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Gender Debate Dominates Australia's Freeplay Finale
Gender Debate Dominates Australia's Freeplay Finale
August 22, 2011 | By Saul Alexander, Kyle Orland

August 22, 2011 | By Saul Alexander, Kyle Orland
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    38 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Production, Business/Marketing



The last two panels on the final day of Australian independent games conference Freeplay this weekend weren't designed to address the issue of gender imbalance in the industry, but that was the topic that ended up dominating the discussion both on-stage and among audience members.

A panel on the role of game criticism and reporting quickly changed gears with a comment from fellow conference speaker and Sidhe Interactive designer Rob MacBride, who said he didn't "get a lot of critical, serious comics or articles from females in games."

Writer and poet Alison Croggon, the lone woman on the panel, responded with an eloquent look at entrenched gender inequality in literature and theater, but her lack of direct experience with game criticism led her to throw the question back to the other panelists: "I play games, and a huge constituency of game players are women. Is that reflected in games criticism? Or is it all boys?"

The male panelists found themselves unable to produce the name of a single female games critic or journalist, leading attendees to respond with irate Tweets on the #freeplay11 hashtag listing such women. This list included games writer Leena van Deventer, who spoke at the preceding Freeplay panel, and Walkley-award-winning journalist Tracy Lien, who was in the panel audience.

When the microphone was brought out for audience questions, the Twitter drama finally bubbled out into the panel itself. When one audience member suggested that the issue would solve itself naturally, as it supposedly has in other industries, Croggon pointed out that "in literature that it has not gone away, despite years and years and years of people talking about it."

The subject was revived during the conference's next (and final) panel, a look at "The Next Twelve Months" led by Emerging Writers' Festival Director Lisa Dempster. Her first question: "Are there going to be more women involved [in the games industry]?"

Responses addressed the disproportionately low numbers of female students in game design and programming courses (when compared to other kinds of design and communications courses) and the unhelpful representation of female characters within games.

"It's ... this huge vicious cycle; it's like this spinning cog, and we don't know where to put the bar to stop it," said panelist Trent Kusters.

But then a more hopeful Tweet came through, read out loud by panel chair Matt Ditton: "Gamers are problem solvers. If there's a community that can figure out how to recognize the women amongst us, it's us." That sentiment got a smattering of applause.

But maybe such a solution isn't something that's going to be deduced through a programmer's logic. "It's a big issue," said Ditton. "I would suggest next year we should have a panel on this." The implication? The very act of discussing the problem is the best way to work towards solving it.


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Comments


Todd Boyd
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There was one girl in all of my computer-related elective courses in high school (secondary school) and there have been a total of 2 that I saw in all of my college-level computer-related courses. I don't know what it is, but it certainly doesn't seem like an attractive major for females. I don't think their minds are any less scientific than that of males; perhaps it's a marketing and misconception problem?

Ajax Pliskin
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When I was growing up, pretty much all girls would frown upon videogames as being for sad nerdy boys. I have a niece who has been raised by my sister in law to think that videogames 'are not for girls.' This is something she's said to me many times when I've tried to get her to play some videogames. I don't believe this is unusual either.



To then be surprised that the videogame industry is heavily unbalanced by the number of men working in videogame development or journalism compared to women is a bit ridiculous. If this turns into a 'sex' war about inequality I'll get a little pissed off as everyone I've met in this industry are the kindest, most morally aware people I've ever met.



I think what you're looking at is more of a societal issue that will become more balanced in the near future as games become more and more mainstream and part of everybody's everyday life, not just in terms of the two sexes, but in terms of age and race.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"to think that videogames 'are not for girls.'" If there is any answer, it is to avoid these types of arbitrary gender norms, with respect to any hobby where gender differences do not actually affect the hobby or ability to enjoy/partake in it.

Sarah Johnson-Bliss
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"Girls suck at video games"



I hear that all the time. It's been said directly to me on occasion. Of course, I just laugh it off since they obviously have no idea what they're talking about (and frequently show them otherwise shortly thereafter). That being said, I do not think that there have been any prohibitive issues in employment in the games industry. Actually, I have had similar experiences to Ajax, with regard to industry professionals, except from a female perspective.



