Ask Not ...

Ask Not ...
The Double-X Factor

Erin Hoffman | 7 Nov 2006 07:01
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"I'm just a person trapped inside a woman's body." - Elayne Boosler

Work in game development long enough, and if you are female, you will inevitably encounter this question: "As a woman, what do you think your role is in the business of making videogames?" I've heard this question in various forms more times than I can count, and it's completely stymied me each time.

The problem is that I don't do anything "as" a woman, not anymore than I do anything "as" a multi-cellular organism or "as" a fan of Crab Rangoon - and neither does any woman I know in the industry. The attributes that label my life apply from the outside, not from the inside. And I am willing to bet that the next time you hear someone start a sentence with "As a ... ," something stupid is about to come out of his mouth. Otherwise, why do they need the extra punch of the label? Strong ideas stand on their own.

But the political quagmire associated with being a woman in the game industry, or a member of any minority group, is sadly inescapable. Because labels come from the outside, they apply to anything you do if you happen to fall into the category to which they apply. The "as a woman" questions are well intended, but they most frequently fall on ears that have no concept of doing anything "as a woman" - or they wouldn't have wound up in the game industry in the first place.

In League with the Enemy
One of the main blockades that keeps mainstream women out of gaming, even on a mindspace level, is the absurd notion that videogames are naturally anti-family. When one of the most prominent family-oriented (and female) politicians engages in a moral crusade against the mind-eroding effects of videogames, this can hardly be a surprise. With games being trotted out as the latest "save the children" demon by political pundits aching for low-hanging fruit, what might otherwise be a simpler issue of individual challenge (which is substantial enough around here!) rapidly becomes intensely political on a larger scale.

We all know it's stupid. We all know there's no evidence supporting the claims that violent games affect normal people. But politicians will be politicians, and unfortunately there's not much we can do besides wait for the tide to pass. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll decide that sunshine promotes violent behavior. Don't most killers have a disturbing amount of exposure to solar radiation? Seriously! It's time there was an investigation.

In the meantime, individuals will keep working to spread games to their parents. Titles like Brain Age help distinctly, even if they don't tell gamers anything they didn't know before. Such titles make inroads into expanding demographics until everyone is playing a game of some kind, including Penny Arcade writer Jerry Holkins's mother. Slowly, a crazy notion that games might not be the enemy is percolating its way through the social consciousness, and those whispered rumors represent the vanguard of a coming avalanche in the social mindset toward games.

But the main body of game development still focuses on the tried-and-true foci of mass media: sex, violence and intrigue, and here is where things get a little tricky. Social history and culture would tell us that it's perfectly healthy for a man to have an interest in sex, and probably for him to be interested in violence, too. "Boys will be boys." But women? One can hardly suggest in proper political correctness that a woman might be interested in a little violence. And God forbid a woman should want to play something to do with sex - someone call Nathaniel Hawthorne, stat. The whitewashed political world would have us believe that any woman who has an interest in such subjects - and it isn't a far leap to include games as a whole as well - must be some kind of deviant.

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