Sexism in Games

First, apologies for the lack of posts.  Work is requiring an abnormal amount of time and it leaves just enough for family and not much else.  Now onto the topic!

I’ve written about it before, I’ve commented before, the message is often lost in time.  Jewel has a new topic on it, similar to Tipa’s of yore.  If you read the comment I posted, it summarizes my point but may not do it justice.  In summary

  • Tobold and Syncaine are “professional” bloggers, on two different sides of the spectrum but who use the same toolset to instigate discussion.  A logical opinion doesn’t get much activity, but one that’s offensive/unrealistic does.  I think both do a great job at it and the bloggers as a whole gain from it.
  • Sexism in games is less and less prevalent.  Game of the Year candidates are rarely victimized by this title.  XCOM, Ni No Kuni, Last of Us, Fez, FTL, Grimrock, etc…
  • Tomb Raider has done a 180, with a strong heroine.  GTA5 is such an effective parody that sometimes you forget that it’s making fun of the genre.
  • There are outliers (Dragon’s Crown) but more often than not, it’s a conscious decision similar to point #1
  • FPS games are not so much sexist in design (racist is an another topic) but the actual targeted demographic (16 year old males) is, which means the game suffers for it.
  • MOBAs are a combination MMO and FPS.  Same demographic as the latter, same design as the former, which is an interesting problem.
  • MMOs… they are a different beast altogether.

MMOs, or as a by-product, MOBAs, suffer from the “High Fantasy” curse.  Comic books and Conan really exemplify this issue.  The demo was in the 50s and it really exploded in the late 70s early 80s with women’s lib, freedom of expression and all that jazz.  If you’re a designer today, there are extremely high odds that you were a kid from that period (e.g., Metzen, Samwise, Brad McQuaid and co…).  They were raised with a particular art style, a single art style really, and incorporated it into every game.  As game development matures and new blood is brought into the fold, art has shifted dramatically.  The independent game movement exemplifies this.  New IPs as well (Mirror’s Edge) purposefully break the mold.  Eastern games have not evolved as it is still core to their culture (manga in particular).

The target demo for MMOs is the 18-24 year old, by and large.  There are very few studies on female gamers within that demo and the majority of marketing is focused on the “serial hooker” item line. My term.  Women from pre-teen to adult are presented with a hyper sexualized media onslaught and games are simply following suit to meet the dollars.  The Blizzard MOBA fiasco is proof enough that there is a simple level of ignorance on the topic.

So if you combine developer historics, target demographics, marketing budgets and simple general media messaging, it’s clear that there’s an uphill battle for equality in such massive games.  If you’re going to spend $100 million +, your marketing team is going to push you a certain way.  Gaming as a whole is changing at the indie level and mid-market game level.  Once the big guys realize that super AAA games are cost negative because they are alienating a core demographic with money to spare, it’ll be an avalanche of change.

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