Girls On Games (With Thanks To MP.net)

November 22, 2011

Time to take a break from the slew of SWTOR posts I’ve been tossing up on here lately. Today, I’d like to bring your attention to a great post by Steve “Slurms” Lichtsinn, blogger and podcast host for Multiplaying.net.

A couple weeks ago, I got an email from Slurms asking if I would like to answer a few questions for an article that he’d been planning on for quite some time. It was to be a feature about women and gaming, and he wanted to know if he could get some of my opinions on the topic.

I was happy to participate for a few reasons. First of all, I found many of his questions to be interesting and insightful. Second, I think it’s great that people are actually contemplating these matters and are willing to reach out to female gamers to find out more. It definitely takes a discerning mind a certain amount of guts to approach others with a delicate topic such as this, God know we ladies can be a little scary sometimes. And third, I ended up having a lot of fun answering his questions.

I’ve received the go-ahead to repost my own responses here, but I do encourage you to check out the original article on Multiplaying. Over there, Slurms has included the answers from four other lovely gaming ladies from the blogosphere/twitterverse: Stargrace, Arislyn, Maeve, and Doc Swarley. I have to say it was fascinating to be able to read their thoughts regarding women and their place in gaming, and realize many of us appear to be on the same page.

* * *

Are you concerned with the current state in gaming in regards to how women are viewed? Is it too male dominated from an in game, lead character role, a developer role, or both?

Could there be more done in terms of how women are viewed in gaming? Always. But am I concerned? Currently, my honest answer has to be no. But then I’ve always been told I’m a glass-half-full kinda girl and you’d have to go out of your way to offend me, so take my answer with a grain of salt. I actually think women have come a long way in the industry, both in our games and in the gamer demographic. I wish I could give more insight into this question, but I’ve just never really sat down and contemplated this or encountered any reasons to despair for the future of women in gaming.

I do think gaming could benefit from being more a more welcoming and attractive hobby to female gamers, though. And yet, no matter what the industry does, I think our society still has a lot more to do with this. Gaming still isn’t considered as mainstream as I’d like, let alone be seen as a “girl” thing, and I still get weird looks sometimes when I tell people I game or that I write a game blog.

This is probably a stupid question, but would you like to see more female protagonists? Or at the very least, the option for one i.e. Mass Effect?

I don’t think it’s a stupid question. When there’s an option to play a female protagonist in a game, I ALWAYS choose it. It’s a personal choice, as it makes it easier for me to relate to the character, especially if it’s an RPG. I always appreciate developers for giving gamers more options.

And I love it when I see strong female protagonists, I wouldn’t mind seeing more. Be that as it may, it wouldn’t do to just insert them into a game for the sake of HAVING strong female characters either, or making that decision at the cost of game quality like story, etc. I notice a lot of voices currently appealing to developers for a stronger female presence in games, and while I agree and also admire their efforts, I personally prefer not to push the issue TOO much. I’d rather see a sincere effort than mere tokenism that would be a disservice.

I don’t mean to ask this in a negative way, but, do you feel that women are harder to please, thus making games for women a more difficult task?

Oh man, I am totally the wrong person to ask. Are women harder to please? Some are. Sometimes. Heck, I can be pretty high maintenance too about certain things (just ask my husband), but when it comes to my geeky interests and hobbies like games, movies, comics, etc. I gotta say I’m as easy going as they come. Forget the little details, just entertain me and give me fun, dammit! That’s all I ask, and if you deliver, then no complaints from me.

Ultimately, do you think that the core problem has more to do with the audience, or the creators? (i.e. do you believe that a game with a strong female lead isn’t being done much because of the people who buy the games, or is it a gold mine waiting to be cracked open by a studio who’s not scared to go for it?)

I don’t think it’s the former, because I believe historically games with strong female leads have generally been received quite well. With regards to your question about the audience or the creators, I may have already touched upon this in an earlier answer, but I think it’s a two-way street. Before creators can make any headway on the issue, there may be a few socio-cultural obstacles to overcome first, like the gamer image, and such.

If someone does create a “Triple A” title with a female lead, what would you suggest they do to keep the character likable by a majority of female gamers?