It's primarily the players who have been hostile, and then, only a vocal minority of them. However, this vocal minority may be enough to keep a lot of women out of the industry. Not because the employers are hostile, but because the women never get interested. Why put up with hostility, when there are so many other things one can do for entertainment?



On another side of this issue, a lot of games are not targeting a female audience (still!). We've seen massive changes lately. Social games, The Sims, Casual games... all of these have increased the female audience to at least 40% of the total. Yet, it seems like there are still lots of games that just don't get it. Many games still rely on that 14 year old boy target market. They have images of scantily clad women (e.g. armor that doesn't protect much). They have a male lead character who makes sexist remarks (ref: Duke Nukem' Forever). They have all kinds of other less obvious problems that also keep a lot of women out of the market. Do we really need these things to sell our games? Not really.



Of course, removing them from the game won't necessarily increase sales either. I see it as more of a closed vs open door. If you close the door, people don't come through it. With an open door, they do. Don't close the door on women, and they'll start to filter in. More female players means more females working inside the industry.



I wrote a research paper on this subject a few years ago. My data was from 2004, so a bit out of date today. However, in 2004, only 25% of programmers as a whole were female. Obviously, this is an incredibly low number. I am sure it has changed since then, but probably not by much. I can usually tell by the expressions on peoples faces when I announce that I am a programmer. If they seem surprised, then I know how few female programmers there must be at that particular company. There's still quite a lot of surprised expressions out there.

Cheng Ling
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The real issue is that 'balance' is a myth.



Even the people agitating for it cannot explain what it is. They have no end goal in mind. They just look at the industry, see that it doesn't conform to their idea of moral correctness, and start ranting and raving. And everyone is supposed to just nod along, because we've been brainwashed into thinking activism is always good.



No industry is 'balanced'. There will always be some group who will, for self-serving purposes, be able to scream and cry that there aren't enough left-handed Aleuts on your crewing team. We have to learn to reject them out of hand and stop pampering them.

Christopher Enderle
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Balance is what would be expected if the industry connected with the general population, and connecting with the general population is what is crucial to the game industry's growth.



That's why when a particular demographic is underrepresented, it's seen as bad, it's potential customers who haven't been tapped yet.

Christian McCrea
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Its not that its unbalanced, its that sexism goes unchallenged and even rewarded. Nobody is asking for anything more than the enforcement of the law.

Christian McCrea
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@Cheng Ling - Always good to see someone standing up for the poor defenceless status quo and attacking those awful, awful activists working for self-serving interests.

Adam Bishop
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"If this turns into a 'sex' war about inequality I'll get a little pissed off as everyone I've met in this industry are the kindest, most morally aware people I've ever met. "



That's completely the opposite of my own experiences. The amount of sexual harrassment that I witnessed at the last game developer I worked for was shocking. I've never seen anything like it in any other industry I've worked in.

Gil Salvado
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I don't why there a so few female game critics, but if read/listen to articles like 'top 5 with lisa foiles' I know, I'm not interested in such thinks as why a certain game character is hot or not, 'cause I don't care about the result. I'd like to know why. Just like when I read an article of Petra Schmitz (and yes, I had to google her to get her name right), I can read that this a person who is dedicated to games and wants to write a good article about them with all the cons and pros. But in the end, I don't care if I read a males or females article. There are a lot of male critics out there and I don't read their articles nor do I know their names.



If I should name one benefit of female game developers no matter the department, I would say its self criticism. Men tend to justify their results, don't ask for feedback or generally think of themself as superior. Part of that is what makes us male in the end.

Jonathan Murphy
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My two sisters had no interest until Final Fantasy 7. After that they were into Silent Hill, Mario Kart 64, and I even taught one of my sisters how to infinite combo in Marvel vs Capcom. I later encountered plenty of guys later who won't touch video games. You just need to show them entertainment they'd be interested in. It's a social problem. I know plenty of people who bought the 360 for Halo, Gears, COD. I got the 360 for SOTN, Vandal Hearts and SF HDRemix. If my friends pushed only those games on me I'd be in the same boat as my sisters before FF7.

