issue of feminism too late or from a position of too much relative privilege. The fact that gaming is a young medium and one which will undoubtedly continue to influence this generation and many more to come, is important. With that in mind, it’s equally important to remain mindful of our attitudes towards those who will usher in the next wave of digital experience-generators.
Recent reports show that female game developers earn, on average, significantly less than their male counterparts. Patriarchy and capitalism remain proud bedfellows. You only get so far when talking about the gender wage gap before the argument that ‘men don’t get pregnant’ rears its ugly head. The discussion about wages is universal, however, and not specific to gaming. More problematic is how creativity is hampered as a result.
It’s hard to argue that the games industry as a whole doesn’t cater principally to the male demographic. Like it or not, men have always been more active in the area. Even if some little girls do enjoy playing with toy soldiers or, to give a modern example, garrotting their virtual enemies and performing whatever the equivalent of tea-bagging might be (clunge-plunging?), the presumption is that they should concern themselves with softer affairs. While the reasons for this gender division may be so socially engrained that parity may never occur, a movement seeking to address the balance between the sexes within the sector is gaining momentum.
Women in Gaming International (WIGI) is an organisation that promotes women’s advancement in the industry “based on a fundamental belief that increased equality and camaraderie among genders can make global impacts for superior products, more consumer enjoyment and a stronger gaming industry.”
I know it’s just one genre, but consider the first person shooter for a second. There’s a feeling that traditional FPSs are becoming stale and that gamers are growing weary of their once-novel charms. At the risk of sounding sexist myself, the blinkered run-and-gun mechanic appears to be inherently ‘macho’ and is in dire need of a fresh perspective. Some games have thankfully sought to subvert the genre by offering alternative means of dealing with problems which don’t rely on indiscriminate violence. While it would be an offensive generalisation to suggest that avoiding confrontation is prescriptively ‘female’, I have to believe that had the industry not been a masculine domain from the outset, the status quo would now be less polarised. For this reason I have no doubt that increasing the involvement of women in gaming development, as WIGI hopes to do, will ultimately make games “superior”, and the industry inherently “stronger” going forward.
We need a more realistic representation of all genders in gaming and to move away from the listless stereotypes which crop up like zombies.
You might argue that Tomb Raider came out 17 years ago and that strong female protagonists have had their place for the duration of modern gaming. You may posit the famous 1986 Samus Aran reveal as an even older example of strong women prevailing. It’s always about boobs though. No matter how late we come to the table, there’s always someone promoting the puerile origins of the industry. It’s sad that girls are the go-to gimmicks of gaming.
Maybe I’m over-thinking things and Lara Croft was never sexualised so crudely, but any notion that the character is some kind of bastion for the empowerment of women is untenable bullshit. We need a more realistic representation of all genders in gaming and to move away from the listless stereotypes which crop up like zombies. I’m talking about the macho grunts who put cigars out with their tongues, the curvaceous, doe-eyed temptresses who never seem to scar and the unambiguous, token LGBT cast.
Most sad of all is the perpetuation of these stereotypes at the hands of risk-averse investors. Capcom’s ballsy Remember Me is due for release this summer and is just one of many titles that has fallen foul of an audience which is perceived to be potentially repulsed by its artistic direction. According to Penny Arcade the project went along without any concern that the sex of the main character would be an issue. This was a big mistake because the female protagonist kisses men and as we all know, seeing your avatar kiss a man is the same as you kissing a man. Peep Show screwed me right up. Remember Me’s developers “never looked at [it] from a pure, cold marketing perspective because that would have endangered the consistency of the whole game” and in so doing lost potential backers who helpfully explained that “you can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.”
I admit I’ve come a long way from badge-earning Girl Scouts in Los Angeles, but my hopes do in some way rest with them. A nonpartisan approach to creativity is surely the best way to encapsulate human issues (even fantastical ones) in the medium so many of us have come to love. Who doesn’t want to see the crazy stuff they come up with?