Keep her “real”. She can be drop-dead gorgeous, a super-heroine or whatever, just as long as there’s something about her that we can care about — whether it’s her hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, etc. She’s got to be relatable to be likeable. Come to think of it, if you ask me, a lot of male leads in games these days can stand to be fleshed out like that too. Whether it’s games or books etc., I always love myself a good story, and they are always better when I can connect with the characters.

Do you hate the fact that people even talk about this? Part of why I’ve never written a post like this before is because I always figured women who are actually gamers (not the “GRL GAMER, look at my bewbs, oh btw I like Mario” type) are in some way disgusted when this stuff comes up and that I would come off like a jerk by even trying to include them in the conversation.

No, I don’t hate the fact people talk about this, even though I realize I rarely broach the topic myself. My blog name may be MMO Gamer Chick, but I’m aware I don’t often talk about female gamer issues. It’s not because I’m disgusted by or don’t like to talk about this stuff, but rather because my gaming life is more about the games, and I identify on the blog as a gamer first and foremost, the female thing being secondary.

Whether I agree with them or not, I’m always open to reading others’ thoughts and opinions on any topic, and maybe to offer my own. Actually, I think it’s quite awesome that people are aware of issues in gaming and are taking time to contemplate them and opening up to discourse. And I have to say it’s also kinda brave of you, as you’re touching upon a subject on which A LOT of people have A LOT of differing opinions, and I’ve seen sometimes that these discussions can get out of hand. The fact that you are even worrying and have to ask this question shows that it is controversial.


  1. The parenthetical comment in the last question made me Laugh!
    I’ll go read the full article, but I’m assuming he only asked women. It would be interesting to see these questions answered about women from some male gamers. It would also be interesting to see them answered by some women and men working in games development.

    I get a lot of preconceived notions about what I’m all about as a woman who games. I think it surprises people who expect some kind of rant or flaming reply, to find that a lot of women are pretty laid back like you. I do hate some things in games, like female warriors in mini-skirts and spike heels, but those tend to be Asian influenced anyway. But honestly, who is NOT going to break an ankle swinging a giant two handed sword while wearing 3 inch stiletto heels? LOL

    • I think most women who game are actually quite laid back, but the really outspoken ones are…well, the outspoken ones that might give others the wrong the impression that we’re really sensitive about the topic.

      I don’t mind boobs and scantily clad women in games so much, but maybe it’s because of my background (as a freelance artist catering to a lot of sci fi/fantasy/pop culture fans, I do a lot of commissions featuring beautiful women). I think a female character can be attractive and sexy and still be a symbol of power and inner strength.

      The heels though, LOL. Weird that I don’t bat an eye at the metal bikinis or mini skirts that say, warrior women in games wear, but when I see heels on them it drives me nuts. It makes my own feet hurt, remembering long days in the office wearing pumps. I see my characters fighting and running around rough terrain in high heels and I can’t help but laugh.

      • I actually don’t mind sexy looking female avatars. I tend not to use the more comical or over exaggerated feature setting options for mine. I find some of the armor choices for warrior types a bit silly, but unless they look really bad (I still shudder at a bare midriff/garter stocking combo my death knight had for a while in WOW), I don’t avoid them.
        I’m not a fan of pink, so the pink armor for Ashley in ME was a bit off putting to me. When it came time to put pink and white armor on Wrex though, I refused to do it. So yeah, I’m a little quirky about character appearance, but usually only with the really over the top and totally out of character options. And no spike heels, ever. LOL.

      • LOL speaking of exaggerated features, I’ll admit, I’m the kind of girl who pushes the boob slider all the way to the right if I am given the choice. It’s my character and it’s a game world where I don’t have to live with the unfortunate consequences of gravity, so I’m like, why the hell not? Haha. But I’m also the type who would put pink on Wrex just for shits and giggles, so don’t mind me 😛

  2. This is an interesting topic – one with a surprisingly large amount of fire traps if you’re not careful (as a male gamer).

    The stuff below is going to be my thoughts on female characters in media (not just video games).