Dave Endresak
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That's pretty much it, Jonathan. That is the current state of understanding of most social issues today, at least amongst feminists. That is, the real topic is social constructed norms, not individual choice or some sort of overarching conspiracy. In fact, this aspect has been highlighted since the mid to late 1990s with the growth of global communications amongst activists and academics because people discovered that they do not share the same views about many different issues and that one person's perception of sexism is not the same as someone else's.

Arahmynta Duhamel
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Exactly. Girls play less games largely because they don't KNOW about the games that are out there. I'm of the opinion that there is at least one game out there for everyone - there's such a wide variety of playstyles and aesthetics that there is guaranteed to be several games any given person would enjoy. They just don't know they're out there yet.



And I'm glad that you told us your sisters got gaming on FFVII, and not just something like The Sims. Girls are capable of more than just dollhouse games.

Cheng Ling
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Thankfully this article is free of bias. The woman had no knowledge of the subject about which she was asked to speak, and is described as 'eloquent'. The men couldn't name a female critic and are described in buffoonish terms as ignorant and confused.



I wish I could tell where the author(s) stood on this subject.



Gender is only an issue to people who make it an issue. The only real question is whether or not there is an active force stopping interested women from entering a field. The answer is clearly no. So if they choose not to enter the field you think is proper to boost their representative number to the level you think appropriate, the only people being sexist are the ones telling them that they're making the wrong choice.

Adam Bishop
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The answer is clearly no? To who? I know women who have left computer science programs because they were tired of dealing with the sexism from men (including professors) who told them that women can't do programming. I used to work at a game developer where a man stood in a common area with several women nearby and loudly declared that women were too dumb to work in the tech sector. But there's are no active forces preventing women from entering the field? Give me a break.

Dave Endresak
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No, Adam those are isolated examples. I was taught programming, both business computer programming on IBM mainframes as well as PC programming, by women, and this was back in the early 1980s.



Is there sexism in specific places? Sure, regardless of your identity (for example, look at nursing and other "pink collar" professions that are dominated by women because males cannot be good caregivers, educators of children, etc). Again, this is a hot topic for my academic studies and work, but Gamasutra is not an academic classroom. Suffice it to say that I can find female and male professors and students who would argue sexism just as I can find female and male professors and students who have very differeent views and experiences on the subject. Again, though, a major problem arises when the topic is couched as a dichotomous issue when it is not.

Katharine Neil
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In defence of Adam:

I don't know much about what goes on in comp sci departments these days but I do know what goes on inside game development studios, having worked in several. Dave, you're right that the overt, public moments of women-bashing are indeed rare. What isn't so rare are the quiet, behind closed doors sexual harassment, systematic pay discrimination and "that team won't be lead by a woman" style gendered management decisions that you never hear about unless you know the women, managers or HR personnel concerned.

Bryan Robertson
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While that experience is most unfortunate, I'd say it's more than a little unfair to draw conclusions about the whole industry, based on one workplace, or one person.



I'm not going to claim that the games industry is some kind of shining beacon of equality, based on my own anecdotal experiences, but that kind of attitude certainly wouldn't be tolerated in any of the game developers I've worked for, and rightly so.



Perhaps I've just been fortunate in the companies I've worked for, but it's been my experience that female developers are treated just the same as everyone else.

Anna Tito
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@Adam thanks.



@Chen When I first went to the uni open days and went to the compsci dept. Saying I want to study compsci they pointed me to the arts table and said "you don't really want to do this those guys will have more of what you are into." 17 and told straight out to fragg off and go do more suitable subjects. This was in Australia in 2002, it took me 4 years to come back around to compsci and now I teach programmers, though I still get the girls/artsists/designers can't code BS. Now I am old enough and self assured enough to tell them to stick it. There is pleanty of anti-female bias particularly in programming (which is just stupid Ada Lovelace anybody). That being said the worst of it is dying off (literally), there is now a broader issue of women's engagement with tech, not because they can't or don't want to, but because they are told for their entire childhood that they shouldn't... it is unseemly >_<

Jonathan Gilmore
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It's funny, as a parent of a young child I can totally see what your getting at. I know this is going way out there but I find that I have a limited tolerance for cross gender cultural norms. For instance, amazon sells a lot of baby stuff not allowing you to choose color, and I groan when the sippee they send is purple-but, I still hand it off to my kid.



