Here are a few questions: Is there really anything about current games that makes them inaccessible to women? Are they really sexist? Is the game industry really excluding women from their audience?
The notion of a male-dominated videogame culture continues to be widely accepted. Any report on the state of gaming, or any analysis of the latest figures of what each sex is playing, begins with the statement: "Games are predominantly aimed at men." It's the required preamble. But is it really true?
As an experiment, I'll name some games:
Worms, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Psychonauts, Zoo Keeper, The Settlers III, Darwinia, IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles, Day of the Tentacle, Ratchet & Crank, Meteos, City of Heroes, Civilization, Microsoft Flight Simulator, The Sims, EVE Online, Crazy Taxi, Myst III: Exile, Descent, Mario Power Tennis, Mutant Storm, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metroid Prime, Tetris, Links 2003 and Fallout 2.
A good mix there - old and new, good and bad - across a broad range of genres and platforms. Which of them is so horribly biased toward men? I'm not trying to be clever. This is simply saying: Maybe the problem isn't as huge as we think.
True, that's a carefully selected list of games. Sure, it doesn't include Postal 2 or Soldier of Fortune. But it also doesn't contain No One Lives Forever or Dreamfall. It's a list of games which couldn't care less which sex you are. Something that is fairly commonplace in gaming.
Yes, big, dumb action games are more often aimed at a male audience. There's no reason to deny this. Much as big, dumb action movies are more often aimed at a male audience. An offering from Vin Diesel is rarely met with derisory accusations that this latest film - probably about a retired cop who travels through time and fights the ghost of his twin or something - is preventing women from going to the cinema. It's preventing decent-minded humans from going to that particular theater at that particular time, certainly, but it's not causing all movies to be off-limits to those boasting a second X chromosome.
Of course, while games are being played by a reasonable proportion of women, they are not being made by them. When recognizing the more wonderful games with female lead characters, from Beyond Good & Evil to Metroid to The Longest Journey, one must remember these are games made by men. However, it's interesting to note that there's no consensus on how this issue might be addressed.
Gareth R. Schott and Kirsty R. Horrell mention in their paper "Girl Gamers and their Relationship with the Gaming Culture," "Male designers who have developed games have traditionally preserved male dominance within the gaming industry based on their own tastes and cultural assumptions." To combat that, one would think girl game designers need to break into the boys' playground.
But Brunel University lecturer Tanya Krzywinska argues that it's not that simple. "I don't believe more women working in the industry would have more than [a] peripheral effect precisely because the game industry is market driven and, like the movie industry, has now established formal and generic patterns that will prove hard to break in an industrial sense."
OK, according to the experts, even if a girl does get into the industry, she's going to be making male-oriented games like everyone else. But both of these arguments fail to acknowledge the vast swathes of games that aren't condemned to the pit of sexist ill-repute.
So, if there are already innumerous games that in no way even suggest a gender bias, this leads me to think: There's something else keeping women from games rather than the way women are presented in them.
Well, there's a problem with that statement, too. With each and every study of who's playing games, the percentage of female players keeps going up. While some surveys skew the matter by including somewhat obscure qualifiers, such as a quick game of Snake on a Nokia phone, even the more carefully refined studies are regularly finding that around 38% of those playing videogames are women. Which is, you know, more than a third.
Obviously, the mainstream media can't cope with these figures, and all coverage tends to follow the same formula: A reporter immediately rushes to the only female gamer he knows and gets a couple quotes, and then he interviews a Frag Doll and asks, "So, you actually play games, do you? All on your own?" And it's perhaps here that the perception is born. No matter how many girls are gaming, the media has yet to gain the sophistication or maturity to express this responsibly.