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Repeated visits to my local video rental store have led to an interesting observation: The videogame rental aisles were almost exclusively inhabited by male customers. The same mothers who stand by and wait, mostly patiently, while their sons select their favorite Batman episodes on DVD stand well away from the game aisles and call for the boys to hurry up. Women, who moments before combed the new release wall with their significant others, would tune out, pick up a magazine or wander aimlessly while the men browsed the latest available game rentals. It was almost as if a massive electro-gender-magnet were switched on. Men were attracted, women were repulsed. I even witnessed a large percentage of women bee-lining for the new release wall walk around the gaming aisles rather than through them to reach the first few bays. Not a huge trip out of their way, but a telling trip nonetheless.
I followed up these observations with a few casual conversations about games with a wide variety of rental customers. By and large, women were concerned about the violent and sexual content in games. Mothers, renting sports titles and racing games for their sons, expressed concern about games in the same worried and powerless tones as mothers faced with the topic of sexual predators. When I talked to their kids about the games they play, and why they like them, the mothers were invariably surprised that there was something to actually talk about.
It always catches me by surprise when people believe that gaming has nothing more to offer than sex and violence. Where are they getting these messages?
This particular video store has two magazine racks. One, located near the checkout line, contains glamour and teenie bopper magazines, along with music and fitness magazines. The second rack, located near the game rentals, holds Brady Game strategy guides, gaming magazines and shrink wrapped men's magazines. Pawing through a gaming magazine, I realized where the messages of sex and violence were coming from: The industry is actively portraying gamers as a horde of energy-drink-fueled, sexually aggressive, violence-obsessed young men in the way it styles its advertising.
The screenshots used to promote games in magazines invariably show violence, which when taken out of context can easily be seen as gratuitous and unnecessarily shocking. The promotional artwork used in advertising pushes the negative image even further. Scantily clad women posed provocatively, inviting you into the lurid depths of the game. Stern, muscular men forever poised on the brink of attack, brandishing large, sexualized guns and swords. In other words, images designed to appeal to the lizard brains of these magazines' core audience: men aged 18 to 24. In my experience, the men these images are designed to appeal to like games for the same reasons the rest of us do - the quality gameplay, the compelling characters and the engaging stories. Talk to these "libidinous" men about Shadow of the Colossus, for example, and the conversation quickly moves into the realm of the introspective as you discuss the first colossus you felt ashamed of killing. Ask them why they liked GTA, and they'll invariably mention the underlying story, the music or the selection of cars. Even those who admit to quickly abandoning the plot tell stories of crazy motorcycle stunts and narrow escapes from the law long before they mention the various methods of killing people.