Anyway, back on topic, it isn't just girls that are told tech is unseemly. It has never been hip in my lifetime for boys to like scifi, chemistry sets, etc. In fact, kids that liked that stuff, in my experience, were looked down on as nerds (Read American Nerd, he does a pretty good breakdown of this phenomenon). It might be less hip even for girls, but when even Obama is a bit of a technophobe, the gender aspect of bias against tech might only be a small part.

Dave Endresak
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@Anna:

I would be right beside you correcting them. I teach about Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper as well as many other women. Besides, people have forgotten that the original programmers were women even for electronic computers (the original ENIAC programmers were women, of course, such as Betty Holberton).



@Jonathan:

This is precisely correct, but in America. Other cultures such as India tend to revere engineering and similar "nerdy" professions. During some of my doctoral courses, I have pointed out the problem with America treating intellectual pursuits as not "real work" because "real work" must be physical. It permeats our entire society, whereas other societies developed with different norms and mores.



For those of you using a flat screen display... yep, that was developed by a woman, too, of course (Anne Chiang, who is also responsible for developing thin film transistors, or TFT, technologies).

Bryan Robertson
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I'm not going to comment on what was said on the panel, because I wasn't there and it's difficult to get the full story from a short article like this.



What I will say though, is that an inability to name any female critics isn't necessarily indicative of anything. Personally I don't think I could name a single male critic, never mind a female critic.



(Unless "Those two guys from Penny Arcade" or "That dude who does Rock Paper Shotgun" counts)



I have a bad memory for names, and generally don't pay attention to the names of the writers on articles I read. I couldn't tell you the name of a single writer for Gamasutra for example.

Saul Alexander
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@Bryan: The point is that this was a panel of supposed experts on games criticism, at a conference which was highly focused on the culture around games. And not one of them could a female games critic or journalist. That in itself says something about the culture surrounding games.

Bryan Robertson
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I didn't realise that until after I posted. Yeah, I agree that it's reasonable to expect someone on a panel for game criticism to be able to name a few female critics.

Dave Endresak
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Not really, Saul. It might very well say more about the process of choosing so-called "experts" for that particular area of the industry. It would be like having a panel of accomplished scholars for literature who focus on classics by males and don't know any female writers off the top of their head. In other words, it would be better for us to place blame at the feet of the people who selected "experts" and who did not make sure that a diverse background in expertise was represented.

Alison Croggon
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Au contraire: I was asked to speak about criticism and writing, "the words that we use", about which I know a great deal. I was consciously chosen as an interested outsider who might throw a different kind of light onto the question of games criticism. As the discussion panned out, it didn't head into those areas about which I can speak with some authority - for example, forming communities, or the influence of the web on cultural discussion, or how ideas reflected in criticism can feed back into a culture. I certainly don't know a lot about games development and the industry.



There were a lot of women there (and not a few men) who thought that gender was a problem. That means it is a problem.

Saul Alexander
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Thanks for the contribution, Alison. I didn't mean to imply that you personally should have known more about the games scene, only that it is was an unfortunate reflection on the industry that no-one on a panel about games criticism could name a female critic.

Alison Croggon
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Thanks Saul - I should have been clearer. I was responding to Cheng Ling's barbed comment: "The woman had no knowledge of the subject about which she was asked to speak, and is described as 'eloquent'." As if I were getting some kind of kid glove treatment courtesy of my sex. I was of course speaking as an outsider; that is why Paul asked me to be there. And I won't pretend knowledge where I have none. Among other things, I do, however, have lots of experience of sitting in plain sight with a long CV of work behind me, and of hearing someone ask: But where are the women? So that, at least, is hardly unfamiliar terrain...



