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“No way, you play games?”

A comment I’m sure a lot of the readers are used to. Not intentionally offensive or sexist. I guess it’s the initial surprise that punctuates that statement, but it can’t be helped. What can be helped is the comment that follows:

“So you’re a girl gamer then?”

Well yes and no, I am a woman who games, but I am a ‘gamer’ not a ‘girl gamer’. The status ‘girl gamer’ opens a huge can of worms, not only is it patronising, but also the idealistic imagery that follows a girl gamer is far from the truth. We’re not all size six, bright eyed, bushy tailed, sexy bimbos who play games. We are gamers, normal people with a passion for gaming.

Recent studies from the association for UK interactive entertainment (UKIE) reveals that 57% of women say they feel they play games more now than they did five years ago. The same study reveals that this year 41% of gamers are female, and this has been the average for 5 years. 83% of female gamers still agree that there should be more women getting involved in the new gaming generation. Yet the games industry still markets to men. The biggest culprits to overly sexualise women in their games are titles such as Tekken, with theirsister tag team Anna and Nina Williams, Street fighter’s Chun-Li or any female character on WoW (even the orcs!). They are all scantily clad, with particular exaggeration on their curves.

Now that more women also work within the games industry, we are seeing that female characters are becoming less sexualised, for example a recent UKIE study suggests that sexualisation of female protagonists in games has declined. Between 1990 and 2005 an estimated 571 titles have reduced the sexualisation of their female characters. This could be a direct result of more women having a say in what these characters look like, which is becoming more frequent than ever, now that it’s that much easier for women to break into the games industry.

Hannah Watts, a member of the developing team for Coatsink explained when promoting the company’s recent release SHU at London Comicon that “It’s not all that bad, I’ve enjoyed my career for the most part, except for obviously the few sly comments you get here and there.”

Unlike in films, there are still very few women that we can idolise and look up to, the most idealistic that comes to mind is Lara Croft, and even she had been overtly sexualised in her past, appearing in skimpy outfits and having ridiculously large, gravity defying breasts.

Feminist Laura Mulvey, came up with the idea of the ‘Male Gaze’ which is described as ‘when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man, a scene may focus on the curves of a woman’s body, putting the viewer into the eyes of a male’. With the game industry itself being so male dominated and the majority of developers being men, women in games are always going to have somewhat of a focus on their curves and flesh, in order to appeal to the male gaze. This cannot be helped if the majority input of game production is male opinion.

Due to Crofts recent physical improvements (and breast reduction), we can argue that we are growing as a society, and games companies are sexualising female characters less than they would have previously.

As Paul Tassi explained in a review “In Rise of the Tomb Raider, pretty much all remnants of the past objectification of Lara have been banished. Out of about ten different outfits I unlocked for Croft over the course of the game, only one was her classic tank top (which manages to be less revealing than ever), and the vast majority of choices were bulky jackets that were more than weather appropriate given that the game mostly takes place in Siberia.”

Seemingly pleased to see improvements of sexualisation, but we still have so much further to go in her representation as he continued.

“There was progress made in the last game, the original reboot that had a teenaged Lara wearing pants and let her keep her athletic build, but shrunk her chest down a few cup sizes from past instalments. And yet, most of the game did have her soaking wet in a tank top, and put her in situations where the camera seemed trained on her rear end.”

We are now living in a society where everyone is believed to have equal rights and women are treated as entire equals to men. Women can vote and earn the same as men in the work place, men can be stay-at-home parents, or find a career in hairdressing or a nursing. So why not make the littlest change and eliminate the status ‘girl gamer’. We should all unite under our common interest in gaming and not differentiate due to gender.

Jen Legay, leader of the very successful female gaming community: The Sisters of the Brotherhood which is on both the PC gaming software Steam and now Facebook hit the nail on the head when she shared with us “Times have changed but we still have a long way to go and I hope to see this change in my lifetime, but I think it’ll always be an up-hill battle, that we will always have to be aware of and go forward on.”

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