Quickies

Quickies: Women in media, female characters in video games, “gay books”, and a challenge to the theory of animal origins

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. I’m a recent alumnus of the College of Charleston and I was very proud of them for selecting “Fun House” last year. I made a point to go to Alison Bechdel’s talk on campus a few months ago and I though it was fantastic. The $52,000 the state house is cutting is symbolic more than anything, but it’s massively backwards and embarrassing. I’m reaching out to friends now to try and organize a fundraiser to makeup the cut, because I think the symbolism of that could be even more powerful.

        1. What really bugged me about that one is that everyone knows it’s WOTC policy to use gender-neutral creature types. Has been since Sixth Edition, in addition to the obvious issue of room on the typeline there.

          But yeah, it’s really weird to talk about ‘historical accuracy’ in a game about orcs and trolls and can’t-call-them-hobbits-or-Tolkien’s-estate-will-sue-us.

          (This goes both ways. When I hear “Some sailors[who?] said Native Americans…” whatever the next thing is, and this is very common in the media, my next thought is “Some sailors also claimed to have slept with mermaids.”)

  2. “It’s not hard to put women in games….”

    Nothing is stopping a new game company from doing it. If it’s not hard, shouldn’t someone who thinks women need more characters and that the market will embrace the idea go out and put their own money on the line to do it?

    1. You’re new here, aren’t you?
      I can tell because you’re saying all the things that people say when they first come here and don’t know what’s what.
      Try not to imagine me rolling my eyes while I type this:
      The system is set up to support male gamers. Female gamers are pretended to not exist. Therefore, female characters aren’t in use, or are only brought into existence in a hypersexualized, trophy-ish sort of way, as eye candy for male gamers. Many female gamers suck it up and play the games anyway, but don’t like it. The establishment, which has the money and determines where the money goes to make new games, doesn’t want to take “risks” on female protagonists.
      The same technique was used to keep women out of astronomy, medicine, chemistry, engineering …
      Does that help?

      1. Yeah, why don’t we just make video games with more women in them! Why haven’t we thought of that before? Gosh, we’re dumb, aren’t we? I mean, it’s just SO EASY, right? Gosh. Thanks, contemplative1, if you hadn’t told us to just “make more games with women in them!” we may never have thought of that! Thank you for having the smarts to explain to us how dumb we’ve been!

        (/sarcasm alert)

          1. That it isn’t. But, I wasn’t referring to the free market. I was referring to the basic fact that person X was demanding that person Y take a financial risk in order to accomplish a goal that is of interest to person X while person Y may not share the same degree of interest in that goal. The suggestion was that it would be no big deal for person Y to change its character list. However, that’s easy to say when the person saying it doesn’t have their own time and money on the line.

            But, in any case, of course the free market is not the answer to each and every societal problem. In terms of markets, however, it would seem logical freedom ring in the absence of a good reason to make people not free. That is, of course, if we start with the premise that freedom is generally better than the lack thereof.

            That being said, criticism of a company for not putting out the right product is really not a restriction of the free market. It’s the free market in action. So, I’m certainly not suggesting that people have to keep their opinions to themselves about what products Company Y decides to sell. I merely made the observation that if there is a large, untapped market that is crying out for these types of characters, then it would stand to reason that someone might like to tap it, rather than spend their time complaining about it.

        1. No, I didn’t call anyone dumb at all. And, who said it was “easy?” I never said it was “easy.” Making a successful product is not easy, and it takes a lot of risk. That’s why a game company is very careful about how it makes its games. A failure can be an existential problem.

          There was a blurb on the topic of discussion concerning the financing of the characters. It costs $x million to make the characters, so to make more women characters would be too expensive. The writer then responded to that by essentially calling the game manufacturer stupid because you could just take the $x million characters, divide that in two, and make half of them women. By the same token of “why didn’t I think of that — duh?” — I think the game manufacturer, who has actually succeeded in accomplishing this “not easy” task of developing successful games, may well have thought of this and rejected the idea (perhaps because the initial array of characters was already what they have concluded their customers want).

          If the development of games is as difficult as you and I agree it is, then fundamentally changing the character layout could conceivably also not be “sooooo EASY…”, yes? It could very well be a risky endeavor that could cost them their investment. No?

      2. Hi there all, I’m new here too. I’m not intending to argue in any way, just seeking to better understand your point of view and to share some info as well.

        “The system is set up to support male gamers. Female gamers are pretended to not exist.”

        The most widely cited data available online seems to be a 2013 report from the Entertainment Software Association, suggesting that 45% of the gaming population are female.[1] Not surprisingly, there seems to be some amount variation that is dependent upon the game type and genre. For example, for casual/social games like FarmVille, Bejewelled, Plants v. Zombies, etc. the percentage is closer to 65%,[2] whereas for first-person-shooters the percentage is likely quite a bit less.