    I think my opinion on that particular subject is much broader than video games, though. Honestly, I apply the same opinion to film, books, and all other forms of media. That opinion is thus: I like female characters that stand on a strong character base, where gender is secondary to the character’s own status as an interesting character. I don’t want a strong female character first, I want a strong CHARACTER first – whether or not she’s female should come second.

    There is a tendency to write female characters three ways – and this extends well beyond video games:

    1.) The female character is not only strong, she is overly butch. It’s as if the writers, in their zeal to authenticate the character’s toughness, felt like the character had to eschew all manner of femininity in order to make them feel authentic as a strong personality.

    2.) The female character is all about sex appeal. “Look at this girl, she’s half naked! That’ll get their attention!” Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that from my vantage point (healthy, straight American male), but there has to be more to a good female character than just the lust factor. Sadly, too many writers hang their hats on this, and never really flesh them out much further. Or, worse, they tack on a hackneyed plot to try to give them depth – which usually doesn’t work.

    3.) The female is ultra feminine – at the expense of level-headed practicality. These are the damsels-in-distress, the ones that need to be rescued by the hero. That or they are the love interest, meant to appeal to the hero rather than stand with them.

    These three archetypes of feminine heroes have their place in literature, film, books, but the best main female characters have much more depth.

    One example I always use for this kind of character (a good, interesting female lead character, in my personal opinion), is Ellen Ripley from Aliens.

    In Aliens, Ripley didn’t come off to me as a character trying to be anything – she was just Ripley, and she did her job. She could be assertive – but as a woman. Not a woman trying to be assertive like a man. She had confidence, and leadership ability. She could be tender to a child, and still pick up a gun and do what needed to be done. She was a sturdy, practical female lead that didn’t have to sacrifice heart and femininity to be awesome. That is because she was a strong character first – the fact that she was a female was secondary (and always should be, in my opinion).

    I love seeing female characters that stand WITH males. Isn’t that what equality is supposed to be about – standing shoulder to shoulder, not one in front of the other? I never understood why a female character, in order to be believable as strong, has to be written as unfeeling, or without the softer emotions.

    Maybe that’s because I grew up with a mother who cried anytime something touched her heart (which was extremely often). The same woman who changed her own tires, wasn’t afraid to do heavy lifting with myself and my dad, and always said “Every second you spend whining about something is another second something isn’t getting done.” She is one of the most feminine ladies I’ve ever known, but she’s also very strong; I don’t understand why it has to be either/or.

    I guess a lifetime with that example has taught me that the best women are multifaceted. The best female characters in stories, for me, have traits that transcend gender (courage, humanity, valor, fortitude, intelligence), while still retaining their feminine traits. Caring, crying doesn’t show weakness to me – it just shows heart.

    But like you said, I do think guys in stories could do with some of the same cultivating of interesting personality. The best male characters are equal parts strength and heart. After all, even one of the most badass men in Star Wars history, the immortal Han Solo, could still tell his lady he loved her in Episode VI (and in a moment that made me smile, receive the same “I know.” in response).

    It’s really all just a balancing act.

    As for female gamers, I see them much the same way. I don’t understand why you can’t just hang with a girl gamer, shoot the shit, and not make a sexual comment or constantly bring up gender. Gender doesn’t affect skill, and it sure as hell doesn’t affect worth in any way, shape or form. It’s just something incidental. You’re a girl? Cool. I’m a guy. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go kick the shit out of something.

    If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

    • Wow, very very well said. You’re right, this is an area where male gamers feel the need to tread lightly when expressing their opinion, and while I’m sure there’s always someone somewhere who will take issue with your points, I totally agree with everything you said.

      IMO, people are trying too hard to “make” a female character, instead of letting the female character just “be” if you know what I mean. The three tendencies you listed above are examples of this, trying to cram a female character into a role or make her a symbol for something. In fact, the best female characters in media tend to be those who are just regular personalities, balanced individuals like those whom you are likely to meet on the street or those that remind you of the ones dearest to you, like the example of your mother. Like I said in my answer, I’d like to see female characters who are relateable. Most people can’t be categorized as one thing or another, which is why those archetypes don’t tend to appeal to wide audiences.

