It’s common knowledge that videogames are predominantly a male pastime, backed up by many studies. Hell, even videogame characters are mostly male. Females are marginalised, yet their voice is growing stronger every day.
I recently sat down with self confessed casual gamer Amy Balloch, aspiring developer Kimberly Dawson, digitallyblonde.com’s Carol Zara and Gamer Limit’s very own Jessica Famularo. I asked our eclectic mix of ladies about how they started gaming, their position on Ubisoft’s Frag Dolls, how they feel they’re treated online and more.
Read on for some answers you may find surprising.
How did you first get into video games?
Amy: It was around the young age of eight, my Uncle who owned a Sega Saturn and Atari 2600 consoles gave these to me to play away the holidays one summer. I fell head over heels for Sonic the Hedgehog’s character and charm.
Kim: I got my first console game, Tomb Raider when I was seven. At that time I had a Sega Saturn, then soon after I got a Playstation. I love the fact that it is a female character who plays the lead as you don’t get that often. It’s completely different from most other games where you have to play a male character.
Carol: Our 1st system was the NES. I first got into games because of my younger brother and my cousin. We would get together during summer. No school, just games all day, was the time of our lives. After leaving my first Super Nintendo in Brazil, I bought my second at a flea market here in Canada, but it didn’t last long. Playstation was introduced to me years ago by an ex-boyfriend.
Jess: I’ve been playing games as far back as I can remember. My dad is a big tech geek, so we had an Atari 2600 and a Commodore 64, both of which he encouraged me to play. There are pictures of me on the computer with my dad, and I couldn’t be more than 3 years old at the time. I loved the kiddie Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse games they had for the Commodore, but I also loved playing games like Pacman and Forbidden Forest.
So what type of games do you enjoy playing now?
Carol: Fighting games of course! Right now, I have an eighty gigabyte Playstation 3. I own Streetfighter 4, Transformers, Watchmen and Soul Calibur. I have rented/borrowed others, and honestly if I had more money, I’d own a lot more games.
Amy: I honestly have no preference when it comes to games. I’m up for trying anything new that’s out in the market as long as it’s action-packed and stimulating. I’ve always loved the Grand Theft Auto games as even when you’ve completed the storyline missions, there’s so much to do! Other favorites include Crash Bandicoot, the Tekken series and my all-time, ultimate favourite: Guitar Hero!
Kim: I love cute games like Spyro the Dragon, but also the more brutal games like Resident Evil and GTA – I have a huge collection! I usually play MMORPG’s as I like that they are very open and you can interact with the other players. I also design online games and am currently re-designing the MuOnline RPG.
Jess: I don’t know if I can pick just one type! As an English major, I am quite partial to the RPG genre. I love the rich storylines that come with a solid RPG, something that’s hard to find in other types of games. I also enjoy a good FPS like Half Life, I also love action games and fighting games.Plus racing games. Okay, so that sounds like almost every brand of game you could think of. Basically, if it’s a good game with sturdy gameplay and a sturdier story I’ll probably like it, although if I had to choose just one I would definitely side with the RPG.
What do you think of games that are marketed specifically at girls? Such as fashion and dress up games?
Amy: I go by the opinion ‘each to their own’ so it doesn’t particularly bother me either way if games are designed with a female personality in mind or not. I think even if games are marketed to a stereotype, then there is going to be a buyer out there belonging to that stereotype. I doubt I know anyone above the age of twelve that plays the likes of the Barbie or Bratz games and if I do, I will surely disown them.
Kim: Games are games! I can’t say I agree with the girly games being created specifically for girls, they’re not really my thing, and I don’t think they’re that interesting if I’m completely honest! I don’t think there should be a divide and games shouldn’t be created specifically for each gender. It makes it sound like: “girls are only allowed to play Bratz Rock Angelz and boys must play GTA!” I don’t know any girls my age who have girly games, most of them like Resident Evil.
