Calling out to mothers and fathers: play the games (video games, cell phone games, Playstation, anything!) that your daughters and sons usually play. Write a short review, looking at the game from the point of view of its female characters, the vocabulary used, the violence directed at women, and anything else you feel is important. Tell us what's good, tell us what really needs to change. Send it to us, post it on your blog or facebook, tweet it, email it to your friends, and share it with your children.

Don't take anyone's word for it. Play the games yourself! After all, games both mirror and inspire reality!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reflections: violence games laying grounds for a perverse society

This one is from Hemant, a Master's student in Defence Studies at the University of Madras.

Violent games: laying grounds for a perverse society

The gaming industry is a $10 billion dollar industry in the US alone and there is seldom place for ethical or moral standpoints. Obviously, we aren't looking at a 'dharma' propelled game! However, people needn't design games that bulldoze it either! There is a remarkable increase in the number of games that have featured violence* as their central theme. With that, arrive the kickbacks of nudity, sex, and abusive language. A considerable proportion, ~40%, feature women as the central figures; a large proportion of the rest feature women as objects of use, misuse, and abuse. Games, in certain exaggerated cases, have acted as violence triggers; in the game, an environment is simulated whose image the gamer is able to relate in his real world - the world that he walks in. Violent games thus are likely to tend to distort the viewing lens of the gamers; much like porn, much like smoking. A large proportion of such users aren't the educated ones bored to death at home or work; these include a lot of teens, adolescents, and young adults who are in the process of building up mental imagery of the very 'tomorrows' that we seek to protect and gender violence that we seek to eliminate. A regular dose of nudity, violence, mixed with profanity, and voyeurism: aren't games building up a perverse society?

*violence - includes bloodshed, gore, indiscriminate killings, rape, prostitution, et similar.

Reflections: About Girls and Gaming

We received this post from 18-year-old Varun Raj.

My name is Varun Raj, I am 18 years old - I have been an avid gamer for years now, heres my say. I've come across your little article about signs of gender discrimination in gaming, I'll have to inform to you that video gaming in India at the moment is a male dominant industry so do expect some hitches when it comes to "female leads/characters". Not that there are no games comprising a decent female lead/character, they do exist, here are a few - Alyx Vance from the famous Half-Life Series - Alyx Vance is an adventure freak, she is pretty much like out partner through out Half Life 2, episode 1 and episode 2. The game provides decent time to connect with the character and mind you, don't expect her to have a revealing personality.

Jade from the Beyond Good and Evil Series - Jade was a determined and adventurous person, she played the role of a journalist in the Beyond Good and Evil Series, her goal was to save/rescue orphans and expose the government's corruption.Faith from the Mirror's Edge Series - Faith is somewhat similar to Jade, basically she is a messenger - The game is pretty much like Prince of Persia in a modern day setting with a first person perspective - something which was never attempted until this game.

Most Role Playing Games (both Japanese and Western) - give the character a chance to take the place of a female lead with a gripping story line and great gameplay.Developers behind the famous "Mass Effect" series even claimed that 4 out of 5 gamers play "Mass Effect" the wrong way i.e. many gamers chose the male lead(Commander Shepherd) rather than the far better female lead. Video Games will feature better and a more decent female lead if the developers take notice of the growing female gamer population - there is no need for you/anyone else to jump to conclusions regarding female discrimination in gaming yet.

Reflections on Gaming: The Sexism controversy

We received a thoughtful piece (not a specific review) from Naren Pradhan, a high-schooler. He has been playing video games since he turned three, and considers himself something of an expert on video game content.

Gaming: The Sexism Controversy
Since the first few fantasy role-playing video games were released, there has been a controversy over sexism in gaming. Some critics say that women in video games are always used as eye candy, designed in a way that attracts male players, encouraging stereotypes. Others believe that video games display and glorify violence, harsh language, and treat women with disrespect. Critics also point out that women in games are rarely assigned important roles; the man almost always taking the lead role with the woman solely playing the role of the damsel in distress. I myself am a male gamer, so I may not be the best to judge this issue. However I am going to try to look at it from both a woman and man’s point of view in order to draw unbiased, educated conclusions.

I find that many of the complaints women have about gaming are right. At the same time, I find that there are also some problems that are really no longer as large as they once were.

