Audiences & Experiences — Week 8 (Viewing / Reviewing)

This week on the Audiences & Experiences unit, we were tasked with watching a video from the Feminist Frequency on YouTube, as well as reading up on a few sources.

Tropes Vs Women in Video Games

The feminist frequency videos primarily focused on the concept of the damsel in distress. This is something I’d previously covered on the BA course at UCA, so it’s something I’m pretty familiar with.

The first thing that struck me about these videos is how much they were disliked — It’s pretty rare to see a YouTube video as heavily disliked as these. I imagine it’s mostly because the subject matter of the videos focuses on some games that heavily feature the damsel in distress trope, of which many appear to be fan-favourite franchises such as Mario.

I agree with a fair amount of the assessments made with the trope itself within the videos that I watched (the first two or three), but some of it did feel quite one note, only focusing on the main games of any given series (I think Mario was a good example of this — She focused a lot on peach in the first video in the series, talking about how she massively fit into this trope. While I agree that this was initially the case, many games in that game’s series since have included female characters in more prominent roles or in game genres that female characters wouldn’t be as represented in (A good example of this, while not technically a Mario game, is that both Peach and Daisy were included in the “Super Smash Brothers” fighting game.

While I don’t feel that this fixes the issues with the original content, it seems incredibly unlikely that the companies behind these would change from this trope, as it’s been a staple of these games for many decades, and I imagine that in some way the repetition of this kind of plot appeals to the nostalgia of a large portion of their audience.

“I can defend myself” : Women’s strategies for Coping with Harassment While Gaming Online

The first reading this week that was not in video form was ‘ “I can defend myself” : Women’s strategies for Coping with Harassment While Gaming Online’. This reading, as might be obvious from the title, covers the coping strategies that many woman employ to avoid or respond to harassment, using both theory and interviews with female gamers. For whatever reason, openAthens is preventing me from viewing the full article, so until then I can only go by the abstract provided, and will amend this once I have access to the full article.

I know that a large amount of women feel the need to avoid using voice chatting in games to avoid any kind of negative treatment, as even though a lot of women do now play games, it still feels quite rare to actually hear one in a game, outside of a loud minority who feel confident enough in themselves to risk these kinds of negative reactions like harassment, which is a massive shame.

The source briefly covers some of the events of “gamergate”, as well as a few other events that’re well known in gaming communities, and talks about different aspects of gaming that might encourage actions such as harassment, the first of which being the concept of “trash talk”.

Personally, I feel that the nature of “trash talking” in any competitive environment can be relatively healthy, encourages rivalry, and is something you see even between professional teams in any given sport or activity. The main issue here, at least to me, derives from the anonymity that is associated with gaming — The ability to talk in this manner to an extreme degree without consequence means that people would say things far more personal and offensive than they normally would, which can often lead to hurling insults and harassing individuals.

I won’t go on too much about this source, as I’ll run out of time to write about the others, but the other thing that caught my eye here was the talking about the use of language in game, and how terms like “raped” are passed around a lot, especially in games like shooters. While I don’t think there is any malicious intent in using words like these in this context, I can see why it would be extremely problematic for those that have experienced sexual assault or other similar events first-hand.

The source then goes on to talk about methods in which women deal with these kinds of issues — Mainly through: Disguising their gender, avoiding strangers, adopting a more aggressive personality, and relying on their skills or experience. I think these are all relatively self-explanatory, but it’s a massive shame that most women feel that they have to go to these lengths in order to just play a game.

A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter: Archaeologies of Gender in Videogame History

The second source for this week was an article from GameStudies.org by Laine Nooney. This article covers the “problem of gender in videogame history”, drawing from examples such as Roberta Williams, an American game designer, and her importance in the gaming industry, as well as drawing from both media archaeology and feminist cultural studies.

Seeing them recounting through sources that date over periods of time was extremely intriguing to me; they described a group of texts from the early 2000s as the “Chronicle era” of videogame history, where publications were mostly “concerned with amassing and organizing data”. As this sort of co-insides with video games becoming more mainstream, this makes a lot of sense to me to be the case.

This leads to the discussion about how further writing over time essentially took video game studies and “making them wider” in that they add information to the field in an additive rather than in a more complex manner where information would be removed or changed as well. This then extends to the topic of history of women in the field, with the author of this article stating that “questions about the relevance of marginalized identities and historically specific positions can only be dealt with through an “additive” move”. This notion of “putting them back in” places women in a position where they emerge as participant outliers, rather than something that has always been there to a degree.

The article then goes on to talk about the aforementioned Roberta Williams, who spent several decades as a game designer, yet she essentially “evaporated” from the video game development scene’s history, so to speak. I’m curious whether this was a personal decision, wanting to not remain in the limelight for whatever reason, or if it is because it was relatively uncommon for a woman to be a designer in the manner that she was.

Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat

The final reading for this week was a couple of extracts from the book: “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat”. This is a book I’m personally familiar with, as it’s one I had to write some essays regarding in the past, mainly in relation to gender in media or in video games.

The first extract is from the Preface of the book, and discusses the growth of video games over time, and how gender representation of women in games has gone up overall, though gender equity may not be the end of the discussion.

“The Authors in this book show that addressing the role of gender in gaming requires far more than simply increasing the number of female players”.

This part of the book then goes on to talk about some of the hypocrisy of game companies, and how at some events it was promised that “booth babes” would become a thing of the past, and yet still appeared despite threats of fines — The companies felt that the larger amount of male audience this would gather was worth more than the fines that it would incur.

This is an issue I see a lot in gender studies regarding both media and video games — The best (and usually fastest) way to convince companies to actually make changes is to make it benefit them monetarily, because ultimately their goal is to make the most money possible, regardless of what is the “right” thing to do (something else this could be comparable to to some degree is the shift towards greener sources of energy and lowering the use of fossil fuels over time when talking about the environment).

The second extract we were given (from this same book) focuses more on the under-representation of women in video games, and the progress of the girl games movement over time.

This chapter begins by talking about the way that the girl games movement took shape, and how this took shape around a series of competing goals and expectations: the Economic, Political, Technological, Entrepreneurial, and aesthetic. I think these are mostly self explanatory, and what I was talking about before this regarding the other extract and the monetary focus of games companies solidly fits into the economic factor here.

Other

Beyond just these readings, we were also tasked with finding games that were either designed by or for women, to ask a female friend or family member to recommend a game, and to interview 2–3 female gamers about their favourite video games.

For games designed by women, I thought I’d search for one that people might not know was — Portal. Portal was designed by a small game, initially named “Narbacular Drop” by Kim Swift and some fellow graduates. Since then, Valve hired them to bring what we now know as portal to life. The game’s sequel, Portal 2, is up there as one of my favourite games of all time, and portal itself features similarly satisfying gameplay. I think games like these are great examples of this — The gender of the developers shouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it’s nice knowing this now, as I don’t think I would’ve known if I hadn’t looked it up.

Regarding friends recommending their favourite games, I noticed that a lot of female friends that I have tend to play first person shooter games. I’m not sure if this is because I used to play them a lot, so maybe I got along with these people because of this, but many of them recommended the likes of Apex Legends, Overwatch, or CS:GO. In my mind these don’t strike me as quintessentially “girly” games, which is really nice to see.