Jess: This is a tricky question because there isn’t a truly black or white answer when it comes to these games. It’s true, they do market toward female stereotypes, some of them towards negative ones that could possibly be harmful to the young girls they generally are targeted toward, yet some of them appeal to what girls like. When I was a little girl I loved Barbie dolls, so yes, some of the games marketed towards girls are successful because they appeal to what girls like.
I, for one, love Cooking Mama. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but it’s fun! Of course, some of these games do promote negative stereotypes towards females. Games like Majesco’s Drama Queens, where the ultimate goal is to attain popularity by scheming against your “best friends” and hooking up with as many of their boyfriends as you possibly can, in my opinion, be more harmful than the standard video game violence. They promote ideas, perceptions that go back hundreds of years.
Carol: If I was 8 years old, I would probably be interested in dressing up virtual dolls. Because I’m a big girl now, I’d love to see the game version of “playing doctor”.
When you play games online, how are you treated?
Jess: I’m mostly a solitary gamer unless I’m playing with my friends. However, I have played Final Fantasy XI extensively, including through end game. There are loads of horror stories out there of girls getting all kinds of grief when it becomes apparent that they really are female via Team Speak. I’ve never used a voice chat client for games though, so I don’t really have much experience regarding that.
However, some funny things have happened to me during my time on FFXI. I’ve had people flat out refuse to believe me when it somehow comes up in conversation that I’m a girl. I’ve gotten creepy messages and friend requests from party members, who upon gathering at our camp site realized that my character was female. Overall though, most people may be a bit surprised, but they’re very cool about it. I was respected because I was knowledgeable of the game and kept my parties and alliances alive without causing any down time.
Carol: It’s actually funny, when I play Street Fighter 4 [online] for my UStream show, the guys like to cheer for me to beat the other guys.
Amy: I’ve played a few games online, but I can truthfully say I have never felt singled out or treated differently purely because of my gender
Kim: Sometimes you get the occasional nutter asking you: “why are you playing games when you’re a girl? Don’t you have a life? Don’t you have a boyfriend?” etc, but I just ignore it. I’ve turned my hobby for games in to my job now, so I’ve learnt to rise above it. I’m like one of the boys anyway, I’m really laid back and I love a beer, so I always blend in and if someone finds it hard to accept me I just PWN them!
What do you think of the Frag Dolls, and the image they portray?
Amy: I had never before heard of the Frag Dolls before. I checked out their website and after reading about what they do I think they definitely promote a good sense and image for girl gamers. Everything is about equality nowadays, so promoting awareness that girls do involve themselves in games isn’t a bad thing.
Carol: I like them and to be honest, I’d love to be part of the team. They represent gamer girls very well.
Jess: I’m conflicted over the Frag Dolls. They say they speak at game conferences on girl gaming and work towards encouraging girls to pick up video games. Yet at the same time, they are ultimately funded by UbiSoft, conveniently enough they all look pretty decent in those teeny Frag Doll t-shirts they have to wear. When you look at them, do you see them as a group that would inspire girls to try a video game, or do they look like a group of hot chicks UbiSoft shows around to sell games to the male majority of video gamers?
Kim: I’d never heard of them until now. Honestly, I’m not really in to the “girls for gaming” thing, because to me it is only emphasising the subject more, and creating an even bigger divide between genders. It’s also quite sexist. To me there only exists a “gaming community” – there is no such thing as a “girls gaming community” or a “boys gaming community”. It’s quite a cheesy website too! Sorry!
So there we have it, publishers, developers and the media cannot simply lump every games playing female into a box named “girl gamers” and expect it to fit. With such varying opinions, doing so would seem idiotic, yet some media outlets still do. Like Kim surmised perfectly “there is only a gaming community”, within that community there exists so many cultures, races and creeds. The person you play against or with is a gamer, the rest is irrelevant.
(Header image courtesy of derekprospero.com.)