Sexism on the gaming scene: a woman's perspective

Posted by Audrey Wells.
First posted on 16 December 1999. Last updated on 21 February 2007.
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Sexism on the gaming scene: A woman's perspective
Grace is reasonably dressed, with an average bust size. She does not exhibit her body and proves her worth in brainpower. Lara is dressed in inadequate, tight, and uncomfortable clothing with a bosom that can cripple a normal woman. She flaunts not only her guns but her body as well. She uses both frequently to advance in the game. Who do you think women with regard for their self-image prefer to play?

It seems that there is much heated discussion about sexism on the gaming scene these days. Though many people may not even care or pay attention to gender equality (or lack thereof), others work themselves into raging fits over the issue. In my opinion, it is important to remember that there are all types of people and all kinds of tastes.

It has been once a popular idea that women do not play computer games, as if they are some foolish pursuit and a waste of time. In fact, there are many women who play and enjoy computer games. Yet women are barely beginning to get recognition as a viable market in the computer gaming industry. It is also a common perception that women prefer adventure or puzzle "thinking" games. Though I suspect this may be true, overall, there are 'always' exceptions to the rule. So what if a woman likes to play Quake? She can and should play what she enjoys. The same goes for men. I find it disappointing that the industry thinks that female gamers only want cutesy little games in pink boxes that allow you to do make up, hair, and play Barbie. Is that their idea of appealing to the female market? That 'only' reinforces the gender biases in our society. Perhaps the only key to getting rid of stereotypes like these is to change the underlying societal attitudes! This is, of course, easier said than done. The only thing that can accomplish it is time.

Sexism in Tomb Raider

Take the endlessly popular action/adventure Tomb Raider series, for example. The games, as a whole, are very obviously aimed at the male market, particularly pubescent boys. Originally, Lara Croft is tough, beautiful, and intelligent. She is, as some have said, the female answer to Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, Eidos has since aggressively marketed her as a sex symbol. As the series progresses, Lara has taken on a sexual demeanor and her figure has evolved into an impossibly buxom young woman with a microscopic waist and scanty, tight clothing. Now tell me, do you wear a tank top and shorts that nearly reaches your crotch into the wintry mountains? I doubt it. I also doubt that it is merely an oversight on the Eidos' part. As a female gamer, I am resentful that Eidos does not emphasize Lara's qualities that really count (such as intelligence, confidence, or agility) but makes her a sex object in order to appeal more to the male market. By doing so, the publisher has completely disregarded the female market. Personally, I never allow myself to be portrayed in the brazen manner that Lara Croft has been—nor do I enjoy playing a game that gives women such a negative connotation.

Role model in Gabriel Knight

Now look at another popular series, Gabriel Knight. It is important to note that since games from this series are adventure games, they focus much more on the story and characters than do games from the Tomb Raider series. The characters in the Gabriel Knight series are realistic—physically, emotionally, and otherwise. This is because they all have flaws 'and' all the assets. For example, the leading female character, Grace Nakimura, possesses a very complex personality. She is not overtly beautiful or sexy, and she does not a perfect figure. She is, however, witty and intelligent, and she has problems that nearly every woman can relate to. Grace is popular among female and male adventure gamers alike because she is realistic. She uses her head to get things done, without resorting to violence or sexuality which are very often used by Lara.

Above all, it is imperative that gamers try to accept and understand each other's differences, regardless of gender. Remember that there are all types of people and all kinds of tastes. My personal preference is towards adventure games. However, there is a multitude of women who love first-person shooters and other types of games. It is my opinion that game companies should attempt to cater to everyone within their game's genre, not just a particular market. By estranging most of the female market, such as Eidos Interactive with Tomb Raider, a company is reducing much of its potential consumer base. It seems reasonable to me that there are benefits to be reaped all around by attempting to decently include women in the gaming industry by not portraying them in an incredibly unrealistic manner.

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