        Many of these games don’t involve playable characters with any discernible gender, and so this gender inequality or disparity issue seems to be confined to certain game types and genres, is that correct?

        Do you know of any rigorous studies or analysis that can help to illuminate the scale of the problem? There seem to plenty of informal surveys (like those above) and tons of anecdotal evidence, but I’m wondering if there has been any attempt to better quantify, for example, the percentage of relevant games that have playable female protagonists versus those that don’t?

        Is there any way to know whether the situation is improving over time? Are the game developers trending in the right direction, going backwards, standing still?

        “The establishment, which has the money and determines where the money goes to make new games, doesn’t want to take “risks” on female protagonists.”

        Here’s an interesting historical factoid, for those who didn’t already know…

        Ms. Pac-Man was developed in response to the original Pac-Man being “the first commercial videogame to involve large numbers of women as players.” Prior to the release in 1981, Midway, the game’s developer, said that it was their “way of thanking all those lady arcaders who have played and enjoyed Pac-Man.”[3]

        Despite the female protagonist, Ms. Pac-Man remains ranked at number 5 in the list of best selling and top-grossing arcade games of all-time, and number 1 amongst those produced in the U.S.[4]

        [1] http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2013.pdf
        [2] http://popcap.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=30842
        [3] http://www.archive.org/stream/electronic-games-magazine-1982-05/Electronic_Games_Issue_03_Vol_01_03_1982_May#page/n31/mode/2u
        [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcade_game#List_of_highest-grossing_arcade_video_games

          1. Sorry, I didn’t realize that pretty much the first ever and most successful video game marketed specifically for women was such an irrelevant and insignificant data point in this discussion. Not like there’s any point in disupcussing or trying to learn from the past or anything, right?

          2. It’s not that it is irrelevant bmchell, it’s that the way that they made it a “girl’s game” is by slapping lipstick and a bow on it. Not that they would be able to do much more with the available technology of the day, but a superficial “pinking” of a game is hardly something to tout as a triumph. especially if it is a rare example.

          3. I think bmchell makes a good point.

            The facts that it was utterly trivial (from a programming perspective) and one of the most successful games ever belie the MRA memes that it is too much work to create women characters and that no one wants them.

            In a sophisticated game where the characters have personality and attributes beyond just a graphical representation, it’s much more work then just sticking a bow on the top of a head or animating a slightly different humanoid wireframe (but less than animating something that isn’t bilaterally symmetric or bipedal, like a sharknado or a mutant spider) but creating any realistic character for such a game is more work. That’s a wash.

          4. I understand your point a bit better now, bmchell so thank you, and it’s not a bad one. I still think it’s not as great a point as you want it to be though — Pacman is still the “Default”, if that makes sense. Ms Pacman was really almost an after though. A successful one, but still.

            And it was a long, long time ago.

            Would be nice to have moved on from Ms. Pacman after DECADES and have had another success, wouldn’t it? I do suppose Tomb Raider is another good example, but that’s got its own sexist trope issues.

        1. Fun fact: The original Plants vs Zombies tower defense game had no female characters. Not one. And nobody really noticed during development, because that’s ‘normal’. If a game’s entire cast was female, that would be very noticeable, don’t you think?

          http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Gaming
          http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/06/13/women_in_gaming_women_make_up_half_of_all_gamers_but_video_game_characters.html
          http://dmitriwilliams.com/LFGpaperfinal.pdf

          I posted more links further down in the comments. If you really want to do some research you can start with these and those.

          1. Punchdrunk

            Arcana Heart is a fighting game where all the characters are female. I don’t think there’s a single male character in the entire game, except for this “demon staff” thing, that’s controlled by one of the girls, and you have to play her to use it.

            http://www.atlus.com/arcanaheart/

            I think the sequels are the same way, which makes the series really unusual.

      3. The fact remains, if there is a large, untapped market of gamers who want more women characters, then there is a fortune waiting to be made. I just found it odd that someone ways saying exactly that, but then demanding that someone else finance the effort. They want game company X to change its business model.

        Apple Computers started in Steve Jobs garage. Establishment shmushtablishment.

          1. He wasn’t rich when he started out. He was a child of unwed parents in the 1950s (they had a term for that back then that wasn’t very flattering) who was adopted by a lower middle class couple. He was raised lower middle class, and attended only part of a first semester at a local college before he dropped out to join an apple picking commune. After the commune he took a programming job with the game developer Atari – he used his wages to go to to India.”to seek enlightenment.” When he returned, he and his friend Steve Wozniak involved themselves in a local group called The Homebrew Computer Club, where local geeks talked about computers. Woz figured out how to make his own computer board. Jobs and Woz got together and called themselves Apple Computer, and put their invention in a box and package.