Incidentally, Leigh, the chair, has written a long post in which he talks about THAT PANEL with a few links which extend the discussion, which is well worth a look.



http://thatpanel.blogspot.com/2011/08/hindsight-is-wonderful-thin
g.html

Dave Endresak
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Well, since this is one of my areas of academic endeavor as well as professional experience, I have a somewhat different take on it than popular perception whether amongst consumers, people in various areas of the industry, or academia.



I could talk extensively about this topic. Actually, I have done so, and continue to do so. This isn't a good medium for that, though, even though I have posted replies to similar articles or posts in the past on Gamasutra. Let me just point out a couple things to consider, and I apologize in advance for the length. ^_^;





One: Gender identity (psychological) and sexual identity (physiological) are not dichotomous, isolated choices, but rather encompass a spectrum of possibilities. If the topic is couched as a dichotomous, "male/female" topic, then the next question is what about transgendered and intersexed individuals of all types?



Two: It is not true that women do not or have not played games, and it is not true that there are not many women in the industry. I grew up during the first release of Pong, teletypes playing Spacewar, and the birth of arcades and home console systems, and I played games with plenty of girls and women. Gen Con originally focused on TSR's D&D and many events were run by female players. If you watch the original "Tron" (1982) you will see a scene near the beginning of Flynn's Arcade. This was an actual arcade used to film the scene, and you will notice plenty of girls playing as well as girls working. This was also my personal experience during the 1970s and 1980s, and during the six years I managed amusement centers from 1990 to 1996. Perhaps most importantly, gaming is global, and there are many female illustrators in Japan and other Asian countries. This includes many of the sexual portrayals of female characters that are nominally aimed at a male audience. At best, we would have to say that it is a female perception of what males find sexy, but you seldom, if ever, hear anyone complaining about misrepresetations of femininity by female artists and character designers. Likewise, you do not hear any outcry about the fact that yaoi works and otome works are made pretty much entirely by females, and that any representation of males within them is very misleading and full of misrepresentations.



Three: A person's physical, sexual identity or psychological, gender identity has nothing at all to do with whether or not someone else will find their work "good" or "bad." If everyone would stop to think about this, it would be obvious: all people who identify as female or male physically or sexually do not share the same views about various issues, topics, etc, nor do they share the same preferences in clothing, food, or other areas of life. I have had women tell me that they prefer clothing designed by male fashion designers over the offering by female fashion designers, for example, and we can see in political races that there are plenty of male and female voters on opposite sides of any issue, as well as plenty of voters of all types across the extremes of the spectrum. Historically, there are internationally well-loved stories that are heroine-focused such as "Alice in Wonderland," "Wizard of Oz," and "Carmen" that were created by males, not females. Likewise, there are works created by women that are hero-focused such as "Tale of Genji" that are enjoyed by diverse audiences. This same trend can be observed in games, of course, or other pop media such as Japanese manga and anime. Creative artists such as Rumiko Takahashi and CLAMP are internationally famous. This has nothing to do with violence or sex, either. Artists such as Carnelian are quite popular and successful even though she is known for works featuring hardcore, explicit sex and violence. Peach Pit is a team of two women artists who do not shy away from violence or sexuality. Another example would by Hatsune Miku: her character design may be by a male artist named KEI, but Sony made the huge mistake of thinking that Supercell's first album featuring Miku would be 90% male preorders when the actual demand was 45% female. It's the female cosplayers who are most visible at conventions and on video sharing sites. If we had a gaming industry that was 50/50 male/female, we would have to ask (1) where are the intersexed and transgendered individuals? and (2) within the broad male/female groups, what disagreements about story, character, content, mechanics, etc do we see? The second question would see a broad disagreement just as we see in other areas of life, of course, because everyone has different preferences and we cannot paint/stereotype an entire group with generalities.



