The Male Point of View
When you ask the question “Is gaming a man’s world?” the first and easiest answer that comes to mind is “Yes.” And with good reason: the overriding image of gamers today is of sullen, headset-sporting misogynists pretending to be non-descript armoured warriors, screaming abuse at other non-descript armoured warriors while they mainline Pepsi and sweat Red Bull into their controllers. And that’s only since games have become a multi million-dollar business. Before that, gaming was seen as the sole domain of reclusive, weird-looking nerds locked in rooms either playing or coding blocky text adventures with unpronounceable olde worlde names while avoiding anything resembling another human being or natural light.
For me, gaming became a man’s world about the time of the release of the PS One; With the exception of maybe Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, the system was rife with muscular manly men doing the hero thing with guns, bombs, lasers, fists and giant swords. Whether it was the Nameless Marine in the Doom port blowing the crap out of monsters on Mars, Jin Kazama flinging feet in the Tekken series, or the rather obvious exploits of Spider-Man, Bomberman and the various other “men” of the world of gaming, there was no doubt in my mind that the 3D revolution was doing its part to set the Women’s Liberation Movement – or at least the Women’s Gaming Movement – back more than a few steps.
Nowadays, you don’t have to look far to see that gaming is extremely guy-orientated. Pretty much any trailer for recent games revolves around men doing stereotypically male things like going to war, playing football or bashing and bombing entire countries to dust in one form or another. Unless you want to flail your body around in the horrible-looking seizure patterns that games developers seem to think constitutes “dancing”, it seems there’s not much out there for lady gamers to get into.
There’s plenty of reason why this is the case, and why, by and, large, men are still the majority when it comes to gaming. There isn’t exactly a lot of impetus for women to get into gaming when their character options generally fall into the categories of taking on the guise of an exaggerated sex object – hello, Lara Croft, Bayonetta and half the cast of the Dead Or Alive series – or slipping into the skin of the likes of Duke Nukem, a male pig so chauvinist, the only way the enemy could be made worse was to make them actual pigs. About the only female character who escaped these pigeon-holes was Samus from Metroid, and the makers had to hide her from players for the entirety of the game to do it (Sorry if that’s ruined the first Metroid for you, but if it has, where the hell have you been for the last twenty-odd years?).
To be quite honest, the man’s world thing is getting a little ridiculous. Whether it’s Kratos’ comical frolicking with maidens mini-game in God Of War, or the OTT bromance of the leads in the Gears Of War series – why do you think the third game had a girl shoehorned onto the cover? – games made with men in mind are getting to be a bit like those “real man getaways” where businessmen go to shout at trees and the like for a weekend before returning to their offices; very aggressive, and at times, really quite confusing.
Thankfully, with the expansion of user creation in the likes of Mass Effect and Little Big Planet, this option is giving way for gamers to be whoever they want to be. And isn’t that the point of video games? Think about it. All games, no matter who is…well…manning the controller, are pretty much about one thing. Taking over someone or something else and entering their world. And when you look at the issue from that angle, suddenly that “Yes” answer to the is-gaming-a-man’s-world question doesn’t trip off the tongue quite so easily, no matter how many muscular gun-toting action heroes horde game store shelf-space. In fact, if you look a little bit closer, another, equally interesting question surfaces:
“Does it really matter whether you’re a guy or a girl when you’re playing as a genderless, pill-popping yellow disc?”
Allow me to illustrate with some personal anecdotes. In my house, there is a rule that has been with us ever since we first got the Mega Drive back in the early 90s. And that rule is “If you’re playing Sonic The Hedgehog and Mam comes in, change the game.” Because if not, the controller was cajoled from your fist and Mam would not only take over playing it, but outplay you so righteously at it that you wouldn’t even mind if you were bullied about it. This situation resurfaced when we bought the Mega Drive Classics Collection for the Xbox. Even almost three decades later, my mother becomes a different person entirely when embarking on ring-catching adventures with the big blue spiny blur.
Another example is the story of my first real relationship, which was rather abruptly cut short due to the girl having an affair…with Final Fantasy VII. Something which, it seemed, completely flipped the script as to who was supposed to be the one ignoring their other half in favour of their console. And believe me, finding out that Cloud Strife is more attractive than you is more than enough motivation for a dorky teen to want to ban girls from ever playing games. Or at least play Mortal Kombat Trilogy alone in the dark for several weeks.
The point I’m trying to make is that gaming has the potential to be anyone’s world. It’s all about escapism, about how much you can suspend your disbelief and get into the world the game creates. Gender almost ceases to matter if the right game comes along. And if you love gaming enough, it won’t even matter which gender a game is designed for, something I’m reminded of every time I feel the urge to walk past the racks of Call Of Duty and Doom3 and pick up that used copy of Pippa Funnell: Take The Reins just to see what it’s like.
So, with all that in mind, we return to the original question: “Is gaming still a man’s world?” Well, I’m no longer sure it ever was. After all, Who does Mario bounce on all those monsters’ heads to save? Who is Dom in GoW trying to replace by male-bonding with Marcus Fenix? Who is Jack Shepherd (mostly) trying to get with by saving the world from invading alien beasties? Why are Jill Valentine, Bayonetta and the like picking up ridiculous guns and blowing seven shades out of creepy creatures?
Because, to paraphrase James Brown, gaming may be a man’s world, but it means nothing without a woman or a girl.
This is the first part in a collection of articles examining the role of women within the world of Geek/Gamer Culture. Sarah Griffin, a guest writer, will be contributing to the final article as she looks at the issues facing women in a world that’s painted as the man’s domain.
Disagree with the points above? Do you agree with Liam? Maybe you’ve got a different answer! We want to know so let us know in the comments below!
This is the first part in a five part series look at gender and identity within the gaming and geek community. To see the other articles please click the links below: