The battle of the sexes isn’t a war that takes places in gaming anymore…as the men aren’t’ exactly fighting fair.
We find ourselves once again thrust back into the debate of who can do it better, guys or gals. The latest spark that reignited the controversy came from this year’s Game Developers Conference, and more specifically, from Mass Effect designer Manveer Heir. He gave an impassioned speech highlighting the nature of the industry when it comes to things like the female role in gaming. While we here at the site are by no means a stranger to these waters (ones we’ve waded into quite extensively), Heir’s comments struck a slightly different chord. This time, instead of waxing-poetic regarding the nature of inequality (as others in his position have in the past), he pointed the blame squarely back at those truly responsible: the designers themselves.
As he thundered away during the panel, Heir took many of these notions to task. At times, you could seemingly feel an underlying anger almost bubbling to the surface as he spoke. “We play so many games that use the same stereotypes.” Barked Heir. “I get fed up with the same old story and characters in every game. I know there are others like me, I talk to them all the time. For me, these stereotypes are contributing to the creative stagnation in our industry. But I also believe we need to reject stereotypes as a social responsibility to mankind."
Heir then lines up another target square in his sights (big budget game studios) taking aim at those he feels bare the most responsibility to do something about it. Throwing out the old excuses is the first step, stating that, “If we want to make meaningful games, if we want to avoid turning away a significant portion of our potential audience, if we want to be a successful medium that is grown-up and not stuck in adolescence, then we need to stop falling back on the realism excuse and use realism responsibly and not as a default."
But is this a realistic expectation? Can we ever really bridge the gap between the male/female counterparts?
I do think it’s possible. Frankly, as much as I love the gaming industry, they could learn a lot from other mediums. While game sales typically blow the numbers of film and music out of the water in comparison, we do seem a bit behind the times when featuring females in a prominent lead role. In music, you will find that most top ten hits charted in virtually every genre across the board are occupied by women. Also, over the last 30+ years, we’ve seen a huge influx of leading ladies in both film and television. Studios have become more comfortable backing projects with a woman at the helm, as the stigma gradually dissipated with each new success (take the double-whammy of talented African-American actress Kerry Washington in ABC’s Scandal for example). However, gaming franchises to center exclusively around the strength of women are few and far between. Aside from the old standards like Tomb Raider or Metroid
But here is where Heir is on the right track, but isn’t 100% accurate.
While I agree that the lion’s share of the responsibly falls to game developers to push back against these unfair social obstacles that females often find themselves up against, I also think we the gamers should do more. I find we are typically pretty comfortable with the status quo, and that needs to change. For starters, just imagine how awesome a new Halo game could be with a full on, bad ass, Cortana-esque character having Master Chief’s back? I don’t know about you, but a new Splinter Cell title with a femme-fatale in the Sam Fisher role is a game I’d buy TODAY! Problem is, those games don’t really exist. Sure you can point to subtle examples here and there, but they just don’t have the backing of either the huge, big budget studios or the gaming community as a whole. Remember what Heri stated above: “…if we want to avoid turning away a significant portion of our potential audience, if we want to be a successful medium that is grown-up and not stuck in adolescence, then we need to stop falling back…” To his point; is there any denying that a refocusing on strong woman could open up new worlds to female gamers in the future?
I truly believe it’s as much our responsibility as gamers to demand equal footing for gender, racial and sexual orientations alike, as it is the game industry itself. It’s supply and demand. By sectioning off an entire social group or groups (and only dipping into that well as a “novelty”) is no doubt holding back our evolution. Perhaps the time has come for gamers and game makers to take off their rose-colored glasses and look long and hard at our hobby.
This is one time where hitting the reset button wouldn’t be such a bad thing.