Four: Frankly, I am tired of hearing comments about armor or other areas of fashion and claims that female characters should be decked out in head to toe plate mail. No, they should not, at least not in general, because they would be sitting ducks, just as Elven characters who wear such outfits would be sitting ducks compared to Dwarves wearing similar armor. You do not wear heavy armor that makes you almost immobile when your greatest strengths are speed, agility, and stamina. Also, for various types of characters such as spellcasters, it is far more realistic to remove anything artifical in order to remove obstacles between oneself and mystical powers. This is also the case for anyone about to embark on a major task; it is quite common for such individuals, at least in various cultures, to purify themselves by stripping and going through various purification ceremonies (including fasting, for example, in order to remove impurities). Ultimately, not everyone prefers wearing armor as it causes a trade-off of one sort or another, and not everyone who wears armor (or other outfits) has any problem with showing of physique. This varies with culture, time, social status, and other elements. We can see the difference in preferences amongst today's population, in fact. I have never heard anyone complain about the very little armor that Conan wears, when he wears any at all, nor have I heard complaints about the skintight outfit for Superman. Regarding Japanese stories, including games, it is quite common for characters of all kinds to wear aesthetically appealing outfits and have aesthetically appealing personal characteristics (e.g., ridiculously long hair such as Sailor Moon's) even if such traits are not at all "realistic." This also goes back to point #3, of course.

Sarah Johnson-Bliss
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"Four: Frankly, I am tired of hearing comments about armor or other areas of fashion and claims that female characters should be decked out in head to toe plate mail."



No one said anything about decked out head to toe. We were talking about the diametric opposite of that. Women in chainmail bikinis. Women wearing plate armor that covers everything, but shows enough cleavage that her heart would be exposed. Women wearing armor that leaves the midriff entirely exposed. All these are done specifically to sexualize the female character. I don't mind if they're wearing light armor or heavy armor, just so long as the armor is practical to the situation. Armor that exposes vital organs simply to sexualize the character is anything but practical.



Consider it this way. Put a guy in a suit of armor that leaves his entire muscular chest exposed. Lots of women like that. The rest of him can be suited in heavy plate, or whatever would be appropriate. However, the suit is still ridiculous because his entire chest is exposed! This is equal in absurdity to those I listed above, and for exactly the same reasons.

Dave Endresak
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Put it this way: have you read the recent lawsuit about the 15 and 16 year old girls in Indiana who posted very sexual and suggestive photos on Facebook? If not, go find it - it is recent news. My point is that complaints about aesthetic design are subjective to each individual. Not all girls would do what those girls did even in private, let alone posting such photos. However, those girls wanted to do it and did so, and their right to do so has been upheld even though the court stated that it was juvenile and other negative descriptive terms.



Lack of armor is not automatically sexual, and things that are perceived as sexual by one culture are not perceived the same way in another. The same is true for individuals. Likewise, even if something is perceived as sexual, different people have different views on it. Some will feel that it is "wrong" "sinful" etc while others will feel that it is "empowering" "beautiful" etc.



My point was that such posts about armor on female characters attempt to generalize one person's views about what is a "good design" to everyone, but that is absolutely not valid.



I'll offer another example from games. I saw one woman post a complaint on her blog about Reimi Saionji from Star Ocean: The Last Hope because of her boots, particularly her heels. The absurdity of such a complaint in a game featuring fantastical settings and characters, abilities, etc, including male characters who are just as "unrealistically" dressed, should be obvious, I would think. Aside from the fantasic settings, our "reality" is subjective to each of us and cannot be measured objectively, so we have no way of knowing if any objective reality even exists. To claim something as "unrealistic" is pointless.



Sarah, this example and its point relates to your reply because you are arguing for a certain aesthetic based on your subjective, individual perception of what is "good," "acceptable," "realistic," "practical," etc. My characters are always female and always wear very little because they are nature spirits. In fact, they would wear nothing at all if they were "real" and performing various arcane arts, as is often the case in certain belief systems and rituals (as I mentioned). That is much more "realistic" for their reality and abilities. Is it sexual? Sure, in some ways, because sexuality has power.



