Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Girls Play More Video Games? Kinda Sorta

Image: Ars Technica
I love video games and I happen to be a girl. This is a fact that tends to make people's heads explode. Girls! Playing video games! What sorcery is this! Surely it's a sign of the downfall of society as we know it! Video games have long been seen as the realm of men with disposable income who like to swear like sailors when playing Call of Duty. Often video games aren't truly appreciated for what they also are; works of art with stories that would win Oscars if the Academy considered video games. I've laughed myself sick and bawled my eyes out while playing games. We've come a long way since the days of Space Invaders and Pong.

As everyone knows, girls playing video games are often subjected to harassment, rape threats and other abuse from the male gamer demographic and that's why a study released earlier this week made huge waves in the gaming community. The Entertainment Software Association (known for policing and providing ratings on games) issued an annual report about the state of gaming. They found that the average age of gamers is 31 and, shockingly, twice as many women are playing games now than men.

Oh, the strum und drang of it all! The wringing of hands! The threats and general outcry! WOMEN! Playing more games than MEN? HOW?!

Well, unfortunately, it isn't the news I had been hoping it was. I envisioned legions of ladies playing Bioshock: Infinite or Tomb Raider, or fragging the absolute shit out of people in Titanfall. Maybe with our increased numbers we could put an end to the abuse women gamers too often suffer. Alas, this report was a bit foggy on real hard details but it seems as if the increased numbers of women gamers are mostly those playing on mobile devices. Kim Kardashian, this is clearly your fault.

Is this a video game?
Where console games are concerned, men still make up an overwhelming percentage of players. They're more likely to own more than one console and devote more money to them. Women, on the other hand, seem to play more social games on their mobile devices, such as Candy Crush and the Kim Kardashian dress up game. Everyone is playing games, but not everyone is playing the same types of games.

This leads me to wonder, what counts as a video game? I don't think I'd count Candy Crush on the same level as The Last of Us but they're ranked the same in the study. That's why women beat out male gamers and why the greatest player growth has been in women over 50. Your mom isn't sitting down after a long day at work to play MarioKart but she might get in a few rounds of Angry Birds during her lunch hour. Which is more valid? I'll give you once guess what the consensus is on that one.

The study was met by a lot of hope (yay, women gamers!) a lot of scorn (ugh, women gamers!) and a lot of mocking the idea that mobile games are actually "real" games. Should they count in the grand scheme of things? What makes a console game more worthy of the term "video game"? This distinction also begins to show a troubling aspect because it's often the case that things that interest women are considered "niche" or "lesser". Women read more books than men do but, pssh, it's probably just all trashy romance novels, amirite? Not award winning literary fiction. Women play more games than men do but, bah, it's just Temple Run. Not something immersive or important like World of Warcraft. Anything liked overwhelmingly by women is always looked down upon. The worst insult you can say about something is that it's liked by teenaged girls. I can't even express how exhausting, mind-bendingly wrong that sentiment is. These are actual things I've seen or heard. A woman reading (or godforbid writing) literary fiction is just as bewildering to some men as a woman choosing to spend an afternoon playing WildStar. I know this is a shock, but women aren't this hive-minded monolithic block. We're all individuals. I know, I know, that's a lot to take in.

Lara Croft and Nathan Drake
This study isn't going to change the views of gamers and it won't change the view of the companies that make console games either. They still can't "afford" to animate women (lookin' at you, Assassin's Creed) or using them as background objects to be won, lost and objectified. Even Lara Croft, one of the most badass video game heroines of all time was almost rebooted with a gritty rape backstory because, of course, you can't be a strong woman and go raiding some tombs without having a tragic violent event in your past. Where's Nathan Drake's gritty rape backstory? Oh, that's right, he's a GUY so he doesn't need one to go steal shit from ancient cultures in the Uncharted series.

So, despite the hope in the study, women gamers are still at square one. The bottom feeder misogynists have been out in full force over this study and a few prominent female gamers have been threatened with the usual MRA hat trick of violence and rape. Trust me, don't read the comments on any article about this, you'll weep for humanity and wonder what we've done as a gender to earn such blinding, obstinate hatred. No matter what we do, we're always doing it wrong, apparently.
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  1. I wonder if the same people that don't want to count mobile games were okay with their brethren, such as Tetris or Bust-A-Move? More importantly, WHY DO THEY CARE?

    There's so much more I want to say, but I'm so, so tired. (sigh)

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