Role of Women in Video Games: It is generally believed that women are not assigned important roles in video games. They are generally hapless female characters waiting for their male knights in shining armour. In the early days of video gaming, this was quite true. In classic games series such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and even Sonic the Hedgehog, female characters such as Princess Toadstool, Princess Zelda, and Amy Rose merely acted as the helpless love interests of the heroes who rescued them from the villains. No surprise, as this was exactly the same in famous ancient heroic epics such as The Faerie Queen and the Ramayana, which still have influence on fiction today. Even worse, in some games such as the 1987 fighting game, Street Fighter, there were absolutely no women! It’s ironic, since the female fighter Chun Li, now seen by many as the face of the series, did not appear until SF2.

However, things have changed. The protests of the female community were heard, and women soon got more important roles in gaming. One of the first games to do this was Metroid, a side-scrolling shooter and platform featuring the armour-clad, missile launcher-toting female interplanetary warrior, Samus Aran. After that came Lara Croft, and soon there were many female characters who were integral to the game if not headlining their very own games. Today, in the hit Wii game Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, instead of just being destined to be rescued by the valiant hero Link, Princess Zelda rides with him into battle with the evil warlock Ganondorf. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes this change, and some still hold their belief that women don’t get enough importance in gaming. This is a belief that will surely disappear in time.

Violence and Disrespect Towards Women: Unfortunately, this is a problem that we face even in present day gaming. In several games, you see harsh profanity being thrown at women. And even worse, in games such as the crime-action game Grand Theft Auto, women are seen selling their bodies as strippers and prostitutes for the pleasure of the main characters, only to be raped and brutally murdered later. The reason why game developers put these elements into their games may be that they want to make their games realistic; unfortunately, this uncivilized treatment of women and girls is part of the real world. Yes, it is sad, but true. However, I believe what game developers need to realize is how much of an impact these games have on modern day society, especially on their teen buyers. Many underage gamers and even some young adults can be influenced by what they play, and if their games contain these elements, they may think the harsh treatment of women is okay. Therefore, while this kind of treatment of women is present in the world, putting it video games will only make it worse.

Sex Appeal: Finally, we come to the biggest problem - the first thing many people think of when they hear about sexism in video games. So far, in almost every popular video game (harmless E-rated games like Super Mario Galaxy not included) there is at least one scantily clad woman designed specifically in a way to appeal to male gamers. Examples include Lara Croft, Bayonetta from her titular game, Mileena from Mortal Kombat, and many more. This is one issue that enrages women everywhere, as using too much sex appeal not only devalues real women as objects of sexual interest, but also sometimes encourages actual sexual crimes.

So why do game developers use sex-appeal, or “fanservice,” in their games so much? The answer is simple: it sells. I myself admit that when I play the MMORPG Atlantica Online, whenever I see an NPC or even a female player wearing revealing clothing, which I find a lot, my teenage nature kicks in, and I zoom in to get a better view. Later, I kick myself for being hypocritical, since I am against this. Designing characters like Lara Croft and Bayonetta in a provocative manner appeals to the male gaming community, which is believed to be the far larger part of the worldwide gaming community. Developers probably believe that more copies will be sold. However, recent surveys show that males make up only 60 percent of all gamers. Also, while it may be true that the gratuitous use of sex-appeal attracts male customers, it drives away female ones. So it is possible that lowering the amount of fanservice may actually increase sales! Nevertheless, the main problem is not a commercial, but a moral one. When women see fictional characters in unreal “perfect” bodies, they feel self-conscious and unhappy about their own looks, a problem similar to that generated by models, pop stars, and other attractive female celebrities as well as plastic dolls like Barbie.

Video games are very influential on gamers everywhere, especially the youth of the world. Therefore, not giving women enough importance and showing them as sex-objects who are always being abused verbally, physically, and sexually can encourage these problems in the real world. While some of these problems have faded over time, sexism is still a problem in video games that should be dealt with. Whatever the reason for developers to use female characters like this, they must think of the moral implications and the real women that they are affecting.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gaming and girls

A post from twelve-year-old Apoorva and her friend Venika, followed by one from Apoorva's mother, Uma.

There are some games that boys play. There are some that girls play. And then there are the ones that both play.

Let’s start with the ones the boys play. For e.g. they play ‘CounterStrike’, where one has the choice of being a terrorist or antiterrorist. Each group attempts to kill the other with a variety of weapons such as sniper rifles, machine guns etc. ‘Grand Theft Auto’ (commonly known as GTA) is to test of your abilities in pursuit and streetsmarts.