One final example: the French film "Innocence" was by a female director, but received some negative backlash claiming it wass "pornography" (even though it has only one nude scene in the entire film). The director has stated in interviews that it does not fit her definition of pornography because it is not gratutitous, or at least she did not film it in a way that she intended it to be gratutitous, despite the perception that some people had when they watched it. That's a very good example from live action film of the problem with any claims about visual aesthetics, including design of armor.

Matt Cramp
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This strikes me as the "7-year-old that's really a 700-year-old immortal" defence. Aspects of the setting that excuse sleaziness do not make them suddenly not sleazy. Because the work is a creation, it's rooted (consciously or not) in that culture's point of view; it's a created work. Taking the nature spirits as an example, it's perfectly valid to say that they're naked because they're nature spirits, or that they're nature spirits because they're naked. They were created naked, after all; everything in a work of fiction is under the creator's control, and the creator was entirely capable of coming up with some justification for why these nature spirits are "supposed" to be naked but all the ones we see are wearing clothes. As the audience, we determine where we believe the creator's loyalties actually lie.



I find it hard to believe this is a topic of academic endeavour for you considering that you do a lot more excusing of sexist behaviour than you do acknowledging it. I find it considerably easier to believe, especially as you've revealed that this applies to your own work, that you're uncomfortable about being called out.

Trina Schwimmer
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Hi everyone! Six years ago I started GamingAngels.com as a place for women to write about games. This was in response to a panel of Game Magazine editors telling me they would never hire a female to write about games. We are independent, so we're not as big as most sites, but I enjoy giving women a place to start writing. Many have moved on to paying jobs in the industry or writing from building their resume on GA.



In the end, it's not about which gender is writing about games. It's the game industry blind to the fact that women are writing about games. Which leads them to the same stereotypical choices of who to make games for, and how to host their press events etc.

Dave Endresak
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Well, it's people in general ignoring the facts of history.



For example, people ignoring the fact that the original ENIAC programmers were women... yes, this still happens. People ignore the fact that the Japanese profession of geisha was created by males for male entertainers, and then women completely took over the profession and business over the next century or so after it was created. Same concept.



In my academic work, I have had to fight against "scholars" who do not realize that there have been plenty of excellent heroines in video games, including landmark products that were a first of their kind. For example, the first Phantasy Star, or Ys I & II, both landmark titles and franchises, but ignored for their contributions to the industry except by media scholars (perhaps) and featuring exceptional heroines. American McGee's Alice and the new Alice: Madness Returns. Chun-Li from Street Fighter II is still the only character of the franchise to have her own live action movie adaptation. Dead or Alive offered many firsts, including the first fighting game to offer even numbers of male/female characters, all with unique fighting styles, nationalities, etc. Roberta Williams, of course, founded Sierra Online with her husband, Ken, and created the graphic adventure game genre in the Western market. The entire genre of bishoujo gaming in Japan has many titles with excellent heroines (and many female artists creating them).



Etc.

Katharine Neil
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It's good to see these issues are being raised and debated.



I agree, there should be panel about it next year.



But I hope someone pointed out that there was a panel on the issues facing women working in the game industry (which I chaired) at Free Play in 2004, and the year after... and probably every Free Play since then.



Around these panels some work was done to instigate initiatives to address some of problems women quietly face in the Australian industry: issues like maternity leave, working hours, sexual harrassment, pay disparity, professional development, opportunites for mentoring and recruitment. Some of these problems are faced by men too, but sometimes disproportionately affect women.



It's no mystery, nor does it require some TED talk-worthy innovative design solution to address the key underlying reasons for why women are still having a hard time in the Australian game industry.



Sure, have less sexist content in games etc. But let's not forget that female game developers and critics are workers. If the industry can't manage fair pay, decent working conditions, non-hostile workplaces and real opportunities for career progression then all the pro-female careers fairs and female-friendly window dressing in the world isn't going to mean shit.

Dave Endresak
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Yes, Katharine, that is the general trend in academia, as well, for courses such as Women in Business or other areas of feminist studies. Specifically, that any issue is not isolated, but is part of an interconnected whole. Interestingly enough, this is more of an East Asian philosophy of life. The different needs for people in different societies is an important focus of education today because we are in a global environment, not a local or national one.