            They sat in the Steve Jobs’ parents’ garage and put together the devices themselves, and tried to sell them to local computer and hobby stores. The next step was the Apple II, some venture capital, and the rest is history.

            Steve Jobs wasn’t the establishment. He and Wozniak reinvented something.

            So, good question — what does this lower middle class, white, hippie, LSD dropping, fruitatarian, commune living, eastern religion following MAN have to do with video games about women? He’s an example of someone who changed the game. So, change the game(s).

            And, before anyone says it, no I’ve not stated or implied that it is “easy.” It probably isn’t.

        1. The same thing has happened with movies: Executives don’t THINK there is money to be made, or they aren’t *willing* to try and see, mostly because they don’t give a shit. That doesn’t mean money can’t be made, but just because money can be made, DOES NOT MEAN SOMEONE IS GOING TO TAKE THE “RISK”.

          We had a pretty big year for women in movies, and yet the executives are STILL afraid to put women in leading roles, etc.

          This isn’t just a problem of “well, there’s money to be made…”

          It’s more complicated than that.

          You CONSTANTLY use circular arguments to prove your point. Stop it.

          And, no, I didn’t actually say you called us dumb, but do you think we haven’t thought about making more video games with women in them? Do you really fucking think that?

          1. Executives give a shit, yes. They give a shit about making money and the value of the shares of their companies. An executive at Universal Studios has a job at the pleasure of the board of directors, and the board of directors is elected by shareholders. So, the shareholders are who they care about.

            Like any person in that position, they tend to gravitate to what can be described as “the low hanging fruit.” They aren’t in business to accomplish a societal goal. They are in business to pick the most fruit for the least amount of effort.

            You are right in using the term “risk.” That’s what it is, anytime someone puts out a movie or a game. For every success story there are failures. Flops. Career ending busts. There is a lot riding on the success of these things. To the extent a formula works, a media company will follow that formula until it stops working. Why not? If you have a 90% chance of making a $1,000,000 on a formulaic recasting of a known quantity, or a 40% chance of making that $1,000,000 on a new thing, then which would you do?

            I think mostly what I’m getting at with the suggestion of the obvious – “go create new video games” line is encapsulated by Steven Fry here — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_2kelqYz_o

        2. Eh, well, I work in the game industry and the reality is that when game concepts come out they come out to make a lot of money off a specific niche of players. That niche however doesn’t often become unreachable nor the game economically unviable just because you put female characters in the game. You’re (at least partly) suggesting that specific niches won’t be reachable if there’s a better representation of women within games. My response to that is, in my experience, if a game has a good representation/balance of women in a game it does not correlate with poor game performance, game performance correlates much more with it’s core engagement and retention mechanics.

          The reason why women are represented poorly in games isn’t that the market demands a poor representation of women for a game to be successful, it’s more because sexist tropes and gender imbalances are simply what game designers and game company execs are used to. Western culture has a fundamentally man-oriented mindset and this doesn’t shut off when it comes to the design of its games.

          Lobbying for a better social representation of women and LGBT is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. US media doesn’t represent minorities as shamefully as it used to (although there are STILL shitty race tropes used…) and that’s because we made it socially unacceptable to do so. Going out there and making social change is never something to be poo-pooed. Making a social movement aimed at game companies about how they should be representing women is what SHOULD be done because they need to know that they’re perpetuating marginalization of women and that is wrong.

          For instance, I’ve seen some execs in the game industry saying that they’ve become committed to better representation of women in games due to Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women” series. And there you go.. social change.

          So yes, as everyone else here has said, you’re not in the right when you say “don’t ask other people to change, start a company”. Even economically that statement is flawed.

  3. The study about sponge oxygen requirements is really interesting, but the interpretation that this challenges established ideas about the early evolution of animals is WAY oversold. The problem is that modern sponges aren’t ancient animals; they’ve been undergoing 600 million years of evolution since the Cambrian. An equally likely interpretation of the researchers’ result is that the species they studied has evolved a tolerance for low-oxygen conditions in the intervening time. In order to make a stronger case that this is a trait that ancestral sponges posessed, the researchers need to do comparative studies with other sponges. If most or all of them are tolerant of low oxygen, that’s a stronger argument that ancestral sponges were as well. Even then, this wouldn’t necessarily overturn the idea that rising oxygen concentrations were necessary for the evolution of complex animal life, as the pre-Cambrian oceans were probably not homogenous environments, and had some high-oxygen habitats and some low-oxygen habitats. High-oxygen habitats may have been required for the first complex animal life, but once established, animals like sponges may have then been capable of evolving low-oxygen tolerance and colonizing low-oxygen habitats.

  4. mrmisconception, I hear what you are saying, but keep in mind the “non-female” version was pretty much just a yellow ball. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for gender-based customization given the original character, and even if they did add detail nobody would have been able to see it given the pathetic size and screen resolution.

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