Statistics, apparently, show that the average age of games players is in the mid-thirties and that roughly equal numbers of men and women play them. However it still appears that much of the industry’s attention is focused on creating games for teenage males, and that its understanding of teenage males’ wishes can be somewhat retrograde (see this from GQ for a lamentation of a similar trend in mainstream film-making). Two recent episodes highlight some of the problems with gaming’s attitudes.
1) Said teenage males feeling entitled to have games created solely with their preferences in mind: someone complained to games developer Bioware about the fact that within their recent game, a character attempted to instigate a homosexual relationship with the player’s character. This was deemed inappropriate for the “Straight Male Gamer,” or “fan.” One of the developers had to kindly but firmly explain that “The romances in the game are not for ‘the straight male gamer’. They’re for everyone.” Full story here.
2) Not all developers are so enlightened: some games have quite astonishing gender politics. The forthcoming Duke Nukem Forever features a mode in which players compete to “capture the babe.” Players capturing this babe have to carry her off to some safe area. While being carried, the babe may exhibit distress, upon which the player has to press a button to make their character slap the babe on the rear, which calms her down.
Interlude: that was a weird sentence to type.
Someone pointed out that in the context of widespread violence against women in societies around the world, portraying such slapping in a positive manner was a bad thing to do. The response to this article was crashingly negative, with more than 500 comments almost universally dismissing the argument and claiming that the slapping was either “a bit of fun” or inconsequential as an issue given the huge amounts of violence in the game (with which the author didn’t have a problem).
Despite this depressing reaction, though, I think the demographics of gamers will eventually lead to this sort of controversy fading away. The stuff being produced by all sorts of independent developers, and much of what’s in the mainstream, is far more interesting than Duke Nukem Forever, and will capture more attention. Titles like DNF may well continue to be produced, but rather than being among the events of the gaming year will be niche releases with relatively lower budgets and fanfare on release.
Update: discussion of the same issue happening at the Guardian. Again, noone on the comment board seems to agree that having a player’s character hit a woman is a bad thing.