For what it's worth, I raised the issue of ethnocentrism in our new courses for the simulation, animation, and gaming major at the university I am at. However, the general response has been to slot such concerns into individual student projects despite the fact that game companies are globalizing and hiring international work teams. I tried, anyway, and I'll keep trying. I mention this in case anyone wonders why Western artists continue to do really ugly "realistic" character designs rather than the "unrealistic" but beautiful designs from their East Asian colleagues from Japan, Korea, and China. I think that in many instances, it's a result of their educational environment.

Ellis Kim
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I feel like the first step to solving this dilemma of inspiring more young women into the field of videogame development is to create the seeds of that inspiration through games that would generate interest from those types of demographics. From the beginning of the existence of commercialized videogames, "girl games" have been nothing but the most pandering of inspid licensed products that do nothing but insult its audience.



I feel like there needs to be a large injection of the Hayao Miyazaki-esque feminist spirit and representation in videogames now for the sake of its future growth, meaning strong representation of independant characters that overcome their flaws and turmoil in a melodrama-style that appeals to women. They don't need to be deep, just not vapid.



To use some examples of what I mean, I would categorize action titles like the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw, or past games like WET and Bayonetta, to tread that line of female empowerement combined with mindless fun. That said, games either need to start avoiding chauvinism or make fun of it. Beyond Good and Evil tends to be cited a lot as being representative of a strong female role, or even The Longest Journey, but they're just two examples out of hundreds of thousands of games where that's not the case.



The classic examples of games that women have traditionally been associated as loving are either socially-oriented titles (e.g. The Sims, Facebook games), or abstract mental challenges (e.g. puzzle games, point-and-click, Myst, Civilization), but to attract a larger interest and audience, two things need to happen: Better visual representation of compelling female protagonists (Femshep of Mass Effect doesn't count as she's been absent from the series's marketing for the first two titles), and actual effort/marketing of said titles within the young female demographic mindshare, i.e. Cosmopolitan, Teen People Magazine, etc.



Presently, a lot of groundwork and mentality behind what games are has changed through Facebook, smart phones, and the Wii, except the Wii still made the impression that games are nothing but toys, while Facebook and smartphones suggest themselves to be time wasters. The diverse MMORPG audience might demonstrate wider penetration, but its done nothing to change the mental image of what videogames are for the general public and those who are still in the dark on the matter.

Hanneke Debie
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One problem of the discussion is that when someone says 'we need more female characters in games', the reply will be among the lines of why such a balance should be 'forced', along some examples where a female lead character would not have worked. Then add some comment about how the industry isn't in some kind of conspiracy to keep female characters out.



That response does not adress the issue for me, really. I think that the problem is not that the female gender is not picked for the lead character - I think the problem is that it is never even considered. That does not even happen on purpose, the very idea that a lead character could be female too just never really enters the heads of many designers during the development stage.

And when a lead character is female, it suddenly is a big deal. It is a central and important part of her character. For example - Alex, the lead character of Prototype is a person looking for his lost memories and past, and finding out why he is what he is. The fact that he is a guy doesn't matter much in the story or for those reviewing and playing the game. The fact that Lara croft is a girl is an 'issue' bigger then her cupsize! It DEFINES her as a character.

In that regard, jade is much an improvement. She might as well have been a guy and the game would not have changed for it. So when a game has a character that does not require superbeef, don't just pick the standard option without thinking about it - try picking a girl. And it may be 'weird' at first, and feel as if it will in some way change the game, but it won't. Not as long the thought behind the scenes will be 'OMG WE GOT A GIRL!'



And that is why the ongoing debate is a good thing: People need to have it rammed into their heads, into their consciousness every day, so when they create a character they can actually stop and think(!!) before picking the 'default' automatically.



There are good examples of female characters in games, however, male characters outnumber them. And on top of that, I have the feeling that many strong female characters originate from Japanese games. That is making sense, as Japan is far ahead when it comes to balance between female and male characters in media. Just look at the movies they make!


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