      And yes, it’s absolutely about the CHARACTER first, their gender is secondary. Like I said, a lot of male characters in media can use fleshing out too — I tire of hackneyed male archetypes just as much.

  3. Well, many things to say here.. and as I’m pretty passionate on the subject this is likely to be fairly stream-of-consciousness and not very well thought-out, my apologies.

    I’m bothered that often when the subject of a gamer’s gender is brought up, people rush to judge them on whether they are attractive or not. This really has no bearing at all on their value as a team-mate, competitor, or simple incidental stranger you run into in the game world. It’s just stupid and makes me cringe whenever I run into that sort of thinking.

    Like the poster above me all that I’m really concerned with is if people make good gaming peers.

    On the game side of things, popular games could really use more strong, positive and average-looking female characters, or really when you get down to it, role models. We do have some, sure, Samus Aran from Metroid, Faith from Mirror’s Edge, Chell in Portal, Asha Catari (she’s attractive, but not stunning) from Rift, Rubi Malone from WET…

    But really positive female characters and playable avatars are in the gross minority, and there are many other games out there that are well known, popularly played and yet don’t have a single playable female character in them, let alone female NPCs filling positive (read: not ‘the mayor’s daughter’) roles, like TF2 and until very recently, Gears of War (the GOW lore explains the game’s dearth of female characters by having women its universe all hanging out in forced breeding enclaves… fun right?)

    What confounds me is the glacial pace that developers as a whole have been moving towards having a better representation of genders, their roles, and alternatives in their games. Especially when you take the metrics from 2011’s ESA survey || http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2011.pdf || into account… 42% of the gaming audience being female is a pretty good-sized demographic… and represents a hell of a lot of potential customers lost if you decide to /only/ cater to the other side of that pie.

    • Absolutely, and I have a feeling one of the reasons why Slurms chose us to ask his questions is because of the fact none of us flaunt the fact we’re female gamers. As far as I know, none of us have ever been like “oh look at me look at me, I’m a grrrl and I’m a gamer, me special!” or “I’m a female gamer, hear me roar” or any of that kinda stuff. We just game. Like any other gamer. Like one of the responses stated, most of us don’t want special treatment, we just want to play our games, be good at them, and be good buddies to game with.

      On the game side of things, the pace may be glacial, but I like to look at the positive whenever I can — progress may be slow, but I do think it is moving in the right direction. Like I said, I have no reason yet to despair for the future of women in gaming, and in fact, it looks like a pretty bright future to me the way things are going. Change can’t happen in a day, but as long as there’s awareness and more females joining the gaming ranks each day, things are going to keep getting better.

  4. Link back thingy!


    • Thanks, though I have to disagree, there are definitely times where I’ve prefaced a question or statement with say, “no offense meant” or “I don’t mean to be rude” and totally mean it 100%. Especially when over the internet, where you don’t get the benefit of hearing tone or any inflections in the voice, it’s the only way to let the other person know. It’s so easy to misinterpret over plain text.

      That’s exactly why I think Slurms posed the question that way.

  5. There is nothing that will steal my heart faster than a woman who can jump over head, jump kick, low kick, shoryuken me into oblivion, uggggggghhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When i meet her, it’s just over, everything….

    But when i think of representation of girls in games, IN MY PERSONAL OPINION, heroine leads are scarce, legit bad ass heroine leads? Even less, MIND YOU, i can think of 2 or 3 over the past 2 years, in games like Bayonetta, made by the guy who made one of MY favorite games of all time Devil May Cry (Dante is the coolest) and Lightning from the last console final fantasy. I don’t think “representation” is a big deal so to speak, because there’re plenty of options for girls in games.

    And personally, i dig girls who play video games, i met sooooooooooooooooo many in WoW (yes i fell in love with them all >.>…..) so you’d really have to excuse me if the ONLY stereotype i have for them….as a whole, is not only do they Heal really well……but they all have two professions in common………Cooking and Tailoring :p

    • Heh heh, I have to say there is some truth to that stereotype that women heal awesomely well 😉 So many of the women I’ve met playing MMOs seem to play healers. I guess I break the mold — I’m usually the tank. In WoW, I was the one with the big bear butt while all the other females in my guild who played druids either went the balance or restoration route.

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