Need For Speed’(NFS) games is the racing buff’s addiction for speed that is fuelled. For instance in most wanted the player has to beat the top 10 list of people to get to the top of the list etc.

The girls usually play dress-up games, make-up games and simulation games such as hidden objects, fashion solitaire, make your own persona etc But we don’t stick to the stereotype that girls only have to play so-called ‘girls’ games. They are more than willing to play the boys’ games too (mentioned above). Only the boys don’t seem to be able to accept the fact that girls can play their games too or are even capable of it. However, the boys are not able to bring themselves to play the girls’ games.

Today’s games do have quite a bit of violence in them, as this generation seems to like these kinds of games more than others. However, there is no real violence against women in most games. They are given equal rights/importance. There is an equal amount of violence for both. It is just violence in general. But we believe that the violence is not addictive and it does not necessarily have to be brought into your own life

In fact some people believe that the violent games actually helps some of us channel our anger or disappointment and helps us get rid of some of our anger. .

Uma's observations

When I see the games my son plays and attempted to play some of them, I found the gore and violence unbearable. One is constantly killing or shooting or maiming in CS (CounterStrike) and DotA (defense of the ancients). But it requires extreme skills and high observation powers and an alertness to avoid being killed yourself. I failed miserably at these games for lack of speed and an inability to master the keys and control of the game. While I am quite impressed with such skills I am also quite disturbed at the violence not especially against any gender but certainly a callous attitude towards violence.

Some of the games played by daughter and her friends actually seem to enhance their aptitude for keen observation and help them with quick reflexes and hand eye co-ordination and speed of thought and action.

Action, adventure driving, role playing etc seem to be the lure of most of the GAT games. The aim is to find oneself in all kinds of locales and missions and meetings one takes on. I find the game GTA Vice City repulsive since it has women walking around in skimpy bikinis (you see, this one is in Miami)

On the whole, to me the stereotyping of the genders is in the visual appearance of women in sexy clothes and impossibly thin body types while them look macho, tough fit and ready to take on the world. I do seem to remember a few women toughies in Mortal Kombat and Tomb Raider too. Though even those had them look pouty and sculpted in looks and figure and wearing revealing outfits. But again there are dialogues spoken by the character that reiterate her right to wear and do what she pleases. Can one see that as women empowerment at a subliminal level for the players.

The fact is the violence exists and is directed at everyone!

A closer look at The Prince of Persia, Lara Croft and others

Our first 'What's in a Game?' review, from Meeta Sengupta, a Delhi-based Education Management consultant and mother.

Recently, I played a few video games again. Simple, fun adventure quests..Prince of Persia, Lara Croft, my son’s Pokemon and a series that kiddo is inordinately fond of: Final Fantasy. This time, I was on a different quest.. to watch out for gender stereotypes, gender hierarchies and gender based violence. And, I did end up surprised.

Given the fact that Lara Croft is a game designed for female players, though children do play it too, I was expecting a girl power story to emerge. Which, broadly it did. Yet, there were things that were strangely stereotyped. Lara has long hair, tied in a long pigtail, her figure is visibly Barbie like and her tasks a little bit simpler than those of the Persian prince..which was the other game I reviewed. The Prince of Persia game did have a female character..the Princess..who rescues the protagonist many times, knows more than him, but ultimately needs to be rescued by him. While the graphics give her film star like proportions, she comes across as a confident young woman, who has her share of challenges, ups and downs.

The children’s games that I played were surprisingly gender neutral too. At least in the eyes of my child: while it had been noticed that some characters were male, and the others female, it did not seem to affect their roles in the game. Each team had certain requirements, each individual possessed certain skills. The gender discrimination was there, but very subtle. So, for example, a certain female character was faster than others, but her healing took longer.

These games, I realised, had passed through rigorous quality control filters. Each of these had been produced by large companies, censored for various sensitivities and vetted by consumer groups of parents and children. I was looking at a sample where the process had worked really well. In a sense it was a ‘best practice’ worth emulating.

At the same time, I am aware that such rigour is not always found in all games, especially the ones found online. This is where parental control plays a role. Our children are easily led and it is up to us to filter what influences them – sometime what they see and do could be what they become.